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  • The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook
    The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook
    by Deb Perelman
  • Baked Elements: Our 10 Favorite Ingredients
    Baked Elements: Our 10 Favorite Ingredients
    by Matt Lewis, Renato Poliafito
  • Savory Sweet Life: 100 Simply Delicious Recipes for Every Family Occasion
    Savory Sweet Life: 100 Simply Delicious Recipes for Every Family Occasion
    by Alice Currah
  • The Pioneer Woman Cooks: Food from My Frontier
    The Pioneer Woman Cooks: Food from My Frontier
    by Ree Drummond
  • Bouchon Bakery
    Bouchon Bakery
    by Thomas Keller, Sebastien Rouxel


karen's birthday

It's Karen's birthday. She calls the shots most days, but she calls all of them on her birthday, especially food-wise. Breakfast was a poached egg with oven-roasted bacon and sourdough toast. Dinner is filet with blue cheese, crab cakes, and roasted tomatoes. And pie. Tuscaloosa Tollhouse Pie

She's the best.


deep dark brownies from the Chocolate Bar cookbook

A few weeks ago, Matt Lewis tweeted something that got me excited. It was about a baker named Lesli in Milford, Connecticut, opening her own shop. Matt is one of the guys behind the cookbook Baked and the stores in Red Hook, Brooklyn and Charleston, SC. He also is respsonsible for, at least in part, peanut butter crispy bars, Tuscaloosa Tollhouse Pie, pumpkin whoopie pies and malted brewer's blondies, which we will post soon. He's got significant idol status in our house. 

But what was interesting to me was that he said Lesli, the baker setting up shop, was responsible for Baked's brownie recipe. The Baked cookbook catapulted Matt into sugar infamy, but we knew him from his first project, Chocolate Bar in NYC and its namesake cookbook. The cookbook has the very best chocolate cake recipe ever (yes, will post). And brownies that will make you cry. In a good way. Because we've made them so many times, I knew that a woman named Lesli was credited with the recipe. I took a chance and posted to Baked's Facebook page to see if it was the same Lesli. Jackpot.

These brownies are perfect. Completely perfect. Karen and I went on a brownie quest a few years back. Brownies matter to us like no other food category. They must be moist, deep in flavor, and neverever cakey. Cakey brownies are a horrible sin (Just call it cake. Don't pretend it's a brownie. It's not. It's cake). As soon as we made Lesli's brownies, the quest was over. We found it.

Lesli's Chocolate Bar brownies make you pay attention. You cannot devour them absentmindedly.

Everything else stops, and it's just you and the brownie. 

And then you finish. 

And then you have another. 

And you thank God you live in a world where the brownie has achieved perfection in your lifetime.

It was worth the wait.

Lesli is opening up her Scratch Baking shop in Milford, CT. I have two friends that live there, and one close enough she should just make the drive (Jen Thomson Caplet, I'm talking to you). She's at farmers' markets this summer. You must seek her out and eat whatever she makes. It will be good. She deserves riches. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook. Drive to Connecticut. 

Make her brownies. And thanks, Matt, for sharing her with us.

recipe | deep dark brownies
  • 3/4 c all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 t salt (we use Kosher)
  • 1 T cocoa powder
  • 1 stick unsalted butter
  • 3/4 t espresso powder
  • 5 oz semisweet chocolate
  • 3/4 c granulated sugar
  • 1/4 c light brown sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 t vanilla extract
  • 4 1/2 oz semisweet chocolate chips or chunks (you know how we do the chunks)
Preheat oven to 350 F. Butter an 8-inch square baking pan. Note: If you're using a dark metal pan, the recipe says to turn down the heat by 25 degrees.

Sift flour, salt, and cocoa powder together into a bowl. Give them a pep talk and let them know you'll be back soon.

Get a medium to large saucepan (size matters here, because all the ingredients are going in here eventually). Combine the butter and espresso powder and heat over low heat. Stir constantly until the butter melts. Add the chocolate, stirring until smooth, about 2 minutes.

Turn off the heat and add the sugars, stirring until combined.

Add eggs and vanilla. Stir until the graininess disappears.

Sprinkle the neglected flour mixture into the pan. Stir just until combined. Don't overstir or you'll make them tough. This is a moral failure. Then add the chocolate chunks.

Pour the batter into the baking pan. Smooth it out. Bake for 28-30 minutes. Don't overbake. Just bake it for 29 minutes and call it a day. Place them on a rack and let them cool as long as you can.


tomato tarte tatin (adapted from Barbara Lynch's Stir)

And so we wait for tomatoes. Somewhat patiently. Mostly not so patiently. And with a good bit of dread.

Tomato plants and I would not be featured on one of those sites. We'd be the couple that really wants to like each other. We'd want the same future together. We'd try really, really hard to make it work. And then some worm comes along right before the first blossom opens and devours the stem and leaves, and the tomato plant dies a slow, horrible death. This has happened three years in a row.

And so we wait again. Hoping to break the cycle of shattered hopes and death monger worms. Hoping the fruits of our labor are red and juicy with just the right amount of acidity.

Fortunately, we live in New Jersey where the tomatoes are a source of pride. Our local farmer's market has insanely large, heavy heirlooms in mid-July, and if we go toward closing time, the stand owners push their heirlooms on us for free, seeing in us that we will treat their tomatoes with love and care and a bit of sea salt. Because farmer market heirloom tomatoes won't keep until tomorrow. Eat them now or just forget it.

And so we wait for July. And it's still May. 

Between our Quixotic tomato windmills and our farmer's market, we will have our red. Eventually. 

This recipe will be better in July. But it's perfect right now. Yes, it's from Barbara Lynch. Yes, we're a little obsessed with her. But it tastes so good, so it can't be wrong.

Let's break down the recipe into components, shall we? 

You must make this over a couple of days. Don't do it in one day. You can do it in one day, of course, but that would mean you have too much time on your hands, and you should come over to our house and change diapers or something. Eric Ripert can't do it all by himself.

So. Tomatoes get slow roasted. Onions get slow cooked for an hour. Puff pastry get slapped on top. You bake. You fry some basil leaves. You dollop the mascarpone. You eat and are happy.

This isn't hard. 

But it takes time. Maybe a day or two. So break it down into the components above, and don't think you can't do this. 

Also, there are some of you who don't eat mustard or live with people who don't consume it. I don't want to take your inventory or anything, but try this. Overcome your fear/aversion and get on it. This is tasty and sweet and savory and you need the mustard integrated in it. Try it. Just try it. Thank you.

Karen made this the other night while I was spastic with work. It was glorious. And so is she.

recipe | tomato tarte tatin with tomato confit, slow cooked mustard onions, puff pastry and mascarpone

for the tomato confit
  • 3.5 pounds plum tomatoes
  • 4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • 1 T sugar (especially in May)
  • 2 t kosher salt
  • black pepper
  • 1 c olive oil
  • 6 thyme sprigs
Heat oven to 300 F. Quarter tomatoes lengthwise. Seed and core them.

Get two 9X13 pans (baking sheets are fine). Spread the garlic between them. Divide the tomatoes between them, placing them cut side up. Sprinkle with sugar. Salt and pepper. Pour oil evenly over tomatoes. Bake 27 minutes or so. Cool the tomatoes completely. Use a slotted spoon and transfer the tomatoes to a container to refrigerate them. Keep the oil and use it in a pasta. Or something. Don't throw it away. You're a better person than that. 

for the onions
  • 2 T olive oil
  • 2 large onions, halved and thinly sliced
  • 2 garlic cloves sliced thinly
  • 4 t whole grain Dijon mustard
  • 4 basil leaves chopped
  • 8 basil leaves left whole
  • Kosher salt
  • Pepper
  • 2 sheets frozen puff pastry
  • some honey
  • 1 egg, beaten viciously
  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil
  • Some mascarpone. One of those little tubs is fine. This isn't optional. You need this.

Also, you'll need small tart pans or ramekins. Ours are about 3.5 inches in diameter. You use what ever you have. Small bowls. Cups. Whatever. Just make sure they're ceramic or metal. Not plastic, right? Right.

Olive oil in a pan over medium heat. Add onions and immediately decrease the heat to low and stir. Do not let these brown. Cook them for an hour. I'm not kidding. Just stir them occasionally. Do not hurry them. You are missing the point if you turn up the heat to medium. Leave it low and have a drink. Or five. About half-way through, remove the puff pastry so it can defrost some. When the onions are caramelized, turn off the heat and add the mustard and chopped basil. Add 1/2 t of salt and some pepper. Taste. We needed more salt. 

Flour a work surface and roll out the puff pastry to about 1/8 inch thick. Get your tart pan/ramekin and a sharp knife. Place the pan on the puff pastry and cut around it with the knife. It will feel slightly like a second grade craft project. Enjoy the memories. Put the pastry cutouts on a plate and put it in the fridge. Keep it cold or it won't puff.

Heat the oven to 375 F.

Take some honey and give the bottoms of the pan a light coating. It's ok if you get it on the sides. Whatever.

Cover the bottom of the pans with some tomatoes, skin side up. Then layer on some onion mixture. Then slap on a puff pastry top. Brush some egg on there. Sprinkle with salt. Bake until brown, between 10-30 minutes. I know that's a big spread, but we made these twice and each time took a different amount of time. Pull them out and let them cool for 10 minutes (no longer or the honey starts to set). 

Heat up the oil in a small pan until a dipped basil leaf sizzles. Place the remaining leaves in the oil until crisp. Maybe a minute or less. Drain on a paper towel.

Run a knife around the inside of the pans. Put a plate on top of the pan, and using a hot pad, hold the pan against the plate and flip them over together.

Garnish the tomato top with a dollop of mascarpone. Stick a bail leaf on there in some artsy way that makes you feel good.



vignole | spring vegetable stew (via Jamie Oliver)

This dish tastes like you're shoveling Spring down your throat. In a good way.

We don't eat nearly enough vegetables. We like them and all. We want to eat more. We have the best of intentions. We know we should. 

But we don't.

So who else but Jamie Oliver and his crusade to get America to eat more healthful food could get us away from our precious carbs for one meal?

His stew takes whatever glorious green veggies you can find and like, mixes them together with herbs, garlic, and pancetta (you can leave it out if you prefer), and cooks it just long enough for them to start some flavor party.

This stew of vegetables is the most versatile dish we've made in a long time. We served it in a bowl topped with a drizzle of olive oil and some Parmesan shavings. The next night, we used it as a sauce for pasta. And the next night, it held its own against a grilled hanger steak.

We mixed and matched green veggies. Two important changes we made to the 
  • The recipe calls for fresh fava beans. We couldn't find any at our two local fancy markets, so we substituted frozen shelled edamame. I'm sure it would taste different with favas, but I don't know that it would be better. Or cheaper.
  • I wasn't in the mood to clean artichokes. I used frozen artichoke hearts. I know this is a moral failing. Fresh really would have been better. We all survived. And it was still good.

So next time you're at the grocery, and you know you want to make something good for you, go green. This recipe has room for it.

vignole | spring vegetable stew (adapted from Jamie Oliver)

  • 10 oz. frozen artichokes
  • kosher or sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 12 oz. edamame
  • 1 bunch of asparagus, cut into 1 inch pieces
  • 1 regular leek, white and light green parts, cut into 3 inch lengths, washed
  • 1/2 pound spinach, picked and washed
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 small white onion, peeled and finely chopped
  • 1 glove of garlic, thinly sliced or finely chopped
  • 1.5 c. chicken stock
  • 12 oz. fresh peas (oh, umm, we used frozen baby peas)
  • 4 thick slices of prosciutto (or use a favorite ham or bacon)
  • a small bunch of fresh mint, leaves picked
  • a small bunch of fresh flat-leaf parsley, leaves picked
Boil a pot of salted water. Blanch the leeks for 3-4 minutes. Add the asparagus for 2 minutes. Remove and add in the spinach for a minute. Remove and add the edamame for a minute or so. Fish them all out. You're done with the water, so you can dump the edamame right into a colander in the sink. These blanched veggies are going to hang out for a while.

Heat a very large sauce pan (might want to use a Dutch oven-sized pot) over medium. Add a bit of olive oil and then the onion. Cook slowly for 10 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for a minute. Crank up the heat. Add the chicken stock and the peas and bring to a boil. Lay the prosciutto over the top and reduce the heat to a simmer for 10 minutes or so. You're making the blanket of pork goodness seep into the green.

Meanwhile, tear the leeks into strips. They don't need to be perfect. Roughly chop the spinach.

Remove the prosciutto and place on a cutting board. Let it cool for a while.

Add the leek strips, the edamame, asparagus, spinach, and artichokes into the peas. Bring back to a simmer, letting them slowly cook for about 10 minutes.

Chop the herbs finely. Chop the prosciutto into bite-size pieces. Add them into the stew.

Taste and season with salt and pepper. Add a swirl or two of olive oil. Prepare to taste Spring.


ham and cheese puff-pastry bites with honey mustard (from Barbara Lynch's Stir)

I ate a lot of ham sandwiches growing up. Boiled, pressed ham shaved thin, spread flat between two slices of white bread slathered with bright yellow mustard and a slice of American cheese was an affordable meal for my parents to serve us. I don't miss the ham, but there's something incredibly comforting thinking about those sandwiches.

Nothing, however, compares to Karen's relationship with ham sandwiches. We're married 14 years this June. For a long time, we've known each other's stories so well that we can say a word or two, and we've compressed a five-minute story into a second. Which leaves more time for laughing. Or drinking.

But about five years ago, Karen and I were talking about fundraisers we did in high school. This was sparked by large boxes of chocolates at our place of employment. I remarked that both the price and the quality had increased since my time in HS band. I remember the terrible waxy bars resembling chocolate we were required to hustle, funding long and hot summer bus rides to town parades, where our plastic shoes stuck to the sizzling pavement. Bad chocolate, stinky polyester uniforms, but fun. Karen casually asks, "Why didn't you just sell ham sandwiches?"

How do you respond to that? What does that even mean? Is it a euphemism?

Clarifying, she tells me that at their school, they sold ham sandwiches as a fundraiser. Same boiled ham I ate growing up, but they used the far superior Martin's potato rolls. Long assembly lines, done in shifts. People would buy sacks of sandwiches. Mustard packets included. She sees nothing wrong with this, nothing weird, completely socially acceptable.

To me, a sack of ham sandwiches is the most terrifying fundraiser ever. Worse than the 1970s-friendly tall candles my brothers sold, worse than the crocks of processed cheese spread and summer sausage we sold in elementary school. To quote Karen, "People would buy enough to feed their family for the week." Huh.

So. Let's reconsider the ham sandwich, shall we? No bright yellow mustard, no white bread, no rubbery cheese slices. And no fundraiser.

I think it's pretty clear, if you've read even a little of this blog, we'd make just about anything that has Barbara Lynch's name on it. Her food is incredibly, (nearly) impossibly tasty. The one thing we've heard from our readers both here and on Facebook is that her recipes seem a little/lot involved. I sort of (don't) agree. Yes, they take time, but nothing is terribly hard.

The one is incredibly easy, with lots of shortcuts built right into it. It explodes with flavor, so there's no reason to avoid making it. Unless you don't eat pork. Or wheat. Or dairy. We'll excuse the non-pork-wheat-dairy eaters among you.

This is the best ham and cheese sandwich you've ever eaten. Promise.
recipe | ham and cheese puff-pastry bites with honey mustard (from Barbara Lynch's Stir)

for the honey mustard

  • 2 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 onion, thinly sliced
  • 3 tablespoons honey
  • 3 tablespoons Dijon mustard
  • Salt and pepper
for the rest of it
  • Two sheets frozen puff pastry, thawed as the package directs (get the best available brand; try for all-butter)
  • 1/2 pound thinly sliced smoked ham
  • 1/2 pound shredded Gruyère cheese (we added in some Comte that we had from French onion soup)
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea or Kosher salt
  • Heat a skillet over medium heat. Add the oil. Add the onion, Stir until softened. Ours took 10 minutes. Add the honey and the mustard and cook, stirring every so often, for another 5 minutes. Puree in a food processor until sort of smooth. Taste and add salt and pepper if you need it.
  • Heat the oven to 375°. 
  • Line a baking sheet with parchment. Lay down one sheet of the puff pastry and roll out until about 1/8 inch. 
  • Spread out the honey mustard, leaving a 3/4-inch border uncovered. Slap down the ham. Then cover with the cheese.

  • Roll out the remaining pastry sheet on parchment, then carefully flip over the parchment/pastry on top of the cheese. (The parchment should be staring you in the face, not the dough.)
  • Seal the edges. Do everything you can to make these edges stick [crimp, press with fork, staple it if you must (don't do that)]. 
  • Cover the top with the remaining egg and sprinkle with the salt. 
  • Lay another cookie sheet on top of the top layer of parchment to hold down the pastry. Bake for about 20 minutes. 
  • Remove the top pan. Bake until deep golden brown. Ours took 20 minutes, but check yours at 15 minutes. 
  • Let cool for 10 minutes at least. Cut up into pieces, depending on how many you're serving. 
  • Would make a great appetizer, but we served larger sizes with a Bouchon salad.