Get Pickled (Refrigerator Pickles)

String Bean Pickles

My fridge is starting to look like something from a mad scientist’s (well, maybe botanist’s) lab.  I’ve been pickling, and a plethora of jars of pickled jalapeno peppers, green beans and cukes greets me whenever I open up the fridge door.

Pickling is a fantastic way to way to use an overabundance of veggies (don’t look at me like that – I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s been at the market when the peppers just looked too pretty to resist and overbought) or give veggies a bit of extra flavor to freshen up recipes.  I’ve focused mostly on refrigerator pickles (pickles that are meant to be kept in the refrigerator for a short period, as opposed to canned and stored in the pantry long term).   The time investment needed to put up a batch of refrigerator pickles is almost non-existent.  Boil up a brine, while it’s heating wash and trim the vegetables, put it all in a jar and … you’re done.  Also, you can put up a small batch, answering the age-old question of what to do with those extra string beans that you didn’t need for last night’s dinner.

A blog that I’ve really been enjoying lately, Food in Jars, has a recipe for pickled string beans, but it uses dill, which I loathe.  My version, based on that recipe, has a few different flavors thrown in, including some smokiness from one of my favorite ingredients – smoked paprika.  If, unlike me, you are not lucky enough to have a cousin-in-law who sells fantastic dried hot peppers, use any kind of hot pepper you like.


  • 1 1/4 cups white vinegar
  • 1 1/4 cups water
  • 1 tablespoon sea salt
  • 4 cloves garlic, peeled and halved
  • 3 very hot small dried chili peppers
  • 1/2 – 3/4 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1/2 small onion, sliced
  • 5 ounces string beans -trimmed to fit in your can
  • 3 bay leaves (optional)
  1. Sterilize, or clean really well, a glass pint jar with a lid.
  2. Combine the vinegar, water, salt and garlic in a small pot and bring to a boil over high heat.  Reduce the heat simmer for 5 minutes.
  3. After the brine has simmered for five minutes, take out half of the garlic and put it in the bottom of the jar with the peppers and paprika.
  4. Pack the beans and the onion slices into the jar.
  5. Pour in the brine and the remaining garlic.  Pour in enough brine so that there’s just about a quarter inch of head space.  Since you won’t be processing the pickles, head space isn’t really as important, but you do want everything covered by the brine.
  6. Put the bay leaves over the top surface of the brine and screw the top on tightly.
  7. Refrigerate a few days for the flavors to blend before using.
  8. Store in the refrigerator.

Yield:  One pint jar.

Posted in First Place Recipes, In The Kitchen, Make Ahead-able, Recipes, Vegetables | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Preserving The Summer The Grown Up Way – Herbed Vodka

Herbed Vodka




Vodka?  Yup.  Earlier in the summer, my lemon balm went nuts. I didn’t know what to do with the stuff.  Inspiration hit when I saw herb infused vodka on a cocktail menu.

NOTE:  Like the recipes in the last post about herb sugars and herb pastes, this one lends itself well to using up leftover herbs from different recipes.




  • 750 ml bottle vodka
  • 7 springs of fresh lemon balm
  • 4 springs of fresh mint
  • 2 sprigs of basil


  1. Wash the herbs and dry them well.
  2. Pour 1/2 cup of the vodka into a clean measuring cup and put it aside.
  3. Push the herb sprigs down into the vodka bottle.  TIP:  If you’re having trouble getting the herbs down to the bottom, try using a chopstick to push them in.
  4. Return the reserved vodka back to the bottle.  TIP:  A funnel comes in handy.
  5. Close up the bottle and put it in a cool place, away from sunlight.  Shake it up a bit every day or so.
  6. Try it in a week and see if the flavor’s strong enough. If it’s not strong enough, check again in another week.
  7. When it’s strong enough, Strain out the herbs, and run the vodka through a fine mesh sieve or cheese cloth to get rid of any remaining bits.

TIP:  Of course, you can use whatever herbs you like. The flavor of this particular infusion was quite strong.  I’m thinking of trying something a little mellower next time – maybe basil vodka to mix with tomato juice?

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Herb Pastes and Sugars – Preserving The Summer


Lemon Verbena Sugar and Basil Paste



I realized that around this time of year, I pay a lot of attention to the weather reports.  Not because I want to make sure the kids dress appropriately for the weather, but because I want to bring in all the herbs from the garden before the nights get too chilly.  After all, my kids are old enough now to grab their own jackets, but the herbs have no one but me to get them through the winter.  


NOTE:  Although I used the herbs from the last of our garden, obviously you don’t need to be using home grown for any of these products.  Your grocery’s cilantro looks fantastic this week?  Pick up extra and make some paste.  Only needed a tablespoon of mint and you have a whole bunch left over?  Make some mint sugar (oh – the iced tea!).


For the past few years, I’ve made herb pastes from basil and parsley.  Herb pastes are a great way to preserve leafy herbs.  They freeze well and, if topped with oil, keep quite a while in the fridge.  This year we have a crazy crop of parsley, so I’ll be making a ton of parsley paste.  We also had a bit of genovese basil, and a ton of purple basil.  The genovese basil is the kind you’re used to seeing in tomato mozzarella salads.  It’s leafy and sweet, and usually used for pesto sauces (ground basil with garlic, cheese and pine nuts), and that’s just what I did with it.  Purple basil is a bit different. It’s tougher stuff, both plant-wise and taste-wise.  Plant-wise, it stood up better to our crazy weather this summer.  With respect to taste, it’s not nearly as sweet as its leafier, greener cousin.  It has a much sharper taste, almost bitter.  I decided to just process it with olive oil – it gives me a lot more options for later use. 

Leafy Herb Paste

  • Several cups fresh herb leaves, washed and well dried
  • 1/4 to 1 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • Optional add ins (such as chopped garlic, sliced almonds or other chopped nuts, toasted pine nuts, salt and/or grated cheese).
  1. If using hard add ins such as nuts or garlic, throw them in a food processor fitted with a steel blade and pulse them a couple of times to break them up a bit.
  2. Add the herbs.
  3. Begin processing the herbs (and salt if you’re using) and, with the motor running, add olive oil, a tablepoon at a time until you reach a consistency you like.  I like mine thick, with just enough oil to make a smooth paste.

STORAGE TIPS:  I store herb paste in two different ways.  Some I put some in glass jars, topped with olive oil and refrigerated them.  They’ve been gracing sandwiches and stews for the past couple of weeks.  After using it, make sure the top is still covered in oil – if necessary add some.  For longer storage, I spread the paste in thin layers inside resealable plastic bags and froze them.  Why inside the bags instead of in ice cubes?  I’ve found this method gives me more flexibility – I can just break off however much I need.


I had a few herbs that didn’t really seem suited to the paste/pesto treatment.  Lemon verbena was one of them. I love the citrusy smell of this herb!  I knew I was going to want to use it for baking over the winter (can anyone else smell the shortbread cookies?), so an oil paste wasn’t going to work for me.  I could have dried it, but I was worried I would lose flavor, and I don’t love the texture of leafy dried herbs in cookies.  An online friend pointed me towards the solution – grind it up with sugar.  Which is exactly what I did.

Lemon Verbena Sugar

  • 2 cups fresh lemon verbena leaves (or other herbs), washed and well dried.
  • 1 – 1 1/4  cup white sugar (vanilla sugar if you have it)
  1. Put the leaves and 1 cup of the sugar in a food processor fit with a steel blade.
  2. Pulse to grind the leaves. If the consistency seems a little wet, add the remaining 1/4 cup sugar.  Process until the leaves are finely ground.
  3. Put the herb sugar in resealable plastic bags.  Remove the air from the bag and seal up the bags, spreading the sugar inside them into a flat layer.
  4. Freeze the bags.




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Nectarine Jam

Chunky Necctarine Jam

So I had adjusted to the fact that summer has left us.  No, really I had, until … I walked into my supermarket and saw the last of the nectarines.  Sigh. In my opinion, there are few things more delicious than a ripe, juicy, in-season, nectarine.  And these are it – the last of them.  What’s a girl to do?  Yup, I bought a ton.  In fact, I bought too many.  Even I couldn’t eat them all, so I decided to put up a small batch of jam before they went bad.

Once I made that decision, I had a few more to make.  Skin or no skin?  I’m firmly in the “leave the skin on” camp for two reasons.  First, I’m lazy.  Second, I like the texture of the skin after it’s been cooked down in the jam.  Chunky or smooth?  I went with chunky, but you could easily make it smoother by chopping the nectarines more finely or even whirring them around in the food processor a bit before combining with the sugar.  Lastly, do I want to add some other flavors?  Looking around the garden, I saw some lemon verbena that looked like a good idea.  Feel free to omit it if you don’t have any or you don’t like it.  I also love a bit of vanilla in my jams – I think it helps temper the slightly sour edge some fruits have, even when sweetened with sugar.  It doesn’t make things too sweet, it just rounds them out.

On a final note, this recipe makes about 6 cups of jam, enough to have a nice jar in your fridge and either give some to friends right away (refrigerate it) or can the rest.  I processed mine in half-pint canning jars in a hot water bath for 10 minutes, and then let them cool in the bath for a couple of minutes more before taking them out and letting them cool down and seal completely.  If you’re interested in canning, there are many sites with specific information about safe canning on the web (such as Ball canning jar’s site and and the University of Georgia’s cooperative extension’s site). Take a look around for information about safe canning procedures and any equipment you may need.


  • 3 ½ pounds nectarines TIP:  Don’t use overripe fruit for making jam – it has lower pectin content, making it more difficult to reach the jam stage. In fact, it’s even better if a bit of the fruit is underripe.
  • 3 cups sugar (I used plain old granulated, white, sugar)
  • 1 vanilla bean, split
  • 3 large sprigs of lemon verbena
  • Juice of one half lemon


Prepare The Fruit

  1. Pit and slice the nectarines.
  2. Place the fruit in a non-reactive bowl and add the sugar.
  3. Stir and put in the fridge overnight (or for few hours) to macerate.

Make The Jam

  1. Place a glass dish in the freezer (you’ll use this later to test the jam).
  2. When the fruit’s macerated, put the mixture in a large, heavy pot and bring to a simmer over medium heat.
  3. Reduce the heat and skim off any foam that’s accumulated on the top, then add the vanilla bean, lemon verbena and lemon juice.
  4. Simmer on a low heat, stirring frequently, until it begins to thicken.  When it starts to thicken, remove the vanilla bean (gently rinse it off and save it to make vanilla sugar) and, if you like, the lemon verbena.
  5. Keep simmering the fruit until it’s jammy.  You can tell you getting close by lifting the stirring spoon out of the fruit and seeing how it falls off the spoon.  If it’s liquid and drippy, you’re not there yet.  If it has started to thicken up, and drops off in larger “flakes” you’re there.
  6. When you think it looks like jam, it’s time to test it.  Take the glass plate out of the freezer and plop a teaspoonful of the jam on the plate.  Put it back in the freezer for a half a minute.  Take out the plate and tilt it.  Did the jam run down the plate like a liquid?  If yes, keep simmering.  If the spoonful seemed to solidify, you can draw a line through it and it didn’t run right back together, or it just plain looks like jam, you’re probably done.
  7. If you’re done, put the jam into clean jars and either can or refrigerate them.

TIP :  Don’t even try to clean the pot in which you cooked the jam with cold water – you’ll have a sticky and annoying mess on your hands.  That stuff’s only coming off with hot water.  A few minutes hot soak and the jam should clean right off.  If you hot water canned your jam, you can use that water to soak the pot after you’re done canning.

Yield:  About 6 cups.




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S’mores Sundae

S'Mores Sundae

School has started and fall decorations are sprouting up all over the neighborhood, so I guess I have to admit that summer is over.  I think, however, that there’s still time for one more summer 2013 inspired recipe.

I mentioned in a recent post that I was trying to come up with a s’mores related recipe to welcome my son – the s’mores expert – home this summer.  Actually, my son is the inventor of ‘s’moreos’ a concept he came up with when he was about 6 years old around a bonfire upstate.  What is s’moreo?  Open up an Oreo, throw a piece of chocolate and a melty marshmallow on one side, top it with the other side, and you have a s’moreo.  He was even credited with it on Wikipedia for about one day, until the editors removed him citing potential copyright difficulties with a certain sandwich cookie.  You can imagine his horror when, several years later, a news organization’s blogger claimed credit for creating a s’moreo.  What’s an 11 year old chef to do?

The answer, unfortunately, is nothing.  He is working on letting it go and moving on.  Perhaps this sundae helped a little.

When I was trying to come up with a s’more-related treat, I started thinking about what makes a s’more yummy.  I like the bitter/sweetness of a burnt marshmallow, the creaminess of the chocolate and the crunch and nuttiness of the graham cracker.  I also wanted to be able to make all the components ahead of time – so I was leery of using a melted marshmallow sauce.  My solution was a toasted marshmallow ice cream (for marshmallow-y bitter/sweetness), milk chocolate sauce (creamy chocolate), and graham cracker crumbs toasted in butter and brown sugar (crunchy nuttiness).


  • Toasted marshmallow ice cream (or store bought marshmallow or vanilla ice cream)
  • Graham Cracker Crumbles (recipe, below)
  • Milk Chocolate Sauce (recipe, below)
  1. Put a few scoops of ice cream into a bowl.
  2. Pour on some milk chocolate sauce.
  3. Sprinkle graham cracker crumbles on the sundae.
  4. Dig in!



  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 1/2 cups crumbled graham cracker
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, or to taste
  1. Melt the butter over medium heat in a small saute pan.
  2. Let the butter cook for just a bit after it finishes foaming until it just barely starts to brown.  Add the crumbled graham crackers and stir.
  3. Sprinkle the crown sugar and the cinnamon over the crumbs.
  4. Cook, stirring, until the crumbles are browned and crispy – the sugar should be a bit melted onto them.
  5. Let cool.

Tip:  You can make the crumbles ahead of time.  Store them in an airtight container in the fridge and they will keep for quite a while.  If they’re not crisp enough for you when you want to use them, spread them in a single layer on a pan or on some tin foil and lightly toast them and they’ll crunch back up.




  • 2 cups chopped milk chocolate (approx. 12 ounces)
  • 1 cup cream
  1. In a small pot, warm cream over medium heat until it’s  almost at a boil.
  2. Remove cream from heat and add chocolate.
  3. Stir until chocolate melts and the sauce is smooth.
  4. If the cream cools before the chocolate is completely melted, warm the sauce gently over a low heat, stirring continuously, until it melts completely.

Tip:  The sauce can be made ahead of time and refrigerated.  You can reheat it in the microwave – just nuke it for 30 seconds at 50 percent power.  Stir it up until it’s melted and smooth. Then nuke it for 30 seconds at 50 percent power again and stir it up.  If it’s still not completely melted, repeat for 10 seconds at 50 percent power until it’s melted and smooth.


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Toasted Marshmallow Ice Cream

Toasted Marshmallow Ice Cream

I’ve been playing around with making a toasted marshmallow ice cream as the base for a s’mores sundae (more on the sundae in a later post), and, although it took a few tries, I finally came up with one I liked.

Why a few tries?  Well, first of all I didn’t want it too sweet, and I wanted it to taste like toasted marshmallows.  Also, since I’m having problems accessing pasteurized whole eggs, I didn’t want to go the barely-cooked-egg-yolks-in-the-ice-cream route.

First I tried a cornstarch thickened base and lightly toasted marshmallows. It was nice, but just nice.  For the second batch I steeped graham cracker in the milk (a la the cereal milk from Momofuku Milk Bar), which was an improvement, but not fabulous.  The third batch used really charred marshmallows and the graham-cracker milk.  Also, I decided not to use any additional thickener, figuring that the gelatin in the marshmallows and the starch from the graham crackers might do the trick.  Although it’s a cliche, the third time was the charm.


Make The Graham Cracker Milk

  • 3 cups crumbled graham crackers TIP :  I tried using fancy graham crackers and using Nabisco graham crackers and I liked the Nabisco ones better for this recipe because they dissolved more in the milk and were a bit sweeter.
  • Generous pinch of cinnamon
  • 3 tablespoons, packed, light brown sugar, divided
  • 1 quart whole milk
  1. Preheat oven to 300 degrees (F).
  2. Spread the graham cracker pieces on a rimmed cookie sheet.
  3. Sprinkle the cinnamon on the pieces, toss to combine and spread out in a single layer.
  4. Toast the crumbs for about 15 minutes.
  5. Cool the crumbs.
  6. Place the crumbs in a container and pour in the milk.
  7. Let the milk steep for about 30 minutes – the crackers should be very soft.
  8. Drain the milk through a fine meshed strainer, pressing down a bit to get all the liquid out.

Make The Ice Cream

  • 32 large marshmallows
  • 1/3 cup dark brown sugar (packed)
  • 3 cups graham cracker milk
  • 1/2 tablespoon vanilla extract
  1. Toast the marshmallows so they’re really on the burned side.  TIP :  I tried toasting mine indoors over a gas stove (make sure the melted marshmallow doesn’t get on your burners – it’s tough to get off) and flaming them with a kitchen torch. The torch was faster.  I’ve read about people putting them on a silpat mat and broiling them, but never tried it myself.
  2. Put the marshmallows in a tall, heat proof container.
  3. Heat up 2 cups of the milk, stirring frequently, over medium until it’s almost boiling.
  4. Reduce the heat and add the brown sugar and vanilla.  Cook, stirring, until the brown sugar has dissolved.
  5. Let the warm milk cool for a bit, then add it to the container with the marshmallows.
  6. Blend the mixture with a hand blender (or in a blender).
  7. Mix in the remaining one cup milk.
  8. Chill the base in the refrigerator until it’s cold.  This could take a few hours.  TIP :  If you want to speed up the process a bit, put the ice cream base in a heavy duty resealable plastic bag, seal it and put it in an ice bath in your fridge.  I would actually put the bag with the base inside a second bag and seal them both up just in case of a leak.
  9. When the mixture is chilled, process it in an ice cream maker according to your machine’s instructions.

You can make the ice cream ahead of time and keep it in the freezer.

You may notice that you’ll have a cup of graham cracker milk left over. Might I suggest mixing some up with Amaretto over ice?  For a non-alcoholic drink, try using it to make hot chocolate – and don’t forget the marshmallow!

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Grilled Those String Beans!

Grilled String Beans

Yes, I know it sounds nuts to throw string beans on the grill, but hear me out.  Our vegetable garden is recovering from heavy rains early in the season, and the string beans we planted are finally starting to earn their keep.  Which is great, but what to do with the beans?  They’re so fresh that I don’t want to just boil or steam them, but some are large enough that they’re too tough to eat raw.  Besides that, it’s been hot, and I don’t want to heat up the kitchen any more than I have to.

Then it occurred to me that grilling string beans is really no different than grilling asparagus, and I love grilled asparagus.  I grilled a few handfuls of beans and they were immediately declared a success by everyone around the table.  I think the idea is a winner of a summer treatment (it’s really too simple to call it a recipe).  After all, quick, simple and highlighting the flavors of very fresh produce is really what summer cooking is all about.


  • A few handfuls of fresh string beans
  • Olive oil
  • A clove or two of chopped garlic (optional)
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • Coarse salt
  • Lemon zest (optional)
  • Walnut, almond or sesame oil (optional)


  • Gas or charcoal grill
  • Grill pan, grill basket or fine grill grate (optional, but it will keep your veggies from falling through the grill)
  • Tongs

Prepare The Beans

  1. Rinse and dry the beans.
  2. Trim the the stem end.
  3. Put the beans in a resealable plastic bag.
  4. Drizzle them, in the bag, with the olive oil.  You only need enough to coat them lightly.
  5. Throw a few grinds of fresh pepper, a pinch of salt and, if you’re so inclined, the chopped garlic in the bag with the beans and shake the bag to distribute the oil, salt and pepper (and optional garlic) over the beans.
  6. You can immediately grill the beans or throw the bag in the fridge for a couple of hours until you’re ready to grill them.

Prepare The Grill

  1. Preheat the grill to “high”.
  2. Oil the grill basket, pan or grate and place it on the grill to pre-heat.  You want everything very hot before you add the beans.

Grill The Beans

  1. Throw the beans on the prepared grill in a single layer.  TIP :  Don’t dump them out of the bag onto the grill, because any extra oil in the bag will cause flare ups when it’s poured on the grill.
  2. Close the lid of the grill and cook for a couple of minutes, until there are a few char marks on the beans.
  3. Shake the basket (or pan, or grate), then close the lid again and cook for another minute or two until the beans have gotten a little wrinkly or softer.
  4. Remove the beans from the grill and put on a platter.

Finishing The Beans

  1. Sprinkle the coarse salt and, if desired, lemon zest on the greens.  You can drizzle a bit more olive oil on top as well.  If you have any fancy nut oil (e.g., toasted walnut), now’s a good time to use it.

Tip:  You can serve these alone as a side dish, or cut them up and add to salad or to roasted (or grilled) potatoes.  Also, they’re delicious warm or at room temperature, so they’re a nice make-ahead for a cook out.

Yield:  As many string beans as you grilled, you’ll get.

String Beans

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Cold Corn Salad (or how to handle leftovers in a heat wave)

Cold Corn Salad

Well, we’re in the middle of another heat wave here on Long Island or, as the weatherman said today “It’s only going to be in the 90s for the next week, but it will feel like triple digits.”  Only the 90s?  I’m not even going to go into the humidity, except to say it just ain’t right.

Which brings me to dinnertime.  Obviously too hot to cook inside.  It was even too hot to cook outside on the grill.  I had leftover smoked brisket from a dinner we made for friends last night, and a bunch of leftover grilled corn on the cob.  The brisket part was easy – brisket sandwiches.  What to do with the corn?  I wasn’t about to fry corn fritters, and the thought of creamed anything made me want to turn up the AC a few notches.  As I pondered the question, I watered our veggie garden and thought how nice the yellow corn would look with the purple scallions I planted  … and the red cherry tomatoes that were just ripe … and that shiny green basil … and a side dish appeared – cold corn salad.

The key to this salad is keeping it simple.  Ripe, fresh vegetables, corn dressed with just a little salt, pepper and olive oil, and you really can’t go wrong.

On another note, this side becomes a main course easily with the addition of some cold poached shrimp or shredded chicken.  I mixed the leftovers with some hot sauce into scrambled eggs the next morning for a lovely breakfast.  I’m also planning on using the salad as a base for seared sea scallops as soon as the weather cools down enough to think about searing anything without needing a fan.


  • 5 medium ears of grilled corn (or about 3 cups cooked corn kernels)
  • 12 cherry tomatoes, halved or quartered
  • 2 scallions (whites and several inches of green), thinly sliced
  • A handful of basil leaves
  • 2 – 3 tablespoons of good olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Sherry vinegar (optional)

Prep The Corn – You’re going to need to get those kernels off the cob. There are gizmos and fancy techniques for doing so, but here’s how I do it.

  1. Cut each cob in half.
  2. Stand a cob half  up, with the flat side against the cutting board (so you have a stable base).  If possible, use a flexible cutting board – they may make it easier to transfer the corn into a bowl without losing any kernels.
  3. Hold your knife at the base of the kernels, and slice them off by cutting vertically down the cob, separating the kernels from the cob.
  4. Rotate the cob and continue doing this until you’ve done it all the way around.
  5. The cob shouldn’t have any kernels left on it.  If you feel like you weren’t close enough to the cob when you starting slicing and that the bottom half of the kernels were left on the cob, you can scrape the bottoms of those remaining kernels off with the edge of your knife.
  6. Transfer the kernels to a bowl and continue with the rest of the cobs.
  7. TIP:  When you’re done, you’ll have a bunch of naked corn cobs.  Don’t throw them out!!!  Toss them in a resealable plastic bag and pop them in your freezer.  Next time you’re making chicken, shrimp or veggie stock throw in some of the cobs and they’ll add some very nice, subtle sweetness.

Make The Salad

  1. Mix together the corn kernels, tomatoes, and scallions.
  2. Tear or finely slice the basil and add it to the corn.
  3. Drizzle 2 – 3 tablespoons of olive oil onto the corn salad.
  4. Season with salt and pepper to taste
  5. Mix the salad gently to combine all the ingredients and taste it.  If it seems flat, add a splash of vinegar.

Yield:  About 4 cups


  • Add a quarter teaspoon of smoked paprika for some smoky flavor.
  • For a spicier salad – substitute fresh cilantro for the basil and add a generous pinch of ground cumin, along with some lime juice and minced red pepper and jalapeno pepper.
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Ginger “+” Biscotti

Ginger + Biscotti

Ideas for things to bake (or cook) are born from different sparks.  Sometimes it’s figuring out how to combine some great farmer’s market finds into a cohesive meal.  Sometimes it’s trying to recreate a dish, or a specific flavor, that you’ve enjoyed (or improve on something you didn’t enjoy).  Sometimes you’re trying to take a new spin on a classic, or figure out how to best sate a loved ones specific type of sweet tooth.  And sometimes, it’s because you just found a cool new ingredient and want to explore the best way to use it.

Recently I found myself in possession of a jar of soft diced ginger, which I scored during a King Arthur free-shipping promotion.  While playing around with a biscotti recipe similar to the cantuccini in Baking with Julia, I decided to add a scoopful.   I added some candied nuts and cinnamon chips, and voila – a cookie was born.  If you don’t have candied nuts, cinnamon chips or soft ginger, don’t worry.  The recipe lends itself to lots of improvisation.  You can easily substitute 1/4 cup of chopped crystallized ginger for the soft ginger.  I’ve used plain toasted nuts instead of candied nuts, used all chocolate chips instead of cinnamon chips, and thrown in dried cranberries too.  My suggestion, keep the volume of the non-ginger add-ins about the same – 2 cups overall.  Also, as noted in the recipe, if you’re using the soft ginger, mix it up with the wet ingredients.  If using chopped crystallized ginger, combine it with the rest of the dry add ins before adding it to the flour mixture.


  • 2 cups all purpose flour (you can also use 1 3/4 cup all purpose flour and 1/4 cups white whole wheat or whole wheat flour)
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder (preferably homemade baking powder)
  •  Generous 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  •  3/4 teaspoon cinnamon (increase to 1 teaspoon if you’re not using cinnamon chips)
  • 1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg
  • 1/3 cup soft ginger, or 1/4 cup finely diced crystallized ginger
  •  1 cup chopped candied walnuts or toasted walnuts
  •  1/2 cup cinnamon chips or dried cranberries
  •  1/2 cup chopped dark chocolate
  • 3 eggs, lightly beaten (you can also use 3/4 cup egg whites)
  • 3 teaspoons vanilla extract


  1. Place a rack in the center of your oven.
  2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees (F).
  3. Line one or two baking sheets with parchment paper.


  1. In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour(s), sugar, salt, baking powder, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg.
  2. Combine the nuts, chips and, if using, chopped crystallized ginger.
  3. Add the nut mixture to the flour mixture.  Stir to combine.
  4. In a separate bowl, combine the eggs, vanilla and, if using, soft ginger.
  5. Add the egg mixture to the flour mixture, and stir to combine.  Once you’ve incorporated most of the dry ingredients, you may have to knead the dough a few times in the bowl to get the rest of the flour mixture completely incorporated.


  1. Divide the dough in half.
  2. Place one half on the cookie sheet, and shape it into a log about 1 1/2 to 2 inches wide and 12 to 14 inches long.
  3. Do the same with the other half.
  4. Space the two logs at least 7 inches apart.  You can also place them on two cookie sheets.
  5. Use a dull knife or a bench scrape to score a shallow line down the middle of each log, lengthwise.  I’ve found that this keeps the logs from cracking badly during the first baking.
  6. Bake for 20 – 30 minutes, until the logs are firm on top and very lightly colored.  Start checking for firmness at about 20 minutes.
  7. Remove from the oven and let cool completely.  TIP: You can also cool the logs and wrap them up and divide them for the second baking later.  The logs keep, frozen, very nicely.


  1. Reduce the oven temperature to 325 degrees (F) or, if you’re using logs that were baked at an earlier time, preheat the oven to 325 degrees (F).
  2. Cut each log into 1/4 inch slices.  The Cookie Police will not come and get you if the slices aren’t 1/4 inch, but if they’re too thick, they won’t get crisp, if they’re too thin, they’ll get too crisp, and if they’re not uniform you’ll wind up with some burnt cookies and some that aren’t crispy enough.
  3. Lay the slices flat on the cookie sheets.
  4. Bake for a total of 12-15 minutes, flipping slices over at about 7 minutes.  You may need to bake them in batches if your oven isn’t large enough to accommodate two sheets in the middle of the oven at the same time.
  5. When they’re done, the biscotti should be lightly toasted, and just barely crisp.  If you bake them until they’re completely crisped, they’ll be too hard after they cool down.
  6. Slide the cookies, on the parchment paper, off the cookie sheets to cool.
Yield:  Between 6 and 7 dozen cookies.  
Cookies keep very nicely in an airtight container.  If they lose their crispness, you can place them in a 325 degree oven for a minute to re-crisp.  They also freeze beautifully at either the log or cookie stage.
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The Trouble With Fads…

Mocha Hazelnut Macaron










Sometimes, something really great gets taken up as a fad … and that’s terrible.  Yes, terrible, because, as we all know, fads follow the law of gravity – what comes up, comes down.  Just as soon as something is taken up as the latest and greatest, it’s dropped as trite, old hat, and boring, which can really be a shame.  Take, as a case in point, macarons, those lovely french sandwich cookies.

Last year you could not swing a bakery bag without hitting a macaron.  And they definitely deserved the popularity.  They are, after all, fabulous.  Aesthetically they have an adorable shape and come in all the colors of the rainbow.  Taste-wise, they’re open to just as many interpretations, running the gamut from chocolate, to nut, to fruit and back again.  I loved this fad, but even as I was cramming them into my mouth (ever so delicately of course), I knew that this, like all good fads, could not last.

I say, let’s buck the trend in fads.  Macarons deserve a fan base more loyal than adolescent girls pining after the latest boy band.  They hit all they high points – pleasing to the eye and the palette, adaptable to individual preferences and (despite what you may have heard), easy for the home baker to prepare.  They are also better if made ahead of time and frozen, a definite boon for anyone entertaining guests or who wants a constant stash in the freezer.

So let’s show our loyalty by preparing them often.  A couple of notes before you start – there are a few attributes that macaron fans look for in their cookies.  The texture of the cookie wafers should have a crunch, but also be lightly chewy inside.  Each wafer should be glossy, evenly colored and have a ruffled “foot”.  The filling shouldn’t be too gushy or dry.  Don’t worry – none of these are a problem with a little advanced planning.

For example, most recipes I’ve read call for aging the egg whites.  I’ve found this helps, so I separate the eggs a couple of days ahead of when I plan on baking and put them in a covered container in my fridge.  I’ve left them in there for as long as a week and still found the results after using them to be fine.  Also, don’t skimp on the grinding and sieving of the nut/powdered sugar mixture.  Getting the grit out really does help improve the texture.  If possible, bake and fill the macarons a day or two before serving them – you can even wrap them well and freeze them.  Allowing the filled cookies to age a bit helps keep them from being too crunchy.  Another tip to try to get a good texture and foot is banging the cookie sheet on the counter a few times after you pipe out the circles of batter to get rid of any large air bubbles.  Try some of these out yourself and see if they help you too.

The recipe below is based on the fantastic chocolate macarons on David Lebovitz’ blog and his book, my My Sweet Life In Paris. My current favorite spin is this mocha and hazelnut version.



For The Cookie (TIP:  If possible, try to weigh the ingredients for the cookie – you’ll get more consistent results.  Since some of the amounts are rather small, I usually do so in grams instead of fractions of ounces.  I’ve added measurements in all variations here).  (TIP:  You can also change the proportion of almond to hazelnut.  Using all hazelnut was a bit overpowering, but this ratio or 50:50 works very nicely.  Just make sure you have 50 grams or about 2 ounces altogether.)

  • 2 days before baking, separate the whites from 2 large eggs.  Put the egg whites in a covered container in your fridge until ready to bake.
  • 1/3 cup or 33 grams or 1.3 ounces almond flour (ground almonds)
  • 1/6 cup or 17 grams or .7 ounces hazelnut flour (ground hazelnuts)
  • 1 cup powdered sugar (about 100 grams)
  • 3 tablespoons/25 grams natural cocoa powder (about .9 grams)
  • 5 tablespoons/65 grams granulated white sugar  (about 2.3 grams)

For The Filling

  • 1/2 – 3/4 cup ground hazelnuts, toasted and finely chopped
  • 10 ounces white chocolate, finely chopped
  • 2/3 cup heavy cream
  • 1 generous teaspoon instant espresso powder

Getting Ready

  1. Take four cookie sheets, and stack one on top of the other so you have two doubled-up sheets.
  2. Line top two cookie sheets with parchment paper.
  3. Place a rack in the middle of your oven.

Make The Batter

  1. Grind the nuts, powdered sugar and cocoa powder in a food processor until it is finely ground.
  2. Pass the mixture through a sieve several times. Set it aside.  TIP: If the mixture was too coarse, try grinding it a bit more and then passing it through the sieve again.
  3. In the bowl of a standing mixer, beat the egg whites until they get foamy and then start to fluff up.  While the mixer is running, gradually add the granulated sugar to the egg whites.  Beat until the whites are stiff and firm.  (How can you tell if they’re done?  If you take the beater out of the whites, and hold it upside down, the whites should hold their shape.)
  4. Using a rubber spatula, fold the nut mixture into the whites.  Gently fold it in and then, when it’s incorporated, spread the batter against one side of the bowl and fold it over on itself.  Do this several times until the batter is smooth and a bit runny. (See picture below)
  5. Put the batter in a pastry bag fitted with a plain tip.  If you don’t have one, make an impromptu bag by snipping off the corner of a resealable plastic bag.

Macaron batter should be smooth and a bit runny

Form The Wafers

  1. Pipe the mixture onto the parchment paper in circles that are about 1 inch.
  2. Slap the cookie sheet (with the parchment paper and batter on it) against a table or counter top several times to get the air bubbles out.
  3. Let the wafers sit for about half an hour until the tops are dry to the touch.

Baking The Wafers

  1. While the wafers are drying, preheat the oven to 350 degrees (F).
  2. When the wafers are dry, bake them for about 15 minutes.  If the tops seem to be browning too quickly, lay a sheet of tin foil on top of them.
  3. If your oven cannot accommodate baking both sheets in the middle of the oven at one time, bake off the second sheet when the first is done.
  4. Slide the parchment paper off the cookie sheets, and let the cookies cool on the paper.

Make The Filling

  1. Heat the cream in a small to medium sized microwave safe bowl.
  2. Add the espresso powder and stir until it combines with the cream.
  3. While the cream is still hot, add the white chocolate and stir until it melts into the cream.  If necessary, put the bowl back into the microwave for 10 seconds to finish melting the chocolate and stir until it is combined with the cream.
  4. Let the mixture cool until it has thickened, then whisk it a bit to lighten it up.

Assemble The Macaron

  1. Place the toasted hazelnuts on a small plate.
  2. Use an offset spatula to spread a dollop of filling on the flat side of one wafer.  You want between 1 and 2 teaspoons, enough that some peeks out between the two wafers, but not so much that it gets messy.
  3. Top the filling with another wafer, making a cookie sandwich.
  4. After filling each cookie, roll the sides of it in the toasted hazelnuts, so they adhere to the filling between the two wafers.

Serving:  The cookies are best after they’ve “aged” a bit.  Either put them in an airtight bag or wrap them in plastic wrap for a day or so before serving them.  Alternatively, you can wrap them well in plastic wrap and freeze them in resealable freezer bags.  If you freeze them, leave the plastic wrap on them when they defrost so that condensation collects on the outside of the wrap instead of on the surface of the cookie.

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