Irish Potato Gratin

March 14, 2019

Cheddar and Parsley Gratin

When you go to Ireland, you’ll find the best potatoes. Beloved tuber, the mainstay of many culinary traditions, the humble potato has taken a bad rap of late. I hear people say “eat no white food”, avoid carbs and the precious potato is unwelcome in the keto community.  I read all this and recall the hundreds of years that the lowly spud sustained generations across northern Europe and South America. The potato is a treasure trove of goodness, high in potassium, vitamin C and energy. In the right climate conditions, it’s not difficult to grow and produces abundantly. It’s comforting food; easy to digest, and when feeling a bit under the weather, nothing sounds better than a warm, boiled potato with salt and butter.

gratin baking dishes

Granted the poor potato has been tortured into submission for the junk food industry. They’re soaked, dried, fried and heavily salted to produce to produce those tempting, perfect French fries, chips, tots and such. This not only decimates good food, but presents wasted calories and money for the consumer.

Unfortunately it’s not easy to buy good potatoes in supermarkets. Most potatoes in our markets have been washed to look perfect, stored in conditions that are too cool and have lost a lot of flavor. The best potatoes are organically or at least locally grown, and packed with some dirt still on in paper bags. Excess dirt may be brushed off but washing potatoes removes their natural keeping quality, plastic suffocates, and storage that is too cool turns the starch to sugar. Definitely do not store potatoes in the fridge.

gratin ingredients

Once you find some exceptional spuds (the potato’s informal name came from the original digging tool, a spudde), enjoy them in moderation and keep the preparations simple.

We’re close to St. Patrick’s Day and need a potato dish to serve a crowd for a church supper. With its rolling green meadows, Ireland is a great dairying country, making a gratin a good choice. We’ll add fresh parsley for the green, use cheddar, the common Irish cheese, and keep the potatoes moist with milk and cream. This is something we can put together in the afternoon and serve in the evening. A potato gratin can be a main dish in itself with a green vegetable or a salad, but it also complements roast chicken, sausages or a braise. For the luck of the Irish, remember St. Paddy and enjoy a potato.

Cheddar and Parsley Potato Gratin

ready to bake
dish too small

1 lb. russet or baking potatoes (generous 3 cups peeled and sliced)

2-3 tablespoons chopped parsley

1 large clove garlic, chopped

1 ½ oz. grated white cheddar cheese (½ cup)

4 fl. oz. milk (½ cup)*

2 fl. oz. cream (1/4 cup)*

1 oz. butter (2 tablespoons)

Salt and (white) pepper

*Or use 6 fl. oz (3/4 cup) half and half

Butter a 6-cup baking dish. Preheat oven to 425º or 400º convection.

catch the run over drips

Heat the milk, cream and butter almost to boiling.

Reserve ¼ of the cheese. Layer the sliced potatoes, parsley, garlic and remaining cheese in the buttered dish, adding salt and pepper as you go.  Pour over the hot milk mixture, sprinkle on the last of the cheese and pop the dish into the preheated oven.

(If you use a baking dish smaller than 6 cups (like I did in the photo), you will need to place a baking sheet underneath to catch any drips that will smoke up your oven.)

Bake for 30-45 minutes or until nicely browned and the potatoes test tender when pierced with a fork. Allow the gratin to settle for 10 minutes out of the oven. Serves 4.





Saucepan Brownies

February 13, 2019


Valentine Brownies

brownie ingredients

Valentine’s Day beckons with hearts, roses and everything chocolate. For many of us in the midst of bitter winter, it’s a time to reach out and lift our spirits with a bit of frivolity. Off the diet, off the regime, off the track for just a day to indulge in a little extravagance. We don’t do it often, and we’ll be happier to go back to work the next morning having lit some candles and enjoyed a bit of sweetness.

As we look around, everything’s coming up chocolate. If you have a box of unsweetened cocoa powder in your pantry and a stick of butter in your fridge, you can beat out Godiva in sensational flavor with just a short stir-up of these fabulous saucepan brownies. Here’s your chance for a last minute gift to give the ones you love something from the heart, something homemade.

butter, sugar, cocoa, eggs

I first came to this recipe as one my young twin granddaughters could make, but they’ve been such a hit, they’re now standard stock, and my 5-year old grandson thinks his packed lunch is incomplete without one of these brownies.

Take a break:  get offline, forget about ordering expensive flowers, stir up a pan of brownies and give the memorable best—home baking.

 Saucepan Brownies

 4 oz. unsalted butter (1 stick)

7 oz. sugar (1 cup)

2 oz. cocoa powder (unsweetened) (2/3 cup)

ready for oven

2 eggs

2 oz. all purpose flour (rounded 1/3 cup)

1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon (optional)

¼ teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 teaspoon water

3 oz. chocolate chips or broken walnuts (1/2 cup)

Line an 8 by 8 inch baking tin with parchment. Preheat oven to 325º

Melt butter in a heavy saucepan. Stir in sugar and cocoa.

brownies baked

Remove from heat, cool 5 minutes. Beat in eggs one at a time, followed by the vanilla and water. Tip in the flour with cinnamon and salt and beat with a wooden spoon for 60 strokes (good work for the abs!). Stir in the chocolate chips or nuts and spread the batter in the parchment-lined tin. Place in preheated oven and bake for 20-25 minutes or until puffed and glistening on the top. Take care not to over bake.

Cool, remove from baking tin, peel down parchment an cut into squares, 16 or 32 depending on size.

Happy Valentine’s Day

Comfort Dal

January 12, 2019

yellow Dal soup

Here we are in mid January, a few weeks out from the holidays–cold outside and snow forecast for tonight.  Though there are a few broken Christmas cookies left in the tin, most days now, I’m ready for simple fare.

dal package

When I first tried Floyd Cardoz’s Yellow Dal from his book Flavorwalla, I never thought it would become a staple. I’ve taken his basic recipe and made it more of a soup that makes a restorative lunch on busy days and an addictive snack spooned cold right out of the jar. This simplest of dals takes only about 30 minutes to cook, is very inexpensive, highly nourishing and satisfying. The following recipe uses no fancy spice mix or exotic seasonings, but it has just enough of a lift to keep you spooning on. This is not a


recipe that needs to be exact. Follow the basic plan; use what you like and what you have on hand.

Indian dals or lentils have long been staples in my kitchen ever since Asian friends in Tanzania introduced them to me decades ago.  Even in dusty single-shop East African villages, there’d be bins or gunny bags of lentils to be weighed out and wrapped in newspaper cones, along with rice and salt. The name Dal comes from a Sanskrit world meaning “to split”

and dals are always split pulses—

softened onions and garlic

beans, peas or lentils. For example “chanas” are chick peas, and “chana dal” is the same bean peeled and split.  All lentils are high in protein, quick cooking and take well to seasoning. Plain brown lentils may be found in every American grocery store, but when you see the small, pink Masoor lentils or split red lentils, snatch them up to keep in your pantry. I buy them in a four-pound bag in the Asian section where they cost around a dollar a pound. They’re also often in the bulk area of

cooked dal

natural food markets. They fit into any nutrition plan, and most of all they are delicious.

Warm yourself with a bowl of this dal garnished with a dollop of plain yogurt and crusty sour dough toast along with a cup of chai masala and you’ll feel at peace with winter.

Yellow Dal

1 cup (7 ounces) Masoor dal, pink lentils

2 tablespoons butter, ghee, coconut oil or olive oil

½ medium onion cut in small dice

2-3 cloves garlic minced

½ Serrano chili sliced

½ cup chopped tomato, fresh or canned

½ teaspoon turmeric

4 cups water


handful of baby spinach, blanched, chopped kale or broccoli rabe (optional)

handful chopped cilantro or parsley (optional)

Most lentils today are well cleaned, but it’s wise to look them over for bits of chaff or a rare pebble by running your fingers through the dry lentils.

Warm the butter or oil in a medium soup pot. Saute the onion and garlic until softened and transparent. Add the lentils, chili, tomato, turmeric and water. Stir, bring to a boil and simmer covered until the lentils are mushy tender (20-30 minutes). Test by mashing a few lentils between your fingers. Season with salt and for a pureed soup texture, stir quickly with a whisk or a rotary beater.

While still hot, add the blanched, chopped greens and cilantro.

Taste for seasonings adding more salt if needed. You could also add a pinch of cayenne for added chili and a squeeze of lime juice if desired.

yellow Dal soup

Makes 6 generous cups of soup.

Gougeres–Nibbles for Holiday Cheer

December 2, 2018


Gougeres for party nibbles

There’s a stretch of white slush covering my lawn, but the leaf blowers are gone.  Finally the engines of mowers, clippers and blowers are silent and for the quiet spell of winter; like Carl Sandberg’s buffalos, they’re gone. As the cold pushes us inside, it’s good to have the oven on sending good smells of baking through the house.  The holiday season is upon us with party food on order– time to make sure there’s a bag of crisp, cheesy puffs in the freezer to pull out at a moment’s notice.

puff ingredients

My mother didn’t care much for cooking, but we had farm produce around needing to be used, so basically everyone had to know how to cook. With our family Jersey providing quarts of rich cream for the fridge, my mom became an expert with cream puffs. We seldom see them anymore, but what a treat they were—those crisp egg-rich golden globes filled with lightly sweetened whipped cream and a dusting of powdered sugar. Cream puffs were our go-to dessert for company or Sunday dinners. So as Cleo whipped up cream puffs, so I, too, learned to take the preparation of the classic pate a choux for granted. Once you dive in, you’ll see it’s a snap.

cheese prepared

Perhaps it takes a bit of courage to dump the flour all at once into the roiling boil of water and butter then to stir like crazy to form a paste or panade.The next hesitant step may be to crack an egg into the still warm ball of flour paste and again to beat like mad with a wooden spoon.  (Some recipes tell you to transfer the paste to a mixer bowl and beat the egg in that way, but why dirty up more utensils.) Follow tradition, muscle up and beat away with your old wooden spoon. And there you have it: water, butter, salt, flour and eggs. Blobbed onto a

cooked water, butter flour paste

greased sheet pan, parchment or Silpat mats and popped into a hot oven, the pastry bursts into hollow balls. To turn the paste into the classic Burgundian Gougeres or cheese puff, add a dab of mustard and some good Swiss type cheese to the paste before baking and you have a delicious little appetizer. Light, classic and always welcome.

paste after eggs added

A few tips I’ve learned over the years: use strong flour or bread flour in place of all purpose flour if possible for a better puff and stronger shell; cut the cheese into small dice rather than using grated cheese for little melted nuggets; stick with water as the liquid rather than using milk which makes the pastry too tender.


I’ve made thousands of these puffs over the years, so don’t fear giving them a try. No fancy equipment needed. They may be pipped onto the sheet pan using a pastry bag and wide plain tube if you have them, or simply dropped off the edge of a spoon. Make them tiny if you have the patience, or a bit bigger if you’re in a hurry.



8 oz. (1 cup) water

4 oz. (1 stick) butter

1 teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon cayenne (optional)

5 oz. (1 cup) flour (bread flour recommended)

4 extra large eggs or 4 ½ large eggs*

1 rounded teaspoon grainy Dijon mustard (optional)

5 ½ oz. (generous cup) Swiss type cheese cut in very small dice or grated

*If using extra large eggs, save 1 generous tablespoon aside for egg wash.

First prepare the cheese, by pulling slices from the wedge with a cheese plane.Stack up the slices and cut into small dice (see photo) or use large holes of a box grater.

Preheat oven to 425º.  Line two sheet pans with parchment or Silpat mats.

In a medium saucepan (not enameled cast iron which retains too much heat when eggs are added), combine the water, butter, salt and cayenne. Cover and bring to a rolling boil. Have the flour and a strong wooden spoon at hand. Once the butter has melted and the boil is rolling, dump in the flour all at once, stir like mad, reduce heat to simmer and beat until the dough comes together into a soft ball.  Stir the paste over low heat for a minute.

ready to bake

Remove the saucepan from the stovetop and place on a damp cloth on the counter. Make a well in the paste and drop in the first egg. Go at it with the wooden spoon again until the egg is fully incorporated into the paste. Continue beating in all 4 large eggs or 3 ½ extra large eggs. The dough should now look silky and shiny; it should feel barely warm (you don’t want the cheese to melt when added). Stir in the mustard and then the diced or grated cheese. Blob the pastry onto the prepared sheet pans using a pastry bag or a teaspoon. Brush

gougeres baked

the tops with egg wash (beaten egg) and pop the sheets into the preheated oven. Bake for 15 minutes, then reverse the sheets, top to bottom. Bake another 10 minutes for small puffs and a bit longer for larger ones. Remove from oven when crisp and brown.

To freeze spread baked puffs on a sheet pan and freeze before storing in a zip lock plastic bag. The puffs may be reheated from freezer to oven for a few minutes before serving. Cheers!


Makes 60 medium puffs or 80-100 small


Butternut Squash and Barley Salad

October 23, 2018

Butternut Squash and Barley Salad

My friend Barbara makes tasty and pretty grain, vegetable salads for potluck suppers. One of her specialties at this time of year combines tender barley kernels and sweet bites of baked butternut squash. Recently there was a nice amount left over and she suggested I take some home. I scooped a few spoonfuls into a bowl and found it delicious for breakfast the next morning.

A savory breakfast is a welcome variation. I remember the first time I sat down to a plate of white tahini, warm pita bread and olives for breakfast in Cairo. Amazing with cups of hot tea. The remains of a lunch or supper salad may equally fill in for a wholesome and interesting breakfast.

Salad Ingredients

Now to the butternut squash, barley salad: The common barley on our grocery shelves is pearled barley. For the salad, the barley needs to be rinsed well to remove excess starch and simmered in plenty of water until swollen and tender. Count on up to 30- 40 minutes to cook the barley. Once the barley is cooked, it should be drained while hot and immediately dressed with vinegar, salt and olive oil.

A shallow baker of lightly oiled, seasoned diced butternut squash

cooked barley

can go in the oven at any time you might be baking something else. It needs to cook gently and thoroughly until it releases most of its moisture and almost seems lightly candied. Seasoned, roasted squash cubes will hold in a covered bowl in the fridge for several days.

The third prepared ingredient for this salad, always good to have on hand, is pickled red onion. This is a snap preparation. Thinly slice a medium red onion (use a little Japanese mandoline if you have one), toss it with the juice of 2

Squash ready to bake

limes and pack the juice soaked onion into a glass jar. Watch it turn beautifully fuchsia pink. Pickled onion keeps for weeks in the fridge and will garnish all sorts of salads, or sandwiches.

Since it’s autumn we’ll add some diced tart apples, a sprinkling of currants, some last tender leaves of kale from the garden and feta crumbles when serving.

Butternut Squash and Barley Salad

½ cup pearled barley

Baked squash

2 cups peeled, diced butternut squash (plus oil, turmeric, paprika, salt)

¼ cup chopped pickled red onion* or chopped fresh red onion

1 ½ cups diced tart apple

2 tablespoons currants or pomegranate seeds

1 clove garlic

2 tablespoons sherry or red wine vinegar

1 tablespoon pomegranate molasses** or balsamic vinegar

4 tablespoons olive oil


few leaves of kale (optional)

Feta cheese crumbles (optional)

* see above for pickled red onion directions

** pomegranate molasses is available in the Middle East food section of most large supermarkets.

Rinse the barley in 3 changes of water. In a medium saucepan combine the barley and 2 cups of water; cover, bring to a simmer and cook 30 to 40 minutes or until fully tender. Drain, shake away excess water and season with salt, 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar and a tablespoon of olive oil. Mix well and set aside.

Toss the diced squash with salt, pinch each of turmeric and paprika plus a tablespoon of olive oil. Spread it in a single layer in a baking dish and bake for 30-45 minutes in a moderate oven. The squash will shrink and dry but should not get hard.

Prepare the dressing by mashing the garlic clove with a pinch of salt in a small bowl. Whisk in the remaining tablespoon of red wine or sherry vinegar plus the pomegranate molasses or balsamic vinegar and the last 2 tablespoons of olive oil. When both the barley and the squash have cooled to room temperature, add them to a shallow mixing bowl along with the chopped red onion (pickled), diced apple and currants. Drizzle over the dressing, Mix with a rubber spatula and taste for seasoning.

To prepare kale for serving, pull away the tough stems, slice the leaves, knead with a pinch of salt and a few drops of olive oil. Allow the kale a few minutes to wilt and  soften.

Mound the salad on serving plates, sprinkle the kale around and top with feta crumbles, or just enjoy a bowlful with a spoon. Be sure to save some for breakfast.   Enough for 4-6

Salad Mixed




Iman Bayildi or Stuffed Eggplant

August 25, 2018


Long ago and far away in a legendary city by the sea, I bought a little paperback book. The year was 1964; the city-Dar es Salaam (haven of peace) established by Arab traders in the mid 19thcentury; the sea-the Indian Ocean; the book- Round the World in Eighty Dishes by Leslie Blanch. This 4-by 7-inch now tattered and stained book filled with exotic recipes accompanied by fanciful, curlicued drawings brought me delight and inspiration as I set about preparing tasty meals with

cut eggplant

limited provisions in a remote village of Tanzania.

The author, an English artist and novelist, traveled the world with her French diplomat husband and later on her own. She tells intriguing stories about each of the fabled recipes with tantalizing names such as The Emir’s Jewels, Rosy Dawn Dish, Roquebrune Tartine. Fortunately many of the recipes called for vegetables available occasionally in our local village market such as onions, tomatoes, peppers and eggplant. Eggplant,

squeezed eggplant

sometimes called garden egg in Africa, brinjal by Hindi speakers, aubergine by the Brits, is beloved by the Indians and Lebanese who often form the merchant class in African cities and villages. The vegetable grew well in small, cultivated gardens or shambas near plentiful water.

Thus eggplant it was when eggplant was in season. We had moussaka with minimal meat, poor man’s caviar (eggplant salad or spread), ratatouille and of course Iman Bayildi meaning the dish that

filling cooked

made the Iman swoon. This vegetarian stuffed eggplant is practically a national dish in Greece, Turkey and around the Middle East.  In Ms. Blanch’s recipe for this fatal eggplant preparation which caused the priest to faint, the vegetables are boiled, stewed and baked over pages of description. Nowadays, we take the same ingredients in a simplified formula and still reach a swoony result.

Iman Bayildi  (Stuffed Eggplant)


open ready

1 12-15 oz. black or purple eggplant

2-4 tablespoons olive oil

1 large onion (8-10 oz.)

2-3 cloves garlic

2 tablespoons chopped fresh herbs (thyme, marjoram, basil, parsley, etc)

small pinch crushed red pepper (optional)

2 medium-large ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded and diced  (a generous cup)


(reserve the squeezed out tomato juice, strain out seeds)

Salt, pinch sugar

Remove the green cap from the eggplant, halve lengthwise, and cut the flesh into wide cross hatch without piercing the skin. Sprinkle generously with salt and set aside to let the salt draw excess water from the eggplant.

Meanwhile, peel, quarter and thinly slice the onion. Gently sweat the onion in 2 tablespoons olive oil (cover with butter wrappers or

served with yogurt

parchment). As the onion softens add chopped garlic, herbs and red pepper. Once the onion is fully wilted and the garlic fragrant, remove butter papers, add tomatoes, salt, pinch of sugar, and simmer until all the tomato juice has cooked away. Taste for seasoning.

Rinse salt from the eggplant and squeeze away excess moisture. Scrape the tomato mixture from the frying pan. Add another spoon of oil and sauté the eggplant, cut side down over moderate heat for 5 minutes. Turn the eggplant over and sauté for 10 minutes, covered.

served with cherry tomatoes

Lower the heat if it seems to be frying.

Taste the eggplant flesh. If it tastes salty enough, leave them as they are, or sprinkle with salt if needed. Place the eggplant shells in an oiled baking dish cut side up, fill them with the tomato mixture, pour around 2-3 tablespoons reserved tomato juice and bake in a 375º-400ºoven for 30-45 minutes or until very soft, slightly caramelized and temptingly delicious.

The stuffed eggplant may be served warm, but they are best at room temperature preferably with a spoonful of plain, homemade yogurt or a chiffonade of fresh basil and halved cherry tomatoes. Serves 2-4

Peach Crostata

August 5, 2018

Peach Crostata

Sweet, hand-sized fruit pies in the farmers market catch my eye. They tempt with their miniature size, but the crust is thick and fillings ooze pasty rather than juicy.  When I come upon some ripe peaches in the next stall, I imagine  thin, buttery pastry, warm peaches and just a touch of sweet. So how was I going to get to my personal peach pie?

Maybe a Crostata—that Italian free form tart with the pleated edging and fruit mounded center. It might

pie crust

not be glamorous, nor would it hold up for hours in the hot sun, but shortly after it came from the oven or toasted up the next day, it would be perfect.

Two problems faced me: first peach juiciness would make the filling runny. And secondly how could I bump up the peach flavor inside the crust blanket.

I’d solve the first problem by lightly sugaring peeled, sliced peaches until the sugar drew out the juice, which I’d drain off, boil up and add

rolled pastry

as a syrup over the tart when serving.  I’d tackle the second query with a blob of thick, homemade peach jam smeared on the pastry base before mounding in the wilted peach slices.  I’d then pleat up the crust around the peach mound, brush it with cream, sprinkle with sugar and pop the lot into a hot oven.

After 25 minutes I had my quintessential individual peach pie! Though since I had all that oven heat going on, it was wise to make 4 crostatas.  A parchment covered

jam added

baking sheet held my four small pies—ideal summer treats and easy to pack up for a picnic, but they’re best the day they’re baked.

Peach Crostata

For each crostata to serve 2:

4 oz. lightly sweetened, chilled pie crust

peaches added

2 ripe peaches

1 tablespoon sugar

1 ½ tablespoons thick peach jam, homemade if possible

¼ teaspoon cornstarch

sliver of butter

Cream and sugar for the crust

Scald peaches 10 seconds in boiling water to loosen peel. Peel, slice and toss with sugar.  Set aside for 20 minutes as the sugar draws

pastry pleating

juice from the peaches.

Preheat oven to 450º. Line a baking sheet with parchment. Drain peaches in a sieve and save the juice. Roll the dough into a 9-inch circle. Spoon jam into the center of the circle. Sprinkle cornstarch over jam. Mound a cup of wilted sliced peaches over the starch sprinkled jam and begin pleating the dough up around the peaches, leaving the center open. Use a flat, thin plastic scraper to gently slide the filled pastry onto the cookie sheet. (If this seems too tricky, shape the

ready to bake

crostata right on the parchment.) Top with a thin slice of butter. Brush the pastry with cream or milk and sprinkle with sugar. Repeat with as many small pies as will fit on your baking sheet.

Bake the pies 20-25 minutes or until richly browned.  Meanwhile boil up the reserved peach juice to a thick syrup and drizzle over the baked tarts when serving with soft whipped cream. Each pie is enough for 2.


4 pies




More Free Food-Stuffed Wild Grape Leaves

July 17, 2018

Wild Grape Vines

High summer, high heat, high humidity. Everything’s lushly green and growth pushes garden fences. Weeds abound and wild things encroach. I used to collect bowls of mulberries along my walk through the play field until the park district removed the low branches. Yet still wild grape vines cover fences and climb tree trunks. Before the Japanese beetles chew them to bits, gather ye grape leaves while ye may. They are edible; they are free.

Grape leaves play a role is all Mediterranean cuisines. They cover fish for grilling, line pots for steaming and most notably hold rice or meat fillings for Greek Dolmades. Stuffed grape leaves make welcome appetizers, picnic food or casual snacks to keep in the fridge. You may buy prepared grape leaves in jars in supermarkets, or you may take a basket, scissors and clip some on a morning walk when it’s cool. Check the vines making sure you see a few tentative green grapes forming along the stems to insure you’re into the proper plant. When nibbled grape leaves are tart.

Filling Leaves

To prepare for filling, cut any excess stem from the leaves and blanch them for two to three minutes in boiling, salted water. Once drained and cooled, the leaves may be stacked, wrapped and refrigerated or frozen.

Lamb or beef fillings are common, but rice is a good keeper and accessible for a wider range of food preferences. Made with organic brown rice, lots of fresh herbs and good olive oil, stuffed grape leaves are delicious to eat, highly nutritious and a summer’s delight.

Stuffed Wild Grape Leaves

24-30 grape leaves

Ready to Steam

½ cup brown rice (organic round grain if possible)

1/8 teaspoon turmeric (optional)

1 tablespoon olive oil

2/3 cup finely chopped onion

1-2 cloves garlic, minced

a few slices chopped green chili (optional)

¼ cup chopped dill, parsley or mint

2 tablespoons currants (or 1 T each chopped dried tart cherries and raisins)

salt to taste

Ready to Eat

Juice ¼ lemon

Additional olive oil

Trim stems from grape leaves, blanch is boiling water and cool. The leaves will lose their bright green color and turn drab; that happens to greens with acid content. Grape leaves taste tart.

Cook rice with turmeric and pinch of salt until tender but not mushy. (A rice cooker is perfect here; cook 1cup rice to make the cooker work properly–freeze half for the next batch of stuffed leaves or use for rice salad.) Gently saute onion in 1tablespoon olive oil until soft and translucent. Add garlic and optional chili the last couple minutes.  Combine 1 heaped cup cooked rice, cooked onion, chopped herbs, currants and salt to taste.

On a clean counter or cutting board, place one grape leave at a time vein side (underside) up. Use a heaped teaspoon of filling centered in the lower third of the grape leaf. Fold the stem end up, the sides in and continue to roll up like a mini burrito. Line a heavy pot with three grape leaves and place the filled grape leaves snugly together in the pot. Make two layers of filled leaves if necessary. Sprinkle the rolls with juice of a quarter of a lemon, top with three more leaves. Sprinkle over a scant half-cup of water. Place a saucer on top to weight down and then the pot lid. Steam the filled leaves over low heat for a good half an hour. Remove lid, lift off saucer and cool. Before removing from the pot, drizzle over a generous twirl of good olive oil. Serve cold or at room temperature. Makes 20-24 dolmades






Gifts from the Trees–Linden Tea, Elderflower Cordial

June 30, 2018

Elderflower cordial and Linden tea

When I moved to the North Shore ten years ago, I met the train at Linden station and and drove to Winnetka on Linden street. Who was Linden?  Only when the city allowed me to select a sapling for the parkway in front of our house did I study the trees in the local park. I chose an American Linden for its sturdiness and angel wing shade.  Now four years after planting, my Linden has reached rooftop height and this summer is laden with blossoms. I  see the Lindens all over town as their pale green bracts flutter in the breeze and their fragrance fills the air.

Linden flowers in tree

This ancient tree is sister to the great British limes or basswoods that regally dot the landscape of Hatfield House where Elizabeth I lived until she became queen. I remember the scent of the massive English limes, and now my American Linden is blooming with the same beckoning bouquet. Not only do the flowers make a tasty tea, they offer a calming and healing tincture, good for both the heart and soul.  Gather them now before they fall.

To make Linden tea, place several flower heads in a teapot. Fill with boiling water; steep five minutes and pour into cups. Sweeten with honey if desired.


Demanding equal time, wild Elderberry bushes along my back fence bend with white pillow-like heads in the sun. Their honeyed scent announces the onset of summer and of course summer means lemonade. The elder flowers and berries, Sambucus, long known for anti-viral and antibacterial properties are available in all pharmacies. Right now the wild flowers are offering themselves for free!

For generations elderflower cordial has

been a welcome summer cooler. The following recipe comes from Darina

picked elderflowers

Allen’s beautiful new book Grow, Cook, Nourish. Prepare the cordial base promptly while the flowers are briefly with us; hold the syrup in the fridge for several days or freeze to use through the coming weeks as a syrup with white wine, still or sparkling water.  You can party it up with springs of mint, slices of fruit or edible flowers.

The elderflower cordial recipe calls for ascorbic acid which is basic vitamin C. If you can’t find it in powder form, buy

inexpensive plain Vitamin C pills (no

additives such as calcium, etc.) and

Elderflower cordial ingredients

crush them in a mortar or with a rolling pin. For the following recipe, I used eight 1000mg tablets of Vitamin C.  (Ascorbic acid may also be used in tiny pinches in canning tomatoes and to strengthen the keeping qualities of homemade bread.)

Elderflower Cordial

10-12 elderflower heads

3 cups water

5 oz. sugar (scant ¾ cup)

1 lemon, grated zest and juice (3 ½

elderflowers in syrup


4 teaspoons ascorbic acid powder

Check the elder flowers for insects and rinse carefully in a bowl of cool water. Snipe off excess stem but keep the umbrella intact.

Bring water and sugar to a boil, stirring to dissolve sugar. Cool 5 minutes. Stir in elderflowers, lemon zest and juice and powdered ascorbic acid.

Cover and infuse 12 hours or overnight.

To strain place a cotton or linen (not

Elderflowers in linen towel

terry) tea towel in a strainer set over a bowl. Pour in the elderflower concoction. Allow the juice to drain freely.  For ultimate extraction, gather the tea towel above the flower mixture, tie with a string and hang from a cupboard doorknob. When fully drained, pour into a glass jar and store in the refrigerator or freeze. Makes 1 quart.  To serve dilute with 4-8 parts water or wine and add extra lemon to taste

Note: In place of the ascorbic acid, you may use an extra lemon; however, the syrup may not keep as long.

hanging extraction



Myrtle Allen–Remembrance

June 15, 2018

The Ballymaloe Cookbook

Just as I finished this last post, I learned of the passing at age 94 of my friend and mentor, Myrtle Allen, matriarch of the famed Ballymaloe House in East Cork. This brave and energetic farmer’s wife who blazed the trail literally changing the food culture of Ireland inspired many. Her passionate commitment to the simple, the best of local and seasonal produce turned the tide away from fussy, chefted up food, to pure and authentic flavor. She worked hard and walked humbly with her destiny. We will miss her and are deeply thankful for her rich life, legacy and generous good will.

Cookbook Inscription