When did fruit salads fall out of favor? Exactly when did they universally become a bowl of underripe cantaloupe, watermelon chunks, tasteless strawberries, hard pineapple and red grapes? What happened to those intricately carved watermelons that looked like baskets or whales filled with fresh, flavorful fruit and the judicious use of a melon baller? Remember when you could order a fruit salad on a restaurant menu and it was good? As a kid I used to make really elaborate fruit salads, prettily fanned out on a plate in mosaic patterns with a bowl of berry yogurt in the center for dipping. I haven’t done that in years. I think it’s time to reclaim the damn fruit salad.

I have an abundance of peaches at the moment, the result of my brilliant idea to get a summer subscription of Georgia peaches. They are wonderful, truly wonderful, but I can’t seem to get through a shipment before the next one arrives and that’s created a bit of a backlog. First world problems, yes, I know. I’ve made ice cream and sorbets, a pie or two and last night a really wonderful salad with salty cheese and a mint vinaigrette. A delight. The best fruit salad I’ve had in a long, long while.

The peaches are not my only abundance problem right now. The mint in my garden plot is rather plentiful. No, that doesn’t quite adequately describe what is happening. My mint is a beast that requires an aggressive trim at least twice a week to beat it into submission. I’m constantly looking for things to do with it as one cannot live on mojitos alone (news flash). I love mint + peaches so I dug up a vinaigrette recipe I haven’t made in far too long. A bunch of mint, bright lime, a bit of honey; it is lovely and exceptionally good with summer stone fruits. 

Anyway, I was thinking some salty feta would be a nice addition but a trip to the farmers market had me throwing a favorite cheese into my bag from a WI vendor called Brunkow. I just call it “Brunkow Cheese” but technically it’s a ‘juustoleipa” – a mild, salty, firm, sort of bouncy cheese from Finland that holds up to heat. It reminds me a lot of halloumi or the Greek kasseri. You grill or pan fry to get a toasty crust and a melty center. If you can find this type of cheese in your store, by all means use it, otherwise look for the more readily available halloumi or kasseri as it essentially works the same. Toasty melty salty cheese, mint and peaches are a wonderful combination, especially on these hot days when you really don’t feel much like eating anything.

STRESS BAKING THERAPY FACTOR: COOL RUNNINGS. I’m not even entirely sure what I mean by that but I’ve watched 1,764 hours of Olympic coverage in the fist six days and the Jamaican bobsled team is on my mind tonight. Weird, I know. But really, I think the gist is it’s hot and I don’t feel like eating a damn thing and yet, this salad went down really well. Fresh, bright, easy and refreshing; it’s all that summer food should be.

additional peach recipes: Roasted Peach Sour Cream Ice CreamPeach Buttermilk Ice CreamPeach SorbettoPeach Frozen CustardPeach Blackberry CobblerGinger Peach Hand PiesPeach PandowdyPeach CrostadaBourbon Peach Rugelah

twelve years ago: Tart Tips & Tart DoughSour Cherry Sorbet

eleven years agoBetty’s Pies exploring Minnesota

ten years agoLife in Southwest France

nine years agoBastille Day Bomb PopsSour Cherry Slab Pie

eight years agoSpicy Pineapple PaletasHungarian Cherry Soup

seven years agoGuinness Crème Anglaise

six years agoBlender Gazpacho  

five years agoBlueberries & Cream PopsiclesBeef Bulgogi & Rice Cake SkewersThai Grilled Coconut Rice & Banana

four years agoSalmon Rilettes

three years agoGreek Salad Piadini Sandwiches

two years agoStrawberry Mascarpone Galette

last yearPico de Gallo White Bean SaladSimple Summer Fruit Tarts


Serves 2-3

Ripe, juicy peaches are pretty important for this one. This would also work well with nectarines, plums and probably even apricots. I might even consider plump, sweet cherries. I sometimes also like a sprinkle of Tajin on the peaches, that lime-chili-salt stuff that is weirdly addictive (I use Rancho Gordo’s version.)

for the mint vinaigrette:

¼ cup roughly chopped fresh mint (10g)

3 Tablespoons lime juice

1 Tablespoon white wine vinegar 

1 Tablespoon honey

½ teaspoon kosher salt

1/8 tsp coarse ground pepper

⅓ cup extra-virgin olive oil

for the salad:

2 ripe peaches, pitted and thinly sliced

½ pound halloumi or kasseri (or juustoleipa cheese if you can find it)

Optional additions: arugula, Tajin (or cayenne)

  1. For the vinaigrette: add mint, lime juice, vinegar, honey, salt and pepper in a blender and process until smooth-ish.
  2. With the blender on low, drizzle in the olive oil and run until emulsified. Taste and adjust the seasoning if needed. It will be on the thin side. Set aside until needed. Vinaigrette is best within a few hours but will keep refrigerated for a few days though the freshness of the mint tends to fade a bit over time.
  3. For the salad: Leave the cheese in big pieces so it’s easier to handle, one or two pieces.
  4. Preheat a grill or or a dry non-stick pan over medium to medium high then cook the cheese until lightly browned and crusty on the outside and warm and melty on the inside. If in doubt, go with the lower temperature as the cheese will brown very quickly on a higher heat before it gets soft and melty on the inside.
  5. Cut the warm cheese into pieces.
  6. Divide the peaches and warm halloumi between two plates and drizzle a spoonful or two of the vinaigrette on top. 
  7. If desired, top with a sprinkle or two of tajin (or a pinch of cayenne) and a sprig of fresh mint. For more of a salad, placed the peaches and cheese on a bed of arugula.
  8. Serve immediately while the cheese is warm.

I ordered some takeout from a new-to-me Afro-Caribbean restaurant the other day – Cocoa Chili. The food was great – chicken yassa and plantains – but on a whim I threw a drink into my digital cart. A glass of sorrel. It was described as “refreshingly cool hibiscus flower beverage steeped with Caribbean herbs and spices and sweetened with cane sugar.” I was thirsty, I like hibiscus, it sounded good and I am always up to try something new.

Boy, was it ever good. How have I not had this before? Until very recently, sorrel to me has always been a tart, citrusy green herb that grows like crazy in my garden plot. I never knew it was also what some called hibiscus. I’ve cooked with dried hibiscus flowers but knew them more so by the Mexican name, flor de jamaica, not sorrel and have enjoyed hibiscus drinks in Mexican taquerias but it wasn’t like this. There was a spice flavor here I very much enjoyed. How have I not crossed paths with sorrel drink? I’m pretty sure I’ve seen it a time or two but was likely thinking of the green herb, so I glossed over it time and again. Big mistake. This stuff is delicious. Cold, lightly sweetened, a little tart, a little floral with this haunting spice note. Clove? Allspice? Cinnamon? Ginger? What was that? I had a bunch of dried hibiscus flowers leftover from some project so I fired up google. I had to figure this out.


I learned sorrel (or sorrel drink, zobo or sobolo) is popular in Caribbean and African countries and the specifics of the recipe vary slightly. Every recipe starts with dried hibiscus blossoms (or sometime fresh if you’re climately blessed) then warm baking spices are added – cinnamon, allspice, ginger, star anise, cloves and peppercorns are all possibilities. Some might add citrus; I saw versions with orange, lemon and/or limes. The mixture is brought to a boil then left to steep anywhere from 30 minutes to 3 days when it is then strained and sweetened. It reminds me a lot of mulled wine and like that beverage, it is also consumed frequently around the holidays. Most commonly enjoyed cold over ice and it’s not uncommon to add a jigger or two of rum. Rather festive, I must say.

I’m not sure what spices Cocoa Chili use but I decided on fresh ginger, a cinnamon stick, a few allspice berries and some cloves. Because the hibiscus is rather tart, I decided to skip any additional citrus. I put the ingredients into a pot, covered with water and brought the mixture to a boil. Steeping time varied, anywhere from 30 minutes to 4 days. After reading all sorts of thoughts and opinions, I opted for a long steep time – 3 days in the fridge – partly because I felt the spices needed some time to impart their flavors but also because that’s what worked for my schedule.

After 3 days I strained out all the solids, and opted to sweeten with a simple syrup rather than straight sugar. I have very unpleasant memories of childhood Kool-Aid pitchers with a sugar sludge in the bottom that never really quite dissolved. Simple syrup is just easier and you can taste the sweetness level to determine the tart-sweet balance relatively quickly and easily. 

I poured an ice filled glass and sat back. Lovely. Just lovely. Bright and refreshing, a little tart, a little sweet with delicious hints of those baking spices. I love it. As an added bonus it’s absolutely gorgeous; a nice vivid dark reddish pink. Many consider this a strictly holiday drink but I think it is perfect for hot summer days. A splash of rum would be welcome and I think tequila would be quite nice too. Over the pandemic I enjoyed quite a few wonderful hibiscus margaritas. They will be even better made with this

So as these super hot days stretch out, maybe grab a bag of those hibiscus blossoms at your Hispanic or African market or even the Hispanic aisle at your regular grocery store, dig out some spices from your stash and brew up a tub of this delicious, vivid liquid. You won’t regret it.

STRESS THERAPY BAKING FACTOR: FEET UP EASY. This isn’t really overly difficult; it just takes time. Hands off time to allow those flavors to develop. Start it early in the week and you’ll be drinking easy by the weekend. Curiously enough, hibiscus is known as “sorrel” in Jamaica and “flor de jamaica” in Mexico. Interesting, no?

Other hibiscus recipes: Strawberries in Hibiscus SyrupStrawberry Hibiscus Popsicles

twelve years ago: Peanut Butter Whoopie Pies

eleven years ago: Sour Cherry Cobbler

ten years ago: Life in Southwest France

nine years ago: Spanish Sunday Lunch – Patatas Aioli

eight years ago: Hush PuppiesTin Roof SundaeWatermelon Aqua FrescaRhubarb Beer Jam

seven years ago: Guinness Crème Anglaise

six years ago: Radish Butter,  Slow Roasted Spiced Pineapple  

five years ago: Pina Colada SherbetOrange Julius with Strawberry and Pineapple variationsChicken Shawarma Pocket SandwichRoasted Cherry Vanilla Frozen Yogurt

four years ago: Grand AioliSalmon Rilettes

three years ago: Greek Salad Piadini Sandwiches

two years ago: Strawberry Mascarpone Galette

last year: Raspberry Rhubarb Streusel TartGinger Mint Lemonade Base

SORREL (HIBISCUS DRINK) – loosely adapted mostly from this recipe among others

makes 3 quarts

for the steep:

3 quarts water

5 ¼ ounces (150g/about 3 cups) dried hibiscus flowers (sorrel)

½ pound (227g) ginger, and grated (use the grating disk on a food processor)

10 whole cloves

10 allspice berries, roughly crushed 

1 large cinnamon stick

for the simple syrup:

2 cups water

2 ½ cups (495g) sugar

  1. For the steep: In a large pot or Dutch oven, bring water to a boil. 
  2. Add sorrel, ginger, cloves, allspice and cinnamon; and boil until the hibiscus flowers (sorrel) begin to plump and swell, about 8 minutes.
  3. Remove from heat and let stand until cooled, then continue to steep in an airtight vessel in the refrigerator for at least 8 hours and up to 3 days.
  4. Strain the liquid through a fine-mesh strainer into a large pitcher, pressing on solids to express as much liquid as possible. If needed, strain again until it is clear of any ginger remnants. Discard solids.
  5. For the simple syrup: In a saucepan, bring water to a boil with the sugar. 
  6. Continue to cook, stirring, until sugar has completely dissolved. Remove from heat.
  7. To finish: Stir simple syrup into the strained sorrel, ½ cup at a time, until desired sweetness level is reached. Keep any extra simple syrup refrigerated for your ice tea or coffee.
  8. Chill until ready to drink. Serve over ice.

This weather. Ugh. It stifles my soul as well as my appetite. It’s over 100°F in Oregon and in Chicago, it’s been heavily raining with that god awful humidity that goes with it for a week now. We’re all drooping. Nothing sounds good. I want cold food that someone else makes because I can’t get up from the couch and that strategically placed fan. And yet … shrimp cocktail sounded good. Not the Costco tray that’s been sitting there god knows how long. No … homemade. That would be easy, right? Make a two-ingredient cocktail sauce and poach some shrimp? No big thing.

Famous last words. I went to buy the shrimp and noticed the seafood counter had some lovely bay scallops and gorgeous cleaned squid too. Then I remembered those crazy delicious seafood cocktails I’ve enjoyed at so many Mexican beachside restaurants and used to make back home for a spell. It had been a while and that sounded SO GOOD and it really is just a zhuzhed up shrimp cocktail so same-same, right? And just like that, my simple recipe became a whole other thing.

These tomato-y sweet spicy types of cocktails are often just shrimp – Coctel de Camarones – but depending on where you are along the coast, you’ll often see other types of shellfish or chunks of fish in the mix. They’re usually served with a sleeve of saltines or a bowl of tortilla chips to dip and scoop and pile on. Back home, my favorite combination is shrimp, scallops and squid but really, it’s usually just whatever looks good, or what I have in the freezer that drives my decisions. 

The key here, and this is where it gets a bit persnickety, is to cook the seafood separately and if I have shrimp shells, I like to make a quick shrimp stock first. I’ve noticed it’s becoming harder and harder to find shell on shrimp these days. So annoying. The shrimp I bought this morning only had tails, grrrrrrrr, so I pulled them off and made a quick stock with them. If you don’t have shells, that’s ok, just add salt to the water and move on. Regardless, the poaching step is the same for all the shellfish – bring the stock/salted water to a boil, turn off the heat, add the shellfish, give a stir, let sit for a few minutes, then into an ice bath. Note: if using squid, it really doesn’t take more than a quick dip in that hot water. Squid, like octopus, is one of those things that needs to be cooked very briefly or for a very very long time. There is no in-between if you don’t want to eat rubber bands.

For the sauce part, I like a sweet-spicy combo so I use tomato juice – V8 actually – and a bit of ketchup. Too much and it’s too sweet for my tastes. A good dose of hot sauce and then crunchy things – red onion and cucumber though you could throw in a bit of celery too. I add diced avocado because when is that not a good idea? It’s important to keep in mind that this is a meal not a drink so it’s on the chunky side with just enough sauce to coat the shellfish; not too sloppy, not too juicy. Mix it all up and you have a delightful snack or light meal. Shake up a margarita, make a michelada or pop a cold beer and you are all set.

STRESS THERAPY BAKING FACTOR: PRETTY LOW STRESS. Nobody has the time nor the energy for something super involved right now. There may be a few steps that you may – or may not – decide to take but overall, it’s a pretty easy, low key kind of recipe. Perfect for the upcoming holiday weekend that is destined to be a scorcher. This is also when you dust off those sundae glasses you got as a wedding present years ago. While you could use pretty much any kind of serving vessel, glass is best to show off all the ingredients and it’s just perfect in an old-fashioned sundae glass. I’m actually shocked I don’t own those. Shocked, I say.

make this for July 4th! Big American Flag Cake

twelve years ago: Cajun Ginger Cookies

eleven years agoRhubarb Custard PieStrawberry Buttermilk Ice Cream

ten years ago: Whole Wheat Chocolate Chip CookiesClassic FoccaciaBanana Tarte TatinLate Spring Pea SoupRhubarb Syrup – Hipster CocktailsPuff Pastry Asparagus Spears,  Strawberry Rhubarb Crumble Pie; Lard Crust,Strawberry ShortcakeSweet & Spicy Beer Mustard

nine years ago: Banana Fudge Layer Cake,  Pear Frangipane TartsFresh RicottaRicotta CheesecakeFarro TabboulehStrawberry Hibiscus Popsicles  

eight years ago: Chocolate Bourbon Lard CakeRoasted Asparagus w/Stilton SaucePickled GarlicMorel HuntingFrybread for Navajo TacosButtermilk Panna Cotta with Vanilla Cardamom Roasted RhubarbMexican Chocolate Pudding Pops,  Lime Angelfood CakeRoasted Strawberry SorbetGreek MeatballsPassionfruit Chiffon CakeBBQ Baked Beans

seven years ago: Guinness Crème Anglaise

six years ago: Parmesan Pea DipPickled Green StrawberriesMango Lassi Freezer PopsEton MessOnion Rye Berry Bread  

five years ago: Smoky Baba GhanoushPete’s Special – Teriyaki Chicken & Vegetable Rice BowlSummer Fruit Ice PopsApricot Date BarsLemon Ricotta Doughnuts for National Doughnut DayVietnamese Flank Steak with Peanut Soba NoodlesDate Shake PopsiclesEasy Home-Cured Bacon, Oven MethodRadish Top Pesto with Sauteed RadishesJulia’s Braised CucumbersSedano e Pomodori (Braised Celery and Tomato)Shaved Asparagus Salad

four years ago: Cold Cucumber Buttermilk SoupGreen Garlic Soup with Poached EggsCold Sesame NoodlesCream Soda SherbetMichelada Style Clams

three years ago: Lemon Elderflower Quatre Quarts (French Pound Cake)The Perfect Light Crispy WafflePeruvian Roast Chicken with Spicy Green SauceChicken Wing Friday … Sticky Northern Exposure WingsLemon Sour Cream PieGreek Salad Piadini Sandwiches

two years ago: Strawberry Mascarpone Galette

last year: Chorizo & Cornbread Strada (Savory Bread Pudding)

MEXICAN SEAFOOD COCKTAIL – loosely adapted from this recipe

serves 4 as an appetizer or part of a lighter meal.

I like a mix of shellfish, but you could go with just one type if you like. Because of the different cooking times, it is important to cook each separately but since each only take a few minutes – or seconds in the case of squid – it moves quickly. I also very much prefer to make a quick shrimp stock with the shells but am finding that shell on shrimp are becoming harder to find. If that’s the case, just add the salt and go forward or use the tails as those are usually left on peeled shrimp. If you opt for squid, try to find it already cleaned to save some work but if you must do it yourself, clean the squid and inspect it for featherbones, remove the beaks and ink sacs. Slice into ¼” rings and cut the tentacles in half if overly large. For the hot sauce, Valentina, Cholula or Tapitio work perfectly but use what you have, however, if it’s a particularly spicy brand, go easy at first. 

For the shellfish:

3 ½ cups water

1 Tablespoon kosher salt

Shrimp shells, if you have them

1 ¼ pounds shellfish

  • large shrimp (26-30 per pound), peeled (shells/tails reserved) and deveined
  • bay scallops
  • squid/calamari, cleaned (see note above) sliced into ¼” rings, larger tentacles cut into bite sized pieces.

Ice bath

For the cocktail:

1 ¼ cup V8 or tomato juice, chilled

¼ cup ketchup

¼ teaspoon kosher salt

¼ teaspoon ground black pepper

3 Tablespoons lime juice (about 2 limes), plus lime wedges for serving

2 teaspoons hot sauce, plus extra for serving

½ cup English or Persian cucumber, cut into ½” dice

1 cup finely chopped red onion

1 avocado, halved, pitted, and cut into ½” dice

¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro

For serving:

Saltines or tortilla chips

Lime wedges 

Hot sauce 

  1. for the shellfish: if you have shrimp shells, make a quick shrimp stock by bringing the water and salt to a boil.
  2. Add the shrimp shells (or tails), reduce to a very low boil and simmer for 20 minutes.
  3. Strain out and discard the shells and return the liquid to the pot. 
  4. Bring the poaching liquid back to a boil (if you don’t have shrimp shells, bring the water and salt to a boil and proceed).
  5. Prepare an ice bath and set aside then cook the shellfish separately:
    • Shrimp: bring the poaching liquid to a boil then turn off heat. Add the shrimp, give a stir and let sit off heat for 5 minutes. Remove the shrimp with a slotted spoon and plunge immediately into an ice bath to cool completely.
    • Bay scallops: bring the poaching liquid to a boil then turn off heat. Add the scallops, give a stir and let sit off heat for 5 minutes. Remove the scallops with a slotted spoon and plunge immediately into an ice bath to cool completely.
    • Squid/Calamari: this is a quick one. Bring the poaching liquid to a boil then turn off heat. Add the squid, give a stir and let cook off heat for 10 seconds. Remove the squid with a slotted spoon and plunge immediately into an ice bath to cool completely.
  6. Remove the shellfish from the ice bath, pat dry then cut into bite size pieces – the shrimp into 3-4 pieces, the scallops in half if large and any large squid pieces into smaller bits if needed. 
  7. For the cocktail: combine V8 or tomato juice, ketchup, lime juice, hot sauce, salt and pepper in medium bowl. Taste and adjust for seasoning if needed.
  8. Add cucumber, red onion, and cooked shellfish and stir until evenly coated. 
  9. Gently fold in the avocado and cilantro. 
  10. Divide the mix between individual bowls or glasses and serve immediately with saltines, lime wedges, and extra hot sauce.

Beans have taken over my life as of late. I have pounds upon pounds of beautiful heirloom beans in my pantry, the welcome if overwhelming results of membership in the Rancho Gordo Bean Club. Six pounds arriving on my doorstep every three months has proven a bit overwhelming and there’s another shipment due in the next week. In addition to all that, I have a case of canned beans of various varieties currently sitting on my dining room table, leftovers from work projects. There are beans everywhere. Everywhere. Because of this, I’ve sort of rediscovered my love of refried beans. Sure, I’ve been making more complicated curries and lentil dishes and Mediterranean inspired bean salads, but it’s the humble refrieds I’ve turned to time and again. When I get a burrito from the corner joint, I always get a side of beans and chips. It’s one of my favorite snacks. A plate of creamy cheese topped beans scooped with chips? What can be better? 

I’m long past the days of opening a pasty can of Rosarita refrieds, though I did that for ages. As soon as I discovered how easy they are to do myself, I never turned back. To be clear, if using canned beans this will all be finished in about 15 minutes, HOWEVER, refrieds made from dried beans, especially a good quality dried bean, are vastly superior. It’s true but it takes a bit of time and planning, something I don’t always have or do. Have I come home from a busy day and popped a can of beans and had something to eat in a few minutes? Absolutely. Was it delicious and satisfying? Absolutely. Do what you need to do.

Dried beans usually, but not always, benefit from a soak. If your beans are very fresh, a few hours will do. If you’re not sure of their freshness, they’ve likely been sitting on the grocery store shelf for years so soak them overnight. Lately, I’ve preferred soaking them in a brine as I find them better seasoned in the end. This involves adding a Tablespoon or so of salt to the soaking water. You can cook in this liquid, however, I’ve been guilty of terribly oversalting my beans lately so I’ve been draining and cooking in fresh water. Put the beans in a pot and cover with several inches of cold water; maybe toss in a a bay leaf and a few garlic cloves too. Bring to a hard rolling boil for 10 minutes then lower the heat and simmer until tender, checking the water levels occasionally – do not let the water boil off. Again, this length of time will depend highly on how fresh your beans are. (My pintos were very fresh, had a 4 hour soak and took 1 hour at a low simmer to get tender.) 

Another favorite method is to pop the covered pan into a low-ish oven to cook (300°F). This has many advantages: you don’t have to keep an eye on them as closely and the water rarely boils off. That said, I don’t always like firing up the oven in the hot summer months though I do appreciate the hands off approach and find they cook more evenly this way. 

Regarding pressure cookers/Instant Pots: many like to use them to cook dried beans though it’s never been my favorite method as I find it cooks dried beans inconsistently. That said, you can’t really beat the speed and convenience – no real need to soak and they’re ready in maybe ½ hour. Overcooking, a common problem with pressure cookers, isn’t really an issue here since these are going to be mashed anyway. The final option, of course, is to use canned beans, the simplest choice of them all. 

Once you have your beans sorted, it’s really very easy. All you need is a few simple things: some kind of fat, maybe something aromatic, a bit of liquid and something to mash with, like a fork. That’s really it though they can be jazzed up in a myriad of ways.

  • Beans: any variety really, though pinto or black are most traditional. Dried or canned. If canned, drain and rinse. If dry, soak (or not) and cook until tender.
  • Fat: personally, I think a little lard or bacon fat is best but any oil will do. Even butter. And you know what’s really good? That orange fat left in the pan from frying up some chorizo. Yep.
  • Aromatics: not necessary, but nice. This could be a bit of onion, a minced garlic clove or diced jalapeno. Just a little something to add a bit of flavor, sautéed up in that fat before the beans are added.
  • Liquid: if cooking from dried, use that flavorful cooking liquid. If not, use stock or even water. I’ve also used a splash of milk for extra creamy beans.
  • Spices: salt is the only requirement – beans need salt – but maybe a bit of ground cumin or chili powder would be nice. Cayenne and coriander wouldn’t be out of place. Sometimes I’ll add a shake of adobo seasoning.
  • Cheese: definitely cheese, whether that’s cheddar, cotija, queso fresca, chihuahua. Anything nice and melty. You don’t need much, just a healthy pinch, but cheese is non-negotiable. I often will stir a little into the beans too or put a bit in the bottom of the serving bowl before adding the beans.
  • Toppings: keep in mind you’re not making nachos here (yet) so just a little bit of something extra for a little flavor and/or texture can be nice. Anything goes. As mentioned, cheese is a must but something crunchy is always nice – diced radishes, pickled jalapenos, scallions, pickled onion, diced tomato. Just a sprinkling. I particularly like a bit of chopped raw onion. A pinch of cilantro, a spoonful of salsa, a dollop of sour cream, a squirt of lime or a shake of hot sauce. A handful of crushed fried pork skins is delightful as is some diced avocado. A bit of crumbled cooked chorizo is a wonder. 
  • To serve: I like them best scooped with tortilla chips or warmed tortillas, but I might cook up a quick cheese crisp for dipping, and perhaps a fried egg. And I have been known to just eat them out of the pan with a spoon on a particularly bad day. 

STRESS THERAPY BAKING FACTOR: MASH THERAPY. There’s something to be said for the therapeutic benefits of beating the hell out of something. Mashing beans can be very satisfying. Add to this the sheer comfort of eating something warm and creamy and this is a win-win type of situation on all fronts. This has been a year of non-stop cooking for us all – often breakfast, lunch, dinner and endless snacks – and I often hear “I’m out of ideas. Just tell me what to make for dinner.” Make this. Throw some bowls of beans on the table, topped with a handful of chips and a variety of stuff to customize and let ‘em all go to town.

other bean recipes: Navy Bean Soup, BBQ Baked Beans, Pico de Gallo White Bean Salad, Modern Three Bean Salad, Lulu’s Two Bean Salad, Cowboy Beans, Borlotti Beans with Italian Sausages and Fennel-Pepper Relish, Rosemary White Beans with Toasted Breadcrumbs, Gjelina Style Roasted Beets with Spiced Lentils

twelve years ago: Brown Butter Banana Bread

eleven years ago: Almond Tea Cake

ten years ago: Smoky Ginger Bacon Cookies

nine years ago: Buttermilk BiscuitsRamp Green KimchiCoconut Layer Cake

eight years ago: Scallion PancakesRendering Lard

seven years ago: Guinness Crème Anglaise

six years ago: Crispy Prosciutto

five years ago: Coconut Tres Leches Ice CreamMashed Peas with Chile and Mint

four years ago: Bacon Fat PolvorónesPlantain Chips with Cilantro Dipping Sauce

three years ago: Lemon Knot CookiesYellow Pickled Cauliflower & Carrots

two years ago: Raspberry Cream Cheese Coffeecake

last year: Chorizo & Cornbread Strada (Savory Bread Pudding) 


Serves 4, can be double or halved or tripled.

4 Tablespoons fat – lard, bacon fat, drippings from Mexican chorizo, butter or good-quality vegetable oil

1 small onion, chopped (or whatever aromatic you desire)

3 cups drained cooked or canned beans – pinto, black, pink or whatever 

Reserved cooking liquid, water, stock or milk

salt and pepper

Optional seasoning: 2 teaspoons ground cumin + ¼ teaspoon cayenne, or to taste

Optional toppings of choice (see above)

Warm tortillas or tortilla chips for serving 

  1. Put half the fat of choice in a large skillet over medium heat. 
  2. Sauté the onion until soft, about 5 minutes.
  3. Add the remaining fat and when hot, add the beans. 
  4. Mash with a large fork or potato masher to break up and stir around.
  5. Add a good pinch each of salt and pepper (and the optional seasonings, if desired).
  6. Continue to cook and mash until the beans are more or less broken up (a little chunky is fine), adding reserved cooking liquid as needed to keep from being too dry.
  7. Add more cooking liquid or water to adjust to the consistency you like. I often like to simmer them for a while with some additional liquid to make them nice and creamy.
  8. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Garnish as desired and serve with warm tortillas, chips or whatever you like.

It’s full on ramp season right now in Chicago and people are losing their god damn minds. Happens every year for those few weeks. For those that don’t know, ramps are wild onions that are foraged in these parts. They look like a scallion with bits of purple and wide green leaves, taste like a cross between an onion and garlic and are a sure sign that spring has arrived. Every year I get a pound or two from a friend and every year I’m a little stumped on what to do with them. I’ve pickled, I’ve kimchi’d, I’ve pesto-ed and I’ve learned a few things along the way. One, I don’t care for pickled ramps. Two, ramp green kimchi is the best thing ever and is stunningly, shockingly even, pungent. Whew. Three, my friend Joe makes better ramp pesto than I and sells it from his stand at the farmers market for 10 bucks. Worth it. And finally, I’m always looking for new ideas. This year I took about two pounds of gorgeous ramps and made a few things: I grilled a handful and used them on a pizza, made a little pesto (which is how I know Joe’s is better) then I turned the greens into kimchi, because it’s wonderful and I love it, funk and all. But I still had a bunch of bulbs to deal with. What to do. What to do.

So I turned to that helpful little tool we call google and asked: “what do I do with ramps?” I came across an article on the Food & Wine site – “16 Chefs on Their Favorite Ways to Cook Ramps” – super helpful! The very first post from Chef Cedric Vongerichten caught my interest: “Sambal matah is a traditional sauce/condiment that first originated in Bali. My variation of sambal matah sauce uses lemongrass, kaffir, lime, chilies, and I replace shallots with ramps for a seasonal component. The bulb of the ramp is grilled, and the green stem is chopped. I love to pair it with a piece of fish, lamb, or suckling pig.” Ummmm. I could get on board with this one.

I loved this idea and started googling “sambal matah” for a better idea on how to make the stuff. Just reading about the tart-sweet-spicy combination had my mouth watering. It’s all those wonderful southeast Asian flavors that I love. Lemongrass. Lime. Garlic. Makrut lime leaves (previously known as kaffir lime and one of my very favorite ingredients ever). Chilies. Normally made with thinly sliced shallots, I loved the idea of replacing those with thinly sliced ramps as their garlicky flavor would work so well with the other ingredients. I set about rounding things up.

I already had the ramps so that was easy and I opted to use just the bulbs, sliced raw as the shallots would be. What I hadn’t counted on was the challenge in finding the lime leaves. I actually have a small lime leaf tree that I’ve carefully coddled for years but the poor thing had a rough winter, much like us all. It shed all its leaves a few months ago in some kind of protest and I’m slowly nursing it back to health. Since it had no leaves to give, I stalked my local Thai market. It took three trips – three! – to track them down (I discovered that they get small infrequent shipments that are often sold out by noon) but I finally snagged some for myself. I realize this isn’t an option for many but I do encourage you to seek them out; they’re wonderful. Failing that, you can substitute regular lime zest for the makrut leaves. It won’t be quite the same but it will be delicious. 

At the same market I easily found the rest – the shrimp paste, Thai chilies, lemongrass and some fat juicy limes. Finely chopped/sliced and all mixed together with a few other things, it was mighty delicious but there’s one final step that takes it to the next level: hot oil. Heat oil to sizzling then add lemongrass and a bit of shrimp paste, then pour it over the mixture. It pops and sputters and brightens all the flavors. I found a lot of conflicting information on which oil to use; many said coconut, others said vegetable and a few said peanut. In the end, I went with coconut for the flavor but am fully aware of the drawbacks. Coconut oil solidifies when refrigerated; not ideal. I countered this by leaving it at room temp until needed (about an hour) and rather than heating the refrigerated leftovers, I let the container to sit on top of my oven/stovetop to warm ever so slightly and gently. Worked perfectly. 

I grilled off a piece of arctic char and simply spooned the sambal on top. It was utterly delicious. Mouthwatering crazy delicious. So good I thought about eating it twice in one day. I never do that. Bright and fresh and spicy and tart, it was fantastic on that piece of fish, reminiscent a bit of a Southeast Asian pico de gallo. I could easily see it paired with something rich and fatty, like pork or fried chicken as the chef recommends; the acidity would work so well with the rich meat. This was a great find and one I’ll make with the shallots those other 49 weeks ramps aren’t in season.

STRESS THERAPY BAKING FACTOR: OH. MY. As I said, this was a great find. Kudos to the Balinese. Full of wonderful, mouth watering flavors it instantly transports me to somewhere beach-y and beautiful. Damn I’ve missed traveling. For a relatively simple relish, it certainly packs a ton of flavor. A definite keeper. I also think need to spend more time with the cuisine of Bali. Looking forward to seeing what else they have.

Cinco de Mayo celebrations: Avocado Lime Tequila PopsiclesScallop CevicheQueso FunditoSpicy Mango LemonadeHorchata Strawberry Swirl Ice CreamCoconut Tres Leches Ice CreamBacon Fat PolvorónesCotija Churros with Guava SauceMexican Chocolate Pudding PopsMichelada Style ClamsStrawberry Hibiscus PopsiclesWatermelon Aqua FrescaPico de Gallo White Bean SaladSpicy Pineapple PaletasBlender GazpachoWatermelon Jicama SaladMexican Corn SaladHatch Chile Queso DipMachaca – Mexican Shredded Beef, Machaca EnchiladasChicken Sour Cream EnchiladasSweet Pumpkin EmpanadasCotija Cumin Shortbread

twelve years ago: Brown Butter Banana Bread

eleven years ago: Kolacky, Polish Butter CookiesPretzel DogsPeanut Butter BarsHomemade SaltinesKentucky Derby Tarts  

ten years ago: Sticky Bun BreadRoasted Garlic PotatoesHomemade Crème Eggs

nine years ago: Fresh Goat CheeseStrawberries in Hibiscus SyrupPickled RampsPopovers & Strawberry ButterCultured Butter

eight years ago: Classic Yeast CoffeecakeEscargot Roasted MushroomsTomato Soup with Grilled Cheese CroutonsFlourless Peanut Butter CookiesLemon Loaf Cake

seven years ago: Guinness Crème Anglaise

six years ago: Flourless Chocolate Cookies

five years ago: Soft Potato RollsCoconut Pound CakeRed Curry Firecracker Shrimp with Sweet Chile Dipping SauceGiardinara Cheese BreadBlueberry Crumb CakeRaspberry Speculoos Frangipane TartTurtleback Cookies

four years ago: Greek Yogurt Cheesecake with Fig-Date CompoteParisian Gnocchi with Asparagus and Brown ButterCreamy Radish SoupHomemade Crème Fraiche

three years ago: Pantry Clam ChowderThe CBJ (grilled cashew butter, cheese and fig jam sandwich), Sweet & Spicy Cashew & Coconut Mix

two years ago: Vietnamese Style Chicken SaladCandied Jalapenos

last year: Roasted Cabbage with Miso VinaigretteSourdough CrêpesSmall Batch Cinnamon RollsCinnamon Roll Bread PuddingChorizo & Cornbread Strada (Savory Bread Pudding) 


Makes about 1 cup

Originally from Bali, sambal matah is a spicy and refreshing condiment that goes well with just almost everything, but most especially fish and seafood. Use more or less chilies depending on how spicy you like things – the 5 thai chilies I used were pleasantly spicy. No ramps available? Use the more traditional shallots. No lime leaves? Substitute lime zest. Make sure you use the tender inner bulb part of the lemongrass, slice it thin then give it rough chop as the pieces can sometimes be a little fibrous.

5 bird’s eye or Thai chilies, finely sliced (about 1 Tablespoon)

¾ cup thinly sliced ramp bulbs (85g/3oz) or thinly sliced shallots (about 5-6)

1 large garlic clove, finely minced 

2 large kaffir lime leaves, stems removed then thinly sliced (about 1 teaspoon) (or ½ teaspoon fresh lime zest)

1 ½ Tablespoons fresh lime juice (about 1 lime)

¼ teaspoon kosher salt

¼ teaspoon sugar

½ teaspoon shrimp paste

1 lemongrass stalk, peel and use tender white inner bulb only, sliced thinly then roughly chopped (about 1 ½ Tablespoons)

3 Tablespoons coconut oil or vegetable oil

  1. In a medium bowl, combine the chilies, ramps or shallots, garlic, lime leaves, lime juice, salt and sugar. Set aside.
  2. Heat the oil in a small pan over medium-low heat until it’s sizzling. 
  3. To the hot oil, add the shrimp paste and lemongrass and stir until fragrant. 
  4. Pour the hot oil mixture into the chili mixture. Stir to combine.
  5. Serve and store the leftover in an airtight container for up to one week. If using coconut oil, it will likely firm up in the refrigerator. Warm very gently to preserve the fresh flavor.

I’ve got a real thing for a good tangerine. Mandarins more so. In fact, to be even more specific, satsumas are really my thing. Starting around the holidays, I’ll start pacing the produce aisles of Asian markets and Whole Foods looking for large piles of those bright orange orbs with the telltale leaves and stems. When fresh, they are incredible – bright, full flavored, juicy, sweet but with a little bit of tartness for a wonderful flavor balance. I adore them and will eat as many as I can during the short season.

A few weeks ago, I did a thing. After reading an article in Bon Appetit about a California citrus farm specializing in tangerines, I placed an order. It took a few determined weeks to make it happen but it happened. Orders open up only once a week and as demand is high and supply is naturally limited. They usually sell out quickly, especially early in the season. It was cold and grey outside and I desperately needed a little sunshine. I opted for a variety pack to try a little of everything – a few Valencia oranges, a few blood oranges, three types of amazing tangerines, two gorgeous lemons and the best avocado I’ve had in my life. Ten pounds of beautiful citrus was picked on Saturday and on my kitchen table by Tuesday. It was glorious. The best tangerines I’ve ever had. Next year I’ll get my butt in gear earlier for satsuma season. I’ve got the reminder set in my calendar and am drooling just thinking about it.

I’ve enjoyed most of the shipment as is but with some beets sitting in my produce drawer, I decided to combine the two and make a salad. Roasted beets and fresh citrus are a marvelous combination and so very pretty if you mix up the beet colors. The beets are tucked into foil packets and roasted in a hot oven, as this is my preferred method for best flavor. I’ve never understood why some people boil beets. ugh. The oranges get a sort of fancy treatment called “supreme” in which you carefully separate the flesh from the rind and membranes into nice little segments. Sure it takes a little bit of time but the effort is well rewarded in the end. Take care to cut off the rind and pith, following the curve of the fruit and leaving as much of the orange flesh behind as possible. It does take a little practice; when I worked in restaurants I bet I suprememed a couple cases of oranges every week. You get really good after the first case.

I roasted both red and yellow beets and tossed them in a simple, light vinaigrette type of thing along with both orange and tangerine segments. The dressing is mostly orange juice and vinegar with just a little bit of olive oil so it’s light and bright, perfectly accenting the whole mix. A handful of toasted walnuts went on top because they go great with citrus and beets and the crunch is delightful. I also reached for the za’atar, that wonderful middle eastern spice mixture of thyme, sesame, sumac and other lovely things that is also, coincidentally, amazing on citrus and beets. The whole thing is delicious. Bright and a little earthy, sweet and a little tart, fresh and crunchy. A wonderful combination of all the things.

Fair warning that red beets will stain everything – your hands, your cutting board, every damn ingredient they come in contact. The trick is to lightly oil or spray your hands with cooking spray to prevent this (your cutting board too.) Keep them separate from your other ingredients too, in their own bowl until the last moment, unless you want the salad a lovely day-glow shade of fuchsia.

twelve years ago: Khachpuri (cheesy Georgian bread)

eleven years ago: Oatmeal Jam Bars  

ten years ago: Guinness Stout Floats

nine years ago: Chocolate Banoffee Tart

eight years ago: Lemon Tart – Sunday Lunch Polish Easter

seven years ago: Guinness Crème Anglaise

six years ago: Flourless Chocolate Cookies

five years ago: Potato Goat Cheese StrudelChouquette

four years ago: Pici (hand rolled spaghetti), Old School Garlic Bread

three years ago: Easter Recipe Round Up (and some polka favorites) 

two years ago: Sourdough Spätzle

last year: Corned Beef Dinner Hand Pies


Serves 4 as a side dish

I like to keep this simple, but a soft goat cheese or salty feta crumbled on top is quite nice. Pistachios would be nice though I prefer the earthy slightly tannic flavor of a walnut. Be sure to zest the oranges first.

1 bunch beets (about 1 ½ pounds), scrubbed, trimmed and cut in half or quarters if large

olive oil

kosher salt and ground pepper

¼ cup walnut pieces

2 oranges or 1 orange + 2 tangerines or 4 tangerines (zest first)

For the dressing:

1 teaspoon finely minced shallot, about ¼ of a shallot

2 Tablespoons white wine vinegar

1 teaspoon mild honey, like wildflower or clover

2 teaspoons finely grated orange zest 

¼ teaspoon za’atar

Good pinch of kosher salt

Few grinds of ground black pepper

¼ cup fresh orange juice

1 Tablespoon good olive oil

  1. Preheat oven to 400°F. 
  2. For the beets: place the beets on a large piece of foil on a sheet pan (if roasting various colors of beets, keep the red ones separate.)
  3. Drizzle with a little olive oil and a pinch each of salt and pepper. 
  4. Fold foil around beets and crimp ends to form a neat packet. 
  5. Roast until tender when pierced with a paring knife, about 45 minutes.
  6. Let cool completely then peel the skins off with a paring knife (lightly oil your hands if working with red beets to prevent having fuchsia tinted hands all day.)
  7. While the beets are roasting, toast the walnuts on a sheet pan until fragrant, about 5 minutes (keep an eye on them – they’ll go from perfectly toasty to burnt in seconds). If large, coarsely chop once cooled. Set aside until needed.
  8. For the dressing: in a large bowl, whisk together the shallot, orange zest, vinegar, salt, pepper and za’atar. Set aside while you prepare the oranges and beets.
  9. Supreme the oranges: Cut about ½” off the top and bottom of each orange/tangerine to expose the flesh. 
  10. Place the orange/tangerine cut side down on a cutting board and with a chef’s knife, follow the curve of the orange to remove the rind, including the pith (the white part.) Try to cut as close to the pith as possible, reserving as much of the flesh as you can. Discard the rind.
  11. Switch to a paring knife and over a bowl to catch the juice, cut each citrus segment from the membrane by cutting gently on one side of the membrane then the other, carefully removing each segment (discard any seeds as you come across them.) 
  12. Squeeze the remaining membrane over the bowl for any excess juice then discard. Continue with any remaining oranges/tangerines.
  13. Measure off ¼ cup of accumulated orange juice for the dressing. If you don’t quite have enough, give it a few minutes. I’ve found that orange segments will continue to give off juice for a while, so if you wait a bit, you might eventually get what you need. If not, squeeze another orange or tangerine to top it off.
  14. For the salad: thinly slice the peeled beets (about 1/8” thick) and place in a small bowl (keep red and orange/yellow beets separately to prevent everything from turning bright pink. Hint: spray your hands and the cutting board with cooking spray or lightly oil to keep it all from staining.)
  15. Finish the dressing – add the orange juice and olive oil to the dressing bowl and whisk to combine. Taste and adjust seasoning if needed.
  16. Add the dressing to the various bowls of things – citrus segments, beets – and gently toss to combine. If using tangerines, take care as they are rather delicate and tend to break apart.
  17. On a serving platter, scatter about the dressed beet slices and orange/tangerine segments. Drizzle any excess dressing over, top with the walnuts and a good pinch of za’atar.
  18. The salad can be made ahead – however, and this is a big however – if you’re using red beets they will turn everything pink. So, if making ahead, keep the red beets separate in their dressing and combine just before serving. 

Bags of blood oranges were on sale, pulling my cart with tractor bean like force into the produce section. Without much thought, as if it was destined to be, they went into the basket. No real plan, no ideas; they were a good deal and I needed something bright and sunny in my life. My car was just starting to reappear from the slowly melting ice, I’d actually gone outside without my winter boots and yes, I do believe that was a glimpse of the sun. Into the cart went the oranges. 

I ate a few. I threw one in a salad. I contemplated marmalade then remembered I had jars from last year’s batch sitting on the shelf. So that left five more. What to do, what to do. They are truly beautiful; the flesh varying from deep ruby red to nearly purple to red-orange speckles and the fruit is a nice combination of tart and sweet. Cake. An upside down cake that would show them off to perfection. Yes, that’s what I’d do.

I dug out my old restaurant notebooks, looking for an almond cake we often used. It would be perfect and even better, it would finish off that bag of almond flour that’s been kicking about. We used crème frâiche but that can be pricey and difficult to find so I used greek yogurt (sour cream would work well too.) At the restaurant, we often topped them with caramelized fruit, pineapple or plum and sometimes, a dab of chunky marmalade. Exactly what I had in mind. I was in a marmalade kind of mood.

I had my doubts that the orange slices would fully cook under a thick layer of cake batter and I wanted them a little more marmalade-y so I opted for a pre-cook. Borrowing a technique I used for a long ago candied lemon Christmas cookie, I thinly sliced the oranges and cooked them gently in a thick simple syrup, long enough to soften the rinds but short enough to keep the flesh intact. Normally I would cook an upside down cake in a cast iron skillet or regular cake pan but I was skeptical that this thing would release cleanly so I used a springform and lined the bottom with parchment paper. A layer of gorgeous, slightly candied orange slices topped with an almond cake batter, it was a thing to behold. It also and took forever to bake – oven an hour.

What emerged was stunning. A lightly golden cake topped with a gorgeous mosaic of jeweled orange slices. I was a bit speechless. The cake is nice and moist, the outer edges wonderfully crunchy and the orange slices, oh my those orange slices. The prettiest layer of orange marmalade I’ve ever had. I loved this cake, a perfect mix of sweet and bitter as a good marmalade always is. It held well for days, froze beautifully and brightened my gloomy days. Exactly what I needed. 

STRESS THERAPY BAKING FACTOR: SUNSHINE DAY. What a bright bit of happiness. Unmolding this cake was one of the most satisfying things I’ve done in a long while. And it’s not just a pretty face, it’s downright delicious. Tender, moist, full of flavor and it makes me smile – a real winner. I think it would be a wonderful addition to your Easter table. Beautiful! Bake up a little happiness while citrus is at its peak. Just do it.

Twelve years ago: Khachapuri (cheesy Georgian bread) 

Eleven years ago: my most popular post of all time – Pretzel Rolls  

Ten years ago: Guinness Stout Floats

Nine years ago: Corned Beef & Potato CakesLiege Sugar Waffles

Eight years ago: Reuben KnishesMasala ChaiBanana Bread Bread Pudding

Seven years ago: Guinness Crème Anglais

Six years ago: Flourless Chocolate Cookies

Five years ago: Guinness Pretzel ToffeeSausage Hand Pies

Four years ago: Upside-Down Guinness Snakebite CakeMarcella’s Butter Tomato Sauce Three years ago: Coconut Chess Pie

Two years ago: Old School Antipasto Salad

last year: Dirty Chai Cookies


Regarding the oranges, you want enough thin slices to cover the bottom of the pan with a slight overlap. If the oranges are large, you can probably make due with two, if small, probably closer to four. When in doubt, slice an additional orange. Having extra candied orange slices around is never a bad thing. They are really great in an Old Fashioned along with any extra syrup.

for the oranges:

2-4 blood oranges, thinly sliced and seeded

¾ cup water

1 ½ cups sugar

for the cake:

16 Tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature (1 cup/2 sticks)

1 cup sugar (215g)

3 large eggs, room temperature

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

½ teaspoon almond extract

2 cups almond flour (200g)

½ cup unbleached all-purpose flour (260g)

2 teaspoons baking powder

½ teaspoon kosher salt

½ cup plain Greek yogurt

  1. Line the bottom of 10” springform pan with a round of parchment paper, spray the bottom and sides lightly with cooking spray. Set aside until needed.
  2. For the oranges: Combine the water and sugar in a medium saucepan, stirring on medium-high heat until fully dissolved. 
  3. Gently add the orange slices and bring the mixture to a gentle boil.
  4. Reduce the heat to low, cover and gently simmer for 15 minutes until the peels become soft and semi translucent. There should be a slow ring of bubbles around the edge of the pot. Give a gentle stir/push occasionally to make sure all slices are cooking evenly.
  5. Line a sheet pan with parchment, give it a quick spritz of cooking spray and set aside until needed.
  6. With tongs or a slotted spoon, carefully remove the orange slices, letting the excess syrup drip into the pot, and lay out on the prepared sheet pan. Cool until they are easy to handle, just a few minutes.
  7. Continue to boil the syrup to slightly thicken, about 4 minutes more. It should be thick enough to coat a spoon
  8. Cut a few of the less attractive orange slices in half and use those to line the outer edge of the pan, cut side out. 
  9. Continue toward the center using whole slices, overlapping slightly. 
  10. Dab the orange slices with the syrup, just enough to make everything nice and shiny.
  11. Reserve any excess syrup to brush the baked cake.
  12. Preheat oven to 325°F.
  13. For the cake: in a medium bowl, whisk together the almond flour, all-purpose flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside until needed. 
  14. In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar on medium high until light and fluffy, about 3-5 minutes.
  15. On low, add eggs one at a time, mixing each one until fully combined.
  16. Add the almond and vanilla extracts, mixing until just incorporated.
  17. Still on low, mix in the dry mixture until just combined then add the yogurt and mix until fully incorporated (do not overmix). 
  18. Carefully add spoonfuls of the batter to the orange lined pan, gently spreading the batter with an offset spatula so as not to dislodge the oranges and even out the batter. 
  19. Bake for 1 hour 15 minutes in lower third of the oven until golden brown, springy to the touch and a toothpick inserted just off center comes out clean with moist crumbs.
  20. Cool the pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes. The cake is sturdier the longer it cools but you want the oranges to be a little warm to release cleanly. Caramelized sugar is a real pain in the butt once it cools and hardens. Ten minutes seems to be the sweet spot. 
  21. Release the pan sides then place a serving plate on top of the cake and carefully flip right-side up.
  22. Carefully remove the parchment paper and nudge any dislodged oranges gently back into place if needed.
  23. Gently reheat the reserved orange syrup and brush the top and sides of the cake with the reserved glaze. 
  24. The cake cuts best if left to cool completely but is, admittedly, rather irresistible when warm. Proceed at your own risk. The orange slices make it a bit challenging to slice so use a sharp knife and persevere.
  25. This cake can be made a day or two ahead and kept tightly covered at room temperature. Any leftovers freeze beautifully too. 

So here we are. A whole year later. Who would have thought it would go on this damn long? Like many, I haven’t been to a bar in a year nor a sporting event, a concert or a ballet performance. I haven’t eaten inside a restaurant in over a year. Sure, I’ve done takeout now and again and eaten on two or three patios but I’ve mostly been staying home and cooking. A lot. A LOT. I’ve been making whatever strikes my fancy, whatever I have a taste for, which has been very carb heavy. Every variety of pizza. All the pastas – fresh, dried, filled, rolled. Dumplings. A 5lb lasagna. Bowls of cereal. I went on a tempura bender and lived in fryer oil scented air for weeks. French toast, pancakes, crepes and waffles. I had latkes for dinner 3x one week, because I can. Cooking whatever the hell I’ve wanted has been the only joy I’ve had, the most pleasurable of distractions. I’ve given in to my whims. A few weeks ago, I had a taste for those dumb lettuce cups from P.F. Chang’s. I’ve no idea where that came from as it has been eons since I’ve had them but the thought of crunchy lettuce with a sweet/savory filling was rather appealing. 

There used to be a P.F. Chang’s around the corner from an office I worked in long ago and we’d go occasionally for lettuce cup and sesame noodle lunches. I’m sure there were other things on the menu; we never ordered them. I don’t think I’ve been back since I left that job and don’t have the slightest idea if they’re still around as I’m rather loyal to my local beloved Chinese restaurant. Doesn’t matter really as these lettuce cups are easy enough to make. Incredibly easy, actually.

Hazy memories guided my recipe and I decided there were two key drivers here: crunchy textures and hoisin sauce. The crunch came from celery, water chestnuts, a sprinkling of peanuts and the lettuce (butter lettuce please). The hoisin, a Chinese sort of sweet-ish bbq sauce (often used for those delicious Chinese-style ribs), was the base of my sauce, dark and sticky with hints of star anise. A spoonful makes almost everything better (Koon Chun is the best). Typical additions of soy, rice vinegar and sesame oil and a hit of something spicy, either sriracha or sambal paste rounded out the sauce. I tossed in a little ginger, a little garlic, a few scallions and was happy on the first try.

Now then, the poultry. Let’s discuss. Turkey or chicken is a personal choice and they’re both rather neutral so I’m indifferent as to which you use. Now that I think of it, tofu would also do quite well. I’m sure these are usually made with ground meat and that’s fine but what I greatly prefer is to hand chop chicken breasts or thighs myself. They’re better that way, a little more interesting, a little chunkier and substantial, better to grip the sauce. Sure, buying a packet of ground turkey is easy but chopping it yourself tastes better. Your call.

Then it’s just a basic stir fry – vegetables first, then the chicken, ginger/garlic, finally the sauce to combine and heat through. Piled high in beautiful crunchy lettuce leaves with a sprinkling of peanuts, I was pretty pleased. Nothing too complicated, comes together quickly and all the right flavors and textures are there. Bingo.

STRESS THERAPY BAKING FACTOR: FILLED A NEED. Sometimes, especially when you’re hungry, you just get it into your head that you want something very particular. So you make it happen. I do this often when it comes to food matters, usually to great success, and have learned it’s really not all that difficult. This skill comes in rather handy when you find yourself in a bind, like you know, in the midst of a year long global pandemic. Ah, good times. Crave something? Figure it out.

twelve years ago: Khachapuri (cheesy Georgian bread)

eleven years ago: Parmesan Black Pepper Crackers, Irish Soda Bread, Stovetop Smoked Salmon, Blood Orange Marmalade

ten years ago: French Onion SoupFresh Paczki (homemade Polish donuts), Chocolate Cabernet SauceChocolate Snack Cake

nine years ago: Soda Bread Tarte Tatin, Irish Oatmeal Pudding, Barley Marmalade SconesOrange Sweet RollsWhatchamacallit BrowniesBaked Cheddar OlivesChocolate Malt Pots de CrèmeChocolate Crème Filled Cupcakes

eight years ago: Shaker Lemon Pie, Irish Whiskey CakesPeanut Butter Swirl BrowniesChocolate Pudding Cake

seven years ago: Brown Bread Ice Cream, Guinness Chicken & Mushroom BoxtyChocolate Cherry Buns

six years ago: Flourless Chocolate Cookies

five years ago: Bakewell Tart, Everything BagelsGravlax (Cured Salmon)Tuscan Rice Pudding TorteToum and Lamb Chops (Lebanese Garlic Spread)Dark Chocolate Tapioca PuddingChocolate Banana BreadChocolate Mint Brownie Ice Cream Sandwiches

four years ago: Pancetta Pea & Ricotta Hand Pies, Guinness Beer BreadBeer Braised Onion & Bacon TartBrown Butter Blueberry Ricotta CakeChocolate Cherry FinancierChocolate Fleur de Sel CaramelsTriple Chocolate Cream Puffs

three years ago: Coconut Chess Pie for Pi(e) Day, Tunnel of Caramel Cake

Ethiopian Doro Wat (Spicy Chicken Stew)

two years ago: Guinness Cheddar Biscuits, Bittersweet Chocolate Sour Cream Ice Cream

last year: Dirty Chai Cookies


Serves 4

You can certainly use ground chicken or turkey for this recipe, however, I greatly prefer to hand chop boneless skinless chicken breasts and/or thighs for a better texture. To do this, butterfly (cut horizontally) the chicken into thinner cutlets, then cut into long strips and then cut into smaller dice. Diced firm tofu would also be very delicious here.

2 Tablespoons vegetable oil

1 pound chicken – boneless breasts, thighs or ground (see note above)

1 onion, diced (about 2/3 cup)

2 celery stalks, diced (about 1 cup)

1 8oz can water chestnuts, drained and diced

2 scallions, sliced (whites + greens)

1 Tablespoon finely minced or grated ginger

2 garlic cloves, finely minced or grated

¼ cup hoisin

2 Tablespoon soy sauce

1 Tablespoon rice vinegar

1 teaspoon sesame oil

2-3 teaspoons sriracha or sambal chile paste

Butter lettuce leaves, tougher part of the core removed

Chopped peanuts for garnish

  1. In a small bowl, combine the sauce ingredients – hoisin, soy, rice vinegar, sesame oil and chile paste. Set aside until needed.
  2. In a large skillet or wok, heat the half the oil over high until sizzling hot
  3. Add the onion and celery, stirring frequently until softened, about 2-3 minutes.
  4. Add the water chestnuts, stir to combine and push everything to the side of the pan.
  5. In the empty space, add the remaining oil and let heat for a moment then add the chicken and saute until nearly cooked through. 
  6. Stir to combine with the vegetables and add the garlic and ginger and stir fry until fragrant, about 1 minute.
  7. Add the sauce ingredients, stirring quickly to combine and heat through.
  8. Transfer the mixture to a serving bowl and garnish with chopped peanuts.
  9. To serve, pile a platter with washed and dried butter lettuce leaves, place the bowl of chicken filling in the center. At the table, pile spoonfuls of the filling into lettuce leaves and enjoy hot, with a sprinkle of additional peanuts if desired.

It was the Lunar New Year last week, The Year of the Ox. To celebrate I decided to make some dumplings. It was a snowy day, again, and I had a whole lotta nothing going on. A few weeks ago, The New York Times published a recipe by Genevieve Ko for Chile Crisp Dumplings. I adore chile crisp and was intrigued but I’d recently culled down my subscriptions and the NYT food site was one of them. I was unable to breach the paywall to access the recipe so my imagination took over. In my mind, the filling was a rich ground pork, with ginger and garlic and hits of that wonderful magic that is chile crisp. I drooled at the thought. As I later discovered, that’s not at all what they were. After some determined digging, I cracked the NYT code and got to that recipe only to learn the filling consisted of tofu, spinach and celery. Huh. Sounds delicious but it wasn’t at all what I was thinking. I couldn’t help but be a little disappointed.

My idea got stuck in my head. I obsessed over it, just a little. I get like that sometimes. While wrapping up some leftover tofu one night after teaching a class, the idea further solidified. What about mapo tofu? It’s a dish I order often: ground pork and tofu chunks in a blistering spicy sauce. I had a ton of pork in my freezer, I had tofu and I had a whole bunch of various chile type sauces and things, including some homemade chile crisp. This could be interesting. So I did it.

To a nice fatty ground pork (scoff if you will but that fattiness makes a luscious dumpling) and diced tofu I added various aromatics – garlic, ginger, scallions, Shaoxing wine and then came the chilies. Chile crisp, of course because that’s where this whole idea started, and in the spirit of mapo, tobanjan (a fermented spicy bean paste) and fermented chili bean paste (often referred to as mapo sauce). It was spicy, but not overly so, more a pleasant zing. Wonderful.

I also opted to make homemade dumpling wrappers as they’re not all that difficult – two ingredients! – and I had the time. I should be honest and admit that the decision was heavily influenced by the fact that my little car has been stuck in an ice floe for weeks and likely won’t be free until sometime in July. A quick trip to the Asian market for dumpling skins just wasn’t in the cards. Besides, I greatly prefer the wonderful toothsome texture of a homemade wrapper. They’re so much better so it was a happy compromise. The recipe is from the wonderful Andrea Nguyen’s book “Asian Dumplings” and comes together very easily though I roll/cut it a bit differently than she directs. 

A quick note about chile crisp. It is the wonder condiment everyone is talking about – chilies, fried shallots and garlic, Sichuan peppercorns, peanuts, ginger. It is strangely addictive and good on everything. You can purchase the Laoganma brand in any Asian market, there are several specialty brands available online or you can make your own, which I highly recommend. 

STRESS THERAPY BAKING FACTOR: BUSY HANDS. It’s no great secret that I love a project. Rolling and folding homemade dumplings is right up there at the top. It’s not overly difficult but it does take a fair bit of time and attention so it’s perfect when you need a distraction but more importantly, when you need to feel like you’ve accomplished something. This one fits the bill perfectly. I find great satisfaction in fat, pretty little pleated dumplings lined up on a pan, waiting to be seared off or stashed in the freezer for a later treat. I like knowing that they are there, in the depths of my freezer, for some later comfort even though I’m trying hard to keep from putting more things in my freezer. I like knowing that as temperatures drop in the coming weeks, I can easily pull 6 or 8 or 10 plump little fiery dumplings from my freezer and have a little treat that will warm me from the inside. I just like everything about it.

twelve years ago: Khachapuri (cheesy Georgian bread)

eleven years ago: Won Ton Soup

ten years ago:  Dark Chocolate TartChocolate Ganache Tart

nine years ago: St. John Dark Chocolate Ice Cream

eight years ago: Peppermint Patty BrowniesChocolate Raspberry Tart

seven years ago: Dulce de Leche FondueChocolate Linzer Cookies

six years ago: Flourless Chocolate Cookies

five years ago: Orange Chocolate Angel Food Cake with Candied ClementinesMexican Chocolate Poundcake

four years ago: Chocolate Cardamom Shortbread HeartsDark Chocolate Pudding

three years ago: West African Puff Puffs

two years ago: Bittersweet Chocolate Sour Cream Ice Cream

last year: Dirty Chai Cookies

SPICY MAPO TOFU DUMPLINGS – the dumpling dough is from the wonderful Andrea Nguyen’s book “Asian Dumplings”

Makes about 3 ½ dozen

While you can certainly used purchased dumpling wrappers, I urge you to make your own. Sure they’re a little time consuming but no more so than say, a pie crust. The texture is far superior so I think the effort is well worth it. The different chile sauces will require a trip to an Asian market but don’t let that stop you from making this recipe. If you want to skip those, use more chile crisp. Do not skip that. You need chile crisp in your life. Trust me. If you need a better idea of how to fill and pleat a dumpling, I have some photos and a more detailed explanation in my potstickers post.

4 oz firm tofu, drained

½ pound fatty ground pork, preferably pork butt 

2 garlic cloves, minced

¼ cup minced peeled fresh ginger 

½ cup finely chopped scallions (about 3)

1-2 Tablespoons chili crisp

1 Tablespoon tobanjan (fermented broad-bean paste) 

2 Tablespoons fermented chili bean paste (ma po sauce)

3 Tablespoons Shaoxing wine 

1 large egg white 

½ teaspoon kosher salt 

2 Tablespoons cornstarch 

round dumpling wrappers – either homemade (below) or purchased

vegetable oil, for frying

  1. For the filling: Cut the tofu into ¼” thick slices; wrap in a layer of paper towels and set aside while you prepare the other ingredients. 
  2. In a medium bowl, combine the pork with all the ingredients except the tofu and cornstarch.
  3. Cut the tofu into small dice and fold gently into the spiced pork mixture.
  4. Fold in the cornstarch just until incorporated.
  5. Refrigerate until needed.
  6. To assemble: Lay a wrapper in the palm of one hand or on the work surface. Using your finger, brush the outer edge with water. 
  7. Spoon 1 heaping Tablespoon of filling in the center. 
  8. Fold the wrapper over the filling to form a half-moon; pinch at the top to adhere. 
  9. Fold a pleat in the wrapper on the top left, angling the pleat back toward the center, pressing to adhere. 
  10. Repeat the pleating on the top right of the wrapper to meet the first pleat in the center. 
  11. Transfer the dumpling to a parchment paper-lined sheet pan and cover with plastic wrap; repeat with the rest of the wrappers and filling.
  12. To cook: pour enough oil into a large nonstick skillet to cover the bottom in a thin even layer. 
  13. Arrange some of the dumplings in the skillet, flat side down (pleats up). You will need to work in batches if cooking all the dumplings in one go. 
  14. Cook over low heat until golden on the bottom, about 2-3 minutes.
  15. Carefully pour in enough water to reach halfway up the dumplings – careful it will spatter aggressively. 
  16. Cover and cook until almost all of the water is absorbed, and the filling is cooked through, about 4-6 minutes.
  17. Uncover and cook until all of the liquid has evaporated, and the dumplings are crispy on the bottom, about 2 minutes longer. 
  18. Carefully invert the dumplings onto a plate. 
  19. Repeat the process with the remaining dumplings. Serve warm.
  20. Do ahead: filling can be refrigerated overnight. The assembled, uncooked dumplings can be frozen for up to 1 month and cooked from frozen. Just add 2 minutes to the covered cooking time. Alternatively, you can boil or steam the frozen dumplings for about 8 minutes.


Makes enough for about 46 3 ½” dumplings

10 ounces (2 cups) unbleached all-purpose flour

¾ cup boiling water 

  1. For the dough:
  2. food processor method:
  3. Put the flour in the work bowl and with the machine running, add the water in a steady stream through the feed tube. 
  4. As soon as all the water has been added, stop the machine and check the dough. It should look rough and feel soft but firm enough to hold its shape when pinched. 
  5. If necessary, add water by the teaspoon or flour by the tablespoon. 
  6. When satisfied, run the machine for another 5-10 seconds to further knead and form a ball around the blade. Avoid overworking the dough.
  7. by hand
  8. Put the flour in a bowl and make a well in the center. 
  9. Use a wooden spoon to stir the flour while adding the water in a steady stream (a kitchen towel rolled into a ring with the bowl nestled in the center will keep it steady.) 
  10. When all the water has been added, there will be a lot of lumpy bits. 
  11. Knead the dough in the bowl to bring all the lumps into one mass; if the dough does not come together easily, add additional water by the teaspoon.
  12. Knead: Regardless of the mixing method, transfer the dough and any bits to a work surface; flour the surface only if necessary, and then sparingly. 
  13. Knead the dough with the heel of your hand for about 30 seconds for machine-made dough, or about 2 minutes for handmade dough. The result should be nearly smooth and somewhat elastic; press on the dough; it should slowly bounce back, with a light impression of your finger remaining. 
  14. Place the dough in a zip-top plastic bag and seal tightly closed, expelling excess air. 
  15. Set aside to rest at room temperature for at least 15 minutes and up to 2 hours. The dough will steam up the plastic bag and become soft, and pliable which makes the wrappers easy to work with.
  16. After resting, the dough can be used right away to form the wrappers or, refrigerate overnight and return to room temperature before using.
  17. To roll: divide the dough into four pieces. Sprinkle each piece lightly with flour, cover with plastic wrap.
  18. Roll a piece of the dough as thin as possible, working it back and forth and using additional flour only if it sticks terribly. Keep turning the dough and rolling to get it as thin as you can.
  19. Cut rounds with a 3 ½” round cutter. Continue with the remaining pieces of dough, keeping the rounds covered to prevent them from drying out. The scraps can be re-rolled but they benefit from a rest so it’s best to save all the scraps, tightly wrapped, to roll last.

Right now, there’s a lot and a whole lot of nothing going on. It’s a very strange combination of things that’s difficult to explain or understand. There’s not really any place to go or any place to be. My only refuge the last year has been, of all things, grocery shopping. Going to the store has become my big adventure and because of this, I am ridiculously well stocked (and I was well stocked before all this began.)

I haven’t posted in the last month but it’s not because I haven’t been cooking. I’ve been cooking up a storm, just nothing really post worthy, mostly work stuff or published recipes. As 2020 morphed wordlessly into 2021, I took on a few challenges both for efficiency sake and to entertain myself. One challenge, cooked up by friends, was to cook 100 recipes in the year from cookbooks we currently own. No magazines, no online sources, just use the books we have. I have a lot of books, some I’ve never opened, so I liked the idea of this one. Given my rather large library, I joined Eat Your Booksan online database to create your own cookbook library and it’s been very helpful when I’m looking for a recipe with a particular ingredient.

My family ties neatly into this one as we’ve recently started cooking together via Zoom. My mom announced over the holidays she’d like to cook some Ottolenghi recipes, as she’s never really opened the books I’ve given her over the years. So twice a month, that’s what we do. To date we’ve made a beautiful roasted squash dish from Plenty More and some tasty gorgonzola & spinach stuffed potatoes from SimpleI like this because not only do I get to chat with my family, it helps me work through my books and counts against my 100 recipes. Two birds, one stone as they say. 

Next up are two more challenges that just make sense: use what I have and deplete my freezer stock. I’ve read a couple articles about folks challenging themselves to cook exclusively from their pantry, fridge and freezer for a specified period of time. Some do it for a month, others choose the forty days of Lent but the point stands: use what you have. I need to do this. My pantry is ridiculous with all kinds of leftovers from work projects – bottles of vinegar and soy sauce, tomato sauces and god knows what else. I recently typed up an inventory sheet just to know what I have and to quit buying duplicates like panko breadcrumbs. I have a lot of panko breadcrumbs right now. It’s easy to lose track of things. It happens.

Then there are my freezers, both a standard and a chest freezer. I have a tendency to make things, say a soup or a pot of beans, eat a bit and freeze the rest. That all adds up over time. It’s full of chicken breasts, frozen vegetables, fruit from summer farmers market purchases, Asian noodles, bags of garden cherry tomatoes, big pieces of pork from a butchery project. The goal is to remove things, not put them back in. Last weekend, I dug out some of that pork and made a slow cooked carne adovada, knocking off 2 bags of dried chilies from the pantry while I was at it (it was a three-fer: freezer stock, pantry stock and cookbook recipe. Boom!) Made a pot of beans from my Rancho Gordo bean club stockpile (pantry: check). It’s been keeping be busy and fed and doesn’t always lend itself to a blog post.

That said … I did make some really good cookies this week. An oatmeal cookie. All of you out there who say you don’t like oatmeal cookies are insane. They’re delicious. Is it the raisins? Well good, because I changed those to dates. I have A LOT of dates around here. I started with a recipe from one of my books that I like very much and adapted it for ingredients I had on hand. There’s some molasses for a wonderful chew and a deep flavor that is wonderful. I changed the spices a bit, used walnuts (because they’re such a good pairing with dates) and folded in chopped dates. They’re a little crispy on the outside and soft and chewy in the center. Delicious. Also checked off two of my challenge boxes, so there’s that.

STRESS THERAPTY BAKING FACTOR: YEP. COOKIE THERAPY. There’s a slight health halo to these cookie, if you squint a bit. Oatmeal. Dried fruit. Nuts. It’s almost like granola! If course the addition of three kinds of sugar so of derails that notion, but whatever. On the whole, a nice thing to have around. Cookie dough in the freezer is ALWAYS a good thing.

twelve years ago: Khachpuri (cheesy Georgian bread)

eleven years ago: Marmalade Yogurt Cake,  Fancy Valentine’s Day Cookies  

ten years ago: BBQ Chicken BaoMexican Hot Chocolate,  Chocolate Churros

nine years ago: Passionfruit PavlovaDouble Chocolate AlfajoresChocolate Dulce de Leche Swirl Ice Cream

eight years ago: Nutella TorteChocolate Pear Clafouti

seven years ago: Pimento Cheese Stuffed PretzelsMexican Chocolate CookiesBuckwheat Blini

six years ago: Flourless Chocolate Cookies

five years ago: Chocolate Hazelnut Cake,  Bourbon Pecan Chocolate Cheesecake Brownies

four years ago: Dark Chocolate Marshmallows

three years ago: Ethiopian Collard GreensHaitian Poulet CreoleWest African Puff Puffs

two years ago: Pull Apart Pigs In A Blanket RingPiggy Coconut Buns for Chinese New Year

last year: Dirty Chai Cookies

OATMEAL DATE COOKIES – adapted from Rosie’s Bakery Chocolate-Packed Jam-Filled Butter-Rich No-Holds-Barred Cookie Book

Make 20 cookies 

OK, I know there’s all kinds of weird measurements in this one. 1/3 cup + 2 Tablespoons? Yeah. It just is that way and it works so I go with it.

¾ cup unbleached all-purpose flour

¾ teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon ground cinnamon

¼ teaspoon ground cardamom

1/8 teaspoon ground cloves

¾ teaspoon kosher salt

8 Tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature

1/3 cup + 2 Tablespoons light brown sugar

6 Tablespoons sugar 

4 teaspoons unsulfured molasses 

2 ¼ teaspoons water

½ teaspoon vanilla

1 large egg

2 cups rolled old fashioned oats 

½ cup chopped walnuts 

¾ cup pitted dates, roughly chopped 

  1. Sift the dry ingredients – flour, baking soda, cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, salt – into a bowl and set aside until needed.
  2. In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter, both sugars, molasses, water and vanilla on medium-high until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Scrape the bowl halfway through. 
  3. Add the egg and mix on low until well combined.
  4. Add the flour mixture on low and mix until just combined. Scrape.
  5. Add the oats on low and mix until just combined.
  6. Add the dates and nuts on low and mix until just combined. If your dates are particularly fresh and soft, fold those in by hand so they don’t get beat to death.
  7. Chill the dough, tightly wrapped, until firm, at least one hour or overnight. The dough can be frozen up to 3 months at this point if desired.
  8. Preheat the oven to 350°F and line a few sheet pans with parchment paper.
  9. Roll the chilled dough into golfball sized rounds and place 1 ½” apart on the prepared sheet pans.
  10. Bake 10 minutes until golden on the edges and soft and pale in the center. Cool on the sheet pans then transfer to airtight container for longer storage.
  11. Do ahead: after chilling the dough, roll into balls and place on a parchment lined sheet pan. Freeze until firm then transfer to a Ziploc freezer bag labeled with the baking time and temperature. Bake directly from the freezer, adding a minute or two to the baking time.