Persian Eggplant Sandwich and A Serious Cookbook Addiction


Is there a support group for compulsive cookbook buyers?

Hundreds of cookbooks share my office bookshelves with my collection of history and political science books from my thirty-two year teaching career and my growing collection of photography books.

My history books are sacred possessions but I’m beginning to think I could free up some space for more cookbooks by donating my political science books to the library. Given this miserable election cycle, I don’t want to read any stinkin’ poli sci.

One of my most recent cookbook purchases is Persiana by Sabrina Ghayour, a book of recipes from the southern and eastern Mediterranean. Persian-born Ghayour is a food writer (The Washington Post, The WSJ, Saveur), teacher and cookbook author. This simple recipe for eggplant is from Persiana.

I used her spread to craft an exotic open-face sandwich for dinner last night, adding a couple slices of mozzarella and an absolutely exquisite slice of a red-ripe tomato from my friend Gene’s garden.

I’m going to keep this post short. I’m expecting a cookbook delivery of David Tanis books from Amazon.

Ingredients: Eggplant Sandwich

1 large white onion (cut in half and sliced thin)

1 large eggplant

1/3 to 1/2 C. labneh (or strained thickened yogurt or Persian kashk/whey)

Sea salt

Sourdough Bread (or pita or nan)

Mozzarella Slices

Chopped cilantro (or basil or Italian parsley)

A slice of my friend Sarah’s home grown tomatoes


Heat 2 inches of vegetable oil in a large pan. (I used my Dutch oven.) When the oil is hot, fry the thinly-sliced onion until the onion is dark brown, being careful not to burn the onion.

Peel the eggplant and slice it into rounds and then into 1/2 inch cubes. Using the oil you used to fry the onion, fry the eggplant cubes until they are soft and beginning to color. Using a slotted spoon or cooking spider, remove the cooked eggplant cubes to another pan. (Use some self control and refrain from eating all the wonderful fried onion before proceeding.)

Using the back of a spoon, mash half to three-quarters of the eggplant cubes. (You want some of the cubes to keep their shape so that your eggplant dish will have some texture.) Stir in 3/4 of the fried onions. Add the labneh (or yogurt) and sea salt to your taste.

Turn the heat to medium low and cook your eggplant mixture for halt to three-quarters of an hour, stirring frequently until the labneh (or yogurt) turns a medium brown color.

Spread eggplant mixture on a lightly-toasted piece of sourdough bread (or pita or nan). Top with sliced mozzarella and heat under your broiler until the sandwich is hot and the mozzarella just begins to melt. Garnish with remaining fried onion and a slice of tomato. Enjoy.




Life Is Beautiful Bread Soup


My husband used to tell me about his father making bread soup for him and his mother during The Great Depression–bread and milk and that was it.

As my husband told it, the family sat around their kitchen table and a had a “Life Is Beautiful” moment, coping with the reality of their empty shelves by pretending they were feasting.

Not having lived through The Great Depression myself (I’m a boomer), it was/is hard for me to comprehend the degree to which the privations of that period impacted people’s lives. It is clear to me that the dire shortages of food left an indelible mark on lives lived during those awful times, but I believe there are events in history that you have to experience to truly understand. I’m sure that is true for people who lived through the horrors of WWII and the injustice of Japanese Internment and for people who lived under Jim Crow in the South. I suspect that that is true now for people (me included) who lived through September 11 and, watching the catastrophe unfold, wondered what was in store for our nation. What, indeed?

I’m attaching a book review that ran in this week’s NY Times. The book, A Square Meal, was written by a husband and wife team of food historians, Jane Ziegelman and Andrew Coe, and chronicles the myriad ways people, like my husband’s family, coped with food issues during The Great Depression.

The Times‘ reviewer, Steven Kurutz, calls the book “a feast of historical tidbits,” and includes several historical anecdotes in his review.  I found it interesting that gourmand Franklin Roosevelt, with a stiff nudge from Eleanor, committed himself to set an example for the nation by eating humbly in the White House. Early in his first term, for example, it was pointedly shared with the press that FDR was served a modest meal of deviled eggs in tomato sauce and prune pudding while working at his desk in the Oval Office.

Reading Kurutz’ review piqued my interest and sent me off among my books and to internet sites to read more about food and the FDR kitchens.

I found an article in The New Yorker Magazine about the dismal state of cuisine in FDR’s White House that portrays the historic lunch that Ziegelman and Coe describe with a little less varnish:

“The meal started abruptly, with a main course of stuffed eggs, prepared as plainly as possible by mashing five hard-cooked yolks with a teaspoon of vinegar and half a teaspoon of minced onion. A thin coat of tomato sauce covered the eggs, which were served hot, accompanied by mashed potatoes and whole-wheat bread. Dessert was a small portion of pudding made chiefly from prunes, flour, and water. Festive it wasn’t; nevertheless, this was luncheon for six at the White House on March 21, 1933, less than three weeks after Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s first Inauguration. The President, a sophisticated and enthusiastic food lover, was not at the table. He had asked for a tray in his office, and later said that the meal had been “good.” But for Eleanor Roosevelt, proudly presiding at the lunch, “good” didn’t begin to address it. She had been planning the White House meals since well before the Inauguration, commissioning nutritious, low-cost menus from the home-economics faculty at Cornell, in the hope of making the White House a demonstration project for conscientious cookery during the Depression. It was a personal triumph to see one of these humble, wholesome meals served on White House china—two courses for only seven and a half cents per person, including coffee. She told the press that she and the President would be eating this way regularly.”

When the Roosevelts moved into the White House in 1933, Eleanor hired Henrietta Nesbitt, a political ally with no formal training in cooking or hotel management, to serve as the chief housekeeper. Mrs. Nesbitt had been a church friend and League of Women Voters friend in Hyde Park and, when Nesbitt’s husband lost his job during the Depression, Roosevelt had hired her to bake homemade breads and cakes for the Roosevelt household in New York. Mrs. Nesbitt had a pretty thin resume when Eleanor tapped her for the White House job.

Prickly-tempered and arbitrary, Nesbitt quickly alienated the White House kitchen staff and, although FDR joked that he hoped to win a fourth term just so that he could fire Nesbitt, she served the administration throughout Roosevelt’s tenure. Day after day, year after year, Nesbitt turned out meals for the First Family that were, as The New Yorker described them, “…so gray, so drooping, and so spectacularly inept that they became a Washington legend.”

Ernest Hemingway, a White House dinner guest in 1937, complained that the meal he was served was the worst he had ever eaten.  “We had a rainwater soup followed by rubber squab, a nice wilted salad and a cake some admirer had sent in. An enthusiastic but unskilled admirer.”

To be fair, Nesbitt was saddled with a very tight budget and a mandate from Eleanor Roosevelt to run a plain and sober White House during tough times. Too, she worked for a First Lady whose palate has been described as being “made of the same steel as her moral constitution.” Nevertheless, Nesbitt oversaw a White House cuisine that was remarkable for its dreariness-lots of cheap cuts of meat (including brains, sweetbreads and tongues), lots of jello molds and marshmallow-decorated deserts that drew snickers from guests.

Presidential lunches were a particular irritation for FDR with the same dishes cycling endlessly onto the President’s plate–broiled kidneys on toast, chipped beef on toast, shrimp wiggle on toast (shrimp wiggle?), curried eggs on toast, creamed chicken, creamed beef, creamed celery, broiled sweetbreads, braised sweetbreads, creamed sweetbreads, creamed sweetbreads and mushrooms.

There were numerous leaks and a lot of gossip about the state of culinary affairs in the White House and FDR’s displeasure with his food. In 1937 The Times ran a headline:  “Same Menu Four Days Palls on Roosevelt.” The President had been served liver and string beans four days in a row. In her memoir, Nesbitt would later reveal that Eleanor had reassured her when the press ran the liver and string beans story, saying that FDR was “in a tizzy” from working too hard and that expressions like “The vegetables are watery” and “I’m sick of liver and beans” were mere figures of speech. Seems like a clearly-targeted remark to me, but it was a good try on Eleanor’s part to diffuse the situation.

Incredibly, when the most powerful man in the world asserted himself and asked for dishes he enjoyed, Nesbitt wielded a powerful and unalterable veto. He asked that chicken a la king be put on the menu for the fourth inaugural luncheon; Mrs. Nesbitt served chicken salad. He asked for coffee; she sent iced tea. You get the picture. It was a war of wills. 

There is another possible explanation for the fact that FDR was regularly served the modern-day equivalent of prison loaf. Blanche Wiesen Cook, in her biography of Eleanor Roosevelt, theorizes that Roosevelt, badly wounded by her husband’s dalliances early in their marriage, may have used food and Mrs. Nesbitt as  weapons. Cook writes, “ER’s curious disregard for her husband’s tastes suggests an explanation for her persistent defense of Henrietta Nesbitt: The housekeeper was one expression of her passive-aggressive behavior in a marriage of remarkable and labyrinthine complexity.”

The New Yorker ran this cartoon with a caption that explained that those invited to dine with the Roosevelts learned a lesson from the FDR White House– eat before you go.



Here is the recipe for the prune pudding.

Eleanor’s Prune Pudding

Here is the book review:

NY Times Review of A Square Meal

Here is a photo of FDR, Eleanor Roosevelt and Fala that I have always liked. I can’t know for sure, but I suspect Fala found a lot of sweetbreads and liver in his food bowl.

1US-10-F1941-4 (966281) Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt with dog Roosevelt, Franklin D.; 32th President of the USA (1933-45); Hyde Park (N.Y., USA) 30.01.1882 - Warm Springs (USA), 12.4.1945. - Franklin Roosevelt and his wife Eleanor with their Scotch terrier Fala on the terrace of his house in Hyde Park, New York (USA). - Photo, 1941. (Newscom TagID: akgphotos260251.jpg) [Photo via Newscom]



Basil Vinaigrette



Basil salad dressing


There I was, like a jilted bride ditched at the altar, clutching a huge bouquet of leafy emerald green sweet basil and wondering what the heck to do next.

Believe me, I had no plans for any major cooking projects using basil when I drove down PCH to the Long Beach Farmers Market this week. It just happened. Like a proposal from a feckless suitor, the huge bunches of exquisitely aromatic basil on the vendors’ tables beckoned and I was in a mood to say yes.

Since these lazy late summer days are salad days at my house anyway, I decided to try David Lebovitz’ basil vinaigrette recipe–a riff on pesto sans the pine nuts. I had just bought some glorious Spanish olive oil from the Antica Olive Oil store in Los Alamitos, so the marriage of my beautiful basil and my extraordinary olive oil seemed perfect.

The truth is that I’ve been working on my vinaigrette game this summer–looking for that certain something that turns an uninspired oil and vinegar vinaigrette into something special. I want it to be pretty, too. This simple vinaigrette recipe seemed like it might be the one.

Fresh basil is a very interesting ingredient. It has graced people’s dinner tables for a very long time.

Basil is believed to have originated in Africa. It has been cultivated in India for over 5000 years and was known to Greek and  Roman cooks. In more modern times, the French and the Italians took basil purees, pistous and pestos, to culinary heights.

According to Harold McGee’s On Food and Cooking, basil was relatively unknown here in the United States until the 1970s. How is that even possible? I guess American cooks were busy turning out tuna casseroles and jello molds. Ugh.

I’m not doubting McGee, though. He is a culinary giant.  A Yale PhD (in romantic poetry!), he writes about food chemistry and history and has authored a number of important books including On Food and Cooking which was first published thirty-two years ago and was revised and updated in 2004. His book is seen by many as the book that pioneered the kitchen science book genre where technical food science is translated into engaging reader-friendly prose.

McGee also has written for The New York Times, Food and Wine Magazine and Physics Today and is a sought-after lecturer/teacher in venues as varied as The French Culinary Institute in New York City and the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory. (No.The Fermi reference is not a typo.)

Since 2010, he has been a visiting lecturer at Harvard, teaching their course “Science and Cooking: From Haute Cuisine to Soft Matter Science.” Talk about a Renaissance man!

Back to basil. Basil is in the mint family and is related to culinary herbs ranging from lavender to marjoram to oregano to sage and thyme.

Heaven knows I’ve tried to grow my own basil.  McGee’s book calls basil a “hardy” annual. Not for me.

I keep buying those pots of basil at Trader Joe’s and convincing myself that I won’t kill yet another one. Einstein was right, of course: “Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” So it is with me and growing basil.

Interestingly, McGee writes that the delicious aroma of the sweet basil leaf varies greatly depending upon the age of the plant. “The flavor of basil depends not only on the variety, but on growing conditions and the stage at which it is harvested. Generally, aroma compounds make up a larger proportion of young sweet basil leaves than old, by as much as five times. In leaves that are still growing, the relative proportions of the different compounds actually vary along the length of the leaf, with the older tip richer in tarragon and clove notes, the younger base in eucalyptus and floral notes.”

I can see this vinaigrette being drizzled over any number of cold vegetables. Today I enjoyed it over cold roasted beets.

Lebovitz describes drizzling it over white beans. That sounds good, too.

Maybe I’ll do that for dinner.

Ingredients: Basil Vinaigrette

1/2 C. extra-virgin olive oil
1 1/2 T. red or white wine vinegar (I used a white balsamic)
1 T. water
1 small shallot (peeled and sliced)
1 t. Dijon mustard
3/4 t. kosher salt
2 C. loosely-packed fresh basil leaves


Combine olive oil, vinegar, water, shallot, mustard and salt in a blender. Add coarsely chopped basil leaves. Blend, scraping down sides of blender jar, until you have a smooth sauce. This will take about 15 to 30 seconds. This vinaigrette can be thinned with a bit more water or olive oil.


Cream Cheese Stuffed Carrot Cake with Orange Glaze


Carrot Cake2

Carrots improve your eyesight. Right?

Therefore, if you are going to have a sweet, decadent dessert, you are somewhat forgiven for eating carrot cake. It’s a health food, for heaven’s sake!

This line of argument works for me.

If carrot desserts seem odd to you, know that carrots have long been used as a sweetener by cooks. Since carrots have more sugar than any vegetable other than the sugar beet, it makes sense that cooks use carrots to sweeten desserts.

And, it has been going on for a very long time.

According to The Carrot Museum (Yes. There is a carrot museum., carrot desserts originated during the Middle Ages when carrots were used in puddings because other sweeteners were expensive and scarce.

No culinary slouches,  American cooks have long used carrots in dessert cooking, too. George Washington is reported to have been served a carrot tea cake at Faunces Tavern in 1783 and carrot cakes and other desserts have appeared regularly in American cookbooks throughout our history. In more modern times, carrots were a particularly popular sugar substitute in the United States during WWII. So much so that, after the war, there was a glut of canned carrots, Some food historians maintain that that glut led a wily entrepreneur named George C. Page to conduct a contest to identify recipes that could incorporate carrots. The modern-day carrot cake with cream cheese frosting was a result of that contest. (Thank you, Mr. Page!)

Being dedicated history buffs, you’re probably asking yourself where carrots originated and how the modern carrot evolved? 

Carrots are believed to have originated in the Middle East and were originally yellow and purple. There are historical records indicating that carrots were cultivated in Afghanistan and/or Turkey as early as 900 A.D. but it is believed that people used wild carrots for medicine and food long before that time. Here is what is believed to be a carrot representation from the wall of an Egyptian tomb. The tomb painting would indicate that, at least in the case of carrots, you can, indeed, take it with you.


Over these many years, hybridizers have worked to improve the vegetable. As carrot cultivation spread to the East, growers in India and Japan developed a red-colored carrot, rich in lycopene. In western cultivation, the yellow/orange carrot was more popular and is believed to have roots (sorry for the pun) in 17th century Holland.  Dutch hybridizers worked with various carrot mutations to produce a bright orange carrot, perhaps as a tip-of-the-hat to the ruling family, the House of Orange. The new Dutch carrot was sweeter than other commonly-available carrots, and, once the Dutch crop could be reliably cultivated, the orange Dutch carrots took over the western market and have dominated the carrot market ever since..

Here is a 17th century Dutch painting of a carrot vendor that, at least to my mind, leaves little doubt that the Dutch carrot was venerated by “foodies” of that period. Are those carrots beautiful or what?

Brekenlenkam market


Today, if you look carefully in your local farmers market, you should be able to find different varieties of carrots. My local market carries what I think are spectacular white carrots. I love to incorporate them into soups. Trader Joe’s, I’ve noticed, often carries packages of mixed-colored carrots.



Here is a recipe for a decadent carrot cake “stuffed” with cream cheese and frosted with orange-flavored cream cheese. I’m enjoying a piece of this cake as I write this. Complemented with a hot cup of tea, I can assure you that the cake is very, very good

This recipe serves twelve to fourteen guests.

I’m still trying to figure out how I am going to eat all of this cake. Can you come over?

This recipe is adapted from one that originally appeared on the food site A link to the original recipe appears at the end of this post.

Ingredients: Cream Cheese Stuffed Carrot Cake with Orange Glaze

2 1/2 C. peeled and shredded carrots

Dry Ingredients
2 C. all purpose flour
1 1/2 C. granulated sugar
1/2 C. light brown sugar (packed)
1 C. pecans (finely chopped in a food processor)
2 t. baking soda
1 t. baking powder
1/2 t. salt
1 T. plus 1 t. ground cinnamon
1/2 t. allspice
1/4 t. ground nutmeg

Wet Ingredients
4 large eggs
3/4 C. vegetable oil
1/2 C. vanilla Greek Yogurt
1 t. vanilla extract
2 t. orange extract

Cream Cheese Filling
8 oz. full fat cream cheese (room temperature)
1/2 C. granulated sugar
1 large egg
1 t. lemon juice
1/2 t. vanilla extract
3 T. all purpose flour

Orange Cream Cheese Glaze
4 oz. cream cheese (room temperature)
2 T. butter (softened)
2 T. orange juice
2 t. lemon juice
1 t. orange extract
1/2 t. vanilla extract
2 C. powdered sugar (sifted)

Optional Decorative Garnishes
roasted pecans (chopped)
roughly chopped orange zest


Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Peel and grate 2 1/2 C. bright orange carrots.

 Butter and flour a large bundt pan. Be sure to butter the pan liberally, so that your cake won’t stick. Set aside.

Prepare cream cheese filling by beating cream cheese and sugar in your mixer until it is light and creamy. Add remaining filling ingredients and mix until smooth. Set aside.

Mix dry ingredients in a large bowl.

In a separate bowl, whisk eggs and stir in remaining wet ingredients until the mixture is just combined. Be careful not to over mix.

Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients and stir until the mixture is moistened. Once this happens, stir in the 2 1/2 C. grated carrots.

Carefully spoon 3 cups of the batter into your bundt pan. Spoon cream cheese filling over the batter. Try not to allow the cream cheese filling to touch the sides of the bundt pan. Next, spoon the remaining cake batter over the cream cheese filling layer.

Bake at 350 degrees F. on the middle shelf in your oven for 45 minutes. At the 45 minute mark, lower the heat to 325 degrees F. and put a sheet of aluminum foil over the cake pan. (The batter will have risen towards the top of your bundt pan by this point in the cooking.) Bake for another 25-30 minutes until the cake is done. Test for doneness by sticking a wooden skewer into the middle of the cake. If the skewer comes out clean, the cake is done. Remove cake from oven and let it cool. Once it is cool, invert the cake onto a cooling rack and continue to cool. (If the cake doesn’t easily release from the pan when you invert the pan over the rack, run  a paring knife around the edge of the pan to ease the cake out of the pan. If you do have problems with a small part of the cake sticking, keep in mind that the glaze will cover a lot of the irregular parts of the cake.)

Prepare the orange cream cheese glaze. Mix all ingredients together except the powdered sugar in your mixer on medium speed until well mixed and smooth. Add the powdered sugar and beat until the mixture is completely mixed and smooth.  Drizzle the glaze over the cake when the cake is completely cooled.

Decorate cake with roasted and chopped pecans and grated orange zest.

Serve immediately. Refrigerate the remainder of the cake. The original recipe says that the cake will keep in the refrigerator for up to seven days. Seven days of indulgence!



Here is the link to the original recipe:

Carlsbad Cravings Cream Cheese Stuffed Carrot Cake with Orange Glaze


Food Nostalgia: Airplane Cuisine

What was your best eating experience on an airplane? Your worst?

David Lebovitz recently reposted a nostalgia piece on his food blog about airline food of yore (posted below) and it got me thinking about my food experiences on airplanes.

Today, you are lucky to get a bag of honey-coated peanuts, but it wasn’t always like that. Sometimes airline dining could be sublime.

My best airplane meals were served on an international flight on Olympic Airways many years ago. Olympic was a Greek carrier and Aristotle Onassis owned the airline at the time. Onassis was a Greek shipping magnate–one of the richest men in the world. He was also the man who broke Maria Callas’ heart, and he was (briefly) the husband of Jacqueline Kennedy. His pride was the stuff of legends.

Onassis1 Onassis2


Olympic Airways, under his ownership, was famous for the luxury that came with the purchase of a ticket (in whatever class).

On our flight, no detail was missed. The plane, decorated in Aegean blues, sparkled. The cabin crew wore stylish Pierre Cardin-designed uniforms. Live piano music drifted into the economy cabin from the first class section. (Guests ate by candle light in first class, by the way.)

When it came to the food we were served in economy class, there were no tiny bags of honey-coated peanuts. The food was wonderful and portions were generous. Onassis knew how to treat his guests!

I remember being served quality wines and champagnes– liberally poured and without charge. The cuisine was strictly Mediterranean, with lots of tomato, oregano and eggplant in the dishes.I had my first baklava on that flight, my first demitasse of potent Greek coffee, and my first glass of Metaxa brandy. Wow!

That flight and our subsequent travels in Greece opened my food world up to all sorts of new delights– tart feta, kalamata olives to die for, sublime fasoulada (white bean) soups, creamy pastitsio casseroles and on and on.

I’m sitting here writing this and thinking I need to prepare some Greek dishes soon. Very soon. Stay tuned.

On the flip side (There is always a flip side in life. Right?), our worst eating experience on an airplane was a flight from Delhi to Srinagar, Kashmir (India). Our Indian Airlines flight was jammed with passengers who, by the time we took off, were pretty surly. The flight over the Himalayas was sick-to-your-stomach rough–a fact that was not lost on the babies on board whose hysterical cries added to the sense of chaos on the flight. Then, when it seemed like things couldn’t get any worse, an incredible thing happened. Just a few minutes before landing, the harried cabin crew decided to serve dinner–a decision I’m sure they (and the cabin clean-up crews) came to regret.

I remember that we had savory Indian fried donuts called vadas soaked in yogurt. I like vadas. I like yogurt. I didn’t like them served together.

About half way through the meal, the captain announced that we were beginning our descent into the Kashmir Valley. There was no time to collect the meal trays and we were told to stick them under the seats in front of us and buckle up for landing.

Trust me. It wasn’t pretty.

The yogurt slopped out of the trays onto the floor and we waded through soggy yogurt soaked donuts as we deplaned.

As we walked into Kashmir’s Srinagar terminal, a security guard asked me if I had any aspirin. That made me laugh. After that flight, I was the one who needed an aspirin!




Creamy Garlic Mushrooms (Almost too yummy.)

Mushroom best

There is a vendor at the farmers market I frequent who stands in front of his stand every week and sings “almost too yummy” about his produce in a scratchy tenor voice.

On more than one occasion, I have heard the nearby vendors good-naturedly (and with an intentional delay) adding their voices to the first vendor’s song. When they do, the “almost too yummy” refrain ricochets across the market like the mountain echoes in Alpine yodeling. It always makes me laugh.

Here is an impossibly easy mushroom side dish. Despite its ease of preparation, it is, as my vendor would sing, “almost too yummy.” Try it.

8 oz. whole white mushrooms
2 cloves garlic (minced)
1 T. chopped parsley
salt and pepper
1 T. olive oil

Saute mushrooms and garlic in a heated pan with 1 T. oil for two to three minutes. Once pan is sufficiently hot, add 2 T. milk and cover the pan and continue to saute until mushrooms are soft. Remove pan from heat and add 2 T. cream cheese. Stir until cheese melts and forms a smooth sauce. Return pan to medium heat and stir until sauce is bubbling. Spoon mushrooms into a heat-proof serving dish and sprinkle with parmesan or swiss cheese. Heat briefly under the broiler of your oven until the cheese melts and begins to brown. Remove from oven and garnish with chopped parsley and sprinkle with paprika and/or a pinch of cayenne pepper. Enjoy.

Cook’s Notes: I spooned the mushrooms and their sauce over mashed Yukon gold potatoes and it was pretty wonderful. I think this would be a great brunch dish served with buttered toast points, too.

Here is a link to the original recipe at

Creamy Garlic Mushrooms



Roasted Sweet Onion Salad Dressing and Musings about Weetabix and Cobb Salad


Do you get the dreaded “midnight munchies?”

Me, too.

Here’s a photo.


OK. Maybe that isn’t me.

But, alas, my refrigerator raids seldom get more inventive than a bowl of Weetabix and just enough cold milk to keep the Weetabix crispy. I’ve had many a good night’s sleep after a bowl (or two) of Weetabix. (Weetabix cereal, if you are unfamiliar with it, originated in Britain. I first ran into it on a breakfast buffet at the Mara Serena Lodge in Kenya. I haven’t looked back. It is that good. Happily, a Canadian-manufactured version of the cereal, which boasts 365 whole grain kernels in every biscuit,  is available at Trader Joe’s. Give it a try.) But I digress.


Continuing on the subject of late-night refrigerator raids, the wonderful (and now ubiquitous) cobb salad was born from a late-night raid on the refrigerator.

As the story goes, Hollywood’s Brown Derby Restaurant owner, Bob Cobb, invented the cobb salad in one such refrigerator raid in 1937. The salad became so popular that Hollywood’s A List regularly dispatched their chauffeurs to pick up orders of the salad.

The rest is history, as they say, with untold numbers (millions?) of cobb salads being served on dinner tables (and restaurant tables) around the world.

I took some liberties with my cobb salad, substituting feta (which I had) for blue cheese and Morningstar “bacon” for the traditional chopped bacon, but you can let your creative side soar and make a cobb salad with whatever ingredients you enjoy. I used hard-boiled eggs, iceberg lettuce, kalamata olives, avocado chunks, chickpeas, green onions, and red bell peppers to complement the  feta cheese and Morningstar “bacon” in my salad.

When it came time to add the salad dressing, I veered from the traditional and prepared a roasted sweet onion dressing. The dressing was tossed with the lettuce before adding the various garnishes to the salad. The dressing recipe originally appeared in Food and Wine Magazine. (See the link at the bottom of this post.)

As a bonus, your kitchen will smell like roasting onions as you prepare the salad dressing.

Here is the recipe for the salad dressing.

Recipe: Roasted Onion Salad Dressing

6 unpeeled garlic cloves
2 large Vidalia onions (1 1/2 lbs.), peeled and quartered
1 1/4 C. vegetable oil (plus more for brushing)
1/2 C. apple cider vinegar
1/4 C. fresh lemon juice
Kosher salt
Freshly ground pepper


Roast garlic cloves (unpeeled and wrapped in aluminum foil)  and the quartered onions (brushed with oil) in a 425 degree F. oven for one hour. The onions should take on a light char and be soft when they are finished cooking. Cool.

Squeeze the roasted garlic into a blender. Add the onions, cider vinegar and lemon juice. Puree until smooth. Leaving the blender on, gradually add the oil to the puree until it is totally incorporated into the mixture. Season the dressing with salt and pepper.

Here is the link to the original recipe for Southern Cobb Salad with Roasted Sweet Onion Dressing from Food and Wine Magazine:

Food and Wine Southern Cobb Salad with Roasted Sweet Onion Dressing

Cook’s Notes: This recipe makes a lot of dressing. I’m thinking that it would be great on coleslaw.


Pasta with marinated cherry tomatoes

Pasta with Marinated Tomatoes-2

Did you forget?

This is National Lasagna Awareness Month. Funny choice of words, I think. Who isn’t “aware” of lasagna?

Speaking of funny (well…sort of funny), this made me laugh. Reminds me of those wonderful classic Steven Wright jokes.


If you want to celebrate lasagna before the end of Lasagna Awareness Month, here is a link to a wonderful lasagna recipe I posted on Blue Cayenne some time ago for Portobello and Artichoke Lasagna. You won’t be disappointed. The recipe is a keeper and has been enjoyed a lot of my friends and neighbors. I have a neighbor who keeps a tray of this lasagna in her freezer at all times for unexpected guests.  ( Artichoke and Portobello Lasagna)

Truth be told, I’ve had pasta on my mind (and in my stomach) a lot this month. This salad turned out to be a very good dish. It’s not lasagna, but it is very good and makes a good cold meal during these sultry dog days of summer.

P.S. Tomorrow, July 31, is Jump for Jelly Beans Day. Whatever you do, try to keep it dignified. If you don’t (or can’t), please, please send pictures.


Recipe: Pasta with Marinated Cherry Tomatoes

1 Recipe for vinaigrette salad dressing (Foolproof Vinaigrette)
2 lb. red and yellow cherry tomatoes (halved)
1 C. fresh basil (cut into chiffonade strips)
2 T. capers
1 to 2 t. finely grated lemon zest
1 T. lemon juice
1/4 t. red pepper flakes (this can be omitted or increased if you prefer)
Freshly coarse-grated pepper and salt to taste
1 lb. cooked pasta cooked al dente (I used spaghetti)
1/4 C. whole pitted Kalamata olives
8 oz. mozzarella cubes
1/4 C. thin-sliced zucchini
kernels from 1 ear of charred corn


Prepare salad dressing and slice cherry tomatoes. Combine tomatoes, sauce, 1/2 chopped basil, capers, lemon zest, red pepper flakes and salt to taste in a large bowl and let mixture marinate in the sauce for about 30 minutes.

Cook pasta in boiling water until al dente. Drain and add to tomato mixture. Add mozzarella chunks, whole pitted kalamata olives, corn and lemon juice and toss gently. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Garnish with chopped basil and thin-sliced raw zucchini. Make one or two days before you plan to serve the salad to allow the flavors to develop and to allow the sauce to absorb into the spaghetti. Drizzle with a little quality extra-virgin olive oil just before serving.


Red Pepper-Ricotta Pesto

Red Pepper Pesto 1-2One of my favorite cooking magazines, Cook’s Illustrated, runs a quirky “Quick Tips” column that I love.

In a two-page spread in each issue, cooks around the country send in ingenious “hacks” they have developed to get around some of cooking’s daily annoyances. (Did I use the term “hacks” correctly? I’m a boomer. It’s. Not. Easy. I’m still struggling to understand what a “hashtag” is and what you do with one–sounds like a cooking term to me. Am I wrong?)

I’m not totally uncool, however. On a redemptive note, I did understand Joe Biden’s reference to malarkey at the Democratic Convention. Did you? Apparently there have been a whole lot of people looking up the term in recent days. Let’s just say, I know malarkey when I hear it.

Meanwhile, back on the subject of quick tips, Cook’s magazine’s August issue has a genius suggestion to store ripe peaches in a muffin tin to keep the peaches from touching each other and spoiling quickly. Boy could I have used that idea last week. Also in the August issue, another cook, in a moment of clarity, has discovered that he can core a jalapeno pepper with an apple corer and avoid the dreaded consequences (like touching your eyes) of handling jalapeno seeds. (Am I the only one so careless as to do this? Repeatedly, I inflict “jalapeno eyes” on myself–after which I lie in bed with an ice pack on my face and vow never to be so careless again? Until the next time, of course.)

I’m hoping against hope that one day Cook’s  will run a foolproof idea for managing one’s refrigerator. I have two refrigerators and my household is one person and a very small dog. Nevertheless, I never have any room in my refrigerators.

How can that be, you ask.  Answer: It is all those damn little jars that say “refrigerate after opening”–like the jar of sweet jalapeno slices I convinced myself I needed at my last Trader Joe’s shopping extravaganza. (They’re good.)  If I sound just a bit edgy about refrigerator space issues in my home,  the backstory is that  I just tried to refrigerate one of those mammoth Costco watermelons. Believe me, it wasn’t pretty.

Here is my adaptation of a recipe from the August issue of Cook’s. Influenced by Southern Italian cooking, this recipe uses red peppers and ricotta cheese to make a glorious pasta pesto. (I know. I know. Pesto is supposed to be made of basil leaves and pine nuts. Keep an open mind, people!)

The link to the original recipe is posted at the end of this post.

Recipe: Penne with Red Pepper Pesto

3 red bell peppers (stemmed, seeded and cut into 1/4 inch wide strips (about 5 cups–it took 3 1/2 peppers for me to get the required 5 cups)
3 T extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper
1 small onion (chopped)
1 tomato (cored, seeded and chopped)
1/3 cup chopped fresh basil (I used a combination of Italian basil and Thai basil)
1 t. garlic (minced to a paste)
1/2 t. red pepper flakes (omit if you don’t like spicy food)
1/2 C. whole-milk ricotta cheese
1/4 C. grated Parmesan cheese (plus extra for serving)
1 t. white balsamic vinegar (or white wine vinegar)
1 pound pasta (I used rigati but the recipe calls for penne)

In a large non-stick pan, combine 2/3 of the red pepper strips with 1 T. olive oil and 1/4 t. salt. Cover and cook over medium heat until the peppers are soft and begin to brown. This should take about 15 minutes You should stir occasionally.

Add the chopped onion, tomato, basil and the pepper flakes to the pan with the peppers. Also, add 1/2 t. garlic paste. Cook (uncovered) until the onion is soft and beginning to brown at medium heat. This should take about 5 more minutes. Remove your pan from the heat and let is sit and cool for 5 minutes.

Using your blender or food processor, puree the ricotta, Pamesan, remaining one-third of bell peppers, remaining 1/2 t. garlic, 3/4 t. salt and 1/4 t. pepper until smooth. Add your cooked bell pepper mixture and puree for about 20 seconds. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and, with the blender running, add vinegar and remaining 2 T. oil and puree for another 20 seconds. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and blend one more time for 20 seconds. Pour the sauce back into the pan.

Boil pasta in 4 quarts salted water until pasta is al dente. This took me about 14 minutes in boiling water. Reserve 1/2 cup pasta cooking water. Drain pasta and pour it into the pot with the pureed sauce. Toss to combine and, if necessary, add some of the reserved cooking water to get the consistency of sauce you like. (I didn’t add any water.)

Season with salt and pepper to your taste. Serve with grated parmesan and sprinkled with a bit of chopped basil.

Cook’s Notes: The pretty black pan pictured in this post is an All-Clad pan. It is beautiful and makes a great presentation on your table. This pan was a generous gift from my good friend and fellow cooking enthusiast, Sarah. This dish is a bit spicy. Omit the red pepper or reduce it if you don’t want your pasta to be spicy.

I served this with a small dollop of ricotta on top of each serving. I suspect that a bit of heavy whipping cream added to the sauce would also be a nice addition.

Here is the link to the original recipe:

Cook’s Illustrated recipe for Red Pepper-Ricotta Pesto Sauce for pasta