keito potato

Syrian Pistachio Ice Cream
April 1, 2012, 3:00 pm
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I remember eating vanilla ice cream topped with pistachios in Damascus, in an old ice cream parlor with high ceilings and tiled walls near the Umayyad Mosque.  This pistachio ice cream recipe also comes from Syria, but has ground pistachios in the ice cream itself, instead of a topping.  Creme fraiche adds a touch of freshness and tanginess in the ice cream, instead of plain milk and cream.  You can find creme fraiche in most grocery dairy cases, even TJ’s.

I’ve adapted the recipe from Anissa Helou’s book Mediterranean Street Food, but have made two changes.   I have omitted the rose syrup because I think it tastes like cheap perfume.  I’ve also substituted brown sugar instead of white sugar for a deeper flavor.  I had a fantastic toasted-almond-brown-sugar ice cream in Jounieh, Lebanon that inspired me to pair pistachios with brown sugar as well.



2   3/4 cups whole milk

3/4 cup brown sugar

1 cup pistachios (peeled if you have the patience)

1  1/2 cups creme fraiche



Heat the milk and brown sugar in a saucepan over medium heat.  Bring to a boil, then remove from the heat.  Let cool.

Peel the pistachios.  Put the pistachios in a food processor and process until ground medium-fine.  Add the nuts and the creme fraiche to the milk mixture.  Stir to incorporate.  Pour into a tupperware container to chill fully.  Use an ice cream maker to finish, and follow the ice cream maker instructions.  

If you don’t have an ice cream maker, you can still make this.  Freeze the mixture completely in a tupperware container.  Pull it out of the freezer and use a large knife to chop the block into 1-inch squares.  Put the squares in a food processor or blender to break up the ice crystals.  Return to the tupperware to let it set.

Italian Walnut Cake
March 23, 2012, 3:16 pm
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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.

Chocolate and Rosemary Sorbet
August 3, 2011, 9:54 pm
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This is my very favorite sorbet!  The combination of rosemary with chocolate is haunting and earthy.  Because it’s a sorbet, it’s clean and icy (instead of creamy), making it perfect for summer evening.   This has been my “go-to” dessert for casual dinner parties for the past several summers, and I’ve so glad to finally share it here. 

The recipe comes from the fabulous cookbook Crazy Water Pickled Lemons by Diana Henry.  My cousin Phyllis turned me onto this cookbook 4 summers ago when I was visiting her in France.  This cookbook is a treasure for those who are looking for fragrant, spice-laden, and sensual versions Mediterranean-style dishes.  Some other favorite recipes are lavender-orange-almond cake, lemon-basil ice cream, and roasted sweet potatoes with marinated feta and olives.  The cookbook is organized in chapters according to the flavor profile (for instance lavender, rosemary, olives, honey, oranges, etc), which is a refreshing way to categorize dishes, rather than their course assignment.

This sorbet is dead-easy to make, especially if you have rosemary bushes growing around the house or neighborhood.  It simply consists of cocoa power, sugar, water, and rosemary.  If the idea of a chocolate sorbet sounds intriguing, but you don’t care for rosemary, I imagine you could experiment with infusing the chocolate syrup with other herbs and aromatics like spearmint, lavender, orange zest, cinnamon sticks, or ginger. 


2-4 sprigs rosemary (Diana suggests 2, but I usually use 4)

7 oz. superfine or granulated sugar

2  1/4 oz. cocoa powder

2  1/4 cups (18 fl oz) water


Bruise the rosemary — just bash it with the back of a wooden spoon — and put it into a saucepan with the sugar, cocoa powder, and water.  Heat gently, stirring a little to help the cocoa and sugar to melt.  Bring the liquid up to the boil, and boil for 1 minute, stirring occasionally. 

Take the pan off the heat and leave to cool with the rosemary still in the chocolate syrup.  Once it has cooled off to room temperature, chill it in the fridge for about an hour.

Remove the rosemary sprigs, and churn the liquid in an ice cream machine.  If you don’t have an ice cream maker, still-freeze the mixture in a container in the freezer, and beat the mixture a few times during the freezing process.  That will break up the ice crystals sufficiently.

Serve the sorbet in pretty little bowls or goblets.  You might want to garnish it with a dollop of sweetened Greek yogurt and a handful of raspberries.

Great-Great-Aunt Tillie’s Date Cake
July 12, 2011, 8:22 pm
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Aunt Tillie was my grandpa Elvin’s aunt, and lived to age 102.  Her date cake recipe has been a family favorite over the decades.  It’s moist, wholesome, fragrant, and has an earthy spiciness. 

Medjool dates, toasted walnuts, lemon zest, buttermilk, cloves — what’s not to love?  I tend to prefer rustic, wholesome desserts, and this cake epitomizes my taste in baking.

This sheet cake is a snap to throw together, and has become a reliable go-to cake for potlucks and informal gatherings.  I have made the recipe my own by toasting the walnuts, adding lemon zest for the fragrance, and adding a bit of salt.  I like salt in my desserts, and I think a scant quarter-teaspoon brings out the other flavors.  This old-fashioned cake has an unusual (but not complicated) assembly process.  You start by crumbling flour, sugar, and butter in a bowl with your fingers.  You measure out and remove 1 cup of the crumbs, reserving this small portion to add later as the crumb topping of the cake.  The crumbs that remain in the mixing bowl create the foundation of the cake batter.

Great-Great-Aunt Tillie’s Date Cake

1 cup walnuts
2 1/4 cups flour (separated as 2 cups and 1/4 cup)
1 1/2 cups sugar
3/4 cup butter
1 cup medjool dates
1 cup buttermilk
1 egg
zest of 1 lemon
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 heaping teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 heaping teaspoon cloves
scant 1/4 teaspoon sea salt


Butter and flour a 9 x 13-inch pan.  Heat the oven to 350 F.  While the oven is warming up, toss your walnuts into a small baking pan, and toast them.  They will toast in the oven while you are preparing the rest of the cake batter.

Combine 2 cups of the flour, the sugar, and butter in a medium mixing bowl.  Mix and crumble with your fingers.  This is a great activity for kids.  Remove 1 cup of this crumb-mixture, and reserve it for the topping.  The remaining crumbs in the mixing bowl will create the foundation for the cake batter.

Chop the medjool dates.  I like to use my big, heavy Chinese cleaver for this.

Remove the toasted walnuts from the oven, and chop them.  Add the dates and walnuts to the crumb mixture in the mixing bowl.

Add the buttermilk, egg, and lemon zest to the mixing bowl.  Stir to form a batter.

Sift in the remaining 1/4 cup flour, the baking powder, baking soda, cloves, cinnamon, and salt.  Stir into the batter.

Pour the batter into the pan.  Sprinkle with the reserved 1-cup of crumbs.  Bake at 350F for 28-35 minutes.

Whole-Wheat Gingersnaps
December 21, 2010, 8:37 pm
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A new favorite Christmas cookie from Kim Boyce’s Good to the Grain.  When arranged on a holiday cookie tray, the decorated orange-cardamom star cookies might draw more visual attention, but these little ginger cookies are generating more comments among friends and family because of their assertive ginger flavor.


My only alteration of Kim Boyce’s recipe is in the finish.  Instead of rolling the balls of dough in plain sugar, I use my mom’s trick of rolling cookies in orange-sugar instead.  To make orange-sugar, simply combine orange zest with sugar in a food processor, and pulse to combine.  Using this method, you can make all sorts of interesting sugars in the future (like sugar cookies rolled in lime-zest-sugar).



Butter for the baking sheets

Wet Mix:

4 ounces (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup unsulphured (not blackstrap) molasses
2 tablespoons grated fresh ginger, from about a 2-1/2 inch piece
1 egg

Dry Mix:

1 cup whole-wheat flour
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon clove
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt


zest of 1 orange
1/2 cup sugar


1. In a large bowl, mix together the melted butter, sugars, molasses, ginger, and egg.  Sift the dry ingredients over the butter-sugar mixture, pouring back into the bowl any bits of grain or other ingredients that may remain in the sifter.  Stir to form a batter.

2. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and chill for at least 2 hours, or preferably overnight for the flavors to marry.

3.  Position 2 racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven and preheat to 350F.  Rub 2 baking sheets lightly with butter.

4.  Make the orange-sugar by combining the orange zest and sugar in a food processor.  Pulse until combined and fragrant.  Place the orange-sugar in a shallow bowl.

5. Pluck out balls of dough about 1-tablespoon in size.  Roll them into balls, then toss them into the orange-sugar to coat.  Place the balls on the baking sheets, leaving 2 inches between them.  Repeat with the remaining dough.  The balls that don’t fit on this round of baking can be chilled until the oven is available for the next round of baking.

6.  Bake for 10-15 minutes, rotating the pans halfway through (top to bottom and front to back), until the color is dark and even all the way across the cookie.  Remove from the oven, slide a thin spatula under each of them, and transfer to a baking rack.

Orange-Cardamom Star Cookies
December 21, 2010, 8:12 pm
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On a rainy day I found myself baking Scandinavian Christmas cookies with my little nieces.  When you’re looking for a cookie to roll out and stamp with cookie cutters, I would recommend these stars.  They are more fragrant and flavorful than most roll-out cookies, packed with orange zest, cardamom, and molasses.  Cardamom is ever-so-prevalent in Scandinavian baking, and the orange zest adds a perfect seasonal brightness.  My nieces wanted to lean over the bowl to smell the dough again and again, enchanted with the complex fragrance.

The cookie is adapted from a recipe in Diana Henry’s cookbook Roast Figs Sugar Snow, a terrific cookbook of winter foods.  I made these twice in the past week, and have made 2 alterations.  I added a few extra tablespoons of milk to her recipe because I found her dough to be so crumbly that it wouldn’t pull together.  My other alteration is the addition of salt in the second batch — just a scant quarter teaspoon makes a difference.  I generally prefer a bit of salt in my desserts.

I left the first batch plain without decoration, but my nieces wanted to decorate the second batch with frosting and sprinkles.  Apparently these cookies are typically frosted all over Scandinavia, except for Sweden where they are left plain.  We spread the icing smoothly across the cookies and tossed on sprinkles and colored sugar.  You might choose instead to drizzle the icing with the tines of a fork, or pipe it with a piping set.


1/4 Cup butter (1/2 stick)

1/3 Cup brown sugar

4 tablespoons of milk (Ms. Henry calls for 2, but 4 worked better for me)

1 tablespoon molasses

2 Cups flour

scant teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon ground ginger

1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom

1 teaspoon finely grated orange zest (zest of one orange)

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

To Decorate (optional):

1 egg white

squeeze of 1 lemon

enough powdered sugar to make a stiff paste


1. Cream the butter and sugar in a mixer.  Add the milk and molasses and blend until smooth.

2. Stir in all the other ingredients and bring together into a ball.

3. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight (or at least 2 hours).

4. Preheat the oven to 350F.  Roll the dough out to 1/8-inch thick.  Stamp out the cookies with a star-shaped cookie cutter and place them on a baking sheet.  (They will not expand much, so you can place them close together on the baking sheet).

5. Bake the cookies for 7-8 minutes at 350F.  Leave to cool on a wire rack.

6. To decorate, mix the egg white with a squeeze of lemon juice.  Add enough sifted powdered sugar to make a firm paste.  Either decorate by drizzling lines with the tines of a fork, use a piping set for a fancy design, or spread the icing across and top with sprinkles or colored sugar.

Crispy Chocolate Chip Cookies
November 28, 2010, 12:35 pm
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An excellent version of a classic, and completely whole-wheat.

I discovered this chocolate chip cookie recipe in my favorite baking book, Good to the Grain by Kim Boyce.  Because she’s a top pastry chef, she uses whole-grain flours to show off the distinctive flavors and textures of the grains (rather than using whole grains in a stodgy way out of guilt).  Every recipe I’ve made from the book has created something exquisite, surprising and delighting guests with complex flavors and perfect texture.  This is one of the top cookbooks I recommend to friends.

The whole-wheat flour in these cookies creates a rich, nutty taste (almost fooling you into thinking you added nuts to the dough).  The combination of dark brown sugar and the right amount of salt creates a hint of that sensual salty-caramel taste in the dough.  None of my friends or family have ever guessed that these were whole wheat.  They taste too good to seem healthy, which means we need to work on erasing the culture’s myth that health and good flavor are enemies.  This is the perfect cookbook for reminding us, one recipe at a time, that the most healthful foods are usually the most delicious.

A single batch of cookies calls for 8 ounces of bittersweet chocolate.  Make sure you use  high-quality chocolate because the distinctive flavor will pair better with the other quality ingredients.  This week I made a double-batch using 16 ounces of chocolate, which means I used most of a gigantic 17.6-ounce chocolate bar from Trader Joe’s.  I was thrilled to use the majority of that surrealistically-enormous bar.




parchment paper for the baking sheets

Dry Mix:

3 Cups Whole-wheat flour (I sometimes use whole-wheat pastry flour)
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt

Wet Mix:

8 ounces (2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 Cup dark brown sugar
1 Cup sugar
2 eggs
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

8 ounces bittersweet chocolate, roughly chopped into 1/4-and 1/2-inch pieces


1. Place two racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven and preheat oven to 350F.  Line two baking sheets with parchment.

2. Sift the dry ingredients into a large bowl, pouring back into the bowl any bits of grain or other ingredients that may remain in the sifter.  Set aside.

3. In another large bowl, or a bowl of a standing mixer, add the butter pieces and both sugars.  Mix on low speed until they are blended, about 2 minutes.  Use a spatula to scrape down the sides of the bowl.  Add the eggs one at a time, mixing until each is combined.  Mix in the vanilla.  Add the flour mixture to the bowl and blend on low speed until the flour is barely combined, about 30 seconds.  Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl.

4. Add the chocolate all at once to the batter.  Mix on low speed until the chocolate is evenly combined.  Use a spatula to scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl.

5. Scoop the dough into mounds and arrange on the parchment-lined baking sheets.  Ms. Boyce makes large cookies out of 3-tablespoon scoops (fitting 6 cookies per baking sheet).  I tried that once, but found the enormous cookies to be daunting.  Smaller cookies seem more inviting to me, so my scoops are roughly 1.5 – 2 tablespoons each (fitting 9 cookies per baking sheet).

6. Bake the cookies, 2 pans at a time, in the oven for 11-12 minutes, rotating the pans halfway through.  Transfer the cookies to a rack to cool.  Repeat with the remaining dough.