Puréed Fava Bean and Pecorino Spread

Viva la Fava!
I think that fava beans are one of those things that you need to prepare yourself in order to truly appreciate them. I’m sure that I came across them before I lived in France, perhaps randomly poking out of a spring ragoût or crushed and smeared on some olive oil-brushed toast. However, it wasn’t until that spring in Paris that I actually bought some of my own.

Fava beans appeared suddenly and seemed to overwhelm the markets overnight. They overflowed from round baskets made of thin slats of wood that were stapled together. To fill your flimsy paper bags, you had to first elbow your way through ruthless matrons who did not care if they knocked off your glasses as they pinched and squeezed each pod to see which had the biggest and juiciest beans.

They were ridiculously cheap, mere centimes for a kilo.

You needed kilos of them too. Given that one kilo equals roughly 2.2 pounds, 2.2 pounds of pods would yield slightly more than one cup of beans once shucked. That cup would be reduced again to a mere 2/3 of a cup after removing the waxy, unappetizing membranes from the beans.

Fava beans were so abundant and economical in France that I just assumed that they were as available and inexpensive everywhere else.


Priced somewhere between $2-3 per pound, fava beans in New York are not the budget treat they were in France. However, once I developed a taste for them, I began eagerly anticipating their springtime arrival. Given that a small 2/3 cup serving of fava beans tends to run me about $5-6, I tend to favor recipes that prepare them simply in order to let their earthy, nutty, slightly bitter flavor and buttery texture shine.

Fava beans are still available at the markets here in New York, but elsewhere the season may be ending or has already passed. If you can’t find them easily or find the price prohibitive, I imagine that shelled edamame makes a respectable substitute.

This is one of those recipes where I encourage you can feel your way through it and modify it to fit your tastes. I used Pecorino Romano, a sharp, tangy, and salty sheep’s milk cheese that traditionally partners up with fava beans in and around Rome. However, using grated Parmesan in place of the Pecorino Romano results in a very nice spread too. For a little more smoothness, you can add a soft dollop of good ricotta, or maybe even a spoonful of thick, creamy yogurt.

However you make it, this dip, spread, or whatever you want to call it, is a terrific thing to dunk vegetables in, particularly radishes. You can also slather it on crostini.


About 2 pounds of fava beans in their pods

1/3 of a cup of freshly grated Pecorino Romano

1/3 of a cup olive oil

Freshly ground black pepper

How to prepare:

1. First of all, you will need to remove the beans from their pods. This is easy to do and is much like shelling peas. Once shucked, discard the empty pods, and blanch the beans in boiling water for about 2 minutes — any longer than that, and they will be mushy. Have an ice bath ready to shock the beans after draining them. By submerging the beans in ice water after cooking, you will retain their beautiful green color. When the beans are cool, remove the waxy outer-covering of each one by nicking the end of a bean with your finger nail and easily squeezing each one out of its peel. Discard the peels.

2. Combine the beans with the grated cheese in a food processor. While the machine is running, add the olive oil in a steady stream until the consistency is nice, smooth, and thick. Transfer the spread to a bowl and season it freshly ground black pepper to taste. You shouldn’t need to add any salt because the cheese should be salty enough.

The spread should keep covered in the fridge for 3-4 days.

Unrelated query to Readers: Had a problem where this recently published post reverted back to a much earlier draft and “unpublished” itself. Spooky! Has this ever happened to anyone else? 


I Made the Ratatouille from Ratatouille for My Students

Rémy's ratatouille!
Another semester has come and gone. At the end of each one, regardless what happens during the term, I am always overcome with wanting to hug each of my students and send them out into the world with a macaron. Maybe two.

This class was no exception. Despite a rough and rocky start, I finally learned to relax around them after Spring Break. The change was very welcome. I started spending less time freaking out planning my lessons and more time enjoying talking about some of the topics that interest me the most: history and process, food and memory, taste and identity, sustainability and individual responsibility,  inspiration and experimentation.

The first time that I taught a class on French food, it was the summer that the movie Ratatouille came out. I saw the movie by myself before accompanying two separate groups of students to the theater. Maybe it was the summer heat, or maybe my brain was addled from having seen the movie three times in a row, but I remember standing on the subway platform and cooing at a big, fat rat. “Oooooooh!!!” I squealed, “Look at the cutie pie! He’s got a . . . Subway sandwich!!!! Awwwwwww!!!”

Is it surprising to hear that people moved away from me?

For those of you who haven’t seen it, Ratatouille is a marvel of a movie, a treasure trove of tidbits that you can use to teach French food and culture. Want to explain a brigade by showing a kitchen hierarchy? Want to show the importance of technique and apprentissage? Want to begin a discussion about whether or not cuisine is an art form? Want to perfectly represent archetypal figures of French gastronomy like the stubborn chef, the restaurant critic, or the gastronome? Want to kick off a conversation about Proust? Want it in French and English?

Ratatouille is the movie for you!

As some of you might know, Thomas Keller was the consulting chef for the film. His reinterpretation of the classic ratatouille was also a re-imagining of a popular Turkish dish called İmam bayıldı, which literally means “the imam fainted (because it was so darn good).” Keller’s ratatouille was first published in The French Laundry Cookbook as an accompaniment to guinea fowl. This “crêpinette de byaldi” subsequently morphed into the confit byaldi featured in the film.

Unlike the traditional ratatouille for which all the vegetables are either stewed together or layered in the same pot and simmered until soft, Keller’s version has you make a simple pipérade over which you artfully layer very thin slices of eggplant, yellow squash, zucchini, and tomato. It takes a little bit more work, but the result is something much more elegant.

I deviated from the original recipe in order to keep the dish’s preparation more in line with the one seen in the movie. The recipe from The French Laundry Cookbook has you cover the confit with aluminum foil and tightly crimp it around the dish. However, I didn’t want a watery ratatouille, so I cut parchment paper to fit and laid it on top of the confit —  just like Rémy.

This single dish probably has the greatest carbon-footprint out of any that I have made this year. None of the vegetables are in season. All of them were grown in Peru, with the exception of the tomatoes which came from Holland. However, I wanted to serve my students something that they have been seeing and talking about all semester.

Unfortunately, they polished it off before I could even get a taste of the finished product. I assume it was good, but I have also seen students eat all kinds of weird stuff! In any case, I look forward to revisiting this recipe later in the summer when local eggplants, tomatoes, peppers, and squash are around.


For the pipérade

Olive oil

1 large white onion, chopped

1 yellow bell pepper, cored, seeded and diced

1 orange bell pepper, cored, seeded and diced

1 herb sachet made from a sprig of fresh parsley, a sprig of fresh thyme, a sprig of rosemary, and a bay leaf tied up in a cheesecloth bundle.

Salt and freshly-ground white pepper

To assemble the final dish

4 Roma tomatoes, thinly-sliced

1 small eggplant, thinly-sliced

1 yellow squash, thinly-sliced into rounds

1 zucchini, thinly-sliced into rounds

3-4 cloves of garlic, finely minced

1 teaspoon of fresh thyme, minced

2-3 tablespoons of olive oil

Salt and freshly-ground white pepper

How to prepare:

1. Pre-heat the oven to 325°.

2. To prepare the pipérade, heat about 1-2 tablespoons of olive oil in a medium-sized sauté pan over medium heat. When the oil is hot, add the onions. Sauté them until they just begin to soften. Add the diced yellow bell peppers and the herb sachet. Continue to cook the vegetables until they are soft, but not browned. Remove and discard the sachet. Adjust the seasoning.

3. Spread the pipérade in an even layer in the bottom of an oven-proof baking dish. Begin arranging the sliced vegetables over it. You can either do this in rows like I did, or you can create a circular pattern by starting at the edges of the dish and moving towards the center. In any case, you want to alternate and overlap the vegetable slices so that they create a pleasing design.

4. Mix together the garlic, thyme, olive oil, and salt and pepper to taste in a small dish. sprinkle this mixture over the vegetables.

5. Cut a piece of parchment paper to lay on top of the confit. Press it down gently to adhere. Roast the confit until the vegetables have cooked through (the eggplant will take the longest). This should take between 45 minutes to an hour. It might even take over an hour. In all honesty, I can’t really remember since I was a couple of beers in by then. Just start checking it around the 45 minute mark!

6. Remove from the oven and let it cool. The confit can be served hot, warm, or cold.

Jonathan Benno’s Pasta e Fagioli

Don't be a fool, eat yo' pasta fazool!
Nigella does what?!”

Steve from Gourmandistan shook his head incredulously and made a face.

She tells you to put all the fresh herbs in the foot of a nylon stocking and to leave the whole thing in simmering stock for an hour!

“Doesn’t it melt?!”

“Yeah. You would think!”

“That is disgusting.”


A few weeks ago, Steve was in town for the Roger Smith Cookbook Conference and we were talking “food blogger shop” at Roberta’s over craft beer and aioli-coated fried sweetbreads.

Shop that night included pasta e fagioli,

I love pasta e fagioli, affectionately known on these close-to-Jersey shores as pasta fazool. Translated simply as pasta and beans, the name of this humble Italian dish belies its power to soothe and satisfy. Pure alchemy occurs when the nuttiness of the beans Vulcan mind-melds with the pasta in rich rosemary and bay-scented broth. It is warm, wonderful comfort in a bowl and in these waning days of winter, it is the perfect dish.

My current favorite version of pasta e fagioli is from Mario Batali, who starts off his recipe by asking you to mash up a wad of fatback with the back of a spoon until you have a nice and smooth porky paste. Very Italian.

The subject of our mutual alarm was from British celebrity chef Nigella Lawson — not Italian at all. Although I like her writing, her recipes leave me cold . . . and extremely skeptical. Like this one for pasta e fagioli in which she asks you to use a “popsock” — also known as a knee-high nylon stocking — as a herb sachet instead of good, old-fashioned, food-safe, heat-resistant, and dependable cheesecloth.

Now I see the utility of bundling the aromatics used to perfume pasta e fagioli in a sachet; it makes it much easier to remove the spent herbs from the soup if you have them together. It saves you from the futilely fishing around for the gray and bitter spindles of rosemary leaves. However, I draw the line at rooting around in my sock drawer for kitchen essentials. Furthermore, Nigella includes the following sentence in her recipe: “Chuck out the corpsed popsock and its contents [after the beans are tender].”

Not yummy-sounding at all.

I am always on the lookout for a new variation on pasta e fagioli. Recently, New York Magazine published one from Jonathan Benno in which he solves the fresh-herb-removal problem by infusing the stock with Parmesan rinds and aromatics and then straining them all out before use. 


Benno recommends soaking the dried beans for two days in the refrigerator instead of just one day on the countertop. I’m not sure if the additional day of soaking affects the taste, but I did notice that the beans cooked faster and more evenly. The beans were also creamier.

Heirloom beans are best, but regular old beans work just as well. Traditionally, borlotti beans — also called cranberry beans — are used in pasta e fagioli, but cannellini beans are a good substitute.

To Benno’s recipe, I have added bacon. Because I can never resist adding bacon to everything 🙂 You can omit it and the soup will still be delicious.


2 cups of dried beans (preferably heirloom beans like borlotti beans or cannellini beans)

2 quarts of chicken stock (about 8 cups)

1 cup of Parmesan rinds

2 sprigs of fresh rosemary

2 sprigs of fresh thyme

2 sprigs of fresh sage

5 fresh or dried bay leaves

1 pound of bacon ends, chopped (optional)

1 teaspoon of dried oregano

1 teaspoon of crushed red pepper flakes

Salt and pepper to taste

1 1/2 cups of dried ditalini or another kind of small tubular pasta like macaroni

Extra-virgin olive oil

Freshly grated Parmesan

How to prepare:

This soup is not difficult to prepare. However, it does require some advanced planning. Be sure to read the recipe closely before beginning.

1. In a bowl large enough to fit the beans comfortably, cover them with about two inches of cold water. Soak the beans in the refrigerator for two days.

2. When the beans are done soaking, drain them.

3. Combine the chicken stock, the Parmesan rinds, the fresh herbs, and the bay leaves in a large pot. Simmer everything together for about an hour. Do not the let stock boil. Strain the stock and discard the Parmesan rinds and herbs.

4a. If using, brown the chopped bacon ends in a large skillet until most of the fat has rendered. Drain the bacon bits on paper towels.

4b. Add the soaked and drained beans, the bacon if desired, the dried oregano, and the crushed red pepper flakes to the strained stock. Gently simmer the beans for between 1-2 hours. When the beans are done, they will be creamy in the center. Do not let the liquid come to a boil or the skins can burst. Skim the surface of the soup if and when necessary. Adjust the seasoning.

5. When the beans are tender, add the dried pasta to them. You may need to add more stock or water if the level of the liquid in the pot is too low. When the pasta is al dente, turn off the heat.

To serve, heap a generous spoonful of freshly grated Parmesan on top and finish the soup with a drizzle of good extra-virgin olive oil.

Mercimek köftesi (Turkish Red Lentil Balls)

Detox with me!
This is a recipe that was passed along to me as part of a French assignment created for my friend Ipek last summer. I held onto it for months and months, waiting for the perfect moment and time. Then, darling Siobhan from Garden Correspondent rolled through New York, bringing with her good cheer, high spirits, and a liter of delicious Turkish olive oil!

Which, of course, helped to push Ipek’s recipe to the top of the list of things to make.

Unfortunately, everything on that list languished while other parts of life took priority over blogging. However, following the overindulgence of the holidays, I thought something simple, healthful, and delicious was in order.

This recipe is so simple that I wondered if it would even be tasty. After forming the lentils and bulgur wheat-mixture into torpedo-shapes and balls,* I had additional doubts as to whether I would be able to finish eating them all. Then, something curious happened: each time I passed my fridge, I would dip into the quickly diminishing pile for a little fix of Turkish yumminess. Although initially dismissed as bland, I found myself craving the wholesome nuttiness of lentils gently accented with mild spice.

Ipek’s recipe states that you should serve Mercimek köftesi with lettuce. At first I was a little unsure what that meant. Was the lettuce mandatory garnish? Or were you supposed to wrap the köftesi in the lettuce?

My hunch was right: you are supposed to roll the köftesi in the lettuce and eat them like you would Vietnamese spring rolls. Without the fish sauce dipping sauce, of course.

Strangely, many recipes say to serve them on top of the lettuce with no mention of eating them together either.

So I suppose it is up to you!

Incidentally, Ipek tells me that there is an alternative version called Çiğ köfte. A peek at different recipes shows that it is fairly similar if not identical to Mercimek köftesi with the exception being that raw meat is used in place of red lentils. The meat is usually massaged by hand into the bulgur until the mixture is smooth enough to be shaped. Again, the lettuce appears to somewhat ornamental, especially in the case of this restaurant where the staff seems to have just stuck the leaves upright into a giant mound of raw meat and bulgur and called it a day.

For my money and food safety reasons, I will stick to the lentils!

* Or as Sharon put it, “Can I have some more turds and balls, please?” 🙂


1 1/2 cups of red lentils, rinsed and drained

2 1/4 cups of water

1 1/2 cups of bulgur wheat

1 onion, finely chopped

1 tablespoon of tomato paste

1 teaspoon of ground cumin

1 teaspoon of Aleppo pepper flakes or red chili pepper flakes

4 tablespoons of olive oil

The juice of one lemon

1/3 of a cup of fresh parsley, chopped

Lettuce leaves

How to prepare:

1. In a large casserole or sauté pan, combine the rinsed lentils with 2 1/4 cups of water. Bring the lentils to a boil before lowering the heat to a simmer. Season the lentils while they cook.

2. Once the lentils are very soft, turn off the heat and add the raw, dry bulgur wheat. Stir very quickly to incorporate it into the lentils. Cover the mixture and let it sit for about 30 minutes.

3. Meanwhile, sauté the chopped onions in about a tablespoon of olive oil until they are golden.

4. After the bulgur wheat and the lentils have finished steaming, add the onions, the tomato paste, the remaining 3 tablespoons of olive oil, and the spices. Stir to combine well. Add the chopped parsley and the lemon juice to the mixture.

5. At this point, the lentil mixture should be cool enough to handle. Using your hands, form either small balls, or small torpedo-shaped logs. Let these rest in the refrigerator until cold.

Serve on top of lettuce leaves with lemon wedges on the side.

Miso Awesome Cookies

Who's so awesome? Miso awesome!
For my first post of the new year, I am going to wrap up the remainder of business from the last: my Miso Awesome Cookies!

Come to think of it, this post should actually be called:

Dr. Daisy or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Cookie 🙂

(any Kubrick fans out there? anyone?)

When I entered the Brooklyn Cookie Takedown last month, my first thought was to make a truly trashy cookie packed with milk chocolate chips and Fritos. Doesn’t that sound awesome? Then Dave C. suggested the combination of dark chocolate and nori. Suddenly, the vision of an Asian cookie coalesced in my mind. I was unable to get the idea of an umami-amped chocolate chip cookie out of my head.

I went to the Japanese market that weekend and got shredded nori and white miso. I added them to a chocolate chip cookie recipe for which I swapped out the walnuts for soy sauce-roasted almonds. Et voilà!

I made inedible choco-chip seaweed hockey pucks 😦

That was my first attempt at baking cookies for the Brooklyn Cookie Takedown, one of nine.

Yes, dear Readers, it took me nine test batches to get the hang of this whole cookie business because I am really not a very good baker or cookie maker 😦

Actually, before the Takedown, I always took a pass on baking cookies because I was so bad at it! Once, I made a delicious double-chocolate chip cookie by accident. Unfortunately, in my excitement, I didn’t take notes on what I did. That experience will sadly never be replicated.

These are some of the reasons why almost all my cookie efforts prior to the Takedown did not work out:

• I never let the butter soften. That meant that whenever I tried to properly cream it, I would end up with butter blobs on the wall, on my glasses, in my hair, and sugar all over the floor.

• I never sifted the dry ingredients together because I was too lazy. I also never learned how to properly measure flour.

• I chronically overbaked because I could never shake the feeling that cookies had to be nice and golden on top. It works for chicken, why not cookies?!

• I would just use one cookie sheet, which meant that I was baking forever. Furthermore, I never let the sheet cool down before I plunked more cookie dough on top of it.

How did I improve?

After test batch #5, I decided to finally do it right. I started by hitting the cookbooks.

Here’s what I learned:

• Suck it up and sift 🙂 You don’t need to buy a fancy sifter, just a mesh strainer and a sheet of wax paper will do. You would never think it makes much of a difference, but it does.

• Instead of measuring flour by volume, weigh it. According to Cook’s Illustrated, one cup of all-purpose flour should weigh about 5 ounces.

• Cut cold, hard butter into small cubes. The butter will soften faster that way.

• Don’t overwork the butter. The longer you cream the butter and sugars together, the more air you beat into the fat. The more air that you have in your fat, the more your cookies will spread out while baking.

• Eggs blend better when they are at room temperature.

• Ideally, you should let your dough rest overnight in the refrigerator. Barring that, at least let the dough chill completely, about 3 hours. Properly chilled dough also helps ensure that your cookies don’t spread out too much.

• Do not overwork the flour. The longer you take combining the wet and the dry ingredients together, the tougher your cookies will be.

• Never arrange cookie dough on hot cookie sheets. The cookies will begin cooking on contact. Not. Good.

• Work with a minimum of 2 cookie sheets, that way you can have one cooling down while the other one is in the oven. To have four sheets is ideal because you can have two sheets cooling while two are baking in the oven.

• If you check the cookies and think that maybe you should leave them in a little longer, override your instinct and pull them out of the oven! They will continue to cook on their sheets for a few minutes more. (Thanks for the tip, Tomoko!)

• Like pancakes, be prepared to ruin the first batch as you adjust your baking times for your cookie size, cookie sheet material (light versus dark sheets), and oven (mine runs a little hot).

How I finally came up with my cookie recipe:

Now all this might sound elementary to you Awesome Cookie Bakers, but it was a revelation to me. Once I figured out what I was doing wrong from a technical standpoint, I made another batch of chocolate chip-nori cookies. You know what? They were disgusting! Now I know why there are no chocolate and roasted seaweed cookie recipes out there: they’re gross!

Back to the drawing board. Standing in the Japanese market again, I was trying to think about what else could go in a cookie. Wasabi peas? Why not! As wasabi is actually not a particularly strong taste, I swapped out the dark chocolate for white chocolate.

From the chocolate chip-nori hockey puck recipe, I kept the tamari almonds and the white miso paste.

From now on, I may always drop a dollop of white miso paste into my cookies. It doesn’t seem to add any noticeable miso flavor, but it definitely makes the taste of everything else in the cookie pop.

Even though this is the recipe for my not-award-winning cookies, I still feel like I won because I learned so much. I overcame my fear of baking, and I came up with something crazy that was also delicious!


3 cups of all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon of baking powder

1/4 teaspoon of baking soda

2 sticks of butter (16 tablespoons), cut into cubes and at room temperature

1 1/4 cups of white granulated sugar

2/3 cup of light brown sugar, packed

2 eggs at room temperature

1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract

4 tablespoons of white miso paste

4 teaspoons of wasabi paste

8 ounces of white chocolate chips

8 ounces of tamari almonds, roughly chopped

8-9 ounces of wasabi peas

How to prepare:

1. Sift together the dry ingredients.

2. In a large mixing bowl, cream the softened butter and the sugars together for no more than one minute.

3. Beat the eggs, one at a time, into the creamed butter-sugar mixture. Add the vanilla, the miso and wasabi pastes. Continue beating for another minute or two.

4. Using a stiff spatula, fold in the dry ingredients a little bit at a time.

5. Once all the dry ingredients have been incorporated, fold in the white chocolate chips, the chopped almonds, and the wasabi peas. Once the all the goodies are evenly distributed throughout the dough, cover the bowl with plastic wrap. Let it rest in the refrigerator for at least 3 hours, or overnight if you can.

6. If your heating element is on the bottom of your oven, move the oven racks to the top of it. Pre-heat the oven to 325°.

7. I used a melon baller to make smaller cookies for the competition, but if you want larger cookies, use a tablespoon or a small scoop. Drop the balls of dough about two inches apart on parchment paper-lined cookie sheets.

8. Bake the cookies for 4 minutes. Rotate the sheets 180°, moving the top cookie sheet to the lower rack, and the bottom cookie sheet to the upper rack. Bake the cookies for another 4 minutes. If your cookies are larger, you may need to bake them for a little longer. When the cookies are done, they should be just barely golden around the edges. The centers should be soft, but not raw. Take the cookies out of the oven and let them rest on the cookie sheet (they will continue to cook) for a minute or two before transferring them to a wire rack to cool completely.

The Daring Kitchen July Cooks’ Challenge: Papillotes de pêches et framboises à la vanille (Peaches and Raspberries Cooked in Parchment Paper with Vanilla Bean)

The dissertation has been pretty overwhelming lately. This is the big push before the defense so I haven’t had much time for all the things that I love like spending time with my friends, cooking, blogging, eating out and drinking.

I miss the drinking. I ran an errand the other day and saw some nice people drinking wine in the shade. I remember jealousy thinking, “I bet they don’t even appreciate that wine!” Suddenly, I was overcome with the desire to grab their glasses out of their hot little hands and go sprinting down the street.

I didn’t do it, but I sure wanted to.

No way did I think that I was going to be able to participate in the Daring Kitchen challenge this month either until I saw the challenge: cooking en papillote.

En papillote is a fancy schmancy way of saying that you cook something in a paper envelope. We’re not talking about any old paper here; we’re talking about parchment paper, also known as bakery release paper or greaseproof paper. Cooking in parchment is a terrific way to cook delicate things quickly without fear of them drying out. You can also roast food en papillote as the paper allows just enough steam to release so that potato skin, for example, gets nice and crispy while the insides gently steam to perfection.

You could use aluminum foil instead of parchment paper — also known as a hobo pack — but I find that the results lack the finesse and elegance of cooking in paper. I might also be too negatively affected by the word “hobo,” and too seduced by the phrase “en papillote“!

It’s true that this month’s Daring Kitchen assignment wasn’t really a challenge for me since cooking en papillote is one of my favorite cooking methods. On this blog, I have posted a recipe for roasted tiny potatoes en papillote and roasted salmon with mango and Bird’s Eye chiles. However, it was completely new for me to use this cooking method to make a something sweet instead of something savory.

This dessert recipe was inspired by one that I saw months ago on Elle à table, the companion cooking site of French Elle Magazine. I kept the primary components — parchment, peaches and raspberries — and changed the rest. The original recipe has you peel the peaches. However, if the peaches are nice and ripe, this step seems fussy. It also seems like it would be a big waste of precious juice. The Elle à table recipe also calls for lime zest and juice, whereas I only used the zest for fear that the extra juice would have made the dessert too watery. Instead of a lime, I used a lemon. I also swapped out the cinnamon for vanilla bean, and shortened the cooking time so that the fruit would stay more intact.

Just like there is more than one way to roast a chicken, there is more than one way to make a parchment paper packet. Traditionally, you take a large piece of parchment paper, fold it in half, and cut out a heart — just like how you did as a child. After you position your food on the paper, you seal up the packet by folding or crimping the edges shut. To give you an example of how to seal up a parchment paper packet, here is a video with Chef Paul Prudhomme — who can pronounce papillote any dang ol’ way he pleases in Cajun country.

Alternatively, you can arrange your food in the center of a square of parchment paper, pull two of the sides up, fold them down, and then tie off the ends with cooking string. For some more examples of parchment paper packets, I direct you to this month’s Daring Cooks’ Challenge PDF.

In the end, it doesn’t really matter how you seal up the parchment paper as long as you make sure that your packets are snug, but not too tight around your food.

I made two different kinds of packets for this challenge. You can see them both in the photo gallery below. This challenge didn’t take up too much of my time since I had the fruit already (it’s high peach season here). Most importantly, it reminded me of how valuable it is to not give up those things in life that give you pleasure at those moments in life when you feel most stressed out.

A big thank you to Sarah from All Our Fingers in the Pie for the terrific challenge 🙂 In terms of mandatory items, you only asked that we cook in parchment. As suggestions, you gave us some amazing savory ones like beef, lamb or rabbit. I chose a gourmand take on cooking en papillote, which I hope still keeps with the spirit of the challenge even though it might not have been as challenging!

Mandatory blog checking lines: Our July 2012 Daring Cooks’ host was Sarah from All Our Fingers in the Pie! Sarah challenges us to learn a new cooking technique called “Cooking En Papillote” which is French and translates to “cooking in parchment”.

* The reveal date for this month’s French cooking challenge happens to fall on Bastille Day: le 14 juillet 🙂 Bonne fête, tout le monde!


4 beautifully ripe yellow peaches

1 vanilla bean pod, split into four pieces

1 punnet of raspberries*

Cane sugar

The zest of 1 lemon

Cold butter

How to prepare:

1. Pre-heat your oven to 400° F.

2. Defuzz the peaches by very gently rubbing as much of the peach fuzz off as you can under cold running water. Cut the peaches into slices that are a little more than a quarter-inch thick.

3. Evenly divide the peach slices between 4 parchment paper sheets. You will use about one peach’s worth of slices per packet. Tuck one split vanilla bean pod in-between the peach slices. The vanilla should perfume the fruit, but not overwhelm it. Arrange a small handful of raspberries over the peaches. Sprinkle the fruit with cane sugar. Grate a little lemon zest over the top. Dot the fruit with about a 1/2 tablespoon of cold butter cut into small pieces

4. Crimp or tie off your parchment paper parcels and arrange them on a large baking sheet. Bake them between 8-10 minutes. Remove them from the oven and carefully open them (they will be steamy). Find and discard the vanilla bean pods.

You can serve the peaches and raspberries straight from the paper, or you can transfer the fruit to a small bowl to top with a scoop of vanilla ice cream or gelato.

* Although punnet is a Britishism, but it’s a pretty useful word for those little plastic or molded paper baskets intended for berries. We don’t seem to have any equivalent in American English (the closest approximation is a pint basket). Furthermore, punnets for raspberries are generally smaller than the containers used for pints of strawberries . . .

Sugar Snap Peas with Sesame, Soy Sauce and Mirin

Sugar snap peas are here! When snap peas are in season, I like to prepare them as simply as possible so that their wonderful sweetness can shine.

I like my sugar snaps barely blanched so that the pods retain their crunch, but lose their rawness. This mixture of sesame oil, soy sauce and mirin is barely a dressing; it’s more like a very thin glaze or wash. Even though the dressing is thin, it is remarkably flavorful — but not so flavorful as to overpower the peas.

It goes without saying that if you shun cooking wine (that awful shelf-stable, salty, sugary stuff that you see in the supermarket) and avoid cooking sherry (equally as salty, sugary and awful), you should probably avoid the “mirin” that is typically found in the Asian section at most grocery stores. Tomoko calls it “fake mirin” and it is certainly as gross as cooking wine and cooking sherry: salty, sugary, harsh, unpleasant and full of MSG.

If you can, try to get your hands on some real mirin. Just like how you buy wine and sherry at the wine store, you should find mirin where sake is sold.

Tomoko says that she finds hers at the liquor store, but it seems like the liquor stores downtown aren’t nearly as Asian-conversant as the ones uptown (“Mirin? You mean Wild Turkey?”).

Following a recommendation from the New York Times, I placed an order at a Sakaya, a store that sells almost exclusively sake.

“It’s not so easy to find here,” the woman at the store explained when I told her that I had a little bit of a hard time. “Oh, if I can’t get real mirin, I don’t even bother!”

So what should you do if you can’t get real mirin? As a substitution, you can dissolve a pinch of sugar in sake. Ideally, you’re looking for about a 3-to-1 ratio of sake to sugar, but you can adjust the sweetness to your taste.

The woman at Sakaya agreed, ” Yeah, yeah. Sake and some sugar.”

“Mirin,” she said, “After you open it, they say to put it somewhere cool and dark, but you should put it in the refrigerator. It lasts a long time. I use one bottle of mirin, maybe every one or two years.”

Since I have never held onto a bottle of mirin for one to two years, I don’t know if I can vouch for that. However, I will definitely say that having a bottle around the house is an incentive to use it more often!


1 pound of sugar snap peas, topped and tailed

2 tablespoons of mirin

2 tablespoons of Japanese soy sauce

1 tablespoon of sesame seed oil


Sesame seeds

Shichimi or Aleppo pepper

How to prepare:

1. Bring a large pot of water to boil. Add the sugar snap peas and cook them briefly for about two to three minutes, no more than four. You want them to be a little crunchy, but not raw.

2. While the snap peas are boiling, set out a large bowl of ice water. Scoop the peas out of the boiling water when they are done and plunge them into the ice water to stop the cooking and fix the color. Drain the sugar snap peas well.

3. In a small saucepan, heat together the mirin, the soy sauce and the sesame oil over low heat. Let the sauce simmer until it has reduced to a thin glaze. Adjust the seasoning if needed.

4. Toss the drained snap peas with the dressing in a large bowl. Sprinkle them with sesame seeds and shichimi to taste.

Kolpona Cuisine’s Muttar Paneer with Freshly-Shelled Peas

When Tahmina over at Kolpona Cuisine posted her recipe for muttar paneer, I knew that the minute shell peas came into season, I was going to make it. Before I started reading her blog, I always felt so intimidated by South Asian cooking. Long lists of spices — some ground, some whole — would freak me out so much that I would end up making something French or Italian-inspired instead.

But what I love about Tahmina is how accessible she makes Bengali, Indian and South Asian cooking. Don’t have a spice grinder for garam masala? No problem. Garam masala is better with whole spices anyway — just count how many of each thing you put in, and fish them out with your fingers while you eat. Don’t have paneer? Take that 2% milk you have lying around the house and make cheese!

This is the second recipe from Tahmina that I have cooked (the first being kale paneer), and I loved the results. The serrano peppers and chopped cilantro added near the end of cooking give the dish a wonderful freshness. The peas are also such a pretty contrast to the sunny yellow sauce. It’s really, really good.

I think that by the end of the summer, I will have succeeded in making everything that she posts!

I hardly changed Tahmina’s recipe with the exceptions of using freshly shelled peas, substituting ginger-garlic paste for actual ginger (I didn’t have any) and garlic, and using store-bought paneer. Tahmina recommends making your own paneer  something that I would totally do if I didn’t keep forgetting to watch the clock. I never seem to be able to factor in enough time to let the cheese drain! She also advocates making your own ghee, which is also on my cooking to-do list. I keep forgetting the fenugreek leaves too . . . I need to replace that Post-it pad in the kitchen!

I did have to French up this recipe a little bit by using some fancy crème fraîche in the place of heavy cream 🙂 Oh la la!

And the absolute best part about cooking from a friend’s blog? You feel like they are right in the kitchen with you, even when they are hundreds of miles away 🙂

For the her recipe, click here.


For the tomato-onion base:

2 tablespoons of ghee or vegetable oil

1/4 cup of raw cashews

1 medium onion, chopped

1/2 teaspoon of ground turmeric

1/2 teaspoon of red chili powder

1 teaspoon of ground cumin

1 teaspoon of ground coriander

2 tablespoons of ginger-garlic paste

2 Roma tomatoes, chopped


For the Garam masala:

Ghee or vegetable oil

1/2 teaspoon of cumin seeds

5 green cardamom pods

5 whole cloves

2 bay leaves

1 cinnamon stick

For the final dish:

1 cup of freshly shelled peas

2 serrano peppers, chopped

8 ounces (about 1 1/2 cups) of paneer, cubed

1/2 cup of cilantro leaves, chopped

1/4 cup of crème fraîche


How to prepare:

1. In a large saucepan, toast the raw cashews in about two tablespoons of ghee or oil over medium heat. When the cashews begin to color, add the onion and sauté everything together until the onion begins to turn golden around the edges. Add the ground spices and fry them until they are nice and fragrant. Be sure to stir the onion mixture frequently so that the spices don’t burn. Add the ginger paste and the chopped tomatoes. Cook them until the tomatoes begin to break down. Adjust the seasoning.

2. Purée the tomato-onion mixture in a food processor or blender.

3. Using the same saucepan, heat the whole garam masala spices in about a tablespoon of ghee or vegetable oil over medium heat. When the spices are fragrant and the cumin seeds begin to pop, add the puréed tomato-onion base back to the pan. Let the it simmer for a few minutes so that the garam masala spices infuse the tomato-onion mixture. Add chili peppers and the peas and cook them until the peas are just start to become tender, about 4 minutes. Add the paneer, the chopped cilantro leaves and the crème fraîche. Continue to simmer everything together for 3-4 minutes more. Adjust the seasoning for a final time.

Serve with rice or, as Tahmina recommends, chapatis.

Japanese Baby Turnips Sautéed in Butter and Soy Sauce

I have a confession which really isn’t a confession since it’s pretty obvious : When it comes to Asian cooking, I haven’t a clue most of the time.

To this, I might add something possibly incendiary: although there are many people out there who are progressive, there are a lot of people who aren’t and it happens fairly often that I meet people who think that as someone of Asian descent, I eat rice like it’s going out of style, am quiet, reserved and demure, and have relatively little body hair.

Imagine their faces when they find out that I swear like a sailor, have no filter and can hold my liquor like a white divorcée.

The body hair part is true though 😉

In regards to the swearing, now that I’m older, I have made a concerted effort to swear less. Mostly because it makes the times when I do swear even better! Just kidding 😉 In all honesty, I think that I swore so much in my youth that I used up all of my swear words. I just don’t want to swear anymore. Can believe it? I can’t!

As for the filter? Visualize some big rusty grate with giant holes in it. The kind that lets almost everything through except for large, plastic soda bottles and shoes. I have worked hard on that too since I realized that speaking without thinking is best way to get misunderstood. I still think of my filter as that grate, but now it’s jerry-rigged with an intricate network of fishing line and wire. Some stuff still gets through, but much, much less than before. Thank goodness!

In terms of Asian food, I am not completely ignorant because I happen to know plenty about eating it. I have never met a sliced jellyfish, deep-fried octopus ball, bowl of noodles, dumpling (oooooh, dumplings), taro puff, sweet red bean fritter, bao, roll (spring and summer), lotus bean paste-stuffed pastry, chicken adobo, preserved egg, roast duck, suckling pig, hot-pot, under-cooked chicken meatball, wad of natto, head-on shrimp, whole fish, chili crab or Spam musubi that didn’t make my motor run.

However, when it comes to the nitty gritty of cooking, I am a babe in the woods.

The amount of times that I have stir-fried can be counted on one hand with fingers to spare. I did attempt a stir-fry about a week ago and it was an epic fail. I actually asked my mom right before I did it too.

“Mom, how do you stir-fry?”


I pictured her putting the phone down and walking away in shame. Or maybe it wasn’t shame, but just a refusal to tolerate such a dumb question.

So after mangling that stir-fried chicken and bok choy dish (I wilted that poor bunch of greens into a pathetic nothing), I have decided that this summer, I am going to get in touch with my yellow-ness and make a good-hearted attempt to become a little more educated about how to cook some of that food over there. I know it’s kind of wrong to lump all the Southeastern and Far Eastern cultures together, but isn’t it much more efficient to refer to all peoples who use sticks as utensils as one group rather than many? I want to learn to cook a little Chinese, some Japanese, some Korean, some Filipino, some Indonesian, some Vietnamese, some Thai and more.

I’m going to try it all.

I’m almost completely new at this, so if I stick two things together that really don’t go, like using a sauce meant for fish on cheese, please do let me know. I bet you can all stir-fry circles around me, so I’m counting on you for help.

Because my mom won’t 😦

I’m also illiterate, so please make all comments or suggestions in English or in another Latinate language 🙂


1 bunch of Japanese baby turnips (or regular baby turnips) and their greens, thoroughly washed


Sesame oil

Japanese soy sauce

Crushed Aleppo pepper or shichimi

How to prepare:

1. Separate the leaves from the baby turnips. Trim the turnips and cut them in half if they are too big. You want all the turnips and turnip pieces to be roughly the same size so that they cook evenly. Roughly chop the greens into 2-inch pieces.

2. In a large saucepan, heat a knob of  butter and about a teaspoon of sesame oil together over medium heat. When the butter begins to foam, toss in the baby turnips. Carefully add a splash of soy sauce to the pan along with some Aleppo pepper or shichimi to taste. Sauté the turnips until they begin to lose their opacity and turn translucent. Add the greens and continue to cook everything until the greens are wilted and the turnips are cooked through. Adjust the seasoning and serve.

Cherry Clafoutis

Clafoutis is the classic dessert of the Limousin, the northwestern part of the Massif Central in the middle of France. Traditionally, it is baked in a buttered dish and is more or less a flan with ripe black cherries. Sometimes, other red fruits like prune plums, red plums or blackberries are used. Done correctly, it is lovely.

When I was doing my internship, the chef taught me a great recipe for clafoutis that was simple and foolproof. We would schedule it for days when we had cooking students who had little or no experience in the kitchen. Not to be trusted with knives, we knew that we could put cherry pitters in their sweaty little hands without fear of accidents. Better yet, since clafoutis tastes best when you leave the cherries unpitted (a little more onerous to eat, but worth it), sometimes the students wouldn’t even get cherry pitters, just whisks!

Try to take an eye out with those!

At home, I reliably depended on that recipe any time I needed to deliver a perfect clafoutis. It worked every time — even when I was a little short or too generous with the cherries, and even when I ran low on sugar, flour, milk or all three.

Then I moved back to New York. Suddenly, the recipe that worked so marvelously in Paris became a total dud. I can’t tell you how many heavy, lumpy, pathetic clafoutis I turned out. I was making clafoutis that tasted more like lightly sugared cherry omelets — every bit as unpleasant as it sounds.

I even inflicted them on friends, like poor Tomoko who had to pick her way around my rubbery pâte and gray (yes, gray) cherries last summer.

“What did you do to them?” she asked.

I had no idea. I could only think of something a friend in Paris repeated to me, something that she had overheard at a dinner party. Faced with the prospect of ingesting one more morsel of clafoutis after a lengthy and generous meal, one of the guests declared himself cla-foutu — a French play on words that roughly means cla-f***ked.

Well, my New York clafoutis were definitely their own kind of cla-foutus.

You always hear people who say that the definition of crazy is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. When I saw gorgeous cherries at the Greenmarket this week, I decided to get off the Crazy Train and stop trying to make my Parisian recipe. It was time to get back to Julia.

Julia Child, that is 🙂

Compared to what I was making, I think this clafoutis is a beauty. Sure, it rose much higher on one side than the other (I should have turned it halfway through cooking. Stupid un-calibrated oven). Yeah, it cracked (I over-cooked it. I should have taken it out of the oven sooner).

But I feel like I am getting my clafoutis-groove back on.

This recipe is adapted from Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Volume I. Julia calls for three cups of cherries, and if I had three cups, I would have used them 🙂

For the original recipe, click here.

Special equipment:

A stick immersion blender



2-3 cups of ripe cherries, pitted . . . or not!

1/3 cup of sugar

1 and 1/4 cup of whole milk

5 pullet eggs or 3 large eggs

1 tablespoon of vanilla extract

A pinch of salt

2/3 cup of all-purpose flour

Powdered sugar

How to prepare:

1. Preheat the oven to 350°.

2. Butter a baking dish and arrange the cherries in a single layer on the bottom.

3. In a large bowl, use the immersion blender to blend together the milk, the eggs, the vanilla extract, the salt and the flour for 1 minute. The batter should be nice and frothy.

4. Set the baking dish on a baking sheet. Use a ladle to carefully pour the batter over the cherries. Bake for about an hour. The clafoutis will be done when the sides are puffed and golden, and when a knife or a skewer inserted in the center comes out clean. The clafoutis will be like a souffle when you remove it from the oven. Let it settle completely — it will sink down as it cools — before serving. Dust the clafoutis with powdered sugar right before cutting it into wedges.