Wednesday, October 27, 2010

When Kids Ruled Halloween

I feel for kids today. Modern-day Halloween has turned them into Halloweenies. It’s too dangerous to roam the streets alone, so they go to parties with adult supervision or hang out at the mall. In the olden days, us kids held the keys to the city. It was our night out. Like gangs of little goblins, packs of 10-year olds roamed the neighborhood in scary costumes with pillowcases in tow, in hot pursuit of all the sweets we could scare up in a few precious hours. Grownups lurked in the shadows, only to answer doors and dole out the cavity culprits that we sweet-toothed sleuths looked forward to all year. This wasn’t just a night to dress up—it was a major holiday. A pillowcase full of candy was right up there with Santa’s bag of toys.

“Trick or treat!” we’d shout in unison when an adult answered the door. But that’s as far as our vocal chords went. We weren’t interested in chitchatting about how cute our costumes were or helping them decipher what we were dressed as. We had places to go and candy to meet. It was a numbers game, and we became little Einsteins and Magellans, carefully charting our course to reap the largest sum. Of course, if we were invited inside a dark, eery corridor to retrieve our riches, we would gladly veer off the beaten path. With white pillowcases and dark streets to penetrate, we’d follow wherever the candy trail lead. Occasionally someone wouldn’t be home, and we’d find a bowl of treats sitting on a porch that worked on the honors system. It was Halloween etiquette to only take one, and we usually stuck to the rule—unless it was late and there were lots of pieces left.

After walking for hours and the evening was winding down, all the free-flowing sugar seemed to evaporate into thin air—as if the night had been a dream, and adults hadn’t really been giving away candy for a mere knock on the door. Night had reverted back to the forbidden-candy time zone. And when I got home, my mom was waiting anxiously, not just to confirm my safety, but to see what I had in my pillowcase. Because my love of candy was not just in a child’s nature—it was in my DNA. So I’d throw mom a few bones since she let me stay out so late and eat as much as I wanted that night. Even though it was late, I was not too pooped to peruse my pillowcase with Sherlock Holmes-like zeal. And she was my eager assistant.

Mom liked all the chocolate and candy bar-type offerings—you know, those miniature versions that allowed you to keep scarfing them down while telling yourself you weren’t really eating a whole portion. There were Hershey’s, Snickers, Reeses, Milky Way, Mars Bar, Heath Bar, Almond Joy, Mounds, Mr. Goodbar, Nestle’s Crunch, Baby Ruth, Butterfinger, Three Musketeers, Payday, M&M’s, along with Hersheys Kisses, Tootsie Rolls, Bit-O-Honey and Kraft caramels.

The kid candy was my domain: the Pixy Sticks, SweeTarts, candy necklaces, wax lips, Candy Corn, Jolly Ranchers, Sugar Daddies, Sugar Babies, Milk Duds, Red Hots, Starburst, Good ‘n Plenty, taffy, lollipops, candy cigarettes, Tootsie Roll Pops, Blow Pops, jawbreakers, Lifesavers, Brach's individual pieces you could pick from those bins in the supermarket, and all the hard candies. And then there was the bubble gum: Bazooka and the other one with the waxy-feeling comic inside. There were also individually wrapped bubble gum balls in cellophane, and big bubble gum cigars.

Most kids had strict parental candy supervision once they got home, and they were only allowed to eat a rationed amount. Their candy lasted for months, but mine only lasted a week, tops. Mom couldn’t very well have given me a candy curfew since she was the one who introduced me to candy binging in the first place. We had a shared activity that we reveled in together. There was nothing like mother-daughter bonding over well-earned nausea. At my house, it just wouldn’t have been Halloween if you didn’t go to bed sick that night. And what a sickeningly sweet night Halloween was.

My Puking Pumpkin won second prize in a pumpkin carving contest.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

A Plum Amaretti-Crisp Quandary

What do you do with three pounds of free plums you scored for being the last dawdler at the farmers’ market? After perusing the possibilties, I had a plum idea. I would take a favorite food blogger’s recipe for Peach Amaretti Crisp from his delicious new book and turn it into Plum Amaretti Crisp. But first I would get his advice. (

I’ve distilled our correspondence down to the following bites, leaving out the niceties—but he's very nice. In fact, I’d call him a mensch).

Lentil: If I substituted plums for peaches in your Peach Amaretti Crisp, would that work or would you make any adjustments?

Mensch: Plums would work well although you might want to add more sugar because they get nice and tart when baked.

Author-approved, my plums and I hit the Amaretti trail. I decided not to add more sugar to the filling because the plums were overripe (hence, the free part), and the sweetness turned out perfectly. But to my chagrin, the topping was too sweet, which confounded me. Not only did I use the same brand of Amaretti cookies that I put in my ricotta cheesecake crust, I was thrown by an inconsistency between his cup and gram measurements for the brown sugar. Should I tell him that something didn't seem kosher or just keep my big mouth shut? (Hence, the big mouth part.)

Lentil: Questioning one of your recipes is a little like asking Michelangelo if he really meant to use so much red paint in that chapel ceiling! But I found the topping too sweet. Your book says 1/2 C packed brown sugar (120 g). I weighed 1/2 C of brown sugar and it comes to anywhere between 74-87 grams, depending on how hard you pack it. I only used half a cup, rather than the gram measurement, but it was still really sweet.

Mensch: A number of people in Europe including Delia Smith in the UK, use similar conversions at 225g/1 cup brown sugar. For places where it's critical, I have a tester in the US test all my recipes on the book using American products. Perhaps there is a variation in Amaretti.

After he wrote me back the second time, I realized that I had forgotten to ask him why there was no salt in the topping. But I knew that if I wrote him again, I might as well have stamped Fatal Attraction on my forehead and left a dead rabbit on his stove (braised in a nice mustard sauce, of course). Good thing there's an ocean between us.

In the meantime, in addition to swapping peaches to plums, I have ever-so-slightly tweaked the recipe (notes in red). Sure, it feels like heresy, but I’ve been called a lot worse than a heretic. So if anyone wants to test this recipe, you can be the decider. Please let me know the results. Oh, and if you want to stamp a big "H" on my forehead, I'll completely understand.



8 medium to large plums (about 3 pounds)

2 TBSP granulated sugar

1 TBSP all-purpose flour

1 tsp vanilla extract or ½ tsp almond extract (I used almond)


¾ cup all-purpose flour

¼ cup granulated sugar

½ cup packed light brown sugar (I would use ¼ cup or a little more)

¾ cup (90 g) crushed amaretti cookies (about 16 cookies / I used gram weight)

1 tsp ground cinnamon

½ cup (65 g) whole almonds, toasted

½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into ½-inch pieces and chilled

Pinch of salt

Preheat the oven to 375º F.

To make the filling, pit and cut the plums into ½-inch slices. In a large bowl, toss the plums with the 2 tablespoons granulated sugar, 1 tablespoon flour, and almond extract. Transfer the plums to a shallow 2-quart baking dish. Set aside.

To make the topping, in a food processor, pulse together the ¾ cup flour, ¼ cup granulated sugar, brown sugar, amaretti crumbs, cinnamon, and almonds until the almonds are in small bits but with chunks still visible. Add the chilled butter pieces and pulse until the topping no longer looks sandy and is just beginning to hold together.

Distribute the topping evenly over the plums. Bake until the filling is bubbling around the edges and a sharp paring knife inserted into the center meets no resistance, 40 to 50 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature with vanilla ice cream.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Ode to Choy

I’lI savor each symphonic sound

As you’re sautéed and slightly browned

Those stirring notes inside my wok

Will make a star of J.S. Bok

Saturday, October 9, 2010

"Rustic" Tomato Tart

“Rustic” is the new “D'oh!”
If it weren’t for an early onset Alzheimer's moment, this "rustic" tart would have been the "remarkably refined and uber urbane" tomato tart. What brain malfunction was responsible for its rusticity, you ask? I didn't realize I needed a 10-inch tart pan until I already filled my 11-incher with the dough. D'oh! I mean, how rustic. Oh well. The crust may look a bit slovenly, but the tart was still heavenly.

This keeper recipe adapted from Martha Stewart is really a no-brainer (even for me) once you make the crust and apply it to the right-size tart pan. I prefer her cornmeal pate brisee crust for savory tarts since it adds more dimension (or in my case, dementia). A layer of roasted garlic co-mingling with the cheese and tomato gives this tart a sophisticated pizza-like flavor, and some say it seals the crust, preventing it from getting water-logged from the tomato’s juice. Before laying my beefsteak tomato slices in the crust, I drained them between layers of paper towels for about half an hour, mitigating leakage, and I highly recommend this step. You need a soggy crust about as much as you need a good waterboarding at Gitmo.

While my tart turned out "rustic," yours can be "remarkably refined and uber urbane." Either way, “delicious” is still “delicious,” no matter how you slice it.


1 head garlic

3 tablespoons olive oil

All-purpose flour, for dusting

1/2 Cornmeal Pate Brisee

2 ounces Italian fontina cheese, grated (about 1/2 cup)

1 1/2 pounds firm but ripe tomatoes (4 medium), cored and sliced 1/4 inch thick

Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper

Fresh basil leaves

Cornmeal Pate Brisee

Makes 2 disks

2 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 cup coarse cornmeal

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon sugar

2 sticks cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

1/4 to 1/2 cup ice water


Pulse flour, cornmeal, salt, and sugar in a food processor until combined. Add butter, and pulse until mixture resembles coarse crumbs with some larger pieces remaining, about 10 seconds. Drizzle 1/4 cup ice water evenly over mixture. Pulse until mixture just begins to hold together when pressed between 2 fingers (it should not be wet or sticky). If dough is too dry, pulse in water, 1 tablespoon at a time.

Divide dough in half. Wrap in plastic. Shape into disks, and refrigerate until firm, about 1 hour or overnight.


Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place garlic on a piece of aluminum foil. Drizzle with 1 tablespoon oil. Wrap to enclose garlic in foil, and place on a small baking sheet. Bake until soft and golden brown and the tip of a knife easily pierces the flesh, about 45 minutes. Remove from oven; set aside. Raise oven temperature to 450 degrees. When garlic is cool enough to handle, using either your hands or the dull end of a large knife, squeeze the cloves out of their skins and into a small bowl; mash with a fork, and set aside. Discard the papery skins.

On a lightly floured surface, roll out dough to a 1/8-inch-thick circle, about 12 inches in diameter. With a dry pastry brush, brush off the excess flour; roll the dough around the rolling pin, and lift it over a 10-inch tart pan with a removable bottom. Line the pan with the dough, pressing it into the corners. Trim the dough so that it is flush with the edges; transfer to the refrigerator to chill, about 30 minutes.

Spread roasted garlic evenly on the chilled crust. Sprinkle with half of the cheese. Arrange the tomatoes on top of the cheese, in an overlapping circular pattern. Season with salt and pepper. Sprinkle with remaining cheese, and drizzle with remaining 2 tablespoons oil. Transfer to oven. Reduce temperature to 400 degrees. and bake until crust is golden and tomatoes are soft but still retain their shape, 45 to 55 minutes. Transfer to wire rack and cool for 20 minutes. Top with freshly shredded basil (chiffonade-style) and serve warm.

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Sunday, October 3, 2010

Shishito Chile and Cheese Frittata

Are you thinking, “Sheesh! Where am I going to find Shishitos?”
Then shush. Any fresh chile that meets your personal Scoville scale approval will work. No shishito!

The first thing I unpacked from my suitcase when I returned from New Mexico was a small bag of fresh Shishito chiles I had bought that morning at the Santa Fe Farmers' Market. Mild, yet screaming with flavor, Shishitos are right up my Scoville alley because I’m a wuss when it comes to packing heat. That’s why I unpacked Shishitos. If you don't want to make a trip to the Land of Enchantment for some Shishitos, you may be able to find them at a Japanese market.

While this is really more of a riff than a recipe, the important thing is the chile, cheese and egg combo. I sautéed the peppers first in a little olive oil and sea salt like they were doing here at the Santa Fe Farmers' Market, but you can use roasted chiles or even canned ones. Feel free to add onions, cilantro, tomatoes or any other compatible compadre, comprende? Like my simple sautéed squash blossoms, this frittata is for the slothfully inclined. Therefore, precise measurements are scoffed at. I mean, after a long day of sitting idly in front of a computer, why be Iron Chef when you can be Super Sloth? Save your testosterone-filled bravado for after you’ve downed a few Red Bull margaritas. That’ll be one bravura performance where the sloth is not welcomed. Olé!


A little olive oil

1/8 pound (a large handful) of Shishito peppers (I left them whole)

Handful of thinly sliced or grated Asiago, Fontina or Jack cheese (I used Asiago)

4 eggs, beaten

1 TBSP milk or soy milk (optional)

2 large cloves of roasted garlic, minced (only because I had some)

Salt, to taste

Pepper, to taste

Optional additions: sautéed onions, chopped tomatoes, cilantro

Preheat the oven to 375º F. In a small oven-proof skillet, lightly sauté the peppers in olive oil until some black charring appears. Crack some sea salt on them. Whisk eggs and milk, and pour over chiles. Let eggs firm up a little and add the garlic and cheese. When egg mixture has set on the bottom and starts to set on top, put in the oven for about 10-12 minutes until it's set. Remove from pan and cut into 4 servings.

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