Peanut Stew with Ginger and Tomato



This wonderful Julia Moskin recipe for Spicy Peanut Stew with Ginger and Tomato recently came across my desk and flooded my world with all kinds of happy memories. Talk about an endorphin rush!

When my husband and I were traveling, we were fortunate to make a number of trips to Africa. I have fond memories of interesting people we met, albeit briefly, on those trips:  Mburu and Imani who kept us comfortable and safe when robbers invaded our safari camp;  Shabir, our Pakastani driver, who drove like the wind in a VW van he called The Black Mambo; Alain Guichereau the quirky French ex-pat tour guide who eased us through tight situations with humor and more than a little bit of cheek; Brad Goodheart, a California science teacher and Wilderness Travel tour leader, who spent fall through spring in the classroom but when summer came rushed to anywhere that was wild. Travel is as much about the people you meet as about the sights you see. Along the way, you collect memories that stay with you forever.

Kenya was our first safari experience. The night we arrived in Nairobi it was just after midnight. We’d made a long flight from Los Angeles to Nairobi with layovers in New York and Amsterdam. To our weary delight, we were delayed for hours at the then bare-bones Jomo Kenyatta International Airport because there were lions sleeping on the road and the game wardens– sleeping in their homes–were slow to rise. After we did get into the city and catch a few hours of sleep,  we hustled to our safari meet-up and, quickly, we were on the road heading for a safari adventure. To our amazement, we found wild creatures everywhere– elephants, zebra, wildebeests, dik-diks, lions, cheetahs, bongos, rhinos and on and on. I think my favorite creatures in Kenya were the sweet little dik-diks we saw in Samburu. Dik-diks are the tiniest of the antelopes, measuring just 12-16 inches at the shoulder. They usually weigh between 6 pounds and 16 pounds (just a bit larger than Juliet). They have large gorgeous eyes, live in pairs and mark their territory with their tears (really!). I haven’t been able to find a photo of one in my slides but here two internet images I found. The second image is from the website of The Chester Zoo. I’ve also included a link to the zoo’s photo story about their interactions with the little orphaned dik-dik.


Baby Dik-Dik at Chester Zoo

That first trip to Kenya opened many doors for us and birthed a wanderlust in us that, on each subsequent trip, lured us deeper and deeper into the continent–to Tanzania, Botswana, Rwanda, Zaire, Zambia, South Africa and Madagascar.  As Louis Armstrong famously sang, “what a wonderful world!”

Our stays at safari lodges and in tented camps introduced us to new foods, too. Some of it was colonial (Kenya was a British colony until 1963.) I enjoyed the best rice pudding in my life in the Masai Mara. And who even knew about Wheetabix as a morning cereal? (Check out Trader Joe’s. It is available there.) Then, there was the spectacular Indian food prepared by the Indian diaspora in a number of Kenyan cities. I decided that samosas must be the national snack of Kenya. It seemed that every city and roadside stop had a display–usually served warm with a fiery red chili sauce.  But the most memorable foods were the safari “takes” on African cuisine–ugali (a polenta-like accompaniment to stews), irio (a boiled corn, potato and spinach/or pea dish), and any number of sweet potato and plaintain dishes.

African-inspired peanut stews like the one featured in this post were also a culinary mainstay on safari buffets.

Today, as I sat down to write this, I was surprised to find that I have three Kenyan cookbooks on my shelves. Damn. I was a foodie even then.

Hope you enjoy this dish.


Yields 8 Servings

Peanut Stew

1 hrTotal Time

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  • 1 medium-sized eggplant (peeled and cut into 1/2-inch dice)
  • 1 t. salt (or to taste)
  • 1 t. ground cumin
  • 1 t. whole cumin seeds
  • 1 t. ground coriander
  • 1/4 t. turmeric
  • 1/8 t. cayenne pepper
  • 1/4 C. peanut oil
  • 2 shallots (thinly-sliced)
  • 2 inches fresh ginger (peeled and minced)
  • 1-2 jalapeno chiles (seeded and minced)
  • 1 onion (diced)
  • 1/2 C. tomato paste
  • 1 14.5 oz. can tomatoes (diced)
  • 4 C. vegetable stock
  • 1/2 C. natural unsweetened peanut butter (creamy or chunky--I used chunky)
  • 1 medium zucchini cut in quarters lengthwise and then sliced 1/2-inch thick
  • 2 T freshly-squeezed lemon juice
  • 1/3 C. coarsely chopped cilantro
  • Cooked basmati or jasmine rice
  • Garnishes: Chopped red onion, chopped avocado, chopped cilantro, chopped peanuts (your choice!)


  1. Prepare eggplant. Place in a colander and toss with salt. Leave eggplant to drain for 30 minutes. Rinse and set aside.
  2. Combine ground and whole cumin, ground coriander, turmeric and cayenne pepper in a small bowl. Set aside.
  3. Put 3 T. oil in a large Dutch oven and heat it over medium-high heat. Fry the shallots in the hot oil. You will need to stir the shallots often to keep them from burning. You do want the shallots to be crisp and caramelized when you have finished cooking them. This took about 5 minutes. Remove the shallots from the oil using a slotted spoon. Put shallots in a large bowl. Set aside. Using the same Dutch oven, turn your heat to medium high and stir in the eggplant. You don't want to burn the eggplant. You do want it to get nicely browned and to be tender-cooked. This step will take about 5 minutes. Put the cooked eggplant in the bowl with the shallots. Set aside.
  4. Add the remaining oil to the pot that you used to cook the eggplant and, over medium to medium high heat, stir in the ginger and the chiles.This is a quick step. Sauté the ginger and chiles for about 30 seconds. Add the spices and stir. Add the onion and continue to cook until the onion becomes translucent and soft. This will take about 5 minutes. (As you stir, scrape the brown bits that have become fixed to the bottom of your pot.) Add the tomato paste and cook for 1 more minute.
  5. Add diced tomatoes, vegetable stock, eggplant/shallot mixture and a pinch of salt to the pot. Bring this mixture to a boil (then lower heat to medium) and cook for about 5 minutes.
  6. Meanwhile, put the peanut butter in a small bowl and stir some of the hot stock into the peanut butter until the mixture is emulsified. Once this is done, pour the peanut butter mixture back into the stew.
  7. Turn your heat down to a simmer and add zucchini to the stew. Cook covered for 10-15 minutes. You want the vegetables to be tender. Turn off the heat and stir in lemon juice and chopped cilantro. Taste for seasoning.
  8. Serve with white rice and condiments of your choice. I enjoyed chopped red onion, chunks of avocado and a sprinkling of peanuts.
Cuisine: African | Recipe Type: Stew


This is another one of those dishes that improves greatly when allowed to sit in your refrigerator for a day. The extra time allows the flavors to mature.



Here is the link to the original recipe from which this recipe was adapted: Julia Moskin’s Spicy Peanut Stew with Ginger and Tomato

Salad Days! Summer Squash Carpaccio with Arugula


With the weather heating up here in Southern California, these are salad days to be sure.

A digression: If you’ve ever wondered about that expression, “salad days” has Shakespearean origins. In Antony and Cleopatra, a rueful Cleopatra laments her youthful inexperience and recklessness– “…my salad days/when I was green in judgment, cold in blood….”  Over time, the expression has changed in meaning. In American usage, the term now refers to a time when a person is at the peak of her abilities–her heyday.

If you have a bounty of summer squash (or a generous neighbor with a garden), here is an idea for a wonderful fresh summer salad that you won’t regret putting on your table. And, trust me, this salad recipe works on many delicious levels.  I am particularly fond of the lemony/garlicky vinaigrette that “cooks” the squash ribbons and of the bite that the arugula gives to the finished dish. Then, there are the roasted almonds…

I recently bought a new mandoline and was anxious to try it out with this recipe. I confess that I have a bit of a  mandoline phobia, but I read a review for this new mandoline, the OXO Chef’s Mandoline 2.0, and was convinced it might fit into my kitchen routine. (The 2.0 incorporates some safely features that my fancy–and expensive– French mandoline doesn’t have.) In this recipe, I was able to (safely) cut the beautiful symmetrical ribbons of squash that you see in the photo of the dish. Who knows? With my new mandoline in hand, there may be no stopping me with this summer’s bounty of beautiful vegetables! Here is the link to the review of the mandoline: OXO Chef’s Mandoline 2.0 Review from Epicurious.

My good luck this year is that my neighbors (and good friends) Sarah and Gene are growing the the mothers of all squash plants in their backyard garden. To my delight, I was able to make this salad with fresh-off-the-vine produce.

Predictably, my friends are struggling to measure up to the challenge of using (or giving away) the increasingly-large output of their three plants. Today, an exasperated Sarah was showing off a two-pound squash that had hidden itself among the leaves of one of her plants. She has a very long way to go before the Guinness World Record people register her squashes in their record books, though. The world’s largest zucchini on record was grown by Bernard Lavery of Plymouth Devon in the UK. That zucchini measured  69 1/2 inches long, and weighed 65 lbs. –something like this. Whoa!

You are probably sitting there reading this blog and wondering how Sarah’s squash compares.To give you an idea of the size of Sarah’s admittedly early entry into the squash competition, we enlisted the help of a reluctant (and more than a little bit cranky) five pound Juliet. You only have to look at that normally sweet little face to understand that Juliet fails to see the humor in being compared to a zucchini. As I counseled her, sometimes life just isn’t fair.

Juliet needs a hug.


This recipe is adapted from one I learned in a recent cooking class at Costa Mesa’s wonderful Sur La Table Cooking School.


Yields 4 Servings

Summer Squash Carpaccio with Arugula

20 minPrep Time

20 minTotal Time

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  • 1 pound small zucchini (a mix of green and yellow)
  • 2 T. extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 C. fresh lemon juice
  • 1 garlic clove (minced to a paste)
  • Sea salt
  • 3 ounces arugula
  • 3 ounces pecorino toscano or parmesan cheese (shaved)
  • Freshly-ground black pepper
  • 1/4 C. toasted sliced almonds


  1. Using a mandoline or a vegetable peeler, slice squash into ribbons. Set aside.
  2. Whisk oil and lemon juice together in a small bowl. Add garlic paste and sea salt. Lemons vary in their acidity, so you may want to adjust the amount of the lemon juice in your dressing to your taste. Pour this dressing over the squash you have sliced and allow the squash to marinate in the dressing for at least five minutes. The squash will begin to soften.
  3. Mix arugula and cheese into the squash mixture. Adjust seasonings.
  4. To serve, arrange the salad on a pretty serving plate. Sprinkle toasted almonds over the salad and enjoy.
Cuisine: American | Recipe Type: Salad Dressing


I've found that lemons vary in the acidity of their juice. To my taste, this salad dressing is best when it has a real sour bite. My recommendation is that you taste the dressing after it has been allowed to sit and mature and add extra lemon juice to your taste.







Butternut Squash and Mushroom Wellington

What do a Pavlova, a bowl of cherry Garcia and a Margarita have in common? You got that one right! They are all foods named after a famous person. (The Pavlova meringue confection is named after the famous Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova. Cherry Garcia is named after, well, Jerry Garcia. The Margarita is named after Rita Hayworth.)

Here is a riff on another tribute food–the Wellington. The original dish, the beef Wellington, was named after the Dublin-born British military hero and Prime Minister, The Duke of Wellington–Arthur Wellesley to his friends. (Wellington, you will remember, was the hero of Waterloo, the fateful battle that inflicted a final crushing defeat on Napoleon and sent him into a last brooding exile in the mid-Atlantic.) A beef Wellington, if you are unfamiliar with it, is a decadent beef tenderloin slathered in foie gras and duxelles and wrapped in a tender-crispy puff pastry. Here is a photo of the hunky Wellesley:

In reality, the beef Wellington was probably an in-your-face rebranding of a French dish, the filet de boeuf en croute. Take that, France! When I read that bit of history, I was reminded of our own “Freedom Fry” moment. Remember when Congressman Bob Ney (R-Ohio) got himself all wrapped up in a tizzy and renamed the French fries in the Congressional cafeteria freedom fries? ( He was furious that the French refused to back our invasion of Iraq. French President Jacques Chirac argued that the U.S. invasion was premature and that U.N. weapons inspectors should be given more time to determine if Iraq did indeed possess weapons of mass destruction.)

Here is my adaptation of Melissa Clark’s butternut squash and mushroom Wellington. (http://Melissa Clark’s Butternut Squash and Mushroom Wellington)

By the way, Rita Hayworth’s real name was Margarita.

Yields 6-8 Servings

Butternut Squash and Mushroom Wellington

45 minPrep Time

30 minCook Time

1 hr, 15 Total Time

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  • 4 T. butter
  • 1 1/4 lb. butternut squash (peeled and cut into 1/2 inch cubes)
  • 1 t. maple syrup
  • 1/2 t. chopped fresh thyme
  • 1/8 t. smoked sweet paprika (or regular paprika)
  • 1/2 t. kosher salt (or more to taste)
  • 2 garlic cloves (finely chopped)
  • 1 large shallot (finely chopped)
  • 3/4 lb. cremini mushrooms (roughly chopped)
  • 1/3 C. dry white wine
  • 1/4 t. ground black pepper
  • 2 T. chopped parsley
  • Flour
  • 1 (14 to 16 ounce) package of puff pastry
  • 1 C. crumbled goat cheese
  • 1 egg (whisked with 1/2 t. water)


  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Line a large baking sheet with either parchment or a Silipat mat.
  2. Divide your butternut cubes into two portions. Melt 1 T. butter over a medium-high heat. Put one portion of the butternut cubes into the hot skillet with the butter. The butternut squash cubes should lay on the pan in a single layer. The combination of the high heat and the butter will begin to caramelize the squash. Cook the squash for 4 minutes undisturbed. At 4 minutes, stir the squash and continue to cook for another 7 or 8 minutes. Watch the squash while it is cooking. You want it to caramelize but there is a fine line between that and burning. Remove from the pan and put into a bowl. Cook the other half of the butternut squash in 1 T. melted butter in the same way. At the end of the cooking, mix in the syrup, thyme, paprika and 1/4 t. salt. Cook for one more minute. Put this squash mixture into the bowl with the first half of the squash you cooked. Stir. Set aside.
  3. Turn your heat to medium and melt the remaining 2 T. of butter in the same skillet that you used to cook the squash. Add the garlic and the shallot and cook for 1-2 minutes. Add the mushrooms and the remaining salt to the skillet and cook until the mushrooms soften and release their juices. Continue to cook the mushrooms until their liquid evaporates (about 10 minutes). Add the wine, stir and cook until the wine evaporates (5 minutes). Stir the pepper and parsley into the mixture. Adjust seasonings. Set aside.
  4. Lightly flour your working surface and unfold the defrosted puff pastry (follow directions for defrosting on the package). You will need one large sheet of the puff pastry (a 10 by 15 inch rectangle). Cut the puff pastry into two 5 inch by 15 inch rectangles. Leaving a 1/4 inch border around the edges of the puff pastry, arrange the chopped, cooked mushroom mixture down the center of the pastry. Sprinkle crumbled goat cheese over the mushrooms. Spoon the squash down the center of the mushrooms and cheese (you will want to make a thinner spread of the squash on top of the mushroom-cheese mixture (like a stripe of squash down the center of the mushrooms and cheese), leaving about a 1 1/2 inch border.
  5. Brush the exposed edges of your pastry with egg wash. Grab the short ends of the pastry and fold them toward the middle, crimping the edges of pastry to seal them. Now, pinch the long sides of the pastry together to seal that part. Turn the puff pastry package over and place seam down on your prepared baking sheet. Brush the top of your pastry with egg wash and bake for approximately 30 minutes until it is puffed and golden brown.
  6. Remove from oven and let the Wellington rest for a few minutes before cutting it. Cut into slices with a serrated knife and serve.
Cuisine: English | Recipe Type: Main Dish


Tomato and Basil Risotto and a Puppy


I know. It’s a puppy.

I can’t seem to take a decent photo of the risotto dish I want to share with you, so I’m posting a photo of a puppy. Everyone loves a puppy photo.

Don’t get me wrong, the risotto is quite good–flavorful, ooey-gooey, creamy.

It just isn’t pretty.

In my defense: Have you ever seen a pretty photograph of a dish of risotto? I didn’t think so.

♥ Intermission ♥

OK. Two hours have passed since I started writing this blog entry. I’ve breathed deeply. I’ve reorganized my camera case. I’ve felt guilty about the confidence my photography teacher has in me. I’ve had a glass of Malbec. Fortified, I’ve given the risotto photograph about a gazillion more tries. Color me persistent.

Here is a not altogether-bad photo of the risotto dish. Think fragrant deliciousness punctuated with the warm flavors of garlic and basil.

Beauty is so overrated.


Tomato and Basil Risotto
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  • 3 1/2 C. well-seasoned vegetable stock
  • 1-2 T. extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 C. minced onion
  • Salt to taste
  • 1 garlic clove (minced)
  • 1/2 pound tomatoes (grated)
  • Pinch of sugar
  • 1/2 t. fresh thyme leaves
  • 3/4 C. uncooked Arborio rice
  • Salt and freshly-ground pepper to taste
  • 1/4 C. dry white or rose wine
  • 1/4 pound additional sweet ripe tomatoes (finely diced)
  • 1/4 C. slivered fresh basil
  • 1/4 to 1/2 C. freshly-grated Parmesan or Asagio cheese


  1. Heat stock to simmering.
  2. Heat olive oil in a large pan. Add onion and a pinch of salt and sauté for about five minutes until onion is tender. Add garlic and rice to the pan and stir. You want all the grains of rice to be separate. Cook until the rice begins to crackle.
  3. Add tomatoes, sugar, thyme and salt and cook (stirring often) until the tomatoes begin to cook down and start to coat the rice. This will take about five minutes.
  4. Add the wine. Stir and cook until wine evaporates.
  5. Add the simmering stock one-half cup at a time. Stir after each addition until the broth is almost absorbed. Then, add another half cup of stock. Your goal is for the rice to be cooked until it is just tender all the way through (al dente). This should take 20-25 minutes. Adjust seasoning.
  6. Add another half cup of stock. Stir in diced tomatoes, basil and Parmesan. Remove from heat.
  7. Your risotto should be creamy. If it is not, add more broth.
  8. Serve immediately garnished with additional grated Parmesan, basil leaves, and freshly-ground pepper.


My dish is adapted from this original recipe: Martha Rose Shulman’s Tomato and Basil Risotto

Apricot Tart

Wow!  Just wow!

What do you get when you combine a shortbread crust, a frangipani custard base and beautiful just-in-season apricots from the farmers’ market?  This tender and absolutely stunning tart!

Take my advice and eat this tart just warm from the oven when the warm apricots literally melt in your mouth as they float on top of the smooth almond custard and when the shortbread crust is at its peak of crispness.

(Full disclosure: Only because I want to be absolutely sure I capture in words the essence of the dish, I’m eating one several slices of this tart as I write this blog. It is, after all, what I owe the people who are kind enough to read Blue Cayenne. Never mind my powdered sugar mustache. Dignity flies out the window when you are eating a warm apricot tart. Trust me.)

This recipe is adapted from one that appears in Patricia Wells’ cookbook Patricia Wells at Home in Provence, a cookbook for which she won a James Beard award. Wells was born in  the United States (Milwaukee, Wisconsin) but now divides her time between Paris and Provence. Sounds like the good life to me. She has a new highly-regarded cookbook, My Master Recipes. (My Master Recipes by Patricia Wells.)

Here is a link to the original recipe: Patricia Wells’ Verlet’s Apricot Tart. (Maison Verlet is a tea shop on the Rue St. Honore in Paris. It has been serving coffee and sweets (and tea) since the beginning of the 20th Century.)


Yields 8 Servings

Apricot Tart

30 minPrep Time

55 minCook Time

1 hr, 25 Total Time

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  • For pastry:
  • 8 T. unsalted, melted butter (cooled)
  • 1/2 C. sugar
  • 1/4 t. almond extract
  • 1/4 t. vanilla extract
  • 1/2 t. fine sea salt
  • 1 1/4 C. plus 1 T. unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 2 T. finely-ground almonds (for crust)
  • 2 T. finely-ground almonds (to sprinkle on bottom of the tart shell after blind baking)
  • For filling:
  • 1/2 C. creme fraiche or heavy cream (or a mixture)
  • 1 large egg (lightly beaten)
  • 1/2 t. almond extract
  • 1/2 t. vanilla extract
  • 2 T. honey
  • 1 T. all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 pounds fresh apricots (pitted and sliced)
  • Confectioners' suger for garnish


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Grease a tart pan.
  3. For the pastry: Combine melted butter and sugar. Add remaining ingredients and stir to form a soft cookie-like dough. Using your fingers, press the dough into the prepared tart pan. Bake crust for 12-15 minutes until it is slightly puffy. Sprinkle 2 T. of ground almonds on the bottom of the blind-baked crust.
  4. For the filling: Combine creme fraiche or heavy whipping cream in a large bowl. Add egg, flavor extracts and honey and mix ingredients with a whisk. Whisk in the flour.
  5. Pour the custard mixture into the blind baked crust. Arrange sliced apricots on top of the custard.
  6. Put tart pan on a baking tray. (This will protect your oven from drips.) Bake tart for 55-60 minutes until the custard is firm and the crust is a nice golden brown. Sprinkle immediately with confectioners' sugar. Cool on a rack.
Cuisine: French | Recipe Type: Fruit Tart


All that and a bag of chips! Artichokes!



Tender artichoke hearts. Lemon. Grape tomatoes. Herbs galore. Yum.

A friend served this as the main course at a dinner party I was fortunate to attend a few years ago. She confided that the recipe came from a Jamie Oliver book, The Naked Chef–yet another cookbook I’ve added to my collection. (You can buy the cookbook here on Amazon)

Although thorny artichokes can be downright cranky to prep, they should be a regular part of your culinary repertoire–particularly during the peak of the season that runs from March through May. Rich in folate, dietary fiber, vitamins C and K, magnesium and potassium (whew!), they pack more antioxidants than red wine or chocolate.  (I’m thinking that a meal incorporating artichokes and an abundance of red wine and chocolate would be a downright health food trifecta!)

If you live here in California, you have no excuse for not making artichokes a part of your healthy diet. California produces nearly 100% of the U.S. artichoke crop and beautiful artichokes can be found in nearly every market. If you hesitate to serve artichokes because you suffer from artichoke peeling anxiety (let’s call it APA), this video demystifies the process: Video: How to peel an artichoke.

Here is my adaptation of Oliver’s recipe. I served this with a green salad and toasted Israeli couscous from Trader Joe’s. The flat taste of the couscous was a perfect counterpoint to the rich blend of olive oil, lemon and herb flavors in the artichoke dish. Part of enjoying any dish, of course, is the visual experience and this dish doesn’t disappoint. Here, the bright red grape tomatoes, bathed in silky olive oil and with their warm juicy red goodness bursting out of their skins, make this dish pop.

Quite a feast for me on a quiet Friday night. Oliver’s dish is certainly all that and a bag of chips!


Yields 4 Servings

Artichokes, Sweet Cherry Tomatoes, Thyme and Basil

40 minPrep Time

40 minCook Time

1 hr, 20 Total Time

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  • 4 medium to large globe artichokes
  • Olive oil
  • Sea salt and freshly-ground pepper
  • 2 cloves of garlic (sliced thin)
  • A handful of fresh thyme leaves
  • A handful of fresh basil leaves (torn)
  • Juice of 1/2 lemon (and more for the soaking water for the artichoke hearts)
  • 20 ripe cherry or grape tomatoes
  • 1 small dried red chili (or to taste)


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Peel and prepare artichoke hearts. Quarter them and put them in a bowl of water with lemon juice to keep the artichokes from discoloring.
  3. Add olive oil to a saucepan and sauté artichoke hearts for about 5 minutes with the lid on your pan. Add one half of the garlic, half the thyme and a generous pinch of salt to the pan. Cook (with the lid off the pan) until the garlic softens. Add the lemon juice to the pan and cook until the liquid in the pan has cooked away. Remove from the heat.
  4. Wash and dry the tomatoes. Put in a bowl with some olive oil, salt and pepper, dried chili, and one half of the torn basil. Mix these ingredients well so that the oil coats the tomatoes. Pour the tomatoes into a baking dish and spread them out evenly.
  5. Add the artichoke heart quarters to the tomatoes in the baking dish along with the remaining garlic. Sprinkle the remaining thyme and basil over the dish, season with salt and pepper and drizzle with olive oil.
  6. Bake at 350 degrees F. for 40 minutes.
Cuisine: British | Recipe Type: Vegetable Side or Main Dish


I served this with Israeli couscous.




Middle Eastern Eggplant Rice

To my delight, I’ve realized that I have some holes in my cookbook collection. My Middle Eastern cookbook shelf, in particular, is a little thin. I say “to my delight” because, believe me, I welcome any excuse to buy new cookbooks. Picture me with a cup of steaming tea, Juliet napping at my feet, Yo Yo Ma playing on my Echo, a plate of warm cookies and a pile of cookbooks nearby. Heaven.

This week, Salma Hage’s The Middle Eastern Vegetarian Cookbook joined my Ottolenghis and Karamardians on the shelves in my office. (You can buy it on Amazon.)

Hage is a Lebanese cook living in London. Her previous book was The Lebanese Kitchen. This book has received positive reviews on several cooking sites I read and won a coveted James Beard Foundation award this year in the “best vegetable cookbook” category. (Truth be told, the recent spate of “This Year’s Best New Cookbooks” articles has been a dangerous read for me. I’ve added a number of new books to my shelves–Deborah Madison’s In My Kitchen, Dorie Greenspan’s Cookies, Tessa Kiros’ Provence to Pondicherry, Patricia Wells’ My Master Recipes, Katie Parla and Kristine Gills’ Tasting Rome. And…I have my eyes on a few more. Like I said, it’s an addiction.)

Interestingly, the forward to Hage’s book is written by Alain Ducasse, whose restaurants have won twenty-one Michelin stars. Ducasse knows good cooking and his forward to Hage’s book is glowing.

The pretty dish pictured above immediately caught my eye as I thumbed through Hage’s book. I was not attracted to this recipe for its beauty alone, though. One of the key ingredients in the dish is eggplant–my nemesis. I confess that I struggle with eggplant. In truth, struggle is a generous word; I’m downright eggplant phobic. Eggplant is kind of like brussels sprouts and (ugh!) kale for me. I want to like it. I know that, prepared properly, it can be delicious. (My neighbor makes a truly delicious eggplant parmesan.) But, alas, my forays into cooking eggplant have yielded recipes that have earned a decided meh from guests.

But I’m not giving up on eggplant. I’m not a defeatist by nature. (My cooking friend says I’m like a dog with a bone. That’s a compliment. Right?)

Eggplant may be my Moriarty, but I can do this! This tasty recipe is, I think, a very  good start.

Yields 4 Servings

Middle Eastern Eggplant Rice

25 minPrep Time

45 minCook Time

1 hr, 10 Total Time

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  • 1/2 C. uncooked brown rice (long-grain)
  • 2 eggplants cut into 3/4 inch cubes
  • 2 T. extra-virgin olive oil (plus more to sauté onions and garlic)
  • 2 onions (finely sliced)
  • 4 garlic cloves (finely sliced)
  • 2 C. cherry tomatoes (halved)
  • 1 t. ground cumin
  • 1 t. pepper
  • 1 small bunch chopped cilantro (or parsley)
  • Salt
  • Roasted pine nuts


  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
  2. Cook brown rice until it is done but still a bit al dente.
  3. Do not peel the eggplant. Cut it into 3/4 inch cubes and mix with olive oil and a generous pinch of salt in a large bowl. Put the eggplant cubes on a large baking sheet and bake for 20 minutes at 400 degrees F. Remove from the oven when the eggplant cubes begin to blacken on the edges. Set aside.
  4. Add a small amount of olive oil to a skillet and sauté onions and garlic over medium heat until they soften and just begin to brown. Add tomatoes, cumin, pepper and salt and stir. Continue cooking for about 15 minutes.
  5. Add eggplant cubes to onion/tomato mixture. Add cooked rice. Sprinkle with cilantro and roasted pine nuts and serve.
Cuisine: Middle Eastern | Recipe Type: Vegetables


According to Salma Hage, from whose cookbook this recipe was adapted, this dish improves dramatically by letting the flavors marry overnight. She also points out that this dish is often considered best when served at room temperature. I found this to be true. The flavors in the dish, particularly the flavor of the slightly caramelized onions, absorb into the rice and make for a wonderful dish when stored overnight in the refrigerator and allowed to warm to room temperature before being served.


Avocado-Cilantro Salad Dressing

I’ve lived in my home for forty-seven years and for most of that time we had an enormous Haas avocado tree in our back yard. Talk about an embarrassment of riches! In addition to the abundance of avocados we had to eat and give away year after year, we also had the prettiest possums in the neighborhood–their coats silken and glossy from feasting on our tree’s crop. Then, a few years ago, the tree went into a decline and I had to have it removed. That was a dark day. To my great chagrin, I am now (avocado) treeless. Bummer.

I have not lost my taste for avocados though, and, thanks to Costco, I’m able to keep my fruit bowl well-stocked. That is a very good thing since avocados are a healthy food choice.

Avocados, technically a single-seeded berry, are a sodium-free and cholesterol-free fruit that acts as a nutrient booster by increasing the body’s ability to absorb a number of vitamins including vitamins A, D. K, and E. Avocados are also a nutrient-dense food. According to the California Avocado Commission, a fifth of an avocado contains only 50 calories but delivers nearly twenty vitamins and minerals to the human body. (Who, by the way, was the person at the CAC who concluded that a fifth of an avocado was a serving? NO ONE has the willpower to eat just one-fifth of an avocado! Ever. Am I right about this?)

A native to Central America, the Haas avocados most commonly grown here in southern California are related to avocados that originated in Guatemala and contain almost no sugar or starch. A Haas avocado can contain as much as 30% oil–making it one of the fattiest plant foods in existence. Harold McGee in his book Of Food and Cooking says that, at 30% oil content, the avocado can be compared to a piece of well-marbled meat. Don’t despair, though. The health advantage of the avocado’s oil (over that of meat) is that it is largely monounsaturated–the “good fat” as the Haas Avocado Board and numerous health experts like to point out. The oil in avocados is generally credited with a number of health benefits including the reduction of inflammation in the body and the reduction of LDL bad cholesterol.

To maximize the health benefits of eating avocados, the experts recommend that you select an avocado with a “slight neck” rather than one that is rounded at the top. The slight neck is an indication that the avocado was ripened on the tree and predicts that the avocado will have a better flavor than one that is picked unripe. Those experts also recommend that you carefully peel your avocado to protect the darker green flesh that lies just below the avocado’s skin, flesh that is particularly rich in healthy carotenoids. To do this, the California Avocado Commission suggests that you use the “nick and peel” method:  “Cut the avocado lengthwise. Hold both halves and twist them in opposite directions until they separate. Remove the seed and cut each of the halves lengthwise into long quarter sections. Using your thumb and index finger, grip the edge of the skin on each quarter and peel it off, the same way you do with a banana skin.”

Apparently, avocados’ benefits go beyond nutrition, too. A “Healthy Living” column in The Huffington Post credits the fruit with properties that can help repair damaged hair, moisturize dry skin, treat sunburn and minimize wrinkles. I’m so onto that last one!

Here is an excellent avocado salad dressing recipe.  I’ve been wanting to find a good avocado-cilantro salad dressing for a very long time. The marriage of avocado and cilantro has seemed like a natural to me.

I think you will enjoy this dressing.

Avocado-Cilantro Salad Dressing

10 minPrep Time

10 minTotal Time

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  • 3/4 C. milk
  • Juice of 1/2 a lemon
  • 1/4 C. fresh cilantro (chopped)
  • 1 fresh medium jalapeño pepper (seeds removed) chopped
  • 1 medium Haas avocado
  • 1 clove garlic (minced)
  • 2 T. chopped green onion
  • Juice of one lime
  • 1/8 t. ground cumin
  • 1/4 t. ground pepper
  • 1/2 t. kosher salt


  1. Put all of the ingredients into your blender and blend until smooth.
  2. You can leave the seeds in the jalapeño pepper if you want your dressing a bit more spicy.
Cuisine: Mexican/American | Recipe Type: Salad Dressing


You can add extra milk to the dressing to thin it.


My recipe is an adaptation of one that appeared on the Skinny Taste blog. Here is a link to the original recipe:  Zesty Avocado Cilantro Buttermilk Dressing

Mr. Bates and The Queen’s Cake


Apparently Queen Elizabeth is a foodie.

She loves raspberry jam cookie sandwiches, white peaches, Dubonnet and gin, and chocolate biscuit cake. Scones are a constant at her tea table where she reportedly crumbles some of them up and slips them under the table to her beloved corgis. Like the rest of us, she enjoys having bowls of snacks, particularly mixed nuts, readily available when she is in the mood to nosh. (Remember the gossipy e-mail leaks a couple of years ago that revealed that the Queen was in a bit of a tizzy about the royal police guards who were pilfering nuts from the bowls that were kept in the palace corridors–nuts that were clearly intended for Her? Reportedly, she started marking the bowls to deter the thieves and a frosty royal memo was issued. If I may add my two cents here, I guess we all have our triggers, but I don’t think I would get into a war of words with the people protecting my life over a few bowls of nuts.  Just sayin… )

Purportedly, the chocolate biscuit cake is her favorite after-dinner dessert. Wills’, too. (He had the cake as his groom’s cake at his wedding to Kate Middleton.)

On the occasion of the recent celebration of the Queen’s 91st birthday, the press ran a number of anecdote-filled stories about the bespoke chocolate biscuit cake and the Queen’s obsession with it.

The anecdote I liked best was one about the Queen’s travels (by train) from Buckingham Palace to Windsor Castle. On those trips, it is the job of a member of the royal household to package up a chocolate biscuit cake (most likely a left-over cake since the thrifty Queen eats a slice every day and insists upon finishing every last piece of a biscuit cake before starting a new one).  A member of the royal household then rides in the train car behind the Queen’s car with the box of cake safely stowed on his lap. Great image. I’m picturing the honorable and ever-reliable Mr. Bates sitting patiently with the Queen’s cake as the verdant green English countryside rolls by outside his window. Full disclosure: I think I’m in love with Mr. Bates. When did they stop making men like that?)

Speaking of love, the love of chocolate has a long history among British royals. Chocolate was introduced into England from The New World during the age of exploration. England’s Seventeenth Century King Charles I enjoyed drinking hot chocolate at court until that no-fun Puritan Oliver Cromwell condemned chocolate as “sinfully pleasurable.” Charles lost his head during the civil war that followed, but when the monarchy was restored under Charles II, chocolate quickly came back into royal favor. When William and Mary came to the throne in 1689, they had a special chocolate kitchen built at Kensington Palace. Cadbury has been supplying a special dark chocolate to the British royals since Victorian times. The recipe is a trade secret. Maybe Elizabeth’s chocolate sweet tooth is in her genes.

Here is the recipe for the Queen’s chocolate biscuit cake. To my taste, it is more like a candy bar in the shape of a cake. Fresh out of the refrigerator, let it sit on your counter for a while before cutting it. It is rich. Serve it in small slices. A scoop of high-end vanilla ice cream would be a good accompaniment.

This cake recipe was adapted from a Bon Appetit recipe. Here is the link: Bon Appetit’s Chocolate Biscuit Cake .

Here is the recipe:

Serves 1 Small Slice

Chocolate Biscuit Cake

20 minPrep Time

20 minTotal Time

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  • Nonstick vegetable oil spray
  • 1 1/2 C. plus 6 T. (4 sticks minus 2 T.) unsalted butter
  • 30 oz. bittersweet chocolate coarsely chopped (do not exceed 61% cacao)
  • 3/4 C. heavy whipping cream
  • 6 T. Lyle's Golden Syrup
  • 2 7.5 oz. packages of Rich Tea Biscuits coarsely chopped
  • (or butter biscuits like Le Petit Beurre)
  • For Glaze
  • 8 oz. semisweet chocolate (coarsely chopped)
  • 1 C. heavy whipping cream
  • 1 T. light corn syrup


  1. Use a springform pan that has been lightly-coated with vegetable oil spray. Put a round of parchment paper on the bottom of the springform pan.
  2. Melt butter and chocolate over low heat in a medium saucepan. Add cream and golden syrup to the pan and stir. Remove the pan from the heat and carefully mix in the coarsely-chopped biscuits. Pour this mixture into the prepared springform pan and tap on the counter to settle and smooth the mixture. Refrigerate overnight (until set).
  3. For the glaze, put your chopped chocolate into a medium bowl. Heat the whipping cream and corn syrup until it simmers. Pour the simmering cream/syrup mixture over the chocolate and let the mixture sit for about five minutes. Stir until the ingredients are totally melted and the mixture is very smooth. Let the glaze cool slightly but it should still be pourable when you apply it to the cake.
  4. Remove the cake from the refrigerator. Remove the cake from the pan. (You will probably need to run a knife around the edge of the springform pan to dislodge the chilled cake.) Invert the cake onto a wire rack that you have positioned over a parchment-lined rimmed baking sheet. Remove the bottom plate of the springform pan and the round of parchment paper from the cake. Pour the glaze over the cake and let it dribble down the sides of the cake. Use a spatula to smooth the glaze onto the cake. Refrigerate the cake for about 30 minutes until the glaze sets. Remove from refrigerator and let the cake sit on your counter for a while to make it easier to cut. Garnish with a sliced strawberry.
Cuisine: English | Recipe Type: Cake


I halved this recipe with no problems.

I used Scharffenberger bittersweet chocolate. It was 70% cacao rather than the 61% (max) called for in the recipe. The cake is very rich. I will try it with a lower percentage cacao the next time I make it. carries the Lyle's Golden Syrup called for in this recipe.

I was able to find Rich Tea Biscuits at Stater Brothers in the imported foods section.



Day-O! and Banana Cake



Join Juliet and me as we conga around the kitchen island singing Harry Belafonte’s Banana Boat Song .

Got you in the mood for a banana recipe?

The way I figure it, everyone needs a few good banana recipes. Bananas are a health food, after all. According to the LiveStrong site: “The high levels of potassium and carbohydrates in bananas make them a good source of fuel for athletes. The fiber in bananas can help to lower your risk for intestinal problems, high cholesterol, heart disease and diabetes. The fiber can help fill you up and keep you feeling full for longer, helping you keep from eating more calories than you need and gaining weight.” What’s not to love?

I figure everyone also needs a few great banana recipes to use up those unsightly overripe bananas that inevitably end up in your fruit bowl–you know, the ones that shrivel, turn black and ooze out of their skins without the least provocation. (You can, by the way, freeze those over-ripe banana bad boys and use them –right outta the freezer– in any cake recipe that calls for bananas.)

In my home, in addition to my conga-loving rescue pup, Juliet, banana obsession extends to my  27-year-old umbrella cockatoo, Moti. Woe be it to me if I don’t promptly deliver a food dish with a few banana slices to her cage early each morning. I’ve been known to make a sleepy-eyed  early-morning banana run to the supermarket to keep Moti in bananas. Trust me, there is no sunshine in in anyone’s day if Moti doesn’t have her morning banana.

Moti is smart, too. Early each morning, perched on one foot next to her water bottle, she ever-so-carefully places pieces of her other foods onto the velcro-like sticky surface of her banana slices where they stay as she eats a little banana and then a little of her other foods, washing it all down with big gulps of fresh water. (What can I say? Everyone is a foodie in my house.)

Fortunately for us all, bananas have been around forever. Well, almost forever. Food historians trace the domestication of bananas to New Guinea around 8000 BCE, making them perhaps the first cultivated fruit. Later, Muslim traders spread the banana across Asia and into Europe and, in the 15th and 16th centuries, Portuguese explorers brought the plant to the new world. In today’s America, the average American consumes 27.9 pounds of bananas each year.

By the way, the plant in the photo (above) is a yellow African begonia, a Staudtil microsperma, from Nigeria by way of Andy’s Orchids in Encinitas.  For my gardening friends who are reading this blog, here is the link to Andy’s website:  Andy’s Orchids .  Prepare to be overwhelmed by the collection Andy has put together.

This truly wonderful banana cake recipe is adapted from one that appeared in Baking: From My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan. Here is a link to that book: Dorie Greenspan, Baking: From My Home to Yours.

From everyone here, Day-O! to you and yours.


Serves 1 Slice

Banana Cake

20 minPrep Time

1 hr, 5 Cook Time

1 hr, 25 Total Time

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  • 3 C. all-purpose flour
  • 2 t. baking soda
  • 1/2 t. salt
  • 8 ounces unsalted butter (at room temperature)
  • 2 C. sugar
  • 2 t. vanilla extract
  • 2 large eggs (room temperature)
  • 5 large very ripe bananas (mashed)
  • 1 C. sour cream (or plain yogurt)


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Carefully grease your bundt pan.
  2. Whisk flour, baking soda and salt together. Set aside.
  3. Add butter to the bowl of a stand mixer and mix until the butter is creamy. Add the sugar and beat until the butter/sugar mixture is pale in color and fluffy in texture. Add vanilla to the butter mixture. Add eggs (one at a time) and mix thoroughly after adding each egg--about one minute after adding each egg. Lower the speed of your mixer from medium to low an add mashed bananas. Then, add one half of the flour mixture and mix. Add the sour cream and mix to combine. Add the remainder of the flour to the batter. Mix until ingredients are combined.
  4. Using a spatula, scrape the batter into your prepared bundt pan. Rap the bundt pan on your counter once or twice once all the batter is in the pan. This will remove any air bubbles from the batter.
  5. Bake on the middle rack in the center of your oven at 350 degrees F. for 65 to 75 minutes. (Cover your cake loosely with tin foil for the last 15 minutes of baking.) Your cake will be done when a toothpick or wooden skewer comes out clean when inserted into the center of the cake.
  6. Let cake cool on your counter and unmold onto your serving plate. Serve plain dusted with powdered sugar or drizzle a powdered sugar glaze (powdered sugar mixed with a little milk) onto the cake. You can serve this immediately or wrap it in plastic wrap and serve the next day. According to the original recipe, the texture of the cake improves when wrapped overnight and served the next day.
Cuisine: American | Recipe Type: Cake