A sublimely summery watermelon cocktail

When I turned five years old, my sister threw me a party. It was classic June New England weather; cool and rainy with fog hovering over the rolling hills. There was a scavenger hunt—I remember donning rain boots and a bright yellow slicker over my party dress and following clues to where the field met the woods at the edge of our yard. We moved in groups, huddled over clues in the bird bath, and ran to the forsythia bushes where, under an arched cave of branches, we found temporary tattoos. 
…KEEP READING

Preserved lemon pasta with capers & anchovies

I was apprehensive to move back to Boston for the summer. Although I lived in the city for almost three years after college, I never fell in love with it. So when Sam and I lugged our haphazard collection of laundry baskets, backpacks, canvas shopping bags and boxes into the car for our move, I was filled with dread. I’d really started to feel at home in our rambling old house in East Rock, New Haven. We were leaving  just as the peonies in our back yard began to blossom, and only a few days after Shea and I filled pots on the patio with dahlias, petunias, and marigolds. …KEEP READING

Poolside Plátanos & Cocktails on the Beach

FAC0E68D-FE13-4D73-97F7-D9C019D57B24I could walk to the beach with my eyes closed. Out the door of my grandma’s peach-colored house onto the hot pavement of a quiet dead-end street, past the house with the ferocious dogs and year-round Christmas decorations, left at the creaking iron gate, over the canal on a wooden bridge, through the tunneling sea grapes, and down the boardwalk to the sparkling sea. …KEEP READING

Little Sister Goes South: Everything I Ate in Greenville, SC

Photo Apr 09, 8 49 07 PM (2)On my last evening in Greenville, SC, my best friend Eliza took me to a free candlelight yoga class. “How nice,” I thought, “we’ll do some sun salutations and some light spinal twists, all by the soft light of little twinkling flames.” Not exactly. In fact, I have never sweat so much in my entire life as I did in that 98-degree room. It didn’t help that Eliza is a yoga teacher and moves with the grace of a Hindu goddess. I teetered in tree pose and nearly collapsed on my 100th chaturanga, but I walked away feeling incredibly energized, full of happiness, and blissfully unaware of the soreness that would ignite the next morning.

Eliza and I spent every day of school together from ages 5 to 18, and yet when we got home each afternoon, the phone would ring and one of us would start doing accents on the message machine until the other one picked up. I remember silences of five minutes or longer when we laughed so hard no sound came out. We’ve watched each other grow up and helped each other through the good, the bad, the extremely awkward, and the painfully sad. We’ve talked each other through leaps of faith, like going to Costa Rica to get yoga certified and quitting a stable job to pursue a crazy love of food.

It’s cheesy, I know. But when you’ve been friends with someone for 20 years, you‘re allowed to look back and marvel a little. Sweating through that fiery yoga class next to her while “Burn” by Usher blasted from the stereo felt undeniably like a metaphor for our friendship: Warm, eternal, and uproariously funny.

I’d heard about White Duck Taco a thousand times on the phone. The Bangkok Shrimp, specifically, featured prominently whenever Liza recounted day-trips to Asheville. On Friday, the two of us drove up into the mountains, so different from the rolling Massachusetts hills I’m used to, their slopes alive with a haze of budding leaves. Asheville felt like it’s own little world, suspended in the windy green hills and dotted with irresistible cafes, boutiques, and art galleries where you could actually afford something. We made a beeline for the White Duck and ordered two Bangkoks each and some fresh watermelon sangria (who could resist?!) Sweet lord, those tacos were good: tiny, sesame-glazed crunchy shrimp surrounded  by chili aioli, shredded lettuce, and a tangle of sweet pickles.

Sidewall Pizza is another spot I’d heard about for years as I sketched together a picture of Greenville in my head. Liza compared it to Baba Louie’s, which anyone from the Berkshires knows is high and nigh-unattainable praise. We went for dinner on Saturday night and sat at the bar to wait for our table. The people watching was impeccable—tattoos, man-buns, and Lululemon abounded. We ordered a pear, blue cheese, and candied walnut salad, a Margherita and the “Potato.” The crust could have stood on it’s own with an ever-so-chewy, almost brittle bite, but topped with thinly-sliced potatoes, bacon, caramelized onions, toasted walnuts, fresh sage, mozzarella, blue cheese, and fragrant olive oil, it was perfection.

Being the good little sisters that we are, Liza and I wanted to bake something for her sister’s birthday. After weighing the pros and cons of rolling out piecrust with a wine bottle, we settled on making a cake. A quick delve into Bon Appetit’s gluten-free archive brought us to a gorgeous-looking honey cake topped with cream cheese frosting and a spray of bright spring flowers. Everyone agreed it tasted like carrot cake without the carrots, which is fine by me as carrot cake usually includes raisins: my least favorite food on the planet. I don’t consider myself a great cake baker (pies are my wheelhouse), but I loved this! It had the warm, fragrant flavors of honey, ginger, and cinnamon, accented by a subtle tang of citrus. We used coconut oil instead of vegetable oil and substituted the somewhat demanding frosting recipe for Martha Stewart’s classic cream cheese frosting.

I’ve been on a mac & cheese odyssey this year, dabbling in everything from fussy béchamel sauces to clove-studded onions and dashes of Cayenne. But when Liza’s friend fractured two bones jet skiing, there was only one recipe we deemed comforting enough. My mom’s recipe comes from John Thorne’s Simple Cooking (which I am currently reading for pleasure—a refreshingly candid and unpretentious volume, simultaneously scrupulous and poetic). While my mom disapproved of such things as Tabasco sauce and condensed milk, Liza and I committed fully and the results were glorious.

My trip ended as all trips should: with savory crepes at Tandem Coffee, a bicycle-themed spot with bright yellow china, exposed brick, and an abundance of window seats.

Parsnip Pasta with Garlic and Lemon

I’m sitting in my sister’s living room in Minneapolis, MN on a sunny spring day. We’re both wearing slippers and drinking ginger tea. The shelves overflow with books and a vase of yellow tulips on the table catches the afternoon light. Everything seems as it always does when I visit, except that now, a beautiful, perfect little being lies beside us in her moses basket, eyes closed and dreaming, tiny hands in a field goal position, beneath a knitted blanket. My niece, Iduna Grace Lee, was born two weeks ago and I already can’t imagine the world without her.

I’m cooking for my sister and brother in law as they navigate the newness of everything; the sleepless nights, the little small yet monumental moments (a nice burp, for example). My mom and I arrived on Valentine’s day to await the birth, and she went into full-on grandma mode with dinners like slow-cooked brisket with mashed potatoes and black bean stew with avocado and dollops of cumin cream. Now that she’s gone, I’m responsible for feeding the new parents.

I wish I could say I’ve been whipping up three course dinners and multi-tiered layer cakes, stocking the freezer with flavorful soups, and making smoothies every morning. But the truth is, all I want to do is hold my little niece and stare at her incredibly expressive face for hours on end. Who knew changing a diaper could be so endlessly entertaining? My sister and I have reverted to the rounds we used to sing on endless car rides, harmonizing to soothe the baby’s cries, breaking out in fits of laughter with the melodies go awry.

The night before my sister gave birth, we all crowded into our AirBnB kitchen, strategizing a plan for dinner. I wanted to try out a recipe I’d been working on, but had a deadline the following morning. So I sat on the couch instructing as my sister, who by that point could balance a plate of food on her stomach, braved the tragically unequipped kitchen. We all agreed that dinner was perfection. Who knows…maybe it was just so good that Iduna decided to join the world!

A single parsnip loitering in the far reaches of my vegetable drawer inspired this dish, and it really has become my go-to weeknight pasta. As a kid, I remember thinking of parsnips as the the scourge of the vegetable world, their dingy off-white skins conjuring up vague images of 19th century orphanages and bowls of pale, amorphous gruel. As an adult, I can’t get enough of their sweet, earthy flavor, and would like to know why no one force-fed them to me at a young age. Paired with the zesty tang of lemon juice, the salty bite of parmesan cheese, and tossed with lots of garlicky spaghetti, it makes for a simple, surprisingly delicious dinner.

Ingredients

  • 1 package spaghetti
  • 2 T olive oil
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 medium parsnips, peeled and grated (the largest setting on a cheese grater works perfectly)
  • Zest of 1 lemon
  • Juice of 1/2 lemon
  • 1 heaping cup finely grated parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 bunch of flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • Pepper to tase

Instructions

  1. Add a generous teaspoon of salt to a large pot of water and bring to a boil. Cook pasta according to package instructions. Reserve 1/8 cup pasta water before draining.
  2. While the pasta cooks, add 1 tablespoon olive oil to a medium skillet. Once the oil has heated, add minced garlic. Cook for a minute or so, stirring constantly so the garlic doesn’t brown. Add grated parsnip and cook for 5 minutes, stirring frequently. The parsnip absorbs oil quickly, so add the remaining olive oil little by little as you stir. Add the salt, pepper, lemon juice, and 3/4 the lemon zest and cook until the parsnip just begins to turn slightly golden.
  3. Add the cooked pasta to the parsnip mix, then sprinkle in the cheese and half the chopped parsley. Stir to incorporate, adding in the pasta water to thicken.
  4. To serve, sprinkle each plate with the remaining parsley and lemon zest.

Enjoy!!

The Indisputable Romance of Mac & Cheese

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When it comes to Valentine’s day, strawberries and champagne are all well and good. But let’s be honest: I’d rather have cheese. Lots and lots of melted, soul-comforting cheese. What’s more romantic than cracking the perfectly-golden surface of melted gruyere and plunging two spoons into the pasta-laden depths of a shared bowl of mac’n’cheese?

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I partnered with Guido’s Fresh Marketplace to design my dream Valentines dinner using seriously fresh local Berkshires ingredients. After leafing through the pages of Rachel Khoo’s The Little Paris KichenI fell in love with a roasted root vegetable salad, studded with crisp bacon and accented by sweet apple and dollops of goat cheese mousse.

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To me, the best desserts marry subtle sweetness with a hint of salt. Since discovering the concept of dates sautéed in olive oil with sea salt in Molly Wizenberg’s Delancey, I’ve been eating them as a snack or for breakfast with yogurt. But why not take it to the next level by pairing them with SoCo Classic Vanilla ice cream? The verdant oil soaks into the dates and the salt melts into the ice cream and it’s altogether divine.

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Try something (or everything) from the menu below for a cozy night in with someone you love. You’ll have to let me know how it goes, because on February 14th I’ll be eating Biscoff cookies and drinking a celebratory glass of overpriced wine on a plane to Minneapolis for the birth of my very own niece (!!!!!!)

Roasted Root Vegetable Salad (Adapted from The Little Paris Kitchen by Rachel Khoo)

For the Salad

  • 3 carrots (i used rainbow yellow and purple, as orange isn’t very Valentines-y), sliced into small cubes or half moons
  • 3 parsnips, washed and sliced into small cubes or half moons
  • 1 Fuji apple, peeled and sliced into small cubes
  • 1/2 lb. slab bacon, cut into cubes
  • 1 cooked beet, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 1 daikon or rainbow radish, washed and thinly sliced
  • 2 handfuls of green lettuce of your choice
  • 2 Tablespoons white balsamic vinegar
  • 3 Tablespoons olive oil

For the goat cheese mousse

  • 3 1/2 oz. goat cheese, such as Monterey Chevre (I used the garlic and herb!)
  • 1/4 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 1/4 cup milk

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Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 400º
  2. Place the cubed carrots, parsnips, and apple on a baking sheet. Drizzle with 1 Tablespoon olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Stir to evenly distribute oil. Place in oven and roast for 25 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  3. Place a sheet of parchment paper on another baking sheet. Spread cubed bacon evenly over parchment paper, and place in oven with roasting vegetables. Bake until the bacon is lightly browned and crispy and the smell is heavenly.
  4. While the veggies and bacon are roasting, make the mousse. Place milk and goat cheese in a mixing bowl and beat with a whisk or electric hand mixture until smooth and free of lumps.
  5. In a separate mixing bowl, whip the cream until stiff peaks form.
  6. Fold half the whipped cream into the goat cheese mixture, mix gently, and fold in the rest. Place the mousse in a zip lock freezer bag and place in the fridge,
  7. To assemble the salad, arrange roasted vegetables, bacon, beet and radish slices, and greens on a plate. Cut a small corner off the bottom of the ziplock bag and pipe the mousse onto salad plate as desired.
  8. Whisk remaining olive oil and vinegar together and sprinkle lightly over salad to serve.

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Little Sister Mac & Cheese

  • 3 Tablespoons butter
  • 2 1/2 – 3 T all purpose flour
  • 2 1/2 cups milk, lukewarm
  • 1/2 an onion, peeled, studded with 2 cloves
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon coarse salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground pepper
  • 10 oz. macaroni elbows
  • 6 oz. grated sharp cheddar
  • 2 oz. grated Gruyere, some extra for sprinkling on top

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 375º
  2. Pour the milk into a pyrex measuring cup and set it in a large bowl of boiling water to warm.
  3. Butter 2 10 oz. ramekins (if you have them) or a 9×13 casserole pan and set aside
  4. Make the roux (full disclosure, a roux is finicky, but don’t let them intimidate you! I messed up twice before getting it to behave…) Melt butter in a skillet over medium heat until it begins to bubble. Add in the flour one sprinkling at a time, whisking vigorously, until a thick paste forms. Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly.
  5. Next, pour 2 cups of the warm milk into the roux a little at a time, whisking constantly. If the mixture begins to separate, keep whisking and it should become smooth.
  6. Return milk/roux mixture to heat and add clove-studded onion, bay leaf, nutmeg, cayenne, salt and pepper. Continue whisking and add more milk if the mixture gets too thick (it should be the consistency of a smooth soup). Cook for 8 minutes, whisking frequently.
  7. Cook pasta according to instructions on box, drain, and set aside.
  8. Add grated cheddar and most of the gruyere to the roux mixture and stir to incorporate. Mix in the cooked pasta and distribute evenly into two ramekins or the casserole dish. Sprinkle with remaining gruyere.
  9. Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until top is golden brown. Transfer to wire rack to cool.

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Sauteed Dates with Olive Oil, Sea Salt, & Vanilla Ice Cream (Adapted from Delancy, by Molly Wizenburg)

  • Olive oil
  • Whole dried Mejdool dates (3 or 4 per person)
  • Crunchy salt

Instructions

  1. Place heavy skillet over medium heat and pour in enough olive oil to coat the bottom of the pan.
  2. When the oil is warmed and runs loosely around the pan, add the dates, spacing evenly around the skillet.
  3. Cook, turning the dates frequently wit a pair of tongs so that they heat on all sides. Be careful not to burn them–you just want to heat them enough so each side begins to blister ever so slightly.
  4. Transfer dates to a serving plate and sprinkle generously with salt.
  5. Place 2 scoops of ice cream into a dish and top with 3 dates. Indulge.

P.S.

For a behind the scenes peak at my cooking/photographing process, check out my video with the lovely Masiero’s of Guido’s!

XOXO and happy Valentine’s from Little Sister Kitchen

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Orange Pecan Cake with Honey-Whipped Ricotta

1E200789-8F91-4F87-BD2D-28080CF502A4Less than two months ago, I had a very stable 9-5 job. I woke up every morning, made my bed, got dressed, ate breakfast, and hopped on the orange line. I mapped out exactly how many pages I could read on the train before getting off at Back Bay Station, where I’d ascend the escalator, past one Dunk’n’Donuts and then another, and cross Dartmouth St. to enter the Copley Mall. I even counted the steps it took from the station to the seventh floor Wayfair offices (somewhere around 400).

9FA9C944-1E0E-47CF-838D-04E1700B4620The day ended at 5, which is exactly when I stopped thinking about e-commerce and shifted my focus to food, cookbooks, and dinner. Those evenings were wonderfully free and spent primarily in the kitchen, to the probable chagrin of my roommates, who would have liked to prepare their reasonable dinners without the presence of a maniac on her third batch of chocolate-dipped biscotti.

3C740D1D-584C-4CDD-A8F7-39F531309481I now live in a 3 story house in New Haven, CT with two law students, an ex-NYC management consultant-turned singer, a crazily artistic refugee reestablishment caseworker, a botanical genius, and a 6-month old black and white Schnoodle. There’s a music studio set up in the basement, plants everywhere, a wood stove in the living room, a backyard and patio, and a cantankerous caretaker named Frank. At any hour of the day, you’re likely to hear someone practicing guitar or singing, like some extra cozy music school for twentysomething misfits. Two house members (who shall remain un-named) have spent most of their winter vacation referring to each other as either ‘Jurist’ or ‘Bailiff’ and playing Shadow of Mordor on their PS4. In other words, a far cry from my quiet little haven in Jamaica Plain.

A1C716AF-48CD-43F2-83C5-C55C948896D0It’s hard to believe I am now a freelance writer. Whenever I heard the word “freelance” growing up, I pictured a sort of law-defying knight of the round table who’d left the jousting circuit to gallop around on a horse with his lance and not a care in the world.

A4A447E3-23E7-4AB9-8B70-0DAF7CB18B55In reality, however, “freelance” means figuring out how to create your own work, setting expectations for yourself, and practicing discipline. I’ve become one of those people who “works from home”—you know, the kind you see at a café with their laptop in the middle of the day and wonder why they don’t have something better to do.

01B5B759-56AD-4401-AD7F-03D4035FA072In the mad shuffle to move from Boston to home in Western MA and then to New Haven in a small sedan, I had to temporarily part with my cookbook collection. It might surprise you that my first instinct for baking inspiration is not the world wide web, but there is nothing I love more than turning the pages of a cookbook, flipping to the index and scrolling through ingredients. In fact, my goal in life is to have a living room with floor-to-ceiling shelves of cookbooks organized alphabetically by author.

5EF30CAA-1611-495D-95EE-227933A765B8So for my fist bake of 2016, without my two 100-lb. storage bins of cookbooks, I turned to Smitten Kitchen: that steadfast bible of witty, approachable inspiration. Deb’s most recent recipe, an upside down cake studded with glowing oranges seemed perfect against the bright blue-white of the year’s first snow.

9EA977CC-5490-46CE-B405-00EA509AB85AI wish I could say I substituted pecans for almonds on a whimsical stroke of pure culinary genius. In fact, I had no almonds in my pantry and had to improvise. I roasted the nuts for a warmer, toastier flavor. Note: this is one seriously moist cake. Oh, and it happens to be gluten free!

Orange Pecan Cake with Honey Whipped Ricotta

Adapted slightly from Smitten Kitchen 

Ingredients 

For the cake 

  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon water
  • 3 large eggs, separated
  • 2/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 cara cara oranges
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 2/3 cup full fat ricotta
  • 1/3 cup  cornmeal
  • 1 1/2 cups whole pecans
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1/4 cup apricot jam (optional, for glaze)

For the Ricotta

  • 1/2 cup full fat ricotta
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • 1 Tablespoon honey
  • Pinch of seasalt

Instructions

  1. Heat oven to 300º. Butter a 9-inch round cake pan and line the bottom with parchment paper.
  2. Mix brown sugar and water together to form a thick paste. Pour into prepared cake pan so that sugar mixture is equally distributed over the bottom. Set aside.
  3. Spread pecans on a baking sheet and roast until lightly toasted and fragrant (about 7 minutes). Remove from oven and let cool completely. Once cool, place pecans in a food processor and pulse until  nuts have the consistency of wet sand. This is a much damper meal than almond meal, so don’t be alarmed when the nuts feel slightly moist.
  4. In a medium sized mixing bowl, whip egg whites with an electric hand mixer until stiff peaks form. Set aside.
  5. Cut one orange in half and slice into paper thin half moons or circles. Arrange over brown sugar base in cake pan.
  6. Add sugar to a large mixing bowl and zest both oranges over the sugar.
  7. Juice remaining orange and a half until you have just under 1/3 of a cup. Set aside.
  8. Add butter to the sugar and zest and beat with your electric mixer until light and fluffy. Add one egg yoke at a time and beat to combine. Add orange juice and ricotta and mix with a wooden spoon until smooth. Add the salt, pecan meal, and cornmeal and mix until just combined. Gently fold in egg whites.
  9. Carefully scoop the batter over prepared cake pan so as not to disturb the orange slices. Bake 40 minutes, until a fork inserted into the center comes out clean. The cake is so moist that Deb recommends a few extra minutes.
  10. Cool cake in pan on rack for 5 minutes. Run a butter knife around the side and invert onto a cake plate.
  11. Heat the jam until liquified and spoon over cake top for a glossier finish. Let cool before cutting into slices.
  12. Place ricotta, heavy cream, honey, and salt in a mixing bowl. Beat with a hand mixer until stiff peaks form. Spoon in dollops on cake slices to serve.

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Dark Chocolate, Sea Salt, and Brand New Beginnings

CD0E0853-8CD6-4C81-93E9-5EEC1C8FB2E2At 11 PM on a Saturday night, I sat down to start on work for one of my four jobs. A few hours later, as I dipped a granola bar into a mug of watery hot chocolate from a package that’s been sitting in a kitchen drawer for over a year, I felt it might be time to reevaluate things. When I proceeded to scald my entire tongue on a sip of the aforementioned beverage, I decided it was time  time for a flat out reality check. The facts:

  • I am 24 years old
  • I am wearing size XL sweatpants from a college I did not attend, a mustard yellow fleece, a wool sweater, and fuzzy Eskimo slippers.
  • I just got home from a 12 hour shift working retail at a pop-up holiday market specializing in small batch, sustainably-sourced artisanal foods
    • I’ve probably used the phrase “small batch, sustainably-sourced artisanal foods” about 50 times today
  • For dinner, I ate ¾ of a frozen pepperoni pizza, to which I added a healthy does of salt.
  • I recently quit my job.
  • I’ve given up a salary, membership to a fancy gym, pre-paid T pass, health benefits, and paid vacation to enter the world of food writing, which is not exactly known for being lucrative.
  • My dream life is one in which I spend half the time cooking and baking and the other half writing, and yet
    • I have been using my roommate’s cast iron skillet for the past year and a half
      • I do not own a food processor, a stand mixer, a single baking sheet, cake pans, or a good knife
        • and am, in point of fact, an incredible mooch who has been reaping the benefits of well equipped friends since graduating college

And yet…I’ve never been this kind of happy. Armed with a well-worn wooden spoon, a hand mixer, and a Le Creuset stainless steel spatula, I am ready to take on the next adventure, whatever that may be.

DCC98F70-7F6D-4186-B0FC-1CC64CC0E06286A4CCAD-D065-4F6D-9A86-81D2B9C98D9BMost people imagine their lives as movies. I dream of mine as a cookbook. You know, the kind where after several pages of plum galettes, elegant cakes and heaping summer salads, there I am, looking ever-so-chic, stirring a shining copper pot without a care in the world. But realistically, a cookbook of my  life would involve meals like: yogurt straight from the carton with a few walnuts on every spoonful, eaten standing up at the counter. And maybe a short inspirational piece on how to eat Trader Joe’s potstickers in bed, dipping each bite into a bowl of soy sauce, all while watching Jane the Virgin on Netflix. The pictures would show me in bulky sweaters and my fuzzy slippers, squatting with my nose pressed against the oven door at 10 PM on a weeknight.

ED78E759-E0E5-4BEF-BBF5-84161E10FB33DEB1F89F-3CA3-4D90-89FA-E526E7A049B9So there you have it. I’m neither glamorous nor well equipped, but I’m one tiny step closer to defining myself in the world of food. After an incredibly educational year of e-commerce and site merchandising, I’m suddenly immersed in the world of freelance writing, working for a successful blog and artisan food company, and filling up every hour I can with odd jobs like helping a painter convert slides and negatives to a digital archive. I’m about to move from Boston to a rambling old house in New Haven, CT, where I’ll be living with 5 other people and a puppy. Are you thinking what I’m thinking? That’s 5 new subjects for my baking experiments…

2FB603C0-2191-44AE-9CE1-44EA073327A2AFD53546-5A97-4BAD-ACCF-27CD6A346F50Up until now, I’ve been coasting along, using cooking as a hobby, an antidote to a stressful day. Now it’s time to get serious. I feel like I should be taking an oath, one hand on my heart and the other on The Joy of Cooking.

25C81202-3C29-42CF-A818-F45E733F5F51A116D71A-CAAF-4DD8-9363-58E967099BC1Whoever you are, and from wherever you’re reading this, I’m so grateful and I can’t wait to keep sharing my haphazard culinary adventures with you. My goal is to inspire you to bake and cook. Trust me, if I can do it, so can you. I’m the one who up until the age of 10 refused to eat pie because I didn’t like the texture. Really!  So here’s a recipe that is incredibly easy and will guarantee ooh’s and ahh’s from everyone who takes a bite. Made with dark chocolate and sea salt, these cookies are rich, soft, crumbly, and sophisticated: perfect after any meal with a cup of coffee or tea. They’re from the inimitable Dorie Greenspan and Pierre Hermé, a fan of whose once claimed that a daily dose of these cookies would ensure planetary peace and happiness. It is physically impossible to eat only one.

Recipe for Dorie Greenspan & Pierre Hermé’s World Peace Cookies,
from The Splendid Table  (my notes in italics)
Ingredients
  • 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 stick plus 3 tablespoons (11 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 2/3 cup (packed) light brown sugar (the third time I made these, I used organic brown sugar and I swear it made them better…)
  • 1/4 cup sugar 
  • 1/2 teaspoon fleur de sel or 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 5 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped into chips, or a generous 3/4 cup store-bought mini chocolate chips

Instructions

  1. Sift the flour, cocoa and baking soda together.
  2. Working with a stand mixer, preferably fitted with a paddle attachment, or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the butter on medium speed until soft and creamy. Add both sugars, the salt and vanilla extract and beat for 2 minutes more. (Really do the full two minutes–it makes a difference in the final outcome)
  3. Turn off the mixer. Pour in the dry ingredients, drape a kitchen towel over the stand mixer to protect yourself and your kitchen from flying flour and pulse the mixer at low speed about 5 times, a second or two each time. Take a peek — if there is still a lot of flour on the surface of the dough, pulse a couple of times more; if not, remove the towel. Continuing at low speed, mix for about 30 seconds more, just until the flour disappears into the dough — for the best texture, work the dough as little as possible once the flour is added, and don’t be concerned if the dough looks a little crumbly. Toss in the chocolate pieces and mix only to incorporate.
  4. Turn the dough out onto a work surface (it will look like a giant pile of crumbs), gather it together and divide it in half. Working with one half at a time, shape the dough into logs that are 1 1/2 inches in diameter. Wrap the logs in plastic wrap and refrigerate them for at least 3 hours. (The dough can be refrigerated for up to 3 days or frozen for up to 2 months. If you’ve frozen the dough, you needn’t defrost it before baking — just slice the logs into cookies and bake the cookies 1 minute longer.)

Getting Ready to Bake:

  1. Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Line two baking sheets with parchment or silicone mats.
  2. Using a sharp thin knife, slice the logs into rounds that are 1/2 inch thick. (The rounds are likely to crack as you’re cutting them — don’t be concerned, just squeeze the bits back onto each cookie.) Arrange the rounds on the baking sheets, leaving about 1 inch between them.
  3. Bake the cookies one sheet at a time for 12 minutes — they won’t look done, nor will they be firm, but that’s just the way they should be. Transfer the baking sheet to a cooling rack and let the cookies rest until they are only just warm, at which point you can serve them or let them reach room temperature.

34839AD7-3A0B-4E71-BCBA-973CCF021A6B4A0D0F70-9796-4983-9916-01E16219E9C7Try them and let me know what you think!

Xo,

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A Guido’s Thanksgiving Feast

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When I daydream about coming home for the holidays, I think of wearing slippers and cozy sweaters for days at a time, sitting in front of the fire until my eyelids begin to droop, and waking up to views of the rolling blue Berkshire hills. Mostly, however, I think of cooking. I think of dreaming up menus at the kitchen table surrounded by a small fortress of cookbooks, writing out grocery lists, and going to Guido’s Fresh Marketplace. For someone who considers writing grocery lists a hobby and who thinks about food 24/7, Guido’s is like paradise. I’ve been there over 1200 times (I did the math), but every time I come home, in summer, winter, spring or fall, shopping there still feels like a treat.

Thanksgiving us upon us, but let’s be honest, I’m nowhere near ready to roast a whole turkey. I’ve seen my mom’s technique, which involves dunking the bird in a giant, plastic-lined industrial bucket full of brine a full 3 days before the feast, and then painstakingly spreading herbed butter under every inch of the bird’s skin. If you’re like me, you find that process slightly intimidating, but nonetheless adore the flavors of the classic Thanksgiving feast.

This year, I partnered with Guido’s to create a Thanksgiving menu, Little Sister style; in other words, fun, festive, and easy! I combined trusty resources like the New York Times food section, my favorite food blogs, and a few age-old family recipes with the gorgeous bounty of Guido’s Fresh Marketplace to come up with the following menu:

Shrimp Steamed in Beer with Tartar Sauce

This might be a little outside the usual Thanksgiving agenda, but it’s a quick, easy, no-fail hors d’oeuvre for entertaining season. My family learned the recipe in Key West, where they cook the shrimp whole. The tartar sauce is my grandma’s recipe. While its roots are Floridian, the warm flavors of beer, cloves, onion and bay leaves are perfect for a late fall evening. Mazzeo’s fresh-caught Alabama shrimp can’t be beat.

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For the Shrimp

1 lb. fresh caught shrimp

1 Bottle beer

1 T whole cloves

1 Bay leavef

1 Onion, roughly chopped

1 Dill pickle, roughly chopped

Combine beer, onion, cloves, bay leaf and pickle in a large pot and bring to a boil. Add shrimp, cover pan and bring to a boil again. Turn to simmer and watch carefully. They’ll be pink, firm and done very quickly!

For the Tartar Sauce

1 C mayonnaise

1 Clove garlic

3 Scallions

1 tsp. Dijon mustard

1 tsp. Capers

a sprinkle of salt and a grind of pepper

About 5 leaves of parsley

Combine all ingredients in a food processor and pulse until thoroughly combined.

Roasted Fennel, Satsuma Orange, and Pomegranate Salad

from Brooklyn Supper

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This salad is simple but gorgeous, the roasted saltiness of the fennel and red onion contrasted with the bright crunch of pomegranate seeds. Click here for the recipe.

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Stuffing-Stuffed Acorn Squash

If you ask me, the whole point of Thanksgiving is the stuffing. Everything else is just a vehicle. Why not showcase the flavors of stuffing—crumbly cornbread, warm chestnuts, sweet sausage, and sage—by piling it into halves of velvety acorn squash? The type of squash is up to you! From local butternut to speckled Kabocha to bright orange Kuri, Guido’s selection is overflowing.

For the Squash (serves 8)

4 Acorn squash

1 T olive oil

½ tsp. coarse sea salt

Preheat oven to 425°. Halve each squash and scrape out seeds from center. Lightly oil the cut edges and center of squash. Oil the bottom of a baking dish or roasting pan, and sprinkle salt over surface. Bake squash cut side down for 25 minutes. Let cool slightly before flipping, as hot steam will escape. Set aside.

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For the Stuffing

2 T butter

1 Onion, diced

¾ lb. sweet Italian sausage (Guido’s sells it freshly-made, in bulk!)

1 ½ cups Olivia’s Original Cornbread Stuffing Croutons

15 oz. Whole roasted and peeled chestnuts (After years of agonizing over roasting whole chestnuts and multiple injuries sustained from the peeling process, we now buy Guido’s Blanchard & Blanchard’s Organic Whole Roasted and Peeled Chestnuts)

1 C whole milk

2 Stalks celery

3 Sage leaves, finely chopped

Salt & Pepper to Taste

Cook the onion in butter until golden brown. Add the sausage and sage and cook, stirring constantly until meat is browned and cooked through. Add the chestnuts, cornbread, milk, salt and pepper and mix well. Cook on low heat until all ingredients are thoroughly incorporated and the cornbread has lost some of its crunch. Once stuffing is done, pile it into the cavity of each squash half and bake for 5 -10 minutes. Sprinkle with parsley to serve.

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Quick-Blanched Haricot Verts

Guido’s deliciously crisp haricots verts don’t need anything other than a quick blanch in boiling water to bring out their bright, cheerful flavor.

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Cranberry Orange Curd Tart

From the New York Times

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I couldn’t resist the locally grown cranberries that greeted me in a tower of deep red when I walked in the door of Guido’s. But instead of cranberry sauce, why not eat them for dessert? This New York Times recipe combines everything good about tangy cranberries and orange zest with the luxurious creaminess of curd, spreading it to bake in a buttery, roasted hazelnut crust (that just so happens to be gluten free!) I was initially intimidated, but take it from me: curd is not scary at all, and this will become a new staple on your Thanksgiving table. Click here for the recipe

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Pear & Ginger Upside Down Cake with Pomegranate Compote

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There’s something about a rainy day in fall. Most of the trees are completely bare, their black, lichened branches hovering uncertainly against the grey sky, but some still revel in a subtle glory of tarnished yellow and onionskin brown. I watch from the seventh floor as people move along the sodden sidewalks below; tiny specks beneath their bobbing umbrellas.

After work I wander through Back Bay as the sky darkens to orange-grey. The browntstones on either side of the wide street glow cheerfully from within. I love this time of day, when people huddle against the growing cold, rushing this way and that toward home, a dimly lit bar, a loved one. I take in snippets of other peoples’ lives as I walk; brief, fragmented vignettes into front parlors, window seats, and turret-like bedrooms. One living room is downright boastful, with two crystal chandeliers and several extravagant urns. I wonder: could a person ever be cozy in a room full of urns?

I make my way back home through the rainy night to my second-story apartment on a quiet street in Jamaica Plain. My roommates greet me with a familiar ‘HellOOO-oooooo’ as I climb the stairs. I shed my jacket and boots as the pipes wheeze and clank, bringing our ancient, hulking radiators to life. In this kind of weather, and with so much tragedy in the world, I am acutely grateful for the everyday routines I usually take for granted. The sound of the radiators. A hot shower. The chipped blue and white mug that reminds me of my childhood. Our awkward futon that feels more like a boat than a couch. Living with people I truly love.

When the world seems to be falling completely apart, I focus on things that still make sense. I bake and practice gratitude. I try to generate love and send it out into the world,  just as a cake warms the kitchen with the healing smells of sugar and butter.

Pear Ginger Upside Down Cake with Pomegranate Compote and Orange-Infused Whipped Cream

Adapted from Deborah Madison’s Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone (Broadway Books, 1997)

The original cake called for dried fruit (apricots and prunes), but I’m not ready to succumb quite so thoroughly to winter yet. I swapped the dried fruit for ripe pears and crystallized ginger, made the compote into a cake topping, and added some toasted hazelnuts for warmth. This cake looks like a glowing garnet pendant and is perfect for a rainy November evening.

Ingredients

Fruit

3 tablespoons butter

3/4 cup light brown sugar

3 Firm-ripe Anjou Pears

4 Pieces crystallized ginger

Batter

1 cup cake flour (if you’re like me and can’t justify buying a whole bag of specialty flour for one recipe, there’s an easy fix: measure out one cup of all purpose flour, remove 2 tablespoons, and replace with either corn starch or arrowroot powder. Make sure to sift at least 4 times! Learn more about this flour substitution here)

1 cup all purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

3/8 teaspoon sea salt

1/2 cup unsalted butter (1 stick)

1 cup sugar

1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1/8 teaspoon almond extract

2 eggs room temperature

1 cup buttermilk (when I don’t have buttermilk on hand, I substitute 1/2 cup regular whole milk and 1/2 cup plain, unsweetened yogurt)

Compote Topping

Seeds of 1 pomegranate

1 tablespoon sugar

Zest of 1 orange

To Serve

Whipped Cream (whip 3/4 Cup heavy cream with the grated zest of one orange and 1/2 teaspoon vanilla)

1/4 cup toasted hazelnuts

Instructions:

  1. Preheat oven to 375°
  2. Prepare the fruit: melt the butter in a 10-inch cast-iron pan over medium heat. Stir in the sugar, cook until it’s dissolved, then remove the pan from the heat.
  3. Slice the pears into thin half moons and cut ginger into diamond shapes.  Arrange the pears and ginger over the bottom of the pan.
  4. Make the batter: mix the sifted flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt together in a bowl. Cream the butter with the sugar until light and fluffy. Add the vanilla and almond extracts, then beat in the eggs one at a time until smooth. Scrape down the bowl, stir again to blend in any bits of butter, then stir in the buttermilk (on low speed or with a spoon). Add the dry ingredients in thirds to the butter mixture. Scrape up the batter from the bottom of the bowl to make sure it’s well mixed.
  5. Assemble the cake: smooth the batter over the fruit.
  6. Bake: Place the cake in the center of the oven and bake until springy to the touch and beginning to pull away from the pan (about 35 minutes). Let cool for a few minutes, then invert onto a cake plate.
  7. While the cake is baking, sprinkle the pomegranate sees with a tablespoon sugar and the grated zest of one orange. Stir to incorporate, cover and refrigerate
  8. Once the cake is cool, spread the sugared pomegranate seeds over the top, pressing gently so the seeds don’t roll everywhere.
  9. Top with orange-zest whipped cream to serve.

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