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.

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. 

Great-Great-Aunt Tillie’s Date Cake
July 12, 2011, 8:22 pm
Filed under: desserts, recipes | Tags: , , , ,

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.

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.

March 23, 2009, 8:03 pm
Filed under: recipes, starters | Tags: , , , ,

Muhammara (pronounced with emphasis on the 2nd syllable) is a complex Syrian dip that marries roasted red peppers with walnuts.  The richness of the nuts and roasted peppers is contrasted by the acidity of concentrated pomegranate juice.  The flavor combination is surprising, but addictive.


I have always used Paula Wolfert’s recipe from The Cooking of the Eastern Mediterranean as a starting point, but have altered it in recent years.  In contrast to Paula, I toast my walnuts in the oven, and use whole wheat breadcrumbs instead of cracker crumbs.  These little changes add a bit more depth to the spread.

Ideally, one should use pomegranate molasses, a sticky and sour concentration of pomegranate juice.  Get familiar with your local Arab grocery.  You will likely find it there in a slender bottle.  Sometimes it is labeled as “pomegranate concentrated juice,” like the bottle currently in my pantry.  If you don’t have an Arab grocery in your area, you can substitute regular pomegranate juice or lemon juice.


Muhammara Recipe

4 red bell peppers

1-2 small hot chilis

1  1/2 cups walnuts

1/2 cup whole wheat bread crumbs

1-2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, or more to taste

2 tablespoons pomegranate molasses

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

3/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon sugar

2 tablespoons olive oil

Roast the red bell peppers and little chilis over a gas burner or under the oven broiler, turning frequently until blackened and blistered, about 12 minutes.  Place in a covered bowl or paper bag to steam 10 minutes.  This will loosen the skin.  Rub off the skins and slit the peppers to remove the membranes and seeds.  Spread on a paper towel 10 minutes to drain.

Meanwhile toast the walnuts in the oven until brown and fragrant.

In a food processor, combine all ingredients, with the bell peppers and walnuts last in order.  You can make your paste smooth like hoummus, or chunky with the walnuts rough like gravel.  Adjust the salt and lemon juice to taste.

Paula Wolfert suggests making Muhammara a day in advance to allow the flavors to marry.  This is ideal, but if you are pressed for time, it is also fantastic warm and fresh.  Serve Muhammara with belgian endive, flatbread such as pita or lavosh, or crackers. Leftovers work as a sandwich spread.