Very Old Posts Archives

Big Girls, Global Kitchens: A Dumpling Slideshow


EVENT: Food That Takes Two
VENUE: Cara’s Apartment, Park Slope
TYPE: Interactive Valentine’s Day Dinner
MENU: Meat and Scallion Pot Stickers with Tangy Soy Sauce; Momofuku Pork Bo Ssam with White Rice, Butter Lettuce Leaves, and Ginger Scallion Sauce; Nothing for Dessert (Phoebe on this development: “Do I even know you anymore?”)

I began mooning over Andrea Nguyen’s cookbook, Asian Dumplings, before it came out. I’ve owned it since December 25th, and I’ve read it cover to cover several times. But I hadn’t cooked from it yet, and after hearing about all our readers’ Valentine’s Day cooking plans, I decided that the 14th was the ideal date for me, and a helping hand, to approach the dumpling book. Below is a slideshow of the meat and chive dumplings Alex and I rolled out, assembled, and pan-fried. All 32 of them made by hand, dough and everything. It only took a little more than an hour start to finish, but it was a really fun activity, and an easy one to do on the “dining room” table, since there’s no room for rolling in my small kitchen.

Because Andrea Nguyen’s directions and diagrams are so perfectly, accurately done, I didn’t think I could do justice to them by typing them up. So follow her steps in my photos, and then heed my recommendation and buy or borrow the book.

I’ll be posting about the Momofuku pork soon–for now, sate yourself on this pulled pork.

From my kitchen, dumplings and all, to yours,



the dough is made with boiling water

dumpling dough comes out of the food processor crumbly and resembling playdough


setting aside the warm dough in a plastic bag lets the gluten develop

the makings of the meat-scallion filling

meat and scallion filling


cutting the dough into dumpling wrapper size



each piece is flattened in a pool of flour



stacks of pressed dough

the initial flattening of the disks



rolling each circle out into a thin, 3 1/2″ dumpling wrapper




piles of wrappers



assembled dumplings, pleated and everything

crowded into the pot

finished potstickers

going for a dunk in the tangy soy dipping sauce


Photography by Alex

Cooking For Others: Jill’s Dinner Party


EVENT: A Semi-Grown-up Dinner Party
VENUE: Jill’s Apartment, Gramercy
TYPE: Formal-ish Weeknight Sit-Down Dinner
MENU: Olives; Open-Faced Spinach Pie Bites; Dried Fruit Salad with Cara-Cara Orange Vinaigrette; Savory Beef Stew; Orzo with Parsley Butter; Crusty Bread; Lemon Tart with Cream

Jill’s been trying to move out of her current apartment, and though she doesn’t yet have an expiration date on the place, she decided that, unsure of how long she’d be there, she should mark her someday-soon departure with a dinner party of close friends. Though the apartment is a studio, the bed is hidden, unlike in mine, and it’s a really nice place to entertain. When you walk in, you immediately see the glass dining room table, which easily seats six, and then to your left the redone kitchen, whose tiny appliances make the counter space seem large to someone like me.

Jill, who very much likes to menu plan, spent a long time going over ideas with me. Every time we’d decide on something, it would get swept away by some new idea. The most notable almost-menu was braised short ribs over polenta, which I’d chosen, only to find out, by frantic text message from Jill, that one of the guests had served just that at her wedding, two weeks before.

In all, the party was meant to be one step more refined than what we normally do: you know, two sets of plates, platters appropriate to the size of the dish, actual wine glasses, a centerpiece. Jill and her friends are two or three years older than me, and though at dinner the talk was reliably girly, they are at a slightly different life stage than us. Many are married and engaged, living with boyfriends, at more advanced stages of their careers or educations, owners of apartments. I was trying to pick a menu that would go with all this, but at the same time I didn’t want it to be in a different league altogether than what I’d make for my own party. Maybe just more chairs involved and fewer paper plates.

Besides the panicked short rib message, the best of the copious texting re: dinner party was initiated by me. I had just picked out my meat at Whole Foods, and I was standing in the condiments aisle wondering if I’d bought too much beef. I overheard another shopper pick up a bottle of balsamic vinegar and say something like “That costs a lot of money.” So I wrote:

Cara: I’m getting lots of money
Cara: I mean beef
Cara: Typo
Cara: Oops
Cara: Anyway, better a little too much, right?
jill:My high school friends are eaters!
jill: They don’t say just a little
jill:Like me 😉
Cara: Hahaha
jill: Also I’m sorry you aren’t getting lots of money
jill:And really just beef

The beef stew, which I made in abundance a day ahead, was bursting with flavor, and the high school “eater” friends ate plenty of it. The open-faced spinach pies were flakey and fragrant.

Jenny, a BGSK reader through and through, poses with an open-faced spinach pie

The lemon tart was the only near disaster, the lemon curd not quite filling the tart shell. But Jill and I spread a layer of whipped cream over the top, and the resulting pie was brilliant, the cream cutting through the tartness of the citrus. My personal favorite from the evening happened to be the salad, and I’ve made it several times since then. There’s something simultaneously homey and celebratory about the confetti-ed dried fruit and nuts that sprinkle the lettuce, and the sweet vinaigrette that ties everything together.

From my kitchen, where I buy lots of beef with lots of (Jill’s) money, to yours,



Open-Faced Spinach Pie Bites
Makes 30, serves 15 as an appetizer

2 sheets puff pastry dough
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 small onion
2 small shallots
4 cloves garlic, in shards
pinch red pepper flakes, oregano, thyme
3 oz fresh spinach
half bunch swiss chard
1 tablespoon Greek yogurt (2% or whole)
1 egg white
1/3 cup grated gruyere
2 tablespoons grated parm

Cut the dough into 2-inch rounds.

Saute the onion, shallot, garlic in olive oil over very low heat until soft. Add the spices and a large pinch of salt. Add the spinach and chard, stir to mix, then cover to wilt for a few minutes. Uncover, stir again, tasting the greens for salt and texture. Let cool completely.

When ready to make, preheat the oven to 400°F. Stir in the yogurt, egg white, and gruyere. Place the rounds on a baking sheet. Arrange about a tablespoon of spinach mixture in the center of each. Top with parm. Bake for about 10 minutes, turning on the broiler at the very end if the cheese on top hasn’t browned. Cool for a minute or two before serving.

Dried Fruit Salad with Cara-Cara Orange Vinaigrette
Serves 7-8

I was inspired to make this salad by the creative and beautiful cookbook called How To Roast a Lamb, written by Michael Psalkis who owns Anthos and Kefi, restaurants in New York. Though I didn’t follow his recipe in the end, what I found inspiring was the quantity of dried fruit he adds to his salad. In the past, I’d add one kind–raisins or apricots–but for this salad I put in the dried fruit contents of both Jill’s and my pantries. You, too, can add the dried fruits you own and/or prefer. If you can’t find Cara Cara Oranges (I have an affinity for them), substitute regular juice oranges.

For the salad:
2 heads fresh green or red lettuce, washed, dried, and torn into large bite-sized pieces
1/3 cup pecans, toasted
1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted
about 12 plump dried apricots, cut into slivers
1/4 cup raisins
1/3 cup dried cherries
1/4 cup pickled shallots (from 1 medium shallot)
For the Cara Cara Vinaigrette:
1 shallot, coarsely chopped
1 large clove garlic, coarsely chopped
2 teaspoons mustard
1/3 cup freshly squeezed juice from a Cara Cara Orange
1/3 cup red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon honey
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup canola coil
salt and pepper

Layer the lettuce and the dried fruit in a large salad bowl, tossing to combine.

To make the dressing: put the shallot, garlic, and a pinch of salt in a mini food processor and process to turn into a paste. Add the mustard, vinegar, juice, and honey, and process until smooth. If you have an opening in the top, add the oils slowly though it. If not, add tablespoons of oil in between pulsing. Taste the dressing and add any more salt if needed. You can also add a bit more honey if you like.

Dress the salad, tossing with your hands to distribute the dressing evenly. Top with the pickled shallots and serve.

Savory Beef Stew

The beef stew was a variation on my new favorite recipe. I added some extra veggies, namely mushrooms and leeks, put in two anchovies with the tomato paste, and used red wine vinegar in addition to red wine. You’ll need about 4 lbs of stewing beef to feed 7 women, and I basically quardrupled the recipe I’ve linked to.

Lemon Tart with Cream
Makes 1 tart, serves 8

Adapted from Alice Medrich, Pure Dessert. I modified this recipe in two ways, one intentional, one not so. I added brown sugar to the crust to give it some extra umph because I think the slight caramel flavor works well with the lemon. As for the unintentional modification: when I went to fill the tart at Jill’s, I found the lemon filling didn’t spread all the way around. I topped it with the cream to repair the tart’s looks, and then it turned out we liked it better that way–it gave much needed sweetness to the puckery lemon curd.


For the crust:
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons light brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoons salt
1 cup all-purpose flour

For the filling and cream:
Grated zest of half a washed lemon
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/4 sugar
3 tablespoons butter
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
3/4 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons confectioners sugar

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Combine the crust ingredients and stir to distribute evenly. Press into a 9 1/2″ fluted tart pan. Make sure to distribute evenly, especially along the sides.

Bake for 20 minutes until firm and a deep golden brown. Set aside.

To make the filling, combine the lemon zest, juice, sugar, and butter in a small sturdy saucepan and bring to a simmer over low heat. Meanwhile, beat the egg and egg yolk in a small heatproof bowl. Carefully ladle a little of the hot mixture over the eggs, stirring constantly. Then scrape it all back into the saucepan and stir constantly until the curd has thickened.

Pour the curd into the crust then return the tart to the oven for about 5 minutes. Remove, cool to room temperature, then spread the cream evenly across. Serve small wedges.

Cooking For Others: Blog Meets Book Celebration


EVENT: Book Deal and Blog 1 Year Anniversary Party

VENUE: Phoebe’s Apartment, Flatiron
TYPE: Classy Weekend Rager
MENU: Punch; Coconut Three-Layer Cake; Raspberry Cake with Peanut Butter Frosting; Sun Chips

We’ve never been the type to shy away from real parties, virtual as our blog may be. We hosted a big fete, with dips for guests’ sustenance, back in March and called it our Launch Party. It was on a Thursday night in the living room of Phoebe’s apartment, and it was crowded, loud, and fun.

When we found out we’d been made an offer for our book, our first thought, after “yay!!!!” was, “when should we have the We Have a Book Deal Party?” We wound up putting it off a few weeks, since our third thought was, “Uh oh, we have to write a book,” but eventually we decided it was time. Otherwise we’d have to wait until after the holiday season and new year’s, and we didn’t have that kind of patience (not to mention that, now that it’s January we really have to write the book). So we scheduled a Friday night cake-and-punch affair and opened up the flood gates (via Paperless Post) for our friends’ attendance.

For the cakes, we discussed and debated until we landed on two winning choices: 1) a festive, albino coconut cake, and 2) a yellow cake punctuated with raspberries and covered in peanut butter buttercream, inspired by the cupcakes at Jordana’s birthday a few weeks before. The PB&J cake’s main rival for the coveted position of book party dessert #2 was a coffee-toffee ice cream cake, but we were eventually convinced of the insane impracticality of this idea.

For the punch, however, we sought expert advice. Phoebe asked her dear friend Anna‘s boyfriend, who consults for upscale bars, for the perfect “classy” party beverage, and he emailed us a punch recipe, along with the wisdom that punch is derived from the Hindu word for 5 (pronounced Paunch) and must contain 5 basic ingredients. Alcohol. Bitters. Sweet. Sour. Tea. Who knew!

For our party, he determined we should mix bourbon with orange bitters, simple syrup flavored with red zinger tea, lemon juice, and apricot brandy. We aimed to follow his directions to the letter, but then a budget-saving trip to BJ’s had us dumbing down the ingredient list with Jim Beam instead of fancier booze and bottled lemon juice rather than tons and tons of fresh. Arguably, these substitutions eliminated the classy element of the cocktail altogether…

Friends came, went, opened bottle upon bottle of champagne in our honor. At the end, with mere slices of the cakes and none of the punch left, we decided to seal the deal. Somewhere around 1:30am, like newlyweds, we fed each other cake from our bare hands.Friends came, went, opened bottle upon bottle of champagne in our honor. At the end, with mere slices of the cakes and none of the punch left, we decided to seal the deal. Somewhere around 1:30am, like newlyweds, we fed each other cake from our bare hands.

From our kitchen, cake-filled and writing-focused, to yours,



Punch, BGSK Style
Makes 1 large bowl (or bucket)

Jason’s recipe called for some premium liquors, and I’m sure he would be horrified at our poor-gal’s excuse for what’s politically incorrectly called Jonestown Punch. The actual cocktail, which is served at The Violet Hour in Chicago, has many nuances. Ours may not have been as complex or refined with the budget liquors and bottled lemon juice, but our crowd didn’t seem to be any wiser.

10 cups Jim Beam (or other reasonably priced bourbon)
3 1/2 cups Fresh Lemon Juice (or bottled…let’s be real)
2 1/2 cups Zinger Syrup (recipe follows)
1 1/4 cup Apricot Brandy

2 tbsp Regan’s Orange Bitters (hard to locate…but it’s worth it!)

Garnish with sliced lemons (or oranges, Phoebe doesn’t do those though) and grated cinnamon.

The best way to serve a punch is to freeze a loaf of ice and place it in the punch bowl.  Less surface area creates less dilution.

For the syrup:

Take one liter of room temp simple syrup (equal parts white granulated sugar and water) and soak 5 Red Ziinger Tea bags for 1-2 hours.  If simple syrup is cold it needs to be 24 hours.  The syrup needs to have good color and bold taste with out being tanic.

Coconut Cake
Makes 1 rich two-layer cake
For the Cake Layers:
Loosely adapted from The Sweeter Side of Amy’s Bread

3 1/3 cups flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup coconut milk
1/2 cup cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 sticks softened butter
2 cups sugar
4 large eggs

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease two cake pans and line the bottom with a circle you’ve cut out of parchment paper. (If, like me, you own only one pan, you’ll have to bake in two separate steps. Use a measuring cup to wind up with even layers.)

In one bowl, mix the flour, powder, soda, and salt until combined.

In another bowl, whisk together the coconut milk, cream, and vanilla.

Then, cream the butter and sugar until it’s light and fluffy. This takes about 3 minutes in an electric mixer, 5 in a handheld, and just about forever if you’re working by hand. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.

On a lower speed, add 1/3 of the flour mixture to the batter. Then add half the milk mixture. Repeat with the flour, milk, and flour again. Between each, you should stir only to just combine. Don’t worry if the batter is thick–just don’t overmix.

Divide the cake batter between the two pans, or, if you’re working with one pan, divide it cup by cup between the pan and a second mixing bowl, making sure you ens up with even amounts. The pans should be about 2/3 cups full.

Bake for 40 minutes until the tops are golden and a toothpick inserted comes out clean.

Cool the cakes in the pan for 10 minutes, then carefully remove to a rack to cool completely.

For Icing and Serving:
12 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
2 sticks butter, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 cups powdered sugar, sifted
about 2 cups sweetened, shredded coconut

Combine the cream cheese, butter, vanilla, and sugar in a bowl. Mix to combine very well and keep mixing until the icing is creamy.

Arrange the first cake layer on a serving plate. Put a big scoop of icing in the middle, then use an offset spatula or knife to spread it evenly around. If the layers are at all uneven, this is your chance to use icing to level them out. Place the second layer, top side down, on top of the icing. Use the remaining icing to frost the top and sides, then, using your hand, press the shredded coconut into the icing all around the top and sides. Serve within a few hours; otherwise refrigerate. (Phoebe and I know, from sticking our forks into the leftovers at a lunch meeting, that this cake tastes amazing cold.)


Raspberry Cake with Peanut Butter Frosting
Adapted from Rose’s Heavenly Cake
Makes 1 two-layer cake

This cake is really cool because the raspberries cooked in the middle of each layer make it resemble a four-layer cake when you’ve only made two.
For the cake:

4 large eggs, at room temperature
1 1/3 cup sour cream, divided
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 1/2 cups flour
2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 sticks at soft room temperature
about 1 1/2 cup frozen organic raspberries

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Prepare a cake pan (or two if you have them!) by buttering it and lining the bottom with a circle of parchment.

Whisk the eggs with 3 tablespoons of the sour cream and the vanilla.

In a separate bowl–the bowl of a stand mixer if you have one–whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, soda, and salt. Add the butter, cut into rough tablespoon-sized chunks, and the remaining sour cream, and, using your hand-held mixer or your very strong arm if you don’t have a stand mixer, beat this together for nearly two minutes. It will be quite creamy. Pour in the egg mixture in two parts, beating for nearly a minute after each.

Pour just over 1/4 of the batter into a pan you’ve prepared–this will be about 2 cups. Arrange half of the raspberries evenly about, then pour about 1 more cup (so you’ll have used half the batter in total) on top, covering the raspberries. Repeat for the remaining pan. It may help with evenness to divide the batter into two separate bowls before proceeding with putting the batter and the raspberries in the cake pans.
Bake for 30-40 minutes, until a toothpick stuck in comes out clean and the cake springs back when you touch the top.

Cool completely before frosting.

For the Peanut Butter Buttercream and Assembly:

1 cup smooth peanut butter, at room temperature
1cup cream cheese, at room temperature
1 stick (1/2 cup) butter, at room temp
1 1/2 tablespoons sour cream
1 1/4 cups powdered sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

3/4 cup fresh raspberries

In a food processor, beat all the ingredients until very smooth and uniform in color. You can store the buttercream in the fridge, but use it at cold room temperature. It goes on very smoothly with a knife if, like me, you’re not into piping.

Place one layer on a serving platter. Spread a thick layer of buttercream across. Carefully place the second layer, top side down, on the buttercream. Use the remaining to ice the top and sides. Arrange the fresh raspberries around the top edge of the cake.

Big Girls, Global Kitchen: A Meatless Morocco


EVENT: The Rents Woke Up One Day and Decided to be Social
VENUE: Phoebe’s Parents’ Apartment, Upper West Side
TYPE: Sunday Supper, Moroccan Feast
MENU: Carrot Salad with Orange Flower Water; Fish Tagine with Chermoula, Preserved Lemon, and Mint; Haricot Vert; Couscous; Assorted Tarts

The summer after my senior year of college, my mother’s graduation gift brought me to Morocco. She was returning to the country for the first time in 15 years—30 since she lived in Marrakech during her period of quarter-life adventures. Though she knew the country and customs better than the guidebooks, I was a little wary of the two weeks we’d be traveling together. For one, she planned the trip start to finish, which, for a (paradoxically) fly by-the-seat-of-your-pants control freak like myself, was difficult to cope with. During my four years away from the nest, I did my fair share of solo traveling, and it made me realize more that I’d rather experience a country by eating $1 dollar street meat than by starting off my days in a plush hotel dining room.
Luckily, my mother was more or less on the same page—though we began the trip in a gorgeous Riad in Fez (where I spent most of my time battling food poisoning), we stayed with her friend’s in Tangier and rented a small apartment in Essouira, where we attempted to make a Moroccan-spiced bouillabaisse with the local seafood. We took a cooking class, wandered through the souks, and though I was able to buy four poufs for my living room at half price (after an epic haggle with a deaf-mute vendor), my mother’s Moroccan Arabic, complete with expressions for “get away from me, you pig,” was a vital asset to our tall blonde tag team.
More importantly, there was a lot of eating, and during these meals, a lot of stories.
Back in 1979, I learned, Morocco wasn’t as hospitable to women living or traveling alone. When my mother arrived, she acquired a Fatima (house-keeper), a young divorced woman who had been shunned by her family in their small village. As her feminist tale goes, my mother saved Naima from the provincial, repressive values of her mining town and brought her to the big city of Marrakech, an initial experience that was likened to walking through Times Square for the first time.
The two women became more than employer-employee; a special ceremony was performed to make them blood sisters (the details of which are a whole other story), so they looked out for one another. I’m not sure what this entailed for my mother, but I do know that for Naima this meant tracking down decent seafood to cook for her Fishatarian friend in a more or less landlocked city, lined with freshly slaughtered lamb and goat carcasses. Though her own frustration and cravings mounted (as mine occasionally do when I spend too much time in Cara’s veggie kitchen), Fatima was able to come up with innovative solutions in the small kitchen they shared, and with the help of nothing more than a hot plate and a dull knife, whipped up some of my mother’s favorites to this day: sardine kefta (meatballs), and fish chermoula tagine.
Though she looked no heavier in pictures, my mother claims that she was never better fed than the one year she spent in Marrakech. I can guess this was partially due to the large portions of these main dishes (easily feeding ten), and the lack of refrigerator in which to store the leftovers. But it also can be attributed to the robust spice combinations and flavors that made me plow through bread basket after bread basket, soaking up every last drop of rich sauce on my plate.
A few weeks back, my parents got a new dining room table and decided to start things off on the right foot by actually using it. The news was shocking enough to warrant my attendance. To feed their eight friends, my mother decided to reinvent Naima’s fish tagine. Though there was not a pescaterian amongst them, the rich tomato stew won over the crowd, leaving hardly any leftovers to store in the luxury of our modern refrigerator.
Though the evening’s stories mostly took place on this continent, and didn’t involve the details of how one becomes “blood sisters,” when I recreate the memories of Morocco in my kitchen (with or without meat), I can’t help but sit on my pouf and tell the tales of our trip, the gift we experienced together.
From my kitchen, where you can experience a meatless Morocco, to yours,


Carrot Salad with Orange Flower Water


Makes 8 amuse-bouche servings

1 lb carrots, peeled and finely grated on a microplane
1 lemon, juice only
4 tbsp sugar
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1 1/2 tbsp orange flower water
1 tbsp white vinegar
Mix all the ingredients together in a bowl, then leave to marinate for at least 45 minutes in the refrigerator.
Taste and adjust seasoning as desired, then serve either chilled or at room temperature.


Fish Tagine with Chermoula, Preserved Lemon, and Mint


Makes 8-10 servings
My mother used our teacher Lahcen’s technique of grating the onions so they thicken the sauce. If you want to cut some additional corners with this recipe, use a prepared chermoula spice blend from the same place where I order preserved lemons:
4 lb flaky white fish, such as cod, haddock, or Mahi Mahi
2 large Vidalia onion, grated
2 preserved lemons, finely chopped
1 28 oz can diced plum tomatoes with their juice
1 ½ cups fish stock or water
1 ½ cups dry white wine
2 cups mint leaves, finely chopped
1 cup green olives
For the marinade, “Chermoula:”
5 garlic cloves
2 cups cilantro
4 tsp ground cumin
1/3 – 1/2 cup olive oil
2 lemons, juiced
1 tbsp salt
Pinch saffron threads (optional)
1 small red chile pepper, seeded and chopped (optional)
In a small food processor, combine all ingredients for the chermoula. Reserve ¼ cup of the mixture, and combine the rest with the fish fillets in a mixing bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and marinate in the refrigerator for 1 -2 hours.

my mother, slaving away in her best not-so-Moroccan couture
Meanwhile, heat 3 or so tablespoons (enough to coat the bottom of the pot) in a large Dutch oven or casserole dish over a medium flame. Sauté the onion and carrots until softened. Add the reserved chermoula, preserved lemon, and tomatoes. Gently simmer for ten minutes uncovered, stirring occasionally. Add the stock, wine, and olives, and bring the mixture to a boil. Cover the tagine, reduce the heat to medium-low, and simmer for an additional 10-15 minutes.
When the fish has finished marinating, add it to the pot, and cook covered for 6-8 minutes, until the fish is cooked through. Stir in half the mint, and garnish with the remaining leaves.

Serve with couscous, haricot vert, and lots of crusty bread.

Cooking For One: A Happy, Healthy Lunch


DISH: Spring Tonic Salad, Nearly Sugarless Carrot Cake
MAIN INGREDIENT: Bulgur Wheat, Spring Vegetables
TYPE: Lunch-able
BUY: Gourmet Getaway Lunch Tote

When I came down with my umpteenth cold of the season, I figured I had to get serious about the nutrition content of what I put in my body. Though the subway I ride and the insulated row of cubicles I work in each day definitely do their part to infuse my weakening immune system with New York City’s germs, sometimes I wonder if my junk food cravings—and my inability not to satisfy them—might also be what keeps putting me in sickness’s way.

It disturbs me only slightly to notice that this is an observation my own mother might have made. Though she is no homeopath like Phoebe’s mom, she definitely preached moderation—some vegetables, some sunshine, some exercise, a bunch of sleep—and truth be told, she was probably right. Truth also be told, I get these things more sparingly than moderately.

Anyway, for whatever reason, lunch is my craving-est meal: it’s like when 1pm arrives, I just know I need something sustaining to make it through the rest of the day, physically and mentally, or I’m simply going to crack, run screaming down the hallway, and hurl myself into the nearest bakery. Bad news for moderation.

To address my health needs both micro (lunchtime cravings) and macro (susceptibility to all manner of colds), I decided last night to make this simple, healthful salad and to tote it in for lunch all week. It contains only whole ingredients—nothing processed here—as well as veggies from early spring’s yield, which I hear possess tonic-like properties that allow them to suction all the bad stuff out of your system, like green tea and other miraculous antioxidants.

Or something.

To make this meal resemble a classic lunchbox, I needed something to round out the salad. But going along with my healthy-ish theme, I figured I’d opt out of packing cookies or chips and instead add a portioned slice of the date-sweetened carrot cake I’d made from 101 Cookbooks, which dispels the cravings yet fails to put me in an afternoon sugar stupor.

From my kitchen, where the health claims may be bogus but the food is still good,



Spring Tonic Salad
Serves 3

The beauty of bulgur wheat is that it cooks off the heat, just in a covered container with boiling water, reducing overall pot use and kitchen temperature.

The asparagus I had bought ranged in fatness from thread-like to pretty substantial, so I prepared them in two different ways. I cut the thick ones into pennies and the skinny ones into matchsticks, which made the salad look pretty and have a nice variation in texture. This salad would be good with some crumbled feta or goat cheese, or even diced hard-boiled egg.

1/2 cup bulgur wheat
1 cup boiling water
1/4 -1/2 teaspoon salt
4 teaspoons olive oil
1 bunch asparagus
2 medium radishes, cut in half and then sliced thinly
3 tablespoons sniped chives
1/4 cup walnuts
juice of half a lemon

Put the bulgur and water in a heat-proof bowl. Cover and set aside 20-25 minutes until the bulgur has plumped. If there’s any water left, carefully drain it. Toss with 2 teaspoons of olive oil and 1/4 teaspoon of salt.

While the bulgur is soaking, preheat the oven to 350°F. Toss the asparagus with the remaining 2 teaspoons of olive oil and roast in the oven for about 15 minutes, until softened and browned. Sprinkle with a pinch of salt. Cut the asparagus into bite-sized pieces—whatever shape seems appropriate for your veggies.

On a baking sheet in the heated oven, toast the walnuts for 5-10 minutes, being careful not to burn. (I always set a timer so they don’t suffer the cauliflower’s fate.) Remove and chop coarsely.

In a large bowl, toss the bulgur with the vegetables, chives, and walnuts. Squeeze the lemon and toss again. If you’re serving to friends, garnish with extra chives and nuts, and serve over lettuce on a platter.

Nearly Sugarless Carrot Cake
Makes 1 loaf cake

This recipe is adapted from 101 Cookbooks. Fearless Heidi used only dates to sweeten her cake (plus some maple syrup in the icing), but I chickened out and threw a couple tablespoons of syrup in the cake, too.

2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup finely chopped walnuts
½ cup oil
¼ cup maple syrup
1/2 cup dried dates, seeded and finely chopped into a paste
¾ cup unsweetened applesauce
1 1/2 cups grated carrots
1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt (I used nonfat)
2 eggs, lightly whisked

3 ounces cream cheese
2 tablespoons Greek yogurt
1 tablespoon oil
4 tablespoons maple syrup

Preheat oven to 350F. Butter a loaf pan well.

Mix together the dry ingredients in a large bowl. Add the walnuts and set aside.

Chop the dates finely. Add them to a blender or food processor with the applesauce, 1/3 of the carrots, and the syrup. Blend until the dates are pulverized and mixed with the applesauce, then add the oil and blend until emulsified. Add the eggs and blend a moment more. Add the remainder of the carrots, but don’t blend them (you can mix them carefully with a spatula.)

Pour the mixture from the blender over the dry ingredients and fold together gently, just until most of the flour is incorporated. Pour into the prepared pan and bake about 50-60 minutes.

For the frosting, beat all the ingredients together until fluffy. Frost the cake when it’s cool.

Store in the refrigerator.


Cooking for One: Putting Humpty Dumpty Back Together Again

savory pancake2

DISH: Fried Lentil Salad with Leeks; Savory Cornmeal and Grain Pancake with Herbed Tofu; Baked Eggs with Tofu Croutons
MAIN INGREDIENTS: Lentils, Tofu, Grain Pilaf
TYPE: Creating and Using Leftovers

Recently, my co-workers and I got to talking about food. We were eating lunch (of all things) in the conference room on a Friday, some of us from our own brown bags, some from always-delicious Midtown takeout joints. In the adult equivalent of the Twinkie swap, we were exchanging ideas of dishes to cook, eat, bring to potlucks, etc., when Frederica coined the term “Humpty-Dumpty Food.”

“You know,” she said, “it’s like what you cook for yourself when no one’s watching.” Her shining example: ground beef sauteed with tomatoes on top. That’s it. Probably delicious, but, we all agreed, also probably a bit of a let-down if you served it to a crowd.

Anyway, during the weekend that followed, I did a lot of Humpty-Dumpty cooking, in part to make sure I had rations for the upcoming week (busy), in part to guarantee my yield from the Saturday farmers’ market didn’t go to waste, and in part to wean myself off the sugar-y kick I’ve been on for months and months (remember those oatmeal cookies and that baklava?) with delicious but savory foods. By Monday, I had a refrigerator full of sealed containers: among other concoctions, a hearty grain pilaf, some garlicky herbed tofu, a sweet pea puree, and firm black lentils.

And then it struck me that with all this stuff to work from, I could combine textures and flavors into a couple of dishes that looked gorgeous on the plate, tasted great, and were as far from Humpty Dumpty as the infamous King’s Men.

More to the point, the leftovers, in particular the lentil salad, looked appealing enough in a lunch-time container that I’d definitely eat it in front of co-workers at our favorite conference room haunt.
From my kitchen, where eating at the cool kids’ table obviously matters, to yours,

If you’re starting this all from scratch, it’ll look intimidating. However, if you make it in parts, it’s really not so bad. Keep in mind, of course, that each recipe makes its own satisfying, if slightly humble, Humpty-Dumpty-ish, dish (there’s nothing wrong with eating plain lentils straight from the pot!).

Fried Lentil Salad with Leeks
Serves 2

This salad is inspired by a post on 101 Cookbooks about frying chickpeas before tossing them with dressing and seasonings. I figured if this method gave beans that extra textural something, it would also tranform lentils from a plain staple to an attractive main course. And it did.I found a little sauteeing lends lentils a whole bunch of crispiness. You can also dress this with olive oil and lemon.

1 teaspoon olive oil
3/4 cup cooked lentils (see below; drain and dry them very well)
1 leek, chopped
1 small carrot, grated
2 cups mixed greens

Heat the olive oil in a small saucepan. Add the lentils and cook, stirring constantly, until they’re slightly crispy, about 5 minutes. Add the leeks and a pinch of salt, and cook until the leeks have wilted. Off the heat, stir in the grated carrots.

Put the mixed greens in a bowl or a plate for serving. Top with the slightly warm lentils and serve with yogurt dressing on the side.

For the yogurt dressing:
3 tablespoons plain yogurt
1 teaspoon minced basil
2 teaspoons minced parsley
1/4 teaspoon salt

Combine all ingredients with about 3 tablespoons of yogurt in a blender. Blend until smooth, adding water as necesary to thin. Chill until ready to use.

For the lentils:
1 cup of black lentils (or green—red, however, will melt into goo)
1 clove garlic

1/2 teaspoon olive oil

1/2 teaspoon salt

Bring the lentils and 3 cups of water to the boil over medium heat. Cut the garlic into 4 chunks and add it and the olive oil to the pot. Simmer for 30-45 minutes, until the lentils are soft but hold their shape. About halfway through the cooking, add 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Drain well. Cool to room temperature or refrigerate until later use.

Savory Grain Pancake with Tofu, Greens, and Sweet Pea Puree
Serves 2

You can make the tofu, grain pilaf, and sweet pea puree far in advance, and you can also replace the grain pilaf with leftover rice (maybe from a takeout container) or another grain.

2 tablespoons whole wheat flour
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons finely ground cornmeal
pinch salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 cup cooked grains (see grain pilaf, below)
2 eggs
1/2-3/4 cups milk
1/3 cup ricotta

1/2 cup mixed greens
4 slices herbed tofu (recipe below)
Sweet pea sauce (just thin the topping for the Sweet Pea Crostini from Jordana’s Veggie Birthday Wish with a couple tablespoons of water or vegetable stock)

NOTE: I use low-fat or skim for the milk and ricotta, but use whatever fat-content you like.

Combine the flour, cornmeal, salt, and baking powder. Add the cooked grains, separating them out in the flour.

In another small bowl, beat the eggs. Add the milk and ricotta, and stir to combine. Fold the wet ingredients into the dry. Set aside for 10-15 minutes, or while you make the rest of the meal.

When ready to cook, heat a small (8″) nonstick frying pan over medium heat. Brush with oil. Pour half the batter into the pan and cook for about 8 minutes until the bottom is golden and firm. Slide on to a plate, hold it to the frying pan, flipping the pancake. Cook on the other side for 4-6 minutes. Keep warm in the oven while you make the second pancake (if you’re making one).

To serve, place a few mixed greens over the pancake and top with two slices of the tofu. Garnish with sweet pea puree and a grind of fresh pepper. Serve more pea puree on the side.

Herbed Tofu
Serves 4

1 container of tofu, cut in 8 slices
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon prepared mustard
2 teaspoons sugar dissolved in 2 teaspoons warm water
2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley
2 tablespoons finely diced garlic
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
splash of Tabasco

Preheat the oven to 375°F. Place the tofu in one layer in a pan that just fits the slices. Combine all the other ingredients and pour over the tofu, making sure the garlic and parsley are evenly spread. Bake for 45 minutes, until the edges are browned and all the liquid is absorbed.

Grain Pilaf
Serves 4-6

I know the grains below might sound a little esoteric, but they’re available all around, at Whole Foods, et al. You can also use all rice, if you want, but the barley adds a pleasant kind of chewiness, and the millet serves as binder. Plus, rice to the exclusion of all else is boring, and grains are super cheap.

2 teaspoons olive oil
1/2 leek, chopped
1 celery stalk, diced
1/2 onion diced
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup wild rice-brown rice blend (I used this)
1/2 cup millet
1/2 cup barley

Heat the olive oil in a small pot. Add the vegetables and a pinch of salt. Sautee until soft and nearly browned. Add the grains and toast, stirring, for 3-4 minutes until fragrant. Add 3 cups of water and the salt and stir to combine. Turn up the heat and bring the whole thing to a boil, then cover and reduce as low as possible. Cook for about 40 minutes. Remove from the heat and let sit, covered, for 15 minutes. Stir to fluff.

here is true humpty-dumpty cuisine: just some grain pilaf tossed with ricotta and parsley
Baked Egg with Tofu Croutons
Serves 1
This makes a great (and easy) brunch or dinner dish. The leftover tofu and grains develop an awesome and satisfying crust as they reheat in the oven beneath the egg.
1-2 eggs
1/2 cup grain pilaf (see above)
1-2 slices herbed tofu (see above)
1 carrot, cut into thin half-moon slices
1/2 teaspoon olive oil
Preheat the oven to 400°F. Cut the tofu into squares.
Heat the oil in a small, oven-proof frying pan over high heat. Add the carrots and cook, stirring for 2-3 minutes, until brown. Add the grains and the tofu and toss for another minute or two.
Turn off the heat. Carefully, crack an egg (or two—however many you want to eat) over the grains and carrots. Sprinkle with salt and place in the oven. Cook 12-15 minutes, until the white is set and the yolk is as set as you’d like it to be.

mmm…breakfast, lunch, and/or dinner