We’ve been hosting my in-laws for Christmas dinner — and Christmas Eve, and St. Stephen’s Day, and usually one or two more days besides — for years now, which means I spend a lot of my time happily wearing a path between the stove, sink and fridge in the days before and after Christmas Day itself. But in that busy week before the main event, when I’m feeling overwhelmed with shopping lists or last-minute presents or the cards I always procrastinate about writing, or when I’d rather be baking some cookies than fussing too much over dinner, I just want to put something on the table without too much effort or expense. And if it can be something that’s still in keeping with the holidays, like this recipe, then even better. As much as there’s nowhere I’d rather be than my kitchen, sometimes a quick, simple supper can feel like a gift.

Neapolitan Christmas Eve Spaghetti with Walnuts (U Spaghetti’ Anatalina)
adapted from Eat Like an Italian by Catherine Fulvio

Serves 4

This recipe comes from Catherine Fulvio’s latest book, Eat Like an Italian. Catherine says, “During the weeks before Christmas, wonderful fresh walnuts arrive in the shops. This was a recipe for ‘poor folks’ and it illustrates how Italians respect their ingredients.”

1 lb (450 g) spaghetti
1/2 cup (125 ml) good-quality extra virgin olive oil
4 garlic cloves, very finely sliced
6 tinned anchovies, drained and roughly chopped
1 1/2 cups (150 g) walnuts, lightly toasted and chopped
salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley, to garnish

Put a large pot of salted water on to boil. Cook the pasta according to the instructions on the package.

Meanwhile, gently heat the oil in a large saucepan (one that’s big enough to also hold all the cooked pasta later) over a low heat. Add the sliced garlic and cook for 1 minute, taking care not to burn the garlic or it will turn bitter and ruin the dish. Add the anchovies and cook for a few minutes more, stirring until they dissolve in the oil.

Reserve a mugful of the cooking water, then drain the pasta and add it directly to the sauce in the pan. Stir in some of the cooking liquid to loosen the pasta and return to the heat. Stir through the walnuts and cook for a further 1 to 2 minutes, then season to taste. Divide the pasta between 4 plates or shallow pasta bowls and garnish with the parsley.

Email this post Email this post Print this post Print this post

This year, I decided to forgo the store-bought, China-manufactured, last-minute purchased gifts that I usually give out at holidays. I had the bright idea (insert sarcasm here) to make homemade food gifts this year. I figured, why not? I like to hang out in the kitchen. I like buying ingredients. I like one-of-a-kind treats. Well, readers, here is why not. I have about 30 people who need gifts this year (my kids attend schools with lots of teachers in each room). Christmas is less than a week away and I’m still searching for packaging materials, running out of ingredients, and trying out new recipes with limited success.  On the upside, this weekend the kids and I made up a few batches of spice rub and a half dozen quart jars of soup mix and they turned out amazingly cute. I tried out a couple other gift ideas (salted caramel sauce and hand-chopped garlic herb salt) but the end products, though tasty, didn’t justify the the work involved in making them. So, if you are looking for a unique gift that you can make with minimal fuss, I highly recommend one of these instead.

All-purpose Spice Rub
from Everyday Food, July/August 2006

I found lovely little jars at a reasonable price at specialtybottle.com. This recipe easily double or triples so you can mix up a big batch and fill a dozen small jars at one go.

Makes about 1 1/4 cups

1/3 cup (75 g) coarse salt
1/4 cup (40 g) packed light-brown sugar
1/4 cup (30 g) paprika
2 tablespoons ground black pepper
2 tablespoons dried oregano
2 tablespoons dried thyme leaves
1 tablespoon cayenne pepper (optional, I used 1/2 teaspoon per batch)

In a small bowl, combine all the ingredients, using your hands to break up the sugar. Store in an airtight container, away from heat and light, up to 6 months.


Rainbow Bean Soup Mix
adapted from food.com

Makes 1 quart jar

3/4 cup (150 g) dried red beans
3/4 cup (150 g) dried great northern beans
2/3 cup (125 g) dried split peas (yellow or green)
2/3 cup (115 g) lentils (brown, green, or red)
2/3 cup (130 g) dried black beans

Seasoning bag:
2 tablespoons dried onion flakes
2 tablespoons beef or chicken bouillon granules (sold in soup section)
2 tablespoons dried parsley flakes
2 teaspoons dried basil
2 teaspoons sweetened lemonade drink mix
1 1/2 teaspoons chili powder
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon dried oregano

Use a quart jar that has a wide mouth, but if you can’t find one any quart jar will work. Place each type of bean in jar in the order listed above.

Mix the seasoning ingredients and seal in a small baggie. Place the seasoning bag on top of the beans, gently flattened so it can be seen from all sides.

Seal the jar, decorate, and attach the soup directions (below).


Remove seasoning packet from the jar and set to the side. Rinse beans and place beans in large microwave-safe dish. Cover with water 1″ to 2″ over top of beans. Cover dish loosely with plastic wrap. Microwave on high for 15 minutes, rotating after 7 minutes. Drain and rinse beans very well; place in a large pot. Add 8 cups water, one 15 ounce can crushed tomatoes and seasonings from packet. Cover, bring to boil. Lower heat, cover pan and simmer 1 1/2 hours or until beans are tender. Stir occasionally.

Email this post Email this post Print this post Print this post

Toast with Avocado and Mustard

by Kelly on November 20, 2012

As we gear up for the holiday season, here’s my gift to you: a healthy recipe with three ingredients and five minutes of prep time. New York Mouth sent me some freebies last month and in preparation for their package, I spent some time scouring (more like falling in love with) their website. They distribute handcrafted, small batch, “indie” food fare. The site’s Tin Mustard description contained this open faced sandwich idea. I originally tried the “recipe” because I couldn’t imagine it would be edible much less delicious. But it is. I swear! Make sure to use ripe avocado, hearty bread, and good quality mustard. Tin Mustard’s whole grain mustard was amazing. Actually, all the products sent were delicious. For those looking for gift ideas for your favorite foodie (or food blogger, hint, hint),  it’s worth a look.

Toast with Avocado and Mustard
from New York Mouth

In my book, open faced sandwiches alone constitute more of a snack than a dinner so I rounded out the meal with hard boiled eggs and steamed green beans, making a kind of deconstructed salad nicoise. I think it would also taste great with some simply dressed greens or sharp cheddar on the side.

whole grain bread
whole grain mustard

Toast the bread to your taste. While the bread toasts, slice the avocado.Spread a tablespoon or so of mustard on the toasted bread. Place the sliced avocado on top of the mustard. Eat.

Email this post Email this post Print this post Print this post

The birth of a new child is usually heralded by the delivery of clothes, bibs, and other soft pastel things. In my experience, what most moms really need during those early weeks is a hot meal and long shower, not another outfit to wash and put away. It’s not that I didn’t love getting adorable clothes and blankets for my kids, but I wasn’t able to appreciate them for a couple months. I had to wait for life to settle back into a routine and for sleep lasting longer than two hours at a stretch. Since I can’t help out with the long shower, I try to deliver a home-cooked meal for my friends with new babies.

I especially like this menu for gifting. You can easily double the chili and split the batch of muffins — an easy way to make a meal for your family and theirs at the same time. I recommend adding a tossed salad. This week, a salad was out of the question as the meal was traveling too far (a three-hour ride to Chicago due to construction). Instead, I included a ziploc bag of fresh corn, already cooked but still on the cob. As mentioned in previous posts, the corn can be cut off the cob and used in a salad or reheated in a pan with butter and salt and pepper.

White Chicken Chili
adapted from my cousin Bridget’s recipe

Serves 4

3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (about 1 1/2 lb/680 g), diced into 1/4‑inch cubes
1 onion, diced
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 cloves garlic, minced (or 1 teaspoon garlic powder)
1 x 14 oz (400 g) can great northern beans, drained and rinsed
1 x 4 oz (110 g) can diced green chilies
14 oz (400 ml) chicken broth
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
8 oz (225 g) sour cream
1/2 cup (120 ml) half and half (or whipping cream)

Brown the chicken and onion in the oil over a medium-high heat, stirring frequently. Add the garlic and cook for 1 to 2 minutes, until fragrant. Add the beans, chilies, broth, and seasonings and simmer for 30 minutes. Stir in the sour cream and half and half. Heat through, but do not boil.


Bacon Corn Muffins
adapted from Gourmet, January 2005

Makes 12 muffins

1 1/4 cups (300 ml) whole milk
1 large egg
6 tablespoons (90 g) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1 cup (155 g) yellow cornmeal
3/4 cup (90 g) all-purpose flour
1 cup (75 g) chopped scallions
8 bacon slices (1/2 lb/225 g), cooked and crumbled
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt

Put the oven rack in the middle position and preheat the oven to 400°F (200°C).

Whisk together the milk, egg, and butter in a small bowl. Whisk together the remaining ingredients in a large bowl, then add the milk mixture to the dry ingredients. Stir until just combined. Divide the mixture among 12 greased (1/2 cup) muffin cups. Bake for about 20 minutes, until the muffins are golden and a tester comes out clean. Cool in the pan on a rack for 5 to 10 minutes before turning out.

Email this post Email this post Print this post Print this post

We moved into a new house three weeks ago. Exciting to be sure, but as much as I’m relieved to be done with selling my old house and moving 8+ years of life into a new one, I feel a homelessness of sorts. The new house has the right space and modern amenities (a master bathroom!) but it also has odd paint color, lower ceilings, and some kind of smell that is not bad but definitely not good. Paint and ceilings are tough to fix so I’ve been cooking like crazy trying to get this place to feel (and smell) more like mine. And despite the house not feeling quite like home yet, at least the dining room table feels the same with my family and friends gathered around it enjoying dinners together. This was my recent favorite.

Pistachio-crusted Pork Tenderloin

Serves 4

1 cup (150 g) shelled, salted pistachios
2 pieces pork tenderloin (about 2 lbs/900 g), cut into 1/2 inch thick medallions
freshly ground black pepper
olive oil

Preheat the oven to 375°F (190°C).

Pulse the pistachios in a food processor about 10 times until coarsely ground (like bread crumbs) but not pasty. Place the ground nuts in a shallow bowl.

Season the pork medallions to taste with pepper. Dredge the peppered pork in the ground pistachios, pressing gently so the nuts adhere to the pork. Place the medallions on a plate until they are all coated.

Heat a thin layer of olive oil in a large oven safe skillet over medium-high heat. Fry the pork medallions in a single layer in the heated oil, 2–3 minutes on each side until golden. Adjust the heat if necessary so the pistachios do not burn. Place the skillet in the preheated oven, baking 5–10 minutes until the pork is fully cooked.


Lemon-Basil Orzotto
adapted from the Cooking Channel (Kelsey Nixon)

Serves 4

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 small onion, minced
1 1/2 cups (300 g) orzo or pearl barley
1/2 cup (120 ml) dry white wine
3 cups (700 ml) chicken stock or broth
1/2 cup (70 g) frozen petite green peas, thawed
1/3 cup (35 g) grated Parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons chiffonade fresh basil
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1/4 cup (60 ml) heavy cream or half and half
Juice of 1/2 lemon
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

In a heavy-bottomed medium saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the onion and saute until fragrant and translucent. Add the orzo and toast for 2 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the wine and cook until absorbed.

Gradually add the chicken stock, stirring frequently. Bring to a simmer, lower the heat, and cover. Cook for 8 to 10 minutes, until the liquid is almost absorbed and orzo is tender. Remove from the heat.

Stir in the peas, Parmesan, fresh basil, lemon zest, heavy cream, and lemon juice. Season the orzo with salt and pepper, to taste, and serve.


Seven Layer Bars
from allrecipes.com

I make these candy-like bars in the morning so they are cool and ready to eat after dinner. They travel well and can be cut into small pieces, making them perfect picnic, pot luck or bake sale fare.

Makes about 2 dozen bars

1/2 cup (110 g) butter
1 1/2 cups (150 g) graham cracker crumbs
1 cup (200 g) semisweet chocolate chips
1 cup (200 g) butterscotch chips
1 cup (100 g) chopped walnuts
14 oz (400 ml) sweetened condensed milk
1 1/3 cups (110 g) shredded coconut

Preheat oven to 350°F (180°C).

Place the butter in 13 x 9 inch pan and melt in the oven. Swirl to coat bottom and sides with butter.

Spread the crumbs evenly over the bottom of the butter, pressing to form a thin even crust on the bottom of the pan.

Layer the chocolate chips, butterscotch chips, and nuts over the crumbs. Pour the condensed milk over nuts. Sprinkle the coconut over the condensed milk. Press the toppings together lightly with a fork.

Bake until the edges are golden brown, about 25 minutes. Let cool and cut into small bars. Store in an air tight container.

Email this post Email this post Print this post Print this post

10 Fall Favorites

by Kristin on October 11, 2012

October’s arrival sees us dusting off the jars of cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg for autumn baking and the return of warm bowls of soup or stew to wrap cold hands around. Here are 10 of our fall favorites.

Bacon and butterbean chowder

Pappardelle with butternut squash, blue cheese and pine nuts

Cider-brined pork chops with apples and creamed leeks

Slow cooker cassoulet

Autumn minestrone

Linguini with braised kale

Ultimate ginger cookies

Honey spiced madeleines

Date nut spice bread

Cranberry oatmeal white chocolate chunk cookies

Email this post Email this post Print this post Print this post

Crispy Lamb and Mint Rolls

by Kristin on October 4, 2012

My sushi-eating, blue cheese-loving kids have become picky eaters and my son smothers everything in ketchup. Over the summer, my heart sank a little further every night at dinnertime, when no matter what I put in front of the kids, it seemed to always be met with a yuck or eww (though at least I’ve trained the seven-year-old well enough to say I don’t care for this). So after months of despairing about what to feed them, I’ve decided to make life easier on myself and do what their daycare does — I make the same things every week. I still play around with new recipes on the weekends, but now Fridays are roast chicken, taco night Tuesdays and Mondays are some kind of mince, that fail-safe reliable. So far that’s meant Spaghetti Bolognese, meatballs, turkey burgers or shepherd’s pie, but things have got a little more interesting with the reissued Marvellous Meals with Mince by Josceline Dimbleby. Originally published in 1982 for the Sainsbury’s supermarket chain, where it became a bestseller, the book has been completely rewritten and brought up to date with fresh new photography.

Finger food still seems to be a safe bet, so I made the crispy lamb and mint rolls first — which the kids wolfed down with a simple yoghurt dip and asked for seconds. On my list of recipes still to try are meatloaf with blue cheese, a picnic loaf, fish sausages and potato croquettes stuffed with pork. I may have given in to the picky eaters — for now — but at least Mince Mondays are looking up.

Crispy Lamb and Mint Rolls
adapted from Marvellous Meals with Mince by Josceline Dimbleby

Serves 4 as a light dinner

The original recipe calls for deep-frying the rolls, but I’ve modified it slightly to bake them in the oven instead as a healthier and easier option.

12 oz (350 g) lean lamb mince
3 large garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 inch (3 cm) piece of fresh root ginger, peeled and finely chopped
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon mild chilli powder
salt and freshly ground black pepper
olive oil
a handful of mint or cilantro (a.k.a. coriander) leaves, chopped
2 large eggs, lightly whisked (but only crack one at a time into the bowl for two separate uses)
2 ready-rolled puff pastry sheets
cucumber raita or seasoned Greek yoghurt, for dipping
couscous studded with apricots, preserved lemons, almonds and mint, to serve

In a large bowl, mix together the lamb, garlic, ginger, cumin, chilli powder and salt and pepper. Heat some olive oil in a large frying pan over a high heat. Fry the meat just until it has browned. Transfer the lamb to a bowl with a slotted spoon to leave behind any excess fat and allow to cool slightly, then stir in the chopped mint or cilantro (coriander) and one of the beaten eggs.

Preheat the oven to 400°F (200°C) and line a baking tray with parchment paper.

Lightly dust your work surface with flour and roll out the pastry sheets to stretch them a bit. Brush the edges of the pastry with some of the remaining beaten egg to help it stick together when you roll it up, then spoon half of the meat mixture onto one of the sheets, leaving a small gap clear at the top long edge. Starting with the long edge closest to you, carefully roll up the pastry sheet, pressing down gently as you go to enclose the meat inside it, so that the lamb rolls resemble a Swiss roll. When you’ve finished, press down firmly to seal the edges together. Cut at 3 inch (7 cm) intervals to make small pastry swirls and place on the lined baking sheet, seam side down. Repeat with the second sheet of pastry and the remaining lamb.

Brush the tops of the rolls with the last of the beaten egg and sprinkle with flaky sea salt and a crack of black pepper. Cook in the oven for 20 to 30 minutes, until the pastry has puffed up and is golden brown. Serve with cucumber raita or seasoned Greek yoghurt for dipping and a mound of couscous on the side.

Disclaimer: I received a review copy of Marvellous Meals with Mince from Quadrille Publishing.



Email this post Email this post Print this post Print this post

Cookbook writers and TV chefs are always talking about dishes to serve when unexpected guests pop in or if you’re having friends round for a midweek dinner party. Seriously? Who on earth has a dinner party in the middle of the week? And who calls in unannounced and expects to have some little treat fresh out of the oven set down in front of them? I’m a third generation Virgo and consider myself to be fairly well organised, but I would be hard pressed to rustle up much more than some stale crackers unearthed from the back of the pantry if someone dropped by out of the blue.

Until, that is, I discovered this cake. It’s my favorite kind of cake recipe — the kind where the butter is melted and then everything gets stirred together in one pot, meaning you don’t even have to plan ahead to let the butter soften first. I always have the baking basics on hand (flour, butter, sugar, eggs), and if you just add a jar of raspberry jam and a bar of dark chocolate to that list, then this is truly a store cupboard cake, one you can breezily whip together at a moment’s notice if a craving for cake suddenly strikes — or if, like Nigella, you just so happen to be throwing an effortless-looking dinner party on a school night.

Store Cupboard Chocolate Raspberry Cake
adapted from How to Be a Domestic Goddess by Nigella Lawson

The original recipe is actually called Store Cupboard Chocolate Orange Cake, since it calls for marmalade instead of raspberry jam. I’ve made it that way too but as much as I love marmalade, I like the raspberry jam version even better.

1/2 cup (125 g) unsalted butter
4 oz (100 g) dark chocolate, broken into pieces
3/4 cup (300 g) good-quality raspberry jam (or apricot jam or marmalade)
3/4 (150 g) sugar
pinch of salt
2 large eggs, beaten
1 1/4 cups (150 g) self-raising flour
confectioners’ sugar (icing sugar), to decorate (optional)

Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C). Butter and flour an 8 inch (20 cm) Springform pan and set aside.

Put the butter in a heavy-bottomed saucepan and set over a low heat to melt. When it’s almost melted, stir in the chocolate and allow it to melt a little. Take the pan off the heat and stir until the butter and chocolate are smooth and melted. Add in the jam, sugar, salt and eggs and stir well until everything is combined. Sift in the flour and stir again (taking care not to overmix), then pour the batter into the prepared Springform pan. Bake in the oven for 45 to 50 minutes, until a tester inserted into the centre comes out clean. Set the pan on a wire rack and allow the cake to cool in the pan for at least 10 minutes before you turn it out. Once it’s completely cooled, sift over some confectioners’ (icing) sugar to decorate.

Email this post Email this post Print this post Print this post