Shingles, coffee, etc.

When I last wrote, I'd recently been diagnosed with shingles, and I opted to drown my sorrows in a warm chocolate cream (called lava cake at the Nasher Museum Cafe). It made for a nice-enough blog topic — a delicious, easy-to-make dessert that will impress friends and family.

But it wasn't a post that really reflected my life.

Just over three weeks have passed since The Scourge attacked (I spent two off of work, as I couldn't be trusted to do physical labor). And I've got to tell you, blog pickin's are slim these days. I just don't want to eat much.  Klonopin, Oxycondone, Gabapentin and Lidoderm patches will do that to you.

Truth is, I wash down the Oxy with a glass of Metamucil, take a deep breath before working with clients, and give thanks that my painful episode will soon end. Shingles hurts like hell but it goes away.

Which is why today's blog post photo doesn't feature a fabulous gratin or cake. Without The World's Greatest Fiance, I wouldn't be eating much at all (O is the Grilled Veggie King). But I would enjoy my coffee, as illustrated above. Each morning I break out the French press, grind beans, bring water to a boil, and settle down for a nice cuppa before heading out, prescription drugs in hand.

As you can see, I don't rearrange furniture for photo shoots, I'm having fun with the Hipstamatic App for the iPhone, and I treasure my mug from the original Peets Coffee and Tea shop in Berkeley, California.

My internist wants to know what's bringing my immune system to its knees and allowing the shingles to flair up. Hate to say it, but I think my upcoming nuptials may be to blame. Major decisions have been made but details remain, including the guest list (a point of contention). So I'm blaming The Wedding. Now I have to get better and balance my life. I get to marry my best friend February 25, and that's something to celebrate!


Warm chocoate cream cakes

Individual warm chocolate cakes, those delicate mounds of dark chocolate goodness that run onto your plate when pierced with a fork — they've virtually disappeared from restaurant menus. And I can't say I'm disappointed. They were everywhere in the nineties. I couldn't open a dessert menu without seeing a "signature" warm chocolate cream topping the list. How could it be a signature dish when it was featured on every menu in town?

Some chefs embellished the hot chocolate creams with more interesting elements than others (I was a sucker for the peppermint ice cream the accompanied Rialto's warm chocolate cream one winter). Even so, I got tired of funneling ramekin after ramekin of chocolate cream mix into the oven when I worked pastry service at the restaurant. Why wouldn't the guests branch out and try something new? A luscious fruit pie or elegant opera cake, a slice of pecan pie studded with dried cranberries, or a vibrant lemon tart?

Rant over. I must admit that I chose the warm lava cake at the Nasher Musem Cafe last week. Having just been diagnosed with shingles (don't look it up until you've finished reading), I swung by the cafe and decided to drown my sorrows in something sugary.

Dark Chocolate Lava Cake with Amarena Cherry Gelato sounded pretty good. Time to get over my dessert issues and enjoy. Sadly, this was not the best warm chocolate cake I've had. The chocolate wasn't particularly tasty or rich and the cake was slightly overcooked, so there wasn't much chocolaty goo to go around. But scooping the warm chocolate crumbs onto a spoon with a bit of cherry gelato, well, that was quite nice. Dessert and a handful of prescription drugs made me forget my sorrows for a while.

Making hot chocolate creams at home is a snap. If you're not afraid to offer them at a dinner party (maybe it's old enough to be retro rather than blase?), try my favorite version, taken from Jody Adams, chef of the restaurant where I once worked. This recipe appears in her cookbook, In the Hands of a Chef, a fabulous book that encourages people to spend more time in the kitchen.

Oh, and the next time you check a restaurant menu, know that warm or hot chocolate cake, hot lava cake, hot chocolate cream — these are usually the same thing. Just check with your server.

Hot Chocolate Creams from Provence
Adapted from In the Hands of a Chef
Serves 4

9 tablespoons of unsalted butter
2 teaspoons of unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 pound of semisweet chocolate, chopped into 1-inch pieces
4 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
6 tablespoons of sugar

Note: The chocolate mixture can be made a day ahead (we did this at the restaurant); prepare and refrigerate. Let it come up to room temperature before proceeding with the recipe.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease for 4-ounce ramekins with 1 tablespoons of butter and then dust each with 1/2 teaspoon of flour.

Melt the chocolate 8 tablespoons of butter in a small saucepan over low heat.  When the chocolate begins to melt, remove from the heat and beat until smooth. (If making ahead, cover and refrigerate for up to one night. Bring to room temperature before continuing.)

Beat the eggs and sugar in a large bowl until the sugar dissolves and the eggs are foamy. Fold this mixture into the eggs.

Pour the chocolate mixture into the prepared ramekins. Bake for 12 minutes, or until just set — the centers will be slightly liquid. Let stand for 3 to 4 minutes, then turn out onto warm plates and serve.


Curried chickpeas with coconut

A couple of weeks ago I toured my friends' new house. They recently built a stunning contemporary near Duke University — glass walls, high ceilings, gleaming surfaces — and filled it beautiful furniture and fantastic artwork. The house is thoughtfully situated on a wooded lot, taking into consideration the way the sun hits the building throughout the course of a day. The home has a geothermal heating and cooling system. And a lap pool.

I wanted to move in.

Instead, I got to eat dinner, a wonderful Indian-inspired meal that included chicken, rice, and all the condiments one would expect (mango chutney, spicy cilantro sauce, raisins). My hands-down favorite, however, was something Martha whipped up on her own, without a recipe: curried chickpeas with tomatoes and coconut. She was kind enough to share her recipe with me, though like many confident cooks, she doesn't follow written directions or measure. The dish changes a little bit each time she makes it, depending on her mood and the intensity of spices used.

I made a version of Martha's dish last week, and recently enjoyed leftovers for lunch. I think it's best served with a little plain yogurt — a nice cooling element against the Indian spices. I added a fresh ginger, diced jalapeno pepper and cayenne powder to her recipe, and as always, I eyeballed the amounts used. Please add them judiciously and taste as you go.

Curried Chickpeas with Tomatoes and Coconut
Serves 8

3 - 4 tablespoons vegetable oil
3 15 oz. cans chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 28 oz. can peeled, diced tomatoes or 6 medium fresh tomatoes, diced
1 very large white onion, diced
6 garlic cloves, minced
2 jalapeno peppers, seeded and diced
one 2-inch piece of fresh ginger, minced
2 teaspoons ground coriander
3 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons garam masala
2 tablespoons curry powder
large pinch of cayenne pepper
kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 cups unsweetened grated coconut

Heat the oil in a very large skillet or saute pan over a medium-low flame. Add the onions, garlic, jalapenos and ginger, and cook for a few minutes, until translucent.

Add the dried spices and stir, cooking for a couple of minutes, until aromatic. Add the rinsed chickpeas and tomatoes. Cook for about 30 minutes, until thickened, tasting as you go. If the mixture becomes too thick, add a little water.

Add the unsweetened coconut, stir to combine, and cook for another 10-15 minutes.

Season to with salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste. Serve the over rice with a dollop of plain yogurt; freshly chopped cilantro would be a nice garnish.


The homeliest dessert

I was relieved that Sunday night's dinner party didn't take place.

I wasn't happy about the reason why — O was sick in bed — but I was more than a little horrified with the looks of dessert. Amanda Hesser warns of "a slight appearance problem" in the descriptive blurb that accompanies the Huguenot Torte recipe in The Essential New York Times Cookbook, but I wasn't prepared for the forlorn, homely mess that emerged from the oven. The edges were crusty, the top cracked and brown, the center gooey.

The upside: it's mighty tasty, filled with apples and pecans, best served with a large dollop of unsweetened whipped cream.

This is the type of recipe you'll want to have on hand for a quick-and-easy family meal. It's almost too sweet for my taste, but when O pulled himself from bed later that night and wandered into the kitchen, he found a serving spoon, dove in, and declared it outstanding. Then he ate three servings.

I used the ubiquitous Granny Smith apple in this torte, but another tart cooking apple (like the Rome Beauty) would work well. I also toasted pecan halves on a sheet tray in the oven for about 5 minutes at 350 degrees Fahrenheit before adding them to the batter to enhance their flavor. A side note: the recipe claims it serves 6-8, but I would say those are very small servings.

Huguenot Torte
(Apple and Pecan Torte)
Serves 6
Adapted from The Essential New York Times Cookbook

2 large eggs
1/2 heaping teaspoon kosher salt
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 cup peeled, cored, and diced tart cooking apple (I used 1 large Granny Smith)
1 cup coarsely chopped pecans, toasted
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 cup heavy cream, whipped to soft peak (for garnish)

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Butter a 9 x 9 -inch or 8 x 12-inch baking pan that's at least 2 inches deep and set aside.

Beat the eggs and salt in a large bowl until light and fluffy. Add the sugar gradually, beating steadily.

Fold in the apples and pecans with a spatula. Add the vanilla, flour, and baking powder. Pour the batter into the prepared pan.

Bake for 45 minutes, until sunken and crusty. Serve warm or chilled, with whipped cream.


Things keeping me from the blog + a Greek-style salad

A few things have kept me away from Cackalackyfoodie over the past 6 weeks. I spent some time traveling - sans computer - in the Amazon basin, for example. And I got engaged. To be married. This is no reason to completely neglect the blog, but I hit the ground running when my mother told me how disappointed she would be if I ran off and got hitched without inviting her. I had a wedding to plan.

The good news: most everything is done. As the event draws closer, details will need my attention, but the big stuff is out of the way. I can focus on other, more enjoyable aspects of life! And I can manage to cook now and then, which is good, because I'm tired of eating microwave popcorn for dinner.

I opted for a simple Greek-style salad for lunch yesterday, a beautiful pile of fresh veggies, feta cheese, olives, and pickled peppers dressed with oil and vinegar. It's a nice way to mark the end of summer produce (you can still find a decent tomato or two here in central North Carolina), and it travels well.

I'll try to manage a "real" recipe for my next post, but I've been streamlining my meals recently. Spending hours at party rental stores and florist shops will do that to you.

A Simple Greek Salad

2 large cucumbers, seeded and diced
1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
1/3 red onion, finely diced
a chunk of feta cheese, cubed
a handful of Kalamata olives, rinsed and pitted
5 pickled peppers, cut into thin rings
2 tablespoons of parsley and mint, chopped
sherry vinegar
extra virgin olive oil

Combine the first six ingredients in a medium bowl. Sprinkle with sherry vinegar and olive oil. Add freshly chopped herbs and toss. Enjoy!


Tomatoes and paneer

When I bought a wedge of paneer at the Durham Farmers' Market, visions of a traditional Indian meal danced in my head: cubes of cheese suspended in spinach or nestled between green peas and tomato. Instead, the paneer was used to garnish a fabulous summer tomato salad, courtesy of my boyfriend, O. After a morning of cleaning and reorganizing the house (not fun, but necessary) I was happy to turn the kitchen over to him — he's a good cook — but I wasn't prepared for just how tasty lunch would be.

I shouldn't have been so surprised, as simple dishes are often the most delicious. Quality ingredients don't require much embellishment, and Sunday's lunch was a perfect example: slices of heirloom tomatoes drizzled with extra virgin olive oil and topped with crispy pan-fried cubes of paneer, straight from the cheese-making geniuses at Chapel Hill Creamery.

Paneer can be made at home, but I've never managed to create anything near as good as Flo Hawley and Portia McKnight's version. Seared in a bit of butter and olive oil, the crunchy brown exterior adds verve to any dish, and the warm cheese takes on a rich, nutty flavor. A dish this simple doesn't require a recipe, but a list of ingredients and basic instructions follow. 

O's Heirloom Tomatoes and Paneer

3 medium heirloom tomatoes, sliced
extra virgin olive oil
1/3 - 1/2 cup cubed paneer cheese
olive oil
unsalted butter
kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper
basil, cut into chiffonade

Layer sliced tomatoes on a platter, drizzle with extra virgin olive oil, and set side.

Heat a large skillet over medium flame. Coat the bottom of the pan with a film of olive oil and add a small pat of butter. When the butter foams, add the cubed paneer and allow to brown on one side. Toss and brown another side, about 5 minutes total.

Scatter the cooked paneer across the platter of tomatoes. Sprinkle with kosher salt, freshly ground black pepper, and freshly cut basil. Serve while the cheese is still warm.


Too hot + cole slaw

Thus far, July 2011 has been outrageously hot. The weather in central North Carolina is miserably muggy, and though I hate to devote another summer blog post to temperature, it does affect my appetite and my menus. Who wants braised lamb shanks when the thermometer is pushing 100 degrees? Give me meats and veggies on the grill, a salad, and a large iced tea.

Cole slaw is a traditional summer dish, an item that regularly appears on picnic tables and pot luck suppers when temperatures soar. I made a vat of slaw on July 4, served alongside grilled hamburgers and corn on the cob, and though it was good, it wasn't great. And I know why. I used commercial mayonnaise.

Homemade mayonnaise is a revelation. Light and fresh and not too sweet, homemade mayo doesn't contain the preservatives that make most commercial varieties taste so, well, processed. Last night I made my favorite cole slaw again, but this time I used mayo made by hand. Tremendous difference.

The slaw recipe couldn't be simpler — it takes just a couple of minutes to put together after you've made the mayonnaise and cut the veggies. If you aren't confident about homemade mayo, read the label of the commercial varieties before you by, opting for the one with the fewest ingredients, all of which should be easy to identify and pronounce. I'm a fan of Duke's mayo in a pinch.

Oh, and please don't leave the celery seed out of the cole slaw, as it changes the flavor quite a bit.

Traditional Cole Slaw
Makes about 6 servings

1 1/4 cups homemade mayonnaise (recipe follows)
1/3 cup distilled white vinegar
4 tablespoons sugar
1 heaping tablespoon celery seed
kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper
1/2 head green cabbage, finely shredded
1/2 head red cabbage, finely shredded
3-4 carrots, grated

Combine the vinegar and sugar in a small bowl, stirring to dissolve. Add the mayonnaise and celery seed. Season with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.

Combine the shredded cabbage and carrots in a large bowl. Pour the dressing over the vegetables and blend well. Refrigerate for at least one hour before serving, allowing the flavors to meld.

Homemade Mayonnaise
Makes about 1 1/4 cup

2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon cider vinegar or distilled white vinegar
pinch kosher salt
1 teaspoon Coleman's dry mustard or prepared Dijon mustard
1-2 large pinches sugar
2 egg yolks*
about 1 1/2 cups vegetable oil

Combine the vinegar, lemon juice, salt, dry mustard, and sugar in a bowl and whisk to dissolve the dry ingredients. Add the egg yolks and whisk to combine. Begin whisking these ingredients at a fast pace,
then slowly — drop by drop — add the oil. The mixture will thicken and lighten in color, at which point you can pour the oil in a slow, steady stream, whisking constantly.

Homemade mayonnaise will keep in the refrigerator for about one week.

* Consuming raw egg yolks increases your risk of Salmonella or other food borne illnesses.


Simple Rice Salad

Let's call it The Headache That Negatively Impacted My Appetite. A dull, throbbing pain emanated from behind my left eye and spread across the top and sides of my skull. Never sharp or searing, it didn't interfere with more test driving this weekend (the Volkswagen Golf TDI is the current leader)  but the pain was just unpleasant enough to make me feel sick.

Sunday night I scraped myself off the couch — cranky noggin be damned — and scrounged through kitchen, searching for something edible that was light, easy, and wouldn't require a run to the grocery. The result: rice salad with fresh herbs, a simple dish that I often serve as a side in the summer. 

Rice salad variations are endless, but I rely on a squeeze of lemon, minced shallots, a few ounces of good extra virgin olive oil, and freshly chopped herbs to produce a lovely summer side dish (or a light meal for those who aren't feeling well). To feed healthier appetites add a few cooked peas, chopped steamed asparagus spears, chicken, or shrimp. Use any long-grain rice you'd like — I often have basmati or jasmine in the cupboard. 

My friend Jeanne taught me to cook rice like pasta, in a large pot of boiling water. This method ensures fluffy, individual grains that don't stick together. Give it a try.

Rice Salad with Parsley, Chives and Mint
Makes 3-4 side servings

1 cup long-grain white rice
juice of 1/2 lemon
1 shallot, minced
kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons of freshly chopped parsley, chives and mint

Fill a large stockpot with water, add a pinch of salt, and bring it to a rolling boil. Add the rice and cook until just cooked through, about 15 minutes. Drain in a sieve, then spread the rice on a baking sheet to cool.

Put the lemon juice and shallot in a bowl; sprinkle with salt and pepper. Whisk in the olive oil, creating a vinaigrette.

Place the cool rice in a medium bowl and fluff with a fork or your fingers. Judiciously dress with the vinaigrette — you don't want to drown the rice. Sprinkle with freshly chopped herbs just before serving, tossing well to be sure the herbs are evenly distributed. Taste and correct seasoning if necessary.


Honey-Nut Brownies

I've spent the better part of June obsessing about cars instead of food. New vs. used, diesel vs. gasoline, economy hatchback vs. substantial sedan, fun and sporty vs. somewhat boring but reliable. My 10 1/2 year old Subaru still runs, but it's silly to pour anymore money into it. Time to buy a new vehicle. I've gone on test drives, spent hours doing research, and quizzed friends about their cars every night this month. Very little cooking has taken place in my kitchen as a result; I've grown fond of munching on pistachios while reading online car reviews and calling it dinner.

I don't find car shopping fun — pressure from salesmen makes me want to bludgeon them about the head and shoulders with something very, very heavy. I took a break from the craziness last night and baked brownies. Cake-like brownies filled with nuts, brownies that deliver a light dose of chocolate and an interesting twist of honey that catches you by surprise.

I will enjoy one tonight, thinking about cars I can't afford, and tuck a few in my carry-on bag — tomorrow I fly to northern California. Cooler temps, no work, and a celebratory birthday dinner at Chez Panisse await!

 Honey- Nut Brownies
Adapted from Baking: From My Home to Yours
Makes 16 brownies

1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, roughly chopped
4 large eggs
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup honey
2/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup roughly chopped nuts

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Line a 9-inch square pan with foil, butter the foil, and place the pan on a baking sheet.

Melt the butter and chocolate in a heatproof bowl over a pan of simmering water (the bowl should not touch the water). Remove from the heat when the ingredients are just melted - be careful not to overheat.

Beat the eggs and salt together with a hand mixer or stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. When they are light and foamy, add the honey, sugar and vanilla and beat until smooth, about 2 minutes. Reduce the mixer speed to low and add the chocolate-butter mixture. Add the flour and mix just until incorporated. Fold in the nuts with a spatula, then pour into the prepared pan.

Bake for 45-50 minutes. A knife or toothpick inserted into  the center should come out clean. Place the pan on a wire rack and allow to cool for 5 minutes.

Turn the brownies out onto the rack, peel away the foil and invert onto another rack. Cool to room temperature right side up. Dust with confectioners' sugar or cocoa powder just before serving if you'd like.


Buttermilk panna cotta

Friday was Knit Night. Tote bags overflowed with yarn and needles, food was served, general merriment was had. It's really just an excuse to get together with friends, but I find Knit Night inspirational — my knitting always gets a boost.

As hostess for this most recent event, I was in charge of the menu, and I knew exactly what to serve for dessert: buttermilk panna cotta. I recently celebrated a friend's birthday at Ben and Karen Barker's much acclaimed Magnolia Grill in Durham,  and though everything was tasty, this dessert was my hands-down favorite. Soft and creamy, the smooth taste of vanilla was followed by the slightest tang of buttermilk, accentuated by a buttery cornmeal shortbread cookie and the oomph of cherry compote. It satisfied my desire for something sinful-tasting without weighing me down.

I raced to my bookshelf after dinner that night and was thrilled to find the recipe in Sweet Stuff: Karen Barker's American Desserts, a book I've owned for years but never baked from. What was I waiting for? If the rest of the recipes are anything like this one, it's a book I'll be using for years to come.

In lieu of cherries, I tossed fresh strawberries and blueberries with a few tablespoons of sugar and a squeeze of lemon. Left to macerate for 20 minutes, the berries' juices formed a perfect sauce.

And just in case you're interested, I completed a waffle knit dishcloth Friday night. It looks like this:

Buttermilk Panna Cotta
Adapted from Sweet Stuff: Karen Barker's American Desserts
Makes 6 8-ounce servings

2 cups heavy cream, divided
1 tablespoon gelatin
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 vanilla bean
2 cups buttermilk

Pour 1/2 cup of heavy cream into a bowl and sprinkle with gelatin. Set aside for 5 minutes allowing the gelatin to soften.

Place the sugar in a medium saucepan. Split the vanilla bean and scrape the seeds into the sugar. Whisk in the remaining 1 1/2 cups of cream. Add the vanilla pod and cook over medium heat, whisking occasionally; cream should remain just under a simmer. Add the gelatin and cream mixture and sugar until dissolved. Remove from the heat and stir in the buttermilk.

Pour the mixture through a fine-mesh strainer into a pitcher (I used a liquid measuring cup). Divide the mixture among 6 8-ounce ramekins, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for several hours (or up to 2 days) until set.

To serve, loosen the panna cotta by dip the ramekins into hot water. Turn out onto dessert plates, garnish and serve.


Biscotti for Joy

This time last year I was planning a birthday luncheon for my mother, Joy. The menu was simple, but some of the items required a lot of time and effort (like Thomas Keller's illustrious spinach quiche). There is no party this year, no shrimp to pickle or lemon buttercream to master — my mother is cavorting at the beach with a friend. Lucky woman.

I'll take Joy to dinner at Watt's Grocery, one of her favorite Triangle restaurants, when she comes to visit the weekend after her actual birthday. In the meantime, I thought I'd send a hold-over gift, a little something that recognizes her special day, a package that will be waiting for her when she returns from the coast. She's a chocolate fiend, but mailing a box of truffles in 90 degree heat is asking for trouble. After rummaging through several cookbooks, I decided to try Alice Medrich's Whole Wheat Biscotti.

I know, I know — whole wheat biscotti don't sound terribly festive. They sound almost punitive. But Medrich's recipe uses whole wheat pastry flour, which is really quite refined, and biscotti hold well, which is important in this situation. I skipped the suggested flax or sesame seeds (it is a birthday after all), and used chopped pecans in the dough simply because I had some tucked in the freezer. The result is a very crisp, light cookie that would pair well with coffee or tea, as intended.

Now I just have to stop nibbling biscotti, pack them safely away, and get to the UPS store.

Whole Wheat Biscotti
Adapted from Chewy Gooey Crispy Crunchy Melt-in-Your-Mouth Cookies
Makes about 25 biscotti

2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
2/3 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup vegetable oil
2 large eggs
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/4 cup pecans, coarsely chopped

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit, placing a rack in the center. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or grease lightly.

Whisk the flour and baking powder together in a medium bowl.

Using an electric mixer, beat the brown sugar, oil, eggs, salt and vanilla together in a large bowl until thick and pale in color. This will take about 3 minutes. Add the flour mixture and pecans and stir until just combined. The dough will be thick and sticky. Scrape the dough onto a parchment-lined or greased baking sheet and spread it into a 5-by-15-inch rectangle (I used my fingers rather than an unwieldy spatula).

Bake for 30-35 minutes, rotating the pan from front to back halfway though to ensure even browning. Remove from the oven when puffed and firm, and cool on a rack for 20 minutes or more.

Turn the oven heat down to 300 degrees Fahrenheit.

Place the slightly cooled loaf on a work surface and slice into 1/2-inch thick cookies with a serrated knife. Remove the parchment paper or liner from the baking sheet and arrange the cookies about 1/2-inch apart (I actually needed 2 baking sheets to hold them all).  Bake for another 20-25 minutes, until golden brown, rotating the pan(s) again halfway through the process.

Allow to cool on wire racks. The biscotti will keep for 2 weeks in an airtight container.


A continuing ed weekend + broccoli

I spent this past weekend in class. Continuing education is a great thing, and I really enjoyed this particular course — outstanding instructors, terrific classmates, new information — but the days were long and I didn't get much done at home. I was up at 4:30 a.m. Saturday to take my boyfriend (a relatively new development) to the airport; then it was a race home to shower, a trek to the neighbor's to drop off my dog for special keeping while I was away all day, and a mad dash for coffee, arriving at class at 7:30 a.m. Sunday was much of the same, minus the airport drive and extra-early arrival time.

Which is a very long-winded way to say that a) I didn't make it to the farmers' market this weekend and b) I didn't spend much time in the kitchen. I did, however, make one of my favorite go-to vegetable dishes after a long day in class, something so simple it doesn't require much of a recipe: roasted broccoli.

Please, stay with me.

Broccoli isn't exciting or sexy, but roasting it transforms this cruciferous veg into something far different from the limp, insipid specimen most of us grew up with. There's no need to joyously shove it down raw in an effort to eat more healthily, or to drown boiled broccoli in melted cheese (though I don't know how that ever became popular). Roasting broccoli caramelizes its sugars, intensifying the flavor and making it just a tad sweet. The edges get brown and crisp, red pepper flakes add a touch of heat — it's nothing like steam-table broccoli served in the school cafeteria.

This is a great side dish, though I've been known to eat it solo when I'm tired and not terribly hungry. Like I did yesterday.

Note: Be sure to put a metal baking sheet into the oven while it's preheating. Scattering the broccoli onto a sizzling hot baking sheet will help give the final product that caramelized crunch you're going for.

Roasted Broccoli

1 large head of broccoli
kosher salt
hot red pepper flakes
olive oil

Place a baking sheet into the center of the oven; preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.

Cut the broccoli florets away from the stalk and place in a large bowl. Trim the tough outer layer from the stalk with a sharp knife and discard; cut the remaining stem into thin rounds and add to the bowl. Add a large pinch of kosher salt, a smaller pinch of hot red pepper flakes, and a few tablespoons of olive oil — just enough to coat the vegetables. Toss.

Scatter the broccoli onto the preheated baking sheet and roast until cooked through, about 20 minutes. Serve warm.