My Disappearing Act

A lot of people are either wondering what’s happened to me or they’re just sick of looking at that baby corn picture. Well, I got knocked up with twins and my foodie blogging career went the way of my girlish figure.

In my first trimester, I had horrible morning sickness and got by pretty much only on saltines. Second trimester was a little bit better: saltines and Kraft mac n’ cheese (I know, I’m appalled too.) By the third trimester, my appetite was back in full force, but I was so hugely pregnant that I couldn’t stand on my feet long enough to fix a bowl of cereal, let alone a respectable cassoulet.

And I’m not even going to talk about all the cooking I didn’t do when they were born.

The babies are nine months old now. They’re gorgeous and sweet and wonderful and amazing and perfect and all the other adjectives that parents usually use. They’re the most delicious little things I’ve ever cooked up (even edging out the bacon for the top spot.)

Between the full-time job and the more-than full-time nippers, my kitchen time is spent pureeing carrots and sweet potatoes or loading baby bottles into the dishwasher. So, the dutch oven sits there, collecting dust and wondering if I’ll ever braise again. Sure, I do the occasional roast chicken and our new grill is a magical wonderland of speedy meal ideas, but take snaps? Write about it? Post? It’s just not in the cards right now.

I’m going to remain on hiatus for a bit. Cooking is definitely more of a passion than scrubbing poop out of footie pajamas, so I’ll be back. There’s still a lot of eating to do.


Baby corn makes me angry.

When I was a kid, I loved baby corn. It had nothing to do with the taste or the texture, but was really centered around the fact that it's a Lilliputian version of a standard sized vegetable. It was adorable. I'm sure the folks at Hershey would call it "fun sized" and, when I was 7, "fun-sized" was the key to complete vegetable satisfaction.

But as I've gotten older, my horizons have expanded, and taste has long bypassed cuteness on the Food Priority Scale. And I've grown to detest baby corn. Really detest it. I am vehemently anti-baby corn. I don't dislike baby corn in the way that I dislike black licorice and olives, two things that I respect and I continue to try to force myself to learn to like. I can understand why people would like olives and black licorice. Not so with baby corn.

It's not so much the taste of baby corn that I find so offensive, it's more its existence. Baby corn has no reason to be. It doesn’t taste like real corn. Its not even really known for it's taste (which is bland and pickled and wholly un-corn-like), but mostly for the texture it adds to salads and stirfries. It has no impressive nutritional value, which I think is pretty much a requirement for vegetables. Its not worthy of the corn moniker.

You don't see broccoli coming out with "baby broccoli" (broccolini is a whole 'nother vegetable) or parsnips pushing "baby parsnips." Baby carrots tried to get in on the baby action, but they're really just regular sized carrots cut small and they humbly pack a complete carrot punch. I can muster up respect for baby spinach and baby peas, because they're tasty in their own right. The only good baby corn has accomplished in it’s life is that scene in Big, where Tom Hanks nibbles the kernels row by row. And that stops being funny after you see it twice.

Baby corn has proven itself a completely superfluous vegetable. We just don't need it. It's not like normal sized corn is so unwieldy that fully-mature kernels won't fit on your plate. Granted, you can't eat the cob on a normal sized ear, but I'm not sure cob-eating should be a priority. I think deliciousness should be a priority. And baby corn just isn't pulling its weight on that front.

(Cartoon courtesy of Natalie Dee. Go admire her stuff.)


This is what my childhood tastes like.

Everyone has tastes that bring back a specific time and place. I’m sure scientists have some fancy name for it, like “taste memory” or some such equally emotionless phrase that doesn’t even remotely begin to capture the shock of remembrance that eating something you haven’t had since you were knee-high to a Lego dredges up. One minute I’m an expensive-kitchen-appliance-owning-adult and then -shazam!- a bite later and I’m a 7-year old clomping around in my mother’s silver pumps, stepping on scattered Lite-Brite pegs.

This precious Noodle Kugel recipe is one of a handful of recipes that sends my tastebuds into a total timewarp. I made it recently for a friend’s daughters, thinking it would be a sure way to win them over. And I was thrilled that it worked and that they loved it, but I was even more amazed at the memories the mere scent of it baking stirred up: Rosh Hashanah dinners with my grandparents, my mother teaching me to cook, family gatherings where no one could get a word in edgewise because everyone was talking at the top of their lungs trying to be heard.

If you’re not familiar with the wonderful world of Noodle Kugel, you’re in for a real kid-pleasing treat. Although it’s sweet, it’s traditionally served as a side dish next to a roast chicken or a brisket (my family was a lot of things, but Kosher wasn’t one of them.) It’s almost a Jewish macaroni and cheese (sans le fromage.) The noodles poking out of the custardy middle get all toasty and crisp, the streusal topping adds another slight bit of crunch.

As a grown-up, I’m tempted to play with the recipe; I want to ditch the sugar and try to make it savory, maybe adding some caramelized onions and gruyere. I want to tweak and futz and play, but I can’t bring myself to change a single thing. Because then it wouldn’t be my mother’s Noodle Kugel and it wouldn’t taste like my childhood.

Mom's Noodle Kugel
Serves 8-10 as a side dish

1 8oz. package of wide noodles
3 Tbsp. butter (her recipe never specified salted or unsalted, but I used unsalted.)
3 eggs
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 tsp. salt
2 cups milk
1 tsp. vanilla
3 Tbsp. apricot or plum preserves

2 Tbsp. butter
1.4 cup plain bread crumbs
1/2 tsp. cinnamon

1. Preheat the oven to 350-degrees and grease an 8"x12" baking dish. Bring a pot of water to a boil and cook noodles until very very al dente. Drain noodles and toss with butter in a large bowl.

2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the eggs, sugar, vanilla, and salt. Stir in milk.

3. Add egg mixture to noodles and pour into the prepared baking dish. Dot with preserves and then bake for 45 minutes.

4. Meanwhile, make streusel: melt butter over low heat (I used the microwave) and stir in breadcrumbs and cinnamon. Sprinkle kugel with streusel and bake for another 15-20 minutes until the top is crisp and the custard is set.


Your call is important to us. Please continue to hold.

I hate being on hold. It really gets my goat. If my call really were that important to you, then I wouldn't be sitting here waiting for some attention, while you force your e-z listening music upon my innocent little ears. But being on hold is a fact of life.

And so it is, that I've had to put you, my beloved readers on hold, while I catch up on life. I've not had a lot of time for cooking lately, let alone writing about cooking. But, to prove how important you are to me, I wanted to provide you with this delightfully brilliant link to entertain you until I can get my next piece cooked, tasted, written, and posted (hopefully later this week; this isn't like a year-long sabbatical I'm talking.)


Eat these and tell me which one you like better.

It was a short sentence, only four words, so it couldn’t help but get right to the point: “blind taste test, please.”

This concise articulation was the work of Anonymous, who posted the comment on the 10/6 entry, in which I confidently waxed on about the tastier, chocolatey-er, and superior-in-every-conceivable-way brownie the expensive Scharffen Berger chocolate produced. Anonymous wasn't so sure I was right. She was skeptical. She wanted scientific proof that I wasn’t swayed by my snooty, foodie, preconceived chocolate notions in turning my schnozz up at the supermarket stuff. She had a point, I never actually did a side-by-side, blind taste test. Anonymous totally busted me.

So lets do it, let the grocery store Baker's chocolate face off, mano a mano, against the artisanal Scharffen Berger. Gloves off, blindfold on, let's find out if the pricey chocolate is worth it. Let's prove to "Anonymous", if that's her real name, that I like what I like because I really like it, not because I like the idea of it.

In one corner, we have young upstart Scharffen Berger, only on the chocolate scene since 1996 and produced in small batches by producers who keep a close eye on every single cacao bean that finagles its way into the bar.

And in the other corner, we have the widely available Baker’s, owned by Kraft. Baker's doesn’t include a single fact on its website about the quality of the chocolate or the origin of the cacao beans used, instead choosing to share relevant tidbits like: “The amount of the Baker’s Chocolate consumed in a year (lined up in squares) would span the length of the Grand Canyon nine times!” Superfluous exclamation marks really steam me.

I don’t think you have to ask who my money was on. But let the games begin.

The guidelines were simple: two batches of the same brownie recipe (Baker’s one-bowl brownies ), one using each brand of chocolate. It's a pretty good recipe, super fudgy, which made it a bit messy and difficult to cut attractively (although that could just be the fact that I'm completely lacking in food presentation skills.) All the other ingredients (butter, sugar, eggs, vanilla, flour) would be identical. No nuts, no coffee, no other flavorings.

A friend administered the blind taste test, taking extra care that I didn't peek. I tasted one brownie. I cleansed the palate (Poland Spring). I tasted the other brownie. They were shockingly close. But I tried them both again and decided one had fruitier and caramell-ier notes than the other. It turned out to be the Scharffen Berger.

But I really was surprised at how close they tasted. I detected the subtle differences, only because I was looking for them. Could it possibly not be worth shelling out the big bucks for baking chocolate?

I decided to take the question to the masses. A random sampling of 15 coworkers happily partook of the blind taste test and chippped in their two cents. It was a mix of men and women, foodies and non-foodies. I was really surprised that 11 went for the the Baker’s as the tastier chocolate treat and only 4 opted for the Scharffen Berger. And most seemed like they could go either way. Either I'm spending too much money on chocolate, or working in advertising may be harmful to the taste buds.

The moral of the story is pretty much the same as the moral of this story:: homemade brownies are delicious. But this moral includes the addendum that you can get away with the cheap chocolate if your audience is a bunch of hungry, pre-lunch, baked-goods-starved advertising creatives. Or pretty much anyone else.

I have been duly smacked-down, Anonymous. Keep those comments a-comin'.


Invisible Pudding

Fresh off my shortbread success, I thought I'd continue to rock Nick's world through my dazzling use of sugar. But once again, my pitiable photography skills lead to a less than esthetically pleasing entry. I took several pictures, I swear, but given the nature of the serving vessel, you can barely see the comestible in question, which is a deliciously creamy, refreshingly cool Coconut Mango Pudding.

I thought I'd be all elegant and class up the joint by serving it in wineglasses, instead of the recommended ramekins (plus, I don't actually own ramekins.) It looked lovely in the wineglasses, but when I took the birds-eye shot, I just got an eyeful of coconut, which was blindingly white with the flash on and exceedingly dull with the flash off. From the side, the pudding looked murky, dulled through the pretty stained-glass looking painted wineglasses my Dad made for us years ago. I took one or two snaps of a spoonful of the stuff, but they were blurry and it wasn't long before I was so overwhelmed by the pale creamy orange-colored, mango-scented deliciousness that I tossed the camera aside and greedily got to gobbling.

It was gone quickly, and I realized I had no solid proof that it ever actually existed, save for some dirty wineglasses and a mango carcass. Was this destined to be the Mr. Snuffleupagus of desserts? All I can hope is that you're awed by the simplicity of the preparation, the poetry of the ingredients, and the potentially elegant, if unphotographable, presentation.

Coconut Mango Pudding
Makes 6 Servings
adapted from Bon Appétit, June 1997

1/2 cup fresh orange juice
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
2 teaspoons unflavored gelatin
1 12-ounce mango, peeled, pitted, cut into chunks
1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 cup whole milk
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 cup grated coconut

1. Mix citrus juices in small saucepan. Sprinkle gelatin over. Let stand 10 minutes. Stir over low heat until gelatin dissolves. Let stand until just cool but not set.

2. Combine mango, sour cream, milk, and sugar in blender (I highly recommend the hand blender for this.) Blend on high speed until smooth. Add gelatin mixture and blend well.

3. Pour into six 6-ounce soufflé dishes or custard cups. Wine glasses work really well too. Sprinkle generously with coconut and chill until firm, at least 3 hours.


A Boring, Yet Beautiful, Story

Sometimes food isn't funny. Sometimes there's no ridiculous tale that inspires the meal du jour, no bungled technique resulting in gut-busting hilarity, no dramatic Man-of-La-Mancha-esque quest for elusive ingedients. Sometimes there's no sloppy plating, no blurry half-assed photo, no life-lesson learned. Sometimes food is a like a European art house film, beautiful to look at with no story to tell, just some artfully sad clowns chain-smoking unfiltered Gauloises and speaking longingly of "mon amour perdu."

Dear readers, this is the sad state of affairs we find ourselves in today. Fortunately, it is much tastier than a European art house film. These crumbly delicacies are redolent of pine-y rosemary and creamy butter that was born and raised in Denmark and came to this country seeking a better life. And all we can do, is gaze lovingly upon the fruits of our (well, my) labor, at a perfect cookie that can only be packed up and given as a gift because it's too pretty not to show off.

I wasn't even intending to write anything about this Rosemary Shortbread recipe, since it clearly has nothing to say, but I was really proud of myself for actually producing something that was as pretty as it is yummy. AND for taking a decent picture (don't get used to it.) The only change I made to the recipe was pressing the dough into a butter tart pan, which is how those semi-professional looking crimped edges magically appeared. Now, if you'll excuse me, if I don't go cook something sloppy right now, I might start applying for jobs as a professional pastry chef. And I guarantee that would be chock-full of laughs.



I thought I found it. The ultimate brownie recipe. It was in a special holiday baking issue of Martha Stewart Living, about five years ago. It was chocolate-y, but not overly sweet. I baked them constantly and went so far as to call them Life Changing Brownies. Friends, coworkers, and loved ones agreed: this was truly an extra special brownie. I even boasted to the owner of a chain of bakeries known in four countries for his brownies, that mine were truly enviable.

But the years passed, and I realized that the Life Changing Brownies weren’t as perfect as I’d first imagined. They’re lighter and cakier than they are fudgy and dense. And sometimes a girl needs an intensely rich choco-bomb to get through a tough client meeting.

So I started to do some research and unearthed an entire universe of heated Brownie Debate: the Fudgy vs. the Cakey. The discussions were fervent and impassioned and I found so many recipes, that they all started to look the same (mostly because they're all pretty much the same.) I stocked up on chocolate and went into the lab (well, the kitchen), where I tried recipes from Scharffen Berger chocolate, Cook’s Illustrated, and Ina Garten. I assure you, this was difficult and grueling research. But the results were worth it: the different brownies varied in minor ways, but they were moist, rich, chocolate-y and delicious, across the board.

Then, I had an epiphany.

There is no world’s best brownie. Brownies, by their very intrinsic nature, are an amalgamation of the worlds most innately divine ingredients: chocolate, butter, sugar. You can’t lose. Even brownies at their worst, tough and dry or with a slight chemical undertone like those powdered mix brownies, aren’t horrible. They’re certainly better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick. But you have to admit that some brownies are better than others.

Then, I had another epiphany.

I graduated from the widely available grocery store Baker’s chocolate to the more high-end Scharffen Berger right around the time I discovered the Life Changing Brownie recipe. But today, I made a batch of rich, fudgy brownies for a friend’s daughters. Three kids under the age of 4 probably wouldn’t notice the subtle fruitiness of Scharffen Berger, wouldn’t appreciate its deeply layered chocolate flavor. So, I went back to Baker’s.

The brownies came out beautiful. Fudgy and rich looking, with that perfectly crisp brownie crust on top. But they taste strangely one dimensional. There are none of those subtle nutty, cinnamon-y, and caramel-y notes that brought all those other brownie recipes to the apex of brownie magnificence. The answer, my friends, lies not within the recipe, but within the chocolate.

Another Fantastic Brownie Recipe

adapted from Christopher Kimball's The Dessert Bible
Makes 16 brownies

4 oz. unsweetened chocolate
10 Tbsp. (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter
3 large eggs
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 3/4 Cups granulated sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1 1/4 Cups all-purpose flour
1 Tbsp. powdered instant espresso
1 Tsp. cinnamon

1. Preheat the oven to 350-degrees. Generously grease an 8"x8" pan with butter.

2. Melt the chocolate and butter in the microwave on 50% power for two minutes. Whisk together the eggs and vanilla in a medium bowl. Add the melted chocolate (mixture will thicken considerably.) Add the remaining ingredients and mix with a rubber spatula.

3. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and tap the pan pretty hard on the countertop several times to get rid of air bubbles in the batter. You need to smack it down hard enough to dislodge any bubbles, but not so hard that brownie batter gets on your ceiling.

4. Bake 40 minutes, or until a cake tester comes out with just a few fudgy crumbs attached. Check them at 35 minutes. It's important not to overbake them; you're better off underbaking them. Let cool in pan, then flip brownies onto a cutting board, where you can cut them and serve them to the drooling hordes.


Job opening. Apply here.

My cousin thinks I’m certifiable. She just can’t fathom how I can toil away all day, trying to make the world a better place through advertising, and then get home at 8 o’clock at night and start chopping and dicing and roasting. I tell her that it’s stressful trying to sell people things they don't want. Cooking is relaxing.

But she got me thinking: how can I toil all day and then get home and start cooking? Advertising is stressful. I deserve someone at home, making dinner for me. The solution is clear: I need a manservant.

I'm not picky. I will accept either a Mr. French type or a scantily clad, well-oiled muscle man who can make a decent bearnaise. I prefer someone who will do light housework as well, including figuring out what to do with this box of wires, cables, and chargers from old electronics that I feel obliged to keep.

The pickings are pretty slim on Craigslist for manservants (menservant?) They're also on the meager side for butlers, house boys, valets, and serfs. But I am realizing other, more pressing issues with the MSP (manservant plan), the biggest one being that we live in 820 square feet. Nick and I like to spread out, so that doesn't leave a lot of space to keep a manservant. Plus, this manservant will probably want to be paid something and I'm not in a position to do that (Sigerson Morrison has the right of first refusal on my paycheck.)

So, it seems like the only way to get dinner on the table is to prepare it myself. No, I'm not trying to recreate some 1954 “perfect wife” fantasy. No, I'm not trying to re-enact that old Enjoli commercial. I'm just hungry. And if I'm making dinner, then it ain't gonna be the Manwich.

It will be something like the following recipe for fish glazed with a honey-soy mixture. Simple and truly delicious. I served it on a bed of sautéed sweet potatoes and Chinese cabbage (I love the sweet/salty mixture of the soy glaze with the sweet potatoes), but don’t feel like you have to get fancy. Unless your manservant is making it for you.

Perch with Honey-Soy Glaze
Serves 2

3 tablespoons honey
2 1/2 tablespoons soy sauce
3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 large clove garlic, minced
6 scallions, white and light green parts trimmed to 1” pieces.
1 Tbsp. vegetable oil
2 6oz-8oz. fillets of perch or other firm fleshed, white fish

1. Whisk together honey, soy sauce, lime juice, and garlic in a small bowl.

2. Pat fish dry and sprinkle with a little salt. Heat oil in a 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until very hot (but not smoking.) Add fish and cook on one side until browned, about 3-4 minutes (depending on weight of fillets.) Turn fish over and brown another minute. Add soy sauce mixture and simmer, covered, until fish is almost cooked through, about 3 more minutes. Remove fish and set aside.

3. Add scallion to sauce and boil, stirring occasionally, until glaze is thick and reduced, about 5 minutes. You should have about 1/4 cup of glaze. Perch the perch (oh, how I wanted to use that!) on your plates and drizzle with glaze.


Not for the Lactose Intolerant.

I once worked with a great producer who told me about her theory of the Dairy Buffer. It's pretty simple, as far as theories go: any food is improved by adding dairy to it. For example, a burger is delicious, but a cheeseburger is a real treat. Pie is good, but pie a la mode is better. Baked potatoes are nothing without sour cream, tortilla chips are pointless without cheese, and whipped cream can do no wrong. Peas? Parkerhouse rolls? Polenta? Butter, butter, and more butter.

The Dairy Buffer theory isn’t fool proof; so far, I haven’t found the right dairy partner for sushi and spring rolls. But for the most part, it’s pretty spot on. And the type of dairy doesn't matter. Cheese, butter, sour cream, yogurt, creme fraiche, the Dairy Buffer does not discriminate.

I was thinking about the Dairy Buffer, while contemplating these gorgeous late-summer apricots that were starting to get a little wrinkly in the fridge. I wanted to turn them into some fabulous dessert, but pies and cakes and tarts all seemed too fussy. And they’re so yummy on their own, all they needed was a little something….dairy! Yes! I didn’t have any ice cream or whipping cream on hand and for once, butter wasn’t gonna cut it. But I did have some fresh goat cheese.

Fresh goat cheese isn't as...um, goat-y as aged goat cheese. It's actually pretty mild, with a slight tang. Whipped with some honey, it was an interesting counterpoint to the apricots. Naturally, by "interesting", I mean "damn good." I roasted the apricots, to concentrate their sweet apricot-ness and also to combat my frustrating stone-fruit allergy. If you’re not a fan of the goat, then sub mascarpone or ricotta. It'll definitely be good - the Dairy Buffer says so.

Roasted Apricots with Honeyed Goat Cheese
serves 4

1 lb. fresh apricots
3 Tbsp. crème de cassis
6 oz. fresh goat cheese
2 Tbsp. honey
Raspberries for garnish (highly optional)

1. Preheat the oven to 350-degrees. Coat an 8”x8” baking dish with cooking spray. Halve the apricots and remove pits. Toss the apricots with the crème de cassis and lay them, cavity side up, in the baking dish. Roast for 30 minutes, until they get a little shriveled and wrinkly and seem brighter in color. The crème de cassis will get sticky and concentrated.

2. While the apricots roast, whip together the goat cheese and the honey.

3. Serve with a mini-dollop of goat cheese in each apricot. Garnish with raspberries and drizzle with the concentrated crème de cassis.