Coconut bundt cake w/ orange & ginger.


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In the dark of winter, tropical flavors like coconut, ginger and citrus are as welcome as sunshine. Bundt cakes are a great vehicle for these flavors, and this one was inspired by the inimitable Dorie Greenspan. In her book Baking: From My Home to Yours, she has a coconut tea cake with several variations. It’s a straightforward recipe that can be as simple or fancy as you want; for my sweet-toothed husband, I added a light glaze and toasted coconut as decoration, but the cake stands tall without the extras. My variation of Dorie’s recipe has zing from citrus and candied ginger, warmth from dark rum, and creamy, nutty notes from coconut. As the original recipe’s name suggests, it’s perfect with tea or coffee as an afternoon snack, but I like a slice toasted for breakfast just as well. Spring is around the corner; until it arrives, add a little brightness to your kitchen with this wonderful coconut bundt cake.

coconut bundt with orange & candied ginger

Coconut Bundt Cake with Orange & Ginger (adapted from Dorie Greenspan)

  • 2 c. flour
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp. dried ginger
  • 1 c. coconut milk, from a well-shaken can
  • 4 T. unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
  • 4 large eggs
  • 2 c. sugar
  • zest of one orange
  • 1 T. dark rum (or use 2 tsp. vanilla)
  • 3 T. minced candied ginger
  • 1 c. unsweetened shredded coconut, preferably large flakes
  • juice of your zested orange
  • 2-3 T. powdered sugar

Start by toasting the coconut. In a dry skillet over medium to medium-high heat, add the coconut. Stir occasionally or shake the pan until the coconut toasts and becomes fragrant. Remove from the hot pan to a bowl or plate as soon as you achieve the color you like; it will continue cooking in the hot pan.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and place an oven rack in the center of your oven. Carefully butter a 10- to 12-cup bundt pan and then dust with flour. Shake out any excess flour and check to see if you missed any spots; go back and butter them if you did.

In a small saucepan, warm the coconut milk and butter until the butter melts. Remove from the heat and set aside. Sift together the flour, baking powder, salt and dried ginger. To the bowl of a stand mixer, add the eggs and sugar. Beat for 3-5 mins., until the mixture is thick and pale yellow. Add the orange zest and rum, then slow the mixer down to add the sifted dry ingredients. Scrape down the sides of the bowl at least once and stop mixing when you can no longer see dry flour.

Add the candied ginger pieces and 3/4 c. of your toasted coconut to the batter and turn the mixer back on low speed. Stream in the warm coconut milk mixture. Stop the mixer when the batter looks uniform and give a few stirs with your spatula to ensure even mixing. Pour the batter into your prepared pan and tap a few times on the counter to even the batter and knock out any air bubbles.

Bake for 45-60 mins., until the cake is golden brown and a skewer or knife comes out clean from the thickest part of the cake. The time will depend on your oven and pan shape. Cool for 30 mins. on a rack and then run a sharp knife around the edges and center cone and invert carefully onto a plate.

Mix the juice of your orange with 2-3 T. powdered sugar to create a thin glaze. While the cake is warm, gently drizzle the top with glaze and allow it to run down the sides. Before the glaze hardens, sprinkle the remaining 1/4 c. toasted coconut over the top. Cool the cake completely and serve. Your coconut bundt will store for 2-3 days covered at room temperature or 4-5 days in the refrigerator. Without glaze, it can be frozen, tightly wrapped, for up to 3 months.

coconut bundt with orange & chunks of candied ginger

“Cheesy” baked kale chips.


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I was scared to try these the first time I was given some. I was at a barter event; a nice man was interested in something I had to offer, probably jam or pickles, and had kale chips to share. They had some yellow coating on them that looked like cheese– or maybe like cheez, as in puff, doodle, spread. I could have asked questions… but I didn’t. Why go to barters if you’re not willing to try new things? I traded for a quart-sized bag of the kale chips with yellow coating, which went into a cupboard as soon as I got home, unopened.

nutritional yeast, bought in bulk

As I looked through the cupboard for a snack one day, I found the kale chips and decided to give them a try. They were light as air, crisp to the point of almost disintegrating on your tongue, and with a savory, slightly salty flavor that reminded me of fresh air-popped corn, or tortilla chips. So delicious! Why had I waited so long to try? The powder on them tasted like cheese, somewhere between parmesan and sharp cheddar, but I knew it wasn’t. I learned it was nutritional yeast… and I had no idea what that was, or if I wanted to eat it. After some research, I learned that it is a deactivated natural yeast, meaning no leavening abilities, grown on molasses. Because it’s close in nature to a mushroom, it has the wonderful umami properties that trick our taste buds into thinking “cheese”. Nutritional yeast is a vegan-friendly substitute for cheesy, savory flavors in anything from soups to sauces to snacks like my kale chips, and it’s good for you! Sometimes called “nooch”, it is rich in B vitamins, selenium, folic acid, zinc and protein. Eat one of these kale chips with your eyes closed and it might be hard to tell the difference between it and a snack flavored with that bright orange powder that stains your fingers; they remind me of broccoli cheddar soup, of white cheddar popcorn and sometimes, sometimes, I swear I get a hint of bacon. Maybe it’s just the saltiness, but I’ll take it.

If I’m not careful, a batch of these baked kale chips can be a one-sitting snack. Just like buttery popcorn, crunchy chips, salty pretzels, they taste so good I can eat mindlessly. I suppose, considering the ingredients, that wouldn’t be the worst thing… But I like to have some for another day. Crispy, slightly salty, and with that hint-of-cheese taste from the nutritional yeast, they are legitimate snack heaven. And, it feels like a such bonus to have a healthy treat that helps me eat more dark, leafy greens! Nutritional yeast is showing up in more and more stores– I was able to find it in bulk in my regular grocery store for $10/lb., meaning this recipe used $.80 worth– so there will be many more of these wonderful kale chips in my future. In additional to a snack, they are great as a crouton-like topping to soup or chili. I even sneak them into sandwiches for a chip-like crunch factor. Isn’t it so nice to find a satisfying treat with so many good qualities? Tasty, inexpensive, portable– what more could I ask for? Happy snacking!

"cheesy" baked kale chips

“Cheesy” Baked Kale Chips

  • 1 bunch of curly kale, red or green (about 8 cups)
  • 2 T. olive oil
  • 1/2 c. nutritional yeast
  • 1/4 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1/4 tsp. black pepper, preferably freshly ground
  • 1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper (optional)

Start by preparing the kale: you’ll want to remove the stems from each leaf and tear the greens into chip-sized pieces. I use my hands to tear the leaves, but of course you can use a sharp knife instead. Discard the stems, or save them for another use. Wash the leaves carefully and thoroughly and then spin or pat dry. Place the clean, dry leaves in a large bowl.

washed and torn kale, stems removed

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees and line two baking sheets with parchment or foil. Drizzle the olive oil over the washed kale and use your hands to massage it into the greens. You are making sure to coat each leaf thoroughly with oil, and also starting to wilt or soften the kale. Add the nutritional yeast, salt, pepper and cayenne, if using. Use your hands or a spoon to mix gently but thoroughly. Divide the seasoned kale between your two pans in single, flat layers. Pour any nutritional yeast remaining in the bowl over the top of the leaves. Bake for 45 mins., then rotate the pans 180 degrees and move the top pan to the lower rack and vice versa. Bake for another 45 mins.

At this point, assess whether the kale chips are dry and crisp. If they still look or feel wet, continue baking in increments of 15 mins. You can remove chips that are done from the pan to prevent over-baking, but it’s not strictly necessary. You’re really just drying them out, so you aren’t much concerned with burning. When the chips are done, allow them to cool on the pan at room temperature before transferring to tightly-closed containers to store. The kale chips keep indefinitely at room temperature.

Chicken and carrots in creamy wine sauce.


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This recipe is nostalgia with a twist. As a teenager, when I began helping with dinners, I remember three specific meals I made often: Kraft dinner (but even my younger siblings could do that one), spaghetti with red sauce, and a “French” chicken dish consisting of cooked chicken, ready-made Chicken Tonight sauce and noodles. The latter was my favorite. It was different than anything I’d ever had, and the marketing promise that I was creating country French flavors with wine! in the comfort of my kitchen made me feel sophisticated and adventurous. I can still sing part of the jingle, if you’re interested. If we’re close to the same age, I bet you can, too.

I haven’t seen Chicken Tonight in years, and would probably be disappointed to compare the actual product to my memory of those meals I made back in the day. But this accidental homage to my first foray into “French” cooking is worth a taste! I had some leftover roast chicken and a few ounces of creamy, pungent Gorgonzola to use up. I decided to make a sauce with the cheese to put over cubed chicken and gnocchi. I hoped to serve it with carrots, but we had had roasted carrots as a side dish so many times recently, I was looking for a change of pace. Why not put them right in the sauce? I had some small, slender carrots and didn’t even need to peel them. I used rosemary because it goes well with both carrots and chicken, onion for the same reason, and a dry white wine to add some panache to the sauce. With the first taste, I realized my unintentional recreation of that beloved meal from my youth. The sauce is sweet from carrots and onion; the wine gives depth of flavor and the cream and Gorgonzola make it smooth and luscious. I know Gorgonzola is not French… but it works in this sauce, adding a bitter element to balance the sweet carrots and onion. This is a delicious chicken dish, a great way to use up leftovers. I would also consider making the sauce, minus precooked chicken, to serve over baked chicken thighs. With gnocchi, rice or noodles to sop up the extra sauce, you have a quick, hearty winter meal suitable for a busy weeknight, or a lazy Sunday supper. My recipe is scaled for about three portions, so double the ingredients if necessary to feed your crew.

Ah, nostalgia. Even though that sauce of my youth came from a jar, it taught me about classic ingredient pairings– chicken, carrots, rosemary, white wine– and now I can make something better from scratch. What are some of the dishes you remember fondly from childhood? Maybe something you haven’t tasted in years? Have you ever tried to recreate the flavors of a favorite meal from years past? I am tempted now to try making the chop suey my Mom cooked for us, or my Gram’s pan fried noodles. Until then, this chicken dish will do nicely.

chicken and carrots in white wine Gorgonzola sauce

Chicken and Carrots in Creamy Wine Sauce (serves 2-3)

  • 1 T. olive oil
  • 1 T. unsalted butter
  • 1/4 c. onion, finely chopped
  • 1 c. carrots, cut in thin pennies, peeled if you desire
  • 1/2 tsp. dried rosemary
  • kosher salt & pepper to taste
  • 2 T. flour
  • 1/4 c. dry white wine (I used pinot gris)
  • 1/2 c. whole milk
  • 1/2 c. cream
  • 1 – 3 oz. Gorgonzola cheese
  • 1 c. cooked, cubed chicken*
  • cooked gnocchi, rice or pasta to serve
  • fresh parsley to garnish

To prepare the sauce, heat the olive oil and butter in a large, heavy skillet or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the chopped onion and cut carrots and cook for about 5 mins., until the onions become translucent and the carrots start to soften. Assess here: if your carrots are not softening quickly, they may be thicker than I used. Cook for another few mins. before proceeding if you want.

Add the rosemary, a few cracks of freshly ground black pepper and a pinch of kosher salt to the pan and stir. Sprinkle the vegetables with flour and then stir to coat everything evenly. Continue to cook for about 1-2 mins., stirring constantly, to cook off some of the raw flavor of the flour. Add the white wine to the pan and cook, continuing to stir, until it is reduced down by at least half and the vegetable mixture looks almost dry again.

Add the milk and cream to the pan slowly; if you go slowly and stir, you will have a nice, relatively lump-free sauce. Cook just until you see the sauce thicken, being careful not to let it boil. When the sauce has thickened to a nice consistency, stir in the Gorgonzola cheese (the range given allows just a hint of flavor with 1 oz., up to a punch for us stinky cheese lovers using 3 oz.) and cubed, cooked chicken. The hot sauce should be enough to warm the chicken and slightly melt the cheese. If you need a little help, put the pan back on a low burner for a moment.

To serve, ladle warm sauce over cooked gnocchi, rice or noodles. Garnish with fresh parsley, if desired. Serve immediately. Leftovers will keep for about 3 days in the refrigerator.

*I used leftover roast chicken, skinless breast meat. I like white meat for this dish because the sauce is already so rich. I think you could successfully use poached chicken, too.

Heart-y goulash.


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I almost saved this one for Valentine’s Day… but I didn’t want to wait. Yes, I am now going to give you a recipe using beef heart. Beefalo heart, if I’m being specific, since that’s what I have to work with. When we bought our beefalo share last spring, I was curious enough about cooking offal to ask for some from the butcher. At $1 per pound, it was a deal I could not pass up, and a good opportunity to try something I might not otherwise have access to… or the willingness to seek out. In my portion of beautiful grass-fed, organic beefalo roasts, steaks and ground, I also got a tongue, liver and two hearts. Except… what I thought was liver was actually two MORE hearts. Oh boy.

I had absolutely zero idea how to work with beef heart; I don’t know that I had ever had or even seen it before. And I’ll be honest here: we got our meat share last spring, and there’s a reason I have had these hearts for months in the freezer. It took me a good amount of time to work up the courage to actually cook heart. I enjoy liver… as long as it’s chicken liver… and I usually leave the cooking to my husband or a restaurant. I prepared tongue once, in the one tongue dish I know and like (which is lengua tacos), and that took some nerve, too. I started thinking about why I was so determined to cook “the nasty bits”, a term I dislike but understand. Is it the stubborn (or boastful…) desire to say I have done so? Is it common sense because they were $1 per pound and are lean and nutritious? Is it due to my adventurous, try-all-the-ingredients palate? I think it’s a little of all those things, but also a desire to go all the way with my personal philosophy that we should only eat animals that have been treated fairly and humanely, as I know these beefaloes were, and we should honor those animals by not wasting any part of what they provide to us. Call me a hippie, or something else, I don’t care– I think waste is a shame. My hatred of waste is stronger than my squeamishness about preparing organ meat. So let’s figure out to do with those hearts, shall we?

My first instinct was stew. I like stew; it is versatile and comforting and easy to prepare. When it comes down to it, once I got past the name, heart is really not too much different than many cuts of beef I prepare for stew without a second thought. It is a muscle; the texture is familiar. It responds well to a long braise and works with traditional goulash flavors of onion, carrot and garlic the same way a chuck roast or equal amount of stew beef would. Ask your butcher to cut them for you and you might not even have to worry about trimming the hearts, which was the most challenging part for me. Once it was cubed, it looked like any other meat I have ever cooked with. My goulash, flavored with caraway, thyme, coriander and a healthy amount of Hungarian paprika, as well as sweet carrots and parsnips (my favorite part!), is a warm and satisfying winter meal. It was fantastic served with egg noodles and a dollop of sour cream and I bet it would be equally good with potatoes. I made it in the slow cooker while doing other things around the house; I just had to do a little bit of prep, wait five hours and then boil some egg noodles to get a delicious Sunday Supper on the table.

Beef(alo) heart is lean, flavorful and economical. For this meal, I paid about as much for the broth as I did for the meat! I’m guessing the price of the package of egg noodles was probably close to what I spent on heart, too. I will use beef or beefalo heart again for stews like goulash and, if I am ever lucky enough to find one fresh, would love to try it grilled. It is supposed to have a texture and flavor similar to hangar steak, which is one of my favorites. Check your local butcher shop or with a meat purveyor at your farmers’ market for buying options if you’d like to try cooking heart at home. You might be surprised how similar it is to roast beef, or steak– it certainly makes a heck of a goulash. Heart-y and delicious.

slow cooker beefalo heart goulash

Heart-y Goulash (serves 6-10)

  • 1 T. olive oil
  • kosher salt & black pepper
  • 2 beef (or beefalo) hearts, trimmed* and cut into 2″ chunks (about 3 lbs. total)
  • 1 yellow onion, peeled and chopped roughly
  • 3 cloves of garlic, crushed
  • 3 large carrots, peeled and cut into 1″ lengths
  • 1-2 parsnips, peeled and cut into 1″ lengths
  • 2 T. Hungarian paprika
  • 1 T. caraway seeds
  • 1 tsp. ground coriander
  • 1/2 tsp. dried marjoram
  • 3 c. beef broth
  • several boughs of fresh thyme– I used about 8 small
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/2 c. tomato puree, or crushed tomatoes
  • sour cream to garnish (optional)
  • cooked egg noodles or boiled potatoes to serve

Heat the oil in a heavy-bottomed skillet, Dutch oven or cast iron pan over medium-high heat. Season the cubed meat generously with salt and pepper and add to the pan in a single layer; cook, without stirring, for about 5 mins. Turn the chunks and cook 5-7 mins. longer to brown at least one more side, then remove with a slotted spoon to a plate or bowl. Repeat this process, adding more oil to the pan if necessary, until all of the heart is browned. This step adds so much flavor; I do not recommend skipping it.

Add the onion, garlic, carrots, parsnips and browned meat to your slow cooker. (Mine is a 6 qt. model.) Sprinkle the paprika, caraway, marjoram and coriander over the top and mix to combine. Add the broth, fresh thyme and bay leaf. Cover and cook on HIGH for 5 hours. Add the tomato puree, stir, and cook for another 30 mins. to an hour.

Taste for seasoning, adding salt as needed. Remove the bay leaf and woody stems from the thyme. You can serve immediately: ladle a portion of meat and vegetables over cooked egg noodles or potatoes, top with some broth and a dollop of sour cream. Alternately, dish the heart and vegetables into a bowl and serve family style, with sour cream and noodles or potatoes alongside, as desired. The broth can be served right from the slow cooker, or ladled into a shallow skillet, brought to a boil and thickened with 1 T. cornstarch dissolved in 2 T. cold water to make a gravy. Both options are flavorful and delicious! Leftover goulash is wonderful reheated the next day and will keep in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.

beefalo heart goulash served over egg noodles

*The beefalo hearts I have from the butcher came pre-trimmed, with just a thin layer of fat. Because the cut is already so lean, I left most of the fat alone and made sure to brown the chunks fat side down to render as much as possible. As for trimming, I cut out some of the very obvious tendons, but did not do much else, since I was already cutting it down for stew. There are plenty of guides online if you need help butchering; I found this link especially useful.

Favorites from 2015: Cookbooks.


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Two top ten lists! Two posts in one week! 2015 will end with a bang for When I sat down to put together my list of favorite books, I realized how many were of the cookbook variety, and knew a second recap was in order. Though I do read cookbooks cover to cover, taking notes and making grocery lists along the way, they occupy a different space in my reading universe than novels and short stories. I would never take 576 page Yucatan as my bus book, for instance… And joking aside, I know that people seek out cookbooks for much different reasons. Perhaps for the recipes, the obvious choice, but so many cookbooks now are cultural studies, with coffee table-style photography and historical details that make them a reference book for more than how to cook a chicken or bake a cake. I adore cookbooks, and I encountered some really good ones this year. Here are my personal favorites, in descending order once more, of all the cookbooks I read and cooked from in 2015.

  • A Change of Appetite by Diana Henry. Some cookbook authors have beautiful pictures and just so-so food, but Ms. Henry nails both elements. Hers are dishes I wish I had created myself: fresh, covering a range of cuisines, healthful and pretty.


  • Zahav by Michael Solomonov. You may have heard of (or been to– lucky) Zahav in Philadelphia. Bring some Israeli dishes to your own kitchen with this new book, which includes so many touching family stories you will find yourself reading through without even looking at recipes, then going back to see the food. I was already a fan of the spices, seasonings and flavor combinations common in Israeli cuisine, but reading the passionately described recipes in Zahav makes me more enthusiastic to try new dishes. I recently participated in the Great Food Blogger’s Cookie Swap and used the tehina shortbread from this book as inspiration for my tahini shortbread thumbprints.
  • Mediterranean Vegetarian Feasts by Aglaia Kremezi. Reading this cookbook was almost overwhelming, and made me feel initially like I was the least creative cook in the universe when it comes to vegetables. There are so many simple-but-sensible combinations of ingredients here; everything looks at once perfectly plated and intriguingly rustic. I wanted to try each recipe, and I did make several with good results. Not just for vegetarians!


  • Yucatan by David Sterling. A comprehensive survey of the food of the Yucatan peninsula; the word “exhaustive” comes to mind, as do the words anthropological, fascinating and delicious. It took me weeks to read through, but the details about the history and geography that shaped the cuisine of this region are presented in a way that made me wish there was a similar book for every region of every country. Like a giant encyclopedia set of cookbooks! I would read every one. For now, I will be content with Yucatan. The recipe for horchata and the various spice rubs are enough reason to own a copy.
  • Buvette by Jody Williams. If you like French food, you need to own this cookbook. Some French cookbooks are overly stuffy (in my opinion), but Buvette reads like a conversation between friends over a glass of wine and a plate of fresh baguette and rillettes. I felt like I could, and should, make her recipes… and more importantly, that they wouldn’t require ten years of schooling, two fancy pans and 14 hours at the stove. This would also make a beautiful hostess gift for someone who enjoys cooking.


  • Mrs. Wheelbarrow’s Practical Pantry by Cathy Barrow. First of all, there are currants on the cover. So you should own it for THAT. Then, you open the beautiful cover and find so much useful and clearly-presented information, you just can’t help but be inspired. I have been a fan of Mrs. Wheelbarrow’s Kitchen for years and was so excited to see that a book was coming, but wondered if I would find anything new from it that wasn’t on the blog or already in my canning and jamming repertoire. The answer was quickly and emphatically yes. This is a must-own for anyone interested in preserving. (Plus, the cover.)
  • A Boat, A Whale and A Walrus by Renee Erickson. I picked this up to read because of the Seattle connection; Walrus and the Carpenter is one of the best restaurants I’ve ever eaten at and Ms. Erickson is a culinary force in the Seattle restaurant world. It made my top ten list because of the contents: this is food like I want to make. Of the chefs I admire, I wish my food brain was a carbon copy of hers, because her dishes are perfection. The pictures and stories in this cookbook are familiar, comforting, calming, and the food is magic.
  • Canal House Cooks Every Day by Hamilton & Hirsheimer. Thank goodness for a dinner in January at Tallulah, spurred by the closing of a Seattle institution (sigh with me if you could go for some Kingfish crab cakes right now), with a much-missed and -adored friend and fellow food lover. Ms. K knows what is what when it comes to food and told me about Canal House– somehow I missed every one of the magazines and books. Now I am in the know, and my kitchen is forever enriched by the simple elegance of CH recipes. Every Day is understated, even though it is bright red, and wonderfully diverse, so you can find a meal for any occasion or taste. This is one of the best additions to my cookbook collection in years.

slanted door

  • The Slanted Door by Charles Phan. I can not tell you how many times I checked this out from the library, because I lost track months ago. (Why don’t I own a copy…?) I am often intimidated by the pantry ingredients necessary to successfully cook from a Vietnamese cookbook, but somehow this book is different, and I love every single dish I’ve made from it so far. The photography is stunning, the recipes are the perfect mix of exotic and approachable, easy and impressive; I find myself comfortable making meals I never thought would come from my kitchen. Huzzah!


  • Gjelina by Travis Lett. Like the Salman Rushdie novel on my top ten books of 2015 list, I didn’t even know about Gjelina until December. Regardless of our late introduction, I’ve already made three dishes from the book that will be staples in my meal plan for years to come, including one that debuted at Christmas dinner– and was a hit. There is no question that this is my favorite cookbook of the year; it is the cookbook form of my eating philosophy. There are vegetables and spices, sauces and pickles, humble desserts with exotic flavors, carefully sourced proteins and ingredients handled with love. If I had to choose one cookbook to work from for the next six months, it would be Gjelina, and we would eat like royalty. I have so much love already for this lovely book. My highest possible recommendation.

Well, there you have it. My ten favorite cookbooks from 2015, whittled down from a list of dozens. Honorable mentions to a couple Food52 books, Huckleberry and Ikaria, which were just out of the top ten. I find it interesting that no dessert or baking books are represented here, though I made my fair share of sweets this year, and I’m happily surprised to see a nice variety of different cuisines were sampled. I guarantee that will be the case again in 2016, and I’m looking forward to all the cookbooks I’ll get to work with in the year to come! Please comment: what was your favorite cookbook of 2015?

Favorites from 2015: Books.


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It’s somewhat ironic that my first post of the year about books comes during the last week of the year. Ironic, but a good reminder to myself that one of my goals in starting this blog was to share my love of cooking and baking, true, but also my love of reading and books. (Hence the “read” part of I adore lists and recaps and favorites and “best of”s (I don’t think that’s a real term, but you get it…), so it was certainly a treat to look back on a year of exceptional books and put together this post. Thank you, once more, to Goodreads for allowing me to remember what I read way back in January, and reminding me that just because City of Fire and Purity, etc. were on lots of well-regarded critics’ lists doesn’t mean they have to be on mine– because what a reading year it was. The stars aligned to give me more than usual reading time, or the willpower to prioritize reading over other distractions, at the same time the publishing world gave us new Franzen, Gaitskill, Groff, Ishiguro, McCann, D’Ambrosio, Haruf, Irving, Rushdie and more. I have to say quick words of praise for The Book of Aron by Jim Shepard and Mothers, Tell Your Daughters by Bonnie Jo Campbell, respectively numbers 11 and 12 on my list. I probably could have done a list of twenty, with previously mentioned City of Fire and Purity, Loitering, A Marker to Measure Drift, Thirteen Ways of Looking, Euphoria, Sweetland… I read so many engaging, thoughtful, witty, beautiful books this year. But discipline is good, so here are my Top Ten, in descending order. Not all were published this year, just read by me in 2015.

  • A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara. I started ALL in early October and finished in mid-December; I had to keep taking little breaks. Some of the plot is so devastating I would cry my way through 50 pages straight. An utterly complete novel: it’s as if it takes place in real time, and I felt a Jude-shaped hole in my life for a few days after I stopped reading. I missed catching up with the characters on a daily basis. Don’t be put off by the size or the reviews of it being “too heavy”– this was a National Book Award finalist, and rightly so.


  • The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan. No theme here, I promise, but this was another emotional roller coaster of a novel. The winner of the 2014 Man Booker prize is the story of an Australian doctor and his unexpected love, contrasted by the story of men searching for hope in a bleak Japanese slave labor camp on the infamous Thai-Burma Death Railway. Though I usually avoid “war stories”, this was more of a character study and I loved every page.
  • The Folded Clock by Heidi Julavits. I had to be forced to read this. I kid, but only slightly, because I have been confounded by Julavits in the past and was not a willing reader at first. Until about page 14, when I decided that the author and I, given the correct circumstances, would more than likely be best friends… and I would share in all the fun and glamour she writes about. In diary form, this one was clever, sometimes terribly snobby, and almost painfully vulnerable, in turns.
  • A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James. I cheered out loud, maybe even jumped, when Mr. James won the 2015 Man Booker Prize for this novel. I loved the tension and energy of the book; my first jotted comment about it: “visceral”. Set in Jamaica, the characters are complex, the tempo is quick and the story flows. I learned about history, music, culture, politics… and how to construct a novel. Except I could never come close to the level at which he writes– this is a masterwork.
  • Two Years, Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights by Salman Rushdie. I finished this just before Christmas, but enjoyed it so much it made the list, despite my usual criteria: do I think of the book after I’m done, do I recommend to friends, can I remember how I felt about it while reading even months later? I have a feeling the answer to each will be yes. Inspired by One Thousand and One Nights, Rushdie’s newest novel is a rollicking tale of jinns and their unknowing human descendants, battles and history, levitating men and magical babies, love and understanding. A timely read, chock full of his usual clever and biting commentary on our modern world, and so much fun.
  • The Tsar of Love and Techno by Anthony Marra. When I last visited Mr. Marra’s literature, it was to cry my way through A Constellation of Vital Phenomena. Seeing his name would cause me to tear up in a most Pavlovian way, so I was nervous heading into this, his first collection of stories. Not to worry. I struggled through the first story, reread it, had A Moment of Clarity, and barely breathed as I rushed to see what would happen next. My primary note for this book: “seamless”. It is ridiculous farce at times, then transitions to love story or poignant social commentary. Keep an eye on Marra: at last check, I think he is thirty years old… which means we will be treated to gems like this for decades to come. I was surprised that only one short story collection made my list, but not that it was this one.


  • Fourth of July Creek by Smith Henderson. I feel a personal responsibility to tell the world about this novel. Unlike the other award shortlist regulars I’ve written about so far, there’s a chance you’ve never heard of Smith Henderson. Let me tell you, he is quite a writer. In the spare-and-tough style of some of my favorite authors– Larry Brown, Tim Gautreaux, Tim Winton– he covers dysfunctional family drama like Grisham covers courtrooms. It’s a little bit mystery, a little psychology, and a debut that shouldn’t be missed.
  • All My Puny Sorrows by Miriam Toews. Another family drama that stayed in the back of my brain all year is this tale of two sisters: one wants to die, the other doesn’t want her sister to die. Somehow, from that premise (which is not even a spoiler) comes a funny, heartwarming, engaging little novel that made me think for the one millionth time how lucky I am to have a sister and be a sister, and how families don’t all have to look the same to be just right. I immediately started looking for the author’s backlist titles and haven’t been disappointed in anything I’ve read.


  • Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates. What more can I possibly add to the discussion of this book, which may be the best work of nonfiction I have ever read, ever. I think about the author and his words on an almost daily basis. I think about how I can learn from what he has to say and be a better person. I want everyone I know, no, everyone everywhere, to read this book. It is a change-inspiring book and a hopeful book. I was in an auditorium filled to capacity with readers waiting to hear Anthony Doerr speak when the announcement was made that Mr. Coates had won the National Book Award for Nonfiction; the applause and excitement was immediate, passionate, almost rowdy, and my voice was as loud as I could make it to show that I agreed. READ THIS BOOK.


  • Our Souls at Night by Ken Haruf. And with this slim novel my reading relationship with Mr. Haruf comes to a close, and what an unimaginably perfect ending it was. I loved Plainsong and Eventide, but Our Souls at Night is special. I read it in one day, with tears streaming down my cheeks for the last fifty pages– not because it was sad, though you can’t possibly show me a more tender, sweet, lovely little novel published this year– but because it was over. There will never be another Ken Haruf novel. Thank goodness we were left with this as the last memory of his relatable characters and beautiful narratives. He will be missed.

Well. I’ll say it again– it was a marvelous year for books, and though my taste may not be yours, I stand behind all ten on this list as read-worthy. Please comment: did any of your favorite reads make my list? What was your own top choice? Here’s to an equally page-turning 2016!

Check back in Wednesday for my favorite cookbooks of the year!

Tahini shortbread thumbprints.


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The Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap raises money for Cookies for Kids’ Cancer with the help of sponsors Dixie Crystals, Land O’Lakes and OXO. The chance to be part of that campaign was a huge part of why I signed up to participate for the third year. Sweetening the deal, literally and figuratively, were the three dozen cookies I knew I would receive in the mail from other participating food bloggers. I received Candy Bar Cookies from Cydnee at Tampa Cake Girl, Toffee White Chocolate Chunk cookies from Alyssa at What’s Cooking, Love?, and Nutella Brownie Batter cookies from Nicole at For the Love of Food. I couldn’t choose a favorite; each kind of cookie was delicious, perfectly baked, and beautifully presented. You will have to join me in looking for the recipes when the round-up is posted for the Cookie Swap entries, because all three recipes are keepers!

For my part, I was asked to chose a new-to-me recipe, one I had never blogged before, to bake and send to my three matches. At the time I was planning my selection, I was reading the Zahav cookbook, excitedly marking recipes to try and making notes of ingredients to buy in preparation. A page I returned to over and over had tehina shortbread cookies. At cookie swaps I hosted in the past, I was taken by some tahini (the spelling of tehina I am more used to, and will continue with) cookies made by my friend D. They appeared simple, but the flavor was so different from anything I had tried before, and they were perfect with a cup of tea. Years later, I remember how good those cookies tasted to me, and how curious it was that I had never thought to use tahini, an ingredient that’s a staple in my savory dishes, in a sweet way. Tahini is innately bitter, and though bitterness is often perceived as a negative in food, I am quite drawn to it: coffee, escarole, arugula, citrus peel, fenugreek and turnips come to mind as bitter ingredients I enjoy. Though I am not sure you will find me making escarole cookies anytime soon… the balance of tahini with butter and sugar is genius. I chose to add a twist to Solomonov’s base recipe to make it my own, and used blackberry and cherry-rhubarb-vanilla jams I made last summer to transform the shortbread into thumbprints.

In my version, the well-balanced tahini shortbread is gussied up as an homage to another beloved cookie, the peanut butter and jelly thumbprint. I know that almond thumbprints with jam are also holiday favorites, and for a good reason. Another benefit to using tahini in place of peanut butter or almonds in your cookies: it is made from sesame seeds, so may be a wise replacement if you are gifting to friends who deal with nut allergies or sensitivity in their families. As for the jam, blackberry was chosen because it is my favorite jam to use in a peanut butter sandwich, cherry because I think of it when I think of fruit flavors that might be common in Israeli sweets. With that reasoning, apricot jam would also be delicious. Really, you could use any jam for the filling; strawberry or raspberry would have also worked nicely.

If you have more holiday baking to do, consider these thumbprints a fun twist on classic holiday treats. Children can help scoop the batter onto the sheets or press the “thumbprint” with the end of a mixing spoon. Don’t make the mistake of relegating them to the holiday-only recipe file, as these are destined to be a year-round option when I need a batch of cookies for the break room at work, a quick hostess gift or casual gathering. I hope my matches enjoyed the tahini shortbread thumbprints I sent, and I look forward to participating in The Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap again next year! Watch for the cookie recipe round up from all participating bloggers in the next few days; I’ll post links on my Facebook page. Happy baking!

tahini shortbread thumbprints

Tahini Shortbread Thumbprints (adapted from Zahav)

  • 14 T. unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 3/4 c. + 1 T. sugar (I used organic evaporated cane juice)
  • 1 c. tahini (I like the store brand from Whole Foods, or the Once Again brand)
  • 2 c. flour
  • 1/4 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 4 oz. jam of your choice (I used blackberry and cherry)

In a large mixing bowl, cream together the butter and sugar well, for at least 3 mins. Add the tahini and mix until thoroughly incorporated. Sift together the dry ingredients and add to the wet ingredients, mixing just until combined. Cover the bowl and chill the dough for at least one hour before proceeding. The dough can be made several days in advance if desired. I also had excellent results freezing a batch of dough, taking it out to thaw in the refrigerator for about 8 hours, and then baking as usual.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a few cookie sheets with parchment paper, for optimal results. I like to use a 1 T. cookie scoop for these, but you can portion the same amount of dough and roll it into balls if that is easier. Space the dough balls about 2″ apart to allow for spreading, about 16-20 cookies per sheet. Bake for 12 mins.

As soon as the cookies come out of the oven, use your thumb (if you’re quick! and not heat sensitive) or the rounded end of a silicone or wooden, etc. mixing spoon to press an indentation into each cookie. Cool for 10-15 mins. on the pan and then carefully remove the parchment paper to a cooling rack. Dollop a small amount of jam into each center indentation. I believe 1/4 tsp. to 1/2 tsp. was right, depending on the depth of your mark, but found it was much easier to eyeball the amount than measure.

After filling your tahini thumbprints, cool them completely on the rack and then transfer to containers for storage. These cookies keep, tightly covered, at room temperature for about 5 days. I think they are better the day after than right out of the oven.

Needhams: Maine potato candy.


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For years, whenever I flew to Maine to visit family without my husband, he would drop me off at the airport with a hug, a kiss and a plea to bring home needhams. We had a funny rating system for the various available brands that included “chalky, but will do in a pinch” for the ones I could usually buy in the airport gift shop, and “awesome– make someone drive you to Freeport for these” for the ones made in a little candy shop across the street from LL Bean. There were years I didn’t bring any because I couldn’t find them: the Summers of Pouting and Sadness. Luckily, my mom started to make her own a few years ago, so I knew I could count on a box in December even if I couldn’t get them in August. (Thanks, Mom!) Now, I am making them myself, and wondering why I haven’t done this the entire time we have lived in a Needham-Free state?

In case you have never had the good fortune of tasting a needham, let me give you some background. Unofficially the state candy of Maine, needhams are a chocolate covered coconut candy (think Mounds bar) with a special ingredient that lends a very specific texture: mashed potatoes! That’s right– needhams are also called “Maine potato candy”, and though you can’t taste the potato if you try all day, it’s in there, and you can’t call your candy a needham without it. Some folks use paraffin wax in the chocolate coating to lend a shiny, waxy quality to the outside, but I still don’t quite get that part, and think the candies are perfect without paraffin, so I use coconut oil instead. The filling in a homemade needham tends to stay moist instead of acquiring the breakable, powdery quality that some creamy coconut-centered chocolates can get. The chocolate coating is dark to offset the sweetness of the filling.

Although needhams are available year round, I always think of them as a holiday candy. If you make candy boxes for gifts or a candy tray for a party, they add such a nice textural difference alongside creamy fudge, chewy caramels or crunchy toffee. The filling can be made ahead, portioned and stored in the freezer for several weeks before you dip the candies in chocolate. I promise you’ll have a recipe request from someone tasting them for the first time– I always do! If you are a coconut lover, like me, or looking for something new to try, needhams are the way to go. Please comment: have you ever had one before? Do you have a family recipe of your own, or a favorite brand? I’d love to know.

needhams: Maine potato candy!

Needhams (Maine Potato Candy) (adapted from Food Network)

  • 1/2 c. mashed plain russet potato, from one medium potato (about 1/2 lb.)
  • 1 lb. confectioner’s sugar
  • 2 T. unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 T. vanilla extract
  • a heaping 1/4 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1 14 oz. bag of sweetened flake coconut (I like Baker’s angel flake coconut)
  • 12 oz. bittersweet chocolate, cut or broken into small pieces (I used Callebaut)
  • 4 oz. semisweet chocolate, in small pieces (I used Nestle chocolate chips)
  • 1 T. coconut oil*

Start by cooking the potato: peel the potato and cut into four chunks. Place in a pot and cover with water. Bring to a boil, lower the heat slightly and cook for 25-35 mins., until the potato pieces can be pierced easily with a fork. Drain and mash. Measure out 1/2 c. mashed potato for this recipe and cool before proceeding.

the ingredients, except coconut, for needhams filling

Set a large glass mixing bowl over a saucepan containing a few inches of simmering water. Add the confectioner’s sugar and make a well in the center. Into the well, add the mashed potatoes, butter, vanilla and salt. As the mixture heats, stir from the center out, incorporating the sugar slowly as the butter melts, until you have a smooth consistency. This takes about 5 mins. Remove the bowl from the heat and stir in the coconut. Place the bowl in the freezer for 20-30 mins. to chill the coconut filling before portioning.

stirring the coconut into the creamy needhams filling

Set up a work station with cookie sheets or similar pans covered in parchment or wax paper. I use a 2 T. cookie scoop to portion filling, and then press it roughly into squares with my hands. That size scoop makes about 25 needhams. You can make them smaller or larger as you please. When all the coconut filling is portioned, return the candy squares to the freezer for another 20 mins. (At this point, you can put the candy centers into a covered  container and freeze the centers for several weeks before dipping in chocolate.)

While the candy centers chill, start melting your chocolate. Place another glass mixing bowl over your simmering water and add the bittersweet and semisweet chocolate. Heat slowly, stirring occasionally, until the chocolate is smooth and shiny. Remove from the heat and stir in the coconut oil. Use a fork to dip the chilled squares into chocolate and then tap or shake off the excess. It’s okay if you just have the top and sides covered– we actually prefer that ratio of chocolate to filling. You will have enough chocolate to cover all six sides of your candy, and probably some left over.

To set the chocolate coating, return them to the freezer. They are ready to eat as soon as the chocolate is set. I store needhams in the freezer because they are delicious frozen! You can serve them cold, or allow them to come to room temperature. I hope you enjoy them as much as we Mainers do.

a delicious, creamy coconut-centered needham.

*If you don’t have coconut oil, you can use an equal amount of shortening.

Thanksgiving traditions: mushroom & leek stuffed squash.


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This squash dish is a new Thanksgiving tradition in our family. I created it last fall after being asked to bring an orange vegetable side to dinner at a mushroom-lover’s house. It seemed to hit every note I wanted: easy to prepare, accessible ingredients, festive and pretty on the table. The primary flavors in the stuffing– sweet leeks, hearty mushrooms, familiar sage– are all good matches for squash, and they provide textures and colors that are wonderful to taste and see. I used Kabocha squash last year and have experimented with Butternut, acorn and blue Hubbard as well. For Thanksgiving this year, I’m trying a new-to-me variety called Butterkin, because of its low, bowl shape and promised creamy and sweet flavor profile. I’d say you could pretty safely try any kind of winter squash you enjoy (maybe not spaghetti squash because of the texture) and have this stuffed squash recipe turn out beautifully.

If you’re looking for a hearty meal, more of an entree than a side, I’ve also made this with cooked wild rice mixed into the leek mixture, served as an adorable one-squash-per-guest meal. I crumbled bacon over the top when I made it with acorn squash, and it was salty and crunchy and good. I have also tried using a tart apple in place of dried cranberries: I diced a Honeycrisp apple and added it to the stuffing after the mushrooms had cooked, just before filling the squash halves, so it stayed a little crunchy. Honestly though, the mix of leeks and different mushrooms in a buttery sauce feels decadent without any additions. You could add other vegetables to the stuffing, or make the other changes I mentioned, but “plain” is pretty darn good as is.

It feels nice to add some new sides to our rotation of holiday favorites, and at the same time, to make a squash dish that tastes great every day of the year. Please comment: what’s your favorite squash dish to make? Do you have a traditional side you’re looking forward to on your holiday menu? I’d like to wish you all a safe and happy Thanksgiving– I certainly think of your continued readership and support when I think of all I have to be thankful for each year. Cheers!

Mushroom & Leek Stuffed Squash

Mushroom & Leek Stuffed Squash (serves 2-4 as entree, 6-10 as side)

  • 1 medium-sized winter squash, cut in half around the center to form two bowls, seeds removed
  • 2 T. olive oil, plus extra for the squash
  • 4 T. unsalted butter, divided
  • 2 – 2 1/2 c. thinly sliced leeks, white and light green parts only, from 1 large or 2 medium leeks
  • 8 oz. chanterelle mushrooms, cleaned thoroughly and roughly chopped*
  • 8 oz. white button or cremini mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
  • 1 tsp. dried sage, crumbled
  • 1/2 tsp. dried thyme, crumbled
  • 1/2 c. vegetable or chicken broth
  • 1/4 c. dried cranberries, or dried tart cherries
  • salt & pepper to season

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Place the squash halves, cut side down, on a lightly greased cookie sheet or baking pan. You can cover the pan in parchment or tin foil to assist with clean-up; if you plan to do so, lightly oil the edge of each squash half so it doesn’t get stuck on the pan.

Bake for 20 mins., then carefully turn each squash over on the pan. Season the center with salt and pepper and cook for another 15-20 mins. When tested, the squash should be firm, but with enough give that you can pierce it with a fork. At this point, you can pause for up to 2 days by cooling the squash to room temperature and carefully wrapping it to store in the refrigerator.

On the day you plan to serve, if you refrigerated the par-cooked squash, remove it and let it come up to room temperature (or close) while you make the stuffing.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly oil a baking dish that fits the two squash halves snugly side by side, but allows them to lie flat. If you don’t have the right size baking dish to fit both, put each squash half in its own dish. Pie plates work well here.

Place a large skillet over medium heat and add 2 T. olive oil and 2 T. butter. When the butter has melted, add the leeks to the pan and cook for 5 mins. Add both kinds of mushrooms and cook for about 3 mins., until they begin to soften. Season with salt and pepper. Stir in the sage and thyme, then add the stock and dried cranberries. Reduce the heat to medium and cook for just another 2-3 mins. Remember that the stuffing will cook further in the oven, so it’s okay if the vegetables are al dente. Divide the filling between the two squash halves and dot the top of each with 1 T. butter. Bake for 20-25 mins. The dish is done when the edges of the squash are fork-tender.

Remove whole to a serving dish for a family-style table setting or, as an entree, serve each guest one, or half of one, squash half. For an easier but less dramatic presentation, scoop out the squash into a serving bowl with stuffing mixed in or on top of the bowl.

*If you have trouble finding chanterelles, substitute an equal amount of another wild mushroom you like, or double the amount of white button or creminis you’re using.

Roasted potatoes with cheese curds and pickled peppers.


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We visit Long Beach, WA at least once a year and often stay at the Adrift Hotel. Located just steps from the beach and in the middle of a trail and boardwalk that runs for miles, we are content to spend most of our time wandering up and down the coast, on foot or the bicycles you can borrow from the hotel. After a long day in the fresh salt air, we head back to our room and order room service from the house restaurant, Pickled Fish. They have decent pizza, excellent fried oysters, my favorite pickled vegetables and a number of other tasty offerings. But nothing beats their fries. Nothing. We like them Dirty Dirty.

Adrift fries

Dirty Dirty house fries at Pickled Fish are handcut fries, great on their own but taken to another plane when topped with fried pork belly, garlic, pepperoncini and a mild shredded goat cheese. They come with truffled ketchup and a handful of napkins and they are one of my favorite things to eat in the entire state of Washington. No, we don’t go to Long Beach just to eat fries, but it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to make that argument. And this is from a girl who doesn’t really like fries! No kidding, other than the ones at Pickled Fish, I might eat fries once or twice a year. That’s why, when I created my homage to Dirty Dirty fries, I chose to go with roasted potatoes. Personal preference aside, they are easier to make at home than fries, and perhaps a little healthier. Which means you can eat them more often, and that’s good news for me.

I experimented with a few versions at home before settling on this combination of toppings for my Adrift-style roasted potatoes. I am lucky that my Mom makes excellent pickled peppers with the banana peppers she grows in her garden, so those are my pepper of choice. We also tried and liked pepperoncini, which are available in just about every grocery store these days, and even the sweeter Mama Lil/cherry peppers that are often found in the olive bar at the grocery store. Whatever you like, heat- and flavor-wise, go with those. For the cheese, we couldn’t find a passable facsimile of the goat cheese they use, but did have some good luck with crumbled feta, especially the less-salty French fetas. However, our favorite choice for these potatoes is cheese curds, particularly the herbed version of Beecher’s curds or the extra-garlicky ones called “Vampire Slayer” from Face Rock Creamery. They become soft and melty without disintegrating, and the herbs add another dimension of flavor. As for the pork belly, I could never get it quite right; I suspect it’s because they fry it at Pickled Fish and I’ve only tried pan roasting. The closest substitute was a beautiful piece of slab bacon I found at the Mount Vernon Co-op, which I cooked and cut into pieces. For the most part, we leave these potatoes bacon-free, and they’re so good you don’t miss anything.

My Adrift-Style roasted potatoes are a treat I add into the meal plan every few months, usually to snack on while watching a movie on Saturday night. They are a little crispy, with creaminess from the cheese, a garlic punch softened by the roasting process and a bright, fresh bite from the peppers. They remind me of one of my favorite places to visit and our fun days spent on the beach. If you ever get the chance to visit Long Beach, I hope you will, and make a point of stopping at Pickled Fish. You won’t be disappointed. In the meantime, you can get a preview of the experience in your own kitchen.

Adrift-style roasted potatoes with pickled peppers and herbed cheese curds.

Adrift-Style Roasted Potatoes

  • 1 lb. unpeeled red potatoes, cut into 2″ cubes
  • 2 T. olive oil
  • 1 tsp. smoked paprika
  • kosher salt & black pepper
  • 4 cloves of garlic, lightly smashed
  • 1/2 c. pickled banana peppers, or pepperoncini
  • 4 – 6 oz. cheese curds (I liked the herbed ones from Beecher’s)
  • 4 oz. cooked, cubed slab bacon (optional)

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. In a large mixing bowl, toss the cubed potatoes with olive oil, paprika and a sprinkling of kosher salt and black pepper. Add in the garlic cloves, which should be smashed but still mostly whole; this way, when they cook, they flavor the potatoes but still become soft, and are less likely to burn than minced garlic. Spread the potatoes and garlic in an even layer on a pan large enough to hold them without crowding; I use a cookie sheet covered in foil. Scrape out any seasoned oil left in the bowl and drizzle over the potatoes on the pan.

Roast for 45 mins.; after 20 mins. use a spatula to turn the potatoes so they color evenly. The finished potatoes should be crisp on the outside, fluffy in the middle and golden brown. Add the cheese curds, pickled peppers and bacon, if using, to the potatoes and toss gently to combine. Taste and season with more salt and pepper if needed. Turn everything out onto a plate or platter and serve hot, with ketchup or another favorite fry-dipping sauce.

our most recent room at Adrift

Our most recent room at Adrift– you should go!


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