Day 2: Lamb Shanks Provençal with Cabernet & Rosemary

lambLamb shanks are a fabulous way to feed your guests during the holidays. You can prepare the recipe one to two days in advance allowing the flavors, and textures, to deepen. Just yesterday, a colleague told me she made this recipe, tossed the lusty leftover sauce with basmati rice, and ate it in bed while reading the rest of the cookbook. She then decided to make her entire New Year's Day menu from Radically Simple. (Last year she used the wonderful Jerusalem cookbook.)  I like to serve this with creamy polenta (and open a bottle of Barolo) or with a rich potato gratin layered with Gruyere (and raid our cellar for an old Côtes du Rhône.)  For the Christmas table I poach tiny kumquats in simple syrup until they collapse: They make a festive accompaniment and taste amazing with the lamb. Lamb Shanks Provençal with Cabernet & Rosemary This is nice and easy for a complicated-sounding dish. I simplify the process by quickly searing the seasoned shanks under the broiler. The lusty flavors come from dried porcini mushrooms and herbes de Provence. At the last minute, I dust the hot dish with freshly grated orange zest -- the aroma is wonderful.

6 tablespoons olive oil 6 large lamb shanks, 12 to 14 ounces each 2-1/2 cups chopped leeks, white and green parts 6 large cloves garlic, finely chopped 2-1/2 cup Cabernet sauvignon 1 cup canned crushed tomatoes with puree 1/2 ounce dried porcini mushrooms 1-1/2 tablespoons herbes de Provence 1 pound slender carrots, peeled and cut into 1/4 inch batons 1 tablespoon arrowroot

Preheat the broiler. Rub the lamb with 3 tablespoons oil and season with salt and pepper. Place on a broiler pan; brown several minutes on each side. Wash leeks and pat dry. Heat the remaining 3 tablespoon oil in an 8-quart Dutch oven. Add the leeks and garlic; cook over high heat until softened, 5 minutes. Add the shanks, wine, tomatoes, mushrooms, and herbes de Provence. Stir to coat. Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat, cover, and simmer 1 hour. Add the carrots, cover, and cook 30 minutes.  Uncover and simmer 15 minutes, until the lamb is tender. Spoon off the fat. Dissolve the arrowroot in 1 tablespoon water and stir into the sauce. Season to taste and simmer several minutes until the sauce thickens. Serves 6

Ten Radically Simple Days of Christmas

photo 2(2)Recipe countdown:  For the next 10 days I will share a main course recipe from Radically Simple: Brilliant Flavors with Breathtaking Ease. After all, it is the time of year where we all crave abundance without the burden. A nice holiday gift? A copy of the book from Amazon. For me, I'd love a fruitcake. Salmon & Mint in Crispy Grape Leaves This is an unusual fish dish for this time of the year but it's one of my favorites. Serve it on a mound of couscous mixed with orzo -- a new combo for me.  I invented it this morning!  Add a side dish of tiny roasted Brussels sprouts with a drizzle of walnut oil, sea salt and lemon zest.  What to drink?  Open a great bottle of pinot noir from Oregon or France, depending on your mood. This recipe is easily doubled, or tripled, and so is quite desirable for a holiday menu.

1/2 cup crème fraîche (I love the one from Vermont Creamery) 1 small garlic clove 4 thick salmon fillets, 7 ounces each, skin removed 2 medium bunches fresh mint 8 large grape leaves in brine, rinsed and dried 3 tablespoons olive oil

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Mix the crème fraîche with the garlic, pushed through a press. Add salt to taste. Season the fish with salt and pepper. Top each fillet with 6 mint leaves. Wrap each piece of fish tightly in 2 overlapping grape leaves, tucking in the ends as you go. Heat the oil in a large nonstick skillet. Add the packets and cook over high heat until crispy, 2 minutes on each side. Transfer the fish to a rimmed baking sheet and scatter with mint sprigs. Bake 8 minutes, until the fish is just firm. Serve with the crème fraîche and crispy mint. Drizzle with additional oil, if desired. Serves 4

Win a Signed Copy of Radically Simple: Brilliant Flavors with Breathtaking Ease!

radically-simple5Welcome to this year's holiday contest!  I encourage everyone to enter to win a signed copy of Radically Simple: Brilliant Flavors with Breathtaking Ease -- named one of the most important cookbooks of the past 25 years by Cooking Light magazine and voted one of the best cookbooks (2010) by the New York Times.  You will find the recipes most helpful this time of the year -- as each exemplifies delicious abundance without the burden.  Proof?  Every one of the book's 325 recipes' procedures is expressed in 140 words or less! Some of my holiday favorites?  Broccoli Soup with Lemon-Pistachio Butter, Riso in bianco with Shrimp Scampi, 500-degree Cod with Macadamia Butter & Radicchio,  Short Rigatoni with Cauliflower, Anchovies & Golden Raisins, Filet of Beef with Wasabi-Garlic Cream, Coconut-Espresso Creme Caramel, All Chocolate Velvet Tart.  My Walnut-Onion Muffins (baked in tiny tins) make a fabulous hors d'oeuvres to accompany champagne.

Do you have any radically simple holiday recipes you'd like to share?  Good luck!  Happy holidays.

HOW TO ENTER: Leave me a message  in the comment section below telling me your favorite holiday dish.

Bonus entries: 1) Share on Facebook and leave a separate comment here letting me know you've done so.

2) Share on Twitter and leave a separate comment here letting me know you've done so.

The contest is open until December 21st. The winner will be chosen randomly and announced here and on my Facebook page.

Cooking Light Bonanza

This month's double anniversary issue of Cooking Light magazine (November 2012) looked good enough to eat.  The headlines, scattered all over the chocolate-hued cover, were obviously meant to delight.  "The Best Fast Meals Ever," "Best Recipes of Our First 25 Years," "The Most Delicious Desserts" and more.  Hard not to fall in love. I write a column for Cooking Light called Radically Simple and in this edition are three stunning starters meant expressly for your Thanksgiving table.  There's a tri-colore salad (endive, watercress, radicchio) with an addictive bacon-cider-maple dressing; a creamy pumpkin-red pepper soup thickened with sweet potato and perfumed with five-spice powder and rosemary, and phyllo cups filled with ricotta, chèvre and fresh thyme.  Looks like you cooked all week.  Yet the recipes, in keeping with the column's intention, are radically simple to prepare. But this special issue has had me devouring each of its 296 pages and  inspiring me to cook so many OPR!  (Other People's Recipes!)  Want an idea?  There's Creamy Lobster Pappardelle, Cavatappi with Browned Brussels Sprouts and Buttery Breadcrumbs, Scallion Pancakes with Korean Dipping Sauce, Fiery Chicken Thighs with Persian Rice, Soy-Citrus Scallops with Soba Noodles, and Fresh Ginger Cake with Candied Citrus Glaze,

And I was totally wowed by the food of 13-year old Flynn McGarry, the culinary avatar to the mesmerizing talents of pianist Lang Lang when he was of a similar age.

To the list of most important Italian cookbooks of the last 25 years, however, I would stand up and add the delicious and encyclopedic tome Naples at Table, written by renowned Italian cooking expert, historian and teacher, Arthur Schwartz.

Best of all (and I love to learn new things every day), was a word I stumbled upon in the ingredient list for a winter citrus-and-escarole salad.  In the spirit of full disclosure, I had never heard the word before!  Pomegranate arils!   Apparently, it's a popular crossword puzzle word.  Look it up!

Here's my recipe for Creamy Pumpkin-Red Pepper Soup.  Enjoy. Creamy Pumpkin-Red Pepper Soup Hands-on time: 30 min. Total time: 60 min.

The soup can be topped with a variety of things: I love Parmigiano-Reggiano and rosemary, but savory sprinkles like chopped smoked almonds or toasted pecans would be lovely. This tastes even better the next day ... or the day after.

3 cups chopped peeled fresh pumpkin 2 1/2 cups chopped red bell pepper 1 1/2 cups chopped peeled sweet potato 1/4 cup chopped green onions 1 teaspoon five-spice powder 1 teaspoon ground cumin 2 teaspoons olive oil 1 teaspoon minced fresh garlic 3/8 teaspoon salt, divided 5 cups no-salt-added chicken stock (such as Swanson) 1 tablespoon unsalted butter 1 tablespoon rosemary leaves (optional)

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. 2. Combine first 8 ingredients in a large bowl. Sprinkle with 1/8 teaspoon salt; toss well. Place vegetable mixture in a single layer on a jelly-roll pan. Bake at 400 degrees for 30 minutes or until tender, stirring once. 3. Combine vegetables, stock, and remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt in a large saucepan; bring to a boil. Reduce heat; simmer 5 minutes. Place half of vegetable mixture in a blender. Remove center piece of blender lid (to allow steam to escape); secure blender lid on blender. Place a clean towel over opening in blender lid (to avoid splatters). Process until smooth. Pour into a large bowl. Repeat procedure with remaining vegetable mixture. Stir in butter. Top with rosemary, if desired.

Serves 6

Win an Autographed Copy of Radically Simple: Brilliant Flavors with Breathtaking Ease

Radically Simple: Brilliant Flavors with Breathtaking Ease might be most useful in the summer months, so here's a way for someone to get an autographed copy. One lucky winner will be randomly chosen on Monday, July 23.  Here's how you can enter:

1) Comment below letting me know what your favorite summer "go to" recipe or meal is.  If you'd like to share a recipe, so much the better.

2) For an extra entry share this post on Facebook or Twitter and comment letting me know that you have done so.

A few quotes about Radically Simple:

"Chosen as one of the most important cookbooks of the past 25 years." -- Cooking Light Magazine

"Gold’s global palate and talent for distilling a dish’s essentials put her in a Minimal(ist) league of her own."--Christine Muhlke, New York Times

"Rozanne Gold is the personal trainer of food writers. She wrings stylish, streamlined, fabulous results with inspired combinations."--Julia Moskin, New York Times

Here are a few recipes for a wonderful summer meal:

Cucumber-Coconut Bisque This is incredibly refreshing and lasts, surprisingly, up to 5 days in the fridge. Even kids love it. Make sure all the ingredients are icy cold before assembling.

2 large cucumbers, peeled 1 1/2 cups plain Greek yogurt 1/2 cup coconut milk, chilled 4 scallions 1/4 cup chopped fresh mint, plus julienned mint for garnish 1 1/2 teaspoons cumin 2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for drizzling 1/3 cup finely minced red bell pepper

Cut the cucumbers in half lengthwise and scrape out the seed with a spoon. Cut the flesh into pieces and put in a blender with the yogurt and coconut milk. Sliver the dark green parts of the scallions and set aside for garnish. Chop the white and light green parts and add to the blender with the chopped mint, cumin, and oil. Process for several minutes, until smooth; add salt. Ladle into bowls. Garnish with slivered scallion greens, julienned mint, bell pepper, and a drizzle of oil. Serves 4

Grilled Tuna with Lemony Tahina, Greens & Pomegranate Seeds This dish is made with both fresh cilantro and ground coriander seed. The first perfumes the fragrant tahina sauce; the latter contributes its aroma to the fish.

1/2 cup tahina 1/3 cup fresh lemon juice 1 medium garlic clove 1/2 cup chopped cilantro 5 tablespoons olive oil 4 thick tuna steaks, 6 ounces each 2 tablespoons ground coriander 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin 4 ounces mesclun 1/3 cup pomegranate seeds

Combine the tahina, lemon juice, garlic, and cilantro in a food processor. Process, slowly adding 1/2 to 2/3 cup cold water, until smooth and thick. Add salt and pepper. Drizzle 3 tablespoons of the oil all over the tuna steaks and season with salt. Mix the coriander and cumin on a plate; rub into the fish. Heat a ridged cast-iron grill pan over high heat. Sear the tuna 2 minutes on each side. Keep the tuna very rare. Toss the mesclun with the remaining 2 tablespoons oil. Add salt and divide among 4 plates. Place the tuna on the greens. Pour the tahina sauce over the fish and scatter with the pomegranate seeds. Serves 4

Orange Flower Strawberries & Mint Sugar While this recipe can be made all year long, it is sensational right now -- when berries are at their peak.

2 pints very ripe strawberries, hulled and halved 1/2 teaspoon orange flower water 6 tablespoons granulated sugar 1/4 cup coarsely chopped fresh well-dried mint leaves 1/2 cup crème fraîche 2 tablespoons confectioners' sugar

Toss the berries with the orange flower water and 1 tablespoon of the granulated sugar. Put the remaining 5 tablespoons granulated sugar and mint in a food processor and process until incorporated. Divide the berried among 4 glasses and sprinkle with the mint sugar. Combine the crème fraîche with the confectioners' sugar and dollop on top. Serves 4

One Pea Pod/Scallops and Pea Puree

What did I have for lunch yesterday?  One perfect pea pod.  No kidding.  I was rushing like crazy and forgot to eat lunch.  I was at my favorite stand at the Union Square Farmer's Market buying micro-greens, edible flowers, pink-stemmed buckwheat sprouts, and more.  Windfall Farms carries "boutique" produce unlike any other and that's where all the photo/prop/food styling folks go.  Including me...and I have a photo shoot for Lenox China coming up.  Anyway, I was also thirsty and the nice farmer said, "here, eat a pea pod."  In one fell swoop, I tasted early summer...I felt satisfied...and my thirst was quenched. That's it. A pea pod bursting with tiny fresh peas.  The essence. Nothing more. As promised yesterday on my Facebook page, I present the recipe that got a surprise rave from cooking maestro Arthur Schwartz who said he made my "Seared Scallops on Sweet Pea Puree" from Radically Simple: Brilliant Flavors with Breathtaking Ease.  He said "be mindful when browning the scallops," but he also said that the timing was perfect and that it was delicious.  I think he added a burst of fresh lemon juice and so may you. I hope you enjoy it as much as Arthur and his guest did.

This dish is an adaptation of one of the most beloved recipes from my original Recipes 1-2-3, but I've updated it with dry vermouth and a garnish of trendy pea shoots. It is a dish for any time of the year because frozen peas, always available, provide the base of the lovely buttery puree, but I suggest you try it soon with super-fresh peas from the farmers market.  If using fresh peas, shell enough peas (from their pods) to get about 1-1/2 cups and follow the recipe, cooking the peas as long as needed to get tender but still bright green.

Seared Scallops on Sweet Pea Puree Get the best freshest scallops available.  Make sure they haven't been "dipped" in a solution or you will have difficulty browning them.

10 ounces frozen petits pois, thawed 4 tablespoons unsalted butter 20 medium-large sea scallops 3 tablespoons dry vermouth handful of pea shoots, mache, or microgreens

Put the peas in a saucepan with water to just cover. Bring to a boil and boil 2 minutes (longer if using fresh peas.) Drain well and save 6 tablespoons cooking water. Put the peas, 2 tablespoons of the butter, and the reserved cooking water in a blender.  Puree until very smooth and thick.  Add salt and pepper.  Return to the saucepan and keep warm.   Melt 1 tablespoon of the butter in a large skillet.  Season the scallops and add to the pan.  Sear over high heat 2 minutes per side until golden and just cooked through.  Spread the warm pea puree in the centers of 4 large warm plates.  Arrange the scallops on the puree.  Add the vermouth and remaining 1 tablespoon butter to the pan. Cook over high heat until syrupy, about 30 seconds.  Pour over the scallops and top with pea shoots.  Serves 4

Give peas a chance.  Enjoy!

A Radically Delicious Recipe: Why Not Grill a Salad?

Grilled Romaine & Roma Tomatoes with Parmesan VinaigretteThis might be the perfect weekend to rev up your barbecue skills. All you need are some juicy thick steaks to complete the meal and serve them with my green "magic sauce" below -- its a vibrant salsa verde that is as easy to make as it is addictive. The salad takes only a few minutes on the grill until the lettuce and tomoatoes slightly blacken, imparting a desirable smoky taste and tender texture. Fresh oregano is a must. Follow with an offering of gorgonzola dolce and sweet grapes. Grill some marshmallows and drizzle with a little balsamic vinegar. No one has ever done that before!

3 very large romaine hearts 6 large ripe plum (Roma) tomatoes 2/3 cup olive oil, plus more for brushing 3/4 cup freshly-grated Parmigiano Reggiano 1 large clove garlic 2 tablespoons freshly-squeezed lemon juice 1 teaspoon white balsamic vinegar 3 flat anchovies in oil 3 tablespoons fresh oregano leaves

Cut romaine in half lengthwise. Cut tomatoes in half through the stem ends. Put 2/3 cup oil in a food processor. Add 1/2 cup cheese, garlic, lemon juice, vinegar, anchovies and 1 tablespoon water. Process until smooth; add freshly ground black pepper to taste. Brush romaine and tomatoes lightly with oil. Sprinkle with salt. Grill over medium heat 1-1/2 to 2 minutes per side, until lightly charred. Transfer to a large platter. Drizzle with dressing and sprinkle with remaining cheese. Garnish with oregano. Serves 6

Magic Green Sauce (from Radically Simple) It takes only minutes, and four ingredients, to make this radically delicious sauce. That's magic enough, but the flavors coalesce so that even guests who don't think they like cilantro probably will.

1 cup packed cilantro leaves with a bit of their stems 1/4 cup capers plus 2 tablespoons brine 2 tablespoons chopped scallions, white part only 6 tablespoons olive oil

Combine the cilantro, capers, brine, and scallions in a food processor. Slowly add the oil and 2 tablespoons water; process until almost smooth. Add salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Enjoy the weekend.

Radically Simple Gets Top Honors

In conjunction with the 25th anniversary of the country's most beloved food magazine, the editors at Cooking Light have established the Cooking Light Cookbook Awards. Beginning with the November 2011 issue (on newsstands now), the 100 MOST IMPORTANT COOKBOOKS of the past 25 years were chosen. Each month will unveil the top picks across 15 categories. In the first category, General Cookbooks, only nine selections were made. I am pleased as punch that Radically Simple: Brilliant Flavors with Breathtaking Ease was one of them. According to Cooking Light's editorial team, more than 50,000 cookbooks will have been published in the U.S. in past quarter-century. Their observation is that, "Cooks love books for their ability to inspire, entertain, excite, soothe, teach -- and for their beauty as physical objects. The best are thrilling, whether they're eye-opening explorations of a single subject, seminal overviews, or beautiful obsessions." Many of the ones chosen are all of the above.

The CL team looked at best-seller and awards lists, and talked to editors, authors, and experts. For consideration, books had to be published in the U.S. since 1987 and be in print or easily available on line. "Winners emerged after passionate debate about voice, originality, beauty, importance, and a clear mission or vision." And yes, they went on to say, "We tested the recipes."

Other choices in the category include:  Martha Stewart's Cooking School (Lessons and Recipes for the Home Cook); The Essential New York Times Cookbook by Amanda Hesser (which is on my shelf next to Craig Claiborne's cherished blue-linen bound edition written in 1961); Real Cooking by Nigel Slater (an original voice if there ever was one); Gourmet Today (edited by Ruth Reichl); Cook with Jamie:  My Guide to Making You A Better Cook, by Jamie Oliver; The New Best Recipe (by the editors of Cook's Illustrated); Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything; and Ad Hoc at Home by Thomas Keller.

In addition to the personal and insightful write-ups of each book, are a few specially selected recipes, which makes this double issue of Cooking Light, especially magical.

Of Radically Simple, here are some highlights: "This is one of those books that make you want to leap up and start cooking." "This book importantly elevates the quick-and-simple concept to a new level, becoming a benchmark."

Next month?  Baking.

With heartfelt thanks to Cooking Light and to my readers who dare to be radically simple.

Tastes of the Week

October 16 through October 23, 2011 This past week was an embarrassment of riches at the table. And while I really like eating home best, there is nothing quite like sharing an excellent meal with a friend. At lunch, three hours seems to be the golden rule for maximum pleasure. Dinner is nothing short of four. This is a luxury for me but one that I love. We have a little joke, my husband and me. When I call late at night to check in and say hi (or good-night as the case may be), his first question is always, "Have you ordered yet?" We always laugh. Yes, Michael, I reply. "I'm on the way home."

For a nice mid-afternoon Sunday lunch for my brother and a dear friend who is an eminent food writer for Newsday, I prepared a radically simple meal of Chilled Beet Soup with Creme Fraiche and Lemon Zest, and, my "go to" recipe for Pork Loin in Cream with Tomatoes, Sage and Gin, accompanied by a potato gratin. Dessert? A new one for me -- a lemon tart from Thomas Keller. I swapped walnuts for the pine nuts in the ethereal crust and it worked!  (Check out Radically Simple for my recipes and go to Epicurious for the Keller lemon tart.) I served the tart with a small cookie made from extra crust, topped with a tiny scoop of my lemon buttermilk ice cream (only 3 ingredients!)

A celebratory feast at the Taj Pierre Hotel in New York for the launch of a remarkable book "The Taj at Apollo Bunder." Hundreds of guests, thousands of orchids and festival lights to honor Diwali -- an important Hindu holiday. Amazing Indian and southeast Asian things to eat which I will describe at length in another post.

Dinner at Del Posto with my wonderful young cousin Josh Rovner who is the head of training in revenue management for Hilton. He loves to eat in four-star restaurants and we chose the crown jewel in the Bastianich-Batali kingdom. Here's the menu cooked by chef Mark Ladner:  Abalone Carpaccio with Grilled Asparagus & Young Ramps; Spaghetti with Dungeness Crab, Jalapeno & Minced Scallion: Yesterday's 100-layer Lasagne alla Piastra; Young Lamb alla Romana, Garlic Yogurt with Ceci & Swiss Chard Ragu; Sardinian Lamb & Roman Artichokes, Bruised Mint & Saffron Potatoes; Sour Apricot & Toasted Cashew Coppettina, Sfera di Caprino with celery, fig agrodolce & celery sorbetto; Sunchoke crema with gelato al lievito. What can I say? Worth it. Unexpected visits from Lidia Bastianich and also Joe. Drank their wine.

Lunch at rooftop at Eataly at La Birreria on a very sunny but slightly chilly afternoon. Their space heaters really work but bring a sweater or a pashmina anyway. My favorite new lunch: Whole roasted Maiitake mushrooms with Pecorino Sardo crema, asparagus and peas;  a salad of chopped mixed kale, grapefruit, poppy seed frico with anchovy vinaigrette; and nubby, fatty, divine housemade cotechino with their signature coarsely-cut kraut. Doppio espresso.

Brunch at Barbounia with psychoanalyst friend (specializes in teenage girls -- very helpful because we have one!). This has got to be the hippest, happening brunch in town, especially on a Saturday. Everything looked so good! You can linger for four hours (like we did!) over a mountain of mezze but the green shakshuka, the 1-inch high pancakes, the gigantic fresh salads all looked fabulous. Please save room for the kadayifi dessert -- layered with warm cheese, rose water syrup and kulfi ice cream. Oh my gosh.

Village Zendo --  cocktail reception with lovely southeast Asian offerings by the Communal Table catering ( -- to learn about the efforts of Michael Daube, director of Citta -- an organization that builds schools, hospitals and orphanages in the poorest areas of the world including Nepal, India and Chiapas (  Talks, slides and lovely photos of the children in Nepal waiting for a school to be built. Bought an ebulllient drawing by 8-year old Tenzin Thiley who looks like a happy, handsome kid.

Dinner at Paros -- a new Greek restaurant in Park Slope. Good place for a bottle of Greek wine (a new-to-me delicious dry red -- Naoussa Chrisohoou 2008) and a salad. Wonderful waiters, even Saturday night Greek music and a lovely singer. Read between the lines.

A late-afternoon coffee at Nespresso Boutique in Soho (92 Prince St.) -- a great place to crash with comfortable tables and chairs. Good espresso but the latte machiatto really looked fabulous.

Dinner tonight at the Duffy's -- with Susy Davidson, the executive director of the Julia Child Foundation, and a few wonderful friends -- old and new. It's a pot luck and we're all bringing something. More about that next week.

May your coming week be full of good taste (and tastes.)

What to Buy at the Farmer's Market

One of life's greatest pleasures, anywhere in the world, is to go to a local farmer's market. My life straddles two of them -- the bustling Union Square market on Wednesday morning and the slightly more intimate market at Grand Army Plaza in Park Slope, Brooklyn on Saturday. At this time of the year, it is as though someone flipped the switch as the smells, energy and variety of nature's bounty deepens and expands. The color of "fresh" seems to pulsate and I tenderly look for what was not there the week before.  The semaphores of the season alert me as to what to cook for dinner. I like the idea of being a seasonalist -- and fondly remember the excitement generated around the idea of cuisine du marché (cooking from the market) first popularized by Paul Bocuse in 1976 with his book "La Cuisine du Marché. But several years earlier, the American cooking teacher Perla Meyers, wrote a book we all loved (even before most of us had farmer's markets in our own zip codes!) called "The Seasonal Kitchen" in 1973!

So... this coming week, consider fleshy purple scallions (a wonderful garnish or lovely to sauté with peas), fresh peas!, petit ripe strawberries (small compared to what you get in the supermarket), fresh chamomile! (I infuse it in vodka), nasturtium flowers and leaves (superb in any salad), six different colors of slender carrots, crisp asparagus, and from Windfall Farms (my favorite place), flowering pea shoots (with a tiny purple flower) that I chop up and throw in consommé (Chinese style) or lightly sauté with garlic as a bed for roasted halibut. There are radishes for spreading with sweet butter and roasting and serving with one of the local nutty, sharp cheeses or creamier goat cheeses. I slipped the peas from several pounds of fresh peas today. It was quite meditative. I thought about the lecture I went to several weeks ago at the World Science Festival in New York about the "brain and the articulate hand." This is what I thought about, pod by pod.

Do consider making my Seared Scallops on Sweet Pea Puree this weekend -- and make it with fresh peas. It comes from Radically Simple and it is. Or try my Campanelle with Caramelized Onions, Peas & Mint. There's lots of mint at the market, too! End with a basket full of berries topped with sweetened crème fraiche and snippets of lemon verbena. Campanelle with Caramelized Onions, Peas & Mint This is an exuberant way to dress up any short pasta.  Thai fish sauce adds a does of umami...and intrigue.  Use fresh peas!

4 large yellow onions, about 1-1/2 pounds 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil 12 ounces uncooked campanelle or penne rigati 1 cup shelled fresh peas 3 tablespoons white balsamic vinegar 1 tablespoon Thai fish sauce 1 cup coarsely chopped fresh mint 1/3 cup freshly-grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, plus a 2-ounce piece

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.  Cut the onions in half through the roots.  Place cut side down on a board. Thinly slice lengthwise (not into half-circles.) Heat the oil in a very large skillet.  Add the onions and cook over high heat, stirring, until dark brown, about 15 minutes.  Meanwhile, cook the pasta in boiling water for 5 minutes.  Add the peas and cook 7 minutes longer.  Drain well, saving 1/2 cup cooking liquid.  Add the vinegar and fish sauce to the onions and cook 2 minutes.  Add the drained pasta and peas, reserved cooking water, mint and grated cheese.  Cook 2 minutes until hot.  Add salt and pepper.  Serve in warm bowl, use a vegetable peeler to shave shards of cheese on top.  Serves 4 to 6

Wow, Thanks!

Okay, so once in a while I look at my Amazon reviews.  To date there are 45 reviews for Radically Simple with an average just short of five stars.  And honestly, I don't know more than three of the people who wrote the reviews.  But just this morning (and it's still very early), I gazed upon a review written by someone I want to know!  Written on May 20, 2011, and titled, "Great Weeknight Cookbook," it goes as follows: "I am a grad student, wife, new mom, and teacher so my days are pretty packed but cooking dinner is very important to me.  This cookbook gets five stars because it has so many delicious recipes that can be easily prepared on busy weeknights.  The cookbook also gets five stars because I am a foodie and want to prepare meals that taste complex and are different from the standard fare.  The Poulet au Creme Fraiche in particular was super delicious.  I have made many chicken recipes that call for some variation of cream and mustard, but never had I made chicken that came out so moist and with the skin so crisp and wonderful.  There are a few recipes that call for spice mixtures such as ras el hanout and za'atar and I think these recipes are what some reviewers are complaining about when they say some ingredients are hard to find.  But in reality they are easy to make oneself with spices that normally can be found in a supermarket, buy on-line, or if you live somewhere big enough for a spice shop or international store just buy in person.  I live in a very small town and these spices are always in my pantry.  UPDATE:  I just made the Perciatelli with French Breakfast Radishes, Bacon and Greens.  This was soooooo good, this recipe alone makes the book 5 stars and a must have." 

With many thanks to AnthroWA, she's some busy lady, for taking the time to write a review, and for taking the time to "cook the book."   I haven't made the chicken for awhile so guess what I'm cooking tonight?  And tomorrow?  (Answer: Perciatelli). Poulet au Creme Fraiche (adapted from Radically Simple) Super succulent!  My favorite accompaniments are steamed basmati rice to sop up the juices and a simple salad of watercress and orange dressed with walnut oil.

1 cup creme fraiche 1/4 cup strong French Dijon mustard 1 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves, plus more for garnish 1 large garlic clove 3-1/2-pound chicken, cut into 8 pieces

Stir together the creme fraiche and mustard in a large bowl.  Add the thyme, garlic pushed through a press, and 1 teaspoon salt.  Add the chicken and mix well.  Set aside at room temperature for 2 hours or up to 6 hours in the refrigerator.  Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Transfer the chicken, with some of the marinade still clinging, to a rimmed baking sheet.  Roast for 45 minutes, until golden and cooked through.  Serve sprinkled with thyme.  Serves 4

Edible Manhattan & Edible Brooklyn

It is always fabulous to win anything.  But sometimes being nominated is just as good.  Last night at the James Beard Awards, the real thrill came from being in the company of David Tanis' cookbook Heart of the Artichoke and Amanda Hesser's New York Times Cookbook.  I am a huge fan of David's (the chef at Chez Panisse who lives part of the year in Paris) and we met each other for the first time last night.  Another thrill.  But it was the New York Times cookbook that won. Another winner last night was Edible Magazine -- a community of many magazines now featured all over America.  They are beautifully designed, locally inspired, and extremely successful.   The May/June 2011 issue features a 6-page story  I saw my first issue just a few hours before the Beard awards and am now especially honored to be in this new "award-winning" mag.  Known as the Eat, Drink, Local issue called "Looking Back, Looking Forward," it features many locavore pioneers -- Peter Hoffman from Savoy restaurant, Rick Bishop ("Chef Charmer"), whose farmer's market produce is the most highly prized, and the tastemaker story about me, warmingly subtitled: "her shining palate sparked some of the city's brightest culinary trends."  Since it is the "local" issue, the story focused on my time as chef at Gracie Mansion, as the chef-consultant to the Rainbow Room and Windows on the World, and about the creation of the three-star Hudson River Club and the ensuing concept of "Hudson Valley cuisine."

I want to take a moment to personally thank Nancy Matsumoto, the writer of the story, who so rigorously wove together a 35-year career with such care, thought, and insight, and did so in her signature graceful style.  Thanks, too, to Gabrielle Langholtz, the magazine's formidable editor, whose idea it was to do it! The Edible community of magazines gives you a behind-the-scenes look at the local food culture that you won't find anywhere else.  In New York alone, there is Edible Manhattan, Edible Brooklyn and Edible Eastend.  Talk about niche food passions!   I, for one, am running to the farmer's market up the street from my house -- at Grand Army Plaza -- on this spectacular morning, to celebrate the bounty of New York and the joy of all things edible. Will you be there?

Award-Winning Veal Chops

This Friday night marks the much-anticipated James Beard Awards for television, media, and books!  Radically Simple: Brilliant Flavors with Breathtaking Ease is nominated for best cookbook in the general cooking category.  I am honored and delighted and look forward to sharing the evening with many friends in the food world (a world that may also reach 1 billion people in the next few years -- thanks to the Internet!)  The philosophy of the book, in case you didn't know, is to bring simply elegant "restaurant food" to the home cook in 140 words or less.  Each recipe reflects a balance of time, ease of preparation, and number of ingredients.  As with all my books (this is the 12th), superlative ingredients are the hallmark of each dish, and simplicity is key.  As a professional chef for more than 30 years (yikes!), I bring a bit of "chef thinking" to each dish and help you discreetly combine interesting new flavors and techniques. In today's food section of the New York Times is a dish that prompted me to share one of my radically simple dishes with you.  As a fan of Melissa Clark, who writes the column "A Good Appetite," I was attracted to a recipe for lamb chops with capers, anchovies and sage.  It's stunning simplicity -- with its whole leaf of fresh sage encrusted on top -- had me immediately turn to my own "Veal Chops with Sage Butter, Sunflower Seeds & Beet Drizzle."   Although I don't make veal very often at home (there are four veal recipes in the book), I do on occasion, splurge and enjoy.  This is one recipe I know you will, too.  Served with a side dish of sauteed peppers with golden raisins and arugula, it is a study in nature's own color palate.

Veal chops, below.  For the side dish, you might want to buy the book!  (smile).   Big thick veal chops became the sine qua non of chic in the early 1980's on the upper east side and in some of the city's more swank Italian restaurants.  For those of you who remember Hoexter's Market, it was their 2-inch thick juicy grilled veal chop that was all-the-rage (ditto their garlic bread covered with gorgonzola sauce.)  It makes me hunger for the good old days -- when James Beard could still be found eating in some of the city's best.

Veal Chops with Sage Butter, Sunflower Seeds & Beet Drizzle

3/4 cup chopped canned beets 2 tablespoons white balsamic vinegar 4 tablespoons olive oil 4 thick loin veal chops, about 9 ounces each 3 tablespoons unsalted butter 12 large fresh sage leaves 1/4 cup toasted sunflower seeds

Place the beets, 1 tablespoon vinegar, 3 tablespoons of the olive oil, and 1/4 cup water in a food processor.  Process until very smooth.  Set aside.  Season the chops with salt and pepper.  Heat the butter and the remaining 1 tablespoon oil in a skillet large enough to hold the chops in one layer.  Sear the chops over high heat until browned on one side, about 4 minutes.  Place 3 sage leaves on the uncooked side of each chop and turn over.  Cook over high heat until browned on the second side, 3 to 4 minutes longer.  Add the remaining 1 tablespoon vinegar to the pan and cook 15 seconds.  Transfer the chops and pan juices to plates.  Serve chops, sage-side up, sprinkled with sunflower seeds and drizzled with beet dressing.   Serves 4

Radically Simple Wins Nomination!

My newest book Radically Simple: Brilliant Flavors with Breathtaking Ease was nominated for a coveted James Beard Award yesterday.  The book, my 12th, was published by Rodale late October 2010 and has garnered lots of wonderful attention.  It was chosen by People magazine, Food & Wine magazine, Good Morning America, and the New York Times as one of the best cookbooks of the year.  My favorite mention of all, however, was in the New York Times holiday book review, when the writer, Christine Muhlke (now the new editor of Bon Appetit) likened my work to that of Rene Redzepi (this year's #1 chef in the world -- owner of Noma restaurant and author of the Noma Cookbook).   The James Beard Awards are considered the "Oscars" of the food world and I'm honored to have received four of them.  Three for my cookbooks -- Little Meals, Recipes 1-2-3, and Entertaining 1-2-3 (Healthy 1-2-3 was nominated) -- and one award for a recent radio show that I did with Leonard Lopate on WNYC called "The 3-Ingredient Challenge."   This year, Radically Simple was nominated in the general cooking category along with The New York Times Cookbook by Amanda Hesser and The Heart of the Artichoke by David Tanis.  Both wonderful books.  The Awards ceremony takes place on May 6th.  Stay tuned.  But as they say in Hollywood,"win or not, it's great to be nominated."   Thank you to everyone who made it possible.

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!

Fab Time at Whole Foods

Last night I taught a cooking class at Whole Foods on the Bowery -- the home of a wonderfully compact, but ample, Culinary Center -- equipped with most anything a cook could want (more about that later) and two amazing assistants, Wai Chu and Min Liao.  Wai is an accomplished chef who wrote the definitive book on Asian dumplings, and Min, too, knows her way around a kitchen better than most.  I don't teach often -- after 12 books -- and many such lessons, I choose one venue when a new book comes out.  This time the class was based on Radically Simple: Brilliant Flavors with Breathtaking Ease -- the goal was to demonstrate how restaurant-quality food could be made simply at home -- and in 140 words or fewer!   But as such experiences go, I made a 6-course dinner for a sold-out crowd -- 25 in all, including the lovely person from "Mobile Libris" who came to sell books. I arrived at Whole Foods at 3:45 p.m. and got home at 9:45 p.m.

The menu?  First we played a guessing game.  I made two recipes that I challenged the students to describe.  One was my za'atar pesto into which lavash chips and grape tomatoes were dipped.  One woman guessed (almost).  The second was an intriguing soup based on tomato-vegetable juice with an ample amount of anisette and a soupçon of Thai fish sauce.  It was topped with lightly salted whipped cream and snippets of fresh tarragon.  Everyone loved it and were delighted to learn it can be made in five minutes.  Dinner followed from there:  Chilled Beet Soup with Crème fraiche and Lemon Zest, Tiradito (Peruvian-style sashimi) with a whole lemon-garlic dressing, Scallops on Sweet Pea Puree (with a brown butter-dry vermouth reduction), Salmon with Lime Leaves on Poppy Rice (with coconut-sake sauce and curry oil), Chicken "ras el hanout" with tomato- ginger chutney, and my "little black dress" flourless chocolate cake -- made in five minutes (and only 18 minutes to bake.)   Yep, and it was all radically simple to do.

However, missing items that evening were a standard size food processor and...regular olive oil.  It seems as though Whole Foods carries only extra-virgin olive oil. Curious, I thought, but it is simply not correct to use extra virgin olive oil for everything.  In some recipes, I had to dilute the extra virgin stuff with canola oil (which I never do!) to avoid ruining the taste.  Extra virgin olive oil is not recommended for cooking over high heat and it is far too rich in flavor for several of the more subtle dishes.   And.......I schlepped my food processor from home.

Hope you enjoy the chicken. Everyone did!

Chicken "Ras el Hanout" with Tomato-Ginger Chutney

Juicy and aromatic, this cooks up in no time.  Ras el hanout is a complex, burnt umber-colored spice mixture from Morocco; you may substitute garam masala.

4 very large skinless boneless chicken thighs 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil 1-1/2 tablespons ras el janout 3 large ripe tomatoes, about 1 pound 1-1/2 tablespoons dark brown sugar 2 large garlic cloves, chopped 1-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and chopped 1/2 small scotch bonnet pepper 1 teaspoon ground cumin

Preheat the broiler or a ridge stovetop grill pan.  Pound the chicken slightly to flatten so that each thigh lies flat.  Place in a large bowl and add the oil, ras el hanout, and 1 teaspoon salt.  Toss to coat.  Broil or grill the chicken for 4 minutes on each side, until just cooked through.  Cut the tomatoes in chunks and put in food processor with the brown sugar, garlic, ginger, scotch bonnet, and cumin.  Pulse until coarsely chopped.  Add salt to taste and serve atop the hot chicken.  Serves 4

The Hummus Factor

Pronounced most properly as "who-mousse" (not hum-muss), this now ubiquitous chickpea spread landed as number six on Google's most frequent recipe search.  Yet, a recent article in The Jewish Week stated that 82% of Americans have never tried it.  Huh?  Statistically then, hummus recipes are voraciously desired by a rather small universe.   According to Amy Spiro, who wrote the story, in 1995 hummus was a $5 million industry with just a handful of companies manufacturing it.  Today sales have reached $350 million a year.  Maybe the universe for delicious dips is expanding. I have always loved hummus.  During 10 visits to the Middle East since 1980, I have pursued the best and most authentic.  I am generally surprised how thick and ultra-suave the texture is (mine never quite gets that way).  Hummus is a chickpea puree flavored with tahini (sesame seed paste), fresh lemon, garlic and cumin.  Cold water is generally added to help emulsify the ingredients and loosen the sesame paste.  There are as many versions as there are characters in a Tolstoy play: I love it served warm and topped with toasted walnuts and dukkah (a spice blend from Egypt); served cold with spicy warm ground lamb; topped with zhug (a very spicy Yemenite condiment) and a hard-boiled egg, or just as is with a sprinkling of pine nuts and a pile of toasted pita.  In my new book Radically Simple, I saute a mess of wild mushrooms and pile them atop a mound of lemony hummus as a great first course for the vegetarians I know and love.  Hummus, is also my "go to" improv hors d'oeuvre for any last-minute guests.  And although hummus is most delicious made with dried chickpeas you cook yourself, it is perfectly credible made with canned chickpeas:  They are always in my pantry.

Generally considered a dip, hummus has become a most universal food:  It is breakfast for some, a wholesome lunch for others.  It can be a snack, a sandwich spread, something with which to fill cherry tomatoes, an edible bed for grilled chicken or fish.  I like to sneak a mound of hummus under a hillock of lightly-dressed greens for fun.  Look, surprise, hummus!

Here's my favorite recipe adapted slightly from Little Meals: A Great New Way to Eat & Cook (written by me in 1993.) Hummus Serve with a pile of toasted pita bread or with a grand array of fresh vegetables for dipping.  The recipe is easily doubled and tripled and lasts several days in your fridge.

1-1/2 cups freshly cooked chickpeas (or a 15-ounce can) 3 to 4 tablespoons freshly-squeezed lemon juice 3 tablespoons tahini (well-stirred) 1 medium clove garlic 2 to 3 tablespoons cold water 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin 1/2 teaspoon salt extra-virgin olive oil for drizzling optional: toasted sesame seeds and smoked paprika for dusting on top

If using canned chickpeas, drain them under cold water and shake dry.  Put chickpeas, 3 tablespoons lemon juice, tahini, garlic, 2 tablespoons water, cumin and salt in a food processor and process several minutes until very smooth.  Add more lemon juice if desired and a little more water to make a smooth consistency, if necessary.  Pack into a shallow dish or spread the hummus on a large plate.  Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with sesame seeds and smoked paprika, if using.  Makes 1-1/2 cups

Highlights and Food Bites 2010

So it's three nights to the last day of 2010, and what a year it's been.  Professionally speaking, I published my 12th cookbook Radically Simple (no simple task), wrote numerous articles for Real Food magazine and Bon Appetit; finished the arrangements for the procurement of the Gourmet magazine library and its donation to New York University (in honor of my mother); made a book deal for a close friend, mentored several young women and men in and out, of the industry (one great restaurant cook became a chef for Dean & DeLuca; one young woman working for a food website decided to get her masters in library science instead), continued my responsibilities as culinary consultant to the international consulting group, the Joseph Baum & Michael Whiteman Co., appeared on many national radio programs, and started to blog and tweet! Those are some highlights.

But the real highlights are the personal ones:  an overdue trip to Israel to visit a longtime friend who was chief-of-staff to Prime Minister Begin (I met him when I was chef to Mayor Koch in 1978!); continuing my weekly work as a hospice volunteer (having the privilege of spending time with Frank McCourt before he died), going on several spiritual retreats at the Garrison Institute, ushering my 14-year old daughter to a Justin Bieber concert and waiting 7 hours in the parking lot; ushering that same daughter into 9th grade, making several wonderful new friendships (one with a neighbor who was Bruce Springsteen's manager, who later wrote the definitive book on the Beatles), strengthening old relationships, learning to meditate (I'm a real beginner), having a holiday meal with my son, Jeremy, at Oceana, hanging out with my brother and his wife in Hoboken (and passing big lines for the Cake Boss on the way to his house), cooking for more friends at home, and celebrating my 23rd wedding anniversary with my own personal cake boss, Michael Whiteman.

And then there are the restaurant highlights:  going on a triptych of clandestine dining reviews with two of New York's best critics, having an amazing meal in Israel in a tiny restaurant near the market in Jerusalem called Mahane Yehuda, enjoying weekly breakfasts at L'Express and monthly lunches at Barbounia, exciting meals (or dishes) at Oceana, the Standard Grill, 11 Madison, the Breslin, Roberta's, Lincoln, Van Daag, Zuma in Miami, and even more exciting meals at friends homes including Anne Kabo (in Margate, New Jersey), the second Thanksgiving at the home of Katherine and Alan Miller (in Bethesda), the third Thanksgiving at the home of Geoffrey and Noa Weill, a Passover extravaganza at the home of Robin Shinder and family, a radically simple, yet delicious dinner at the Omskys, and a marvelous meal at the home of Debbie and Larry Freundlich with the legendary editor Judith Jones as a guest.

But hands-down the restaurant highlight of the year for me is...ABC Kitchen at ABC Home in New York City.  Kudos to Jean-Georges' Vongerichten whose brainchild it was to support a sustainable, green, locavore mission in the most sophisticated way imaginable, and to his awesomely talented executive chef, Dan Kluger.  May Dan get all the attention he deserves in 2011.  More kudos to Paulette Cole and Amy Chender (CEO and COO of ABC Home) whose vision and passion made it possible to do it.

Best dishes of 2010?  Well, that's a blog for another day.

One for the Table: food, politics & love

I am new to the world of blogs and bloggers and rely on the kindness of strangers to send me reviews (of my work) or interesting articles on meaningful topics. Just this morning I was sent this missive from Lisa Dinsmore, an editor of the brilliant blog called "One for the Table."  It is one of the most thoughtful reviews I've received.  It seems as though Lisa has already cooked more than 10 dishes from Radically Simple and, from the sound of it, seems very happy.  Me, too.  Lisa has a lovely way of pairing recipes and you might enjoy taking her lead as you read the review.  Her favorites so far: "Lemony Arugula & Sun-dried Tomato Salad with Smoked Mozzarella that we paired with Gold's Chicken Parmigiana, which delivered the flavors you expected but in a lighter, fresher way; Pappa al Pomodoro, a tomato, cheese and bread soup that was hearty enough to satisfy my meat-eating husband; Manchego Chicken with Prosciutto and Arugula paired with Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Dates, and Steak Tenderloin with Balsamic, Rosemary & Gorgonzola paired with White Beans, Spinach, Tomatoes & Rosemary, made our usual weeknight dinners much more special." Lisa also took a beautiful photo of my Pappa al Pomodoro -- recipe below.  It might be just the thing for Sunday supper on a cold winter night.

Pappa al Pomodoro This famously soupy dish, thickened with bread instead of pasta, is much like a pasta course--deeply satisfying and a great way to begin a meal -- or become the meal, when paired with a substantial vegetable or salad.  It's a good excuse to use your best extra-virgin olive oil, which should be drizzled on right before serving.  A tip: The best way to "chop" canned tomatoes is to use scissors to snip them right in the can.

1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling 3 large garlic cloves, thinly sliced 28-ounce can plum tomatoes in puree, chopped 2 cups chicken stock 4 ounces baguette, cut into small pieces, about 5 packed cups 1/3 cup chopped fresh basil large pinch red pepper flakes 3/4 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano or Pecorino Romano, or a mixture

Heat the oil in a 4-quart pot.  Add the garlic and cook until soft but not brown, 1 minute.  Add the tomatoes and stock; bring to a boil and cook 10 minutes over high heat.  Add the bread and cook 8 minutes, mashing with a potato masher until the ingredients are integrated and the bread is very soft.  Add the basil, pepper flakes, and salt. Cook 2 minutes longer.  Stir in 1/2 cup of the cheese.  Ladle into bowls and drizzle with more oil.  Sprinkle with the remaining 1/4 cup cheese.  Serves 4

Radically Simple Holiday Cookies

For the first time in 20 years, I had saltines in the house (the ones in that big green tin) and made the Saltine Cracker Brickle from this week's food section of the New York Times (12/15).  Not bad, actually.  Part cookie, part candy, it was made from just a handful of ingredients.  Such is the magic of butter, sugar and chocolate.  The paucity of ingredients had me thinking about the cookies and confections I've created during the past two (saltine-free) decades!   Some people are grateful for the three-ingredient gluten-free cookies I invented using roasted chickpea flour; beg for the little sandwich cookies made with Nutella; crave the simplicity of cinnamon crisps made, unexpectedly, from wonton wrappers; are intrigued by the cookies made from halvah, and charmed by the notion of "Cookies While You Sleep"-- crisp meringues that look like small snowdrifts.   These are little gifts from "me to you," so that they can be "from you to yours."   Maybe it's time to buy a nice big cookie jar.  (The big green Saltine tin would also work!)  Here are two favorites, but stay tuned for more!

Chickpea Flour Shortbread I first became familiar with chickpea flour in the south of France where I attended a cooking school run by Roger Verge.  It is the essential ingredient used for making socca, an indigenous pizza-like snack, thin and pliable, and blackened from wood-fired ovens.  This flour is also used for making fournade, a simple soup from Burgundy, and for panelle, little chickpea flour pancakes, familiar in the south of Italy.  I became so enamored with the stuff that I started experimenting and created this addictive little cookie, perfect for gluten-free diets.  Roasted chickpea flour can be found in Middle Eastern food markets and health food stores.  Plain (unroasted) can also be used. Instead of sprinkling them with powdered sugar at the end, you can dust them with multi-colored granulated sugar for a "holiday look."

1/2 pound unsalted butter, at room temperature 1-1/2 cups confectioners' sugar 2 cups roasted chickpea flour, plus more for dusting

Beat butter in bowl of electric mixer until light and fluffy.  Add 1 cup confectioners' sugar and pinch of salt.  Mix well.  Stir in chickpea flour and mix until dough forms a smooth ball.  Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate 30 minutes.  Preheat oven to 300 degrees.  Sprinkle pastry board lightly with chickpea flour. Roll out dough to 1/4-inch thick.  Using a cookie cutter, cut out into desired shapes (I use a fluted cookie cutter), about 1-1/2 to 2 inches in diameter.  Squares are also nice.  Prick each several times with a fork.  Place on ungreased baking sheet.  Bake 25 minutes until golden and just firm.  Let cool.  Sprinkle generously with remaining sugar pushed through a sieve. Makes about 36 cookies Sesame Seed-Olive Oil Cookies (from Radically Simple) These taste like cookies you might expect to find at an old-world Italian pastry shop.  The olive oil gives them an interesting texture and flavor.

2 cups self-rising flour 2/3 cup sugar 2 extra-large eggs 1/2 cup olive oil 2 teaspoons almond extract 2/3 cup toasted sesame seeds

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.  Line 2 rimmed baking sheets with parchment.  Combine the flour and sugar in a large bowl.  In a small bowl, whisk together the eggs, oil and extract.  Add the egg mixture to the flour mixture and stir with a wooden spoon until a smooth dough forms; it will be crumbly and slightly oily.  Form the dough into small ovals, about 1-1/2 inches long and 3/4 inch wide.  Roll the top and sides of each cookie in the sesame seeds.  Place 1 inch apart on the baking sheets.  Bake 25 minutes, until golden and just firm.  Cool  Makes 24