It’s the most wonderful time of the year. The time when I don my sole Anthropologie apron and a schmata, roll up my sleeves, and hole myself up in the kitchen for hours in an elated state of chocolate-covered bliss. Literally, when I emerge, I am covered head to toe with chocolate, chocolate, and more chocolate, and could not be more happy about it. It’s time for holiday chocolate bark!
Now, although I am fiercely and loyally dedicated to my Chocolate Bark with Pistachios and Dried Cherries, this Nutty Chocolate Bark with Cardamom and Coffee proved irrisistable as it is basically my beloved recipe on steroids. Brought to my attention by Lousia Shafia (my new favorite cookbook author) via Saveur (my trusted ethnic recipe source), this bark had more nuts, more dried fruits, more caffeine (I am a sucker for coffee in any form, especially coffee and chocolate) and finally mulberries, which were totally foreign to me, but upon some research are funny-looking berries resembling tiny pine cones with a name that roles nicely off the tongue and helps stabilize blood sugar levels. (I found them easily at Whole Foods, but you can substitute with more commonplace dried figs if desired.)
Aesthetically, the bark is beautiful. Warm hues of various toasted nuts, jewels of dried cherries, and the ensuing dusted bronzed crumbs make the vivacious bark indisputably attractive. Taste-wise, it was a totally new experience to me. Unfamiliar with both caradamom and mulberries, I set out in eager anticipation.
The cardamom, which Louisa describes as “peppery-sweet”, is deliciously exotic; adding a whole new depth of flavor to the festive bark. It’s potently aromatic, with flavors akin to cinnamon and ginger, and melds wonderfully with the bitter coffee and chocolate. Louisa explains that adding cardamom to coffee and tea is a commonplace Iranian practice, which helps to explain my final assessment of the nutty chocolate bark: it tastes like a coffee shop. Pointed, distinct flavors—pungent coffee, assorted nuts, tart cherries, rich cocoa, chai-like cardamon—create a remarkable, sophisticated concoction that’s as unique as it is exceptional. You want to inhale all the flavors, over and over again, with a heartfelt appreciation for the bark’s fancy, delicate bouquet.
As for the mulberries, what a treat! Crunchy and granola-esque, they were fruity and sweet but not cloyingly so. The mulberries acted as a lovely foil to the sharp coffee grounds. I thoroughly enjoyed this bark, and despite the amount of work (all that nut chopping gave me a hand cramp—next time, will use a blender!) the elegant outcome was undoubtedly worth it. I leave you with just one piece of advice: if you are sensitive to caffeine, I wouldn’t eat this too close to going to bed: it delivers quite the buzz!
Nutty Chocolate Bark with Cardamom and Coffee (from The New Persian Kitchen)
Makes about 1 1/2 lbs bark
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Our dear friend the pumpkin is out and about in two ways during Fall. You can find him whole and squat in the pumpkin patch, surrounded by the obligatory farm fare, hayrides and apple trees prior to meeting his jack-o-latern fate. Or whipped neatly into a can of puree, where a spatula will cleanly scoop out his fleshy goodness in prep for the bread, muffin or pie of his namesake.
Somewhere in between carving pumpkins on the floor over newspapers and scooping puree out of a can is this White Bean and Smoked Paprika Sugar Pumpkin Stew. Rarely do we see pumpkin peeled, seeded and cubed in the grocery store the way we do butternut squash, and I think this unfamiliarity makes the prospect of buying your own whole pumpkin (no it doesn’t need to be 20 lbs), removing the seeds and flesh by hand (but I don’t own a machete), and cooking and pureeing in the kitchen (ahhhh is this a Halloween prank) so scary and daunting.
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For this Blueberry Quinoa Amaretto Crisp, it was love at first site. How did the recipe so quickly win over my affection? The answer is threefold: First, alluring me with one of my favorite seasonal summer fruits; second, seducing me with a triple hit of almond: slivered nuts, almond flour, and amaretto almond liquor; and third, courting me with my favorite grain-that’s-not-actually-a-grain, quinoa. The result: a bubbling, toasted pan of perfection, boasting not one but two superfoods. Oh, my heart (and tummy) are so full.
The crisp’s quinoa topping is not as sweet as you’d presume in this type of dish. While unexpected, I found myself liking it: I treated the dish almost more as a breakfast consideration, rather than dessert. The quinoa mixed with slivered almonds makes for a topping with quite a crunch, which gently coats the real star of the dish: the blueberries.
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Summer fruits aren’t wasting any time bursting onto the outdoor dining scene. Whether it’s a picnic, BBQ, or first dinner on the patio; berries, melons, pits, and citrus are rallying to stake their presence in any and every warm-weather seasonal dish. Enough of limiting us to breakfast sides and post-dinner desserts, they scoff. Chilled soups, bold salads, hearty grains, grilled mains…. we want in on it all!
Oh so sweet but equally determined, they are collectively led by the mighty strawberry. The most represented fruit on the summer savory dish circuit, we don’t skip a beat seeing a strawberry-balsamic glaze or goat cheese-strawberry salad on a main menu. Which is why the juicy red berry shines in this herb-flecked, warm-toned summer Quinoa Salad with Strawberries, Almonds and Mint
A side salad (add a protein like grilled chicken or shrimp to elevate to a main) that promises a warm welcome at any communal outdoor gathering, this quinoa salad is the perfect potato-salad-pick-me-up thanks to its bold, refreshing flavors and novel pairing of well-known parts. Scallions, cucumber, almonds, strawberries, feta, parsley, and mint are nothing new; but tossed all together…does it work? Oh, you bet it does! No bite tastes the same with the infinite combinations of each chopped ingredient, transforming flavors as you dig deeper into the salad for the next surprising gustatory pop.
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This Sweet and Smoky Beet Burger recipe comes straight out of my newly purchased cookbook, The New Persian Kitchen by Louisa Shafia. Believe it or not, I’m not a big cookbook buyer: I guess I can partially blame this on the lack of storage space in my closet of an apartment, but mostly it’s because I seek out a lot of my recipes from cooking websites and blogs. (Plus my two staple cookbooks, The Moosewood Cookbook and American Medical Association’s Family Health Cookbook, are so wonderfully comprehensive.)
That being said, what drove me to purchase The New Persian Kitchen? Specifically, to pre-order and carry home upon its arrival, hugged tightly in my arms, like a proud, excited child who had just acquired her very first homework assignment?
The descriptors in this recipe title —sweet and smoky—hold a clue. What drew me to The New Persian Kitchen was the juxtaposition of savory and sweet in almost every recipe. Riddled with the aromatic fresh herbs one would expect from Middle Eastern cooking: dill, mint, parsley, cilantro, and tarragon; a heavy reliance on onions and garlic, and unique regional spices such as turmeric, dried limes, and lemony sumac; this cookbook has it’s savory and spice side down pat. But what really intrigued me were the natural sweet flavors it was always paired with: pomegranate molasses, chopped dates, dried cherries, rose petals. The result is a balance of “hot” (gardi) and “cold” (sarmi) flavors, as Louisa describes, which play off each other in a most harmonious and flavorful fashion.
Case in point: these delicious burgers! Smoky paprika, sautéed onions and garlic, and earthy lentils and brown rice make up the bulk of the “meat” of these burgers, which are dotted with jewels of golden raisins, sweet beets, and nutty walnuts. (Yes, spend that extra $3 and buy golden raisins. It’s worth it!) These bursts of sweet flavor offer a pleasing, unexpected jolt that make this “veggie burger” anything but your plain ol’. Upgrade your choice of condiment by replacing ketchup with a saucy fruit chutney or cool mix of plain Greek yogurt, diced cucumbers and tomatoes stirred in red wine vinegar, and generous sprinkling of fresh dill.
This recipe makes 8 servings. I recommend making the entire batch and refrigerating (for up to 5 days) or freezing the remainder for another meal. Between the lentils and brown rice, the burgers take a bit of time to make, so get your prep done in one fell swoop to eliminate the time commitment for next round!
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I’m going to start this post with a caveat: there will be no lighting your kitchen on fire in the making of this dish! My oh-so-poetic title for this Shrimp Sauté, sans Flambé dish is not a flambé-gone-terribly-wrong kitchen horror story, but rather a well thought out cautionary approach with a likable rhyme to boot. I intentionally skipped the risk of lighting my kitchen (and myself) on fire by foregoing the flambé step. For all my chef 101s, flambé (pronounced flahm-BAY) is when one adds alcohol to a hot pan to create a burst of flames. But I am posting this recipe because despite forgoing the flames, this dish still has serious fire— and is totally delish.
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The beginning of Passover kind of reminds me of the start of school. Every year it sort of creeps up on us, its commencement marked by the requisite shopping trip. The obligatory matzoh pick-up at the supermarket is like going to Staples for school supplies.
Opening the first box is reminiscent of a reunion with a long-lost friend. Its so good to see you again! Has it really been a whole year? But after we excitedly make our first matzoh PB & J and enthusiastically assemble some matzoh pizza, we start to get a bit bored of our square, unleavened friend. Maybe there’s a a matzoh brei thrown in there as well to mix it up (although I’ve never been a huge fan.) Serious Eats does offer a great guide of 3-ingredient matzoh sandwiches kosher for Passover here. But by day 5, its the texture variety from other grains like a toasted bagel or slippery bowl of pasta that I miss the most.
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One swallow does not a summer make. But one sardine does a winter make? For this humble but mighty fish, an unexpected cold-weather benefit confirms it surely does!
Named after the Italian island Sardinina, sardines are definitely the herring family’s hippest and healthiest member. Famed restaurateur Gabriel Stulman’s newest West Village hotspot, Chez Sardine, literally translates to “House of Sardine.” And while ordering the minute ocean-dweller off a menu will most likely feature the fish in it’s entirety, eyes, skin and all; canned sardines (available skinless and boneless) provide an excellent alternative for easy and painless home cooking.
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I’m at it again—in defense of tofu.
I woke up on this lazy Saturday morning, in deep rumination over what kind of omelette to make for breakfast; conducting a complete mental inventory of all available veggies and cheeses. I open the fridge, and:
No eggs. I blink. No. Really? Really, confirms the refrigerator. It’s 17°F degrees outside, Accuweather informs me. Feels like: 11°F. Inside, I’m already wearing a blanket and wool socks. So my corner bodega run is out of the question.
And then I see, partially obscured in the crowded kitchen cabinet, a box of silken tofu. It is staring at me. (It IS.) I challenge you, it smirks silently. OK, I think, challenge accepted! Let’s do this. I’ve been reading a lot of rave reviews over tofu breakfast scrambles; egg-lovers swear they are converts to the soy substitute based solely on this dish.
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In winter, I find that I’m prone to two distinct types of soup cravings. The first is for hearty chunky soups, like a loaded minestrone, and the second demands a thick pureed soup, like a smooth-as-silk squash. Possessed of the latter, I found the prettiest acorn squash at the Farmers Market last week (I have to brag, it was gorgeous!), and set out to make this Roasted Acorn Squash Soup with Rye Crostini.
I can’t say enough about what an exquisite medium acorn squash is for a soup. It perfectly complements the flavors of so many soup-friendly ingredients. Apple, cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves enhance the squash’s natural sweetness, while autumn-rich notes like sage, ginger and onion tip the scale towards savory, balancing out the sweet. Beta-carotene rich carrots gives the soup a substantive texture boost while illuminating it’s signature orange hue. The result: a melt-in-your-mouth maze of flavors, every bite as smooth as it is scrumptious—and nutrient packed too! In fact, this soup is so rich in taste that a generous dollop of Greek yogurt is recommended to mellow it out a bit pre-serving, adding even further creaminess along with a healthy protein boost.
Equipped with a a flattened, round loaf of Nordic Bread’s Finnish Ruis bread—a dense, hoppy-tasting whole-grain rye from the Union Square Greenmarket —I set out to make croutons, but the bread proved too flat. Instead, I came up with something even better: crostini mini-spoons! I toasted thin, slivers of bread, which crisped perfectly in the toaster oven thanks to a quick spritz of olive oil. The crostini mini-spoons acted as the perfect vessel to sop up the pureed soup. Cut along a thin diagonal, the crostini slivers can also be made easily with a whole-grain baguette.
Upon serving, the dish was really beautiful: a vibrant tangerine-hued soup, laced with thin swirls of creamy white yogurt, accented with the floating crostini crisps on top. Add a thyme sprig for a final aesthetic touch, and this one-pot-wonder—a must-have starter for cold-weather dinner parties— will certainly turn heads. Warning: requests for second helpings will keep your ladle busy!
Time Saving Tip: The squash can be roasted up to a day in advance, and then refrigerated until you’re ready to start the soup. Also, after removing the squash seeds, feel free to salt & roast them along with the squash, removing from heat after 30 minutes. They make a nice crunchy snack while waiting for the soup!
Roasted Acorn Squash Soup with Rye Crostini (derived from A Sweet Pea Chef)
Yield: serves 4 as main dishes; 6 as a side
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