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

Entries in dessert (6)


Fig tart with raspberries - summer's best tart

Finished fig raspberry tart

I originally wrote this post in September 2006. While the words still ring true, the recipe has changed for the better.  The tart is easily adapted to other fruits, but please take advantage of early figs and the last of the summer raspberries and make it now.  If you read this is August, fear not. Some think that Fall raspberries are better than July ones and the figs will still be available.


still life with figs

While I sit and listen to Ernest the puppy sneeze thirteen times in a row (yoghurt up the nose?) I am hearing TH sigh happily as she finishes her piece of fig raspberry tart. My first exposure to such a beast was in June 1992 when I flew to Berkeley after TH's mother died. While I never had the honor of meeting her, that day began a seven year relationship with her father that started with a meal at Chez Panisse and continued on with love of food, bassets hounds, landscape history, France, geography and his daughter to bind us.

I had only heard of Chez Panisse before that day, and that meal upstairs was very good. I can't remember what my main course was, but the dessert was a fig tart with raspberries and lavender honey ice cream was memorable. I have made it for the last fourteen and change years. The recipe is simple and elegant and brings back memories of a more innocent time with a start of a great relationship.


pre-baked fig configuration

Fig tart with Raspberries (adapted from Chez Panisse Desserts, 1984.)

One lb puff pastry (thawed - I use Delaurenti's and one lb is the right amount). Pepperidge farm will do as well. One sheet.
1 pint fresh figs (mission, but if you have kadota, why not mix it up?)
1 cup fresh raspberries
2 T sugar
1 egg yolk mixed with 1 T milk for egg wash
2 T butter, melted

Preheat oven to 375 deg. F

Rinse figs, cut off tops, cut into quarters.

Roll or fold out pastry, score the ends and sides and fold over so you have an edge. Brush edges  of puff pastry with egg wash. Place figs with cut sides up in rows (overlapping if you can). Brush figs with melted butter and sprinkle with sugar.

Place in oven for 25-30 minutes or until puff pastry starts to brown and figs are softened but still hold their shape.  Remove from oven. While still warm, sprinkle raspberries over top of tart.  Serve either warm or at room temperature with lavender honey ice cream, vanilla ice cream or on its own.


Reaping the bounty of pie cherries - making homemade maraschino cherries 


Life is a bowl of cherries - pits and all.  Be thankful for what you have.  #truth #thegarden #blessing #stonefruitsofinstagram #cherrygram

I knew TH was the girl for me when I opened up her kitchen drawer and found a well worn cherry pitter. Over the years we have had several cherry trees grow, some die, but most bear amazing fruit. One of the trees that was labeled dwarf at the nursery is now 20 feet tall and we can only get a few of the low hanging branches.  The rest go to the care and feeding of the crows.

Our pie cherry tree is finally bearing fruit. It is still small, but this year was festooned with beautiful little pie cherries, the ones that really do look like the color of Jolly Rancher candies.  TH netted the tree to keep the sparrows off the ripening fruit and last night, I picked all the fruit - one precious pint.

Iranians love cherries in rice dishes and refreshing sharbats (fizzy water drinks flavored with fruit syrups).  However, my mother argues that the pie cherries here are not the right ones.  Iranians love Morello cherries and those are not seen in residential nurseries as much as the more commonly grown Montmorency.  

When I was growing up, my parents would fill up the car with blankets, a hot pot of tea, some cheese, bread, herbs and cold meatballs and drive North to Mount Baker, Washington where they had finally located the correct type of cherry.  The owner of the orchard graciously allowed my parents and their friends to picnic on the grounds and go out and pick pounds and pounds of Morello cherries.  They would return to home laughing and joking about their day. They would later doled out their cherries to friends who weren't able to join them. The moms would  start the process of making jam and syrups for the following years dishes.

As a teenager, I always avoided going with my parents.  It was too boring, or I used the excuse of the Monday test.  Today I wish I had gone with them. The orchards have most likely been redeveloped into a strip mall, however the memories remain.

Last year I split a bottle of Luxardo liqueur with my friend Paola, to make maraschino cherries. I didn't get around to it, so I used this tiny stash to try the recipe.  I wanted to keep the stem intact, so I had to figure out a way to pit the cherry and keep the stem.  I figured it out, while they are not pretty, I think they will be tasty.


LuxardoBoozing. It. Up. @clarkbar @goodappetite #preservelocal

            The real deal.                                                                    Maceration Nation.


The recipe is simple, step by step I used Melissa Clark's method, but I did sterilize my jars and lids.  While these will remain refrigerated, its good sanitary practice.

Canned. Stuff.

                                                                 The final product.


Good Appetite's Maraschino Cherries, from the NYT Food Section, July 2007

1 cup Luxardo liqueur
1 pt fresh pie cherries (Morello if you can get them), pitted and if you are a rock star, leave the stem intact
2 or 3 8 oz mason jars
2 or 3 new lids and rings

Wash lids and rings and jars in hot soapy water, rinse well and place in preheated 250 degree oven for 15 minutes to sterlize.  They can be held at temperature for longer if necessary.

Place liqueur in stainless steel or non-reactive pan and bring to a simmer. Add cherries and let simmer for 3 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool for 5 minutes. Pour into jars, leaving 1/2 inch headspace, place lid on jar, screw on ring and place in fridge to macerate.Leave for at least two days before tasting.

Should make 2 to 3 8 oz jars to keep or give away.

I'm going to try mine with some chocolate ice cream and whipped cream and with a Manhattan on the side.


Brain Food - Mexican Chocolate Polenta brownies 

one bowl brownies. Really.

I have been super busy with travel, dog anxiety and classes. I meant to post a recipe right after my certificate program ended. Instead, I got distracted and enchanted with a trip to the dairy barns of Wisconsin, planning a trip to Italy and then school starting all over again. E's ruptured disc did not help things.  I have challenged myself to start writing again, here, there and over there... We'll see how well I do.

My certificate capstone project had certain aspects that were challenging - juggling five individual schedules, a client who was out of town alot, and some unclear objectives. In the end it all turned out pretty well and the client was happy.  I cooked/baked a lot during the last few weeks of the quarter, mostly for stress relief.  The last time I was in grad school, I did much the same thing, baking and cleaning for study avoidance. 

TH requested that I make chocolate polenta brownies. These were something I made in grad school that she loved very much. I don't know why I stopped making them 13 years ago, but I just did. I make all sorts of different brownies, so it isn't like I don't like making brownies or can't. They just were filed along with my large scale construction drawings somewhere in a deep recess of my brain. 

Polenta in brownies? What? Well, the polenta adds a crunchiness and a heft that isn't as caloric, but is nice nonetheless as well as great if you are avoiding nuts.  I love combining the flavors of Mexican chocolate - cinnamon, some orange and a little kick of pepper if you desire.  These are a riff on the Baker's classic one bowl brownie, very simple and most people who have dried unicorn horns in their pantry will have most of the ingredients on hand. For the rest of you, just work with me.

Note: I have become a lazy cook. Instead of slaving over a hot double boiler to melt the chocolate and the butter, I bung the chocolate and butter in a 150 deg F. oven for 30 minutes until melted. I remove the bowl and add the polenta. I let the mixture sit for another hour to soften the polenta up a bit a bit. You don't have to be me (trust me, you don't want to be) and actually follow the directions.  At the end, you should have a nice pan of brownies that remind you of grad school - that last paper, simpler times and maybe a trip you took somewhere sunny and festive to forget your troubles.

orange polenta brownies
Mexican Chocolate Polenta Brownies
Makes one 9" pan that yields between 24-36 brownies depending on your cutting skills.

Pan Prep - For ease of clean up , line pan with parchment paper cut to come up the sides of pan (don't want brownie mix to stick to side of pan).

Preheat oven to 350 F.

4 oz of 70%  or 60% bittersweet chocolate cut into chunks or chips
3/4 c (6 oz) unsalted butter
1 1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 cup all purpose flour or gluten free all purpose mix  (Bob's Red Mill) + 1/2 t xanthan gum
1/2 cup quick cook polenta or cornmeal
3 eggs, beaten
1 t vanilla
1 t orange extract or 1/2 orange zested
1 1/2  t cinnamon
1/8-1/4 t cayenne pepper (optional - I don't care for it)
1/2 c chocolate chips (60% or semi-sweet), optional but a nice addition

Conventional way - Over a double boiler, melt chocolate and butter together. Remove from heat and add polenta and stir polenta into the chocolate/butter mixture.  Let sit for one hour if possible to soften.  Add sugar, beaten eggs, vanilla, orange extract, orange zest, cinnamon and optional pepper and mix well.  Add flour or flour mix and optional chocolate chips. Stir until blended, but do not over mix.

Pour batter into prepared pan and use spatula to smooth out batter. Have assistant lick bowl and spatula.

Bake for 25-30 minutes (depending on oven's temperament) or until a toothpick comes out clean.  Cool on a baking rack until cool. Wait at least an hour before cutting into squares.


Orange Almond Cake infused with cardamon - New Year's Keeps on  


Torte, styled.

When we get invited to out to a friends’ for dinner, I am usually asked to bring dessert.  I don’t mind this as I love making desserts, but I am pretty much in pattern of creating seasonal fruit desserts with the occasional lapse into the chocolate box.   I stick to crisps, tarts and sometimes just macerated fruit with ice cream.  I am trying to change this around a bit and at the same time, trying to not go shopping for the one ingredient that is crucial to my dish and that can only be procured on alternate Wednesdays fifty miles from home. I am trying to simplify my life, not complicate things for the sake of cake.

For Persian New Year, I wanted to make something that was vaguely Persian, but was going to leave the cookies to my mother who I simply cannot compete with for taste and quality of her cookies.  I thought about doing something with rice flour and rose water, but then decided that that combination was too sweet and floral.  I wanted to use things that I had on hand – almonds, fruit, eggs and yogurt.  In my googling/epicuriousing/searching I found several great recipes for a Persian Orange Almond Cake that are derived from Claudia Roden’s 1968 cookbook, The New Book of Middle East Food.  In my years, I have never heard of such a cake.  I was all for trying to change things up and the recipe required no searching a store for an ingredient I didn’t have on hand already. Note: not everyone has unicorn horns in their pantry, but I do.

oranges and almonds

Unicorns need not fear.

The recipe is pretty simple, whole oranges are boiled twice to remove the bitterness. This is the same technique that jam makers suggest for extracting the bitter oils from citrus for marmalade.  The whole oranges are pureed in a food processor, and then added to an egg and sugar mixture.  All are incorporated with nut flour and a few more things and a beautiful rich moist torte is created.  The torte sits well on its own, but is even better with a side of crème fraiche ice cream or an orange blossom flavored strained Greek yoghurt.  We loved it so much; we ate it for breakfast the next day.  It does require a little preparation, as the oranges need to boiled twice, but I started the boiling the night before and that saved a little bit of time.

I am a big fan of the nut torte.  I am trying to limit my exposure to wheat, and nuts are something that seems to be easy to process and work wonderfully for some cakes and cookies. 

orange almond cake

Folding in ingredients. Do not over mix.

Orange Almond Cake for a New Year feast – Adapted from Claudia Roden with great props given to Australia’s Taste.com

Serves 12 

This recipe calls for oranges to be boiled and then pureed. I used my Cuisinart, the original calls for mushing up the cooked oranges and pressing them through a sieve. The pureeing using modern machinery is much easier and adds way more fiber.  I did end up weighing the sugar and almond powder because they seem to vary if those ingredients settle. My oranges were medium sized and pretty juicy which means that my cake remained nice and moist.

2 medium sized oranges
300 g. almond meal
1 t baking powder
½ t cardamom
½ t cinnamon
3 eggs
¾ cup sugar (would use a little less 2/3 c. next time)

Cake Instructions:

Wash oranges and place in a sauce pan with enough water to cover the oranges.  Turn on stove and bring oranges to a boil and then turn to a simmer and let simmer for 20 minutes.  Remove pan from heat and drain water.  Add cold water and repeat process again.  Drain oranges and let cool. Note: This can be done the night before, just put the oranges in the fridge until you need them. They will be squishy and that is a good thing.

Preheat oven to 325 F. Grease a 9” springform pan with cooking spray or olive oil, cut parchment to fit the bottom, coat sides with almond flour.

Puree oranges in food processor until smooth. I didn’t bother to remove the pips as I had navel oranges, if you have seeds, you may want to go to the trouble of removing them first.

Place sugar and eggs in mixing bowl and beat with electric beater until pale yellow and thick.  Turn off mixer.  Add pureed oranges to the egg and sugar mixture. Combine almonds, baking powder, and spices together and fold into the orange/egg/sugar mixture.  Mix to combine, but do not over mix.  Pour into prepared springform pan and place in oven.  Cook for 40 minutes, check for doneness by using a wooden skewer, if it comes out clean, it is done. If not, cook for longer. Once the cake is done, remove from oven and let cool on cake rack. Remove from springform pan after 20 minutes.

Orange Glaze
Juice of one medium juice
Slivers of peel from one orange, zest would probably be fine
¼ c Sugar
1 t orange blossom water

Combine sugar, orange juice and zest in a heavy bottomed saucepan and cook until thick and syrupy.  Remove from heat and add orange blossom water and let cool. If it thickens further to the point of gloopiness, add a 1 T water to thin. Thinly brush glaze on cake and use remaining as a garnish on the side.

Orange Blossom Strained Yogurt  (can be made ahead of time):

1.5 cup Greek yogurt
¼ cup confectioner’s sugar (icing sugar)
1 t orange blossom water

Combine ingredients until blended.  Place mixture in a coffee filter and let sit in a sieve/strainer overnight in fridge until thickened.  Remove from coffee filter, place in container, in fridge and cover until use.

Serving Instructions:

At this point, you can serve the cooled cake with a lightly sweetened ricotta, the Greek yoghurt described above or a crème fraiche ice cream.  I think the cake is better after it has sat a day. If you are going to do that, wrap cake well in foil until you are ready to serve it.



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.