keito potato

Marinated Mushrooms
August 14, 2012, 11:03 am
Filed under: recipes, starters | Tags: , , ,

Marinated mushrooms are a breeze to make and taste much better than store bought.  You can spice the marinade with a pinch of hot red pepper flakes and some balsamic vinegar, and sent it with just about any herbs growing in the garden.  The mushrooms are ready to eat when they have soaked up enough marinade to flavor them fully.  An hour is sufficient, but overnight is best.  This recipe comes from Viana La Place’s cookbook Panini, Bruschetta, Crostini:  Sandwiches, Italian Style.  These marinated mushrooms can be used as an appetizer or side dish, and sliced marinated mushrooms can be tucked into panini sandwiches.


1 pound button mushrooms, all about the same size, if possible

6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

juice of 1 lemon, about 1/4 cup

1/3 cup water

2 large garlic cloves, peeled and cut into thick slices

4 fresh thyme sprigs

2 fresh sage leaves

1 bay leaf

small pinch hot red pepper flakes, about 1/8 teaspoon

a few black peppercorns

1 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar, optional


Wipe the mushrooms clean with damp paper towels.  Trim stems if necessary.  Cut any very large mushrooms in half.

Heat 3 tablespoons olive oil in a large saute pan.  Add mushrooms and saute over lower heat until just tender.  Transfer to a bowl.

Place the remaining olive oil, lemon, water, garlic, herbs, hot red pepper flakes, black peppercorns, and salt in saute pan.  Simmer for 5 minutes.  Pour over the mushrooms in the bowl.  Stir in the optional balsamic vinegar.  Let mushrooms cool in marinade.  Cover and refrigerate overnight.  Bring to room temperature before serving.  To serve, lift out of marinade with a slotted spoon.

Makes 2 cups marinated mushrooms.

Roasted Zucchini and Mint Salad
August 5, 2012, 8:30 pm
Filed under: recipes, salads | Tags: , , , ,

This is a new favorite salad, and a fresh way to handle a profusion of zucchini during summer.  It’s light and refreshing with the crunch of almonds and croutons, and the brightness of mint and lemon.  What’s not to love?

This recipe calls for halving the zucchini lengthwise, and roasting it briefly at a high heat without any oil.  The technique works well to sear the zucchini without burning it, and the interior is perfectly tender.  The amount of lemon juice in the original recipe was a bit excessive (in my mind) because the extra lemon juice sat in a pool in the bottom of the serving bowl.  In the future I will reduce the amount from 3 lemons to 2 lemons.

The recipe comes from the Osteria cookbooks by Rick Tramonto and Mary Goodbody, which features rustic Italian food from Tramonto’s childhood.  This salad can be served as an antipasto, or as a side salad.


8 zucchini, halved lengthwise

4 sprigs fresh mint

about 2/3 cup croutons (homemade, if possible)

about 1/2 cup toasted almonds

1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

juice of 3 lemons (or 2 lemons)

kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

fresh mint leaves for garnish


Preheat the oven to 500F.

Lay the zucchini on a baking sheet, skin side up, and bake for about 8 minutes, or until the zucchini are golden brown on the flat, fleshy side.  

Let the zucchini cool slightly and then slice into half-moons.

In a bowl, mix the zucchini, mint sprigs, croutons, and toasted almonds.  Drizzle with olive oil and lemon juice, toss, and then season to taste with salt and pepper.

Arrange on a serving platter and garnish with fresh mint leaves.

Thyme-Infused Lemonade
June 3, 2012, 12:30 pm
Filed under: drinks, recipes | Tags: , ,

During warmer weather, I like infusing herbs and other aromatics into lemonade and limeade (for instance: mint, basil, rosemary, lemongrass, ginger).  I was recently pondering the possibility of infusing thyme into lemonade since my thyme plants are going crazy in the backyard, and there are other savory recipes that pair lemons with thyme.  I did a quick bing search, and the first item that popped up was a Martha Stewart recipe for thyme lemonade.  Martha says it has an “unexpected grown-up flair.”  I decided to go for it, since Martha approves.  If a different herb sounds good to you, feel free to follow this process and substitute another herb in the thyme’s place.

This recipe makes a concentrate which will create 4-5 pitchers of lemonade.  To save space in the fridge before a party, I make a concentrate which consists of the lemon juice and infused simple syrup.  Then right before serving, I dilute a small portion of the concentrate in a with water in a pitcher.  My ratio is 1 part concentrate to 4 parts water, but you can adjust that per your own taste.  You can use flat water or sparkling water, your choice.  If you want to turn this into a cocktail, gin would be a complementary option.

The thyme in my backyard is a fluffy and fuzzy sort of thyme.  It’s fun to use, but the regular variety of thyme will look more delicate and dainty floating in the lemonade pitcher.

THYME-INFUSED LEMONADE – makes 4-5 pitchers

4 cups of freshly-squeezed lemon juice

grated zest of 2 lemons

2 cups sugar

1 cup loosely-packed fresh thyme branches

1 cup water for the simple syrup

water or sparkling water to fill the pitchers

gin, optional


Juice the lemons.  If you have an electric citrus juice, this will go faster.  

Make the infused simple syrup by combining the sugar, lemon zest, thyme branches, and 1 cup water in a medium saucepan.  Stir to dissolve the sugar.  Bring to a full boil, then remove from heat and cool to room temperature.  Combine the infused simple syrup with the lemon juice in a pitcher or large tupperware, and chill in the fridge until ready to use.  Leave the thyme branches in the lemonade so that they can continue their infusion.  The thyme will be more pronounced the next day, but not overpowering.

To serve, I combine 1  1/2 cups of this concentrate with 6 cups water in a pitcher.  That is a ratio of 1 part concentrate to 4 parts water.  Adjust this ratio for yourself depending on the size of your pitcher, and the size of your sweet tooth.  I like this proportion because it is less sweet and more refreshing, but you might like it a bit more concentrated.  You might also want to adjust the concentrate itself in terms of the balance of sugar to lemon juice.  You can add a shot of gin to your glass, if desired.

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.

Egyptian Lemony Red Lentil Soup
February 19, 2012, 1:41 pm
Filed under: recipes, soups | Tags: , , , , ,

The lemony red lentil soup comes from Egypt, but it’s a common soup all over North Africa and the Middle East.  I often enjoyed it as a first course when I spent time in Lebanon and Syria in the summer of 2009.  It has enough lemon juice, garlic, and cumin to be interesting, but not overpowering.  Don’t be intimidated by the amount of garlic in the recipe.  The whole cloves acquire a mellow and soft flavor when simmered as whole cloves in the soup.

This soup is made with red lentils (masoor dal), that are orange when raw, and turn goldenrod-color when cooked.  They disintegrate a bit when cooked (similar to split peas), but a quick whirr with the immersion stick blender smooths the soup out fully, pureeing the onion and whole garlic that have softened during simmering.  When the potato cubes in the soup get pureed, they soften out the texture of the soup and give it body.

It’s simple to pull together for company.  Because you puree the soup, you only have to roughly chop the onion and potatoes, and use whole garlic cloves.  Just simmer everything, then puree it all at the end.  I had friends over for lunch two days ago, and served this soup paired with olive-bread panini and mint tea.  It would also be nice with a Middle Eastern salad like fattoush or this parsley salad.


1 cup dried red lentils

2 cups roughly chopped onions

2 cups chopped potatoes

8-10 garlic cloves, peeled and left whole

5 cups water

1-2 tablespoons olive oil

2 teaspoons ground cumin

1/2 teaspoon turmeric

1 teaspoon salt

3-6 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (to taste)

salt and black pepper to taste


Wash the red lentils in several changes of water, and rinse.  Do this in the way that you wash and rinse rice.  Combine the lentils, onion, potatoes, garlic, and water in a large soup pot.  Cover, and bring to a boil.  Reduce the heat and simmer until everything is tender, 15-20 minutes.  Remove from the heat.

In a small skillet on low heat, warm the oil until it is hot but not smoking.  Add the cumin, turmeric, and salt.  Cook, stirring constantly, for 2-3 minutes.  Take care not to scorch the spices.  Add this to the soup.

Puree the soup with an immersion stick blender until smooth.  Add the lemon juice.  Reheat gently and season with salt and pepper to taste.

Raw Brussels Sprout Salad with Shaved Parmesan and Toasted Walnuts
October 18, 2011, 9:17 pm
Filed under: recipes, salads | Tags: , , ,

Over the past few years, I’ve become something of a “brussels-sprout-Evangelist,” spreading the good news of how fabulous brussels sprouts can be — if prepared thoughtfully.  I truly believe that most people who think they hate brussels sprouts actually hate poor preparation (like boiling the little guys to death), and would enjoy them if they tried better cooking methods.  My trusted basic method with brussels sprouts is to steam them softly in salted water, then toss them in browned butter (which has a lovely nutty flavor).  Lately people have been grilling or roasting them, and tossing them in a myriad of complementary sauces.  We’re on a good path.

Now a spark of genius: this fresh, raw brussels sprout salad has emerged as an unexpected and delightful alternative.  After all of these years of cooking the hell out of them, who would have thought that a delicate salad could be composed from the tender, nutty, raw inner leaves?

I’ve heard from friends that the Austrian chef at Johannes in Palm Springs has been doing something revolutionary with brussels sprouts.  He peels off the inner layers and fluffs them up raw into a simple salad with toasted walnuts, parmesan, and a light vinaigrette.  I’ve never been to the restaurant, but have embraced his salad idea.  It’s the first time I’ve thought to fluff up the raw leaves into a light and buoyant salad.  This fall, it’s become my favorite salad to prepare at home, and I especially enjoy the simple but complementary nuttiness of the parmesan and toasted walnuts. 

The recipe I’ve written out has flexible amounts, since most salads are intrinsically flexible, and you also might want to vary the size of the salad per number of guests.  I use my favorite simple French salad dressing from My French Kitchen by Joanne Harris & Fran Warde.  Over the past year or so, I’ve used this bright and simple dressing for most salads, and for dressing other things like steamed vegetables.  This amount of dressing will make more than what you need for the amount of salad as written, but the remaining dressing will keep for a week or so in the fridge.



about 3 cups brussels sprouts

handful of walnuts

parmesan for shaving

Simple French Dressing:

2 tablespoons cider vinegar

2 teaspoons good mustard (grainy or smooth, or 1 teaspoon of each)

1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon olive oil

sea salt and black pepper to taste


Rinse the brussels sprouts in a colander.  Trim off the stems with a paring knife.  Peel off and discard a few of the darker outer leaves from each brussels sprout.  Use the remaining inner leaves for the salad, peeling them off one by one.  This can be a little tedious.  Because the leaves are wrapped tightly around the sphere of the sprout, I have found it easier to remove them if I cut the sprout in half length-wise, before peeling off the leaves. 

Make the salad dressing by combining the ingredients in a small jar, and shaking it for about 30 seconds.

Meanwhile, toast the walnuts in the oven for about 10-15 minutes at 300F.  I tend to toast my walnuts until they’re fairly dark because the nutty flavor intensifies.  When toasted, roughly chop the walnuts and scatter them over the brussels sprout leaves.  Shave the parmesan on top.

Pour some of the dressing over the salad and toss. 

Fennel and Potato Stew with Olives and Preserved Lemon
August 3, 2011, 9:02 pm
Filed under: main dishes, recipes | Tags: , , , , , ,

Invariably when I buy fennel, the person standing next to me in the produce section asks me what I do with it.  I usually tell them I slice it and roast it on high heat with olive oil and sea salt.  Roasted fennel is complex and delicious, and I can usually convince my fellow customers to pick up a few bulbs of fennel themselves.  This French stew is my other favorite way with fennel.  I’m drawn to fennel stews from the Mediterranean that are brightened with citrus and perfumed with herbs.  In hot summer weather, when I happen to crave a stew or soup, I want it to be lemony, light, and fresh. 


This stew is an adaptation of a recipe in Skye Gyngell’s cookbook A Year in My Kitchen from the Petersham Nurseries on the outskirts of London.  I have made this stew numerous times, but have gradually made it my own.  Her stew is built on both fennel and artichokes, but I found the artichokes bland actually, in comparison to the fennel.  I have finally landed on substituting yellow potatoes for the artichokes, and found that they pair perfectly with the fennel.  I have also omitted the saffron threads from the original recipe.  The flavors of the stew are so vibrant that the soft and subtle saffron is lost.  I think it’s a waste of an expensive ingredient.

I have tried several other French fennel stew recipes over the years, but this one is more interesting because of the preserved lemon and olives.  I love letting olives slowly cook into a stew or soup.  They give off a saltiness that is more earthy that plain salt.  If you can’t find preserved lemons at your local Arab market, you can make them at home, or substitute fresh lemon juice (although fresh lemon juice doesn’t have quite the same flavor).  If using fresh lemon juice, you may have to add a bit extra juice to make the stew bright enough.

This recipe calls for a drizzle of “basil oil” for garnish.  This is one of the foundational sauces of Gyngell’s cookbook.  It’s similar to pesto in consistency, but omits the nuts and cheese, and you can use it in a myriad of ways.  Keep in mind that it only keeps 1 week in the fridge, so you might want to make a smaller batch of it, or alternatively simply garnish the stew with a handful of torn basil leaves.

I like to serve this stew with either rice pilaf or couscous, a simple green salad, and dry white wine.  I should also mention that I often make a double batch, especially on evenings like tonight when I’m cooking for guests and want to make sure I have plenty of leftovers.


2 heads fennel

3 waxy yellow potatoes (such as Yukon Gold)

1 tablespoon olive oil

2-3 tablespoons butter

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 bay leaves

1 tablespoon chopped fresh sage, plus extra leaves for garnish

2 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped

1 dried red chili

4 plum tomatoes (or 14-oz canned plum tomatoes)

1/2 preserved lemon, chopped

1/2 cup vegetable broth

about 12 black olives (kalamata, Nicoise, or Ligurian)

freshly grated parmesan to serve

2 tablespoons basil oil (or alternatively, a handful of torn basil leaves)

For the basil oil, combine 3 bunches fresh basil in a food processor with 1 garlic clove, sea salt and black pepper to taste, and 3/4 cup good quality olive oil.  Adjust seasonings and pour into a jar.  It will keep refrigerated for 1 week.


Preheat the oven to 350F (180C).  Trim the fennel and cut off the base.  Cut each fennel bulb into quarters.  Peel the potatoes and quarter them lengthwise.

Use a heavy saucepan that is oven-safe, and warm it on the stove at medium-heat.  Add the olive oil and butter and heat until the butter has melted.  Add the fennel and potatoes.  Season with a little salt and cook for 10 minutes or so.  Add the bay leaves, sage, and garlic.  Crumble in the dried red chili, and stir to combine.  Roughly chop the tomatoes and add to the pan, along with the chopped preserved lemon, then pour over the broth. 

Cover and cook in the oven for 40 minutes, or until the fennel is very tender, adding the olives for the last 5-10 minutes.

Taste and adjust the seasoning then spoon over the basil oil (or torn basil), and scatter over some sage leaves to garnish.  Sprinkle with grated parmesan and serve.