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February 2009

Marian Burros's Squash and Cheese Pie


Ooh, it's a crummy one here today. Cold and wet and biting and the sleet's been coming down since the early morning hours. It's simply not the kind of day that should be spent anywhere but on the couch, with a cup of tea, a stack of good books, and preferably a small, domesticated animal of some kind acting as a foot warmer. But here we are, so let's make the most of it, shall we? I know! I'll tell you all about the most thrilling discovery I made this past weekend: store-bought pie crusts. Not the evil I thought they were! And just the ticket when running (very, very, very) behind on dinner party menu-planning.

Now where were we? We left off at dessert. Right, a nice polenta cake with syruped cherries. Delicious! (And surprisingly good three days later, cold from the fridge, eaten whilst watching Out of Africa. Ben said I'd love it, I doubted him, he was right, the end.) Once I'd decided on that cake, I worked backwards. Some kind of good salad, like baby arugula mixed with thinly sliced fennel, dressed with olive oil, flaky salt and a champagne vinegar. Then something warm and rich and comforting to balance that. Marian Burros's cheese and squash pie seemed to fill all those criteria, plus it'd help use up the monster butternut squash I'd gotten from our CSA's winter share. (I am literally drowning in rutabaga and turnips, though. Send Help Please.)

The pie was quick enough to fit my schedule. The only problem? It required a pie crust. And I didn't exactly have any of those just hanging around the house. A better woman would, I'm sure! But I didn't. So I sent Ben at the grocery store and made him call me from the frozen foods aisle. "This one has trans fats!" ... "This one has 900 grams of sodium!" ...

He came home with a three-pack of Oronoque Orchards pie crusts, which seemed harmless enough despite my secret shame. But honestly, I was so pleased with how the pie turned out. The crust was tasty and flaky and fast. I quite like making my own pie dough, so it's not like I'm going to stop anytime soon, but it is nice to know that good alternatives really do exist. Are you all rolling your eyes at me now? It's okay, I can take it.


Now, because my scale is missing its batteries and I therefore am blind in my kitchen (is what it feels like), I couldn't weigh my squash. I eyeballed it and roasted the part that seemed to be around 1 1.5 to 2 pounds. But that resulted in so much filling that I ended up with two squash-and-cheese pies. (Thank goodness for three-packs of frozen pie crusts! And thank goodness that I ended up with two pies, because my guests devoured every last crumb.) Maybe I am just awful at estimating weight. Or maybe this recipe yield is way off. But if you make this, make sure you've got a second pie crust on hand, just in case.

What's that? You want to know about the pie itself? Oh, right! Of course. The pie itself was lovely, too. You roast a squash until it's all melting and soft. You puree it with eggs and a bit of cream and then mix that up with browned onions and chopped rosemary and a big pile of grated cheeses. You pour that into a baked pastry shell and bake it in the oven until it's set. It's savory and herbal, creamy and warming, hearty and satisfying, but it doesn't hit you in the belly with richness or heft. The combination of rosemary and fried onions and the funk of three kinds of cheeses with all that sweet, roasty squash was just right. Between seven people, these two pies were polished off in no time at all.

A decided success, I'd say.

Squash and Cheese Pie
Yields 10 to 12 servings as side dish or first course

Notes on the recipe: I ended up grating close to a whole cup of the Cheddar because of the massive amount of filling. So make sure you dip your pinky finger in the puree to taste before pouring it into the pie shell. You'll know then if you need to add more cheese or adjust the salt. Don't worry about the raw eggs; if you're using fresh ones from the market you'll be fine with a tiny fingertip's taste.

1 1.5 to 2-pound butternut squash
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
2/3 cup grated aged sharp Cheddar cheese (1 to 1 1/4 ounces)
2/3 cup grated nutty, earthy semisoft cheese, like Thistle Hill Tarentaise or Cowgirl Creamery Red Hawk (1 to 1 1/4 ounces) (I used Gruyere)
1/2 cup fresh goat cheese (2 to 3 ounces)
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh rosemary
2 eggs
2 egg yolks
2/3 cup heavy cream
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 9-inch pie crust, plain or whole wheat, baked

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Scrub squash and cut in half lengthwise. Rub cut side with a little oil and place on a baking sheet cut side down. Roast 40 to 50 minutes, until flesh is soft.

2. Meanwhile, sauté onion in remaining oil until onion browns. In a bowl, combine onion with cheeses and rosemary; set aside.

3. When squash is cooked, cool slightly and remove flesh. Place in food processor with eggs, yolks and cream; purée. Pour into bowl with cheeses and whisk to mix. Season with salt and pepper, and spoon into cooled pie shell. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, until center is set. Cool on rack and serve warm or at room temperature.

Kimberly Sklar's Polenta Cake


We had friends over for dinner on Saturday, dinner and game night. Menu planning for dinner parties is always my job, while Ben's is to vacuum and reach pans in high-up cupboards while I point imperiously from several feet below. Seems fair enough, the division of labor, especially because figuring out what to make for dinner rarely feels like a chore to me. It's rather fun to curl up on the couch in the early morning, surrounded by my clippings and papers and books, and cobble together a meal.

This Saturday, though, the day just got away with me. At 4:30 pm I still didn't know what on earth to make. And my guests were arriving in three short hours. I had to choose a few dishes, go shopping, and cook. Ben was nowhere to be found and a slight cloud of panic fogged my glasses. What was I thinking, with my nonchalance and my sudden creative inspiration that had me writing a short story at 2:00 in the afternoon instead of menu-planning, like a proper hostess? I wanted to stamp my foot.

Flicking through my clippings like a bank teller gone wild, I came across a recipe for polenta cake, meant to be served with roasted cherries, that came from an LA Times article published a few years back. Polenta, of course, is just a fancy word for cornmeal, and as I scanned the ingredient list quickly, I realized I already had everything in the pantry to make it. In fact, you probably have everything for this cake in your pantry, too. Therein lies this cake's genius, I would say.

It's just the thing for a last-minute dinner party, because not only do you most likely not have to make an extra trip to the grocery store, but it dirties just one bowl and bakes in less than half an hour. Because it's relatively small, it cools off quickly, too. No hot cake for dessert!


The batter is rather stiff and seems far too little for the pan. I did my best to spread it out, but it didn't reach the edges. At this point, my guests were 20 minutes from arriving and I hadn't showered yet, so to say that I was frantic would be somewhat understating the truth. I might have yelled at the tart pan or at the batter, I can't quite recall. Finally, because I realized that I could not will that batter to the edges without losing some very important self-respect, I put the pan in the oven and left the kitchen. Because it's that kind of a recipe, one that will save you a pinch, it worked out just fine. See? Browned and lovely and agreeably spread out. I can't believe I doubted it.


Now, Kimberly Sklar tells you serve this with roasted cherries when they're in season. The link above has that recipe for you to bookmark when the summer rolls around. I, and this is partially why I chose the recipe, had a jar of cherries in syrup that my mother put up last summer in Italy and that had been gathering dust in my cupboard ever since. Easy peasy! We sliced that cake into dainty slivers, each guest got to top their slice with a spoonful of cherries (sweet, tart, tiny, heavenly - sei bravissima, mammina!) and dessert was rescued.

The cake is rustic and not-too-sweet-but-just-right - a homey, countrified cake that you can't help but feel affection for. It's got an adorably crunchy cap and a barely coarse crumb and is a shining example of the pleasures of plainness. The cake definitely needs the moisture and tang from the saucy fruit, but if you don't have a jar of homemade Italian cherries in syrup lying about, you could just as well stew some frozen blueberries or blackberries with a bit of sugar and some lemon peel and spoon that vibrant compote over each slice.

Is this the best cake ever? No, but that's not the point. It's a problem-solver, a pinch-hitter, and just the kind of recipe every cook should have on hand, just in case. You never know.

Polenta Cake
Serves 8

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, room temperature, plus 1 tablespoon for pan
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons fine to medium grind cornmeal plus 2 teaspoons for dusting pan
1/2 cup brown sugar, not packed
2 eggs, room temperature
3 egg yolks, room temperature
1/8 teaspoon almond extract
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons flour
1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons granulated sugar for dusting

1. Heat the oven to 375 degrees. Use 1 tablespoon butter to grease a 9-inch removable bottom tart pan; dust with 2 teaspoons cornmeal.

2. Using an electric mixer, cream the butter and brown sugar until light in color and fluffy, 1 1/2 to 2 minutes. Scrape the bowl and add the eggs and egg yolks, one at a time, beating thoroughly after each addition. Stir in the almond extract.

3. Sift the flour, remaining corn meal, baking powder and salt together and fold into the mixture.

4. Spread the batter evenly into the prepared pan. Sprinkle the sugar evenly on top. Bake for 20 to 24 minutes. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool. Serve with fruit compote.

Amy Scattergood's Quinoa Salad with Shiitakes and Fennel


Oh, it's such a good week, isn't it? I love Martin Luther King Day, love hearing his beautiful voice on the radio all day long, love listening to the old gospel songs inevitably played after a particularly rousing speech, love hearing interviews with people who survived those awful days and are overcome with emotion about how far they, and we, have come. This year it was so especially wonderful to wake up the next morning, abuzz with anticipation and glee, to await the inauguration of our new president. I fairly vibrated with happiness all day long.

And then the kind folks over at the Well Fed Network went and made my week that much better by announcing the nominations for their 2008 Food Blog Awards. My post about my friend Alessandro (remember him?) and his delicious roasted tomato bruschetta is a nominee in the Best Post category, which just tickles me to no end. If you'd like to (and I hope you do!), you can vote here. The polls close this Saturday, January 24th.


Now, to make up for posting about those double chocolate cookies (that are, thankfully, all gone from my house) in this delicate month, I will tell you about a far more virtuous dish. Quinoa salad! It quivers with healthfulness, doesn't it? Far more appropriate for these days, I daresay.

Quinoa, in case anyone is wondering, is an ancient grain from the Andes that is particularly high in protein when compared to wheat or rice, and chockful of amino acids (and dietary fiber!). In other words, it is good for you. Luckily it also tastes nice, which is a relief. You have to rinse it before cooking, because it's covered with saponins that taste bitter if not removed. You'd think a lazy bones like me would balk at that step, but I rinse my rice, too, to remove the starch so that the cooked grains are nice and separated. (Just to clarify, only long-grain and basmati, not arborio, is meant to be rinsed!)


Amy Scattergood wrote about grain salads in the LA Times the other day, including this recipe that has you cook up a whole bunch of shiitakes glazed with soy sauce and rice vinegar (just typing that makes me hungry again) and caramelized fennel and toss them both with cooked quinoa, fried garlic, herbs, lime zest and juice, and sauteed scallions. Hoo boy! Good stuff.

It's a little fussy, because you have to cook everything - the garlic, the fennel, the shiitakes and scallions - in separate steps (technically, in a wok, but I used a steel skillet and it was fine). But fussy isn't always bad. Besides, all you need to do is prep properly. I didn't and I found myself frantically slicing shiitakes while the oil almost starting smoking. Typical. Oh, also, I would double the amount of soy sauce and vinegar with which you deglaze the mushrooms. I wanted this to be really strongly seasoned and it was more subtle than I expected. But it was a gorgeous combination, especially with the final finish of chopped green herbs and lime juice and zest.


You can serve this with roasted, salted cashews, says Amy, or with tofu or shrimp. Maine shrimp, those sweet, tiny, wild, pink specimens, are available here for a few short weeks now, and so unbelievably cheap that I bought a pound and quickly sauteed them in the pan I used for everything else. It was a lovely dinner: healthy and balanced and, best of all, eaten at the end of the first day of a new world order. I couldn't ask for anything more.

Quinoa Salad with Shiitakes and Fennel
Serves 6

2 cups quinoa
1 quart water
1/4 cup peanut oil
5 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced
2 cups thinly sliced fennel (about 1 large bulb)
2 cups sliced fresh shiitake mushrooms
1 cup sliced green onions, both white and green parts (about 1 small bunch)
1 tablespoon soy sauce (I'd double this next time)
1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar (I'd double this next time)
1/2 cup toasted, salted cashews (optional)
4 tablespoons minced fresh parsley
4 tablespoons minced fresh cilantro
Finely grated zest and juice of 1 lime

1. Rinse the quinoa under cool running water, then drain well with a fine-mesh sieve or cheesecloth-lined strainer (the grains are very small and will slip through a coarse strainer). Heat a wok over medium-high heat and toast the quinoa, shaking the pan frequently, just until the grains dry, are just beginning to color and have a nutty aroma, about 4 minutes. Set aside in a bowl.

2. In a medium, lidded pot, bring 1 quart of water to a boil over high heat. Stir in the quinoa with a pinch of salt, then reduce the heat to a simmer and cover. Cook the quinoa until the grains are translucent and tender and the germ has spiraled out from the grain, 12 to 15 minutes (be careful not to overcook). Remove from heat, drain and set aside.

3. Meanwhile, heat the wok again over high heat. Add the peanut oil and heat until it just begins to simmer. Stir in the garlic and fry, stirring constantly, just until the garlic is golden, about 30 seconds (the garlic can burn quickly). Remove the garlic with a slotted spoon, keeping the oil in the pan, and set aside.

4. Add the fennel to the oil and fry, stirring or tossing frequently, until it is caramelized, 5 to 7 minutes. Remove from the oil and set aside. Add the shiitakes to the oil and stir-fry until caramelized, 4 to 5 minutes. Stir the green onions in with the mushrooms and continue to stir-fry just until the green onions begin to wilt, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the soy sauce and vinegar to the mixture and stir or toss to combine, then remove from heat.

5. In a large bowl, gently toss the quinoa with the warm shiitake-green onion mixture, the fennel, garlic, cashews, parsley, cilantro, lime zest and juice. Season to taste with additional salt if desired and serve immediately.

Bret Thompson's Double Chocolate Cookies


Uhh. Looky there. Chocolate. On chocolate. More chocolate. Can't speak, can't think. COOOKIE.

Is this what it feels like to be a 15-year old boy in the presence of a Sports Illustrated swimsuit model?

The Culinary SOS column has struck again and with a vengeance. I read it last Wednesday and by Thursday night was in the kitchen, up to my elbows in chocolate. It's January! We're meant to be eating brown rice noodles and copious amounts of steamed spinach! Instead, these cookies - these insane, ridiculous, almost unbearably good cookies - will bewitch you. You will not be able to resist. Just try to! You won't.

Think about this: 1 and 1/4 pounds (yes, pounds) of chocolate. To only 1/2 cup of flour and 1/2 stick of butter. Are you starting to sweat a bit? These cookies demand respect. And yet are easy enough to make on a school night. You don't even need an electric beater. I did the whole thing with a whisk and a wooden spoon.

You know, melt chocolate and butter, whisk eggs and sugar, fold in dry ingredients, the usual deal. And then dump in one entire pound of chopped bittersweet chocolate. Yeah, that's where things get interesting.

Somehow I managed to keep my wits about me and, instead of following the instructions to make 16 cookies out of this batter, decided to make smaller cookies, 26 to be exact. You can fit about 12 spoonfuls of the dough on a regular baking sheet. I advise that you do the same, because 16 cookies out of this amount of batter will make monster cookies, ones that might just kill you.

You have two choices when baking the cookies. You can slightly underbake them (5 minutes on each side), which leaves them ooey-gooey and you in desperate need of a napkin when eating them. Or you can let them go one or two minutes longer on each side, so that they firm up a bit. The benefit of doing this is that when you remove them from the oven, you don't have to (cruelly) wait until they cool completely, as per the recipe. You can pace for a few minutes, pour yourself a glass of milk and then dig in while they're still hot and the chocolate is molten. This is possibly the best thing since sliced bread.

Not too sweet, velvety and complex and rich, tasting almost of coffee, though there's none in them, yes, these are possibly among the world's best cookies. There, I've said it.


Now, the milk. You cannot - I repeat, cannot - eat these cookies without milk. Oh sure, you might try to, but you will fail. I tried, I really did, and I hit a chocolate wall after about my second bite. A chocolate wall that could only be scaled by having a glass of cold 1% milk nearby. Yes, they are that intense.

Another thing: you should not eat more than two in one sitting. You might die of chocolate. When you try these, you'll see that it's totally possible. (My friend Seb managed three in one sitting, but he's 6 foot 8 and operates differently.) I have to warn you that in the presence of these freshly-baked discs, greed and insatiable desire will take over you and you will want to eat as many as you possibly can. It's practically evolutionary! You will be powerless. But try to resist. Will you believe me if I tell you that I almost regretted eating two in one go? And yet, couldn't help myself. So just be forewarned.

These cookies are a force to be reckoned with.

Double Chocolate Cookies
Makes 26

1/4 pound (4 ounces) unsweetened chocolate
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter
3 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup flour
2 tablespoons cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 pound bittersweet chocolate (chunks or chips)

1. In a bowl set over a pot of simmering water, melt the unsweetened chocolate and butter. Remove from the heat and cool slightly.

2. In the bowl of a mixer with a paddle attachment, or in a large bowl using a fork, combine the eggs, vanilla and sugar. Mix just until incorporated and set aside.

3. Sift together the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder and salt into a medium bowl. Set aside.

4. Add the melted chocolate to the egg mixture and mix just until combined. Stir in the sifted dry ingredients and mix just until combined, then stir in the bittersweet chocolate.

5. Cover the batter with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour to chill thoroughly. Heat the oven to 350 degrees.

6. Drop spoonfuls of the dough on a greased, parchment-lined sheet pan, leaving 2 inches between each.

7. Bake until the edges of the cookies are just set and the center is still soft, 10 to 12 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through. Place the cookies, still on the parchment, on a rack and cool slightly.

Melissa Clark's Roasted Broccoli with Shrimp


You should totally make this for dinner tonight. No, really, you should. It's fast, it's delicious, it dirties only one pan (two, if you decide to make some rice, which I think you should), and it's so simple you can enlist your partner to help with measuring spices and seasoning the shrimp and opening and closing the oven door, proving that one day the two of you might find pleasure together in the kitchen at once. A minor miracle, if you ask me. And possibly my favorite meal of the past month.

Did I mention it was delicious? We ate the whole mess between the two of us, despite the fact that it's meant to serve four. You probably already know how wonderful roasted broccoli is, and if you don't, you should. But did you know just how much roasting shrimp could imbue it with such sweetness and tenderness? I didn't. Those plump, pink curls fairly pop in your mouth. And the combination of shrimp and broccoli, well, the Chinese have long known it to be a felicitous pairing, so I suppose it was only a matter of time before the rest of us caught on, too.


I had to make a few minor changes to the recipe, because I didn't have any whole coriander or cumin. So I halved the amounts and used ground spices instead. I liked the recipe so much that I'm not sure I'd make this any other way again. The ground spices spread out and subtly perfume everything. And then I made the mistake of using the same amount of regular salt instead of kosher salt. If you're going to use kosher salt, fine, follow the recipe. If you're going to use regular salt, go easy (halve it?). You can always add more salt afterwards, if need be.

What I love is how two fairly pedestrian ingredients are combined with a few smart flavorings to incredible effect. The idea to roast, season with Middle Eastern spices, and finish with a Mediterranean double whammy of lemon peel and lemon juice (don't leave out that final squeeze - it's key) is inspired. Further more, it's the kind of thing I wish I saw more often in newspaper food sections: tasty inventiveness that really works for the home cook. I dare say this might become a weekly standard in our house.

Roasted Broccoli with Shrimp
Serves 4

2 pounds broccoli, cut into bite-size florets
4 tablespoons (1/4 cup) extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon whole coriander seeds (or 1/2 teaspoon ground)
1 teaspoon whole cumin seeds (or 1/2 teaspoon ground)
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/8 teaspoon hot chili powder
1 pound large shrimp, shelled and deveined
1 1/4 teaspoons lemon zest (from 1 large lemon)
Lemon wedges, for serving

1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. In a large bowl, toss broccoli with 2 tablespoons oil, coriander, cumin, 1 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon pepper and chili powder. In a separate bowl, combine shrimp, remaining 2 tablespoons oil, lemon zest, remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt and remaining 1/2 teaspoon pepper.

2. Spread broccoli in a single layer on a baking sheet. Roast for 10 minutes. Add shrimp to baking sheet and toss with broccoli. Roast, tossing once halfway through, until shrimp are just opaque and broccoli is tender and golden around edges, about 10 minutes more. Serve with lemon wedges, or squeeze lemon juice all over shrimp and broccoli just before serving.

James Oseland's Soto Ayam (Indonesian Chicken Soup with Noodles and Aromatics)


(Do not reach to adjust the brightness dial on your computer: that is, indeed, the color of the soup. And the color of my silicone spatula. And the color of my bespattered linoleum counter. Oh, turmeric, you madden me with your lovely flavor and your ability to turn everything you touch to bright, unmoveable yellow.)

Whenever I leave Europe after vacation, I arrive back in the States with a knot in my heart and a serious craving for fresh, spicy Asian food: clear broths, incendiary peppers, bright flavors. I'm not really sure why. Last summer, I read Fuchsia Dunlop's Shark Fin and Sichuan Pepper on the flight back from Italy and I arrived with a watering mouth and unholy hankering for dan dan noodles. I couldn't rest until I drove myself to Flushing one night after work to go down into the rabbit warren of food stands that is Golden Mall.

This time I made a crucial mistake. I thought that making my own Asian food would be just as good as leaving it up to the experts. What I didn't realize is that part of what I look forward is the sheer ease of being able to show up somewhere in New York and have utter confidence that what you're about to order is authentic, delicious and not to be replicated at home. Berlin may have many things, but superb Asian food available at a moment's notice is not one of them.

Anyway, instead of just hopping in the car and going to to Flushing one night, I read Julia Moskin's article about curried noodle soups and decided to cook my own happiness instead of buying it. Well. I won't be doing that again. Not when I'm in the still-delicate fog of jet lag and melancholy. It's not that the soup was bad. It wasn't. It was fine. Well, a little greasy, perhaps, and the flavors a bit muddied, it's true, but it wasn't awful.

(What an endorsement, right?)

I guess what I'm trying to say is that this soup just wasn't right for me this week. That's the silliest thing I might have ever written on this blog, but it just so happens to be true. I don't doubt that this soup soothes millions of souls, but all it made me feel was foolish and slightly cheated. I learn easily enough, though. Next time, I'm going directly from the airport to Chinatown and letting the professionals do my palliative cooking. Ooh, I'm excited already.

Soto Ayam (Indonesian Chicken Soup with Noodles and Aromatics)
Serves 4

1 free-range chicken, about 3 pounds, quartered
2 stalks fresh lemon grass, bruised with the handle of a heavy knife and tied in a knot
6 kaffir lime leaves, fresh or frozen  (optional)
1 teaspoon kosher salt, more to taste
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
1 1/2 tablespoons coriander seeds
2 teaspoons cumin seeds
5 shallots, peeled and halved
3 cloves garlic, peeled
2 teaspoons finely minced fresh turmeric, or 1 1/2 teaspoons ground turmeric
2 tablespoons finely minced ginger
3 tablespoons peanut oil
4 ounces glass noodles or thin dried rice noodles, called vermicelli, bihun or bun
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
2 tablespoons chopped celery leaves, mint, Thai basil or cilantro leaves
2 shallots, thinly sliced and fried in vegetable oil until brown (optional)
Quartered limes and chili paste (such as sambal) for serving
Cooked white rice  (optional)

1. Place chicken in a medium pot with lemon grass, lime leaves (if using), salt and 2 quarts water. Bring to a boil over high heat. Skim off any foam and reduce heat to a simmer. Cover and simmer until chicken is tender, about 45 minutes, skimming as needed to make a clear broth. Remove chicken pieces from broth and set aside. Remove and discard lemon grass and lime leaves; reserve stock in pot. When chicken is cool enough to handle, discard skin and bones and shred meat into bite-size pieces.

2. Meanwhile, combine peppercorns, coriander seeds and cumin seeds in a small food processor. Pulse until ground. Add halved shallots, garlic, turmeric and ginger and pulse to a thick paste. (Add a little water if needed.)

3. Heat peanut oil in a medium saucepan over high heat. When very hot, add spice paste and cook, stirring until paste is cooked and beginning to separate from the oil, about 5 minutes.

4. Add cooked spice paste and chicken meat to stock. Bring to a simmer and cook 10 minutes.

5. Cook noodles according to package directions.

6. Turn off heat under soup and stir in lime juice. Taste for salt.

7. To serve, divide noodles in large soup bowls. Ladle chicken pieces and soup on top and sprinkle with celery leaves or herbs, and fried shallots, if using. Pass lime and sambal at the table.

8. Eat from soup bowl, or serve a scoop of rice on a side plate, sprinkled with more shallots, and put a mouthful of noodles and chicken on rice. Combine on a spoon, dab with sambal, and eat.

Kitchen Dispatches

Firstly, buy yourself a small bottle of Austrian pumpkinseed oil (from here or here, for example). Then the next time you make squash soup, drizzle some of this deep-green oil over each serving. You can get creative by forming droplets and drizzles like modern art on the surface of the soup. It's supremely nutty and rich and so beautiful against the orange soup. Oh, it tastes good, too.


Secondly, keep your cool when carving the Christmas goose. This is now my third or fourth time tackling the annual beast and I have to say that practice does indeed make perfect. More importantly, staying calm and taking your time seems to work wonders. The slices of breast meat fall away just so, the leg bones pop out just as they should and people gasp in wonder at your prowess.


Thirdly, forget ever cooking a New Year's Eve meal again. Instead, buy oysters (if you can, several different kinds and then you can have oyster courses!), a few lemons (take a hike, mignonette) and make each guest bring a bottle of champagne. Do you need anything else? Fine, if you do, get a slab of sushi-grade salmon, slice it thinly and dress it with good oil and herbs. Oh, and toast some bread for that. That's it! Crown roast, seafood bisque, whatever else one spends hours in the kitchen on New Year's Eve for, nothing comes close to champagne and oysters.


Fourthly, here it is! The promised deliciousness from my Sicilian uncle, this year in the form of a torta di carciofi - an artichoke tart encased in puff pastry (storebought!) that is out-of-control delicious. I've got the recipe, too, and am going to be applying myself to test and translate it for you. Oooh, I am so excited for you!


Finally, there's this ridiculously good-looking sformato of pasta and eggplant that my uncle made before I left. Unfortunately, the day he made it was also the day one of us ended up in the ER with an intestinal ailment, the other one was felled by near-pneumonia, and I just felt like death warmed over. So I took a few pretty pictures, watched my cousin's son slurp it up happily and figured the recipe can wait until next year.