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October 20, 2011

Ginger Pineapple Salad

ginger + lime + pineapple = yum

Around this time of year, when the farmer’s markets have only had apples and pears for weeks, I remember that there’s nothing else coming to those markets until next May.  For me, it’s a short step from that realization to the winter produce blues. 

Luckily, my friend Cybèle introduced me to a simple, delicious pineapple salad.  OK, “salad” is a bit of a stretch — it’s more like garnished pineapple, but that doesn’t make it any less amazing.  You’ll forget all about the long winter ahead when you pop these bright, sunny flavors into your mouth.

Ginger Pineapple Salad

  • 1 pineapple
  • hunk of fresh ginger
  • 1-3 limes (depending on their juiciness and your taste)

Cut your pineapple into 1 inch cubes. (Don’t know how to cut a pineapple?  Check out this video.) Place in a bowl large enough for tossing.

Peel your ginger.  (How do you peel ginger? With a spoon!)  Grate it directly over the pineapple.  Then squeeze your limes into the bowl, and toss.  Let sit for 20-30 minutes for the flavors to come together, then serve.

April 5, 2011

Turkey Grandmère

In general, the definition of an easy dinner is one that can be thrown together in 30 minutes or less.  With a newborn, though, it became clear that might not be true for a while.  Newborns are notorious for not understanding requests to “just hang on a second”, and they’re even less interested in whether or not your food is ready.  It only took a week to realize some of my go-to staples were a little less… suitable for new conditions. 

The newborn parent’s definition of an easy dinner is “one that can be kept warm for up to 90 minutes without becoming gross.”  So, goodbye pan-fried gnocchi, hello mashed potatoes.  Goodbye 10 minute steaks, hello slow cooker.  And, mom, I will love you forever for introducing what we have named turkey grandmère to my life. 

turkey ingredients 

The first time we had it, a crying-feeding-diaper change cycle began just as the timer for the food went off.  45 minutes later, I sat down at the table, expecting to scarf down some overcooked mess in the name of consuming nutrients.  I was floored when it was delicious.

It doesn’t look like much.  But I made it the other night.  Mary, who had previously passed on our dinner invitation, took a little bite of what was left in the dish, and quickly asked if she could make herself a plate after all. 

Turkey Grandmère

  • 1 turkey leg (available at Godshall’s in Reading Terminal Market, among other places)
  • 1 onion, quartered
  • 3 carrots, cut into 2 inch chunks
  • 1 cup fresh or frozen cranberries
  • 1 cup apple cider
  • 1 tsp. sugar
  • 1 tbsp. butter
  • salt, pepper, dried thyme to taste
  • 10 small red potatoes

turkey grandmere

Put all ingredients except the red potatoes in a slow cooker.  Salt and pepper the turkey leg, and sprinkle with thyme.  Cook on low for 5 to 7 hours.

Preheat the oven to 350.  Put the contents of the slow cooker, plus the potatoes, in a casserole dish.  Pull the turkey meat off the bone.  Roast for 45 to 60 minutes. 

Not ready to eat at that point?  Just turn down the heat to 200, and eat anytime in the next two hours.  Feeds 2-3 people.

Notes: I’ve also made this with cooked turkey legs, and it’s just as tasty (shorten the cooking time in step 1, and steal the pan juices, too, if you can.) And I bet if you don’t have a slow cooker, you could make this just as easily by using a covered casserole dish, then taking the cover off when you add the potatoes. 

January 11, 2011

Monkey Bread, the traditional holiday treat

Some things you cook for your own enjoyment.  Most things, though, are meant to be shared.  So, a squeal of delight when I mention making something is usually enough to guarantee that it gets made.  Everyone, you can thank Jane for the monkey bread!

monkey bread

I am boggled by the number of people I’ve talked to who have never heard of or eaten monkey bread.  If you have not had the good fortune to encounter it in your life, as my brother-in-law put it, it’s like the center of the cinnamon roll in every bite.  Some people do not frost it, but I don’t truck with those people.

When you look at this recipe, you’re going to think I’m awfully lazy.  But I swear, I looked at 20 monkey bread recipes, and they ALL called for canned biscuits.  Add in a new baby (aka the official monkey of monkey bread), and I just went with it.  If you’re turned off by the idea, which I totally understand, Smitten Kitchen makes real dough when she makes monkey bread.

After serving at Christmas, Jane declared that it was better than the time I made pavlovas, heretofore the high water mark of my desserts. Hence, the traditional Monkey Bread of Christmas, hearkening back to the storied holiday of 2010, has now been entered into Helen’s Great Big Book of Holiday Traditions, right after the traditional Gifting of the Wool Socks.

Monkey Bread

  • 30-36 oz. of refrigerated buttermilk biscuits (depending on which type you choose, this is 2-4 containers)
  • 2 tbsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 cup packed brown sugar (light or dark does not matter)
  • 1 1/2 sticks (12 tbsp) butter

Cut up your biscuits into quarters.  Mix together the cinnamon and granulated sugar in a bowl or ziploc bag.  Toss your biscuit pieces in batches until they are all well coated.

tossing the dough balls

Place biscuit pieces in a bundt pan.  On the stovetop, melt your butter in a pan, and bring to a boil.  When it is boiling, pour in your brown sugar, and boil for another minute, no longer!  (I burned the first batch of sugar boiling it too long.)  Pour the mixture into your bundt pan.

more sugar

Bake for 40-50 minutes, depending on how crispy you want it.  This one was baked for almost 50 minutes.  If you believe that monkey bread should be unfrosted, you may find this a bit dry.  I’d increase the butter/brown sugar mixture to 2 sticks of butter, and 1 1/2 cups brown sugar, to make it gooeyier.


Cream Cheese Frosting

  • 1 8 oz. package cream cheese, softened
  • 6 tbsp butter
  • 1.5 cups confectioner’s sugar, or more to taste
  • 1 tbsp vanilla extract
  • 3 tbsp fresh lemon juice, or less to taste

Add cream cheese and butter to a bowl, and beat together with an electric mixer for at least 2 minutes.  Add confectioner’s sugar in 1/4 to 1/2 cup increments; any more increases the risk of it flying all over you and your kitchen when you turn on your mixer.  Your total mixing time should be in the 5 to 8 minute range for maximum fluffiness.  At the end, add your vanilla extract and lemon juice.


I like my cream cheese frosting tangy.  If you like yours sweeter, you could add up to an additional cup of confectioner’s sugar.  Or start with 1 tablespoon of lemon juice, and add by teaspoons from there, beating and tasting as you go.

This makes enough to glaze the top of the monkey bread, plus plenty left over for dipping! 


November 13, 2010

Stocking up: Preggie prep & gnocchi

The baby is almost here, and I wanted to be prepared.  Diapers?  Baby clothes?  No!  I’m talking about food.  While I’m sure my favorite Chinatown eateries will be seeing plenty of baby-fatigue-driven business in the coming months, I also wanted to make sure our freezer was fully stocked.  Behold, the frozen fruits of my third trimester nesting!

what's for dinner?

I made:

I bought:

  • chicken pot pies from the Bakery House
  • indian dinners (anything Deep is usually good) and rotis
  • ice cream

I got ingredients:

  • roasted butternut squash (from the csa, destined for soup or baby food)
  • sausages (chorizo, hot italian, and chicken with apple)
  • bacon (pre-cut into bits, and whole slices)
  • short ribs (for meat sauce)
  • shredded chicken
  • peas
  • edamame
  • fruit (blueberries, cherries, raspberries, peaches)
  • butter

Yeah, it’s stocked.  It’s so stocked you can barely get the door shut.

One of the last dishes I made was gnocchi.  My sister Anne tried to convince me to make the Bouchon recipe (video), but I’m more Mark Bittman than Thomas Keller.

There is only one “trick” to making gnocchi — getting the amount of flour right.  Too little, and your gnocchi will fall apart.  Too much, and it just won’t taste very good.  Bittman suggests setting a small pot of water on to boil, and throwing in one or two to see if they have enough flour to make them hold together. 

I prefer another technique.  Don’t worry about it, just don’t boil them when you cook them.  I realized long ago that the gnocchi I prefer when I go out is pan-fried.  If you pan-fry them, it’s almost impossible to put in so little flour that they will fall apart.  (They basically won’t roll out with that little flour.)  It’s virtually no extra work to cook.  Like boiling them, you can throw them straight from the freezer into the hot pan, and they’re done in a few minutes.  Serve it up with gnocchi’s best friends, bacon and peas, for a straight-from-the-freezer dinner that tastes anything but.

gnocchi's best friends

Potato Gnocchi (from Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything)

  • 1 pound starchy potatoes
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour, plus more as needed
  • salt and pepper

Set a pot of salted water to boil.  When it is boiling, throw in the potatoes, unpeeled, and reduce to a simmer.  Remove potatoes when tender, about 45 minutes.

Drain, rinse with cold water, then peel.  (They should practically rub off in your hands, but you can use a peeler or knife to get you started.)  Mash the potatoes.  If you have a ricer, use it.  If not, just use a fork or a masher. 

Add some salt, pepper and a half cup of flour, and stir.  Keep adding flour gradually until it comes together in a dough you can handle.  Turn it out onto a lightly floured surface, and knead for a minute or less.  Now, break off a piece, and roll it into a rope a 1/2 inch thick.

cutting the gnocchi

Cut the gnocchi into 1 inch pieces.  If you feel fancy, you can roll it against a fork to get those little tine marks.  (I never do this.)  Put the pieces on a baking sheet with wax paper and a little bit of flour.  Don’t let them touch.

freezer bound

Put on your Thomas Keller hat.  You are now ready to IQF (that’s individual quick freeze — who knew freezing stuff on cookie sheets had its own acronym?)  Stick the baking sheet into your freezer.  In 30 to 60 minutes, they will be solid enough for you to shake into a ziploc bag without them sticking together.  Reward yourself by telling one of your sous chefs to clean up.

being a sous chef stinks

October 12, 2010

Cherry peach jam

cherry peach jam 2

I am a devoted reader of Food in Jars, but I cannot tell a lie.  My early jam attempts did not come out that well.  It scared me off committing more fruit.  I just kept thinking, “But it’s so yummy to eat.  What if I ruin it?” 

There’s nothing like watching a confident cook do his or her thing to inspire me, though!  So, after Niki invited me over to assist with her ginger peach jam (and told me that she had already consumed multiple pints of the peach jam she had made a few weeks earlier), I decided to make another attempt.

peeled peaches

Prep was easy.  I blanched and peeled the peaches, and chopped up some of the cherries I froze when sour cherries abounded. I ran the jars through the dishwasher (with hot dry finish) to get them nice and hot for the jam.

Then I started the jam, and it was a piece of cake!  What was the difference this time? I followed all the instructions. (Ok, I mostly followed them.)  Bakers and those of you who like to follow recipes will laugh at me.  Those of you who prefer to freestyle may understand.  In the past, I thought, well, how much jam do I need?  I’ll just make one jar.  Maybe Marisa has an innate instinct for pectin and sugar and fruit ratios.  I do not.  I followed the instructions in the pectin box, and voila! Jam!

cherry peach jam

Since then, I’ve been on a canning spree.  I’ve made apple butter, apple sauce, and raspberry peach jam.  I’ve confirmed my preference for low-sugar pectin. (If you like very sweet jam, and would like a jar of raspberry peach, give me a holler — it is fantastic on pancakes!)  A life of following the instructions is a life of jamming ease.

A hot tip for those of you who have been considering canning something, but don’t know that you really want to have 8 pint jars hanging around your house since most jam recipes are for 3-4 pints: Market Blooms in Reading Terminal Market is selling loose jars.  They’re more than you would pay if you bought a pack (3 for $4), but if you want to give it a shot without committing to a case, or want one or two of a different size (ahem, applesauce quarts), it’s a good way to go.  They’re at the location back by Iovine’s, not the flower stall across from Bassett’s.

Cherry Peach Jam (adapted from the Sure Jell Pectin instructions)

  • 4 cups peeled and chopped peaches
  • 1 cup chopped sour cherries
  • 2 tbsp lemon juice
  • 2 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1 box Sure Jell low-sugar pectin
  • 1/2 tsp butter

Put peaches, cherries, lemon juice, 2 1/4 cups sugar and butter in a large, non-reactive pot and bring to a boil.  When they’re boiling rapidly, and cannot be stirred down, mix the remaining 1/4 cup sugar with the pectin, and pour into the jam.  Keep boiling for another minute.  You have made jam.

Many sets of instructions on properly prepping, filling and sealing your jars can be found online.  Trust the experts.

 Based on the confidence boost that watching Niki produced, if you’ve been hesitating to jump into the canning pool, I’d suggest checking out one of Marisa’s upcoming classes.  I hear the students never leave empty-handed!

July 17, 2010

Cowboy Cake

After poaching apricots last week, I confess.  I was turned around on apricots.  Though I’m still not a fan of eating them straight out of hand, they were quite delightfully tart and juicy when cooked.  So, when the week 7 basket had more apricots, I was actually pretty excited.


Rewind to last summer.  I made peach upside-down cake, then promptly remade it with apples instead.  The peach cake was yummy, but in case you didn’t already know this about me, I mostly eat cake for breakfast.  (That is: It’s not the only thing I eat for breakfast, but that’s when I’m most likely to eat cake.)  The peaches and brown sugar were just too tooth-achingly sweet first thing in the morning.  

The tartness of the poached apricots made me think they would be a perfect substitute.  And I wanted to look for alternate upside-down cake recipes that didn’t involve beating egg whites separately.  Call me a sucker for a gimmick, but when I saw this recipe for an apricot cake in a cast iron skillet, I immediately announced to Bryan, “I’m going to make a cowboy cake!”

It’s really, insanely delicious.  The salt in the brown sugar really highlights the caramelly aspects of the topping, and the apricots are exactly what I’m looking for in a sweet-but-not-too-sweet cake.  And it’s so cute!  (Bryan has declared to me that no cowboy worth his boots would make this cake, and that just because something is cooked in a cast-iron pan does not mean it could be made on an open fire.  He is no longer invited to eat my cowboy cake.)

cowboy cake

Cowboy Cake (Apricot Upside-Down Cake)

adapted from Gourmet Magazine’s Fresh Apricot Upside-Down Cake

For topping

  • 1 stick unsalted butter
  • 3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 10 to 15 small fresh apricots, halved lengthwise and pitted
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt (or 1/4 tsp table salt)

Preheat oven to 375.  Melt the butter in a 10” cast iron skillet over medium heat on your stovetop.  When foam has subsided, mix in the salt.  Mine never really dissolved, but stir it up for a while.  When you’re satisfied the salt is evenly distributed, lower the heat to low, and sprinkle the brown sugar over the butter, trying to achieve a uniform layer.  After 3 minutes undisturbed, arrange the apricots around the pan.
For cake

  • 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, softened
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 large eggs at room temperature
  • 3/4 cup buttermilk

Mix flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a bowl.

Beat together butter, sugar, and vanilla in a large bowl with an electric mixer at medium speed until pale and fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes. Beat in eggs 1 at a time, then beat until mixture is creamy and doubled in volume, 2 to 3 minutes.

Reduce speed to low and add flour mixture in 3 batches, alternating with buttermilk, beginning and ending with flour.  Beat until just combined.

Gently spoon batter over apricots and spread gently to make an even layer.

Bake cake in middle of oven until golden brown and a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean, 30 to 45 minutes. (Mine was done really quickly!)

cowboy cake slice

Wearing oven mitts, immediately invert a large plate over skillet and, keeping plate and skillet firmly pressed together, invert cake onto plate. Carefully lift skillet off cake and, if necessary, replace any fruit that is stuck to bottom of skillet. Cool to warm or room temperature.

July 7, 2010

Poached Apricots

One of my favorite things about being a CSA member is the freedom to experiment.  When I get something in the basket that is not a particular favorite of mine, I think, “Well, at least I don’t have to worry about how it turns out!”  If the dish is delicious, great.  If it’s terrible, well, I didn’t like it that much to start with!  (See: roasting peppers, watermelon salad and watermelon limeade)

poaching apricots

I have strong feelings when it comes to fruit, and clearly ranked preferences.  To me, apricots don’t make the cut.  They just aren’t juicy.  Thus, I was free to cook with abandon!  But the lack of love also meant I wasn’t interested in tackling a tart.  Enter poaching.  It takes 5 minutes.  I had the ingredients.  (Oh, who am I kidding?  This is always my recipe selection process, whether I like the main item or not.)  

In the name of science and your taste buds, I made two batches.  One used simple syrup.  One used fabulous Egyptian honey, courtesy of Cybèle!  I was originally inspired by this recipe, which features greek yogurt.  Since I love yogurt and honey, I was sure that one would be the tastier.  In the end, my personal preference?  I’d use the simple syrup.  Turns out I like my honey straight. 

Poached Apricots

  • 4 or more apricots (just don’t crowd them in the pan)
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/2 cup sugar or 1/4 cup honey
  • half a vanilla pod, scraped
  • 4-8 lightly smashed cardamom pods (optional)

In a small saucepan, heat water, sugar/honey, vanilla and cardamom pods on medium-high heat, until all the sweetener is dissolved.  Halve the apricots, removing the pits.  Reduce the heat to a light simmer, and put the apricots in the pan. 

Poach for 2 to 5 minutes, turning once.  Don’t overpoach!  (The apricots will fall apart if you do.)  How do you know how long to poach for?  The drier the apricot, the longer you should go, I noticed.

Remove the apricots from the poaching syrup.  Raise the heat again, and reduce the syrup until it’s at least twice as thick.  Pour some of the thickened syrup on the apricots.  (Put the rest in a jar.  Use it to make yourself cocktails.)

Eat warm, or stick it in the fridge and eat whenever.  Try not to drip syrup all over yourself when you do.  And now I’m actually kind of looking forward to the apricots coming in this week’s basket! 

June 21, 2010

Salad days

DIY salad

Every cook has their bête noire - the item, against all logic and rational decisions, you just can’t convince yourself to make.  I do the lion’s share of cooking in my house, but when Bryan and I first started dating, I started the campaign to make his official cooking duty “salad dresser”.

He is a voracious salad eater.  Me, not so much.  His toppings of choice: raw everything — carrots, cucumbers, tomatoes, radishes.  Mine: Anything that covers up the taste of lettuce, and the more the better — cheese (please!), fruit (dried, fresh or cooked), nuts, roasted veggies, meat, herbs, grains, basically anything you can pick up with a fork other than raw vegetables. 

I know I should eat more fresh, raw veggies, so I thought it was a good thing when he started stocking salad greens in my fridge.  Imagine my horror when it was revealed that his favorite kind of salad dressing, the only one that he would even consider at the store, was one that turned my stomach.  The culprit?  Newman’s Own Light Italian.

Sounds innocuous enough, I know, but it is also my parents’ salad dressing of choice, and I associate its taste with one too many greens-only, slightly wilty salads.  That was the moment when I started selling the virtues of DIY salad dressing.

"It’s so easy!  It only takes a minute!"  "You can make it however you want — add anything you like."  "It’s so much cheaper, and fresher tasting, too!"  They all sound a little hollow when the speaker has never once been witnessed making her own salad dressing.

The passage of time changes all things, though.  Whether it was the wrinkling of my nose every time the Newman’s Own came out, or the effusive praise I heaped on any early attempt at creating a dressing, Bryan has fully embraced his role as salad dresser.  In fact, he’s asked me several times when I am going to blog about his salads.  So, in celebration of my lovely husband, who exuberantly takes over the odious kitchen tasks of my life, I present his dressing recipe.

Bryan’s Own Salad Dressing

  • olive oil
  • one lemon
  • 3/4 tsp mustard powder
  • salt
  • pepper
  • 1/4 tsp cumin
  • 1/8 tsp chili powder
  • 1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1 clove garlic or some shallot

Note: This is truly a “to taste” recipe — measures above are approximate, and ratios are based on nothing but how Bryan likes his salad to taste.  

The rule of thumb for oil to lemon juice is typically 3 to 1, but in nearly every case, you have lots and lots of olive oil, and a finite amount of lemon juice, so start at 2 to 1, and add oil to taste.  

I find it easiest to squeeze the lemon directly into a measuring cup, so you know how much you’re working with.  For us, a lemon will dress approximately 8 salads.  

Start seasoning!  Bryan likes plenty of salt, pepper and mustard, a moderate amount of cumin, and a little chili powder and cayenne pepper to spice it up.  Feel free to adjust those measures to your own taste.  Go crazy; add a second garlic clove if you love it.

We pour ours in a jam jar, for easy shaking.  If you’re making it all in the measuring cup, use a fork to mix it all up, and give it a taste.  Adjust as necessary.  If you are like Bryan, make it first, before you start prepping your toppings.  Then stick it in the fridge, to get the desired salad dressing chill.

The dressing will keep for at least a week, so make more if you want it.  Note that all the flavors will get stronger over time.

(My other campaign, still underway, is to make him the bread maker — specifically, the baguette guy.  I am keeping my fingers crossed!)

May 13, 2010

Strawberry shortcakes

with colander 3

It is time.  Today.  Go get yourself at least one pint of local strawberries.  Don’t go to Superfresh.  Go to a farmer’s market.  Go to Reading Terminal Market and hit up the Amish or Fair Food.  Yes, they cost more.  If there is one form of produce worth the outlay to get fresh and local, it is berries.  They do not ripen after picking, but they are fragile (read: do not ship well cross-country) when ripe.  You will taste the difference.

Now, I will share with you the most important lesson I learned from my french exchange host family.  There is no such thing as a strawberry too sweet and ripe to sugar.  I learned to embrace the indulgence.  Just add a teaspoon or so, to really bring out the flavor. Slice them up, sugar them, and eat in 5 minutes.  You will eat the whole bowl.

Repeat.  After you have done this 3 or 4 times, you may be ready to move on to the strawberry shortcake recipe below.  You may not.  That’s ok.  It is perfectly fine to worship strawberries in their primal form first and foremost.  But this recipe is pretty good, too.


Strawberry Shortcake

  • a half batch of biscuits (add 2 tablespoons of sugar to the dry ingredients when making) 
  • 1 pint strawberries
  • 1/2 pint heavy cream
  • 1 tablespoon of sugar (plus more for the berries)

Make your biscuits (you can use this recipe, but any basic biscuit recipe will make a tasty shortcake.)  When you’ve put the biscuits in the oven, slice your strawberries, removing the stems.  Sprinkle the berries with a teaspoon of sugar, or more to taste.  Set aside.

When the biscuits come out, set them aside to cool for a bit (or they will melt the whipped cream.)  When they are warm, but not hot, make whipped cream. 

If you aren’t already the sort to make whipped cream fresh, I strongly encourage you to try it.  It’s faster than this description makes it sound, and it is worlds better than store bought.  If I were going to cheat making strawberry shortcakes, I would definitely use Pillsbury poppin’ can biscuits before I used canned whipped cream.

I have been informed that some people have the capability to whip cream by hand, but you will want to use a mixer.  I have also been told there are many schools of thought about how one should progress through the speeds when mixing, but I have never noticed a difference in my cream, so I’ll just tell you the fast way.  Start with your heavy cream in a large clean bowl.  Take the mixer through the speeds until you are at the second-fastest speed.  Whip the cream until it starts to hold slight shapes.  Then, mix in your tablespoon of sugar (and a splash of vanilla extract, if you want.) 

Continue mixing until the cream holds in peaks.  At this point, if you like a soft, slightly runny whipped cream, it’s done.  If you want dollops that sit firmly where you put them, turn the mixer down a notch, and keep going until it gets to the consistency you like.  Aren’t sure?  Stop the mixer, and taste a swipe!

Usually, for cakes and sundaes and other very sweet things, I barely sugar my whipped cream (maybe a teaspoon of sugar.)  For strawberry shortcakes, though, the biscuit is savory(ish.  buttery, at least.)  The strawberries are tart.  So, the cream should definitely be sweet on the tongue.  Again, if you aren’t sure, taste it!  You’re just whipping air into the cream, so the sweetness won’t really change much in the whipping process.

Put it all together, and what do you get?  Another day older and deeper in yum.