Inkling of Spring

This morning I woke up to several glorious things.

Light streaming in the window, which indicated that it actually was morning.

And a small sound from the room one door down, a little voice chirping “Mama, mama.”

An amazing sound when you’ve spent the last 1.5 years week being awoken at all sorts of ungodly hours to crying, whining or just plain screaming. Gonna be honest here friends, night weaning is a bitch.

Even when your kid is the most adorable thing ever.

And then I started dreaming of it being warm enough to picnic. A semi-decent nights rest after weeks and weeks of nights where you only get, on average, 5 hours of sleep a night can make you think crazy thoughts.

I really love a good spring picnic, and pretty much can’t wait for spring days that are sunny enough to enjoy from outside the windows and doors of my house. Maybe bundled up enjoyment, but enjoyment nonetheless.

Until then I’ve been making loaves and loaves of bread to be eaten with too much butter (which is a misnomer because there is no such thing as too much butter) and also salad.

Salads help me pretend that Spring is already here, especially ones like this one.

Take some veggies just barely painted with color, like fennel and endive:

Add several fruits that signal how near the end of winter is:

Next, a modest splash of color:

And pretty soon you have a salad that will, if need be, feed 8 adults and 2 kids and still leave leftovers. Leftovers that hold up admirably well for a salad, slightly dressed even. Or you could just make 1/2. Or eat more. It’s salad after all–no limits.

You could serve it next to little fried beet chips, like I did, if it seems too healthy. Fried food is a good antidote for “too healthy.”

But, no matter what you serve it alongside (We also ate this, for a big family dinner on Friday.) it will be delicious and give you a little taste of spring.

Shaved Fennel and Watermelon Radish Salad with Meyer Lemons
makes about 10 side servings, or 4 larger lunch servings

1 bulb fennel, fronds removed and reserved
3 meyer lemons
4-5 large watermelon radishes
2 small heads endive
2 Tbsp olive oil, or to taste
salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

Line up all the endive leaves and chop into 3/4″ bite-sized pieces. Spread out on a large platter and cover with a damp paper towel while you prep the rest of the ingredients.

Supreme the lemons, and chop the supremes into little bitty bite sized pieces, about the size of your pinky nail. Set these pieces aside in a small bowl. Do not wipe off your cutting surface, you want the fennel to sit in the lemon juice that’s left on the cutting board.

Remove any tough or bruised parts from the outside of the fennel and slice very thin using a mandoline. Pour any extra juice that has collected in the bottom of the lemon bowl over the fennel and toss just lightly. Add the shavings in one big heaping layer on top of the endive. From the reserved fronds, take the just best looking two or three and chop them finely, saving to use as a garnish. Cover again with the damp paper towels.

Peel any tough spots from the outside of the radishes. If you can’t find watermelon that’s ok. You can use any radish here. Slice them as thin as you like using the mandoline. I didn’t slice mine as thin as they could go because I wanted them to stay pretty crunchy. Add them as the next layer in the salad.

For the last layer, add the lemon bites over the top. Follow with the chopped fennel fronds. Next pour the olive oil over the whole thing slowly working over the whole salad. If you feel like you need more, by all means add it. I deliberately left this a very lightly dressed salad. Sprinkle some salt and pepper, and call it done!

If you, like me, are preparing this salad ahead of time for an evening dinner, leave it in the fridge without the oil, salt, and pepper, covered with the same damp paper towels you used throughout.

Something Fresh

Thursday was a hard day in computer land if you live in my house and your name is Venessa. My computer completely wacked out and had to be restored from a back-up that wasn’t quite complete.  Joe had to retrieve about 200 pictures from my camera card from over the last 3 weeks. I’m really really glad he knows a thing or two about computers. More than this guy at least.

I also had a lot of trouble getting somethings right in a post I was doing. It took me all afternoon to get it written and put pictures in, and when it finally came time to check the final draft I realized thatmuch of the formatting was way way off. This has been happening more and more over at blogspot and while I have been happy there, I decided it was just time for a change. There’s been too much frustration in my life lately, and that was one area I had some control over. Hopefully the transition goes smoothly.

That post was a recipe for a hearty muffin full of fiber and protein, and since I’m getting a fresh start in this fresh year and I already have been posting a little bit about eating light, I thought I would post this quick soup. It’s bright and rich at the same time. It’s incredibly flavorful and also incredibly easy on the waistline. Maybe your waist will look like this bulb of fennel’s if you eat it a lot.

Fennel (one of my favorite foods for like the past, oh, 2 or 3 years) and bright green apples go in, alongside a hit of fresh thyme and some other minor players. I didn’t really have a recipe but I imagine it would be good with pretty much whatever proportions you like, as long as you remember to balance it out in the end with the lemon juice to brighten it up. At least as bright as this friend’s plumage

I took it on a picnic to the zoo on Friday, in some borrowed thermoses. It was so nice to have a little cup of warmth after tromping around and making all the animal sounds out in the cold of an early January day. Topped with a little dollop of greek yogurt and a few more thyme leaves, it really hit the spot.

(I didn’t have anything witty to say about soup in cups. Sorry.)

Fennel and Apple Soup with Thyme

  • 2 bulbs fennel, fronds removed
  • 2 carrots
  • 1 green apple
  • 1 stalk celery
  • 1 large sprig fresh thyme or about 1 tsp dried, plus more for garnish
  • 2-3 cups veggie stock
  • 1 small winter squash, flesh only (I used a Delicata)
  • 1 lemon, juiced
  • plain greek yogurt to garnish, optional

Roughly chop the fennel, celery, carrots, apple and squash. I didn’t peel anything except the squash, just chop it. Put it all in a pot and cover with stock. Add the thyme and a dash of salt, cover and let simmer. Once everything is pretty soft, after about 15-20 minutes, turn off the heat and puree completely either in batches in a blender or with an immersion blender. If it’s too thick you can add a little more stock, or if you like a thicker soup bring it back to a boil and then simmer on low for a little bit until it’s a consistency you like. Add about half the lemon juice and then taste, adding more salt or more lemon juice if you like.

Ladle into bowls and garnish each with about 1 Tbsp greek yogurt or so, and a sprinkling of thyme.

The Results Are In: Marx Foods Capricious Chocolate Challenge

Update:  I didn’t win anything this time around, but thanks to all who cast a vote in my direction!

A couple of weeks can fly by so fast when you aren’t looking. Weeks filled with playdates, family holiday parties, Drs appointments and colds.

They’ve also been filled with testing. I was selected to participate in a contest Marx Foods was holding: to create an original recipe based on chocolate, using samples of ingredients supplied by them. I met the Marx Foods guys back at Will Bake For Food in November, and thought it would be fun to work on my recipe testing skills in a semi-high pressure format. What can I say, I do better under pressure. I did have a little trouble deciding what I wanted to make though, so could only narrow it down as far as 3 different recipes. Dear readers, you’re in for a little bit of a ride, but it’ll be worth it.



So, I’ve been busy testing out cookie batch after cookie batch. A little cookie made of humble ingredients that have been mixed up to be larger than the sum of their parts. A cookie that started out as one thing and quickly turned into something else, something better. I thought it would be pretty perfect to have a cookie recipe, since cookies are such a big thing this time of year. Am I right?



I also tested some créme brulées that ended up being pots de créme instead. And there’s also one savory dish, in case you don’t like dessert. (Who doesn’t like dessert?) More about those later, as first comes first. And if you like any of these recipes (or just like me) you can click the Marx Foods banner at the bottom to vote for me once the voting process has started!


Without further ado, here it is:


Mexican Chocolate Tea Cookies
makes about 32 cookies


These cookies are based on a common Mexican Tea Cookie, but also are based on a regular old Chocolate Crackle. They were inspired by the chilies included in the samples I got as part of the contest. 


8 oz semisweet chocolate, chips are ok but the better the chocolate, the better the cookie
2 oz unsweetened chocolate
1 cup brown sugar
3 eggs
1/2 cup plus 2 Tbsp vegetable oil
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
2 tsp chili powder (I used freshly ground dried Puya chilies from Marx Foods)*
1 tsp ground cinnamon
4 oz toasted ground almonds
7 oz all purpose flour
4 oz mini chocolate chips


Sift the flour with the baking soda and salt and set aside.


In a double boiler, melt the chocolates. When completely melted, add in the spices and sugar and mix to combine. Add the oil and eggs all at once and mix thoroughly. Next add the almonds, stirring with kind of a smashing motion to make sure that any lumps are broken up. Lastly, add the flour mixture and stir just until you see no more streaks. Let the batter rest until it is cool to the touch, then mix in the mini chips, otherwise they’ll melt.


Cover and chill for several hours in the refrigerator, at least 3. When you are ready to bake the cookies, preheat the oven to 350ºF, with racks in the lower and upper thirds.


Using a number 30 scoop, (or scooping about 1 1/2 Tbsp sized balls) portion the dough out, and place on a parchment lined tray. These cookies don’t spread much, so you want them to be nice and flat on the bottom and rounded on top, which is best achieved using the scoop. Leave about 2″ between each cookie.


Bake about 10 minutes, then rotate the pans, both top to bottom and spinning the pans front to back. Bake about 7 minutes more. They should be firm but not firm enough to lift off the pan while still hot. Let cool for about 5 minutes then remove to a cooling rack. Let cool completely before dusting with powdered sugar.

The rejects, which we gladly ate anyway



The best part about these cookies is that unlike a more traditional Mexican Tea Cookie, which are akin to a shortbread and must contain butter to taste good, these are parve (dairy free). If you keep kosher, that means that you can eat them as dessert following the main attraction:


Chocolate and Chili Braised Beef Short Ribs with Sweet Potato
serves about 6


The short ribs I used for this recipe are ones that came from the cow we bought back in summer. They were excellent, tender, flavorful and totally worth buying a freezer for. The sauce also goes great on the saffron roasted potatoes I served with the ribs. 


4 lbs 3″ beef short ribs with plenty of meat on the bones


For the dry rub:
2 Tbsp ground Puya chilies*
1 Tbsp ground Chipotle pepper
2 Tbsp cocoa powder
1 Tbsp salt
10-12 grinds black pepper


For the braising liquid:
1 yellow onion, chopped
2 smallish sweet potatoes, cut into 1″ rounds
4 cloves garlic
1/3 cup tomato paste
2 cups of your choice of broth (you might need more if your pan is bigger)
1 cup cold strong coffee
6 oz chocolate


Mix together the dry rub ingredients in a large bowl, and coat each piece of rib completely. Cover and refrigerate the ribs for several hours or overnight.


Heat a large (at least 5 qt) dutch oven with enough oil to just cover the bottom. Working in batches, brown each rib on all sides, taking care not to crowd the pieces so that they don’t steam themselves. Remove the ribs to a clean plate as you go.



Once all the ribs are browned, add in the onions and cook till translucent and starting to get a little brown, then add the tomato paste and garlic. Stir it around the pan, cooking it until it starts to smell like tomatoes, then add the coffee, being sure to scrape up all the browned bits that loosed up when you add the liquid. (Use a wooden spoon or other tool that won’t damage the surface of your dutch oven.) Add the sweet potatoes, and then the ribs, tucking everything in all together as best you can. Cover with stock and place in the bottom third of the oven. Cook about 2 hours, until the meat is tender. Remove the lid and cook another 1/2 hour more, letting the liquid reduce down.


Remove the pan from the oven and then remove the ribs, discarding any bones that fall slip out. Place the ribs in a bowl, and strain about 3/4 of the sweet potatoes and onions out of the broth. Let the broth rest for a few minutes and spoon off any excess fat that rises to the top. Add the meat back in, bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and let simmer on the stove for about another 1/2 hour, tasting for spice. When I tasted mine, I kept getting a hit of spice at the back of my throat that led me to believe that it would be pretty hot, but it wasn’t as strongly flavoured as I feared once we were eating it with all the components together. In the last 15 minutes or so of cooking, add in the chocolate. Be sure and stir it up so the sauce reaches a nice smooth consistency, but then add back in some more of those sweet potatoes for a little bit of texture.


Serve immediately, with a little sour cream on the side to cool the heat, if you want it. (We used Sour Supreme)



Of course, if you’re not worried about having a parve dessert after your dinner, you could always serve the next recipe instead. They started out as créme brulées, with the intention of using the coconut sugar to make the crust on top. Turns out, it was too moist and brown a sugar to work well and mostly just burned instead. Well, since the texture of the pudding itself had been closer to a pot de créme anyway, I just went down that road.  

The original créme brulées



Fennel & Chocolate Pots de Créme
makes 6-8


1 1/4 cup heavy cream
1 1/4 cup half & half
7 egg yolks
4 Tbsp coconut sugar*
2 Tbsp granulated sugar
1 vanilla bean, split and seeds removed*
6 oz good quality dark chocolate, chopped
1 Tbsp fennel seeds
2 tsp fennel pollen*


Preheat oven to 300ºF


In a medium sized, heavy bottomed pot, toast the fennel seeds until they are fragrant and starting to brown, just a couple of minutes. You’ll want to watch them carefully as they will burn easily. Using a wooden spoon, crush the seeds up a bit. Next, add the fennel pollen, vanilla bean, cream and half & half and heat until it almost reaches a boil. Turn off heat and add chocolate. Let this mixture steep for 15 minutes or so, until you can smell the fennel just the faintest little bit. If it smells stronger sooner, continue with the next steps.


While the chocolate mixture steeps, combine the sugars and the egg yolks in a large metal bowl.


Next, bring the chocolate mixture back to a simmer while stirring continuously (do not boil, or you risk burning the chocolate). Strain this mixture into the eggs yolks, and then whisk until fully combined. Pour into 6 small cups or ramekins, each at least 6 oz. You could also use smaller dishes and make more servings, as it’s a rich dish for some palates.


Cover each dish with foil and place in a high sided roasting pan. Place the pan in the oven on the middle rack and pour enough water into the pan to reach 1/2 way up the sides of the dishes. Bake for 30 minutes and check for doneness. Mine needed just about 7 more minutes after that. The crémes will be set around the edges but just barely so in the middle. Cool completely, and sprinkle just a pinch of coconut sugar over each one before serving, it lends a nice little crunch.




* These ingredients are the ones that were supplied to me by Marx Foods as part of the contest.

Doing the Can-Can

August is my birthday month. For the past six or seven years, I have celebrated my birthday month by spending most of it canning. This year, thankfully, August has been pretty warm, and it’s been even warmer in our kitchen since I’ve been canning or baking almost every day. Between the 50# of apricots, the figs, the crab apples, the birthdays (not just mine), the weddings, and I can’t even remember what else, it’s been a busy month.


It might seem like a lot of work to spend all that time canning, especially when it’s your birthday. But really, it’s the best birthday gift I could ever give myself. Aside from letting this awesome cutie “help” out in the kitchen of course (she loves the jar lifter tool!).


It’s the satisfaction of knowing that sometime, in the dead of winter, I can pull out a jar of something and savor a little bit of sunshine. It’s also satisfying thinking about putting a smile on people’s faces when I bring them a little jar of said sunshine as a treat, maybe just when they are getting sick of potatoes and squash.


My favorite part of canning is the snap of a jar sealing. It signifies all of that satisfaction like nothing else in the world.

Some of the things I’ve been canning are recipes easily found, and some are recipes I’ve altered. I have to say that of the ones I’ve done so far this season, the one I am most excited about is probably the fennel bulb with orange. It’s only a refrigerator pickle, so there wasn’t any processing necessary. That’s why it’s the perfect recipe to share with people who might be afraid to pickle…

But you know, you really shouldn’t be. It’s very simple once you get the basics of canning and pickling down. You have to have sterile jars and vinegar with 5% acidity. You want unblemished produce and hot brine. Those things are all pretty easy to come by, and so are easy recipes. This is one of them, and you won’t be disappointed. It doesn’t produce the satisfying snap of a jar sealing, but if you’ve been thinking about trying out pickling and looking for a good place to start (and love fennel as much as I do) then this might just be the gateway pickle you’ve been looking for.


Hang on a second.

Sorry, I just had to go eat some straight from the jar and do a little happy pickle dance.


Fennel Pickled with Orange
adapted from The Joy of Pickling by Linda Ziedrich (thanks Rose!)

makes 2 pints

1 1/2 lb fennel bulbs, sliced in chunks about 1/4″ thick
2 tsp pickling salt
zest of one orange
3/4 cup white wine vinegar
Juice of the orange, plus water to make 3/4 cup
2 Tbsp sugar
8 whole peppercorns, cracked with a knifeblade


Slice up your fennel. This is part of where I altered the original recipe, which called for slicing them very thin. I thought it would be nice to have a chunkier piece, but you could do it either way really. Next, toss the fennel with the salt in a large, nonreactive bowl and leave to sit at room temp for 1 hour.


While the fennel is sitting, sterilize 2 clean pint jars in a 250ºF oven for 20 minutes, or you can do this in a boiling water bath. The jars don’t need to stay warm once they are sterile, but do leave them undisturbed while they are waiting to be packed. Even though this pickle won’t be getting processed (essentially pasteurized) you don’t want anything gross in there so that they can keep for longer in the fridge. (Theoretically–they probably won’t stick around that long anyway.)


Drain the fennel, discarding the brine. Do not rinse. Toss with the orange zest and pack it all into the jars, adding four crushed peppercorns to each jar.  


Heat the liquids, along with the sugar, in a small pan to boiling, making sure that all the sugar has dissolved. Using a funnel, pour the liquid over the fennel. Put the clean cap on the jar (doesn’t need to be two piece or even an unused lid, since you’re not processing.) Cool to room temp before refrigerating. Let it sit for at least 48 hours before eating. 


If you can stand it.