I’m not sure why I decided cinnamon rolls would be my Everest during the three weeks between graduating from college and starting my first real job, but I did. It was one of several projects I took on when faced with twenty empty days (the others being unpacking, sleeping in, and adopting a kitten previously rejected by Satan as being “too evil”). I wanted to find a recipe for really excellent cinnamon rolls. It had to deliver reliable, wonderful rolls every time, the kind of baked treasure that stops people in their tracks, wide-eyed and momentarily overwhelmed, before they exclaim WOW.


The first three recipes were unremarkable. They were too tough, too sweet, too boring. Something was fatally wrong with each one, and I began to get discouraged. I came upon a fourth recipe. Despite my skepticism, I dove in, pausing to figure out what it meant to scald the milk. The dough was smooth and satiny. It filled my tiny kitchen with a sweet, yeasty penumbra that sent little jolts of hopeful electricity into my dwindling expectations. I briefly lamented my lack of a rolling pin as I coaxed the dough into a large rectangle with a wine bottle covered in plastic wrap. It scarcely mattered that I couldn’t get it very even. The dough welcomed its thick mat of butter, brown sugar, and cinnamon with aplomb. I rolled it into a drippy, burgeoning tube, slicing it into a dozen syrupy disks that made their way into a cake pan.


After the second rise, I was astounded to see that the rolls had truly doubled in size. What had once come close to loosely filling the pan was now threatening to rise up and leave altogether. Surely, this was a sign of good things to come.


At the risk of sounding hopelessly twee, I will admit that I cried when I took my first bite of one of the rolls. Piping hot, silky, and feather-soft, it was like biting into a cloud in the version of heaven where everything is made of pastry (don’t tell me I’m the only one who has had that awesome dream, right?). After regaining my composure, I loaded up a plate with a few more rolls and settled down on my futon to watch an old favorite, Green Card. It occurred to me, as Andie McDowell and Gerard Depardieu acted out the lighter side of immigration fraud to the sounds of Enya, that I had something truly wonderful in my possession. It remains among my very favorite recipes, both to make and to share.


I have made these rolls in good times and bad.  I have made them for coworkers, for friends, for family, and for strangers.  I have made them with the full arsenal of a commercial kitchen and, most humbly, with a wooden spoon and a large pot.  Because they are a sure-fire crowd pleaser and require absolutely minimal equipment, I highly recommend taking the recipe with you when you travel.  You will be the houseguest who always gets invited back.
(Keep reading Cinnamon Rolls…)


I think we have talked about the way I pine for lazy weekend mornings to while away with plates of fresh muffins.

A recent foray into vegan, gluten-free cooking (long story) left me with a sizeable quantity of almond milk and gluten-free all-purpose flour (“GF AP”). I didn’t have specific designs on them at first, but figured the inventive mood would strike at some point. One morning, it did.


And here is where I confess something slightly embarrassing. I make biscuits with Bisquick. I know, I know. It’s rather antithetical to all of my feelings about baking. I’m wrapping myself in a little shower curtain of shame in order to explain this, but it’s relevant to the how and why I decided to try using almond milk in muffins, so stick with me. After months of enjoying the splendor of traditional baking powder biscuits made with butter, John and I decided to get back on Weight Watchers (a wagon from which we have long since fallen). After recommitting to the double-W, we couldn’t justify the eleventy vermillion points in a serving of those biscuits (vermillion is a number with so many zeroes it turns red). One day, I discovered that Bisquick’s Heart Healthy baking mix made decent, though not equivalent, biscuits. What can I say, they are incredibly fast and relatively low in calories and fat.

Have I lost all baking credibility with you? I hope not. Remember the marshmallows? The bread? The olive oil cake? Surely you can cut me a smidgen of slack for this one thing. Oh, and if John tries to tell you about a bag of frozen potstickers that allegedly appears in our freezer on occasion, HE IS LYING.


So. As I was saying, I had gobs of almond milk and GF AP and no plans for either. On a whim, I decided to see what would happen if I used almond milk in place of regular milk in my Bisquick biscuits. My reaction, upon opening the oven, summoned from my core an authentic, Utahn OH MY HECK that would have made Norm Bangerter proud. They were HUGE and had the most amazing texture – pillowy soft with the tiniest crumb.

Since the basic muffin recipe is quick and quite malleable when it comes to ingredient manipulation, I decided to take the almond milk for another spin and see what it could do. When combined with GF AP, the result is scrumptious and workable for the gluten-free and dairy-free crowds (so long as your dairy-free parameters concern Things That Come From a Cow; the recipe includes eggs).

Food allergy/intolerance struggles are near and dear to my little peanut-allergic heart. I’m pleased to offer this recipe for my gluten-free and dairy-free friends who yearn for baked things that don’t suffer in texture or taste.  All too often, recipe adaptations for food allergies/intolerances are woeful approximations of the real thing.  In tasting these muffins (and sharing them with my lovely, gluten-free neighbor), I was really heartened to see that they taste and feel like…muffins.  They aren’t a weak knock-off, they’re just good.  Give them a shot, whether or not you happen to have a hard time with gluten or milk proteins.  You’ll have something wonderful to share with those who do.


The blueberries get a subtle but beautiful boost from the maple syrup (again, thank you Flavor Bible). If you want your berries to be further and fewer between, skip folding them into the batter and sink them, individually, with your fingers once you’ve portioned the batter into the wells.

Note that this recipe also works with spelt flour, if you happen to have some around. If you go with spelt flour, I recommend a food scale so you can measure out 8 oz – it’s a little more dense than GF AP, and you’ll want slightly less than the 1 ¾ cups called for here. Spelt, for the uninitiated, is not gluten-free; if you swap it in place of the GF AP flour, you can’t feed these to your Celiac friends. If gluten isn’t an issue, I highly recommend playing around with spelt flour – it’s high in protein and has a lovely nutty, sweet flavor.

(Keep reading Gluten-Free Blueberry Muffins…)


I lost my mind while studying for the bar.  Sort of.  For the uninitiated, bar study is a long, lonely process that readies you, in part, for the actual exam by making you so vomitously tired of the studying that you arrive on test day with a head so swimming with “let’s just do this thing” that you forget to be nervous.

One of the few unscripted days in our agenda that summer was July 4.  Overwhelmed by the promise of an utterly free day, I decided to make things.  Two things, to be exact.  I made the chuppah for my wedding, and I made a fruit buckle.  The former took about 14 hours that day, and another 20 hours the week before the wedding; the latter took about an hour and made for a lovely breakfast.


Even today, I can’t quite explain why I found it important, nay, necessary to make the canopy for our chuppah.  Nor can I explain why I thought it would be a good way to learn to quilt.  And, even when pressed, I come up completely empty-handed when it comes to explaining how my calculations that day resulted in a chuppah canopy that is substantially larger than a king-sized bed.  Apparently, I wanted to make sure we had room to both get married and do the Highland Fling underneath its gentle, convex arc.

The ladies at the quilt shop were not particularly convinced that this project was going to be a success.  I think I explained the whole venture about 8 times, though several of those iterations were spent describing How a Jewish Wedding Works to these septuagenarian Protestant women.   In the end, we figured it out.  They sent me on my way with a bag full of quilting tools, a bundle of gorgeous fabric, and good wishes underscored by a Germanic skepticism that’s undetectable to those who haven’t spent quality time in the Midwest.  I still owe them a picture.


I think the fact that I stuck with the quilting until the end really illustrates the insanity that flourishes during bar study; when faced with a free day, I shunned the temptation of naps and television in order to work my fingers to the bone and give myself a neck cramp that lasted for the ensuing two months.   Still, 14 episodes of Law & Order later (I studied for evidence by shouting out objections throughout the trial scenes), I had made enough progress in piecing together the quilt squares that turning back was impossible.  It was a devil’s bargain, bound up in fat quarters of gold calico.

The buckle, on the other hand, was a no-brainer.  As I have mentioned here before, my mom is an excellent cook.   So when she calls me and says “I’m sending you a recipe; I think it’s the best thing I’ve ever eaten,” I listen.


A buckle is characterized by a rich cake batter mixed with fruit, topped by more fruit and a crunchy streusel topping. Some variations involve spreading the cake batter over a layer of fruit at the bottom of the pan, but I prefer to fold the fruit into the cake. Blueberries are the classic buckle accompaniment, but wonderful things can come from using raspberries, huckleberries, blackberries - whatever suits you that happens to be fresh and in season.   Somewhere, between the jammy layers of berries and the brown sugar splendor of the crumb topping, you’ll find a moment where you can’t help but furrow your brow and exclaim “Mmm! That is good.”

(Keep reading Berry Buckle…)


Oh lovelies. It feels like it’s been a while, probably because it has.  I was out of town for several days this past week, working like a madwoman on a case.  Though the work was kind of exciting and allowed me to keep the most delightful company all week, I was very glad to come home – to my own bed, my house, my sweet husband, my cats, and my kitchen.

I wrote up this recipe before I left but didn’t have time to post while I was on the road.  This is a perfect dinner for a night when you come home late, weary from the day but with a ravenous belly.  It’s quick, satisfying, and falls squarely in that tiny space in my mind where I turn when I say “it’s either this or chips and salsa.”  Bear with me, friends, and more regular posts will resume soon.  In the meantime, go bake some bread!

(Keep reading Skillet Potatoes with Chickpeas and Salsa Verde…)


My first attempt at scones was, essentially, a disaster.  It ranks in my the top three episodes of Things I Can’t Believe I Asked Other People To Eat.

I was a newly-minted college grad trying to settle into my first apartment, a spartan one-bedroom with awful carpet.   In fact, the carpet was so horrible I couldn’t bring myself to purchase a vacuum in order to take care of it.  Rather than spend all that money on something so boring to use on something so ugly, I adopted the weekly ritual of wrapping my arms in masking tape and rolling around on the floor until I had sufficiently attracted all the errant cat litter.  Looking back, it’s really not hard to see why I was single.

The scones came about in the process of hosting my first dinner party.  It was the best kind – the guests were bringing everything but dessert.  At the time, my bakeware arsenal was limited to a single cookie sheet and a pyrex brownie pan, so my dessert options were relatively narrow and did not include the layer cake I would have preferred.  A pile of blueberries were lurking about in the fridge, waving their arms and shouting ME! ME! ME! ME! ME! as they threatened to grow fur and walk out if I didn’t use them soon.  So scones made sense.


If my bakeware stash was limited, my pantry bordered on barren.  Rather than pony up and stock it appropriately, I decided to grow my kitchen more slowly by adding a few staples to my grocery cart each week.  Baking powder hadn’t yet made the cut, a detail I unfortunately overlooked as I scanned the shelves to confirm that I had the necessary ingredients for my scones.  Let this be a lesson to you – make damned sure you have everything before you start cooking, lest you find yourself up a leavening agent creek without a baking powder paddle.

With less than an hour before the guests were set to arrive, I found myself staring at a bowl of dry ingredients in want of baking powder.  All I had was baking soda.  They are, sadly, not the same thing – baking powder has an acidifying agent that baking soda lacks, and without it the leavening action won’t be the same.  Panicked, I frantically searched online for something, anything, that would tell me how to augment my recipe to accommodate baking soda.  Acid! I had a lemon! Problem solved!

Sort of.

Remember those super ripe blueberries?  They sure were blue.  Purple, really.  Had everything gone according to plan, the scones would have been quite purple from the berries’ abundant, inky juice.  So it shouldn’t have been a great surprise to find that the introduction of the (faintly yellow) lemon juice turned the dough a striking teal.  Really teal.  Tourist-fanny-pack teal.  Trashy-nail-polish teal.  Pontiac-minivan-from-the-mid-90s teal.  TEAL.

The scones tasted fine, and the supplemental acid actually yielded appropriate leavening from the ill-suited baking soda, but I’m telling you they didn’t look like food.  After our lovely meal of roast beef, mashed potatoes, and roasted summer vegetables, I withered a bit and presented my monstrosities with the promise that they tasted better than they looked.  It is to my guests’ credit that they so ably concealed their horror as they choked down the first bite.  I promptly relegated scones to the realm of Things I Don’t Make (where they joined baklava and beef jerky), and forgot about them for almost a decade.

Scones and I have since reconciled.  They have made their way into my regular weekend breakfast rotation, and I hope you will give them a try.  If you aren’t moved by the maple cinnamon action, substitute nuts, finely chopped dried fruit, mini chocolate chips, or any combination thereof.  The underlying recipe comes from the lovely Clotilde Dusoulier.  If you aren’t familiar with Chocolate & Zucchini, please give it a browse.  Her sensibilities are nothing short of delightful.

(Keep reading Maple Cinnamon Scones…)


We saw it as a sin to waste excess frosting. Never bound to follow a strict recipe, my mom and I would mix and taste, mix and taste until we had a bowl of smooth, hearty buttercream frosting for whatever cake or brownie begged to be dressed. There’s nothing wrong with following a recipe – and I regularly do with tinted frosting to be sure I avoid having to make more that would risk being a different color – but the ad hoc way is much more fun. It almost always means leftovers, the best kind.

I remember one afternoon during my senior year of high school. I came across a bowl of leftover frosting on the kitchen counter as I made my daily post-school forage through the kitchen. It was chocolate buttercream. Whatever baked good had been its original target was gone – all that remained was this bowl of excess joy. I hastily grabbed a teaspoon and dove in for one, good bite. Then another. And another. My indulgent solitude splintered when my mom came upstairs to find her piggy daughter shoveling frosting into her mouth. “Bria!” she hissed, and there was a pregnant pause while she marched into the kitchen, during which time I was sure she was about to scold me for wolfing down frosting straight from the bowl. “Use a big spoon.” She pulled two dinner spoons out of the silverware drawer and joined me as we savored the excesses of our prior handiwork.

So it would be accurate to say I have a sweet tooth. And that I come by it honestly.

I do not understand people who say they “don’t like sweets.” When I hear that, I feel as bewildered as I would if someone were telling me “I don’t really like having arms.” Still, as my advancing years teeter on the brink of 30, I find myself acquiring new-found patience for accommodating such bizarre tendencies (though I will draw the line at cutting anyone else’s meat so they don’t have to be bothered with the imposition of their northern appendages). My arsenal of demi-sweet desserts is growing, and I can begrudgingly admit I enjoy them, too.

This olive oil cake mediates handsomely between the sweet-loving and the sweet-tolerating factions. Mildly sweet, it allows the nutty pizzazz of the olive oil to lilt upon the palette in a sly, flirty dance. The original recipe calls for Grand Marnier, which I have replaced with drambuie and almond extract. Despite many attempts to otherwise align my palate, I do not care much for citrus liqueurs. If you feel differently, substitute 3 tablespoons of Grand Marnier for the other liqueurs. Use the best, brightest-tasting olive oil you can justify. I serve this with a simple dusting of powdered sugar, but it would also be lovely with a berry coulis or a sugary glaze. If you go that route and end up with extra glaze for snacking, be sure to use a big spoon.

(Keep reading Olive Oil Cake…)


Happiness. adj. The occasional combination of (i) a pot of coffee, (ii) a plate of simple muffins, and (iii) a Saturday morning.

Lovelies, I have just revealed to you my inner sloth. Left to my own devices and otherwise unencumbered by other obligations, I can stretch a batch of muffins and a pot of coffee well into early afternoon as I faff about watching Bravo. But I’m persnickety. Not just any muffin will do. It has to be fresh, and it has to be simple. No overdressed Starbucks monstrosities or cupcakes slumming it without their frosting; a triple-chocolate, wrapper-wearing something or other is not my Saturday style.

You’ll find a ziptillion muffin mixes in the baking aisle of your grocery store. Please walk on by. Two bowls, a muffin tin, and a few ingredients are all that separate you from one of breakfast’s basic beauties. They are tremendously simple and very much worth the modicum of extra effort.


If chocolate chips aren’t your thing, add a handful of chopped pecans or dried cherries. If you really want to get snazzy, spoon a large dollop into each well of your muffin tin, add a small spoonful of jam to the center of each dollop, and top with the rest of the batter. The jam will stay put and make for tasty centers.

The underlying recipe comes from Michael Ruhlman’s excellent book, Ratio: The Simple Codes Behind the Craft of Everyday Cooking (see link in the sidebar).  You’ll notice that the quantities for the flour, sugar, milk, and butter are listed first by weight.  If you have a food scale, use it.  Volume measurements are listed in the parentheses and will also work.


(Keep reading Simple Chocolate Chip Muffins…)


Ah, the Passover diet.  No bread?  No pasta?  No rice?  Sweet!  It’s like Atkins, the holy way!  Just think of all the weight I’ll lose!

Wrong.  The sneaky thing about Passover food is two-fold.  First, many favorite recipes outside a Seder menu are variations on the theme of What Can We Do With Matzo Today?  For the uninitiated, matzo is flour and water that has been shaped and baked very quickly to prevent leavening (rabbinic law states that there cannot be more than 18 minutes from the time the water hits the flour to the time the matzo comes out of the oven).  Leavened or not, flour is flour and has between 400-500 calories per cup.    Second, in order to hide the fact that matzo is essentially a giant, flavorless, unsalted Saltine, most variations on the WCWDWMT? theme involve great quantities of eggs, butter, cheese, or some combination thereof.

I love Passover.  It’s a wonderful holiday with truly excellent traditions to savor.  And though it can be kind of a pain, I actually really enjoy keeping Kosher for Passover.  It’s just one of those things you do, with purpose, that helps you express your faith physically as well as spiritually.  As a Jew by Choice (the modern, touchy-feely longhand for “convert”), there is extra significance to me in adopting a ritual that is older than dirt, but very new to me.  It helps remind me why I made this choice, and how it is a part of my identity from here on out.


Constructing multiple, filling meals a day without the benefit of a normal complement of starches and grains can be tough.  You cannot eat matzo pizza for 24 meals, no matter how easy they are to throw together in the microwave.  Well, I guess you can, but I can’t.

So here you are, too far from your family to eat mom’s Greatest Passover Hits every day.  Or maybe you’re like me, all grown up and newly Jewish.  Or maybe you’ve decided to keep K-for-P for the first time in your life, much to your family’s confusion.  Whatever reason brings you to the internet in search of Passover-friendly recipes, you may have already discovered that Seder menus are easy to find, and that what you’re supposed to eat for the rest of the week can be a bit of a mystery.  Particularly breakfast.

Yes, yes, I know you can put together a satisfactory breakfast that doesn’t involve bread.  On weekdays during Passover, I stick with fruit and a hard-boiled egg.  But weekends for us usually involve indulging in biscuits and jam while we watch reruns of any Law & Order flavor we can find.  I’ve always liked making something nice and carby for weekend breakfasts, and Passover doesn’t seem like a reason to stop.

Enter matzo brei.  There are about a zillion ways to make this, and it’s one of those dishes about which people can have bizarrely strong feelings.  It’s only good if you make it with onions!  You have to make it sweet!  The matzo should be soaked before you break it!  Break the matzo before you soak it!  Frittata-style!  Scrambled eggs-style!  It’s exhausting, really.

I like to stir mine constantly, so it comes out as a heap of little egg-covered pieces of matzo.  And I add a little cinnamon and sugar at the end to make it sweet.  There are dozens of recipes and techniques out there, but this is mine.