Beer Cheer Here

Don't hate me: I don't like beer, but I recognize its place in the world. My mother would slug a Heineken on a hot summer's day and I must admit my secret pleasure of downing a dark, syrupy, heady Lezak in Prague at U Fleků (the oldest brew pub in the world, circa 1499). But beer seems to be moving the same way wine did 20 years ago: Lots of new entrants, the emergence of "beer geekery"...and the growing popularity of monster, high-alcohol beers. And while big brand beer sales may be slipping, craft brewers' sales have been rising about 12% annually according to some estimates. This is a trend hard to ignore. Most beers are between 5% and 6% alcohol, but the new big bruisers run from 7%-14% and are very much in demand. Robust India Pale Ales are leading the charge along with high-alcohol stouts aged in oak barrels -- often previously used for bourbon. India Pale Ales' popularity indicates a shift in Americans taste preference -- a shift toward bitter, which we also have seen in food and in the popularity of craft-made bitters in cocktails. Small producers, stronger products and a bit of snobbery -- they all remind me of bread thirty years ago, when a great restaurant roll was hard to find until local bakers began showing people what a great product was like. And, like beer today, there suddenly erupted a bewildering variety of breads and consumers have discovered that "sour" was a good thing and now those idiosyncratic efforts are being rewarded. Indeed, sour beers (in the positive sense) are catching on, almost all of them local.

Draft beer is on the rise because much of craft brewers' output is sold locally and sold on tap. About 1/3 of craft beer sales are on tap vs. 10% for big national brands. This means growing representation of local beers and it fits nicely into the locavore trend. Consumers are discovering that good local beers selling at $5-$7 a glass are great bargains compared to mediocre wines that, at $10-$15 a glass, restaurants are clearly overcharging for. (This fact alone could begin to sway me!) Just two days ago, Starbucks announced that it is expanding its beer and wine program to Southern California, Chicago and Atlanta after testing it in Seattle and Portland. It is not alone: Burger King, Sonic, even White Castle, are serving beer (and sometimes wine) in a limited number of stores -- all hoping to boost their evening sales. Newfangled beer gardens featuring dozens of craft beers instead of mediocre swill are opening across the country and establishing themselves as new gathering places. Some, like the Batali/Bastianich 10,000 square foot rooftop Birreria in New York City are all-weather affairs and they're transcending the old notions of pretzels as typical "beer food." You'll find curated selections of cheese and charcuterie along with a full menu of lusty main courses like quail with Sambuca-braised fennel, homemade sausages (the cotechino is to die for); and pork shoulder braised with beer and apricots.

And then there's Jimmy's No. 43 in Manhattan, run by the affable Jimmy Carbone. He is a bear of a beer lover and has sanctified the yeasty brew with a calendar of riveting events and even his own radio show devoted to beer experts and on-air tastings. (You can listen every Tuesday on Heritage Radio Network.) Coming up? There's a Beer Cocktail Brunch-Off (big trend); a Farm + Beer Expo (held at the Brooklyn Brewery); and on Valentine's Day, a tasting of beers that pair with chocolate. Jimmy cajoles his disciples to "Keep Your Resolution to Drink Great Beer This Year (of the Dragon.)

Beer and bread are lifestyle products that reflect a growing desire for the hand-made, the strong-flavored, the distinctive. I'm reminded of the time that Joe Baum, the legendary restaurateur, decades ago, planned a chain of beer bars called Brew Ha Ha. Clearly, its time has come.

Cleaning out the Fridge

For the last four days I have been involved in a "secret project"-- one that has required lots and lots of cooking and food photography. Sixty-two photos to be exact! My days have begun at 5:45 a.m. and have lasted up to 16 hours, at which time, the dishes would be washed (we have no dishwasher!), the shopping lists made for the next day's shoot, and a final sip taken from a big glass of red wine. My house and kitchen, turned into a "studio" with simple lighting, an array of white plates, a cornucopia of fresh ingredients, and a very credible photographer whose work has graced the pages of magazines, books and food products for decades. Part performance art, part circus, it required the best of spirits and the steady hands of an assistant, and at certain times two! -- both of whom work as personal chefs. The rhythm to get so much done in a day was at times cool jazz and at other times a symphonic movement which could have been titled Heroica! (Beethoven). If the Marx Brothers had a theme song, that, too, might describe the mood, as we spliced and diced and chopped, steamed, broiled and sauteed, churned ice cream, and sipped and slurped the strongest iced coffee you can imagine. As a frame of reference, in advertising, getting three shots done a day is good work; in publishing a book, seven or eight shots is considered fabulous. We were pushing 16, if you do the math. The reward? Beautiful images and a refrigerator so full that it was getting warm. My fridge 'runneth over! Up again at 5:45 a.m. this morning to sort out the wheat from the chaff, and to re-jigger odds and ends into dinner. That is, dinner for a week! Ground meat was turned into a meat sauce (I had lots of fresh tomatoes, basil and red onion), my gratin dauphinoise was re-layered with thin slices of roast chicken and asparagus; a multitude of vegetables from the farmer's market were steamed and tossed with fresh fettuccine as a kind of room-temperature salad for lunch today; leftover poached pears, raspberries, fresh orange segments, roasted grapes and slivers of caramelized pineapple turned into a healthy dessert for tonight's meal.

But nothing topped breakfast this morning -- a slice of my husband's dense homemade rye bread spread with leftover scallion butter (used for a creamy corn soup) and sprinkled with salt. I encourage you to visit your fridge and to visit a website called "expendible edibles" for inspiration. You may want to fry the carrot tops lurking in the vegetable drawer and scatter them atop a nice carrot-ginger soup. It's time again to make lemonade out of lemons or better yet, make refreshing agua fresca from leftover watermelon, honeydew or cantaloupe. Recipe below (for carrot tops, too!)

Fried Carrot Tops

1/4 cup lacy green carrot tops 3 tablespoons olive oil

Wash the carrot tops and dry thoroughly. Heat the oil in a small skillet until hot. Carefully add the carrot tops and fry for 30 seconds. or until crispy and still bright green. Transfer to paper towels. Sprinkle very lightly with salt. Stays crispy for several hours.

Agua Fresca (adapted from Eat Fresh Food: Awesome Recipes for Teen Chefs) This doesn't require much sugar; just let the fresh fruit flavors shine through.

1/2 large ripe cantaloupe or honeydew (or leftover pieces) 1/4 cup sugar slices of lemon or lime

Remove any seeds from melon. Cut into large pieces and put in a blender with the sugar, 1 cup of water and a pinch of salt. Process on high until very smooth. You will have 3 cups of liquid. Put it in a pitcher and add 3 cups of cold water. Cover and refrigerate until cold. Pour over ice and garnish with lemon or lime. Add more sugar (dissolved in hot water), if needed. Garnish with pieces of melon, if you wish. Serves 4

The Recipe that Made Me Famous

While walking through the splendorous Union Square Market yesterday, looking for new arrivals, I noticed small fragrant strawberries and the loveliest asparagus I've seen in a long time.  Those strawberries would wind up in a wonderful dessert I had last night at abc kitchen (located just a few blocks from Union Square) -- a kind of strawberry compote decorated with tiny meringues and topped with a quenelle of sour cream-poppy seed ice cream. But those asparagus, crisp and green and just the size I love -- not too thin and not too thick -- reminded me of  "the recipe that made me famous."  Way back in 1995 when no one was roasting asparagus, except for my friend Arthur Schwartz, nobody, and I mean nobody, was frying capers, except me!  The resulting recipe for "Oven-Roasted Asparagus, Fried Capers" was to appear in Recipes 1-2-3: Fabulous Food Using Only Three Ingredients, published in 1996 by Viking.  The headnote went like this:  In less than ten minutes you can have the most addictive asparagus you've ever encountered. An intense dose of heat keeps these spears green and snappy.  Deep-fried capers add a startling accent.  A wonderful Mediterranean-inspired first course or side dish." (recipe below)This recipe would come to be a favorite of Ruth Reichl, the restaurant critic of the New York Times.  Fifteen years later, in Radically Simple, I added a fourth ingredient -- fresh bay leaves -- which impart a mysterious perfume.   Just this morning I decided to punch in "roasted asparagus and fried capers" into the humming Google search bar.  There are millions (I exaggerate) of citings for this recipe -- with no mention of me or where the recipe came from.  But now you know.

Some years later, in my book Healthy 1-2-3, I also did something no one had done with asparagus.  For a lovely, and very healthy asparagus and orange salad, I boiled the peelings from the asparagus until they were al dente and topped the salad with my original "asparagus fettuccine" -- for it is exactly what it looked like! Just recently I noticed this idea in a new cookbook.  But now that I've begun a practice of daily "meditation" and reflection, this stuff doesn't bother me at all.  Enjoy!

The Original Recipe for Roasted Asparagus with Fried Capers (from Recipes 1-2-3)

2 pounds medium-size asparagus 4 tablespoons olive oil 1/4 cup large capers, drained

Preheat the oven to 500 degrees.  Trim the stems of the asparagus, cutting off the ends to make even.  Drizzle 2 tablespoons of the olive oil on a rimmed baking sheet. Place the asparagus on the pan and coat with the oil.  Sprinkle lightly with salt.  Roast for 8 minutes and transfer to a warm platter.  Meanwhile, in a small skillet, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons oil.  Fry the capers for 1 to 2 minutes until crispy.  Pour over the asparagus and pass the pepper mill.  Serves 6

My Lunch Companions

Here we are at Junior's having a great time.  The kids all made some healthy food choices and brought any extra food home. Instead of soda, they ordered juice or iced tea and everyone had a fresh green salad or fruit salad that came in a very large goblet.  Yum. With some good luck ahead, these beautiful children may all find wonderful homes.

The folks at Junior's also felt inspired by the day and treated us to lunch.  Many thanks to Colette and Mr. Allen Fleming for making everybody feel very special.  In addition to my lunch bunch, the guests included Laurie Sherman Graff, the director of Heart Gallery, the angels at HeartShare, and many of the foster moms.

Every child received an autographed book of his or her choice.  Eat Fresh Food or Kids Cook 1-2-3.  One wonderful young man, aged 21, who sadly placed out of foster care (he never found a home) is now in college and just found his own home -- a nice studio apartment.  His dream is to become a big event planner and I know he will reach his goal.  He's elegant, classy, and was a big help with the kids that afternoon.  Can't wait to help him find an internship this summer.  And I know just the person to ask!  (Preston Bailey, expect a phone call from me!)

Now, I'm cooking up a storm this morning for an all-day photo shoot for Lenox.  It's wine-and-food pairing day.  The recipes will be available on their site next week. Have a great weekend!

Jammin' with Teen Battle Chefs

There is an extraordinary troupe of young chefs in several states who "fight" under the rubric of Teen Battle Chefs. Created by teen-health advocate and educator, Lynn Fredericks, this concept deserves a tv show of its own.  I've watched these kids compete and they are tops! Professional, passionate, and competitive.  Here is an example of  what goes on in the kitchen trenches.  Written by Hannah Cohen, the HealthCorps Coordinator at North Bergen High School in New Jersey who teaches Teen Battle Chefs, as witnessed on the battlefield  one recent afternoon:  From Carrot Sweets to Sweet Success. One afternoon at Teen Battle Chef, I decided to attempt Sweet Carrot Jam with my chefs. My co-workers and I had discussed cooking something totally unfamiliar to us with our students, to show them that we are not afraid to take chances. I stick to Rozanne Gold's Eat Fresh Food: Awesome Recipes for Teen Chefs because I know her recipes are teen tested and approved, and reliable. She has a recipe for Sweet Carrot Jam, so I decided my chefs and I would cook the jam.

I've never made jam before, so we were all in for an adventure!

"The first time we made the sweet carrot jam was interesting. Instead of jam, we made candy." -Milagros

I'm not going to say it failed, but we didn't make jam.... The recipe said to cook for 1 hour, but the induction burners cook much differently than regular burners. The jam cooked too fast, and all the water evaporated. So, the sugar crystallized and hardened. We made carrot candy instead! My students became intrigued, so we put the mixture on wax paper to harden. I let the students take the candy home, and we each tried to find a way to eat it without cracking our teeth!

"It tasted better than expected! My mom melted the hardened candy and shaped it into baby carrots. She loved the candy so much, she wanted to keep it all to herself!"- Lyli

"Next week, we tried a second time. This recipe was a success. " - Tevin

The second try, we successfully made Sweet Carrot Jam! Of course, not without a little snafu….

A chef accidentally added twice the amount of water than the recipe called for. Not to worry! I knew we could leave the lid off while simmering, allowing the water to evaporate. This process took a little while. My students had to leave, so they didn't get to see the final product. (We will just have to make more!)

"I was not able to munch on it, but it was delicious enough just looking at it! " - Zeinab

Eventually, a nice syrup formed. I spooned the jam into jam jars then tied a black and white checkered ribbon around them. The jam was given to the teachers who successfully completed a Personal Wellness Challenge.

"The chunky texture of the carrots makes this jam great with crackers & cheese! "- Ms. Reilly

One teacher's husband devoured it.

"You don't need to make it exactly by the recipe to enjoy." - Lyli

Sweet Carrot Jam

Adapted from Eat Fresh Food: Awesome Recipes for Teen Chefs. Ms. Gold said she sometimes adds ground cardamom for added interest and flavor.  Just a pinch will do.

1 pound carrots
2 cups sugar
3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

Peel the carrots, cut them into 1 ½ inch pieces, and put in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse until they are coarsely ground (about 1/8-inch pieces). You will have about 3 cups. Put the carrots in a heavy 4-quart medium size pot. Add the sugar, lemon juice, 1 cup water, and a pinch of salt. Bring to a rapid boil and cook for 1 minute. Lower the heat to medium and cook for about 1 hour, stirring frequently. To see if it is ready to jell, place 1 tablespoon of the mixture on a small plate and put in the freezer for 1 minute. If it becomes firm and doesn't flow, it is done even though it will still look quite liquid in the pot. Remove the pot from the heat and let cool. Spoon the mixture into a jar. Cover and refrigerate.

Chicken So Good, It Melts In Your Mouth

Last week I had lunch with an expert.  I don't, and can't say this about most people because most of them are just like me -- barely approaching "expert" in the field(s) we've deemed our life's work.  But this expert truly is.  She's also great fun to be with and very smart.  Robin Adelson, whose blog I wholeheartedly recommend, is, as she states, "first and foremost a mom."  But she is also the Executive Director of the Children's Book Council, the national trade association of children's book publishers, and Every Child a Reader, the industry's literacy foundation.  Impressive, right?  She also has three beautiful daughters (one of whom went to middle school with my beautiful daughter) yet finds the time to read every book she recommends and write a philosophical blog to boot.  A lawyer-turned-children's literacy advocate, Robin's expertise also finds its way to the kitchen.  She is a voracious hostess who has strong opinions about food so, when she speaks, I listen.  Needless to say, I was delighted to learn that her new favorite "go-to dish" for family and friends is my "Almost Confit" Chicken, adapted from Radically Simple. My recipe serves four.  Robin makes it in huge disposable aluminum roasting pans to serve 40!  She recommends it highly because it tastes very rich and fattening, yet there is no additional fat added to the recipe. It is astonishingly simple to prepare and you might even call it child's play.   Two of my books, Kids Cook 1-2-3 and Eat Fresh Food: Awesome Recipes for Teen Chefs (published by Bloomsbury) reflect my burgeoning interest in making every child a cook.  Maybe Robin and I can work on this together.  Reading and cooking have always been (still are!) two of my favorite things.  Both lifelong skills and lifetime companions. Why not make this tonight with your child(ren)?  Confit is a preparation in which a protein is cooked in its own fat or in copious amounts of oil, after which it is usually crisped. Here is a much healthier approach but one that yields exceedingly succulent results--so good, it melts in your mouth.

"Almost Confit" Chicken with Melted Garlic

8 large bone-in chicken thighs, 8 ounces each 14 large garlic cloves, peeled 1-1/2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves, plus sprigs for garnish 6 fresh bay leaves 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground white pepper freshly ground nutmeg

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees.  Put the chicken in a large bowl.  Press 2 garlic cloves through a press and rub into the chicken.  Add the thyme leaves, bay leaves, allspice, white pepper, and 1-1/2 teaspoons salt.  Grate some nutmeg over the chicken and toss.  Place the chicken in a roasting pan, skin side down.  (I use an enamel paella pan.)  Cover the pan tightly with foil and bake 45 minutes.  Turn the chicken skin side up and scatter the remaining garlic cloves around.  Re-cover and bake 1 hour longer.  Turn on the broiler. Uncover the chicken and broil several inches from the heat for 5 to 10 minutes, until the skin is crispy.  Discard the bay leaves and garnish with thyme sprigs.  Serves 4



In the never-ending national debate about childhood obesity and getting children to eat healthier, here's a way.  Put fresh food on a stick and call it a snack...or dessert.  This compelling photo from The Economist (Feb. 5 issue) references a new book called The Taste of War: World War Two and the Battle for Food, written by Lizzie Collingham.  And while food shortage does not enter today's dialogue (there are ample calories available), it is the availability of fresh, unprocessed, whole foods at affordable prices that is in short supply or, worse yet, unavailable in the neighborhoods that need it most.  But maybe that is only part of the fractured mirror that reflects the eating habits of most Americans. I suggest we change our idea of what delicious and desirable is.  Not long ago, I had the pleasure of cooking with a young man, about 8 years old.  He loved to cook and he loved to bake.  My book for children, Kids Cook 1-2-3, had just been published and young GB was eagerly awaiting our appointed time in his kitchen in his family's country home.  We laughed and measured and whipped and beat whole eggs, and carefully melted chocolate and sweet butter for our flourless chocolate mousse cake.  It was magical to watch three simple ingredients (all organic, too!) transform themselves into a delectable form that oozed in the center yet could be cut with a knife.  After baking the cake and waiting for it to cool, the time had come.  With great anticipation, I cut the warm confection and offered a nice slice to GB. With the grace of a young prince, and all due respect to me, GB simply said...I'd rather have carrots. Now that's a way to win a war.

With all the work that Ms. Obama is doing, and it's great work, the real battle resides at home.  It's marvelous for food manufacturers to reduce salt and sugar and taper portion sizes, but the criteria for "healthy eating" is a moving target.  At home, and in my book for teens called Eat Fresh Food: Awesome Recipes for Teen Chefs, our mantra is simply this:  FRESH. F=farmer-friendly, R=ripe-ready, E=easy, exciting, S=sustainable, H=honest-healthy.  If your cooking at home represents at least two of these factors, then you, too, may win the war.

Healthy Bread & Honey-Walnut Cream Cheese

It's cold outside.  And even if it's not, bread is totally awesome to make, and a lovely stay-in-the-house weekend activity.   For more than two decades, I have left the bread baking skills to my husband who created his own sour-starter and kept it going for more than 15 years.  "Longer than most marriages," my friend Arthur would say of a box of pasta.  After those 15 years, my husband started winging his formula with a different, but no-less-delicious, result every time. With the skill of a surgeon, he cuts into the first crusty piece; with the consideration of a wine maven, he deems it "good."   But today, my daughter and I will make a much simpler bread that takes much less time to prepare and is pretty much fool-proof.  It can't compare to my husband's artisanal weekly triumphs or the professional holiness of Jim Lahey's now-famous technique, but to a 14-year old, it is guaranteed pleasure.  It is also rather healthy.  Put aside approximately three and a half hours:  This includes the time for two risings, baking, and cooling.  Granulated yeast can be found in any supermarket, right next to the flour.  "Kneading" the dough means that you press it down hard, fold it over itself, then press again.  You do it at least twenty-five times per rising.  Lightly flour your hands, not the counter, as you go along.  In this recipe, the surprise addition of cocoa powder adds a hint of flavor and turns the bread a lovely color.  When it's all done, Shayna and I play a game.  What are we going to spread on it today? Honey-walnut cream cheese?  Homemade carrot marmalade (as in the photo) or... is it time to make butter, again!?  After all, said M.F.K. Fisher -- the high priestess of food writers, "The smell of good bread baking, like the sound of lightly flowing water, is indescribable in its evocation of innocence and delight."  Exactly. A Loaf of Whole-Wheat Bread Makes 1 loaf (about 14 slices)

1 package granulated yeast 1 tablespoon sugar 1-1/2 cups whole-wheat flour 1/2 cup all-purpose unbleached white flour, plus more for your hands 1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder 1/2 cup milk, at room temperature 2 teaspoons olive oil, for greasing the pan

Put 1/2 cup warm tap water in a small bowl.  Stir in the yeast and sugar until dissolved.  Let sit 10 minutes until it bubbles and doubles its volume.  Put both flours, cocoa, and 1/2 teaspoon salt in a large bowl that can be used with electric beaters.  Mix briefly.  Add the dissolved yeast and mix until crumbly.  Add the milk and beat until the dough forms a ball that pulls away from the sides of the bowl.  The dough will be a bit sticky.  Roll onto a clean counter and knead 25 times (flouring your hands as needed.)  Roll into a smooth ball and put into a large clean bowl.  Pull plastic wrap tightly over the top.  You can do your homework or watch it rise!  Let rise 1-1/2 hours or until the dough has doubled in volume and is a little spongy.  Punch the dough down again and knead on the counter 24 times.  Lightly oil a 8-1/2-x-4-1/2 inch loaf pan (or any 6-cup pan) and put the dough into the pan, making sure to press it down into the corners.  Cover with a kitchen towel and let it rise 1 hour, until the dough has risen by half.   During the second rising, heat the oven to 400 degrees.  Bake for 35 minutes until firm to the touch.  Let cool 10 minutes, then turn it out of the pan. Cool before slicing. Honey-Walnut Cream Cheese 1/2 cup coarsely chopped toasted walnuts 8 ounces cream cheese 3 tablespoons wildflower honey

Place cream cheese and honey in bowl of electric mixer.  Using the paddle, beat just until smooth.  Add nuts and mix.  Cover and chill.  Makes 1-1/4 cups

Wrinkled Grapes

A few weeks ago, my husband brought home a rather large amount of seedless red grapes.  They were the size of marbles and looked like they would pucker your lips.  Instead they were delicious and sweet.  But they lingered in the fridge and began to wrinkle like the tips of your fingers after a long hot bath.  Didn't give it much thought until I got a Facebook message from Nancy at Expendable Edibles.  She and her partner are in the business of making sure people discover fascinating ways to use the odds and ends in the refrigerator:  the last dregs of vinegar, the dehydrated knob of ginger, two pieces of leftover soppressata, a gnarled carrot.  Nancy, who, after seeing the large photo of my Sauteed Chicken with Roasted Grapes (from Radically Simple) in the New York Times queried, "Hey, couldn't you use oldish, wrinkled grapes for that dish?  After all, that's the way they wind up after roasting?!"  I liked the question and the theoretical construct.  Using pre-wrinkled grapes already gave you a head start!  More importantly, though, not throwing those grapes away benefits the planet -- and stretches the family grocery bill.  "Of course the sun does some of this for us already," I thought, as I contemplated the inverse evolution of some of our favorite foods -- grapes into raisins, plums into prunes, ripe tomatoes into sun-dried tomatoes, botrytised grapes into Sauternes.  I'm certain there are others, some of them are lurking in your fridge.

In addition to that gorgeous chicken dish, however, is another splendid recipe that features grapes as a prime ingredient:  "Grape and Pignoli Breakfast Cake."  A huge hit from Eat Fresh Food, my cookbook for teenage chefs, no one (including adults!) can resist the pleasure of pushing grapes, one by one, into the batter. I will be using the last of my wrinkled grapes this morning with a nod to the girls at Expendable Edibles.  Look for my "live interview" with them tomorrow.

Grape-and-Pignoli Breakfast Cake Not too sweet, but full of flavor, this moist breakfast cake is an original spin on more ordinary coffee cakes.  My daughter, Shayna, is a grape freak and thinks the cake is "divine."  It lasts several days in a tightly-covered tin.  And yes, you can use slightly wrinkled grapes.

12 ounces red seedless grapes (not too large) 2 extra-large eggs 1/4 cup milk 1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon olive oil 1 teaspoon vanilla extract grated zest of 1 lemon 1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar 1-1/2 cups self-rising flour 2 tablespoons pignoli nuts (pine nuts)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Wash the grapes and discard stems.  Dry well and set aside.  In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, milk, 1/2 cup olive oil,vanilla, lemon zest, and 1/2 cup of the sugar.  Blend thoroughly.  Stir in the flour and mix well until smooth.  Use 1 tablespoon oil to grease a 9-inch tart pan with a removable bottom and pour in the batter.  Place the grapes evenly, about 1/4-inch apart, in concentric circles on top of the batter to cover the entire surface.  Press the grapes halfway into the batter.  Scatter pignoli evenly on the cake and sprinkle with the remaining tablespoon of sugar.  Bake 45 minutes until golden and firm to the touch. Remove from oven and let cool.  Serves 8 to 10

Salsa #7

Salsa #7 refers to the ranking of recipe requests on Google for this vibrant condiment.  Salsa, in fact, has overtaken ketchup sales in America in dollar value (not volume, yet.)  No one could really have anticipated it, except perhaps the guys behind the Tostitos and Pace brands.  According to one study, ketchup just edged out salsa by units sold, 176 million to 174.9 million.  Pretty close.  But because ketchup bottles are bigger, ketchup trounced salsa in pounds sold.  Nonetheless, no one dips a tortilla chip into a bowl of ketchup! And there are no Champion Ketchup Competitions, such as the World Salsa Competition held by the International Chili Society.  What is interesting, too, is that few foods have dances to call their own. Salsa as food; salsa as performance art.  I love them both. As one research firm has discovered, salsa consumption has bucked the usual "proletarian drift" of many other new food products which usually begin in the large coastal metropolitan areas and slowly migrate to the heartland. Instead, salsa began in the southwest and spread its piquancy across America.  Salsa is also interesting as it is ubiquitous in the Latino market yet is still considered a bit upscale -- and also a healthy choice -- by the Anglo marketplace.

Red salsa-in-a-jar has so many uses. My good friend Chase Crossingham makes superb guacamole-filled omelettes and tops them with salsa and sour cream. Splendid. I have pureed the heck out of it, added a touch of olive oil and lime zest, and used it as a puddle for grilled swordfish. Once I steamed 3 pounds of mussels in it and added a splash of tequila.  In my cookbook Recipes 1-2-3, I dared make a soup that I called "Sopa de Salsa" -- made with half-and-half, yellow onion, and a jar of medium-hot salsa. But there are many other salsas to explore -- I like them made with fresh fruit, too -- mangoes and pineapple add great verve.

Here's the 2008 World Champion Salsa winner called Alf's Salsa. It has lots of ingredients but seems radically simple to make.

4 jalapenos, seeded and deveined 4 serranos, seeded and deveined 2 Anaheim peppers, seeded and deveined 1 yellow bell pepper 1 orange bell pepper 8 Roma tomatoes juice of 1 lime 16 oz. can of diced tomatoes 16 oz. can of pureed tomatoes 1 red onion 1 yellow onion 1 white onion 1 teaspoon ground cumin 1/2 teaspoon ground cayenne 3 cloves garlic, mashed 2 tablespoons salt 2 tablespoons sugar 1 bunch cilantro

Finely dice the peppers, onions and tomatoes. Add the remaining ingredients except the cilantro. Chill 2 hours; chop the cilantro and add as much as desired. And here's a much simpler version! 1 tablespoon oil 1 small onion 1 large clove garlic 2 very large ripe tomatoes 1 small jalapeno pepper, seeded and finely chopped 3 tablespoons finely chopped cilantro 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin fresh lime juice and Tabasco to taste

Chop all the ingredients very well. Add fresh lime juice, Tabasco and salt to taste. Cover and refrigerate at least 30 minutes.

The Google "Top 10"

Interesting, but not altogether surprising, were the results of a recent survey conducted by "the Google team" as they swept their data and came up with the ten most requested recipes on the Internet in 2010.  They were, in descending order: chili, meatloaf, cheesecake, banana bread, pancakes, salsa, hummus, lasagna, apple pie and meatballs. To my way of thinking, home cooks don't want these recipes to expand their repertoire, but merely desire variations or improvements to the dishes they already make!  This recipe hit parade is a window onto the shared table of the American appetite and, perhaps, unites us in a way we hadn't imagined. Not unlike other top ten charts, music, art, books and movies, there exists a collective experience -- and many similarities -- that bridge class, race, religion, education, gender, and politics.  Humbling perhaps, even disarming: We all like a lot of the same things.

Within this gaggle of Google picks, are two dishes that belong, quite obviously, to other cultures yet have become a ubiquitous part of the American diet.  Salsa and hummus now sit as authentically as peanut butter and jelly on our supermarket shelves, and represent millions of dollars in weekly sales.  I am happy to say that I will be sharing my favorite versions of these top ten recipe requests in upcoming blogs.   Today, a chili.  Tomorrow, a meatloaf.

The original recipe for Espresso Bean Chili (vegetarian) came from my very first cookbook, Little Meals, and I served it on white polenta for quite a dramatic effect.  The recipe begins with dried black beans and, although a cinch to make, takes several hours to cook the beans properly.  For the busier cook, I adapted the recipe for my "Entertaining Made Easy" column in Bon Appetit, where already cooked, or canned beans are used.  It has become a favorite recipe of the editors there.

Espresso Bean Chili Little black beans remind me of espresso beans and thus this recipe was created.  Espresso powder is added for complexity and richness.  You may use canned black beans (drained well) or black beans that you cook until tender.  The recipe is easily doubled and can be made a day ahead.  Garnish with sour cream, shredded sharp cheddar, chopped scallions, and slivered cilantro.

1/4 cup olive oil 2 large onions, finely chopped 2 tablespoons instant espresso powder 2 tablespoons chili powder 2 tablespoon ground cumin 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes with puree 3 tablespoons honey 3 large garlic cloves, minced 6 cups cooked black beans (or 3 15-ounce cans) 1/4 teaspoon chipotle chili powder pinch of ground cinnamon

Put oil in a large heavy pot and heat until hot.  Add onions and cook about 8 minutes until soft and golden.  Add the espresso, chili and cumin.  Stir and cook for 1 minute.  Add the tomatoes, honey and garlic.  Bring to a boil.  Reduce heat to low.  Cover and simmer 30 minutes.  Add the beans, 1 cup water, 1-1/2 teaspoons salt, chipotle chili powder and cinnamon.  Bring to a boil.  Reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, stirring often, about 30 minutes until the mixture has thickened.  Adjust seasonings.  Serves 4

Herbs in Desserts

Sometime in 1980, I had an extraordinary lunch at restaurant Troisgros in Roanne, France.  One of the mandatory go-to restaurants on every foodie's list, it was a shrine to gastronomy in the days of nouvelle cuisine when the world's first celebrity chefs were French.  While there were many aspects of that 4-hour lunch that are worth a thousand words (I was there with New York master chef Richard Burns who headed the kitchens at the Palace -- once the most expensive restaurant in the world!) there was one dish that stood out among all others.  It was the simplest dish of the meal, too: an apple tart with fresh tarragon.  I never forgot it. Since then (that's 30 years ago!), I have been slipping fresh herbs into my own desserts.  I, too, now make an apple tart with tarragon plucked from my window box, and add fresh slivered basil to ripe summer peaches. And I have found pine-y rosemary to be a felicitious gracenote to sweet offerings.  I've concocted a dulcet gremolata (grated lemon zest, minced fresh rosemary and sugar) to adorn lemon sorbet.  I strew snippets of fresh rosemary atop an olive oil cake I invented (the only recipe I never share) and created the following dessert, which I am very happy to share, for Cooking Light magazine over a decade ago.  The recipe can also be found in my cookbook for teens called Eat Fresh Food...'cause everyone seems to love them!  These little confections magically separate into custard with a layer of cake floating on top.  The vibrant fresh flavors of lemon and rosemary make more magic in your mouth.  Sophie Hirsch, one of the teens who helped test recipes for the book, said the following.  "I loved the Rosemary Custard Cakes so much!  There was an extra one and we all fought over it.  I will make this all the time.  They are amazingly great." I guess one is never too young to be a foodie.

Rosemary-Lemon Custard Cakes 3 extra-large eggs 1/4 cup plus 1/3 cup sugar 2 large lemons 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature 1/4 cup flour 1 teaspoon finely minced fresh rosemary, plus small rosemary sprigs for garnishing 1-1/2 cups milk 1 tablespoon confectioners sugar

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Separate the whites and yolks of the eggs.  Beat the egg whites with a pinch of salt at medium-high speed in the bowl of electric mixture until foamy.  Slowly add the 1/4 cup sugar, beating until stiff peaks form, about 4 minutes.  Grate the zest of both lemons and set aside.  Cut the lemons in half and squeeze to get 1/3 cup juice.  In a separate bowl, beat together the 1/3 cup sugar and butter until creamy, about 2 minutes.  Beat in the flour, lemon zest and juice, and rosemary.  Add the egg yolks and milk and beat well.  Use a rubber spatula and gently stir in the egg white mixture.  Spoon equally into six 5-ounce custard cups or ramekins.  Place the cups in a baking dish and add very hot water to the dish to a depth of 1 inch.  Carefully put dish in oven and bake 45 minutes until firm and golden.  Remove the dish from the oven and remove the cups from the dish.  Let cool.  Cover and refrigerate until very cold, at least 4 hours.  Sprinkle with confectioners sugar, pushed through a sieve, and eat from the cups.  Or you can unmold from the cups: Using a butter knife, loosen the custard around the edges of the cup, place a small plate on top and turn them upside down.  Garnish with a sprig of rosemary.  Serves 6

Healthy Yummy Dishes

It is a chilly beginning to the first day of November, having dipped into the '30s overnight.  And so I was especially warmed by this note and photo I received when I turned my computer on this morning.  The "recipe book" referred to is "Eat Fresh Food: Awesome Recipes for Teen Chefs." It was published last year by Bloomsbury and has recently gone into another printing.  I love this book because I did not write it alone.  I had the help of a team of young chefs who helped create, shape, and cook the recipes.  Nothing went into the book that wasn't "teen-tasted."  With all the conversation these days about childhood obesity and getting kids to eat healthier, it is this part of the equation that is most often ignored:  The food needs to taste delicious and to appeal to the taste preferences of teens.  This cannot be done in a vacuum by chefs who don't include kids and teens in the process. Teen-friendly recipes also need to be "blessed" by a nutritionist who can help balance the critical nutritional  factors that make a recipe "healthy."  Helen Kimmel, MS, RD, did an awesome job in determining what to alter to make each recipe nutritionally sound.  We do not believe that kids should "eat by numbers" (meaning calories, carbs, etc.) but that, overall, each recipe should focus on fresh, unprocessed ingredients and be low in saturated fats.  For more information, take a look at this wonderful article written by Jane Brody in the Science section of the New York Times  and enjoy the numerous comments about the book on Amazon by parents and teens alike.

I am looking at the photo to determine what's on Tabbie and Kimberly's table!  I see a bowl of Carrot-Ginger-Tomato Soup (that gets garnished with crispy fried carrot tops! -- see recipe below) and Juicy Chicken with Roasted Spaghetti Squash, created by my daughter Shayna.  It's a real crowd-pleaser.

Months ago, I had the pleasure of being one of the chefs to congregate on the White House lawn to hear about Michele Obama's initiative regarding childhood obesity and the myriad health concerns associated with it -- i.e. childhood diabetes and heart disease.  I say that the issue of "self-esteem" also needs to be addressed and the importance of cultural food preferences in families.  But with all the complexity surrounding this important topic, I say there is one message that is simple enough:  Eat Fresh Food.

Enjoy your day. Dear Ms. Gold,

My name is Tabbie and my friend and I, Kimberly made some dishes using your recipe book. We made them for our family and friends over the summer. We enjoyed your recipes, I hope another one comes out with more delicious dishes. Thanks! :)

CARROT-GINGER-TOMATO SOUP  -- from Eat Fresh Food:  Awesome Recipes for Teen Chefs While carrot-ginger soups have become commonplace, this one enlivened with tomato, tastes a bit mysterious and especially fabulous.  Fresh ginger adds a background of "heat" and flavor.  I top it with crispy wisps of fried carrot tops.  Serves 4 or 51 large bunch fresh carrots with green tops (about 12 ounces carrots)
1 large baking potato, about 8 ounces
2 large garlic cloves, peeled 1 tablespoon chopped fresh ginger 2 large shallots, peeled and chopped 1/2 cup tomato sauce or tomato puree 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
Peel the carrots (saving green tops for later) and the potato.  Cut into 1-inch pieces and put in a 3-quart pot.  Add garlic, ginger and shallots. Add 4 cups water and 1/2 teaspoon salt.  Bring to a rapid boil.  Lower the heat to medium and cover.  Cook 30 minutes, or until vegetables are very soft.  Using a slotted spoon, transfer the vegetables to a food processor with half the cooking liquid.  Blend until smooth, slowly adding the remaining cooking liquid.  Process until very smooth and add the  tomato sauce and butter.  Return to the saucepan and bring to a simmer.  Simmer 10 minutes; add salt and pepper to taste.  Garnish with crispy carrot tops!

Fried Carrot Tops:

1/4 cup lacy green carrot tops
Wash carrot tops and dry well.  Heat 3 tablespoons olive oil in a small skillet until hot.  Carefully add the carrot tops and fry for 30 second or until crispy and bright green.  Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate.  Sprinkle with salt.