Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Date Coconut Shake

Hi!!!  I have missed you these last weeks, and I want to make up for my absence on this site with a scrumptious recipe, one I’ve actually made six times in the past two weeks. I present you with the Date Coconut Shake. 

A date milkshake??  Oh yes. I grew up in Southern California, and date shakes were one of the culinary pleasures of taking road trips that veered off into desert territory near Palm Springs where the date trees were plentiful. The date shakes of my childhood were traditionally made with a base of vanilla ice cream, and the pureed fresh dates added a beguiling honeyed depth to this frosty treat. We’d usually enjoy the shakes from the renowned Hadley Fruit Orchards, though were it up to me, I’d have been much more thorough in my research by stopping at all the various roadside stands along Highway 10 proffering these special milkshakes.  (You only have so much input in the family decisions when you’re a kid!)

Memories of post-school road trips are looming large now that it is late June, and those childhood date shakes are naturally springing to my culinary imagination.  As I am trying to limit my consumption of refined sugar these days, I have been riffing on this awesome dairy-free version that was recently posted on the lovely Not Without Salt blog. 

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Orange-Kissed Seed Crackers

Do you own more cookbooks than you can possibly cook your way through in this lifetime?  I have a large bookshelf devoted entirely to cookbooks, and due to space limitations, I treat myself to a new book only once a year or so. I recently bought Vegetarian Everyday solely for their Orange-Kissed Seed Crackers, a recipe definitely worth breaking my moratorium on cookbook purchases.

These seeded beauties satisfy my cravings for salty crunchy snacks, not to mention that they’re rich in protein AND are gluten-free too.  Even if you binge on these, you’ll still feel more energetic and won't suffer carb-coma as you might after gorging on a big bag of potato chips or a whole sleeve of Ritz crackers.  (Not that I would know anything about that, ahem…)

I’d never made crackers before, but these couldn't be easier.  If you are also a cracker-making novice, here’s the perfect way to start. 

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Fiddlehead Sauté With Shallots and Bacon

This is usually the time of year when Kitchen Fiddler is woefully neglected because the rest of my life goes haywire.  April and May are notoriously busy months for freelance musicians in NYC, and this year is no exception for most of my waking hours are spent with a violin in hand.  (Forget blogging, I'm scrambling to eat proper meals and sleep six hours at night!)  However, today was blissfully free with no daytime commitments, and as I wandered around my neighborhood enjoying the sunshine this morning, I picked up these adorable fiddlehead ferns.  I couldn’t wait to make this easy Fiddlehead Sauté With Shallots and Bacon for lunch, and it was so delightful that I immediately hopped back on my blog to share it with all of you.

Fiddlehead ferns are aptly named since they clearly resemble the scroll of a violin.  My own fiddle is more than happy to provide a visual comparison!

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Devil's Food Cake With Caramel, A La Tartine Bakery

Sometimes words fail to convey the enormity of a situation.  In the case of the alluring Devil’s Food Cake from Tartine Bakery, I’ll let this photo speak for itself.


This recipe knocks it out of the park each time. I made it twice within a week earlier this month, and it provoked similar reactions on both occasions.  Forks crashed onto plates.  Knees buckled. Gasps of surprise mingled with moans of delight. I had people already coming back for seconds as I was still slicing up the cake—a wild pleading look in their eyes as they extended their plates towards me—long before I’d had a chance to try a forkful myself, much less grab my camera.  Everyone gobbled up this chocolate madness so enthusiastically at both parties that only a modest wedge remained for its close-up.

I’d call that a home run.

I first experienced this cake several years ago at the justifiably famed Tartine Bakery during my annual San Francisco pilgrimage.  It was so compelling and crave-worthy, standing out even amidst all of the other confectionary beauties in the bakery's impressive display cases.  I was exceedingly grateful that Tartine had published the recipe in their cookbook, and I immediately baked a version of it myself upon my return home.

Devil's Food Cake in upper left corner, Tartine Bakery, SF on 8/27/10

Friday, March 21, 2014

Making A Cake Banner (When Your Decorating Skills Are Sorely Lacking!)

For someone who loves baking as much as I do, my cake decorating abilities leave a LOT to be desired, unfortunately.  I’m not utterly hopeless with an icing piping bag, but I’m certainly not great.  Thank goodness I always do a test-run before writing with icing on the actual cake, but these dismal practice attempts have caused my Not-So-Little Chef and me to dissolve in countless giggle fits, making it even harder to hold the icing tube steady.  It’s a quandary since I’m often commissioned to make special occasion cakes, and I do everything to encourage my customers to embrace an extremely simple design sans writing, lest my handiwork end up on the jaw-dropping and hilarious Cake Wrecks website!  But I have a brilliant new solution for my sub-par decorating skills: The Cake Banner.

I was commissioned to provide a cake for a friend’s baby shower last week, a devilishly dark chocolate-and-caramel cake covered with toasted cake crumbs that the mother-to-be had daydreamed about for years since the last time I’d made it. (That recipe will be on the next post, I promise!) One of the baby shower co-hosts asked me to get creative with the cake decoration, incorporating some pink into the design among other things.  Naturally, this request gave me pause.

However, I wanted to honor the festive decoration request for the occasion.  I recently saw this flag banner on Joy the Baker's blog, and I realized that this was the perfect solution to my decorating dilemma. The final result was darling and it put the biggest smile on everyone’s faces, including my own!

Sunday, March 16, 2014

St. Patrick's Day Desserts

I was hoping to have a new St. Patrick’s Day-themed recipe for you before the 17th.  However, with a quick-yet-outrageous trip to Los Angeles earlier this week in addition to furiously cranking out a round of CocoaRoar truffles for St. Paddy’s Day, I haven’t had time to explore anything new in the kitchen. My chocolate tempering machine is purring away in the background as I type, and as I wait for it to melt a pound of chocolate into a beautiful glossy pool so I can dip the last few hundred truffles, I thought I’d re-share a few St. Patrick’s Day ideas from previous entries.  Of course you may just want to spend tomorrow in your favorite Irish pub drinking Guinness or green beer.  But here are a few fun holiday-themed dessert ideas, should you need to balance out your beer and pub food intake.

This Black&White Guinness Float tastes like the most sophisticated milkshake you could ever hope to have. Despite its velvety dark appearance, Guinness stout is surprisingly light and frothy, making it a natural pairing with ice cream, and this beer float plays up both the deep chocolate notes and the creamy quality of the Guinness.  Sign me up, please.

The Guinness Gingerbread Cake is still one of the best cakes to ever come out of my kitchen, which I originally made for Sylvia’s birthday bash two years ago. (Happy birthday, Syl!) The cake is fragrant with spices (ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, cardamom, and even a little dry mustard for heat!), deepened with Guinness for complexity, and the flavors all come together beautifully with a vanilla cream cheese frosting.  


Sunday, March 9, 2014

Roasted Cauliflower Soup With Smoked Paprika

Four years ago I posted a Roasted Cauliflower Soup recipe that my friend Roger makes, and I love it so much that I must revisit it again here on Kitchen Fiddler.  This soup has made frequent appearances on my table—and on my friends’ tables—more so than any other soup in my repertoire. I made a version with smoked paprika the other day, and it was as though culinary lightning had struck.

The remarkable thing about this soup is how luxurious it tastes while actually being quite guilt-free.  In fact, I often prepare it as a vegan dish by using vegetable stock, and yet it still tastes as luxurious as if I’d poured a quart of cream into it.  The richness comes from roasting the cauliflower with olive oil and salt, letting it caramelize to a deep nutty brown.

This recipe lends itself well to variation.  I’ve done different versions of this, adding other vegetables to the onion-garlic base and changing up the seasonings with the roasted cauliflower.  My original version is sweetened with lots of carrot and fragrant thyme, served with a drizzle of golden olive oil and grated Parmesan cheese on top.  I’ve had happy results cooking diced wild mushrooms along with the onions, finishing it with a few drops of truffle oil to echo the earthy mushroom quality.  But this smoked paprika version is my new favorite.

Friday, February 28, 2014

Warm French Green Lentils With Poached Eggs

Have you had enough of winter yet? I know I’m daydreaming about shedding my bulky coat. However, this weekend’s impending snowstorm is another opportunity to make a dish that has fortified me during this snowier-than-usual winter.  These delightful Warm French Green Lentils topped with a poached egg are an ideal snow-day meal. Given the weekend snowfall prediction, I’m sharing them with you just in time.

This recipe is by way of Megan from the lovely blog, A Sweet Spoonful.  She writes beautifully about how her boyfriend (now fiancée) made his "famous lentils" one of the first times he cooked for her, and how she joked that she'd marry him for his lentils alone. I first made the dish simply because I had everything on hand and it was snowing too hard to run outside to the store for other groceries.  However once I tasted these lentils for myself, I understood how they could be commitment-worthy!

I love little French green lentils, which are more flavorful than their often-mushy brown counterparts.  Also known as lentilles du Puy, these French green gems hold their shape well in salads and soups.  They are often an accompaniment to traditional French bistro dishes such as salmon or a farmhouse stew with garlic sausage.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Ottolenghi's Clementine and Almond Syrup Cake With Chocolate Glaze

Today is my beloved grandmother’s 100th birthday!!!  Yes, you read that correctly, and while I’ve never had the opportunity to wish anyone a “happy 100th” before, I couldn’t be more delighted to say it to my extraordinary grandma today.  In honor of this major milestone, I’m sharing the Clementine Almond Cake with Chocolate Glaze I recently made for her.

On my family visit in California last month, we had an early celebration exactly one month before Grandma hit this remarkable triple-digit age.  I needed an easy but special cake recipe for her, for I wanted to spend as much time with her as I could on that last day of my trip.  I wanted to talk with her, looking at photos together and playing my violin for her rather than slaving away in the kitchen making some elaborate creation.  This Clementine Almond Cake from Ottolenghi’s Jerusalem cookbook perfectly fit the bill.

As Grandma herself described it after the first bite, “It’s worth living to nearly one hundred to have a cake like this!” This cake may be only a single layer in form, but you definitely taste multiple layers of flavor with each bite.  Grated clementine zest infuses the almond-flour cake with fragrant citrus, while clementine syrup poured over the still-warm cake adds another level of edible sunshine. 

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

A Valentine's Day Dinner Menu

With February 14th quickly approaching, many cooking blogs are abuzz with Valentine-themed recipes this week.  I myself have no new recipe to share with you today, for I’m currently in the midst of churning out hundreds of CocoaRoar truffles, sprinting towards the finish line to finish my Valentine’s Day Collection orders in time.  (I wish I could make my divine Caramel and Sea Salt Truffles for all of you!)  After going full-force in the kitchen all week, I will happily let someone else cook for me on Friday night. But if I were responsible for a special meal, this would be my Valentine’s Day menu:

I would start the evening with champagne, naturally, and my Elderflower Champagne Cocktail turns any evening into an occasion.  With a touch of St Germaine liqueur and a few raspberries bobbing up and down in the glass, this festive spritzer is pure delight in a champagne flute.

You’ll want something to nibble on with your glass of champagne, perhaps a little ricotta crostini.  Inspired by the marvelous Harvest Song tea-rose petal jam I’ve been using in my rose truffles this week, I love spreading thin baguette slices with fresh ricotta and a dollop of this fragrant not-too-sweet rose jam. For a savory version, drizzle the ricotta-topped baguette slices with a few drops of good olive oil, a sprinkling of flaky Maldon salt, and an intoxicating pinch of smoked paprika.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Winter Salad With Radicchio, Endive and Citrus

Today is my beautiful mom’s birthday, and I’m writing this post in her honor. Several years ago on this day I wrote one of my all-time favorite blog entries about our family’s Black Magic Cake.  I don’t know how I can top that, so today I’m posting a salad recipe instead.   Now before you yawn, please know that this fabulous Winter Salad With Radicchio, Endive and Citrus is definitely celebration-worthy.

It’s also appropriate for Mom's birthday because she is the queen of the beautifully composed salad. Ever since I was a kid, I always remember Mom presenting these artful-looking salads, incorporating as many colors and textures as she could.  It was a mini painting on a plate.

During these winter months, I shy away from typical leafy salads since most of the available greens these days are rather limp and uninspiring.  Instead, I turn to vegetables that are crisp and assertive right now.  Radicchio and endive are both members of the chicory family, and I can always rely on them to wake up my palate during the winter doldrums, as well as help combat those starchy/cheesy comfort food cravings.

I love the variety of textures and tastes in this winter salad. The tangle of bitter radicchio and endive leaves, shaved into paper-thin ribbons, is balanced by the crisp sweetness of the little celery crescents.  Juicy orange segments add citrusy brightness.  Slivered scallions pack a punch while cilantro mellows it out, and a zippy Dijon vinaigrette ties it all together.

Friday, January 31, 2014

My New Kitchen (a la Dan-and-John)

I have a new kitchen!!!  My little Manhattan kitchen was miraculously transformed last month by the brilliant work of my friends Dan and John.  I’m totally over the moon.

I’d wanted to make improvements for years, having struggled with motivation to cook and create for this blog when I felt claustrophobic in my own kitchen, but I knew I couldn’t delay this project any longer after barely surviving the busiest CocoaRoar truffle season a year ago.  Frustrated to tears by the lack of functional counter/storage space, I honestly considered giving up my truffle business. Either I had to move to an apartment with a better kitchen, or I had to make serious changes to my existing space before the next December truffle season came around.


Enter Dan and John.  As they say on their website, “We believe space matters—and that a well-designed environment enhances well-being and promotes the enjoyment of daily life.”  


Any home improvements I’d made in the past were always very DIY.  I’d never experienced having a fully realized vision for a room and then executing it, but sometimes you need to turn to the pros.  I’d seen other beautiful design projects that Dan and John had done in the past, where they excelled at finding clever functional solutions that also looked incredibly cool.  I couldn’t have imagined how far they’d exceed my expectations for my kitchen project!

Friday, January 24, 2014

Roasted Acorn Squash With Chile-Lime Vinaigrette

The lower the temperature drops, the stronger my craving for starchy cheesy food grows.  I’m sure many of you can relate, and it is taking every bit of self-control I have not to make huge pans of lasagna or vats of buttery mashed potatoes during these major cold spells.  However, I’m counterbalancing my cravings for starchy white food by cooking from my arsenal of favorite roasted vegetables dishes. Roasted Acorn Squash With Chile-Lime Vinaigrette makes me especially happy, as this dish adds a welcome pop of bright color and a good nutritional punch on these cold wintry days.

It’s amazing how so many vegetables are transformed into satisfying comfort food when roasted at high heat with a good glug of olive oil and a liberal seasoning of salt and pepper.  This acorn squash is no exception to that rule, and it couldn’t be easier. 


All you do is cut it in half, scoop out the seeds, and slice the squash into thin wedges.  You don’t even need to peel it.  In fact, the peel gets crispy and candied when roasted, and that crispy-skin is one of my favorite elements of this dish.

While the squash is in the oven, the dressing comes together in a snap.  I love the contrast between the earthy warmth of the roasted squash and this zingy vinaigrette.  Fragrant with lime zest and cilantro, then punched up with minced garlic and chilies, this dressing will wake up your palate and rev up your metabolism as well.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

60 Minutes To Prepare A Party

Well, here’s a bit of news: I’m going to be on “60 Minutes” again tonight!  Break out the bubbles!

Many of you know I was featured in an Emmy-nominated profile about a very small handful of people who possess a rare ability called Highly Superior Autobiographical Memory. "Endless Memory" aired on 12/19/2010, drawing the largest audience “60 Minutes” had in years, and a follow-up story was definitely in order.

We filmed this new piece this past November, though it was a major house of cards trying to coordinate everyone’s busy schedules.  I was away playing concerts with HCJ for most of the fall, but there was a brief window when the stars aligned and I left the tour for a whirlwind 24-hour trip to be interviewed by Lesley Stahl.  I had a delightful reunion with my fellow memory wizards, Marilu Henner and Bob Petrella, and we were particularly excited to meet 10-year-old Jake, the youngest person to be discovered with HSAM.  I know he’ll amaze you.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Chile-Cinnamon Hot Chocolate

Happy New Year!  Well, technically it’s January 4th, so allow me to wish you a Happy 1/4/14!  I really like the symmetry of that number and I’ve been writing it all day in as many forms as I can. I’m happy to be home at Kitchen Fiddler again, as it’s been an extremely eventful three months since my last entry here, but that will be for another post. I’ve just come off an intense round of CocoaRoar truffles so you’d think I’d be sick of chocolate by now, but astonishingly, I’m not.  In fact, I’m here to talk about hot chocolate—Chile-Cinnamon Hot Chocolate, to be exact.

The new year promptly started off with several inches of snow, and I was glad to hibernate at home those two days.  There is nothing more comforting than being safely tucked inside during a snowstorm, wrapped in a blanket while watching favorite movies and drinking huge mugs of steaming hot chocolate topped with floating islands of whipped cream.  When that hot chocolate has an extra kick from the spicy addition of chile powder and the whipped cream is flecked with cinnamon, so much the better.

I rarely find myself making regular B-flat hot chocolate.  I almost always doctor it up in some way, either by spiking it with various liqueurs or infusing the whipped cream with flavors beyond the norm.  Sometimes I transpose my favorite truffle flavors to hot chocolate form, as in my Cardamom Hot Chocolate with Rose-infused Whipped Cream.  Tonight’s chile-cinnamon hot chocolate is also a riff on my popular spicy truffle, one I haven’t made in a while but have been craving recently.