What I'm up to
  • Oxo Good Grips Small Wooden Spoon
    Oxo Good Grips Small Wooden Spoon

    everyone needs these, many of them.

  • Mauviel Cuprinox Style 8-inch Round Frying Pan
    Mauviel Cuprinox Style 8-inch Round Frying Pan

    Scarily, I can say I have enough copper. Not many people can utter those words.

  • Le Creuset Enameled Cast-Iron 5-1/2-Quart Round French Oven, Red
    Le Creuset Enameled Cast-Iron 5-1/2-Quart Round French Oven, Red
    Le Creuset

    The same thing could be said for Le Creuset, but still. Great for braising and soup making.

  • The Essential New York Times Cookbook: Classic Recipes for a New Century
    The Essential New York Times Cookbook: Classic Recipes for a New Century
    by Amanda Hesser
  • Nordic Ware Bakers Half Sheet, 13 X 18 X 1
    Nordic Ware Bakers Half Sheet, 13 X 18 X 1
    Nordic Ware

    What did I do before I started using this half sheet? Cry.

flora and flying. Get yours at bighugelabs.com


What a week

I am a little behind the eight ball this week. I have been busy learning all sorts of new things and meeting tons of new people at the where conference in San Francisco.  I'm still trying to digest it all.

I have a new recipe to post tomorrow.  But now, I leave you with this...

rooted here

Life away.

the mundaness of normality is the best thing EVAR

Life back to normal.

hello spring

Hello Spring.



Spring filled frittata - Kuku Sabzi for a new year


 A heart of barberries for you and yours.

Persian New Year continues for another few days, at least it does somewhere other than our house. I took down our Haft-sin yesterday. Other than a little garbanzo filled ajil and some gorgeous bouquets of flowers, it just looks like a typical March around here- sunny one moment and stormy the next. The dog is confused and I’m just trying to keep things together.

We hosted a few friends for Persian New Year dinner last Friday. The menu was simple – as Persian New Year is a traditional meal with green rice with herbs, salmon with two different rubs and the herbed frittata, kuku sabzi, served with more herbs and feta cheese and bread.  I added a carrot cardamom salad for color and a little variation from the endless onslaught of herbs that marks No Ruz dinner.

I am not adverse to the herbiness of No Ruz, in fact, I like it.  It is that idea that we will base a whole meal around an amazing array of greenery that is not easily procured in Seattle at this time of year.  I long for the dill, fresh parsley, chives and cilantro you can find in the California farmer’s markets.  It is a classic mismatch hypothesis – need for green stuff locally and lack of green stuff locally makes for frustrated shoppers.   Luckily, my mother was able to find fresh dill and other things to make dinner happen.

I would like to share with you a recipe for Kuku Sabzi, or the herbed frittata that my friend’s swoon over and I believe I have finally conquered.  The Kuku (frittata) can be made with a variety of vegetables, a little bit of meat, egg, spices and flour to bind it together. The egg is much less pronounced in the Persian kuku than in the Italian frittata, which is a boon if you have egg adverse folks in your midst. The kuku sabzi is really about bringing together a lot of the tastes of spring in one dish.  It is grassy, fresh, herby and oniony without being overpowering.  My mom’s recipe has changed a little bit from the time she first shared it with me and I honestly think it tastes better than ever.  The recipe does call for a few unusual ingredients that you may or may not be able to procure locally. One thing is the advieh, which is spice mix that consists cardamom, cloves, ginger, rose petals, cinnamon and cumin along with other things. I think quatres epices would work fine or you can skip it entirely and it would still be tasty. Barberries (zereshk) are the other thing that makes this dish a knock out. The other component is barberries which are both beautifully red and zingy and tart where you expect them to be sweet.  Others have suggested using dried cranberries as a substitute or if you have fresh cranberries languishing in your  freezer, thaw and use those. If you do this make sure you chop them and soak them in water to take out some of the sugar.  I just checked and both are available on Amazon or at the Sadaf site (purveyors of many Middle Eastern spices). The newest addition is the salad greens, my mom is convinced that they make a world of difference, lightening up the dish just a tad without affecting the flavor. I have to agree.


The secret ingredients are not so secret anymore.

The best thing about kuku is that it is delicious served hot or cold.  I like it the next day for breakfast.


The final product.

Kuku Sabzi –serves 8

The substitutions I called for should work just fine. It is a dish that is very forgiving, and begs for variations. If you have garlic scapes around, they should be fun to add. I literally added all the leftover herbs from Friday's dinner - tarragon, basil, mint to the mix and it tasted great.

2 ½  cups leeks, the green part (washed, chopped and cleaned)
1 cup cilantro (cleaned and stems removed)
1 ½ cups parsley (cleaned and stems removed)
½ cup chives or garlic chives (cleaned)
½ cup mixed herbs (really what you have lying about – I used fresh mint, dill, basil)
1 cup mixed salad greens (mesclun or lettuce, washed and torn into small pieces)
5-6 eggs (large)
¼ cup zereshk (if not available, use ¼ cup  chopped dried cranberries or ½ cup fresh chopped cranberries)
½ cup walnuts (chopped) – optional
2 T butter (softened)
1 T flour (I used rice flour)
½  t baking soda
1 t salt
Pepper to taste
½ t advieh or some sort of quatres epices

Preheat oven to 350F.  Butter a 8x8” dish or a small casserole (1.5 quart) baker. Place zereshk in boiling water and let sit for 5 minutes, drain off water and set zereshk aside. Put leeks in food processor and process until chopped, add parsley, cilantro, chives and mixed herbs until chopped fine.  Remove from processor bowl and place in 3 quart bowl.  Add 1 cup mixed greens, plumped up zereshk and walnuts and mix with hands to combine. Put flour, baking soda, salt, pepper and advieh into bowl and mix well.   

In a separate bowl, beat five eggs until blended. Add egg mixture to herbs and mix to combine. The mixture should not be too wet nor dry , if it seems too dry, beat another egg and add it to the herb mixture.  Turn mixture into greased casserole or dish and dot with remaining butter. Place in preheated oven and check after 20 minutes.  The kuku should spring back when done, you want it to be cooked thoroughly, but not over cooked.  Remove from heat, let cool and then cut into squares to serve.

Enjoy a few squares of Spring on me.


Awaken and make Nooneh Berenji -Rice cookies for No Ruz 



Some of the mother's famous cookies. I will get to them all soon. Patience people.

The Equinox happens tonight; officially it is the start of the Persian New Year, but a tad too late in Seattle  for anything but a few phone calls and kisses around the family. Tomorrow night, I will be going to my parents for a dinner replete with all the traditional foods – the kuku sabzi, the sabzi polo and the smoked white fish with herbs (mahi bah sabzi). Yes, it’s all about herbs and green, a meal that Kermit the frog would love.  However, this is just the start,  the holiday continues with open houses galore – “Aid Deedany”, where you go visit your relatives, the older ones first out of respect, and then you move on to see your friends far and wide. In Iran, it is a two week process, here we try and do it in a few weekends.  Most of the visits are after dinner – usually tea, fruit, ajil and an array of cookies.  My parents are hard to pin down during these few weeks; they are out and about doing the rounds. Good for them. Spring is a great time to start emerging from the Seattle Slumber.  The Slumber is the time between November 5th and March 20th, when most of Seattle goes into seclusion to only come out for special occasions – winter beer releases, Husky basketball games or to piss me off in line at the airport.  Now is the time for all good people of Seattlandia to get out of your house and attempt to become one with your friends and neighbors, use this as a great excuse.  I miss you all, really.

My mom makes a nice array of cookies for the holiday (pictured above).  Persians are not big on chocolate, nor cheesecake or any strange concoction that we are likely to call dessert at the big table.  They are big into orange blossom, rose water, honey, cardamom, almonds and walnuts along with delicate fruit flavorings.  Some of their inspiration comes from the French with pate au choux and mille feuilles, but mostly are just plain Persian.


Cookies getting ready to hit the oven.

One of my favorites is “nooneh berenji” or rice flour cookies. These are amazingly delicate and powerful little cookies that melt in your mouth. You would have no idea that they are rice flour, they have a nice subtle rose water flavor with a little cardamom added for punch.  They do not travel well, but they are worth picking up at a Persian grocery store when you can find them. If you don’t have one around, try making them. A plus is that they are gluten free. Since I am not a fan of making things with ingredients that are not easily found within a reasonable roaming radius of home, these are pretty swell. It does require learning how to clarify butter, which is something I had never done before, but a New Year means learning new things, doesn’t it?


Fancy cookie press made my Mr. S.

Nooneh Berenji – Rice Cookies topped with poppy seeds
Makes 5 dozen

This recipe requires two things – one is learning how to clarify butter and the other is to have a wooden cookie stamp. If you don’t have one on hand, I would just roll cookies into a ball, make a tiny indentation and then press the poppy seeds into the indentation. My mom has a little collection of the cookie stamps, they are made from wood, a husband of a friend of hers likes to make them.  You can find glass and pottery ones at Amazon, Williams-Sonoma and some specialty cookware shops around your neck of the woods The trick is not to press down too hard, you want the cookies about ¼” thick after stamping.


1 ½ cups (3 sticks, ¾ lb.) unsalted butter
3 egg yolks
1 – 1 ¼ cup white rice flour (portion them as one cup with a ¼ cup measure in reserve)
1 cup confectioner’s (powdered sugar)
1/3 cup rosewater
½ t cardamom

1/4 cup blue poppy seeds

Melt butter over medium heat, let cool. Skim the foam from the top of the melted butter and then either carefully pour to avoid transferring the solids at the bottom to a clean container or sieve the rest of the melted butter through cheesecloth lined strainer.  If you are still unsure, please refer to David Lebovitz’s awesome tutorial on the subject.

Prep a baking sheet with parchment paper or Silpat. Preheat oven to 325 F.

By hand or in a mixer, combine butter with egg yolks added one at a time. Really you are not creaming because the butter is not really in a solid form, but you do want them well combined.  Next add rose water to butter and egg mixture. Mix until combined. In a separate bowl, mix dry ingredients together, starting with one cup of rice flour and the confectioner’s sugar and cardamom.  Add dry ingredients to wet ingredients and mix at a low speed until combined. If the dough seems sticky or wet, add additional rice flour by the tablespoonful until a little more manageable and easily handled without overworking the dough.  Remove dough from bowl and start making 3/4” ball from dough and test cookie press to make an imprint. If the imprint works without cracking the dough, then the dough is the perfect consistency. If there is too much flour, add a tablespoon of water, and if it is too sticky, add a little bit of rice flour.  

Once you are happy with the consistency you can start making cookies.  If you are at a good stopping point, wrap the dough up in saran wrap or a zip lock bag and place in fridge for up to two days.  Let come to room temperature before starting to make the cookies.

To make cookies - start rolling the dough into balls, place onto prepared baking sheet with 2” between each cookie and start stamping. Press or sprinkle 10-15 poppy seeds (is that a smidgen) in the center of each cookie.  Check around 8 to 10 minutes, depending on your oven, once they begin to get a little golden on the edges, take out and cool on a cookie sheet.  Once cooled,  store in a sealed container for up to two weeks.



Persian New Year -Ajil or trail mix for hearty fire jumpers

 the last of the crocii

It is all about the flowers, spring, purity, life affirming and the cookies that my mom makes.

Persian New Year is next week. I haven’t blogged about it because I haven’t been very good about keeping up with the biggest challenge to starting the New Year, which is cleaning up your messes from the previous year.

That sounds really vague doesn’t it?

Really, the few weeks leading up to New Year are pretty much the same – clean house, settle debts, make lots of yummy food, prepare altar and get your life in order.  This year, this has evaded me, partially due to travel, partially due to inertia, and mostly due to ennui.

All together it makes for a muddled end to one year and no real clarity to the next.

I think there is no way I can catch up and make it all spic and span by the Spring Equinox. I’m just going to settle for a 70% solution and call it good.


Haft sin 2006

Makeshift haft-sin or altar from New year 2006. We were in Rome, so we winged it. Looks pretty darn good, IMHO.

The last Tuesday night before the New Year is a big deal in Iran – Chahar Shambeh Souri. I call it the Super bowl pre-game, the Rudolph the Red nose Reindeer special before Christmas of Persian New Year.  You build a bonfire in the street, on the beach, in your backyard and you jump over the flames cleansing your health from a pallid and jaundiced to a vigorous and life affirming pink or red.  In my recounting, I call it get rid of the bad juju and move on.  While we can’t always to go to those great lengths of bonfire makings, we try and jump over a candle at home.

The best part of the celebration is the Persian Snack mix that goes along with the event, because gathering wood, making a fire and jumping over it takes a lot of effort.


This year's ajil, the mixture varies year to year, but its all so good.

Ajil, or snack mix is sold all over Iran and is a staple of any Iranian’s diet.  Much like the GORP mixes that are life sustaining foods of coach airline flyers and hikers around the US,  Ajil is nutritious and easy to make. It keeps for a long time and it is hard not to take great handfuls of it at a time.  It calls for a nice mix of salty and sweet components that balance well off each other. Everyone has a little different riff on the mix, but it pretty much consists of equal proportions of various nuts and dried fruits. My mom’s mix this year consists of hazelnuts, almonds, walnuts, pistachios, dried chickpeas, sultanas, raisins and dried tiny figs.  In the past she has added dried cranberries and apricots, but we’re more likely to stick to the standard mix these days.

Ajil for the last Wednesday before the New Year – Ajil Chahar Shambeh Souri

This is a pretty casual recipe, a little of this, a little of that, no need to be precise with measurements, but proportions are important.  Nuts are all shelled; no one needs to work hard at eating this stuff.

 Makes 9.5 cups

1.5 cup walnut halves
1.5 cup almonds (unsalted)
1.5 cup hazelnuts (I like them toasted, unsalted)
1 cup pistachio nuts (salted)
1 cup dried chickpeas. lightly salted (available at Middle Eastern markets)
1 cup sultanas (golden raisins)
1 cup flame raisins (the bigger, the better)
1 cup currants               

Mix all ingredients together in a large bowl until well combined. The chickpeas tend to fall to the bottom of the bowl, so tell your guests to scoop all the way to the bottom to get the proportion of sweet and salty together. My TH leaves the chickpeas behind, go figure. If you have picky eaters, you can leave them out.  Store leftovers in a sealed bag for up to a month, if they last that long.


Ibarra chocolate cake - how patience pays off


The cake, so fancy and terribly easy.

 There is something about the concept of try and try again. Sometimes you feel like you are hitting yourself over the head over and over again and sometimes all that trying pays off. You finally achieve that handstand in Yoga class (not me), a rock skips six times before sinking, or you conquer the flakey pie crust that tastes good.

No, this is not about pie. This post is about trying.

When it felt like my world was collapsing around me, I decided to start doing other things for self-preservation. I met some fabulous food bloggers and writers through Keren Brown, one was Jenise Silva (@licorous) from Twitter. She and I had a few of the same interests, community gardening, awesome restaurants and canning. I would see her on and off, she asked me to write a post for Canvolution and then she started talking about contests.

I hate contests, partially because I hate the attention and stress, partially because I hate to lose. However, the opportunity to challenge myself to make the perfect food item was intriguing; in this case it was a contest pairing pie versus cake. There are pie people in the world and there are cake people, you really can’t be on the fence with this one. Either you stand firm with the precise yet crusty pie camp or the crumby delectable cake camp. I love pie, but really, I like pie filling. The pie crust, while it has been bane of my existence, is usually what I leave to the side. I have a few friends who make awesome pies and pie crusts and for this I am truly grateful, but I stand firmly with cake.

Cake you say? Cake is something that brings me great joy. It is one of the first things you learn how to make, either as a quick cake with a few ingredients or a mix, which once you add all the things required – egg, oil, water, you might have just made a scratch cake.

I love the crumb of a cake – the mouth feel of a dense yet delicate cake. I am not into the fudgy moist cake with coyingly sweet frosting, I like my cakes a little on the dry side and with an appropriate 4 parts cake to frosting ratio. In fact, I like my cakes unfrosted, so I can enjoy the crumb and taste without the noise of confectioner’s sugar and butter.

And no, I am not a hoarder of the frosting rose.

What does this have to do with cake or when the hell are you getting to how this all fits into cake v. pie? Right, let me tell you.

In 2010, Jenise put on a great contest of Seattle bakers, who each selected a camp and went on to make their best example of a cake or pie to be judged by a group of food lovers and professional bakers. I was intimidated, but charged. I made my standby cake – chocolate cake with a mocha buttercream frosting, but I this time I paid rapt attention to detail. I made another kind of cake and had my colleagues try it, and then paired them next to each other. When the contest time came around, I felt I was on my game. I did not account for hot weather, uneven baking and inability to make a smooth frosting. Oh yeah, that by the time the judges got to my cake, they would be stuffed.


 The very full of cake and pie judges - 2011.


It was good, but compared to the rest, it was not great.


 When cake goes bad, from the Westinghouse cookbook.


But I learned a lot, I learned about my oven, rotating cake pans, and patience. It was a good experience for me which I repeated a few more times that year, by entering and losing pie contests galore.



Le cake, two layers, with ganache and marmalade between the layers.

When the Cake v. Pie rematch returned in 2011, I was on my game. I decided to try something different and used a recipe that I loved and was a little different. It was a gluten free nut torte (named a cake) that uses flavors found in Mexican chocolate – orange and cinnamon and combines it with bittersweet chocolate and beautifully toasted almonds. The recipe comes from the Mark Miller's Coyote Cafe Cookbook. The recipe works well as long as you are careful folding in egg whites and not overbeating the mixture. It is not an elegant creation. It has very little lift as it is has no leavening, but the taste is wonderful. The cake turned out great, I managed to get it to the site in one piece.  I hung around a bit, but since we had dinner guests, I skeedadled out there before they started judging the cakes. Partially out of the necessity to feed four humans and three hounds, but because I hate to lose.


 Some of the contestants representing team cake.


And you know something, I won 2nd Place in the cake category and became a better baker in the process. WIN. WIN.


Ibarra Chocolate Torte - Adapted from the Coyote Cafe Cookbook by Mark Miller, Ten Speed Press, 1999

Makes 12 servings.

Note: This recipe makes one layer of the cake. If you wish to get all fancy and make it as a two layer cake, then by all means do so. I myself am not comfortable doubling this recipe, so I make each layer separately. You may wish to throw caution to the wind and try it.

Almond Cake:

1 T cinnamon - yes one Tablespoon
zest of 2 oranges
4 T (2 oz) bittersweet chocolate grated
1 1/2 C unblanched almonds, toasted and ground ( I use the ground almonds at trader joes)
4 eggs separated
1/2 C sugar
2 T fresh orange juice
2 T Grand Marnier
2 T seville marmalade, thin cut
Rice flour for dusting

Preheat oven to 325°F. Grease, rice flour and paper an 8-9" cake pan. Combine cinnamon, orange zest, grated chocolate and ground almonds in a mixing bowl and set aside. Beat egg yolks with 1/4 C sugar; stir in orange juice and set aside.

In another bowl, beat egg whites to soft peaks while gradually adding 1/4 C sugar. Stir egg yolks and orange juice into the chocolate almond mixture, then fold in half the beaten egg whites. Blend well, and gently fold in remaining egg whites.

Spread mixture evenly in prepared cake pan and bake for 25-35 minutes or until cake pulls away from sides of pan. Let cool for 10 minutes and invert cake onto cake rack.

Warm marmalade until runny.

When cool, paint with Grand Marnier and brush on marmalade, let set for 10 minutes and cover with glaze. If you plan on adding the second layer, do it now, cover the repeat the grand marnier wash on the top, but skip the marmalade.

Chocolate Glaze

10 T (5 oz) bittersweet chocolate
1 T (1/2 oz) unsweetened chocolate
3/4 C softened butter
1 T corn syrup
1/4 cup chopped candied orange peel.


Place both chocolates, 1/2 C butter, corn syrup and in a double boiler over simmering (not boiling) water. Stir gently until just melted. Remove from heat, and stir in remaining 1/4 C butter. The glaze is ready to pour when it reaches the consistency of maple syrup (between 86°-96°).

Place cake rack over pan or wax paper, pour glaze over cake, tilting to coat evenly. Decorate with candied orange peel if desired.