keito potato

Endive leaves filled with blue cheese, cognac, and walnuts
April 30, 2012, 2:08 pm
Filed under: recipes, starters | Tags: , , ,

Blue cheese, cognac, and walnuts complement each other perfectly.  Here they’re combined as a spread, and then piped into Belgian endive leaves for an appetizer.  This classic blue cheese and walnut spread is often served on toast or crostini, just like the crostini paired with this soup.  As delicious as it is on toast, you might find that endive is a more refreshing and healthful platform for the spread compared to starches like bread.

photo by Joyce Hiendarto

You don’t need to buy a piping set to pipe the mixture into the long and slender endive leaves.  The cheaper method for piping is to use a ziploc bag, and snip off one of the corners to use as a piping tip.

This makes an easy and delicious appetizer for parties.  You can make it hours in advance, and the endives will still stay fresh.  The endive leaves are also visually stunning on a platter.



2-3 Belgian endives

4-5 ounces blue cheese, at room temperature

8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature

1-2 tablespoons cognac

1/3 cup walnuts


Toast the walnuts in the oven until fragrant.  Chop roughly.  

Remove the core end of the Belgian endives, and separate the leaves.

In a small bowl, mix the blue cheese, butter, and cognac together to form a smooth paste.  Stir in the chopped walnuts.

Spoon the blue cheese mixture into a small ziploc bag to use as a piping bag.  Using scissors, snip off one of the bottom corners of the bag.  Use this open tip to pipe the mixture into the Belgian endive leaves.

Italian Walnut Cake
March 23, 2012, 3:16 pm
Filed under: desserts, recipes | Tags: , , , , , , , ,

This is one of my favorite cakes in my Grandma’s regular rotation.  It’s a single-layer, round cake decorated with a simple sprinkling of powdered sugar.  The cake looks simple and spartan, but the flavors are bold and complex, with the fragrance of toasted walnuts, lemon zest, and rum.  When I asked Grandma Willa for the recipe on the phone, she told me the list of ingredients, then told me to dust it with powdered sugar when it comes out of the oven.  When I asked about the assembly process, she scolded me, “Don’t you know how to bake a cake?”  This is to say that it’s a pretty straight-forward and easy cake.

I have changed Grandma’s recipe by toasting the walnuts and adding salt.  Many old fashioned cake recipes omit salt, but I like a little salt in my dessert to bring out the rest of the flavors.

Also, I normally make the cake with whole-wheat pastry flour instead of white flour.  Both types of flours work beautifully, but the whole-wheat flour makes it a little more healthful.  This is a comparatively nutritious cake because it’s roughly half walnuts, with the batter essentially holding the cake together.

Serve with strong coffee, or small glass of limoncello or sherry.


2  1/2 cups walnuts

8 tablespoons butter

1 cup sugar

2 tablespoons dark rum

2 packed teaspoons lemon zest

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 egg

1 cup whole-wheat pastry flour, or all-purpose flour

1  1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1/4  –  1/2 teaspoon salt


Toast the walnuts in the oven until fragrant.  Meanwhile prepare the cake batter.  

Combine the butter and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer (or in a bowl with a hand  mixer).  Add the rum, lemon zest, vanilla, and egg. Beat to combine.  Add the flour, baking powder, and salt

When the walnuts come out of the oven, chop them fine.  Stir them into the cake batter.

Butter and flour a 9-inch round cake pan.  Pour the batter in the pan, and bake at 350F for 40-60 minutes (depending on your oven).  The top will be golden brown, and an inserted toothpick will come out clean.  

Invert the cake onto a cake plate by placing the plate upside down on the cake in the pan, then quickly flipping it over.  The cake should easily slip onto the cake plate.  Dust with powdered sugar, using a sifter or strainer.

Eggplant and Fennel Stew Braised in Red Wine
February 9, 2012, 5:20 pm
Filed under: main dishes, recipes | Tags: , , ,

This became a favorite stew this year.  I made it several times over the fall and winter, brought it to potlucks, and served it for extended family over the holidays.  I’m finally posting it to share.  It’s a richly flavored stew that perfumes the kitchen with fennel and red wine.  In contrast to the eggplant stew I posted last fall, in which you briefly saute all of the ingredients together on the stove, and then roast the whole stew in the oven for 2 hours, this stew has the opposite procedure.  You cook the vegetables separately and uniquely, then bring them together in a boozy red wine and herb stew.

The procedure for roasting the fennel was new to me.  You braise quarters of fennel on the stove with olive oil and broth for 5 minutes, then put the pan in the oven to roast for an hour, covered in parchment paper.  This does something magical to the fennel, and is more interesting than simply roasting slices of fennel in olive oil and salt (which was my previous method for roasting fennel).  Now I want to use this braising/roasting method on fennel at other times as a side dish, or a base for other stews as well.  And wouldn’t it be nice on a salad?

This recipe is inspired by Denis Cotter’s fantastic cookbook Cafe Paradiso Seasons.  I think that Julie/Julia gal is pretty OCD, but if I would ever decide to cook my way through a cookbook, it might just be this one.  My two changes are that I’ve cut the eggplants into slightly smaller pieces, and have also salted and rested the cut eggplant cubes before cooking them.  This step draws out liquid from the spongy eggplant cubes, and removes possible bitterness.  Since you have the fennel roasting for an hour, I think you might as well have the eggplant draining during this time.

You can serve this stew with any kind of starchy side.  Today I’m pairing it with thick slices of pan-seared polenta, but it’s also good with rice, couscous, or crusty bread.   Alternatively, it’s a great stew for composing a vegetarian version of shepherd’s pie (to do so, arrange the stew in the bottom of a casserole pan, top it with mashed potatoes, and then bake until the mashed potatoes are golden).   Since a shepherd’s pie is topped with mashed potatoes, I replace the potatoes in the stew with green beans.

A fruity red wine is preferred.  The author Denis Cotter says the first time he made this stew, he drank the rest of the bottle while the stew simmered, “but that’s not always necessary.”

I used chilies and thyme from the garden.  If you’re afraid of the heat, leave the chilies out.


3 fat fennel bulbs

1/3 cup olive oil

18 ounces vegetable stock (separated as 1 cup and 1  1/4 cup)

2 large eggplants

18 ounces potatoes

28-ounce can whole plum tomatoes

6 cloves galic

2-4 fresh chilies

2-3 sprigs thyme

10 ounces (1  1/4 cup) red wine

salt, to season


Trim the greens off the top of the fennel bulbs and slice a thin sliver off the root end.  Then slice the bulbs into quarters.  Place them in a cast iron pan or skillet with tall sides (something that you an use both on the stove and in the oven), together with 1/3 cup olive oil and 1 cup vegetable broth.  Bring it to a boil and simmer for 5 minutes.  Cover the pot loosely with parchment paper and bake in the oven at 350F for 1 hour.  Check occasionally to see if there is enough liquid, and you may need to turn some of the fennel pieces.  

Here are the before-and-after photos.

In the meantime, peel the eggplant, and cut it into 1-inch cubes.  Toss the cubes in salt, and place in a colander to drain.  After about 30 minutes of draining, pat with paper towels to dry.

During this time, prepare the ingredients for the rest of the stew.  Slice the garlic cloves and the chilies.  Heat them in a large soup pot for 30 seconds or so, and then add the tomatoes.  I crush the whole tomatoes with my hands, or use a cheese grater with large holes to roughly grate the tomatoes.  Cook the tomatoes with the garlic  and chilies for about 5 minutes.  Then add the thyme sprigs, the wine, and the remaining 1 -1/4 cup of vegetable broth.  Season with a little salt, bring to a boil, and then simmer around 20 minutes.

Peel the potatoes.  Quarter them, then cut the quarters into big wedges around 1 -1/2 inches thick.  Steam the potato cubes in a vegetable steamer until soft, around 15-20 minutes.

When the fennel comes out of the oven, it’s time to bake the eggplant.  Place the eggplant in a baking dish (I prefer cast iron), and toss with olive oil.  Bake at 375F for about 20-30 minutes, or until soft.  I usually have the eggplant baking at the same time as I have the potatoes steaming.

Add the roasted fennel and all of its oil juices to the stew.  Add the steamed potatoes and the roasted eggplant.  Bring the stew back to a boil, and simmer again on very low heat, covered, for 15 minutes.  If you have the time, turn off the heat, and let the stew sit for an hour or so to mellow.  Check the seasoning before serving.

French Mushroom Soup
January 24, 2012, 12:10 pm
Filed under: recipes, soups | Tags: , , , , ,

Yesterday’s rainy weather inspired me to make a pot of soup to warm up.  My mom has been making my Aunt Marty’s French Mushroom Soup for as long as I can remember.  Aunt Marty and her branch of the family have lived on communes over the decades, including the Hutterite variety, so it’s possible that this is a Hutterite soup.  Hutterites make fruit and grape wines, so I imagine they must cook with it as well.  This soup is quite similar to a French onion soup, except that it centers around mushrooms instead of onions.  Since I am a vegetarian, I have substituted vegetable broth for the other, and I like to make the vegetable broth from scratch when I have time, as I did today.  Yes, it’s indeed possible to make rich, dark, French-style soups totally vegetarian.   How could a soup made from white wine, meltingly-soft onions, mushrooms, parmesan, and herbs not be delicious?

I have improved on my aunt’s recipe by adding fresh herbs from my garden, as well as increasing the amount of white wine and garlic.  Aunt Marty’s recipe calls for white button mushrooms.  That’s what I used today, but I often substitute crimini mushroom instead, or use half-and-half.  It’s really quite easy to pull together, as long as you have an hour for simmering.


2 lbs. (4 blue boxes) fresh mushrooms (button or crimini, or a combination)

1 large onion

3 garlic cloves

4 tablespoons butter

3 tablespoons tomato paste

8 cups vegetable broth (here is my recipe, but you can use broth from the store)

1/2 cup dry white wine

1/2 cup fresh parsley

3 sprigs fresh thyme (optional)

2 teaspoons salt

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

1/4 cup grated parmesan, plus more for garnish

croutons are optional for garnish


Slice the mushrooms thinly.  Cut the onion in half, then slice it thinly.  Mince the garlic.

Melt the butter in a large soup pot.  Add the mushrooms, onion, and garlic.  Saute until tender, about 10 minutes.

During this time, chop the parsley and remove the thyme leaves from the stems.  When the mushrooms are tender, add the herbs and tomato paste.  Simmer about 1 minute.  Add the white wine, broth, parmesan cheese, salt and pepper.  Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer.  Simmer 1 hour, then serve with more parmesan as garnish, plus croutons if you like.

Buckwheat Scones with Boozy Fig Jam
December 28, 2011, 3:30 pm
Filed under: breakfast, recipes | Tags: , , , ,

Honestly the best scones I’ve ever tasted, even better than Some Crust Bakery, I may venture.  I made these for a special breakfast on Christmas Eve morning.

These buckwheat scones are perfectly flaky and moist, with a richly fragrant aroma.  The buckwheat and fig flavors are complex and complementary.  The recipe comes from my favorite baking cookbook, Good to the Grain (which I have used for several of my favorite cookie recipes including whole wheat chocolate chip, cornmeal cranberry cookies, and whole wheat gingersnaps).

Because you roll the scones into swirls like cinnamon rolls, they take a little longer to prepare than regular scones.  However it’s entirely possible to roll them into logs the day before, and simply slice and bake them in the morning.

The homemade fig preserves also take a little while to cook, but you can prepare that sometime in the preceding month (as it keeps that long in the fridge).  The fig jam recipe makes double the amount required for the scones, so you can have extra on hand for spreading on anything and everything.  Alternatively you could double the scone recipe and use all of the fig jam at once.  The fig jam is boozy because of the addition of 1 cup of red wine and 1/2 cup of port.  It will make your kitchen smell incredible when it simmers on the stove.  The recipe calls for 12 ounces of dried Black Mission figs, which is coincidently the exact size of the packages of dried figs at Trader Joe’s.



1/2 cup sugar

1/4 cup water

2 whole cloves

1 star anise

1 cup red wine

1/2 cup port

12 ounces dried Black Mission figs, stems removed

1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

4 ounces (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened


To poach the figs, measure 1/4 cup water and the sugar into a small heavy-bottomed saucepan.  Stir the mixture together with a wooden spoon, incorporating the sugar without splashing it up the sides, to avoid forming crystals.  Bring the mixture to a boil over a medium flame and cook for 7-10 minutes, until the syrup is amber-colored.

Add the red wine, port, figs, and cinnamon, standing back a bit, as the syrup is hot.  Don’t panic when the syrup hardens; this is the normal reaction when liquids are added to hot sugar.  Continue cooking the mixture over a medium flame for 2 minutes, until the sugar and wine blend.

Reduce the flame to low and simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.  The figs will burble quietly as they are jostled together by the flame; they are ready when the wine has reduced by half.  Remove the pan from the stove and cool to room temperature.

Fish out the star anise and cloves.  Pour the cooled figs, with their liquid, into a food processor and puree until smooth, about 1 minute.  Add the softened butter to the fig paste and process until smooth.  The fig butter can be spread right onto the buckwheat scone dough or stored in the refrigerator for up to 1 month.  If it is refrigerated, bring it to room temperature before using.


1 cup buckwheat flour

1  1/4 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 cup sugar

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

4 ounces (1 stick) cold unsalted butter

1  1/4 cups heavy cream

1 cup boozy fig jam (recipe above)


Sift the dry ingredients into a large bowl.  Add the butter to the dry ingredients by either cutting the butter into 1/4-inch pieces, or freezing the butter and grating it into the flour using a cheese grater.  Rub the butter between your fingers, breaking it into smaller bits.  Continue rubbing until the butter is coarsely ground and feels like grains of rice.  The faster you do this, the more the butter will stay solid, which is important for the success of the recipe.

Add the cream and gently mix it into the flour with a spatula until the dough is just combined.

Use a pastry scraper or spatula to transfer the dough onto a well-floured surface.  It will be sticky, so flour your hands and pat the dough into a rectangle.  Grab a rolling pin and roll the dough into a rectangle that is 8-inches wide, 16-inches long, and 3/4 inch thick.  If at any time the dough rolls off into a different direction, use your hands to square the corners and pat it back into shape.  As you’re rolling, periodically run a pastry scraper or spatula underneath to loosen the dough, flour the surface, and continue rolling.  This keeps the dough from sticking.  Flour the top of the dough if the rolling pin in sticking.

Spread the fig jam over the dough.  Roll the long end of the dough up, patting the dough as you roll so that it forms a neat long 16 inches long.  Roll the finished log so that the seam is on the bottom and the weight of the roll seals the edge.

Use a sharp knife to slice the log in half.  Put the halves on a baking sheet or plate, cover loosely with plastic wrap, and chill in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.  (The dough can be kept covered, in the refrigerator, for 2 days).  While the dough is chilling, preheat the oven to 350F.  Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.

After 30 minutes, take both logs out of the refrigerator and cut each half into 6 equal pieces about 1  1/4 inches wide.

 Place each scone flat, with the spiral of the fig butter facing up, on the baking sheet, 6 to a sheet.  Give the scones a squeeze to shape them into rounds.

Bake for 30-42 minutes, rotating the sheets halfway through.  The scones are ready to come out when their undersides are golden brown.  

Chilled Melon Soup with Mint
July 3, 2011, 12:19 pm
Filed under: recipes, soups, starters | Tags: , , , ,

A sophisticated chilled fruit soup for a summer dinner party. 

Yesterday I served this chilled melon soup as the first course at my sister Judy’s birthday dinner.  The soup is clean and refreshing, yet also complex and mysterious because of the infusion of mint and dry white wine, making it perfect for a special occasion during hot weather. 

I’m not a raw-tomato-and-vegetable-chilled-soup kind of person, but I find chilled FRUIT soups to be divine.  They usually consist of ripe fruit, wine, lemon juice, and some fitting herbs or spices.  My Russian-Mennonite friends might think of this as a sophisticated take on “plumemooss” or “cherrymooss.”

I discovered this recipe in Anna Thomas’ newest cookbook Love Soup.  She is a veteran, trustworthy cookbook author.  Over the years, I have found her recipes to be exciting, reliable, and exquisite. 

This chilled soup can be made with any dense-fleshed variety of melon, including but not limited to honeydew, Persian or Saticoy.  I examined most of the  melons in my local market, searching for the sweetest one.  I happened to choose an “Orange-Flesh Desert Owl” melon, which looks like an orange-flesh honeydew.

My 4-year-old niece Nadia excitedly watched the soup preparation, and announced at the table, “This soup has no vegetables — only fruit!!  It’s a fruit soup!”


1 cup (200g) sugar, plus more to taste

3 cups (750 ml) spring water or filtered water

1 large, ripe melon (roughly 6 lbs or 2 1/2 kg)

2 cups (500 ml) dry white wine, such as riesling, pinot grigio, or sauvignon blanc

1/2 cup (120 ml) strained fresh lemon juice

pinch of sea salt

4-6 Tbs. finely chopped fresh mint

1 cup (240 ml) heavy cream (or 1/2 cup heavy cream and 1/2 cup greek yogurt)


Combine 1 cup sugar in a saucepan with 3 cups (750ml) spring or filtered water, and bring it to a simmer.  When the sugar is completely dissolved, simmer the syrup for another 5 minutes, then allow it to cool completely.

Seed the melon, cut it into wedges, and slice away the rind.  Cut the soft, ripe flesh in pieces and puree the melon in a blender or food processor.  You should have about 5 cups of puree.

Pour the melon puree into a medium mixing bowl.  Stir the wine into the melon puree.  Add the sugar gradually, starting with a half a cup and tasting as you go, then adding even smaller amounts as the sweetness becomes pronounced.  You might use 1  1/2 cups of syrup, maybe more, but you don’t know until you do the final balancing act of sugar syrup to lemon juice.

When the sweetness begins to assert itself, add 2 tablespoons of the strained lemon juice and a pinch of sea salt.  Taste again.  Now add a tablespoon of lemon juice or a tablespoon sugar syrup, tasting each time, until you achieve just the right tart-sweet balance without overpowering the melon flavor. 

Stir in 2 tablespoons of fresh mint.

Remember, every melon is different, every lemon is different, every wine is different.  Find the right individual balance for this combination.  Use the leftover sugar syrup for cocktails, sorbet, or lemonade.  Use the leftover lemon juice for salad dressing, or just about anything.

Chill the soup in the refrigerator for at least 3 hours.  It is helpful to put it in the freezer for the last hour or so before serving.

Just before serving, add 2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint to the cream, along with a little sugar if you like, and beat the cream with a whisk until it just begins to thicken.  Taste, and add more mint if you like.

Serve this beautiful soup very cold, in chilled bowls, with a spoonful of the soft mint cream in the center of each serving.

Beet Risotto
December 11, 2009, 8:44 pm
Filed under: main dishes, recipes | Tags: , , , ,

This is my favorite risotto. It’s deeply, vividly fuschia, like eating melted jewels or bougainvillea blood. Besides being visually stunning, it’s one of the tastiest risottos I know of. The rich sweetness of the beets is tempered by the brightness of lemon juice and zest.

Please don’t be tempted to buy the shrink-wrapped beets that are pre-cooked and peeled. Because those are already cooked, they would contribute far less flavor to your risotto. This recipe calls for peeling raw beets, and grating them raw into the risotto. Your hands will turn fuschia whilst grating, so this would be a good opportunity to wear a favorite cute apron.

This risotto gets some leafy greens stirred in toward the end. If you bought your beets with the beet greens still attached, use them here. If the beets are sold without the greens, then choose another favorite green like chard or kale.

This risotto is inspired from a Deborah Madison recipe. I have strayed from Deborah in adding toasted walnuts, and have altered some of her language.

6 Cups vegetable broth
3/4 Cup walnuts
3 tablespoons butter, or a mixture of butter and olive oil
1/2 Cup finely diced onion
1 1/2 Cups Arborio rice
1/2 dry white wine
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
2 tablespoons chopped basil
3 medium beets, peeled and grated, about 2 Cups
3 Cups beet greens, or another green like kale or chard
grated zest and juice of 1 lemon, or more to taste
1/2 Cup grated Parmesan

Toast the walnuts at 350F while you are working on the rest of the recipe. When their toasty fragrance becomes apparent, let them roast in the oven a little while longer to get darker and more flavorful. Chop them fine with a big knife.

Bring the vegetable broth to a simmer in a small saucepan.

Mince the onion. Peel and grate the beets. Chop the greens. Chop the parsley and basil.

Heat the butter in a wide heavy pot like a Le Creuset. Add the onion and cook over medium heat for 3 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the Arborio rice, stir to coat it well, and cook for 1 minute. Add the wine and simmer until it’s absorbed. Stir in half of the parsley, the basil, and the grated beets. If using chard or kale, add them now because they are sturdier than beet greens and need to cook longer.

Add 2 cups of the broth, cover, and cook at a lively simmer until the broth is absorbed, just a few minutes. Remove the lid, and begin adding the remaining broth in 1/2 cup increments, stirring constantly until each addition is absorbed before adding the next ladle-ful. Before adding the last 1 cup of broth, add the beet greens, if using.

Taste for salt and season with pepper. Stir in the lemon zest and juice to taste. Stir in the toasted walnuts. Serve dusted with the Parmesan and remaining parsley.