Smashed Winter Squash Toast with Za’atar and Feta

IMG_1627Back in October, I was lucky enough to be a guest instructor at South End Kitchen in Burlington, VT, the joint restaurant and cooking school run by my cousin chef Sarah Langan. Recreational classes have a big focus on chocolate, as South End is run in conjunction with the Lake Champlain Chocolate company. The theme of our class was all things Mediterrean and focused on authentic ingredients like za’atar, sumac, sesame and orange blossom water with local Vermont dairy, eggs and gorgeous produce. Here’s what we made:

  • Smashed Winter Squash Toast with Za’atar and Feta
  • Shakshuka (Eggs Poached in Spicy Tomato Sauce)
  • Roasted Root Vegetable Salad with Pomegranate
  • Orange Blossom Yogurt with Sesame and Citrus
  • Apple Bitters and Prosecco  – we had to have a cocktail, of course!

Thank you again to the entire South End team for the opportunity! I will definitely be back to Burlington soon.

Here’s the recipe for the toast – perfect for brunch or cut into pieces as an appetizer.

Smashed Winter Squash Toast with Za’atar and Feta

Serves about 8

  • 1 small winter squash, such as kabocha or delicata, cut into 1” pieces*
  • Olive oil
  • Sea salt and fresh black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon chile flakes, plus more for topping
  • 1 yellow onion, thinly sliced
  • 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons pure maple syrup
  • 8 or more thick slices country or sourdough bread (or your favorite artisan bread)
  • 1/2 cup fresh feta cheese
  • 1 tablespoon za’atar*
  • Handful chopped fresh mint

Heat oven to 425F. Toss squash with a few tablespoons of oil, a big pinch of salt, pepper and chile flakes. Spread onto a parchment-lined rimmed baking sheet. Roast, stirring occasionally, about 30 minutes until soft and caramelized.

While squash is roasting, caramelize onions. Heat a few more tablespoons of oil in a medium saute pan on medium-low heat. Add onions and a pinch of salt, and cook, stirring frequently, until dark and jammy, about 30 minutes. Add a splash of water to the pan if onions dry out. Add vinegar and syrup and cook about 10 more minutes.

In a large bowl, combine squash and onion mixture and smash with a potato masher or the back of a wooden spoon. You want some texture here, not a completely smooth mixture. Season with more salt and pepper to taste.

Toast bread in a toaster or better yet, drizzled with a bit of oil, salt and pepper and toasted on a sheet tray @ 375F until golden brown. Spread squash mixture onto toast and sprinkle with feta, za’atar and more chile flakes. Finish with fresh mint.

*No need to peel kabocha or delicata (really). If using butternut, make sure to peel.

*Za’atar is a an ancient Mediterranean spice blend typically made with thyme or oregano, sumac, sesame seeds and sometimes cumin. Sumac is a dark red spice that has a tart lemony zing. Za’atar is delicious on grilled or roasted meats and fish, hummus and even roasted sweet potatoes. Find it online, in specialty Mediterranean shops or Whole Foods. Or, makeyour own using this recipe from 101 Cookbook 

Endlessly Adaptable Scones

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One of my favorite “work perks” is free reign of a fully stocked pantry. I love rummaging through the cabinets looking for snack inspiration. I often make a simple snack for my cooking class students, especially if they’ll be eating towards the end of class. I’ve made countless cast-iron fritattas, crostini variations and cheese plates. But as the weather cools down, the oven turns up. Scones have become my go-to classroom snack lately, and for good reason. They are ridiculously simple to pull together and the flavor combinations are endless. Depending on my mood or the theme of the class, I’ll throw in fruit, nuts, herbs or even cheese. Unlike biscuits, these are more akin to English cream scones, relying on a heavy dose of the white stuff instead of butter. Yet somehow they come out of the oven super flaky and buttery. They would make a perfect addition to your next brunch or alongside a cup of coffee or milky tea. Let me know what flavors you come up with!

 

Endlessly Adaptable Scones

makes about 20 to 24 small or 8-10 medium scones

adapted from King Arthur Flour via Joy the Baker

Ingredients:

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon Kosher salt
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 1/3 to 1 1/2 cups heavy cream plus more for brushing the top
  • about 3/4 cup of anything (chopped fresh or dried fruit, chocolate chips, toasted nuts, etc.)
  • 1 teaspoon citrus zest (optional)
  • Raw sugar for topping
  • Jam, curd and/ or whipped cream for serving (optional)

Directions:

Place a rack in the upper third of the oven and preheat oven to 425 degrees F.  Line a baking sheet with a Silpat or parchment paper and set aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, backing powder, salt, and sugar.  Set aside.

In a liquid measuring cup mix together vanilla extract and 1 1/3 cups cream. Drizzle the cream mixture into the dry ingredients tossing and stirring as you pour in the cream.  Add any mix-ins and zest, if using. Toss together.  Add 2 more tablespoons of cream if necessary to create a moist, cohesive, but not sticky dough.

Dump the dough onto a lightly floured work surface.  Gently gather and knead the dough into a dish and press the disk out into a 3/4″-thickness.

Use a small biscuit cutter to cut small 1 1/4-inch circles from the dough disk.  Brush each circle with heave cream and sprinkle generously with turbinado sugar.

Place 1-inch apart on the prepared baking sheet and bake for 12 to 14 minutes or until golden brown and cooked through.

Remove from the oven and serve warm.

 

Add-in suggestions:

1 T. orange zest + 1/3 cup dried cranberries + 1/3 cup chopped toasted pecans

1 T. lemon zest + 1/2 cup fresh berries (such as raspberries or blueberries)

For savory scones, you can omit the sugar and add a few handfuls of shredded cheese and/or herbs

 

Pickle-Brined Fried Chicken

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Sometimes I need to remind myself of certain things. Put my house (and work) keys in my bag. Wear sunscreen, even if it’s not sunny. Reconsider that third cup of coffee. Make fried chicken more often.

While it might be categorized under #chefproblems, I feel as if I need to remind myself to COOK sometimes. When I get home from work, the last thing I usually want to do is pull out pots and pans and pick up a knife. Yes, I cook quite a bit at home, but not what you might expect. Huge grain salads, various pickled things and freezable soups make up the majority of my weekly home “cooking”. Nothing fancy, to me at least.

My roommate recently celebrated a birthday and I asked her to choose a meal, any meal, to celebrate. She chose fried chicken. This is why we make such great roommates. I have been working on my fried chicken game for the past year or so. I was set on making a classic buttermilk version until I stumbled upon the pickle brine. Boneless, skinless thighs, brined in a quick pickling solution, quickly dunked in buttermilk, flour and fried? SOLD. While I love a bone-in, skin-on fried chicken, the skin is awfully difficult to crisp beneath the coating and can take a solid 15 minutes in the fryer. I’m sure America’s Test Kitchen (or at least Thomas Keller) has perfected this, but I didn’t have the energy to play Alton Brown.

What’s so great about this version is the ratio of tender meat to crispy coating. Every bite is the best bite. A friendly reminder why it’s worth it to fry chicken in the first place.

 

Pickle Brined Fried Chicken

Recipe adapted from Bon Appetit via Rose’s Luxury. I served it alongside a few simple salads. It’s really all about the chicken here.

Ingredients:

Brine

  •   2 tablespoon yellow or brown mustard seeds
  • 1 ½ teaspoon coriander seeds
  • 1 cup apple cider vinegar
  • cup kosher salt
  • cup sugar
  • ¼ cup chopped fresh dill

 

Chicken

  • 8 skinless, boneless chicken thighs, preferably organic (about 3 lb.), halved if large
  • Vegetable oil (for frying; about 10 cups)
  • 2 cups buttermilk
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • Kosher salt
  • Flaky sea salt (such as Maldon)
  • Honey and hot sauce, for serving (see note)

Directions:

 
Toast mustard and coriander seeds in a dry medium saucepan over medium heat, tossing often, until mustard seeds begin to pop, about 3 minutes. Add vinegar, salt, and sugar and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, stirring often, until salt and sugar are dissolved, about 4 minutes. Remove from heat; stir in dill and 4 cups water. Let coo.
 
Place chicken and brine in a large resealable plastic bag; chill 3 hours. Remove chicken from brine, scraping off seeds, cover, and chill until ready to fry.

 

Fit a large pot with thermometer and pour in oil to measure 2”. Heat over medium-high heat until thermometer registers 350°.

 

Meanwhile, place buttermilk in a large bowl. Place flour in another large bowl; season with kosher salt. Working in batches, coat chicken in buttermilk, then dredge in flour, dipping your fingers in buttermilk as you pack flour on to help create moistened, shaggy bits (the makings of a super-crisp crust); transfer to a baking sheet.

 

Working in batches and returning oil to 350° between batches, fry chicken, turning occasionally, until skin is deep golden brown and crisp and chicken is cooked through, 6–8 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack set inside a baking sheet. Sprinkle with flaky salt

 

Drizzle chicken with honey/hot sauce.
 
Note: I would highly suggest pairing with a honey-spiked hot sauce on the side. We used sriracha, because, sriracha.

Citrus Braised Cabbage, Apple, Goat Cheese, Red Wine Vinegar

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Walk into any shop right now and you’ll be inundated with SPRING. Yet, walk down the street in New York and we’re still girding ourselves with wooly layers and hot coffee. The in-between seasons make it easy to see the relation between food and fashion. Just as designers are debuting their seasonal collections, filled with florals and color and texture, so are the chefs. With food, it starts with asparagus. Somewhere in the country, the weather is warm enough to grow this springtime delicacy, and it’s shipped in massive quantities to our food stores, giving us a false sense of season. Here in the Northeast, we don’t get the green stuff until May, even June. What’s a cook to do?

I propose embracing the current season for all it’s worth. Just as it’s silly to wear a sundress in a snowstorm, eating peaches (or eggplant or asparagus) is just as silly in the off-season. This cabbage slaw comes from the LA’s Lemonade restaurant cookbook. It epitomizes the in-between season – a bit of winter, with a nod to the sunnier days ahead. It’s really delicious.

 

Citrus Braised Cabbage, Apple, Goat Cheese, Red Wine Vinegar

Adapted from The Lemonade Cookbook
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium red onion, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced
2 tart apples, halved lengthwise, cored and thinly sliced
1 head red cabbage
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
Zest and juice of 1/2 large orange, divided
1 tablespoon pure maple syrup
4 ounces soft goat cheese, crumbled
1/2 cup coarsely chopped fresh herbs, such as parsley and cilantro
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Slice the cabbage into quarters and cut away the core. Thinly slice the cabbage, set aside.

Heat a large, heavy pot or Dutch oven with olive oil. When hot, add onions and apples and a big pinch of salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, until tender, about 3 minutes.

Stir in the cabbage. When it begins to wilt, add the vinegar, orange juice, maple syrup and a big pinch of salt and pepper. Stir well. Cover the pot, reduce heat to low and simmer for 20 minutes until the cabbage is soft. Stir occasionally. Taste and season with salt and pepper. Stir in reserved orange zest.

Place the cabbage in a large bowl and chill thoroughly. Just before serving, sprinkle with goat cheese and herbs.

Smoky Sweet Potato and Black Bean Tacos with Pickled Red Onion

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Full disclosure: this is not a post about tacos. Yes, these tacos are the bomb-dot-com (does anyone say that anymore?) They happen to be vegan, gluten free and yes, really, really delicious for carb-eating carnivores as well. They take about 30 minutes start to finish. They are also cheap economical and are satisfying enough that you *may* forgo that after-dinner trip back to the kitchen for a brownie. But again, this is not about the tacos.

In an effort to create some balance in my life, I’ve signed up for my fifth (count ’em) half marathon. On May 17th I will be making the 13.1 trip from The Brooklyn Public Library to Coney Island. I can’t help but get nostalgic for my first borough. Jogging in Prospect Park, trekking to the Grand Army Plaza greenmarket – I’ll be running through my past, literally. In the next couple months, I’ll be sharing with you a bit about my training, more specifically what’s fueling me. While I’ve made a career out of cooking for and teaching others, my everyday eating is a lot more pared down and purposeful. Get ready for hearty salads, soups, oatmeal-y breakfasts and lots and lots of green things. Yes, there will be kale (obviously), but also chocolate, more protein-heavy recipes than I’ve shared before and simple snacks I like to keep around.

Let’s do this thing!

Smoky Sweet Potato and Black Bean Tacos with Pickled Red Onion

Makes 8 tacos

Tacos:

  • 1 large poblano pepper
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 small red onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 medium orange sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2″ dice
  • 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika (hot or sweet)
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground chipotle chili powder
  • 2 cups black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 8 small corn tortillas
  • Sliced avocado, cilantro and lime, for serving
  • Hot sauce (optional)
  • Kosher salt, to taste

Pickled Red Onions:

  • 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons Kosher salt
  • 1 red onion, thinly sliced

For the tacos: place the poblano pepper under the broiler in your oven and turn occasionally, charring on all sides, about 5 minutes. Alternately, char the poblano directly over a gas flame on your stove. Place the pepper in a bowl and cover tightly with plastic wrap to steam for about 20 minutes. Using a paper towel, wipe off the charred skin, take out the seeds and roughly chop the flesh. Set aside.

Heat a large skillet over medium heat and add the oil. Add the onions and cook for about 5 minutes until transluscent. Season with salt. Add garlic and cook a few minutes more, stirring constantly (careful not to burn the garlic). Add the chopped poblano, sweet potatoes and spices. Season with salt and give it a stir. Cover, lower heat to a simmer and cook for about 15-20 minutes, checking periodically and adding a little water if the mixture is sticking to the pan. Cook until sweet potatoes are soft. Taste and season.

While the sweet potato mixture cooks, make the pickled onions. In a small saucepan, combine the vinegar, water, sugar and salt, stirring over medium heat to dissolve. Bring the mixture to a boil, add onions and turn off heat. Allow the onions to ‘steep’ in the vinegar mixture until softened.

Add black beans and stir well. Cover and cook 5 minutes more until warmed through. Heat tortillas over and open flame to char the edges a bit or wrapped in foil in the oven until warm.

To assemble tacos, fill each tortilla with a spoonful of filling, cilantro, avocado, a few pickled onions and a squeeze of lime. These have a good kick, but add more hot sauce if you like things really spicy.

The pickled onions may be made in advance and can be stored in the fridge for about a month.

Brown Butter Molasses Cookies

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No matter where I am in NYC, I can most likely name the neighborhood’s best cookie. Dumbo? Jacques Torres. Upper West Side? Levain, no doubt. Union Square? Try the chocolate chip at Paradis. Oh, and City Bakery. A solid cup of coffee alongside is a non-negotiable.

 
Call it old fashioned, but I love a classic molasses cookie. You don’t see them very often at bake shops. I’ve heard Pushcart Coffee has a good one.. I grew up eating my grandmother’s soft, chewy version, rolled in sugar. They were stored in a cookie tin with a piece of bread to keep them fresh (p.s. that trick works).

 
Using her recipe as inspiration, along with an updated mix of spices from December’s Bon Appetit, I’ve created a cookie fit for the holidays. Browning the butter is an extra step that gives these cookies some nuttiness. The combination of dark molasses and brown sugar lends some drama. A sprinkle of ginger, cinnamon and cardamom are a bit spicy, in a good way. Don’t forget to roll them in sugar, preferably the raw stuff (grab a couple more packets when you get your coffee). Which you’ll definitely want to be drinking while you eat one of these.

Brown Butter Molasses Cookies

Makes about 2 dozen

Adapted from Bon Appetit

  • ½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • ¾ teaspoon ground cardamom
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 large egg, room temperature
  • ⅓ cup granulated sugar
  • ⅓ cup dark molasses
  • ¼ cup (packed) dark brown sugar
  • Raw sugar, for rolling
  1. Heat oven to 375°. Melt butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until foaming subsides and butter turns a nutty dark brown, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly.
  2. Whisk flour, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, cardamom, and salt in a small bowl. Whisk egg, brown butter butter, granulated sugar, molasses, and brown sugar in a medium bowl. Mix in dry ingredients just to combine. Refrigerate the dough for at least an hour or up to 24 hours.
  3. Place raw sugar in a shallow bowl. Scoop out dough by the tablespoonful and roll into balls. Roll in sugar and place on 2 parchment-lined baking sheets, spacing 2” apart. Using the heel of your hand, press down on cookies to flatten slightly. Sprinkle with a bit more raw sugar on top.
  4. Bake cookies, rotating baking sheets halfway through, until cookies are puffed, cracked, and just set around edges (over-baked cookies won’t be chewy), 8–10 minutes. You may have to bake the cookies in batches. Transfer to wire racks and let cool. Store in an airtight container with a piece of bread to keep them fresh for days.

Tuscan Kale, White Bean and Sausage Soup and Breaking Out of Your Comfort Zone

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A year or so ago, I read an article by Amanda Hesser on the future of food writing. As someone (clearly) interested in putting my kitchen work into words, I soaked up every morsel of advice. Amongst the facts and figures, one idea stood out: Amanda suggested to, “never eat the same meal twice. If you want to be knowledgeable about food, you need to experience it yourself.” I could not agree more. Whether or not you are a professional or home cook, it’s easy to retreat to your old standby meals. Everyone has one or two up their sleeve, whether it’s an omelet or osso buco. We turn to them for comfort and familiarity. I challenge you this: once you get the hang of a particular dish or recipe, tweak it. Swap out chicken breast for thighs, trade the baby spinach for those long stalks of Swiss chard. It could be as minute as a drizzle of good olive oil, a splash of vinegar. You may be pleased what you discover when you go off course a bit.

Kale, White Bean and Sausage Soup

This soup is one of my go-to meals, particularly as the weather grows colder. Each time it comes out a bit different  – I’ll try a new type of sausage, leafy green or herb combination. Each new version gives me a little more knowledge of flavor.

Serves 4-6

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 3 bulk hot Italian sausage links, casing removed*
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 1 carrots, diced
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 8 cups chicken stock
  • 1 teaspoon each chopped fresh rosemary and thyme
  • 1 dried bay leaf
  • 1 bunch Lacinato kale, stemmed and chopped
  • 2 cups cooked white beans (from a 15-ounce can or cooked from dry*)
  • Chili flakes
  • Olive oil, fresh grated Parmesan cheese and black pepper, for serving

In a large soup pot or Dutch oven, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the sausage and cook, breaking up any large chunks, until deep golden brown and crispy. Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate.

Add onion and carrot to pot with sausage drippings. Saute for about 5-10 minutes, until soft and translucent. You may need to add a bit more oil. Add stock, herbs and bay leaf and bring to a boil. Add kale and reduce to heat. Simmer on medium-low for about 10 minutes. Add beans and sausage and cook for a few minutes longer to heat through. Remove bay leaf. Taste and season with salt, pepper and chili flakes.

Garnish each bowl with a drizzle of olive oil, Parmesan cheese and fresh black pepper.

Notes:

You may purchase bulk sausage in casing at the grocery meat counter or in a butcher shop. When I am in the neighborhood, I stock up at The Meat Hook in Brooklyn. I mean, come on, you have your choice of ‘Classy’ or ‘Trashy’.

Jamie Oliver’s Beef Stew with Butternut Squash and Sunchokes

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This recipe is a Jamie Oliver classic, by way of my aunt. I am a big fan of Jamie, in particular what he’s doing across the pond at Recipease. I would love to travel to London and teach take a class there one day…

At first glance, this looked like any old recipe for beef stew. But looking closer, there was squash and sunchokes and a garlicky gremolata. What really caught my attention was the cooking method: Jamie doesn’t brown his meat, instead he sweats the onions, then throws everything else in the pot. This goes against all my training, but lo and behold: it worked. With the addition of the vegetables, the stew had a distinct sweetness; a welcome change from most other dark, intense beef stews.

Feel free to play around with the vegetables here. Swap out the butternut for sweet potato or kabocha squash and use any root vegetables you like (turnips would be good). Do not skip the gremolata – the stew needs a bit of herby tang to bring all that butternut sweetness into focus.

Jamie Oliver’s Beef Stew with Butternut Squash and Sunchokes

Serves about 4-5

Ingredients

Stew:

  • Olive oil
  • A small knob of butter
  • 1 onion, peeled and chopped
  • handful of fresh sage leaves
  • 2 parsnips, peeled and chopped
  • 3 carrots, peeled and chopped
  • 1/2 butternut squash, peeled, deseeded and diced
  • Handful sunchokes (Jerusalem artichokes), quartered (optional, see note)
  • 1 lb. small potatoes, quartered (optional, see note)
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1-1 3/4 lbs. beef stew meat (such as beef chuck), cut into 2″ pieces and tossed with a bit of flour
  • 1/2 bottle dry red wine
  • 1 1/4 cups beef or chicken stock

Gremolata:

  • Zest of 1 lemon
  • Handful fresh rosemary leaves, chopped
  • 1 glove garlic, minced

Heat oven to 300F. Melt butter and oil in a large oven-safe Dutch oven. Add onion and sage and sweat for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the parsnips, carrot, butternut, sunchokes and/or potatoes. Add the tomato paste and stir to coat the vegetables. Add the meat, wine and stock and stir together. Increase heat to high and bring to a boil. Season well with salt and pepper. Cover the pot and place in the heated oven.

Braise the stew for 2-4 hours, checking after 2 hours for doneness. The meat should fall apart easily with a fork. Cooking time will depend on your meat; it may take as long as 4 hours depending on how fresh your meat is. Taste and season with salt and pepper. You may hold the cooked stew until ready to serve at 225F.

Stir together the lemon zest, rosemary and garlic. Sprinkle a bit of the gremolata on each bowl of stew before serving. Best eaten with good red wine.

Note:I decided to omit the potatoes, as the sunchokes provide enough texture for my taste. One of my favorite ways to serve a braise like this is over mashed potatoes, so in lieu of potato overload, I opt to nix them.

You may find sunchokes (also called Jerusalem artichokes) at Whole Foods or your local farmer’s market. They look like a gnarly potato, but have a sweet, nutty flavor reminiscent of chestnuts. If you can’t find them, don’t sweat it, just add potatoes.

Patron XO Cafe Cupcakes

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I love baking for birthdays. Nothing beats a cake from scratch or batch of cookies. Maybe it’s lingering childhood memories of homemade (never store bought) birthday cakes. I made these simple chocolate cupcakes for my roommate’s birthday in August. The cake is an old recipe from Moosewood restaurant in Ithaca, New York. The original did not involve soaking the cake in coffee-flavored tequila (that’s my twist). Patron XO Cafe is a rich, sweet coffee/chocolate liqueur that is the perfect addition to buttercream frosting – it’s just boozy enough to feel worthy of a birthday.

Chocolate Cupcakes

Loosely adapted from Moosewood Restaurant

  • 1 ½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • ⅓ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup sugar
  • ½ cup vegetable or canola oil
  • 1 cup cold water or coffee
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
  • 1/4 cup Patron XO Cafe liqueur

Frosting

Adapted from Magnolia Bakery

  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
  • 6-8 cups powdered sugar, sifted
  • 1/4 cup coffee liqueur (I used Patron XO Cafe)
  • 2 tsp. pure vanilla extract or vanilla  bean paste
  • Pinch Kosher salt

Cupcakes:

Heat oven to 375F. Line a cupcake pan(s) with 12 liners. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, salt and sugar. In another bowl, whisk together the oil, water or coffee and vanilla. Pour the liquid mixture into the dry ingredients and whisk to combine. When the mixture is smooth, stir in the vinegar and thoroughly combine. Divide the batter amongst the 12 cupcake liners. Bake for 25-30 minutes until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool completely.

With a toothpick or skewer, poke a few holes in the top of each cupcake. Using a pastry brush, coat each cupcake with the liqueur. This is called imbibing and it will allow the flavors to really soak into the cupcake.

Frosting:

Beat butter and a few cups of sugar until fluffy, about 5 minutes. Gradually add the rest of the powdered sugar, alternating with coffee liqueur, until frosting is thick, creamy and fluffy. Take your time with this, you really want to fully incorporate the sugar before adding more. You may not need all the sugar. Add vanilla and a pinch of salt. Transfer to a piping bag with a star tip or frost the cupcakes by hand. You may have extra frosting. It will keep for a few days in the fridge. Just allow it to come to room temperature before using.

Watermelon-Jalapeno Gazpacho with Lime Yogurt Crema

It’s currently 90 degrees in NYC. It’s so hot I actually look forward to riding on the air-conditioned subway. I saw an ad on the train the other day for Seamless that justified ordering takeout as an alternative to sweating it out in the kitchen. Fair enough, Seamless. I cook in hot kitchens on the reg for my personal chef clients. When I come home, the thought of cooking something (anything) for myself on the stove is just…no. I’ve been doing a lot of salads and far too many smoothies. But alas, (wo)man can not live on salad alone.

Let’s talk gazpacho. It’s soup, but it’s cold. It’s exotic (does Spain count as exotic?) It requires no cooking whatsoever.  Not convinced yet? Check out this beaut:

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That’s right, I went ahead and made this Spanish street food into a full-fledged first course. It’s as easy as making a smoothie, but it tastes kind of like a salad. #Winning

Watermelon-Jalapeno Gazpacho with Lime Yogurt Crema

Inspired by Relish by Daphne Oz

Makes about 10 cups

Ingredients

For Gazpacho:

  •  5 plum tomatoes, chopped
  • 1/2 small red onion, chopped
  • 3 cups watermelon, chopped
  • 1/2 English cucumber, chopped
  • 1 jalapeno, seeded and chopped
  • 1 small garlic clove, chopped
  • 1 lime, juiced
  • Handful fresh cilantro, chopped
  • Red wine vinegar, to taste
  • Kosher salt, to taste

For Lime Yogurt Crema:

  • Plain Greek yogurt
  • Lime juice
  • Kosher salt

For serving:

  • Torn basil and mint (optional)
  • Olive oil

Directions

  1. In a blender, combine the tomatoes, red onion, watermelon, cucumber jalepeno, garlic, lime juice and cilantro. Blend until smooth (you may need to do this in batches). Add red wine vinegar and salt, to taste. Chill for a few hours before serving.
  2. For the lime yogurt crema: stir together the yogurt, lime juice and a bit of salt to taste.
  3. Ladle cold soup into bowls (I like to freeze mine for extra refreshment!) Top with a dollop of crema, basil, mint and a drizzle of olive oil.