Muhammara (Roasted Red Pepper and Walnut Spread)

Throughout the holidays I  crafted new delicacies as well as prepared old tried and true favorites. This is my usual routine when it’s party time: be a little adventurous and also play it safe. The one recipe that stood out this year for its popularity and lingering appeal is this red pepper spread which is much like a red pepper and walnut pesto that is in one of my cookbooks, but is also a bit different. It is so hauntingly delicious that we inevitably found all different ways and excuses to keep eating the stuff – a kind of muhammara binge.

Muhammara originated in Syria, though it is also found in cuisines throughout the Middle East under different names and with slight variations. That it is quick and easy to prepare adds to its charm, though I  would not hesitate to assemble this aromatic spread even if it were laborious – it is that good. The one traditional ingredient that I omitted was pomegranate molasses because it is so difficult to find; however, the combination of ingredients is still magical without it, so no worries here.

Surrounding muhammara with hot pita bread is customary, but I suggest you find a good sourdough or other chewy, crusty bread to toast or grill, and use it as a base for the muhammara and you will be paid off in dividends. I like to toast slices of ciabatta, rub them with a clove of garlic that has been sliced in half, and then brush them lightly with olive oil before I arrange them on a plate or in a basket. I know that the muhammara already is infused with garlic and olive oil, but the extra dose on the toasted or grilled bread is the embodiment of perfection.


makes 1 1/2 cups

7-ounce jar roasted red peppers, well drained and patted dry
2/3 cup fresh bread crumbs (place white bread in a food processor or blender)
1/3 cup walnuts, toasted (in a 350 degree oven)
2 cloves garlic, put through a press
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/3 cup olive oil

In a food processor or blender combine all of the ingredients except the olive oil. Process until finely chopped. Slowly pour in the olive oil until it is all absorbed but still retaining a granular texture to the spread.You don’t want it to be completely smooth.

Scrape the mixture into a bowl and serve at room temperature.


Asian Cole Slaw

P1010737What a treat to have an irresistible, healthful dish that is low in calories. I find this cilantro-infused cole slaw so delicious that I keep going into the fridge to steal spoonfuls of it. What brings it to life is the mayonnaise alternative: seasoned Chinese rice vinegar (rice vinegar with sugar and salt – available in most supermarkets) and just a touch of sesame oil. Although you can tinker with the ingredients with success, using that sweetened light vinegar is what lends a delicate acidity to the slaw. Another indispensable ingredient is Napa cabbage. The tenderness of that cruciferous vegetable is unequalled among cabbages, although Savoy cabbage is an acceptable second choice if Napa cabbage is unavailable.

Serve the slaw alongside a sandwich, veggie burger, or stir fry, or pack it for an easy lunch along with some crusty French bread and a hunk of cheese.

Incidentally, you will notice that some liquid will accumulate in the bottom of the bowl after the cole slaw sits a while. You can pour the excess off and the slaw will still be moist yet crisp. When salt is added to raw vegetables, it draws out the moisture – that’s the explanation for the moisture accumulation.

P1010731Serves 8 as a side dish

6 cups finely shredded Napa cabbage
2 cups finely shredded purple cabbage
1/2 cup shredded carrot
1/2 cup finely diced white onion
3/4 cup minced cilantro
3 tablespoons Chinese seasoned rice vinegar
1 tablespoon sugar
2 tablespoons Asian sesame oil
1/2 teaspoon salt


Combine the vegetables and cilantro in a large bowl. Sprinkle on the remaining ingredients and toss well.   Let sit at least 20 minutes before serving so the flavors can meld. Cover and chill any leftovers. Pour off any accumulated liquid before serving again.


Pesto and Goat Cheese Palmiers (elephant ears)

p1010674Here is an ideal holiday appetizer. Not only are these palmiers easy to prepare, but they are elegant and irresistible. Palmiers means palm tree in French, and they are also known as elephant ears. The connection? I have no idea (although there is a resemblance to the ears of an elephant). What I do know is that once you make these savory pastries, you’ll be hooked. Palmiers are also popular in a sweetened version laced with cinnamon and sugar – another guaranteed hit.

Because the pastry is so flaky and delicate, everyone assumes that they are labor intensive. With the availability of store-bought puff pastry, such as Pepperidge Farm sheets,your labor is reduced to the mere assembling of the “log” that you will slice. A breeze.

I have been experimenting with many “do-ahead” strategies – my favorite contribution to the busy cook who likes to plan ahead as I do. I have found that the log can be made a day ahead and refrigerated, and even more fantastic is that once you slice it, you can freeze the uncooked slices for a week, then bake them frozen. They don’t suffer a bit from these do-ahead tricks.

About 48 palmiers/elephant ears

1 package frozen Pepperidge Farm puff pastry sheets, defrosted
1/2 cup pesto, homemade or store bought
1/2 cup crumbled goat cheese
5 tablespoons finely diced roasted red peppers
1/4 cup lightly toasted pine nuts

  1. On a lightly floured surface unfold one sheet of the puff pastry.  With a rolling pin roll it into a 11 1/2 X 9 1/2 rectangle. Spread half of the pesto all over the sheet, then sprinkle on half of the goat cheese, half of the red peppers, and half of the pine nuts.


2.  Starting at the shorter side, fold each end toward the center, leaving a strip of filling showing, that is, uncovered.

p10106423.  Now fold each side again until the folded edges touch.

p10106444. Lastly, fold in half so that one side overlaps the other.

p10106465. Place the log on a sheet of plastic wrap and cover tightly. Lift the log onto a baking sheet. Repeat the process with the other sheet of puff pastry, and chill both logs at least 2 hours or up to 24 hours.

6. When ready to cook the palmiers, preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

7. Using a serrated knife slice the chilled logs into slices between 1/4 -1/2  inch thick ( I guess that would be 1/3 -inch thick.) Place them 2 inches apart on the baking sheet. You will get about 24 slices per log.p1010648

8. Bake 13-15 minutes or until golden brown. Serve warm.

Quinoa Salad with Cilantro Pesto and Edamame

P1010593Cilantro and quinoa were made for each other, and this salad is proof. The vibrant flavor of the pesto enlivens the mild nuttiness of the quinoa making it ideal as an entree or hearty side dish. Edamame (fresh soy beans) bolster the protein content without making the salad heavy, so I am delighted that shelled edamame are so easy to get. I buy them frozen in the supermarket or natural foods store and cook them just a few minutes- it couldn’t be easier.

Because this salad is just as delicious and fresh tasting when made 3 or 4 days in advance, it has become my go-to dish for a picnic or cook-out, allowing me to prep and cook in advance, as I love to do.

Serves 10-12 as a side dish

The quinoa:

2 cups quinoa
3 1/2 cups water
1/2 teaspoon salt


Cilantro pesto:

1 large bunch cilantro (3 cups chopped and packed, with stems)
1 large garlic clove
1/2 cup olive oil
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon salt
Generous seasoning freshly ground black pepper

The fixings:

8 ounces frozen edamame (1 2/3 cups)
3 scallions, thinly sliced
a few dashes cayenne pepper














  1.  Bring the water and salt to a boil in a medium-size saucepan. Meanwhile, rinse the quinoa in a strainer under cold running water.
  2. Drop the quinoa into the boiling water and cover the pan. Lower the heat to low-medium and simmer undisturbed until all the water is absorbed, about 20 minutes. Scrape the cooked quinoa into a large bowl and let it cool.
  3. To make the cilantro pesto, combine all the ingredients in a blender or food processor and blend until perfectly smooth. Set aside.
  4. Cook the edamame by dropping them into boiling water for3 minutes. Drain and cool under cold, running water.
  5. Mix the edamame, scallions, and cayenne pepper into the cooled quinoa. Pour on the cilantro pesto and toss well. Chill the salad. Serve cool, not cold for optimum flavor.




Best-Ever Apple Pie ( with freezing-ahead technique )

P1010387I am a  pie snob. If my husband brings a store-bought pie into the house, he knows I will snub my nose and walk silently away. His reply is,”no one makes pies like you, but you didn’t make one this week, so I bought one.” I take great pride in my pies, as do so many pie makers. Nothing compares to a homemade crust stacked with butter and boasting with flakiness.  And my apple pie is the center of my pride. Once when our son was little, I made my apple pie in the morning, then my husband, Ed, and I went for a long hike with him in the backpack. When we returned, Ed and I ate the entire pie accompanied by a pot of strong Irish tea. That was our lunch and dinner combined, and worth every calorie.


I have always created pies in stages. In fact, I approach almost all of my cooking with a do-ahead attitude. I don’t enjoy cooking for stretches and then sitting down to eat. I like a break in between, so I always prep in advance. With pies, I make the crust a few days, weeks, or months in advance, then wrap it up and chill or freeze it. Pie dough likes to hang around in the cold; that’s how flakes are created. When I am ready to assemble the pie, I let the dough become close to room temperature then roll out the bottom crust to line the pie plate. This gets covered and returns to the fridge until the pie filling is ready (which could be hours later). Once the filling is piled into the shell, the top crust is rolled and draped over the pie, and the pie gets baked. I have been creating pies in stages for years.

But now I have a trick that is pure genius (though it is not my invention):I freeze the entire pie uncooked and keep it that way until I want to bake it. If a holiday is approaching and making an apple pie seems like an insane undertaking because I’m too busy, I make a pie well in advance, freeze it, and cook it the holiday morning. This even works with a Pyrex glass pie plate – my preferred pie dish because it makes the crust golden brown.This strategy has transformed pie making for me.

Here’s how you do it:

  • completely assemble your pie (apple, blueberry, peach, etc.)
  • Do not cut slits into the top crust
  • Place the pie on a baking sheet and place in the freezer (unwrapped) to freeze completely, about 3 hours.
  • Now double wrap the pie using foil first, then a plastic bag. Return to the freezer until you are ready to bake it – up to one month.
  • When you are ready to bake it, discard the wrapping and gently cut some slits/vents in the top crust. I brush my crust with beaten egg at this point to make it glisten.
  • If you made the pie in a metal pan, then bake it on a baking sheet in a preheated 375 degree oven for 1 hour  and15 minutes, or until richly golden and bubbling.
  • Here is the magic – you can cook it in the Pyrex glass pie plate the same way as in a metal pie pan- just be sure that the oven is preheated to 375 degrees before you put it in. That seems counter-intuitive because you would expect the glass to break if put in a hot oven. However, research has shown that the glass pie plate will break if you put it in a cold oven and then turn it on!


Here is my recipe for apple pie. You can make it as directed or follow the above instructions for freezing the pie uncooked. Your choice. Either way, it will be a knock out.



double recipe of Flaky Pie Crust (below)
3 pounds apples, peeled, cored, and very thinly sliced (7 cups) (I like to mix varieties of         apples, and always include McIntosh for their soft texture)
1 cup sugar
1 ½ teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 tablespoons cornstarch
1 ½ tablespoons butter
1 egg, beaten (optional)

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

2. Make a double recipe of the pie crust and roll out ½ of it. Line the pie plate (pan) with it.

3. In a large bowl mix together the apples, sugar, cinnamon, vanilla, and cornstarch. Toss to coat well.

4. Pour the apple mixture into the pie shell. Cut up the 1 ½ tablespoons butter and sprinkle it on top of the apples.

5. Roll out the remaining crust and lay it on top of the apples. With a knife cut a few slits in
the top crust to let the steam escape. Brush the crust with a little beaten egg.

6. Place the pie on a baking sheet before you put it in the oven. Juices spill out of the pie
while it is cooking and you need to catch them.

7. Bake 65-70 minutes, or until the crust is golden brown and the juices are bubbling out.

8. Let cool on a wire rack for 2 hours before cutting it.


Creating a flaky, tender pastry is not a matter of alchemy, but instead requires following a few essential rules: always use cold butter so it remains in bits when it is blended with the flour; don’t overwork the dough; and make sure the pastry is cold when it goes in the oven to help the formation of flakes.

Makes one 9-10-inch crust

3 tablespoons ice water (see step #1)
1 1/4 cups unbleached flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 stick chilled, unsalted butter
1. Fill a glass halfway with some water and drop in an ice cube. Set aside.

2. In a large bowl combine the flour and the salt. Cut the butter into bits and drop them in the flour. Toss them around to evenly coat them. With your fingertips, a pastry cutter, or 2 knives, rub the butter into the flour until the pieces of butter are flattened and remain the size of dimes. You don’t want the pieces to be too small or they will melt too quickly in the crust and not create flakes.

3. In a small bowl or glass drop an ice cube into about ½ cup of water. With a measuring spoon remove 3 tablespoons ice water and drizzle it over the flour mixture. Gather the dough into a ball and knead it 3 or 4 times to make it pliable. Do not handle the dough much or it will get tough.(If your dough is very dry and crumbly, add a few more teaspoons of ice water.) Gather into a ball again, then flatten the dough into a disk. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill at least 20 minutes, or up to 48 hours.

4. To roll out the dough, let it come to a cool temperature rather than be ice cold because it will be too firm and crumbly if it is rolled when it is too cold. It must be cool; however, and not at room temperature because the butter bits must remain intact and not melt into the dough. Lightly flour your work surface, your rolling pin, and the surface of the dough. Roll the dough into a circle that is about 2 inches larger than your pie plate. Keep turning the dough as you roll it to keep it a perfect circle, and lightly flour underneath and on top if it at all sticks. Pinch together any areas that break.

5. Place the rolling pin in the center of the dough and fold one half of the pastry over it. Carry the pastry this way to your tart pan or pie plate and unfold it into the pan. Press it into the edges and trim away any excess. Place the pie plate in a plastic bag or cover with foil and chill at least 30 minutes or up to 24 hours before baking. You can also freeze the crust if thoroughly wrapped.


Shredded Kale and Rice Salad

P1010322After harvesting a bushel of dinosaur (lacinato/Tuscan) kale, the last thing I wanted to do was cook it and take away its deep green splendor. One of the assets of this variety of kale is its tenderness, so why not shred it and serve it raw. Voila! The above marinated rice and kale salad is the result, and it has become this summer’s favorite dish in my household.

P1010371Dinosaur, lacinato, or Tuscan kale is a cultivar that derives its name from the puckered texture of its leaves. In addition to that quality, its leaves are thinner and, therefore, more tender. Just a dowsing of vinaigrette on the raw kale will tenderize it enough to make it supple yet still slightly crisp.

P1010378 I like to create shreds rather than tear the kale in to pieces. To do so, I rip the leaves away from the stems and discard the stems. I then pile about 4 or 5 leaves on top of each other and roll them tightly into a cigar shape. Using a large chef’s knife I thinly slice the “cigar.” When the whole cigar is sliced, I use my fingers to separate all the shreds or chiffonade.

P1010381My favorite rice for this salad is jasmine; however, brown rice works well also. I add chickpeas, green peas, and red onion slivers, but you can easily play around with the additions and  include red pepper slivers, corn, and sauteed mushrooms with success. The only essentials are the kale,cold cooked rice, and a garlicky vinaigrette.

This recipe makes a generous amount, but I guarantee that you’ll want to take leftovers to work or serve them for an easy lunch, so don’t shy away from making the full recipe.

Serves 4 as a main course

6 cups cold cooked rice, jasmine or brown rice preferred
6 cups thinly shredded kale, preferably dinosaur/Tuscan/lacinato kale
1 16-ounce can chickpeas, rinsed and well drained
1 cup frozen peas, thawed (or thinly sliced red bell pepper)
1/2 cup red onion slivers

The dressing:
1/2 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 garlic cloves, put through a press
1/2 teaspoon salt
Generous seasoning freshly ground pepper Continue reading

Curried Quinoa Salad


Although I am forever a fan of marinated salads of all persuasions – bean, grain, pasta, vegetable, etc., the warm weather months heighten their appeal. Assembling a dinner or picnic around a wholesome concoction of vegetables and grains or beans and cloaking them in a robust vinaigrette is my favorite strategy for a quick, pleasurable meal that requires a minimal amount of time in front of the stove.

The rich curry flavor in this dressing transforms quinoa into a hauntingly good salad that has now become my favorite way to eat this nutritious food. Pecans, cranberries, carrots, and peas, add color and texture to the salad, and they are ingredients that I always have on hand. For me this adds to its charm because it doesn’t require special shopping.

Here are a few tips to make this recipe foolproof: always rinse quinoa before cooking it because it contains saponin, which can make it bitter. Choose a curry powder that is not hot; you can always add cayenne if you want it to be spicy.I slightly cook the carrots by adding them to the top of quinoa a few minutes before it’s done. You could skip this step and add them raw, but I think the texture is improved by the few minutes of cooking. And finally, toast the pecans for about 5-7 minutes in a 350 degree oven to heighten their rich flavor – just be certain to watch them to prevent burning.

Because this recipe makes a generous batch, I decided to freeze a portion to see if it’s flavor or texture would be diminished. I was pleased to discover that there was no noticeable change; it was just as good a few weeks later. To brighten its sheen I did drizzle a tablespoon of olive oil on the salad once it thawed, but that’s a trick I learned to do to many foods when they are not served immediately after they are assembled.So don’t hesitate to make this in advance or even freeze it; you will be rewarded with a wonderful dish that has lost none of its charm.


Serves 4 as a main course

3 1/2 cups water
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups quinoa, rinsed thoroughly in a strainer
1 carrot, finely chopped or minced

the vinaigrette:

1/2 cup olive oil
1 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
2 teaspoons soy sauce
1 1/2 tablespoons curry powder
1/2 teaspoon salt


2/3 cup chopped, toasted pecans
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1 cup frozen peas, thawed

1. Bring the water and salt to a boil in a medium-size saucepan. Add the quinoa and cover the pan. Reduce the heat to a simmer. Cook until most the water is absorbed, about 15 minutes. Sprinkle the carrots on top of the quinoa (do not stir), cover the pan, and finish cooking about 3 more minutes. This will soften the carrots slightly but still keep their texture. Scoop the cooked quinoa into a large bowl and let cool.

P10101542. Meanwhile combine the vinaigrette ingredients in a jar with a tight-fitting lid. Shake vigorously.

3. When the quinoa is barely warm mix in the pecans, cranberries, and peas. Pour on all the dressing and coat everything well. Cover and chill a few hours before serving.

Watermelon Salad with Arugula & Feta Cheese

P1000967Since I eat watermelon almost everyday of the summer, and since salads are my favorite summertime meal, and since having a plentiful crop of arugula in my garden is a luxury I cherish, creating a perfect watermelon and arugula salad was a feat that was meant to be.

Watermelon and feta cheese salads have recently become popular – a perhaps inevitable occurrence since the appeal of sweet and savory combinations has made its mark on the culinary landscape. The inclusion of arugula, however, is not the norm. Mint is customary and does add a welcome vibrancy, but arugula provides a peppery dimension that balances wonderfully with the saltiness of the feta and the sweetness of the watermelon,and so it has become essential to me.

I serve this as a salad course instead of a leafy green salad, and I prepare the various components ahead of time but avoid combining them until the last minute. Watermelon will render too much of its juice if allowed to sit in the dressing for too long. I measured out the ingredients to my liking, but of course, this is the kind of dish that insists you fiddle with it to please your own palate.

Watermelon Salad with Arugula and Feta Cheese

Serves 4

7 cups cubed seedless watermelon (nice and cold)
2 slices sweet Vidalia onion, separated into rings, larger rings cut in to half moons
1 cup loosely packed arugula, leaves torn in half
1/4 cup chopped fresh mint
1/2 cup finely cubed feta cheese
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar Continue reading

Do-Ahead Pizza


One of my favorite meals to make when family or guests come to dinner is homemade pizza. However, since I am a type-A personality and like to have everything prepared in advance before guests arrive, and assembling pizza is really best done at the last minute, serving pizza has usually meant that I wouldn’t be very relaxed during dinner. But that was before I discovered my favorite do-ahead trick: parbaking the pizza shell. Not only does this enable me to easily assemble multiple pizzas before guests arrive, but it also improves the texture of the crust.

You can parbake crusts and freeze them as is, or you can top them with sauce and cheese and freeze the completely assembled pizzas.


Here’s how to do it:

  • Make your favorite pizza dough, or purchase a good-quality pizza dough from the supermarket, selecting a brand that is additive free (with only flour, water, yeast, and olive oil).
  • Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.
  • Roll out the dough to a desired thinness, using flour to keep it from sticking. Place it on parchment paper and then slip it onto a baking sheet, or lightly oil a baking sheet and place the dough directly on it.
  • Bake 3-6 minutes, or until the dough is slightly puffy and the top is dry to the touch but still very pale.
  • Cool the pizza shell on a wire rack.


  • When at room temperature, wrap in plastic wrap then foil. Freeze the empty shell up to a few months. Defrost before assembling your pizza. Alternatively, assemble the pizza with sauce, cheese, and toppings and freeze uncovered.When it is frozen, wrap it in plastic wrap then foil and return to the freezer.
  • Cook the pizza at 450 degrees until golden brown. If I’m not cooking the pizza on a pizza stone but rather on a baking sheet, I like to use tongs and slip the pizza directly onto the oven rack for a few minutes before it is done cooking to brown the bottom of the crust.






Perfect Sweet Potato “Fries”

P1000677There is something in sweet potatoes that my body must need because I cannot get enough of them. I like them prepared in all manner and form (except with marshmallows), and consider their appearance in the fall one of the highlights of the season. I am often reminded of that memorable scene in Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man when the main character encounters a street vendor in Harlem who is selling baked sweet potatoes (yams), and he purchases one. When he bites into it, he is overcome with a surge of homesickness for his family in the south. He then reveals, “I walked along, munching on the yam, just as suddenly overcome by an intense feeling of freedom – simply because I was eating while walking along the street. It was exhilarating. I no longer had to worry about who saw me and what was proper. To hell with all that, and as sweet as the yam actually was,  it became like nectar with the thought.”  Wow! The power of sweet potatoes!

When sweet potato fries became popular a few years ago, I was in big trouble.I found them hard to resist when I saw them on a menu – even though they are high in calories. But I have since discovered a fabulous lower calorie way to prepare them at home – roasting the” fries.” You can use a minimal amount of oil and still create the texture of a “fry.” The secret? Toss the raw strips of sweet potato in cornstarch before dressing them in oil and spices. This draws the moisture away from the potato and helps create a crisp exterior.

When my son Daniel came home for Christmas, he enlightened me about the best way to season roasted sweet potato “fries.” He sprinkled on a combination of cinnamon,  powdered chipotle, and salt all over the fries. Perfection!The sweetness of the cinnamon was an ideal foil for the smokey, hot chipotle, and together they worked magic on the sweet potatoes.

Powdered chipotle might be hard for some of you to find, but don’t worry, there are alternative spices that will work just fine. Try pairing the cinnamon with cayenne, or smoked paprika, or chili powder. Just be careful with with the amount of hot pepper (whatever variety) you use. Cinnamon can be liberally applied, but the chipotle or cayenne must be used judiciously.

Here’s how to make roasted sweet potato “fries”:

  • Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
  • Peel 2 or 3 sweet potatoes (you don’t want to crowd the pan, so if you are serving a lot of people, make them in batches)
  • Cut the potatoes into logs – like french fries
  • Place them in a large bowl and toss with about 1 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch. Use your hands to toss well to coat them evenly.P1000669
  • Drizzle on a few tablespoons olive oil – just enough to coat them lightly. With a rubber spatula toss well. Season generously with cinnamon and cautiously with chipotle or other chili pepper. Sprinkle with salt.P1000671
  • Spread onto a baking sheet, being careful not to crowd the potatoes.
  • Bake at least 45 minutes, tossing often with a spatula so they brown evenly. Let sit 10 minutes before serving them; they will get more crisp as they cool.

The key to cooking them properly lies in realizing that even though they will become tender after 25-30 minutes, you still need to keep cooking them to bake off as much moisture as possible so the exteriors become crisp. They must become very brown, but you do not want to let them burn.

Here’s a bonus: you can refrigerate leftovers (an unlikely situation since they will be gobbled up), then reheat them with success. Again, let them sit a few minutes after they bake. Serving them piping hot is not the way to go – they crisp up as they cool.