December 09, 2019

Fruitcake Cookie Bars


1 cup flour PLUS 1/4 cup (divided use)
3  cups fruitcake mix candied fruit (a mix of candied cherries, pineapple, citron, lemon peel, and orange peel)
3/4 cup coarsely chopped pecans
3/4 cup light brown sugar
1/2 cup butter, at room temperature
1 egg, at room temperature
1 teaspoon orange zest or dried orange peel
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1/4 teaspoon cardamom
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
2 tablespoon cognac
pinch salt


Preheat oven to 350. Butter and flour a 13x9 inch pan. Set aside.

In a small bowl, toss together the 1/4 cup flour with the fruit and nuts to coat. Set aside.

In a large bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer, beat together the butter and sugar until well combined. Beat in egg then mix in the remaining 1 cup flour, spices, baking soda, and salt with a hand or stand mixer. Fold in the fruit/nut mixture. Spread the thick dough in an even layer in pan.

Bake 35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool completely, in pan on a wire rack, about 1 hour.

Cut into 24 bars. (3x8)

My thoughts:
I actually made these last year so close to Christmas, I just took some pictures and wrote up the recipe to save for this year. I try not to post seasonal recipes too close to the holiday so you actually have time to buy the ingredients and make the recipe. I don't assume most people have fruit cake mix candied fruit at their fingertips!

This time last year I was reading  Jenny Han's To All the Boys I Loved Before trilogy when they finally came available to download from the library after the popularity of the Netflix movie that summer. The main character, Lara Jean bakes a lot in the books and in one book her friend Peter was very insistent that she make fruitcake cookies. I honestly had never heard of fruitcake cookies before but I had a ton of candied fruit leftover from developing recipes for a client and thought why not give it a try? They seemed perfect for the season. There were very few details of what these cookies were actually like in the book so I started from scratch.

I wanted to give cookies to my neighbors so I thought bar cookies might be easier to than a rolled or drop cookies (Jenny Han really needs to start including recipes in her books) for the yield I wanted and to ensure that each bite had a good chunk of fruit and/or nuts in it. Plus they look so pretty all sliced up!

These bars are very fruit and nut packed and have all of the rich flavors of fruitcake but hopefully none of the negative associations regular fruitcake has acquired. They are very much a cookie in texture. Don't skip the coating the fruit and nuts in flour step--this ensures that they don't stick together, evenly distribute in the dough and don't sink to the bottom while baking.

Everyone who had these loved them! Even people who didn't think they liked fruitcake went back for me.

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December 06, 2019

Leafy Vegetable Soup with Gondi (Chicken-Chickpea Dumplings)


for the dumplings:

3 cloves garlic, grated
2 onions, grated
1 egg
2 cups toasted chickpea flour*
1 pound ground chicken
2 teaspoons ground cardamom
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
pinch cumin
2 tablespoons neutral-tasting oil or schmaltz
freshly ground black pepper

for the soup:

1 bunch rainbow chard, stems and greens chopped
1 onion, sliced into quarter moons
3 cloves garlic, sliced
1 stalk celery (with greens), sliced
1 bunch green onions, sliced
2 carrots, sliced
2 parsnips, sliced
64 oz chicken stock
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
freshly ground black pepper



Mix together the dumpling ingredients until smooth in a large bowl. Refrigerate in an airtight container overnight.

*Sold at Middle Eastern grocery stores. Or buy plain chickpea flour and toast it in a dry skillet. Cool before use.


for the dumplings:

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Form the dumpling mixture into 1 1/2-2 inch balls (about 12-15) drop into the boiling water and cook for 45 minutes or until they are fully cooked (remember they have raw chicken in them!). They will float fairly earlier on but don't be tricked!


In a large pot, sauté the chard stems, onion, garlic, celery, green onions, carrots, and parsnips until the onions are soft and translucent. Add the stock, thyme, salt and pepper and simmer for 20 minutes. Add the rest of the chard and simmer another 20 minutes or until the vegetables are soft and the dumplings are ready.

Ladle the soup into bowls, add dumplings.

Refrigerated any leftover soup and dumplings separately  (to avoid the dumplings absorbing all of the broth) and re-heat up together in a pot.

My thoughts:
This is one of those dishes where  I came across a mention of once and thought it was unusual but then once I had heard of it, I came across references to it everywhere. It's an Iranian dish that is apparently popular in the Iranian Jewish community at Passover. Chickpeas are one of those ingredients where there is some debate over whether it is okay to eat at Passover or not. A lot of Ashkenazi Jews don't eat any legumes during Passover but in 2016, it was ruled that they were fine. It's all a bit complicated and personal to many people but if this is an issue for you, then you know what you can or want to eat. 

Luckily, it is not Passover now! While I think this soup would be great then, I don't normally want to make some big soup dish when it is potentially warm and sunny out. No thank you! Deepest, darkest winter? Soup's on! 

This soup looks sort of like matzah ball soup (which may explain the popularity at Passover when matzah rules) but these dumplings are made of toasted chickpea flour and ground chicken so the meat in the dumpling, not the soup! I've made meaty dumplings before when I made Marak Kubbeh Adom (Beet Soup with Meat-filled Dumplings) but these are so much easier than that was! Here the chicken is basically the glue that holds the dumpling together. I cooked them separately like I do matzah balls, not only with leftovers in mind (when stored in soup dumplings tend to soak up all the broth and fall apart) but because there is raw chicken in there and they need to be fully cooked. I didn't want to overcook the veggie soup at the expense of the gondi. 

Like I do when I make matzah ball soup, I also made the soup more hardy than recipes I found online. I often see matzah ball soup at restaurants where the matzah balls are the star, floating in a sea of plain chicken broth or "soup" that is just a sad piece of chicken and a lone carrot. Gondi is most often served that way too--just broth. If I am going to put all that work into a dumpling, this soup is going to be a meal, not some appetizer! So I made a really tasty vegetable-packed soup to float the gondi with tons of rainbow chard and root vegetables. It was so so good! Very satisfying and full of flavor! The gondi were surprisingly light and I loved the spices. 

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December 04, 2019

Beef and Potato Stew with Olives and Stewed Tomatoes


2 lbs russet potatoes, cut into bite-sized pieces
1 1/2 lb cubed sirloin or stew beef  (can brown if desired, I didn't bother)
1 stalk celery, sliced
1 onion, cut into quarter moon slices
1/3 cup chopped green olives with pimentos
15 oz canned stewed tomatoes (with juice!)
3 sprigs’ worth of thyme leaves
1 1/2 cup beef stock
1 bay leaf
1 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
3 cloves garlic, sliced
freshly ground black pepper

to serve:

2 cups cooked white rice


Place all ingredients (except the rice!) in a 4-quart slow cooker. Stir. Cook on low for 8 hours. Stir.

Serve with rice.

Yield: 4-6 servings

My thoughts:
I bought my first digital slow cooker ta month or so ago. I have a ton of slow cookers thanks to creating 300 recipes for my healthy slow cooker cookbook but all of them are the traditional, manual kind.  When I was writing the book, I didn't want to assume that people had what was then, the newest in slow cooker technology. The manual ones work fine, but I have to admit I was curious about the programable kind. I couldn't bring myself to buy one when I already had so many.

Then my trusty 4-quart oval died a year or so ago so when I saw one on sale for only $25 at Target that was programable, I ran right to the store. Four-quart slow cookers, especially oval-shaped,  are surprisingly difficult to find (the 6-7-quart models are more popular) but they are perfect for making food for smaller families. You don't always want chili for 10! I can't find it online for purchase but it's this (Rival) Crock-Pot brand and has a digital display to choose any cooking time (in 30-minute increments) you want then it automatically changes over to warm when the time's up. Oval pots are great because you can stick a whole roast in there horizontally but you can also make soups or stews in them.

I've been trying to avoid grocery shopping--last week to avoid Thanksgiving crowds and this week to try to use up some ingredients I already have--and had a package of stew meat and a ton of potatoes (it was cheaper at Aldi to buy 10 lbs of potatoes than 5 when I last shopped on 11/22) on hand. I seem to be coming down with a cold so what better way to make dinner than in the slow cooker? I could manage cutting up some potatoes and onions and then relied on other simple ingredients I had for flavor. I had a jar of "salad olives", a can of stewed tomatoes I impulsed bought for 47¢ and of course a big jar of smoked paprika. In to the slow cooker it went!

While it was cooking I was looking up stew recipes (because why do that before you make dinner??) I came across a recipe for the Cuban dish Carne con Papas (literally just meat and potatoes) that has beef and potatoes along with a few other ingredients that seems to vary from raisins to wine but also frequently includes olives and/or tomatoes. It's commonly served with rice, something I never would think to do with stew, but it sounded like a good way to stretch the stew out into a couple extra meals. So we fired up the rice cooker and served some rice along with the stew. It was really good! The stew was richly flavored but not very heavy and the rice made it a filling meal. Sick day food does not have to be sad food!

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December 02, 2019

Spaghetti with Walnuts, Anchovy and Parsley


3/4-1 cup coarsely chopped walnuts
1/4 cup bread crumbs
2 oz anchovies in olive oil
5 cloves garlic
1 1/2 tablespoon crushed red pepper flakes
bunch Italian parsley, chopped
3/4 lb spaghetti
Parmesan for sprinkling


Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the spaghetti and cook to al dente.

Meanwhile, heat a large, dry skillet. Add the bread crumbs, red pepper flakes, and walnuts and toast, stirring occasionally, until the bread crumbs and walnuts are golden. Remove to a heat-safe bowl and set aside.

Heat about 2 tablespoons olive oil in the same pan. Add the anchovies (with their oil) and garlic and saute until the anchovies have dissolved and the garlic is lightly browned. Add drained spaghetti and 1/4 cup of the pasta water. Stir in the parsley until it wilts a bit. Stir in the walnuts and bread crumbs.

Divide among 4 plates sprinkle with parm.

My thoughts:
I love recipes that can be made with simple ingredients but which yield great results. I was reading a book recently and one of the characters comes home and makes something similar to this from ingredients they had on hand. It sounded so good that I made a mental note to try it soon.

When I googled the combination, I came across some references for this (or a similar dish) being made during the holiday season in Italy as one of the seafood dishes traditional to a Neapolitan Christmas Eve. I can see why. It is so quick and easy to make a requires virtually zero prep and few ingredients. You might even have all of the ingredients on hand right now! It's really satisfying as a main dish (serve with a salad and/or garlic bread) or as a starter to a huge feast.

I always have anchovies on hand because they add so much depth to sauces and salad dressings so it was fun to let it be the focus of a dish. I think some areas of Italy must favor walnuts over pinenuts and I can see why-- they had a great flavor in this dish and are a fraction of the price. I bought a huge bag of walnuts at Aldi for under $3 and have a ton leftover.

I can't wait to make this cozy dish again, it's the perfect dinner for busy nights.

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November 27, 2019

Shrimp Salad Deviled Eggs


12 hard-boiled eggs
1 tablespoon minced chives
3 tablespoons minced celery
1/4 cup finely chopped red onion
1 teaspoon dry mustard
1 1/2-2 tablespoons Old Bay
1/2 cup finely chopped steamed shrimp*
1/2-2/3 cup mayonnaise


small steamed shrimp*
Old Bay


Halve the eggs lengthwise. Add the yolks to a medium bowl. Arrange the egg whites on a platter. Set aside.

Use a fork or potato masher to break up the yolks into tiny bits. Add the chives, celery, onion, mustard powder, Old Bay, chopped shrimp, and mayo. Mix until well combined. Spoon generously into the cavity of the egg whites. Top with shrimp and a sprinkle of Old Bay. Serve immediately or store overnight in a covered container (I use this handled egg carrying case) .

*I used a 12 oz package of raw, shell-on shrimp I peeled and steamed myself
My thoughts:
This is my contribution to Thanksgiving this year. I don't know if other families serve deviled eggs on Thanksgiving but my mom started serving them when I was an adult and the last few years I've taken over. I try to make them a little extra exciting because it is a holiday. This year my mom is having some health issues so we are going over to make most of the meal so I wanted to have these made and ready to go!

My mom loves shrimp salad so I thought I'd make a deviled egg that is basically shrimp salad but with egg yolk beaten in. It turned out wonderfully! They sort of verge on the "stuffed egg" category but they do have mustard so I think they count as deviled. Shrimp salad is always made with Old Bay here (in googling, I realized that might not be true everywhere??) so I used that in the filling and, as a nod to the traditional paprika, sprinkled on top. These are not bland, boring deviled eggs!

I know this is last minute but if you are like me and always have eggs on hand and some shrimp in the freezer, these come together really quickly and I promise they will be a hit!

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November 21, 2019

Baked Cauliflower and Shells with Italian Cheeses


8 oz small shell pasta
1 medium onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, sliced
1 medium head cauliflower, cut into florets
1 stalk celery, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons nonpareil capers
1/2 tablespoon crushed red pepper flakes
1/2 tablespoon lemon pepper seasoning
pinch salt
8 oz whole milk ricotta
1/4 cup coarsely chopped Italian parsley
1 cup Italian blend cheese (I used a mix of mozzarella, provolone, romano, asagio, and parmesan)


Preheat oven to 400. Grease a large casserole dish (I used my Pyrex New Holland 2 1/2-quart casserole and it was just a tiny bit too big, a 2-quart dish might be just right). Set aside.

Bring a pot of salted water to boil. Cook pasta until barely al dente. Drain and set aside.

Meanwhile, saute the onion and garlic in butter or olive oil until the onion is translucent. Add the cauliflower, celery, capers, and spices saute until the cauliflower is nearly tender. Reduce heat to low and stir in the drained pasta, ricotta, parsley, and shredded cheese. Stir until all ingredients are evenly distributed. Pour into prepared pan. Sprinkle with breadcrumbs.

Bake 20 minutes or until browned and bubbly. Serve immediately.

My thoughts:

Someone mentioned Trader Joe's selling a frozen cauliflower shell pasta casserole "Cauliflower & Cheesy Pasta Shells" that they liked but it kept selling out before they could get their hands on it. I googled and found a picture that showed the ingredients and thought I could pretty easily make that at home from scratch and use up ingredients I had on hand for recipes I had planned for those dark days after my husband melted our oven controls. I had ricotta for an eggplant dish that never materialized, Italian blend cheese for the same dish, half a box of pasta I had earmarked for the shrimp salad I never made and some random cauliflower all taking up space in my fridge. I took some liberties and added celery and parsley for some color (and to use them up!) and capers because I love capers with a fervent passion.

I did not grow up in a casserole eating family (unless you count mac and cheese) and have never had a casserole anyone but I have made (unless you count crab dip) so I'm always a little nervous how they will turn out (am I missing some crucial step or ingredient?) but I really enjoyed this one! It was flavorful and hearty and I think would be welcome at any table. It has an Italian bent to it, but I think it would even work alongside traditional Thanksgiving dishes next week. You could even make it the night before and just pop it in the oven while the turkey rests before carving, just take care to let it come closer to room temperature before baking to speed up the cooking time and to avoid the dish cracking due to thermal shock.

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November 18, 2019

Watercress-Fennel Soup with Chicken-Parmesan Meatballs



1 lb ground chicken
1/3 cup (loose) chopped Italian parsley
1/4 cup grated Parmesan
1/4 cup breadcrumbs
1/2 teaspoon granulated garlic
freshly ground black pepper


4 cloves garlic, sliced
2 parsnips, sliced
1 small bulb fennel (bulb and stalks sliced)
2 stalks celery, sliced
1 onion, sliced into quarter moons
64 oz chicken stock
4 oz fresh baby watercress
1/3 cup tubetti (or other small pasta)
freshly ground black pepper


for the meatballs:

Preheat oven to 400. Line a baking sheet with parchment. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, mix together all the meatball ingredients. Roll into 1 1/2 inch balls. Place on the lined baking sheet 2 inches apart. Bake for 12 minutes, flip and bake for 4 minutes more. Remove from the pan and use immediately or cool and refrigerate up to one day.

for the soup:
Saute the garlic, parsnips, fennel, celery, and onion, until the onion is translucent and the parsnip is softened. Add the chicken stock and bring to a simmer. Simmer until the vegetables are tender. Add the meatballs.

If your meatballs were made ahead of time and are cold, simmer until warmed through before adding the pasta. If they are fresh from the oven, add the pasta and cook until nearly al dente. Stir in the watercress, salt, and pepper. Allow the watercress to wilt. Serve immediately.


If you are planning on saving leftovers, make the pasta separately and add it to each bowl when serving. Store leftovers separately and add it when you go to reheat the soup.

My thoughts:
After making this soup, I realized it had more than a passing relationship to Italian Wedding Soup. Don't know how that happened! I was trying to use up the bag of watercress I had in my fridge and the ground chicken I had bought for another dish before our oven "incident". The good news is that, if you like Italian Wedding Soup, you will most likely like this soup!

It really is super flavorful yet super simple. For some reason when it comes to soup, I always feel like it is a lot of work. It really isn't! I didn't grow up making homemade soup and my husband is the type of person who when he makes matzah ball soup starts with a whole, raw chicken and takes all day to make one bowl of soup so I think that really contributed to it. However, if you are willing to use a box of stock or have frozen your own, you can have fresh soup in like 40-ish minutes. I made the meatballs in the morning and refrigerated them so at dinner time, everything came together really quickly.

Parsnips are really underutilized in soup, they are very earthy yet have a subtle sweetness. I love fennel and for this soup, I didn't just use the bulb at the end, I sliced up those stalks and tossed in the fronds. The stalks have a sort of celery-like texture and it's a shame most recipes call for tossing them. They are on the tough side but in a bowl of soup, that isn't an issue at all. I'm trying really hard not to waste ingredients so using the stalks is perfect. I love watercress very much. It's got a peppery bite to it and it is surprisingly versatile. It really holds it's shape when added to hot soup which really added a lot of texture interest to the soup. I still hate fall and winter but this soup makes it a little bit better.

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