things that have happened since the last time I posted....

The first day of school!  This was a biggie, in terms of emotions and time suck.  But now the first week is done, and everyone is happy (so far) and there have only been some tears (due to dawdling mostly), and all is well.   And of course today is a holiday, so no school already.  That 4-day school week is becoming a habit already.

My poor old cat decided to get some sort of infection or illness which resulted in him peeing on the bed--with me in it--at 2:30 am the day after JBB left on a business trip.  Ugh.  A vet trip and a godawful amount of money later, he's doing much better, eating, NOT peeing on the bed, and no longer hiding under furniture that needed to be moved to access him.  Poor kitty.  

JBB's birthday!  There was cake! There were presents! It was fun!

I made the plum cake again, like twice times.  In my defense, we had a lot of plums and the cake is really easy.  

I also made banana bread in like 5 minutes last night.  The recipe is so easy, and our bananas were so very overripe.  Next time, I promise, a post about it with pictures.  (Though my family is packed with strange people who don't like walnuts in their banana bread, so it's sans walnuts. Which is just wrong.  And still won't stop me from eating it.)

Halloween costumes were decided on! And thankfully, they are MUCH MUCH EASIER than last year's choice of Darth Vader and baby Luke Skywalker.  I do need to rustle up some special items, but thankfully, not many. 

Knitting progress was made! Finished up neckline shaping and got both sleeve caps done on Sans Serif. I even bought BUTTONS people.  There's really no reason this can't be done by Rhinebeck.  Theoretically.

I realized that the special order I'd made of Carbonz double pointed needles came in wrong.  I'd ordered a set of size 8 and size 6.  Guess what I got? Two sets of size 8s.  Which means that I will not be starting the sleeves of Sans Serif quite yet. But soon.

Tony Bourdain says what we all feel

From an interview with Atlanta Magazine, comes this from Tony Bourdain:

I love Ina Garten. She’s one of the few people on Food Network who can actually cook. When Ina Garten roasts a chicken, she roasts it correct. When Ina Garten makes mashed potatoes, those are some solid mashed potatoes. In many ways I want Ina’s life.

WE ALL DO, TONY. We all do.

Pavlova: is it the best dessert ever? (Hint: Yes. Yes, it is.)

pavlova my heart. (Also doesn't make sense, I know.)

pavlova my heart. (Also doesn't make sense, I know.)

I was totally going to have a dumb joke title like "pavlova, I hardly know ya!", but realized that made zero sense.

So i went with the slightly more hyperbolic, but far more accurate headline above. Cause let's face it, pavlova is the shit

Named after the famous Russian ballerina, Anna Pavlova, and thought to be created in her honor during one of her tours of Australia (or New Zealand) in the 1920s, it's a meringue shell, topped with whipped cream and fruit. Traditionally the fruit is some combination of strawberries, passion fruit, kiwis, bananas. The meringue isn't your regular crispy meringue either; it's crispy on the outside and marshmallowy and pillowy on the inside (thanks to vinegar and cornstarch).

This year, there were a billion folks at my mom'parents house for their super laid back easter festivities (featuring the oddly competitive easter egg hunt), and I was on dessert duty. Now, I am not a massive fan of cake, much preferring the pie-style for desserts (don't get me wrong. I am not ever turning down cake), but I also figured something a bit lighter might do well after stuffing our gaping maws with mac and cheese and ham and crescent rolls and candy. Thus, pavlova.

Despite looking delicate, it's actually a great dish to bring to a party, so long as you can protect your meringue from transit, small children, and nibblers. Just bring the fruit and cream separate, and assemble there. I figured if mine didn't survive, it's wind up as some impromptu Eton Mess (crumbled meringues, whipped cream, berries, served in a dish).

Choosing the fruit was easy: mixed berries all the way, passion fruit not just because it's traditional but because i love it. And no bananas or kiwis because enough was enough. Though i did as lemon curd because who doesn't like lemon curd? People who are dead inside, that's who.

Fairway totally let me down on the passion fruit front, but at least they had frozen passion fruit pulp. (by Goya, oh boy-a! And now I have totally dated myself. Whatevs. I'm old.) 

I didn't have the one true recipe for pavlova, so i read through a few, and cobbled together one that I'm pretty happy with, all told. 

This makes a big pavlova, about 10" across, but can also be used to make individual ones by doing little meringue nests instead of one big one, or reduced by taking down the number of egg whites.  A few notes on whipping egg whites: the bowl and whisk must be totally clean, with no grease or the whites won't whip. And even a tiny drop of yolk in the whites will make the whipping fail. So separate carefully. (Whipping cream is easier, just keep it all very cold.

here it 'tis, with inspiration and adapted from Ina Garten, Martha Stewart (technically Geoffrey Rush's recipe), Gourmet, Bon Appetit, and The Kitchn.


Serves 8 to 10


  • 6 egg whites
  • 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 2 1/2 tsp plain white vinegar 
  • 1 1/2 tsp cornstarch
  • 2 tsp vanilla
  • Pinch salt


  • 8 oz heavy or whipping cream, very cold
  • 2 tbsp sugar
  • 2 tbsp vanilla
  • 2-3 cups fruit, such as blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, sliced strawberries, passion fruit pulp
  • Jarred lemon curd (optional), I get mine at trader joes

What to do:

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Trace a circle into parchment paper using a plate or a mixing bowl. Flip the parchment over onto a baking sheet (so you don't have a graphite meringue). 
  • If your parchment is super curly, crumple it up then smooth it out first.
 "pencil on parchment", 2015

 "pencil on parchment", 2015

  • If your parchment is super curly, crumple it up then smooth it out first.
  • Separate your eggs: use three bowls for this. One for cracking each egg into and separating over, one for transferring the clean whites to, and one for yolks. Trust, the worst thing is fucking the whole shebang up with yolk in the whites on egg number six. So do each egg over the little bowl first, so if you mess up the separating on one, you don't have to start from square one. There are lots of egg separating gadgets out there, and they are all a waste of money. Just use your (clean) hands to hold the yolk while keeping the white drain through. Done.
sometimes the best tool is you.

sometimes the best tool is you.

  • Put the egg whites into the bowl of a mixer (or a large bowl if you are using a hands mixer). Add vinegar and salt to the egg whites, and beat on high until the eggs are light and fluffy, and when you raise the beater you have soft peaks (they slump over on themselves).

action shot of meringue!

action shot of meringue!

  • While the mixer is running, add the sugar little by little, and sprinkle in the cornstarch in. Keep beating until the whites are stuff and glossy, and hold stiff peaks (no slumping). Don't overbeat or they'll get grainy. Stir in vanilla.
Stiff peaks (that's what she said)

Stiff peaks (that's what she said)

  • Mound your meringue into the center of the circle on the parchment paper, and use a spatula to nudge it to the edges, creating a shallow nest in the center to hold the cream and fruit.
ready to bake, low and slow

ready to bake, low and slow

  • Put into oven and immdiately turn the heat down to 225 degrees (or 250). Bake a large pavlova 1 hour 15 minutes, then turn off oven and let cool completely in closed oven. (Don't open the door while cooking or cooling.) Bake individual pavlovas about 50 minutes before turning off the oven and letting cool completely. You can even leave that sucker in the shut oven overnight.
  • The meringue should be crispy on the outside and may possibly be a very pale gold. Use a big spatula to help you transfer the meringue off the parchment and on to a serving platter. It's pretty fragile, but it's OK if it cracks. Just reassemble it as much as possible on the platter. Be gentle and don't try to pick it up by the edges or something.
  • If you aren't topping and eating the pavlova that day, wrap the whole thing, platter and all in plastic and keep it OUT of the fridge.
  • When you  are ready to top it, Wash and slice your fruit. Defrost the passion fruit pulp if you're using it.  Whip the cream, sugar, and vanilla together with a mixer (hand or stand), until it's softly whipped. Don't go for the super stiff whipped cream, you want dollops like clouds.
like a cloud. A delicious cloud.

like a cloud. A delicious cloud.

  • Assemble the pavlova: I plopped some lemon curd onto the meringue shell, then covered that with the whipped cream, leaving a border of meringue. Pile on the fruit, then drizzle the passion fruit pulp (which was more like passion fruit liquid) over top.  Slice like a cake and eat.
right before we ate it all.

right before we ate it all.


  • If it totally crumbles while you are transferring, make Eton mess by layering the meringue pieces with whipped cream and fruit.
  • Individual pavlovas work beautifully and while slightly less impressive looking are more sturdy to transfer.
  • Sppoedly you can make the meringue well ahead, wrap well in plastic, and freeze for about two weeks. I've never frozen meringue before, so if you try it and it works, please tell me.
  • A topped pavlova will get soggy if left too long, and if it's humid your meringue might not be the crispest or may begin to weep sugar beads.

mmm... toffee

Today I'm making matzoh crack, aka buttercrunch matzoh, aka toffee matzoh, aka just plain crack.  

tasty tasty crack. With salt.

tasty tasty crack. With salt.

Here's the thing: it's dead easy.  Really and truly.  It's hard to mess up, ever.  And it has a perfect balance of sweet and salty and crunchy.  And at Christmastime, make it with saltines--salted side up--and it's Christmas Crack.  

TOFFEE HAS NO RELIGION PEOPLE! It crosses boundaries, it unites us all!

But first, a Digression. I need to confess something that many folks who know me in person already know (and many are horrified by): I don't like chocolate. 

I never have.  Sure, I like white chocolate, but as any true chocolate fan will tell you (loudly), that's not real chocolate.  That's essentially fat and sugar (which is why, I say, it's so damn good).  But honest to god chocolate? Gross. I like the texture, but the flavor is just TOO much.  And that's saying something coming from a girl who loves pate and butter and cream and all things rich. And don't even get me started on dark chocolate--ugh.  Give me buttery toffee or caramel or fruit flavors all day long, yo.

(The going theory, by the by, is that I'm a supertaster with weird quirks.  That's another post tho)

But anyway, back to the matzoh crack.  For all of my dislike of chocolate, it works here.  And I just skimp on half the tray for me, and over do it on the other half of the tray for everyone else in the world who thinks I'm cray. 

Matzoh / Saltine Crack

  • several sheets of matzoh or about 40ish saltine crackers
  • 1 cup butter
  • 1 cup dark brown sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 2 cups chocolate chips
  • 1 cup chopped nuts (optional, I like pecans or walnuts)
  • flaky salt (optional, but if you don't include it you're dead to me)

What to do:

  • preheat your oven to 400 deg. Line a baking sheet (the kind with a rim) with tinfoil.  You can also use parchment and foil if you're fancy, but I am lazy.
  • break up the matzoh into more manageable pieces if you like, and arrange in a single layer on the foil-lined-sheet.  If you're using saltines, arrange in a single layer, salt side up
  • in a heavy bottomed saucepan (so it doesn't burn), melt the butter and sugar together.  Bring to a boil and boil for 3 minutes. Off the heat, stir in a healthy glug of vanilla.  Or if you're precise, measure it. 
  • Carefully pour the butter-sugar mixture over the matzoh or saltines, making sure everything is evenly covered.
  • Pop in the oven and bake for 6-7 minutes.  Err on the side of longer, the sugar should bubble all over, especially in the corners.  Underbaking will make the toffee chewy instead of crispy.
  • Remove from oven, and while hot, sprinkle the chocolate chips evenly over the top of the candy.  Let sit for a minute to let the chips melt a bit--they will not lose their shape because chocolate is like that--and then use a spatula to spread the chocolate evenly across the candy. 
  • sprinkle warm chocolate with the flaky salt and nuts if you're using them.
  •  Let sit at room temp until set, break into pieces and store in an airtight container in the freezer.


pots and pans

Here's the thing: pots and pans are tools.  Good tools make tasks pleasant.  And if you're sitting there struggling with a warping saucepan with a handle that gets so hot it burns your hand, there's no way in hell cooking will be pleasant. 

So what kind of pots and pans do you need? I am full on in the cult of all-clad. That shit is awesome. Solid, well balanced pots and pans, level bottoms, shiny and pretty. And USEFUL.  But if it's too much money? Get something else "clad" (they sandwich a metal that conducts heat well in between layers of aluminum, to make the pot heat up quickly and evenly).

But getting all clad for every piece is insane.  The usual adage of the best you can afford goes well in most situations, but not, I think in this one.  

There are far too many super pricey pots and pans that are useless for actual COOKING.  And don't waste money on a set. Buy open stock, and get only what you need and what you will use. There's no need to spend that kind of cash for a stockpot, which if fully clad, will weigh the same as a toddler.  And non-stick pans wear out so quickly that spending cash on fancy ones is just a waste. 

So here are my recommendations, based on personal usage and on Cook's Illustrated/America's Test Kitchen's testing. 

  • 4 quart saucepan with lid,  and a 2 or 2.5-quart saucepan with lid.  (a 1 quart one is also handy for ramen)
  • 10" nonstick skillet and 8" nonstick skillet
    • I go straight up restaurant supply store for these babies, because the nonstick gets damaged or wears off and it needs to be replaced.  No all clad here.  Cook's Illustrated suggests the T-fal non stick pan, and I think the next one I need to replace, I'll pick one up. $20!
  • 3 quart saucier
    • I LOVE my saucier.  It's such a workhorse--part skillet part saucepan, the perfect pan, I think. They have wide mouths, slightly rounded bottoms, and are AWESOME.  Mine is all-clad.  Cook's Illustrated has a roundup, but it looks like the cheaper ones they liked are discontinued. Boo. 
  • stockpot (12 quarts)
    • I don't even remember which one we have of this.  A cheap aluminum one with a clad bottom.  Here's one that Cook's Illustrated recommends.
  • 10 or 12" regular skillet (optional).  
    • Once again: all clad is my first choice.  Cook's Illustrated likes this pan from Emeril.  The thing you want here is an oven safe handle. Not "oven safe to 350" plastic, but METAL. OVEN SAFE. 
  • 10 or 12" cast iron skillet
    • these are cheap. You will need to season it (I have opinions. That's another post entirely, though), but it will last forever.  First option is to get an old one from someone's grandmother, a thrift store, secondhand store or flea market.  The reason being that the old ones were cast then the cooking surface was polished and ground down to be smooth. After seasoning, that cooking surface was like GLASS.  Even a cast iron pan with shitty seasoning (rusty, etc.) is preferable to new because you can redo the seasoning pretty easily. But, if you're lazy, like me, just buy a new Lodge cast iron pan. 
  • dutch oven
    • don't go too small here, but don't get enormous. How many people do you normally cook for? a 6-8 quart range is fine for most.  I like LeCrueset because it's pretty, and you can get it at their outlet for cheaper.  Cook's Illustrated recommends the Lodge enameled dutch oven, which is ALSO pretty and way cheaper.  Either way, make sure you get one with a metal knob on top so you can do the no-knead bread method with it!

Where do you go to get these things?

All-Clad is everywhere. I linked to Amazon, the ever useful Evil Empire.  But Bed Bath and Beyond has those lovely 20% off coupons.  Even your local hardware store may carry good deals on things--certainly the Lodge cast iron.

If you don't care if your All-Clad has teeny flaws in it, go to Cookware N More and buy the irregulars for way cheaper.  Still great quality!  (also check out their knife section!) 

And do not forget a restaurant supply store! While you're there for those  nonstick skillets, pick up a half sheet pan or two.  They are better than cookie sheets, less expensive than the overpriced sheet pans that'll warp and drive you batty.  Also, look at their whisks and serving spoons.  GREAT DEALS to be had.

PS: saucepans are "pots," in the traditional sense.  Most come with lids. Get lids.  Skillets are frying pans that have sloping sides and to me, are far more useful than saute pans, which have straight sides. They may or may not come with lids, but a universal lid is a handy thing to have.

(yet another I was told to write about this!)


Yet another "I was told to blog about this" post!  And so I am.

So biscuits! So easy! So delicious! So buttery!

My favorite biscuit recipe is Smitten Kitchen's cream biscuits. They are literally 4 ingredients, one bowl, DEAD EASY, tasty tasty biscuits.

It took me a while to make the connection as to why these biscuits work so very well, considering the usual way of making biscuits is to cut or rub cold butter into the flour/salt/baking powder, then add buttermilk or milk to make a dough.  But then, DUH.  Butter + buttermilk - shaking = cream.  

A few tips: don't overmix or over knead biscuits or they'll be hard and tough. You just need a light hand with the mixing and the patting out. Don't bother with a rolling pin, use your hands.  And I don't bother cutting them into rounds with a biscuit cutter or a glass because I hate gathering the scraps and repatting them out.  It's far easier to just gently pat the dough into a rectangle and cut the rectangle into smaller square biscuits.  Quicker, too. 

Smitten Kitchen says they can be frozen pre-baked, and then baked off straight from the freezer with a few additional minutes in the oven. I have never tried that because biscuits now please.

I have successfully made a half recipe and then regretted it because I wanted more biscuits.  Don't make my mistakes people. 

And so here's my version of Smitten Kitchen's version of James Beard's Cream biscuits:

Makes 10-12, depending on how big you want them.

2 tablespoons melted butter
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt, or 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 1/2 cups heavy cream

Oven at 425°F.

Melt your butter in the microwave, and put to the side.  In a medium bowl, mix the flour, baking powder, and salt with a whisk or a fork.  Stir in 1 1/4 cups of cream, making sure all the dry bits are incorporated. I use either a fork or a silicone spatula.  If the dough is stiff, add a little bit of the remaining 1/4 cup, a little at a time. 

Don't overmix or over knead or the biscuits will be tough.  Dump your dough onto a flourer surface and gently pat into a rectangle or square about 3/4 inch high.  Use a sharp knife or a pizza cutter and cut into 10-12 squares.  Place squares onto a parchment or silpat covered baking sheet a few inches apart, and brush lightly with the melted butter (drizzling is fine too if you don't have a pastry brush). 

Bake until golden brown on top, about 12-15 minutes. Don't underbake--the golden crispy top is the best part.  Eat.

Edited to add:

I nearly forgot to tell y'all how to mess with them!

  • Add shredded sharp cheddar, and voila, cheddar biscuits.  
  • Add chopped rosemary or chives, and voila, herbed biscuits.
  •  Add chopped rosemary or chives AND cheddar, and voila herb cheese biscuits. 
  • Add a tablespoon of sugar, serve with sliced strawberries and whipped cream and voila, strawberry shortcake.



food storage tricks

Ever get pantry moths or pick up a thing of flour or pasta from a sketch grocery store only to find it had nasty little bugs in it (which are probably pantry moth larvae)?

It sucks, it sucks a LOT.  And pantry moths are such a bitch to get rid of. (ASK ME HOW I KNOW. UGH.)

Best trick ever to avoid any kind of infestation: when you get flour or pasta from the store, stick it in the freezer for a week before using it.  If it does harbor any nasties from the store, the cold will kill them and they won't decide to use your kitchen pantry as a breeding ground and infest everything.

(still check to make sure there aren't any dead bugs before you use it. And if you're my brother, this apparently translates to "keep your flour AND sugar in the freezer," which makes zero sense. But you do you kid. You do you.)