Chocolate + Tahini

Photo by: Jonelle Weaver
Photo by: Jonelle Weaver

I was among the first to make ganache from chocolate and tahini (instead of cream) and invented a recipe in 1999 for a Gourmet magazine cover story.  I created a chocolate petits fours for a kosher-style meal where the mixing of meat and dairy was not allowed.  This idea is now a hot new trend and lots of chefs are exploiting tahini (sesame seed paste) to the max.  Here's my recipe from Gourmet for Chocolate-Tahini Cups.  They are radically simple to make and taste like a sophisticated Chunky bar.  A great idea for Valentine's Day.

Chocolate-Tahini Cups

1/2 cup dried currants
1 cup boiling-hot water
8 ounces best quality semi-sweet chocolate (like Valrhona)
3-1/2 tablespoons tahini (Middle Eastern sesame seed paste)
vegetable cooking spray1
8 - 1-inch candy papers/liners

Soak currants in hot water for 5 minutes.  Drain and pat dry with paper towels.  Melt chocolate with 3 tablespoon tahini in a metal bowl set over a saucepan of simmering water, stirring until smooth, and stir in currants.  Lightly spray liners with cooking spray and spoon chocolate mixture into candy paper liners.  Cool 5 minutes.

Decorate candies by dipping tip of a skewer or toothpick into remaining 1/2 tablespoon tahini and swirling over tops.  Chill until set.  Makes 18.  Will keep, covered and chilled, for 1 week. 

Oscar Gold: Red Carpet Recipes

Whether you are hosting an Oscar party tomorrow night or simply want to make yourself a festive feast, here are some recipes that I put together for Lenox that are sure to delight. tumblr_mhv3ppzdQt1rsdtszo1_1280SMOKED SALMON HORS D’OEUVRES

Here, three simple ingredients become bite-size luxuries: smoked salmon rosettes and smoked salmon pinwheels. Festive and sophisticated, these are the perfect match, in flavor and color!


- 1 hothouse cucumber - 8 ounces best-quality, thinly sliced smoked salmon - 1/2 cup whipped cream cheese

Wash cucumber but do not peel; slice into 1/4-inch thick rounds, about 24. Slice the smoked salmon into 24 strips that are 1-inch wide by 3-inches long. Roll each piece loosely. Curl back the edges and flatten slightly so that it begins to look like a rose. Spread about 1 teaspoon of cream cheese on each cucumber slice and place rosette on top. Arrange on a platter.



- 8 ounces best-quality, thinly sliced smoked salmon - 8 ounces cream cheese - 4 kirby cucumbers, sliced 1/4-inch thick

Put 2 slices of smoked salmon slightly overlapping. Spread with a thin layer of cream cheese to cover completely. Roll up like a jelly roll (beginning with short edge) and place in a piece of plastic wrap. Twist the edges so that you have a small tight sausage shape. Chill well. Slice thinly and place a slice on a cucumber round.


SEARED SCALLOPS ON SWEET PEA PUREEtumblr_mhv48ztfEe1rsdtszo1_1280

This is great any time of the year as frozen peas are always available. Trendy pea shoots can be found at this time of the year in many farmers markets. You can make the pea puree ahead of time and reheat while you’re cooking the scallops.

- 2 10-ounce packages of frozen petits pois - 8 tablespoons unsalted butter - 18 very large sea scallops - 6 tablespoons dry vermouth - Handful of pea shoots or microgreens

Put the peas in a saucepan with salted water to just cover. Boil 2 minutes. Drain well and save 3/4 cup cooking liquid in a blender. Process until very smooth and thick (adding more liquid if necessary.) Add salt and pepper and return to saucepan.

Melt 2 tablespoons butter in a large frying pan. Season scallops with salt and pepper and sear over high heat for 2 minutes per side, until golden and cooked through. Reheat pea puree until hot; spoon a mound onto each of 6 warm plates. Arrange 3 scallops on puree.

Add the vermouth and the remaining 2 tablespoons butter to the pan. cook 30 seconds over high heat until syrupy. Pour over scallops and top with pea shoots.


tumblr_mhv5pluiI81rsdtszo1_1280FILET OF BEEF WITH WASABI-GARLIC CREAM

Kiss your butcher and ask him (or her) to cut you a nice 3-pound filet of beef and tie it like a roast. You can buy wasabi paste in a tube in most supermarkets and Asian food stores.

Serve with black rice tossed with a bit of grated ginger and your favorite vegetable: I’ve chosen diced carrots sauteed in sweet butter with fresh thyme.

- 2 tablespoons olive oil - 3-pound filet of beef, tied - 1 tablespoon sugar - 1 1/2 cups heavy cream - 2 very large garlic cloves, peeled and smashed - 1 tablespoon prepared wasabi

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Drizzle the oil on a rimmed baking sheet and toll the beef in the oil. Combine the sugar and 1 tablespoon kosher salt. Rub into the top and sides of the filet (but not the bottom or it will burn.) Roast 25 minutes, until an instant-read thermometer reaches 125 degrees for rare. Meanwhile, bring the cream and garlic to a boil in a saucepan. Reduce the heat and cook stirring until reduced to 1 cup, about 15 minutes. Push the softened garlic through a press; whisk back into the sauce. Add the wasabi, cook 1 minute, and remove from the heat. Add salt. Transfer the beef to a cutting board. Let rest 10 minutes. Gently reheat the sauce. Remove the strings from the beef and thickly slice.

Serve with the sauce.


AWARD-WINNING CHOCOLATE MOUSSE CAKEtumblr_mhv7mjvQM21rsdtszo1_1280

This is the world’s simplest and moistest cake: just be sure to remove it from the oven while the center is still quite soft. Edible gold leaf is available in food stores specializing in Indian food products and in specialty baking shops.

- 10 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter - 5 extra-large eggs - 16 ounces best-quality semi-sweet chocolate - 1 teaspoon vanilla extract, espresso powder, or fresh orange zest - 2 pints fresh raspberries, washed and dried - A few sheets of edible gold leaf, optional

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Line the bottom of a 9-inch springform pan with parchment paper. butter the sides of the pan with 1/2 tablespoon butter. Using an electric mixer, beat the eggs with a pinch of salt until tripled in volume, about 8 minutes. Melt the chocolate with the remaining 10 tablespoons butter slowly over low heat in a medium saucepan; stir until smooth. Fold the chocolate mixture into te egg mixture with a flexible rubber spatula until completely incorporated. Add the vanilla (espresso or orange zest). Pour into the pan. Bake 18 minutes; the center will be quite soft. Let cool. Arrange the raspberries side by side on top of the cake. Top with gold leaf, if using.


No Longer a Rookie Cookie

I love to get gifts of food, and every now and again someone sends me something. There is the yearly arrival of luscious honeybell oranges from Florida sent by a close friend; around the holidays, a large tin of Middle Eastern pastries arrive from a bakery in Dearborn, Michigan, (a tradition started by my father and continued by my husband), and recently I received a fabulous package of artisan food products from Spain -- including an unusual semi-soft chorizo known as sobrasada Mallorquina from my sister-in-law when she finally exhausted her gift ideas. And just the other day, a box of delectable cookies and one-bite mignardises, arrived safely from Culver City, Calif. Not only was I impressed with the originality and quality of the brown butter, dark chocolate & smoked salt cookies, the delicacy of the lemon pieters, made with a bit of lemon oil and lemon sugar, and the addictive platino -- an elegant version of an Oreo, I wondered how a business that deals with high-cost ingredients and lots of labor, manages to thrive. Especially when much of its business is coast-to-coast. Many people have fantasies about food and opening food businesses. Some succeed; but most of them fail, with dashed bank accounts and broken dreams as the payoff. But Jamie Cantor, the owner of Platine Cookies, in Culver City, Calif., located east of Santa Monica and south of Beverly Hills, has been in business for more than 10 years and had her largest order -- 3,500 dozen... that's 42,000 cookies to roll out, bake, and package, in a rather small space -- just last month. Whether it's "Android" cookies for Google, "engagement ring" cookies and miniature Ho-Ho's for the local Bloomingdales, or gift boxes for corporate clients, Ms. Cantor has beat the odds in an industry where small entrepreneurs are notorious for abruptly disappearing.

Lucky for her, Jamie Cantor chose to make sweet things, which, despite our national obsession with obesity, are today all the rage. Just think of the cupcake madness around the country, with endless lines for Magnolia Bakery's products, and with Sprinkles, a California-based company, fitting out some of their stores with 24-hour cupcake ATMs for those clamoring for a sugar fix at midnight. Even McDonald's just last week announced that it would be selling baked goods all day long, hoping to snare some "treats" business from the likes of Dunkin' Donuts and Starbucks. New business hopefuls are trying their hands at artisan gelato, which looks like a precarious trendlet to me. And chain restaurants are following the lead of Darden's Seasons 52 with socially-responsible mini-dessert options.

Jamie's dream of opening a cookie store (not unlike that of cookbook author Dorie Greenspan who opens "pop up" cookie stores all over New York), began when her father bought her a copy of Rose Levy Beranbaum's Christmas Cookie Book when she was a young girl. Combine that yearning with the creative precision of her mother who was an architect, and you have the stuff dreams are made of. Jamie enrolled in the CIA in Hyde Park, New York, and received the 1998 Women Chefs & Restaurateurs Scholarship to study in the Napa Valley campus where she earned a degree in Bakery & Pastry Arts. She landed an internship at Thomas Keller's French Laundry, and then, after graduating, worked as Chef de Partie in the pastry department under the tutelage of pastry chef Stephen Durfee and Keller, himself, who she describes as impressive, smart and fastidious. It was there that Jamie honed her perfectionism and her desire to infiltrate a world smitten by cupcakes with her own, more upscale, petit pastry and cookie offerings. More Francois Payard than Sandra Lee, Jamie headed south to Los Angeles, bought some flour, and started a company.

Her first items? Jamie created the platino (a cakey-chocolate cookie sandwich filled with voluptuous white "cream") and the camee -- which is an all-white vanilla version. These continue to be her best sellers among a comprehensive list of brownies, lemon meringue grahams, and more. What I find compelling is that her cookies have a home-made quality about them rather than appear like (well) cookie-cutter products from an industrial manufacturer. And for the last few years she has two dynamite offerings for Passover -- traditional coconut macaroons and the less-traditional chocolate flourless "baby cakes." Others swear by the caramel-topped brownie and the chocolate pots de creme with black lava salt: Return the little cup and you receive 10 cents -- Jamie's nod to ecology. I, for one, am enamored with Jamie's exquisite balance of salt and sugar in her recipes.

Discovered by the Food Network in 2004, Platine has also received raves from Japanese Vogue, People magazine and the Los Angeles Times. While her biggest issue continues to be delivering a hand-made high quality product at a reasonable price, her dream is to turn Platine into a nationwide brand. In the meantime, she just developed a new cookie in honor of her niece "the Cho-la-la" -- a chocolate thumbprint cookie filled with gianduja and sprinkled with Hawaiian pink salt. Next, will be an homage, no doubt, to her son Jackson, who is just one year old. Lucky kid.

And now that Thomas Keller has opened Bouchon Bakery in Beverly Hills, Jamie Cantor has become a friendly competitor to her beloved former boss.

French Meal as National Treasure

Something's in the air. Perhaps a whiff of French cooking. This month's issue of Food & Wine magazine is devoted to the new French Classics and the New York Times' food section featured the cookbook "La Cuisine de la Republique" with recipes from members of the French National Assembly. The book, authored by deputy Francoise Branget from the center-right of Sarkozy's party, was the finishing touch, or celebration really, of her campaign to unite the Left and Right in a national cause:  the promotion of French gastronomy.  And I quote (from the article by Elaine Sciolino), "Food is so much a part of France's identity that the government led a successful campaign last year to win United Nations recognition of the French meal as a national treasure."  Can Italy be far behind? That said, many years ago I wrote an article called "So What's a French Restaurant, Anyway" for the Daily News.  I will try to locate it but I remember how the semaphores of French cuisine were slowly vaporizing like the molecules of a slowly simmering stock. And yet today, there is a trickle of French-i-ness afoot. The prototypical La Mangeoire, under the direction of 4-star cooking maestro Christian Delouvrier has just received a face lift, as has the four-star Le Bernardin, now designed by Bentel & Bentel. The original look by uber-designer Phil George, certainly stood the test of time and helped create the ambiance that became part of the restaurant's gestalt. I understand Mr. George just dined at Le Bernardin and gave a nod of approval to the new surroundings. He also said the food was very, very good, indeed.

Not long ago, we had the pleasure of dining at La Mangeoire and were greeted by a gentler, happier chef who no longer had to live up the exalted expectations of four-star dining.  We were so pleased to eat mussels, great frites, and calves liver and be enchanted by chocolate mousse. Nowadays, I see the "comeback crepe," and on a bus, just today, passed by the ancient Les Sans Culottes from New York's theatre district, now on the East side. I never imagined the simple French concept could sustain itself all these years.

Although the "La Cuisine de la Republique" features some pretty remote recipes from little-known regions and lesser-known food stuffs (hare, pork head, and potatoes on a slice of pig skin), the sentiment that should unite our countries is sound.  "It is our national responsibility to cook and to eat well."  Viva la France.

To that end, I suggest you try my Almost-Confit Chicken from Radically Simple, or this radically simple cake "Gateau Creusois" from the New York Times.  I will be making it this weekend.  Might be nice with a pile of fresh raspberries or thinly sliced plums or peaches from the farmer's market. Not bad with a glass of cassis. Bon chance and bon appetit.

Gateau Creusois (adapted from Jean Auclais' in "La Cusine de la Republique and from the New York Times, 9/14/11)

1/4 cup all-purpose flour, plus more for flouring pan 1/2 cup confectioners sugar, plus more as needed pinch of salt 1/3 cup finely ground hazelnuts 3 large egg whites 3 tablespoons butter, melted and cooled oil for greasing pan

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Oil an 8-inch cake pan and dust with flour.  In a medium bowl, sift together 1/4 cup flour, 1/2 cup confectioners sugar and salt. Add hazelnuts and mix well. Using a mixer, whisk the egg whites until they form stiff peaks; do not overbeat. Pour the sifted mixture evenly over the egg whites. Using a rubber spatula, gently fold together once or twice.  Add the butter and continue to fold until just blended.  Scrape into the cake pan and smooth the surface. Bake until light golden, about 18 to 20 minutes.  Remove from heat and cool 10 minutes, then transfer cake from pan to a rack to finish cooling.  Before serving, sift confectioners sugar on top.  Serves 6

Watermelon Seeds

So, what does Italy have that America doesn't? Watermelon seeds! For years now, I've been in search of scarlet watermelon studded with the black seeds that informed my youth. They were the polka dots on white fabric, the visual cue of summer, the pop art work of nature. They have simply gone missing. Whereas seedless grapes were a welcome idea, seedless watermelon is not. Today's watermelon looks toothless and dull, lacking a certain life force. In short, it is without whimsy and sense of purpose. A picnic table lacking black seeds on red-stained paper plates is almost un-American. Still-life masters of fruit bowls would look sickly without the majesty of these ebony seeds. In Italy, on the other hand, watermelons have black seeds. It doesn't hit you right away, but it accounts for a good measure of drama at fruit stands and makes the ending of a summer meal feel complete. I can't imagine how unsatisfying it would have been to gaze upon slices of seedless watermelon on the tables of Ravello or Atrani, Naples, or Rome. Black seeds are the visual reward of the watermelon experience. Why would anyone want to take that away?  Black watermelon seeds are nature's beauty marks, like the tiny adorable black dots that made us fall in love with kiwi; some things should be as they are.

In some parts of the world, watermelon seeds are "food." They are eaten in China and made into soup in Nigeria. In other parts of the world, like in America, spitting out watermelon seeds is a sport. Like so many other questionable ideas, the proliferation of seedless watermelons is about convenience.  People here mostly eat watermelon cut-up in fruit salads.  In Italy, they still eat it out of hand.

That said, here is a recipe for delicious, refreshing, "Watermelon Ices with "Seeds."   The seeds may be chocolate, but they make you smile, and remember.

Watermelon Ices with Chocolate "Seeds"  (adapted from Kids Cook 1-2-3) The riper the watermelon, the more delicious this tastes.  Watermelon and chocolate taste great together.

4 heaping cups diced ripe watermelon 3/4 cup sugar 1/2 cup miniature chocolate chips

Remove any white (or black!) seeds from watermelon. Put watermelon in a food processor and process until very smooth.  Add the sugar and a pinch of salt and continue to process until sugar is dissolved.   Transfer mixture to a metal pie pan and place in the freezer.  After 30 minutes, break up ice crystals with a fork so that they are of uniform size.  Continue to break up ice crystals every hour until the mixture is frozen, about 3 hours.  When ready to serve, chill the bowl and blade of food processor.  Put frozen slush into processor and process until very smooth.   Conversely, the mixture can be chilled and made in an ice cream maker. Spoon into chilled glasses or dessert dishes and top with chocolate chips.  Serves 4

Technicolor Ice Pops

I was reminded of how much I loved ice pops as a kid the other day when I saw the cover of the magazine "Where" New York.  On it was a plate of frosty-looking, colorful ice pops, beckoning me on a very hot day in the city.  The image also reminded me of an article I did for Bon Appetit years ago, secreted in a computer folder called Old Docs (documents).  The recipes were devised for the "new" Williams-Sonoma ice pop molds.  But when I was a kid, we made ice pops in 3-ounce Dixie cups.  But I do love the molded forms you can buy (some classic, some torpedo-like) and dare say you can add some booze and serve them to adults at a midsummer night's dinner. There are ten amazing flavors from which to choose and a startling array of hues to match.  Not quite the color palate of the rainbow, but close.  You will want to make a different version every week to last way into Indian summer.  If you add liquor of any kind, the ice pops will take longer to freeze.  Don't add too much -- but a hint of peach schnapps or rum or bourbon will add untold megabites of pleasure.

If you're using ice pop molds, the rule of thumb is that in order to fill 8 molds, you will need 2 cups of mixture.  If using Dixie cups, put 2 ounces of any mixture into each cup; cover with foil; make a small slit in center of foil and insert wooden stick.  Another tip for either procedure is to freeze the mixture 30 to 60 minutes before inserting sticks.

Frosty Lemon-Mint Color:  bright green

2 large lemons 2 tablespoons green crème de menthe 6 tablespoons sugar 2 tablespoons corn syrup 1-1/2 cups water

Grate the rinds of lemons to get 1 tablespoon zest.  Squeeze lemons to get 6 tablespoons juice. Whisk all ingredients together until sugar dissolves.  Pour mixture into molds.  Freeze 3 to 4 hours. Makes 8 ice pops.

Summer Sunrise Color:  two-tone orange and coral

2 cups orange-peach-mango juice ¼ cup corn syrup 3 tablespoons grenadine

Put juice and corn syrup in a bowl. Stir until dissolved. Pour half of the mixture into 8 ice pop molds.  Freeze 1 hour.  Insert sticks.  Freeze until mixture is frozen.  Add grenadine to remaining mixture and pour this into molds.  Freeze 3 hours longer.  Makes 8 pops.

Royal Blueberry Color:  Purple-blue

1 pint fresh blueberries 8-ounces blueberry yogurt ¼ cup honey 2 tablespoons sugar ¼ cup water

Wash blueberries and put in food processor. Add remaining ingredients and process until very smooth. Pour mixture into ice molds.  Freeze 3 to 4 hours. Makes 8 ice pops.

Tropicali Color:  light orange with green flecks

12 ounces mango nectar 1 cup cream of coconut 2 large limes

Place nectar and cream of coconut in bowl.  Whisk until smooth.  Grate rind of limes to get 1 tablespoon zest.  Squeeze to get 3 tablespoons juice.  Add zest and juice to mixture.

Stir.  Pour into ice pop molds. Freeze 4 hours.  Makes 8 ice pops.

Strawberry Blast Color:  bright red

6 ounces strawberry daiquiri mix 12 ounces pineapple juice 3 tablespoons honey ¼ teaspoon rum extract

Place ingredients in a bowl. Whisk until smooth.  Pour mixture into ice pop molds.  Freeze 3 to 4 hours.

Lemon-Buttermilk (“tastes like cheesecake”) Color: white (with yellow flecks)

2 large lemons 3/4 cup superfine sugar 1-2/3 cups buttermilk pinch of salt

Grate rind of lemons to get 2 tablespoons zest.  Squeeze lemons to get 5 tablespoons juice.  Put zest and juice in a bowl.  Add sugar and salt. Stir to dissolve. Add buttermilk and stir until smooth. Pour mixture into ice pop molds. Freeze 4 hours. Makes 8 ice pops.

Watermelon Lemonade Color: pale red

2 packed cups finely diced ripe watermelon 6-ounces frozen lemonade concentrate 3 tablespoons superfine sugar pinch of salt

Place ingredients in bowl of food processor and process until very smooth. Pour mixture into ice pop molds. Freeze 3 to 4 hours.  Makes 8 ice pops.

Honeydew Kiwi Color:  jade green with little black seeds

2 packed cups finely diced ripe honeydew 2 medium kiwi, peeled and diced 1/2 cup corn syrup 2 tablespoons lime juice

Place ingredients in bowl of food processor and process until very smooth.  Pour mixture into ice pop molds.  Freeze 3 to 4 hours.  Makes 8 ice pops.

Fudgy Ice Pops Color: chocolate-y brown

8 ounces vanilla yogurt ½ cup corn syrup 2 ounces semi-sweet chocolate, melted 3 tablespoons cocoa powder ½ cup water

Place all ingredients in bowl of food processor and process until very smooth.  Pour mixture into ice pop molds. Freeze 4 hours.  Makes 8 ice pops.

Cranberry “Tea-sicle” Color: clear dark ruby

2 Red Zinger tea bags 3 tablespoons sugar 6 ounces frozen cranberry concentrate optional: 1-2 tablespoons red wine

Boil 1-1/2 cups water and put in bowl.  Add tea bags and let steep 5 minutes.  Remove tea bags.  Stir in sugar to dissolve.  Add cranberry concentrate and wine.  Stir.  Pour mixture into ice pop molds.  Freeze 4 hours.  Makes 8 ice pops.

Papaya Queen

You are all, no doubt, familiar with Papaya King -- the famous stand-up dive known for questionable papaya drinks and hot dogs and such.  Do I sometimes go there? Yes.  Maybe even today as the temperature soars to above 90 degrees.  I am reminded of the place because of an article sent to me from an Israeli newspaper (Ha'aretz) by a friend.  The title?  The Power of Papaya.  The friend?  Gerd Stern.  A renaissance kind of artist-poet-foodie-past President of the American Cheese Society, who is currently finishing an opera and is "artist-in-residence" somewhere in the world as I write this.  The author of the piece, Rachel Talshir, writes that "it is reasonable to assume that people who say they hate papaya just ran into a bad one the first time around."   While I am a huge lover of mangoes (really one of my favorite treats), I do not, as a rule, covet papaya.  Perhaps I ran into a bad one as a kid.  Whereas, my grandparents had a gorgeous old mango tree in their backyard in West Palm Beach (I can still remember the taste from 50 years ago! -- I was very young), papayas were scarce and just not around.  No one talked about them much.  There are several varieties of papaya and they are nutritional powerhouses containing an abundance of vitamin A, B and C, calcium, iron, phosphorus, potassium and folic acid.  Perhaps we should all take another look. Almost ten years ago, in my book Desserts 1-2-3, I created my first recipe using papaya:  Coconut-Glazed Papaya with Papaya-Lime Cream.  And all this using only three ingredients.  As it was written in the headnote, "There are many varieties of papaya available today, but the sexiest and most perfumed is one known as strawberry papaya. Graceful and tapered, about 1 foot long, its meaty flesh is bright reddish-orange.  Cream of coconut is used as a glaze -- which not only sweetens the fruit but blackens a bit under the broiler, imparting a curious flavor note.  It is also used to make the lime-kissed cream.  And if you like the notion of exploiting an ingredient to the max, as I often do, then make a coconut sorbet to top off the whole thing:  mix an additional 1/2 cup cream of coconut with several tablespoons of lime juice and 1/2 cup water and freeze in an ice cream maker."  Recipe below.  In the Israeli newspaper, other ideas using papaya were offered -- as a carpaccio with pistachios, grated hard cheese, lemon and olive oil; as a salsa mixed with pineapple, red onion and red pepper, as a shake (with frozen bananas and cashews) and even as a soup.   I have even toasted the seeds until dry and then pulverized them to use as a "spice" over other tropical fruits.  Crazy, great.

As Ms. Talshir goes on to say, "Papaya's basic influence and its ability to balance the body's acidity noticeably enhance the wakefulness of those who eat it."  An irresistible notion, for sure.

Coconut-Glazed Papaya, Papaya-Lime Cream (from Desserts 1-2-3)

1 large ripe strawberry papaya, about 3-1/2 pounds 1/2 cup cream of coconut 5 large limes

Cut papaya lengthwise into 5 wedges.  Remove seeds and discard.  Remove flesh from one of the wedges and cut into large pieces.  Place in the bowl of a food processor with 1/4 cup cream of coconut.  Great the rind of 2 limes to get zest and add to processor.  Cut limes in half and squeeze to get 6 tablespoons juice.  Add to processor with a pinch of salt.  Process several minutes until very smooth.  Cover and refrigerate until cold.  Preheat broiler:  Pour 1 tablespoon cream of coconut over each papaya wedge to coat completely.  Add a few drops of lime juice.  Slash each across the width into sections, about 1-1/2 inches apart.  Place on a broiler pan and broil several minutes until papaya is glazed and blackened in some spots.  Let cool.  Serve with chilled papaya cream and slices of remaining lime.  Serves 4

Cannoli on the Move

Straight from the lens of my son's camera in San Bruno, California are two winning photos with the caption:  SO BAD, BUT SO GOOD!  Clearly, this is the latest in food truck rage -- not yet seen on the East Coast to my knowledge.  Cannoli!  Specialty filled cannoli to rival the niche marketing of tacos, botanical ice creams, yeasty waffles, summer slushes, and hummus with hubris (the Taim Mobile), for our daily affections.  But the Roamin' Cannoli truck wins my heart. Whereas, cannolo is the correct terminology for a single pastry, cannoli is the name given to two or more pastries.  In that sense, the spelling on the side of the darling cannoli carriage is correct, as there are THREE varieties to choose from.  You can have any flavor for $4 bucks.  The "Not So Traditional" is filled with sweet mascarpone and goat cheese, orange zest, and TCHO dark chocolate chunks.  The "Lemon Meringue" is filled with smooth lemon cream and dried meringue stars.  The "White Raspberry Brulee" is filled with El Rey white chocolate filling, fresh red raspberries and bruleed sugar edges.  According to the empirical evidence, "meringue stars," my son, no doubt chose the "Lemon Meringue."

I am quite certain I would have had the "Not So Traditional."  And Jeremy's grandmother, who lived to be 90, loved cannolis but would not have wanted any of these.  Anne Frieda Whiteman would have opted for a cannolo at Ferrara's in New York's Little Italy.  I read that they make their cannoli shells with red wine -- to impart the requisite hue to the crispy pastry tubes -- whereupon they are filled with a sweet ricotta filling and maybe a dash of almond extract, a few mini chocolate bits or some crushed pistachios.  More than the delicious noodle pudding she used to make (written about by award-winning author Arthur Schwartz in his tome "Jewish Home Cooking: Yiddish Recipes Revisited"), this was the ultimate in sweets.  Anne, who never got use to leaving a message on an answering machine (she called it "the monster"), would certainly not cozy up to a dose of goat cheese in her beloved treat.  (But then again she put corn flakes on her noodle pudding.  Risky business in her day.) Boy do we miss her.

In my first 1-2-3 book, Recipes 1-2-3:  Fabulous Food Using Only Three Ingredients, is a curious recipe for "Cannoli Custard."  I recommend serving it with biscotti for dipping and ice-cold shots of Strega.  Espresso to follow.

Cannoli, by the way, are of Sicilian origin, and in Italy are commonly known as "cannoli Siciliani."  Someday history may tell us they were invented in San Bruno, California.

Thank you, Jeremy, for the photos and the memories and a brand new trend to add to your father's list.

Cannoli Custard (from Recipes 1-2-3)

2 cups part-skim ricotta cheese 9 tablespoons confectioners' sugar 3/4 teaspoon rum extract

Gently whip the ricotta, sugar, and rum extract in the bowl of an electric mixer.  Do not over-mix. Divide equally among 4 martini glasses and chill well.  Sprinkle additional confectioners' sugar, pressed through a sieve, over the top before serving.  Serves 4

The Rhubarb Dish

So here it is, slowly making its way onto supermarket produce aisles and into our local farmer's markets.  Rhubarb:  It's easy to love. Extra long rosy stalks of vegetable masquerading as fruit appear just when I covet transition from cold winter days to bright Spring effervescence.  In and of itself, it is a "tonic" food:  Defined as anything that stimulates or invigorates.   It is complete with acidity and antioxidants (anthocyanins) and is a cinch to prepare.  Not long ago, a neighbor told me about a memorable rhubarb dish she was served at a very recent dinner party.  The host of that dinner, David Burrell, kindly shared the recipe that made such an impression on our neighbor, Jerri Mayer (Her husband, a well-known bankruptcy lawyer, is an awesome home cook.)   You can imagine my delight when I found out that the recipe required only two ingredients!  Three, if you serve it hot over vanilla ice cream and consider ice cream an ingredient!  David says "take 6 to 8 stalks of rhubarb and wash them but do not dry.  Cut into pieces between 1 and 2 inches.  Place into a saucepan still wet with only the water they were washed in.  Cover with 1/2 cup of sugar and cook on low heat, stirring occasionally.  Keep an eye on them as it will eventually froth over.  Add sugar to taste. Serve hot over ice cream."   That's it! Rhubarb came to American kitchens in the 1820's.  Commonly mixed with strawberries in a pie, it came to be known as "pie plant," famously so, in an early book of Laura Ingalls Wilder.  In the Scandinavian countries, tender stalks of rhubarb would be dipped into sugar as an inexpensive treat for children.  Rhubarb generally appears in the market minus its wide green leaves which contain high amounts of oxalic acid.  Do not consume:  A lot of it will kill you.  But as charmingly put by "The City Cook" website, "With its big personality, rhubarb has been used medicinally, to color hair (brewed as a tea to add golden highlights), as a natural and non-toxic scrub to clean pots and pans, and by gardeners as a safe-to-humans insecticide.  All this -- and it can be dessert!"

I say, serve it for breakfast!  Try my Warm Rhubarb Compote with Walnut-Coconut Crunch.  Radically delicious, this complex-sounding fruit-and-yogurt dish is ready to eat in 15 minutes.  It can either begin or end a special weekend brunch and would be delightful this Easter Sunday. Warm Rhubarb Compote with Walnut-Coconut Crunch

4 cups rhubarb, cut into 1/2-inch pieces 2/3 cup plus 3 tablespoons sugar 1/3 cup creme de Cassis or Chambord 1/2 cup walnut pieces 12/ cup unsweetened organic flaked coconut 2/3 cup plain Greek yogurt 3 tablespoons wildflower honey

Wash the rhubarb; pat dry.  Place in a medium saucepan with 2/3 cup sugar and the Cassis.  Bring to a boil.  Lower heat and cover.  Simmer, stirring often, until soft, 10 minutes.  Place saucepan in the freezer while you prepare the topping.  Combine the walnuts and remaining 3 tablespoons sugar in a medium skillet.  Cook over high heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until the sugar melts and the nuts are crunchy, about 3 minutes.  Stir in the coconut and cook 30 seconds.  Transfer the rhubarb to 4 glasses.  Dollop with the yogurt and sprinkle with the walnut-coconut mixture.  Drizzle with honey.  Serves 4

Maple-Walnut Espresso Torte

There are many nights of Passover to celebrate and time to eat more cake.  No doubt many of you have had your share of sticky, wet coconut macaroons, fluffy angel cakes, chocolate matzoh buttercrunch, and flourless chocolate cakes.  But here's another to try, even if you're not Jewish.  Something light and nutty and perfect for Easter dinner, too, served with diced ripe pineapple and crème fraîche, or dense vanilla-flecked ice cream strewn with raspberries.  Perfect little raspberries remind me of nature's gum drops. The same ingredients that go into the cake -- espresso, cardamom, lemon, and real maple syrup -- are used to make the aromatic elixir that gets poured over the cake after baking.  Even if matzoh meal is not an ingredient usually kept in your cupboard, you will find it amply displayed in the supermarket.   Who knows?  It might even inspire you to make matzoh ball soup -- once the provenance of Jewish households -- it is a staple on many a deli menu sprinkled across America.  I have always meant to try making this cake with flour, too, but have not as yet.  I will let you know how to accurately swap out the matzoh meal another time.  But now, do enjoy this special cake as is.

During Passover, I like a slice with my strong morning coffee and another slice with my afternooon tea.   So far, this Passover, I have eaten many delicious new things, too.  A fruit salad with lychees, hawthorne berry brandy, bits of sliced oranges with their rind, mango, honey and much more.  I told my herbalist friend (also a bee-keeper), who made it, that I was sure these were the flavors favored by Cleopatra.  The taste was something so exotic that I can't stop thinking about it!  Also exciting was the Iraqi haroset prepared by my friend Debbie --made with only two ingredients, date molasses and walnuts, it brought a new dimension and conversation to the meal.  Last night at our tiny Seder for three, we dribbled it on matzoh and, bereft of Gold's horseradish, we dabbed it with wasabi!  New traditions begin.

Maple-Walnut Espresso Torte with Lemon-Espresso Syrup You can serve this with non-dairy whipped topping that is kosher-for-Passover and garnish with walnut halves.

2/3 cup plus 1/4 cup sugar 2 tablespoons plus  1/2 cup real maple syrup 5 teaspoons instant espresso powder 2-1/4 teaspoons ground cardamom grated zest and juice of 1 large lemon 8 ounces walnuts, about 2 cups 1/2 cup matzoh meal 4 extra-large eggs

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.  Oil an 8 or 9-inch springform pan.  In a small saucepan, combine 1 cup water, 2/3 cup sugar, 2 tablespoon maple syrup, 1 teaspoon of the espresso, and 1/4 teaspoon of the cardamom.  Add 2 tablespoons lemon juice.  Bring to a boil, stirring until the sugar dissolves, then simmer 5 minutes until thickened.  Cool.

Process the walnuts and matzoh meal in a food processor until finely ground.  With an electric mixer, beat the eggs, the remaining 1/2 cup maple syrup, 1/4 cup sugar, and 1/4 teaspoon salt on high for 4 minutes.  Add the remaining 4 teaspoons espresso, 2 teaspoons cardamom, and lemon zest; beat 3 minutes.  Stir in the walnut mixture.  Pour into the pan.  Bake40 minutes, until firm to the touch.  Pour 1/4 cup syrup over the cake; let cool.  Serve in wedges, drizzled with the remaining syrup.  Serves 8

The Universe's Best Chocolate Cake

The universe here means all the potential people on the planet who use the Internet and peruse the worlds most award-winning website, Epicurious. According to its amazing editor-in-chief, Tanya Wenman Steel, millions of dedicated home cooks look for recipes each and every day.  That really cuts down on the page turns that the Joy of Cooking (or one of my books!) might once have gotten, but the future has made itself clear.  More than 20 years ago, I predicted that someday there would be only one cookbook that encompassed all the world's great (and not so great) recipes.  I realized the speed at which we were sharing information (even back then) and envisioned such a virtual experience. Now the number of recipe sites are increasing exponentially and you, the cook, have become the ruler of the kitchen kingdom.  According to Ms. Steel, the five most searched ingredient terms during the reign of 2010, were chicken, salmon, chili, pork tenderloin, and shrimp.  But hands down, the star of the hit parade was... Double-Chocolate Layer Cake.  There are 1400 thoughtful and interesting reviews to prove it.  The recipe for this very credible cake comes from a 1999 issue of Gourmet magazine.  If millions of people get their recipes from Epicurious, and this is the most reviewed recipe on the site, then some fancy algorithm can predict how many slices (12 per cake) have been eaten since then.  Mind-boggling.  I know I will be trying it soon.

Double Chocolate Layer Cake

For cake layers

  • 3 ounces fine-quality semisweet chocolate such as Callebaut
  • 1 1/2 cups hot brewed coffee
  • 3 cups sugar
  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 cups unsweetened cocoa powder (not Dutch process)
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons salt
  • 3 large eggs
  • 3/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 1/2 cups well-shaken buttermilk
  • 3/4 teaspoon vanilla

For ganache frosting

  • 1 pound fine-quality semisweet chocolate such as Callebaut
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 tablespoons light corn syrup
  • 1/2 stick (1/4 cup) unsalted butter

Special equipment

  • two 10- by 2-inch round cake pans
Preparation Make cake layers: Preheat oven to 300°F. and grease pans. Line bottoms with rounds of wax paper and grease paper.

Finely chop chocolate and in a bowl combine with hot coffee. Let mixture stand, stirring occasionally, until chocolate is melted and mixture is smooth.

Into a large bowl sift together sugar, flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. In another large bowl with an electric mixer beat eggs until thickened slightly and lemon colored (about 3 minutes with a standing mixer or 5 minutes with a hand-held mixer). Slowly add oil, buttermilk, vanilla, and melted chocolate mixture to eggs, beating until combined well. Add sugar mixture and beat on medium speed until just combined well. Divide batter between pans and bake in middle of oven until a tester inserted in center comes out clean, 1 hour to 1 hour and 10 minutes.

Cool layers completely in pans on racks. Run a thin knife around edges of pans and invert layers onto racks. Carefully remove wax paper and cool layers completely. Cake layers may be made 1 day ahead and kept, wrapped well in plastic wrap, at room temperature.

Make frosting: Finely chop chocolate. In a 1 1/2- to 2-quart saucepan bring cream, sugar, and corn syrup to a boil over moderately low heat, whisking until sugar is dissolved. Remove pan from heat and add chocolate, whisking until chocolate is melted. Cut butter into pieces and add to frosting, whisking until smooth.

Transfer frosting to a bowl and cool, stirring occasionally, until spreadable (depending on chocolate used, it may be necessary to chill frosting to spreadable consistency).

Spread frosting between cake layers and over top and sides. Cake keeps, covered and chilled, 3 days. Bring cake to room temperature before serving.

Italian Cheesecake by Way of Atlantic City

In the nick of time this morning, a recipe for a radically simple Italian cheesecake popped up on my computer screen.  It was sent to me by Anne Kabo of Margate, New Jersey who is the wonderful baker featured in Radically Simple. Anne generously taught me how to make her richly decadent cream cheese cake, better than any New York style cheesecake I've had.  You can find it on page 318 of Radically Simple (now available on Amazon!  A great gift for Mother's Day -- if not for Anne's cheesecake recipe alone!)   But yesterday Anne told me about another cheesecake -- this one based on ricotta cheese and little else.  She found it in the local Atlantic City newspaper which features recipes from affable home cooks.  Anne eyed it and made it immediately (and brought it to a friend in the hospital.)  She added fresh raspberries dusted with confectioner's sugar on top but exclaimed that it was delicious enough without.  Anne knew this recipe would appeal to me because it fit the criteria for each one of my radically simple recipes -- which balance the elements of time, ease and number of ingredients.   And...whose procedures can be explained in 140 words or less!  Not quite Twitter but close.  This genuinely appealing recipe has no crust, can be make in one bowl, and has only six ingredients.  Anne says, "It bakes up beautifully with no cracks -- unlike the other cheesecake I make."  Am running to the store to get some nice fresh ricotta....see you there!  The recipe comes from Alice Cologna of Mays Landing, New Jersey by way of the Life Section Editor of the Press of Atlantic City, Steven V. Cronin, who writes a weekly column called "Legacy Recipes." Atlantic City Italian Cheesecake I'm inclined to add a pinch of sea salt to this.

Butter for greasing the pan 3 pounds whole milk ricotta cheese 6 extra-large eggs (or large if you have those) 3/4 cup whole milk 1-1/4-1-1/2 cups sugar (sweetness is up to you) 3 tablespoons corn starch 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Generously butter an 8- or 9-inch spring form pan.  Mix all the ingredients in a standing mixer until smooth.  Pour into the pan and bake for 1 hour and 20 minutes.  Cool for an hour before placing it in the refrigerator.  That's it!  Serves 10

Cookie Surprise: Don't Hold the Mayo!

Very unexpectedly, just a few mornings ago, I decided to make a batch of chocolate chip cookies for my daughter.  There is really nothing like a cookie, to surprise and delight. But it was I who was surprised:  After preheating the oven, measuring out the ingredients, "creaming" the white and brown sugars with sweet butter, licking my fingers, sipping coffee, greasing the sheet pan with the residue from the paper covering the stick of butter, I realized I had no eggs!  As I was making a half-batch of cookies, I actually only needed one egg.  One lonely egg.  How for granted we take our eggs, aren't they always just there, sitting upright in their crate, waiting for us?  I swore at that moment to give them more respect.  Do I call a neighbor? Run to the store?  I was in my pajamas, it was early in the morning, I was rushing like crazy.  I considered using some thick yogurt to moisten the batter but nixed that idea.  Applesauce?  I read about people doing that.  Didn't have any.  I started eating some chocolate chips.  I was getting a stomach ache. The bag of chocolate morsels I had just opened was 72 ounces.  A bargain from Costco.  Do you know what 72 ounces looks like?  A small throw pillow.  I was in trouble.

As necessity is the mother of invention, and I was the mother of Shayna, I found some mayonnaise in the fridge.  It was a eureka moment.  "That's it!" I exclaimed out loud. I'll use some mayonnaise.  Plop, plop went two heaping tablespoons into the batter.  After all, eggs are a component of mayonnaise, and maybe some of their magical powers would rub off on my cookies!   At the very least, the cookies would be nice and rich.   I worried a bit about mayonnaise's inherent acidity and sodium content (I had already added salt to the batter) but I was a woman in need.  Stir, measure, arrange on sheet pan.  I baked the cookies at a lower temperature than one usually does and also for a longer time.  I watched over them like a mother hen.  I whispered to them and gently rotated the pan several times.  I was beginning to smile.  And so would Shayna.

They were especially delicious:  Nice and rich and golden-hued, with a crisp but yielding texture that only mayo could provide.

Chocolate Chip-Mayonnaise Cookies

1 cup plus 2 tablespoons flour 1/2 teaspoon baking soda 1/2 scant teaspoon fine sea salt 1 stick unsalted butter, room temperature 6 tablespoons granulated sugar 6 tablespoons dark brown sugar 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract 2 heaping tablespoons Hellmann's mayonnaise 1 heaping cup semisweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Put flour, baking soda and salt in a medium bowl; stir well.  Put butter, sugars, and vanilla in bowl of electric mixer.  Beat until creamy. Stir in flour mixture; mix briefly.  Add mayonnaise; beat briefly until incorporated.  Stir in chips.  Lightly grease baking sheet.  Heap 2 tablespoons batter onto sheet to form each cookie.  You will have about 22 mounds.  Bake 20 to 25 minutes until cookies are golden and just yielding to the touch.  Let cool.  Makes about 22

Cosmo Life: Food 101

I must say that I was quite pleased with the striking, three-page article about my new book Radically Simple featured in this month's issue (April) of Cosmopolitan magazine. The headline screamed "So Impressive but Insanely Easy."  The editors chose three dishes to feature and went on to say that "these recipes combine basic foods in some very surprising ways.  The result: a purely magical meal that makes you look like a total rock star in the kitchen."  They got it!  It really is the essence of the book. I wanted to make it possible to create restaurant-quality, sophisticated food in the easiest way possible -- with procedures limited to 140 words.  Not quite Twitter but close.  My desire was to apply a bit of "chef-thinking" to home cooking.  As I've said in previous blogs, I am always interested in the recipes initially chosen by food editors to feature and by my readers to try. There seems to be some consensus about the recipe for Pork Loin in Cream with Tomatoes, Sage and Gin!  It has become one of the most popular recipes in the book.  It's the   "go-to" dish to try out the new radically simple concept.  It's true that the photo is stunning, but I think it's the twist on something familiar, that makes it so appealing.   The Cosmo editors paired it with my "Steamed Broccoli with Blue Cheese, Red Onion & Mint (again, a colorful riff on something familiar), and finished with a radically delicious dessert called "Apples to the Third Power."  The ingredients are apples, apple butter, and apple cider, hence the name.   While you can find these recipes in the book, what you can't find in the book, or anywhere else for that matter, are my "10 Best Cooking Tips" -- better yet, new food ideas.  Here they are: 1. Roast large black grapes for an unusual treat -- they end up looking like olives but are obviously sweeter.  Serve them with an array of cheese.

2. Pour olive oil in an ice cube tray and keep in your freezer.  Anytime you're cooking a sauce that needs to be thickened, toss in a cube.

3. If you have canned tomatoes but want 'em chopped, stick your kitchen scissors into the can and snip away!

4.  Everything looks more elegant on a bamboo skewer.  Try it with grape tomatoes or sugar snap peas and use to dip into hummus.

5.  Make your own cream cheese: put 2 cups sour cream into a paper-lined coffee filter over a bowl and let drain in your fridge for a day.

6.  Make a fancy but simple chilled-shrimp dipping sauce by blending together a jar of salsa, 1/3 cup olive oil and 1 tablespoon of freshly-squeezed lime juice.

7.  Instead of croutons, add fried chickpeas to your salad.  They have the same crunch but are way more flavorful and nutritious.

8.  Here's an unusual ice cream topping:  boil 2 cups prune juice until it's reduced by half and becomes a syrup (it looks like chocolate sauce!)  Drizzle over coffee ice cream and top with toasted almonds.

9.  Add 1 to 2 teaspoons of espresso powder to chili or beef stews for complexity and richness.  Hoisin sauce works well, too.

10.  Glue old wine corks (not plastic ones) into a circle (standing upright) for a nifty, effective trivet.

I've always loved Cosmo!

Recipe Hijack

Last week when I was honored at New York University for donating Gourmet's cookbook library to the esteemed institution, the subject of a missing recipe came up. Zanne Zakroff Stewart, who was the executive editor of Gourmet magazine for decades, said that she was in possession of all of Gourmet's recipes -- except one. That recipe happened to be mine: Candied Ginger and Rosemary Squares that Zanne said she has loved for years but simply could not find in her extensive files.  The next day, I ransacked my office looking for the recipe.  I, too, could not find it, nor could I remember what issue it was in.  I did, however, remember some of the other recipes in that article.  It was a time of great creativity I suppose, for in that same article were recipes such as Curried Onion Baklava; a savory cheesecake made with feta and mascarpone cheese in a black and white sesame crust, and an Arabic orange salad.  I sent an email to Zanne hoping that would help her in her search. In the meantime, I went to Google.  I was curious whether the recipe had landed on Epicurious, as so many of my recipes have.  Well, there it was. My exact recipe.  Except it had someone else's name on it! Now they were called Paul's Candied Ginger and Rosemary Squares and they were submitted to Epicurious two years ago by a certain chef Paul Boyami.  I laughed. This happens all the time -- some cases more extreme than others. Once a chef plagiarized 13 of my recipes and sent them, with his own photographs, to a major newspaper in Miami!  And...the recipes were in the exact order that he copied them from my Recipes 1-2-3 Menu Cookbook.  That cookbook even won a James Beard Award.  What was he thinking?!  The issue of recipe theft and plagiarism in our industry is monumental and getting worse given the instantaneous kleptomaniacal nature of the Internet.  Zanne wrote to me later in the day.  With the hints I had given her, she was able to find the recipe.  It was from the November 1994 issue of Gourmet!  Here's the recipe and here's what they look like.  I made them yesterday, with great excitement, for my brunch guests -- for I haven't had them since 1994.  The photo was taken by my husband, Michael, who just popped one in his mouth.  Enjoy!

Candied Ginger and Rosemary Squares

1 3/4 cups sugar 4 sticks unsalted butter 1 teaspoon salt 2 tablespoons fresh rosemary, chopped (3 tablespoons if using dried) 1 cup candied ginger, chopped 1 tablespoon water 4 cups all purpose flour, sift with salt 2 each large eggs, beaten

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

In a large bowl with an electric mixer beat together butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Into a medium bowl sift together flour and salt and gradually beat into butter mixture with three fourths of eggs. Beat in ginger and rosemary and press dough evenly into a 13" x 9" baking pan.

In a small bowl beat water into remaining egg to make an egg wash and brush on dough. With back of knife score dough (about 1/4 inch deep) in a crosshatch pattern and bake in middle of oven 35 to 45 minutes, or until a tester inserted in center comes out clean. Cool pastry in pan on a rack and cut into 24 squares. Pastry may be made 5 days ahead and chilled covered. Let pastry come to room temperature before serving.

Garnish pastry with rosemary sprigs. Serves 16 to 20

Chocolate Oblivion with Sun-Dried Cherries

As promised, here it is.  A romantic dinner for two, or four, (and 10 for dessert!) with all the recipes posted to date. (Feb. 12, 13, 14th.) This is one title that says it all:  A single bite will distract you from anything else going on at the table.  Somewhere between a chocolate truffle and chocolate mousse, your fork glides through it effortlessly.  The cake is baked in a water bath which helps give it its unusual texture.  Use a great-quality chocolate, one from Valrhona, perhaps, not unsweetened, and not semisweet, but one with a slightly bitter edge, around 70%. Happy Valentine's Day.

Chocolate Oblivion with Sun-Dried Cherries 12 ounces bittersweet chocolate 2 sticks unsalted butter 7 extra-large eggs 1 scant cup sugar (7/8 cup) 1 teaspoon almond extract 1 cup unsweetened dried cherries

Chop chocolate and butter into pieces.  Place in a heavy saucepan over very low heat until chocolate and butter melt.  Stir occasionally so that the mixture is completely smooth.  Break eggs into bowl of electric mixer.  Beat on high with sugar, almond extract and a pinch of salt.  Beat for several minutes until slightly thickened.  Using a flexible rubber spatula, add melted chocolate to eggs and beat briefly until ingredients are just incorporated.  Butter a 9-x-2 inch round cake pan.  Line with a circle of parchment paper.  Pour batter into pan and smooth on top.  Scatter evenly with dried cherries, cutting them in half if they are large.  Cover pan tightly with foil.  Place pan in a larger pan to make a water bath.  Pour boiling water half-way up the sides of the cake pan.  Bake 1 hour and 10 minutes.  Remove from the oven.  Remove cake pan from water bath.  Remove foil (the center will still be soft.)  Let cool.  Serves 10 to 12

Apple Pie #9

I'm the last one in the world to supply a blue-ribbon formula for apple pie -- Google's 9th most popular recipe request. In my 32 years as a professional chef, and as an American housewife, I regret that I have never made an apple pie. Tarte tatins, yes. Apple cake, yes. Fresh apple tarts, yes.  Free-form apple galettes, yes. Apple cobblers, too. But never a pie.  I don't know why. Pie was something we ate when we went out. On Hillside Avenue in Jamaica, Queens, where we once lived (and Paul Newman lived across the street), was a restaurant serving only pie. Four 'n Twenty, I believe was its name. My favorite was Apple Crumb Pie. (My mother's favorite was Nesselrode!) This was decades ago. Now my favorite apple pie is, don't laugh, the one from Costco -- large enough to feed a city block -- yet cheaper than any one dessert on any restaurant menu. (I think it's $8.99). It has a thick lattice top and a gooey, cinnamon-y kind of syrup holding together what seem to be REAL apples. I know there are versions out there that are better, or more suave, but when it comes to sweets, my tastes sometimes skew...big! The appropriate scoop of vanilla ice cream to accompany this giant wedge of pie would be the size of a softball, just in case you were wondering. But no one at home has a pie tin that big. For more normal-size pies you might want to consult...Google! Simply type in 'apple pie recipe' and you will come up with Grandma Ople's. It has 3621 hits and many rave reviews. Likewise you can consult "James Beard's American Cookery" (we have a first edition signed to my husband by Beard -- they were buddies -- in April 1972.) There Beard says, "many old American cookbooks did not bother to give a recipe for apple pie. It was taken for granted that every housewife had her own favorite." But he supplies two nice-sounding pies: I could be tempted.

But for the time being, my favorite apple pie is a curious one that I feature in Recipes 1-2-3 called Snitz Pie -- "snitz" being the name used by the Pennsylvania Dutch for dried apples. Snitz Apple Pie A good apple pie goes a long way in assuring domestic tranquility. No one will know that this pie begins with snitz -- but everyone will be happy. You can make your own pie crust, purchase a good-quality frozen crust, or use puff pastry.

3 cups dried apple slices 1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon vanilla sugar or cinnamon sugar wonderful pastry for a 9-inch two-crust pie

Soak apples overnight in 3 cups water. Cook in soaking liquid, covered for 20 minutes, or until apples are very soft. Mash them coarsely in a pot. Cook 1 minute to let water evaporate. Add 1/2 cup vanilla sugar, mix well and cook another minute or two. Let cool. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Turn apples into a pastry-lined pie tin. Cover with the top crust, and crimp crusts together. Make 3 slits to let the steam escape. Sprinkle with remaining tablespoon vanilla sugar. Bake 10 minutes. Reduce heat to 350 and bake 30 minutes longer. Let cool completely. Serves 8

#4 Delicious Banana Bread

I am imagining the tonnage of overripe, black-and-yellow speckled bananas lounging in home kitchens across America.  Why else would banana bread be Google's fourth most sought-after recipe?  And while I enjoy banana bread as much as the next guy, it is hard to imagine it trumping brownies, let's say, as the most beloved treat.  But valuable it is in the nutrition it can offer.  My recipe for a super-moist banana bread includes a freshly-grated zucchini and lots of plump golden raisins.  It also incorporates olive oil, instead of butter, for added moisture and even more health benefits.  My recipe also uses less sugar than the more typical bread and that sugar is unrefined turbinado, rather than granulated.  So there you have it.  A very lovely Banana-Zucchini Bread that is radically simple, and quite healthy, to make.  These types of breads  are also called "tea cakes" and are a nice thing to serve for afternoon tea with a dollop, perhaps, of mascarpone (Italian cream cheese) sweetened ever so slightly with wildflower honey.

I'd be thrilled if anyone cared to share a favorite banana bread recipe with me.  I've got plenty of bananas lounging around.

Very Moist Banana-Zucchini Bread You will love the mysterious flavor and moisture that comes from a very ripe banana and a zucchini!  Healthy, easy, wonderful.

1 large zucchini, about 10 ounces 2 extra-large eggs 3/4 cup turbinado sugar 2/3 cup olive oil, plus more for greasing the pan 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon 1 large over-ripe banana 1/2 golden raisins 1-1/2 cups self-rising flour

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Wash the zucchini and dry; do not peel.  Grate the zucchini on the large holes of a box grater to get 2 cups.  Using your clean hands, squeeze the zucchini dry.  In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the eggs and sugar on medium-high for 3 minutes.  Add the oil, vanilla, cinnamon and 1/4 teaspoon salt; beat for 30 seconds.  Peel the banana and mash well.  Add to the mixture and beat until the banana is incorporated and the mixture is smooth.  Stir in the zucchini and raisins, then slowly add the flour and mix well.  Lightly oil a 8-x-4-inch loaf pan.  Pour in the batter and bake for 55 minutes until firm and golden.  Let cool; turn bread out of pan and slice.  Serves 8

A Great Cheesecake

Cheesecake recipes are precious legacies.  Many get handed down from generation to generation more sure-handedly than the family china.  A good cheesecake is the crown jewel of the American dessert cart and, "Whose is best?," is the mythology that keeps us talking. And asking.  Which brings us to the reason that"cheesecake" is the third most requested recipe on the Google hit parade.  As far as I know, no one in my family ever made a cheesecake.  We loved Sara Lee's (truly) -- the one from the freezer case in the supermarket (and I enjoyed eating it frozen!)-- and we would venture as often as possible to Junior's -- a New York cheesecake institution.  Over the years, the cheesecake wars included Miss Grimble, Turf, Eileen's, and Lady Oliver's (the company of Rachel Hirschfeld, who delivered her velvety cheesecakes to New York's top restaurants in a white Bentley.)  When I was the chef at Gracie Mansion for Mayor Koch (in 1978!), Turf was the cheesecake we used -- I topped it with small strawberries and glazed them with melted currant jelly laced with a bit of Cassis.  When President Jimmy Carter came to visit, I bought a peanut cheesecake enrobed in crackly caramel, from a wonderfully fun restaurant called Once Upon A Stove.  I served it, with a glass of milk, alongside the Carter nightstand on the second floor bedroom.  He enjoyed it tremendously.

Before writing Radically Simple, I, like the other women in my family, never made a cheesecake.  And that's why I am eternally grateful to Anne Kabo of Margate, New Jersey, who taught me how.  Anne, through a complex family saga, is a relative of sorts and a cherished one at that.  The radically delicious cheesecake recipe that follows belongs to her, as does the lovely photo she took.

A Radically Simple Cheesecake Anne Kabo, one of the best home bakers I know, created one of the best cheesecakes I've had.  The crust doesn't need to be pre-baked and, compared to most recipes, it is radically simple.  It also freezes beautifully.  You can cover any cracks with shaved white chocolate or simply adorn the cake with ripe berries.

6 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature 5 ounces honey graham crackers 1/2 cup walnuts or pecans 1-1/4 cups sugar 3 extra-large eggs, room temperature 16 ounces cream cheese, broken into pieces 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract 1 tablespoon cornstarch 24 ounces sour cream

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.  Butter a deep 10-inch springform pan with 2 tablespoons of the butter.  Finely crush the graham crackers, nuts, and 1/4 cup sugar in a food processor.  Melt the remaining 4 tablespoons butter; stir into the crumbs until moistened.  Pat the crumbs onto the bottom and 1/2-inch up the side of the pan to form a crust.  Using a standing mixer, beat the eggs for 3 minutes.  Add the cream cheese and mix until smooth, 2 minutes.  Add the remaining 1 cup sugar, vanilla, cornstarch, and 1/4 teaspoon salt.  Beat on high for 2 minutes.  Add the sour cream and beat 1 minute longer.  Pour into the crust.  Bake 50 to 55 minutes until firm. Cool on a rack.  Cover and refrigerate until very cold.  Serves 16

Electric Orange Juice

For years I've been hearing about the big, bountiful, beautiful breakfasts at Norma's:  the hotel dining room at the Parker-Meridien on West 57th Street in New York City.  And while the experience was extremely pleasant and the food very good, the most outstanding part of the story was the orange juice!  At first I thought it was a hustle.  At $9 a glass, what was the deal?   "Who wants juice?" our affable waiter sung out? (He looked a bit like Baryshnikov).  With the grace of a dancer, he began pouring electric-looking orange liquid into three of our four extremely tall glasses.  I declined, and chose instead to have juice for dessert -- more about that later.  After 30 minutes, the glasses were filled again, and 10 minutes later...again.  Quickly I calculated that I was now $54 into the check and we hadn't had anything yet to eat!  Uh-oh, "here he comes again."  I didn't want to seem ungracious (I was treating), but finally said, "Sir, uh, um, do you charge for each glass of juice?"   "Oh no," he said.  "Refills are free."  Instant relief for me, then curiousity.  Why would they do that?  The juice was extraordinary tasting.  It was though a crate of succulent Honeybells was squeezed into each glass.  While it was the hospitality-equivalent of the unlimited "sweet tea" you encounter in the South, this orange elixir had to cost them a fortune.   The food arrived...a PB&C Waffle 'Wich (a chocolate waffle with peanut butter and toffee crunch filling), Artychoked Benedict (with truffle porcini sauce), Super Cheesy French Toast (with caramelized onions and applewood smoked bacon), and Normalita's Huevos Rancheros and...more juice. As I mentioned, I saved mine for dessert.  One of my most memorable desserts in history was experienced in Barcelona.  At a trendy neighborhood restaurant, chic customers order fresh orange juice for dessert, served in a wine glass and accompanied by a spoon.  How simple, yet brilliant, to end a meal in such a vibrant, palate-cleansing way.   It is especially memorable made with Honeybells (just coming up from Florida now) or with blood oranges.  I call their flavor "nature's Kool-Aid."  Either way, it's an inspired, one-ingredient dessert, that's hard to beat.

Although breakfast at Norma's is very expensive (there is even Foie Gras French Toast for $34 and The Zillion Dollar Lobster Frittata for $100), if you do as I did, dessert is free.  I drank the last glass of juice from one of my guests.

A Recipe for Electric Orange Juice

This recipe is one ingredient only.  Each large orange yields about 1/2 cup juice so plan accordingly.  Use navel oranges, Honeybells, or large blood oranges. (At this time of year, it's delicious to add the juice of two tangerines.)

8 large oranges

Cut oranges in half and juice.  Pour into wine glasses and serve with a spoon.  Serves 4