Last week I was felled like a tree with the flu.  James took excellent care of me, but he was soon slammed with the same bug.  Come Saturday he was tucked in bed, quarantined from Ella who, luckily, managed to escape all the muck.  We had planned to celebrate my birthday on Sunday (truth be told, it would be my second birthday celebration—the first was a date night in the city a couple of weeks ago, which was incredible except for our post-date hangovers… we are getting old).  Birthdays at this age are a mellow affair—James and Ella spoil me with a few small gifts and make me dinner.  In the hopes that James would be better by Sunday evening, I decided to marinate a partial boneless leg of lamb that I had dug out of the freezer.  While Ella painted a bunny at the kitchen table, I whisked together a mess of fresh herbs, garlic, anchovies, Dijon, lemon juice and olive oil.  In went the lamb for the night with fingers crossed that James would soon return to the land of the living.On Sunday morning the sun was shining brightly and thankfully James woke recovered.  I couldn’t have asked for a better day—gardening (err, watching James and Ella garden), a family walk with the dog, jumbo cookies, a nap in the hammock…  Come dinnertime, James resumed his dinner duties and roasted baby potatoes, made a quick salsa verde and grilled up the lamb with some asparagus while Ella made me a birthday headband and picked a fresh bouquet of desiccated plants and shrubbery from the yard.  It was warm enough to eat outside—our first back deck meal of the year—and the lamb was utterly fantastic—richly flavored and superbly tender.  I donned my butterfly headband and felt like the luckiest woman alive.This lamb is incredibly simple but flavorful and would make for a lovely Easter centerpiece.  Use any mix of herbs you like (I used mint, rosemary, thyme, parsley and marjoram) and be sure to coat the lamb fully for maximum flavor.  You can marinate it at room temperature for up to two hours, or overnight in the fridge.  I like to serve it with a salsa verde or simple mint pesto.  Spring has sprung.


Have I mentioned that my child is obsessed with “magical” fairies, princesses, butterflies, and ballerinas?  Even though we’ve tried to be as gender-neutral (and non-pink) as possible in raising Ella, she’s a total girly-girl.  I’ve given up trying to influence her with tool kits and mud pies.  Last month, as part of an early birthday celebration, we took her to the New York City ballet then lunch at Alice’s Tea Cup, a little spot known for its “high tea” service and fairy-friendly decor.  When we arrived, we learned that there was a two-hour wait (seriously?!), but, through a serious stroke of luck, the hostess said she could slip us right in (we still have no idea what we did to please her).  Ella was dusted with pixie dust (I’m not kidding) then given a pair of fairy wings to don during lunch—they sure know how to charm four-year-olds.  She was on cloud nine, especially after walking past the display case of mammoth cookies, scones, towering layer cakes and pudgy muffins.  She and James happily devoured tea sandwiches and baked goods, including a chocolate scone and a cupcake the size of Battery Park.  I (jealously, I admit) salivated into my green tea, trying (unsuccessfully) to enjoy a breadless sandwich and a side of potatoes—groan.  It’s decidedly not a restaurant for the gluten-adverse.

After that trip, I wasn’t able to get scones out of my mind.  They’re all craggy, buttery and cute in a Walter Matthau kind of way, and I hadn’t had one since I forsook gluten two years ago.  To make matters worse, my friend Jennifer recently started selling her exquisite homemade marmalades and jams, which are now (cheer!) available online!.  What goes better with homemade marmalade than a scone?  I needed a fix, and, after some experimenting, came up with this gluten-free version using quinoa and rice flours as the base.  I use a technique that I learned from my friend Annie, who grates cold butter right into the batter using a cheese grater.  The flakes of cold butter create a superbly tender, moist crumb.  The dough gets patted into a disk (no rolling pin required), then cut into wedges and dusted with sugar, helping the edges to crisp up.  Quinoa’s nutty flavor provides a compelling contrast to the sweetness of honey, orange and currants, and the result is sophisticated and yet utterly addicting.  My craving has finally been kicked, and my little fairy princess has been begging me to make more.After lunch at Alice’s Tea Cup we decided on a whim to visit the Museum of Natural History, where we discovered that the Butterfly Conservatory was on exhibit, featuring 500 live, fluttering butterflies.  Ella was ecstatic.   Luck was on our side again when the guard let us in for free even though we didn’t have the right tickets.  It was just that kind of day—an Ella kind of day.  I’d even call it magical.


Ella turned four at the end of February, which is still boggling my mind.  It feels like she was just a baby, and yet, at the same time, it seems like she was born eons ago. When she arrived, my mom flew out and stayed with us for a few weeks, absolutely spoiling us with her cooking and cleaning.  One sunny Saturday in March she made a long-simmered lamb ragu, which we happily devoured while watching the wonder-of-Ella bobbing gently in her swing.  It was one of life’s perfect moments.  Lamb ragu has since retained a special place in my heart.  While my mom’s ragu simmered for hours, I’ve concocted a quick version that can be thrown together any night of the week—with a baby strapped into a carrier on your chest, or with toddler crawling through your kitchen cabinets, or with a preschooler standing on a chair next to you at the stove.  Every March, right about the time when I can’t bear the thought of another Brussels sprout but asparagus and morels are still weeks away, I crave this dish.  It tastes like springtime, but uses easy-to-find winter ingredients.

The ragu simmers for only 15-20 minutes but has a cooked-all-day taste due to a few simple techniques.  The first is to brown the meat, which gives it a jump-start and creates a rich flavor (all those brown bits on the bottom of the pan equal flavor).  The second is to finely chop the vegetables so that they cook quickly (this is key).  And the third is to layer in tomato paste, wine and a touch of cinnamon to create depth.  The ragu gets tossed with papperdelle pasta (or any pasta shape of your choice) and is showered with Pecorino, fresh mint and a dollop of creamy ricotta cheese.  It’s comforting and yet bright, warming yet light.  It’s the dish I turn to when I’m desperately craving spring but winter just won’t let go.

Lucky for me, Ella loves it just as much as I do.


As I write this, my steep driveway is turning into an ice hill worthy of Stochi lugers (as I post this, a few days later, rain is turning that ice into a gushing stream).  This winter’s been rough.  We’ve had more snow than I can remember.   Last week I was stuck inside with Ella for four consecutive days, marooned by a few feet of snow (and deserted by James, who has been furiously finishing up a film).  At first it was a treat: snuggling on the couch, playing games, baking muffins, painting rainbows.  But about half way in, I started developing a case of cabin fever.  There are only so many games of make-believe princess one can take.  Ella has absolutely no interest in playing in the snow (“No, it’s cold!  And WET!”), so she’d watch from the window as I shoveled paths through the growing banks.  One day I came in shivering (and yes, wet) and she asked if I wanted to have a tea party.  Why, yes!  And of course it had to include one of her very favorites: hot cocoa.

Or, rather, hot cacao.  Rather than using a packaged mix, this quick homemade version is made with raw cacao powder, milk, honey and a touch of vanilla.  Let me assure you that it’s nearly as easy to make as the stuff out of the envelope that we grew up on, but it’s even more delicious and much more nutritious.  Raw cacao is loaded with antioxidants, magnesium and iron, and with just a bit of honey to sweeten, this cocoa has far less sugar than its packaged brethren.  Ella loves it in the morning with breakfast, or with her afternoon snack.  I usually make up a double batch and refrigerate the leftovers to reheat the next day.   It’s a wonderful wintertime “treat,” that’s really not a treat at all.

We sipped our hot cacao, which quickly melted the ice in my bones.  Ella then proceeded to entertain herself for over an hour serving “tea” (water) to her kitty and ducky, while I curled up on the couch and read my book.  It was the best tea party ever.

*The hot cacao is photographed in mugs that were hand-made by Bettina Utz, owner of East Mountain Girl Ceramics + Design.  She’s a friend and mountain neighbor, and will be selling her beautiful dishware at the Bazaar on Hudson, an indoor market of local Hudson Valley and New York City artists, which is opening this spring (every Sunday at the Living Room in Cold Spring).  Drinking a cup of warm cacao (or tea, or coffee, or anything) out of one of these mugs is sure to make any day—even the fourth snow day in a row—a little brighter.


Last summer my parents rented a house in Tennessee for our first big family vacation with all eight grandkids.  We convened at a canary yellow house overlooking a lake with our little ones in tow (sadly leaving James behind, who was deep in Hobbit-madness at that time) for a week of eating, drinking and toddler chasing.  Since the kids ranged in age from one to four (five of whom were under two at the time—twins and triplets), dining out wasn’t exactly an option.  Instead, each couple (or single, in my case) took charge of planning and cooking different meals.  Before heading to TN, I did a bit of research and stumbled across a farm near our house that sold pasture-raised meats—a lucky find since there ended up being a scarcity of grocery stores in the area (barring a giant Walmart).  We made an appointment to visit the farm and loaded up on steaks, Cornish hens, ground beef and a gigantic pork shoulder.  I called dibs on the pork shoulder, which I dry-rubbed, slow-roasted and shredded for tacos.  We stuffed the slightly spicy, sweet and smoky pork inside corn tortillas along with avocado slices, homemade pickled red onions, cotija cheese, cilantro sprigs and generous glugs of hot sauce.  The sun was setting over the lake as we sat to eat dinner on the deck, and with nary a cry from our children, who were all magically fast asleep, it was summer at its finest.Fast forward to today.  We’re in the midst of a polar vortex.  I’ve been wearing long underwear to bed, and summer breezes feel as foreign as Uzbekistan.  A few weeks ago I stumbled upon a beautiful pork shoulder at a market upstate and was immediately reminded of that night in TN.  I took the roast home and braised it with plenty of spices and some fresh orange juice, just as I had done on vacation.  The flavors brought me right back to that warm evening on the lake.  Nothing tastes more like summer, while being hardy and warming enough for winter, than pork-filled tacos.  I’ve since streamlined the recipe, cooking the pork shoulder in my slow cooker instead of the oven to minimize the hands-on time.  The result is a meal that’s easy enough to pull together any night of the week.  While it’s admittedly not exactly in the category of “meals and recipes from scratch in under an hour,” it is definitely slow food at its fastest (and simplest), requiring only thirty minutes of actual hands-on time.A bit of planning is required, however.  You’ll need to start the day before by smothering a pork shoulder (or butt) with a simple spice rub (doing this the day before allows the flavors to better infuse into the meat).  The next day, it goes into a slow cooker with some orange juice, and is then left to its own devices for 8-10 hours while you go to work, or play with your kids, or hit the ski slopes, or whatever.  By the time you’re ready for dinner, the meat is tender and succulent.  The final step before serving is to boil down the pan juices, creating a slightly sweet and smoky sauce for the shredded pork.  Serve the tacos with quick pickled onions (recipe below), buttery avocado slices, salty cotija or feta cheese and fresh cilantro.  Pass the hot sauce (Chalupa, if you’ve got it), and welcome to summer.

This past Tuesday we hosted a last-minute “taco Tuesday” with some of our friends.  It was a casual get together of pork tacos, plenty of wine and a movie for the kids.  Even though a big snowstorm was on its way (we’d wake up to another foot of snow on Wednesday), that evening we felt warm and cheerful, fueled with enough Tennessee sunshine to face yet another storm.


January is officially chili month.  Ok, I might be making that up (although, out of curiosity I just did a Google search, and apparently there’s a “national chili day” on the fourth Thursday in February every year; who invents this stuff?), but it wouldn’t seem like January to me without a big bowl of steaming chili.  When I was growing up, my mom made a crock-pot batch every year on New Year’s Day.  We’d shovel back steaming bowls of beef and beans crowned with melted yellow cheddar, peaks of sour cream and a sprinkle of green onions (and, let’s be honest, a handful of Fritos) while watching—or pretending to watch, in my case—whatever football game was on.  This year, after a two-week, three-state holiday traveling spree to visit family and friends, which was laden with pork and beef (in a good way), we arrived home in serious need of vegetables.  I threw together a clean-out-the-vegetable-bin chili, which I thickened with leftover cooked quinoa from the freezer since I was low on beans.  The result was surprisingly rich and luxurious—as comforting as my memories and yet light enough to kick off the year on a clean slate.

Although the ingredient list looks long, once you get the vegetables diced, you’re halfway there.  A generous smattering of spices gives the tomato base loads of flavor, and quinoa thickens the chili without weighing things down.  (Next time you make quinoa, double the batch and store the leftovers in the freezer; it will be waiting for you when you need it.)  A pinch of cinnamon lends subtle sweetness that rounds everything out.

This has quickly become a family favorite.  Last week I even turned on a football game for nostalgia’s sake while polishing off leftovers for lunch (not that I actually watched the game).  It’s a flavorful, clean start to what I hope will be a great year.


Dear December, please slow down for me so that I can savor every bite.

The holidays are upon us.  We bought our Christmas tree the day after our plane landed home from Thanksgiving.  Ella has been singing jingle bells (“oh what fun it is to ride in one slush over sleighhhh!”), we’ve been eating advent calendar chocolates first thing in the morning, shopping for gifts (online), and trying to pack in all of our work before we take some much needed time off.  I love December.  But man, it’s a busy month. We’ve had friends stay over the last two weekends (one of which resulted in a Jacob’s ladder chain of the stomach flu, but that’s a different story), and it got me thinking about entertaining.  I love having friends at my table.  I used to prepare elaborate, multi-course, sit-down affairs, but several years ago (“hello, Ella”), I burned out.  The meals became stressful, tiring and not that much fun for me.  Since then, I’ve simplified.  If we’re having a dinner party, I choose menus that can be prepped almost entirely ahead of time.  The food is not complicated, but it’s satisfying. I’ve found that people like to pitch in, and that a glass of good bourbon or Cognac always helps with the clean up.  It’s casual, but it’s fun.

This Fig & Walnut Jam is just the kind of recipe I love.  It can be made several days ahead of time and is an easy and elegant way to elevate cocktail hour.  Simply put the jam in a pretty little jar or bowl and serve it alongside a good wedge or two of cheese (think an Alpine-style hard cheese or a runny washed rind) with crackers or a baguette.  Ho, ho, ho appetizers are served.  If you have overnight guests, repurpose the jam for a French-inspired breakfast the next morning.  Lay out a spread of fruit, mild cheese, thick yogurt, the jam and fresh bread.  Très sophisticated.

We’re soon off to visit my family, where there are now 8 grandkids under the age of five.  I’m cooking for the troops on the 23rd, and you can bet I’ll be making something that can be prepped ahead of time (that, or those kids had better learn how to use a chef’s knife).

Wishing you a joyful and delicious holiday! xoxo


This is a last-minute post for all you last-minute cooks!  If you’re still looking for Thanksgiving side-dish inspiration, these maple roasted acorn squash wedges are wickedly easy but delicious (and beautiful to boot).  The squashes get cut into wedges (which I promise is much easier than cutting into a denser squash like butternut) then brushed with maple butter and sprinkled with Aleppo pepper (which has a slightly sweet kick).  They become caramelized and sweet, with a subtle kick from the pepper.  If you don’t have Aleppo pepper, you can omit it, or even add a dusting of cayenne for some heat.  The wedges are fabulous on their own, or you can toss them into salads (think arugula, Pecorino, toasted nuts and possibly pomegranate seeds, if you’re feeling fancy).

It’s hard to believe that Thanksgiving is just a dollop away.  I can’t wait to see family and smell turkey.  Bon appétit to you all!

 


I love a good crisp.  It’s a humble dessert—all brown and bumpy and crunchy—but it’s as uplifting as my soft sheep’s-wool sweater, especially with a dollop of whipped cream or ice cream on top.  It’s a dessert that’s as welcome on a Tuesday as it is at a weekend dinner with friends.  Last week I hadn’t been thinking much about crisps, my thoughts being all pumpkin pie and crème brulée in preparation for the holidays, but then I ran across a crisp recipe in Martha Stewart Living that called for pulsing oats in a food processor and using the resulting “oat flour” in place of regular flour.  I was intrigued.  It was cloudy and gray outside, and I decided to whip up my own rendition to brighten our moods.  I added plenty of pecans for crunch, warming spices and maple sugar for flavor, and I made the baking dish slightly smaller to maximize the topping-to-filling ratio (the topping is the best part, after all).  Just the smells alone were therapy.  The three of us nearly devoured the whole thing in one sitting, and one of is only thirty-five pounds.  Luckily this recipe has about half the amount of sugar and butter than regular crisp recipes, not that we noticed (or much cared).

Why not make a crisp for the holidays?  I’ve yet to find anybody who can resist its cinnamon-scented embrace (I’m sure those people exist, but I don’t care to meet them).  With the craziness of the season, when you have a million other things to do, an easy-to-make, make-ahead dessert can be a lifesaver (not to mention one that won’t bust the buttons on your jeans after a day of feasting).  Speaking of feasting, below are some of my favorites for the holiday table.  Happy Thanksgiving!

Buttercup Squash Soup with Coconut & Curry

Maple-Roasted Delicata Squash Salad with Goat Cheese & Pomegranate Seeds

Lacinato Kale Salad with Comté, Fennel, Walnuts & Apricots

Easy Sweet Potato “Souffle” Bake

Coconut Chard Gratin

Pumpkin Brown Rice Pudding

 

 


I’ve been a bit absent lately, and for that I apologize!  October was a blur—cooking classes, project deadlines and five weeks of shooting (hands-only) cooking videos for AllRecipes.com and Better Homes & Gardens (yes, it’s kind of like being a hand model, which is hilarious if you knew the average state of these klutzy digits).  All that coupled with being a mom and having a husband on deadline, and whooooa, life was hectic.  To help ease the chaos, each weekend I cooked a few make-ahead meals to get us through the week, usually a big batch of soup (this and this and this….) and some things that could be thrown in the freezer.  These turkey and spinach meatballs made it into the rotation a few times.  They’re simple and straightforward, but deeply satisfying and even nutritious—I consider them my workhorse meatballs (workhorse balls, ha!!).  Stuffed with spinach, herbs and plenty of garlic, then roasted until browned, they’re easy and fuss-free.  The cooked balls (hehe, can’t resist!) can be frozen for up to a month, making them perfect for when emergency strikes.  Pop them into a saucepan with some homemade or store-bought marinara sauce to warm through (if you’re buying a jarred sauce, go with Rao’s, which is as close to homemade as I’ve found), and you’ve got an enormously pleasurable meal at your fingertips.  Pile the meatballs on spaghetti that’s been tossed with olive oil, garlic and parsley, or stuff them into hoagies with mozzarella and basil.  Either way, it’s an old-school kind of meal—comforting and damn tasty, especially after a long day when the last thing you want to do is cook.