We are sometimes on a mission to cut calories or fat, and this holiday season was one of moderation for us, perhaps because cooking in a tiny kitchen forced us to minimize the excesses. ;-).  With this goal in mind it doesn’t get any better than a light and healthy lunch, and this salad feels like a complete meal that will satisfy you until dinner.  The inspiration is from Tyler Florence’s book,  Tyler’s Ultimate.  It was originally made with rice and served with a lemony, oven-baked chicken curry.  However, my Brazilian genes resisted the idea of serving cold rice as a salad, so instead I used orzo, and I also modified  the seasoning.  Make a large batch and you’ll enjoy it for several days!

(adapted from Tyler’s Ultimate)

1 cup orzo pasta
1/2 pound green beans
1 mango, diced
2 T fresh cilantro leaves
1/2 cup roasted, lightly salted  cashews
1 T olive oil
zest and juice of 1/2 lemon
salt and pepper to taste

Cook the orzo in plenty of boiling water, drain and place on a baking sheet to cool quickly.  Drizzle a little olive oil and lemon juice to prevent it from sticking.

Trim the green beans and cut in 1 inch pieces.  Cook in boiling salted water for 4 minutes, then drain and plunge in ice water to stop cooking and set the vibrant green color.

Make the dressing by whisking the olive oil with lemon juice, season lightly with salt and pepper, and reserve.  Assemble the salad by mixing in a large bowl the cooled orzo, green beans, cashews, and diced mango.  Add the minced cilantro leaves, drizzle the dressing all over, adjust seasoning, and serve.


to print the recipe, click here

Comments:  In many regions fresh mango may not be easy to find right now, but if you can locate it then don’t miss the opportunity to try it in a salad like this.  The mango we bought was not as ripe and juicy as the best examples from my childhood in Brazil, but in this recipe it worked just fine.

This salad has it all:  carbs from the orzo,  vitamins and fiber from the green beans and mango,  omega oils from the cashews, that together with the green beans, add a pleasant “crunch.”

Some people even enjoyed it heated in the microwave as a side dish with their steak. 😉  It was also delicious that way.  If you want to serve it hot,  consider adding the diced mango and the cilantro at the very end.


ONE YEAR AGO: Beef Wellington (when you have romance in your mind…)

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Cover of "Around My French Table: More Th...

Cover via Amazon

The classic amuse-bouche from Burgundy, gougeres, is not very complicated, and even better,  it can be prepared in advance and frozen. When it’s time to entertain just heat the oven and bake them straight from the freezer. This recipe from Dorie Greenspan‘s  masterpiece, “Around my French Table,”  brings fond memories of Paris with every  page. Her love for French food and culture  echoes my own feelings.


(adapted from Around my French Table)

1/4 cup water (2 oz)
1/4 cup whole milk (2 oz)
1/2 stick butter (4 T / 2 oz)
1/4 tsp salt
black pepper to taste
1/2 cup all purpose flour (2.2 oz)
2 large eggs
3/4 cup grated Gruyere cheese (3 ounces)

Heat the oven to 425 F.

Place the water, milk, butter, salt and pepper to a boil in a heavy saucepan. When boiling and the butter is fully dissolved, add the flour all at once, stirring with a wooden spoon until the whole mass is homogeneous. Keep over medium heat, stirring often, until you notice a light coating forming on the pan as you move the dough around.

Remove from heat, transfer the dough to a bowl and allow it to cool for 5 minutes. Have a hand held mixer ready, and add the first egg to the dough, beating well. Once the egg is incorporated, add the second egg and continue beating until a very smooth dough forms. Add the grated cheese and mix well. Drop tablespoons on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper (or a silicone mat), and bake for 12 minutes, reducing the oven temperature to 375 F as soon as you place them in. After 12 minutes, switch the tray position in case of uneven browning, and bake for 12 to 15 minutes more, until they are well puffed and golden brown. Serve immediately.

(makes 18 gougeres)


to print the recipe, click here

Comments: The original recipe makes a double batch, with 3 eggs. When I halved the recipe, I tried to use two and a half eggs (admittedly, it is tricky), but the consistency of the dough was too soft.  Instead, 2 large eggs will be perfect, so that’s how I wrote it down.  Since my dough wasn’t dense enough I used a mini-muffin tin and placed 1 tablespoon of dough in each spot. It worked great: the gougeres baked as nice, well formed balls, airy inside and gooey with melted cheese. Pure heaven!

Because I’m cooking in a  small kitchen, I made them early in the morning, froze and baked them right before our Christmas dinner. That’s definitely the way I’ll make them in the future.

Around my French Table goes on my list of all-time favorite cookbooks! Not only do the recipes fit our cooking style, but her presentation, with comments and stories about her time in France, makes this book ultra special. If you’re on the fence about buying it, jump over to the sunny side and GET IT right away!  You won’t  be disappointed.

ONE YEAR AGO: Pumpernickel Bread

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(version updated on Dec 28th, to correct a mistake in the recipe)

This past week I got a very special gift: a jar of homemade chili jam, made by my stepson’s girlfriend Carly, a gorgeous actress, who is also smart, witty, and a great cook.  Yeah, some people have it all!   😉 She made the jam by adapting a basic recipe from Nigella Lawson, that you can find here.  It is very flavorful, and looks quite dramatic as you hold the jar against the light revealing red speckles dispersed throughout the jam.  I wanted to make something special with it, and my first “experiment” turned it into topping for a sourdough focaccia.   A successful experiment all the way!

(adapted from Chilli and Chocolate)

for the sourdough sponge:
195 g liquid starter (3/4 cup at about 100% hydration)
125 g warm water (1/2 cup)
25 g olive oil (2 T)
10 g honey (1 + 1/2 tsp)
50 g flour (1/2 cup)

for the final dough:
all the sponge made as described
50 g olive oil (1/4 cup)
200 g all purpose flour (2 cups)
1 tsp sea salt

to bake the focaccia:
4 T olive oil
herbs of your choice, minced
2 T chili jam, preferably homemade
coarse or flake salt

Mix all the ingredients for the sponge in a medium size bowl, cover and let it ferment at room temperature for 1-2 hours, until the surface is covered with small bubbles.

Add the ingredients for the final dough and mix until they form a shaggy mass. Let it rest for 15 minutes, then knead quickly folding the dough on itself 10 times (no need to remove from the bowl). Let the dough rest 15 minutes, and repeat this quick kneading process. Repeat for a total of 4 cycles of kneading, each with 15 minutes rest.  Shape the dough into a smooth ball, place in a lightly oiled bowl, and let it rise until almost doubled (1.5 to 2 hours).

Alternatively, place it in the fridge overnight, transferring to room temperature 2 hours before baking.

Cover a 9 x 13 baking sheet with parchment paper, and add 2 T olive oil to the paper, spreading it well.  Put the dough in the pan and press gently until it covers the whole surface.   If the dough is resisting your attempts to stretch it, wait for 5 minutes until the gluten relaxes, and do it again.  Cover lightly and let it rise for 30 minutes, while you heat the oven to 450F.

Using the tip of your fingers, make indentations all over the dough, spread the remaining 2 T of olive oil all over, sprinkle herbs of your choice on half the focaccia.  If your chili jam is too thick, thin it slightly with a little olive oil, and spread on the other half of the focaccia.   Add salt all over the dough, and bake until golden brown on top, about 25 minutes.   If the jam seems to be burning,
reduce the temperature slightly.

Let it cool over a rack before you slice it in squares, and…


to print the recipe, click here

Comments:  I’ve blogged before about my favorite  focaccia, very quick to put together. This version,  leavened exclusively with wild yeast, takes longer to prepare, but the flavor is exactly what I was hoping for to go along with the chili jam.   I had a few unexpected commitments during the preparation, so the dough went to the fridge overnight,  no harm done.  The focaccia, even baked in our small electric oven, turned out delicious!    The chili jam (thank you, Carly!) is hot, but not overly so, and the contrast of the slight sourness of the bread with the sweet heat of the jam made this simple focaccia quite addictive.  Make sure to add salt on top right before baking, it will intensify all flavors.

By the way,  chili and chilli are both accepted spellings for the word.   Pick your favorite spelling, but whatever you choose, make this focaccia, it’s a winner!

I am submitting this post to Susan’s  Yeastspotting

ONE YEAR AGO: Merry Christmas!


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A simple recipe loaded with flavor!   This was the main dish for one of our dinners last week, but it would be excellent as an appetizer course, or as part of a cocktail party.   The original recipe, from Food and Wine magazine, suffered some adaptations to accommodate what we had available in the nano-kitchen. Our day had been so busy we could not conceive of the idea of stopping at the grocery store on our way home.  No ginger?  Use cilantro instead… 😉

(adapted from Food and Wine magazine)

1 pound of large shrimp, peeled
3 T lime juice
2 T yellow miso paste
2 T olive oil
1 cube frozen cilantro leaves (Dorot, or use 1 T fresh minced leaves)
1 + 1/2 tsp brown sugar

for dipping sauce (optional)
sour cream
Sriracha sauce

Mix all the ingredients for the marinade to make a thick paste.  Thread the shrimp onto wooden or metal skewers,  place in a tray with the marinade spread all over to coat them well.   Let it stand for 10 minutes while you heat the grill.

Remove the shrimp from the marinade, add to the hot grill, cook for 5 minutes total, flipping them around midway through.

Mix sour cream with Sriracha sauce (or other hot sauce of your preference); make it as hot as you like, and drizzle over the shrimp or use it as a dipping sauce.


to print the recipe, click here

Comments: Even though we’ve been in Los Angeles for almost 4 months, I still try to find stuff in a drawer, only to realize the item in question is 1,200 miles away.   That is precisely what happened while attempting to make this recipe – my nice set of metal skewers did not make it to LA.  Plan B was quickly put to work: I spread the shrimp all over the grill, working as quickly as possible.   Voila‘: success!

The frozen cilantro thing… The first time I bought Dorot frozen cubes, I only did it because the tray of ginger looked impossibly cute, AND the store did not have fresh ginger for sale. I used it, and loved it.  Later I tried the basil. Loved it too. Now, cilantro joined the party.  I don’t like to cut too many corners in cooking, but these products are excellent.

Miso & Sriracha sauce…  Don’t think you should only use miso for soups:  it  is also great in marinades, sauces, even salad dressings.  I am always searching for new ways to use it, because I love its complex, funky-chic flavor.  The dipping sauce with Sriracha – the best hot pepper sauce in the known universe – adds a fiery tone to the juicy shrimp.  Adjust the amount of Sriracha to your liking.  I confess to drizzling pure Sriracha on my shrimp – proving the point that, indeed, some like it hot...  😉

ONE YEAR AGO: Pain Poilane (the King of Breads…)

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If you’re fortunate enough to have friends who love to cook as much as you do, then think about spending an afternoon making pasta together.  My friend Cindy (who had attended a pasta class a few weeks before) came over with her recipe, her notes from class, and a butternut squash puree ready to become ravioli filling.  What can I say?  I happen to have very special friends… 😉

I’d made a pasta dough beforehand, but with the food processor,  and it felt like cheating.  I’ve always been mesmerized by the image of a woman with strong arms and hands breaking eggs over a mound of flour and bringing the dough together. No machines, just elbow grease.  So,  I was thrilled (and a bit intimidated) when Cindy’s recipe started with this:

but just 90 minutes later, we sat down with our hungry husbands to enjoy this:

(adapted from The Fine Art of Italian Cooking, Giuliano Bugialli)

3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
4 large eggs
1 TB extra virgin olive oil
Large pinch kosher salt

Place flour in a mound on the counter. Make a large well in the center and put the remaining ingredients in the well. With a fork, mix the eggs, oil and salt then begin to incorporate flour from the inner rim of the well. When the dough is too thick for the fork, begin kneading and work as much of the flour into the dough as possible. Cover with a bowl or wrap in plastic to rest the dough for 30 minutes before rolling.

Cut the dough in 8 pieces, and start passing each piece through the rollers of your pasta machine, starting with the largest setting.  Pass each piece of the dough several times, folding it in half and passing it again through the same setting, until it feels slightly “elastic” as you stretch it.  Once you reach that stage (after 6-8 passes), move to the following – thinner – setting.    As the pasta becomes longer, you might want to cut it in half to make it easier to handle.  Stop at the next to last setting.   Lay the pasta sheets over a lightly floured counter top and form the ravioli with the filling  and shape of your choice. Place the raviolis on a  lightly floured cookie sheet as you form them.  Gently cook them in salted, boiling water, add sauce, and serve.

to print the recipe, click here

(from Cindy’s kitchen; makes 4 light servings)

for the filling:
1 Tbs butter
3 Tbs minced shallots
1 cup roasted butternut squash puree
Salt and pepper
3 tablespoons heavy cream
3 tablespoons grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, plus more for garnish
Pinch of nutmeg
pasta dough, rolled out into wide ribbons
for the butter/sage sauce:
8 Tbs butter
12 fresh sage leaves
1 Tbs finely chopped fresh parsley leaves
salt and pepper to taste

In a large sauté pan, over medium heat, melt 1 tablespoon of the butter. Add the shallots and sauté for 1 minute. Add the squash puree and cook until the mixture is slightly dry, about 2 to 3 minutes. Stir in the cream and continue to cook for 2 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in 3 tablespoons cheese and nutmeg. Salt and pepper to taste. Cool completely.

Lay the pasta ribbons over a lightly flour counter top,  place 2 teaspoons of the filling spacing the little mounds according to the size of ravioli you want to make. Form the ravioli either as squares or triangles.  Reserve, placing them on a lightly flour cookie sheet.    Place a large pot with salted water to boil, and start preparing the sauce by melting the remaining 8 tablespoons of butter in a large skillet. Add the sage to the butter and continue to cook until the butter starts to brown. Remove from the heat, keep warm.

Cook the ravioli in salted, boiling water until al dente (2 to 3 minutes) or until they float to the surface and turn pale in color.   Remove  from the water and drain well.

Place some of the pasta in the center of each serving plate. Spoon the butter sauce over the pasta. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper, sprinkle Parmiggiano-reggiano cheese over each plate and garnish with parsley.


to print the recipe, click here

Comments:  Cindy pointed out that the most important detail about making the dough by hand is starting with a large “volcano opening” in your mound of flour. Like this.  Most people (me included) make the mistake of starting with a tiny little opening, leading to a  deluge of eggs flowing over the counter top, and considerable culinary grievance.  Make the opening a bit more like a meteor crater, and you will be in great shape.  😉

(click to enlarge)
When forming the ravioli it easier to make several at once, by laying the filling over the pasta, folding it over and cutting the individual raviolo once the full extension of the pasta is filled.   It is important to avoid air bubbles, so gently press the upper layer of the pasta, smoothing out the surface.  I like to seal the edges with a little water, and sometimes use the tines of the fork to lock them in place, but we did not do it this time and all went well.

There’s something particularly elegant about home-made  pasta in general, and ravioli in particular.  Keep the sauce and other dishes as simple as you feel like:  your made-from-scratch pasta will lift the meal to a higher level.

ONE YEAR AGO: Feta Cheese and Zucchini Loaf (a must-try French-style savory cake)

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