Have you heard? It’s raining in LA.  I am sure my readers in Canada and New York and Chicago and Utah and Montana and Michigan and… everywhere else outside California, with real, snowy winters of your own, may not consider several consecutive days of rain in Southern California to be newsworthy, but around here it’s quite the story.  In a land where “winter” is marked by blooming camelias and perpetual tans, a bit of a drizzle on the Golden Globes’ red carpet is practically unthinkable.


I miss seasons.  When our rain finally comes, I revel in it.  The towering eucalyptus trees across the street broadcast their mossy, lilting scent over our house whenever a gust of wind wafts through their rainsoaked branches.  As I climb the stairs to our front door on a rainy night, I marvel at the scent, thinking this is what every candle and fabric softener has tried to mimic with fragrance names like eucalyptus rain.


Evenings this week have been chilly and damp as the storms wax and wane.  It’s perfect weather for a bowl full of something rich and spicy.  The kind of thing you’d describe as rib-sticking.  I’ve been particularly enamored with quinoa recently, and find it to be a lovely base for this quick, spicy chicken stew.  You might not use all the quinoa you’ll make here – toss leftovers with the ingredients for a chickpea salad for a profoundly filling lunch.  Serve the stew with extra sriracha to keep your ribs warm as you watch your snow, your rain, or your camelias.
(Keep reading Spicy Chicken & Quinoa Stew…)


Wee, tiny versions of regular-sized things are almost always irresistible.  Mini Twix? Check. Kittens? Check. Those tiny, lady finger bananas? Double check.  Brussels sprouts? Not so much.

I think of them as an adult vegetable – one you only learn to properly appreciate when you’ve finally laid your inner six-year-old to rest so she can stop saying EWWW about such things. They’re a nutritional powerhouse, packed with vitamins and protein.  And they are as cute as they can be, like perfect little cabbages for fairies and other small creatures interested in vitamin K.


I happen to love them.   After I was inspired to try Suzanne Goin’s balsamic braised version (amazing), I started playing around with other ways to braise these mighty balls of leafy might to perfection.  One night, I decided to use them in place of pasta under simple pan-seared scallops.  Braised in the tomato sauce, the Brussels sprouts took on a rich, tangy flavor while adding enough bulk to reasonably qualify the dish as a one-bowl meal.  Their earthy heft handily balances the scallops’ sweet, spongy levity here; add a heel of crusty bread and you have a perfect storm of flavor and texture.  It’s satisfying but not heavy which comes in handy in this, the season of dietetic good intentions.


Since it’s technically winter (even Los Angeles is hurting for decent fresh tomatoes this time of year), I stick with canned tomatoes.  I’ve been enjoying the various offerings in Muir Glen’s 2009 Organic Reserve gift box recently, and the fire roasted diced tomatoes were an absolute knock out for this sauce.  Any 14.5 oz can of petite diced tomatoes will do, but I highly recommend looking into Muir Glen for a bit of extra sparkle.
(Keep reading Braised Brussels Sprouts with Tomatoes and Scallops…)


It took me weeks to figure out why I am almost always somewhat disappointed by fresh, hot apple cider.  Months, even.  I greedily snap up jugs of the stuff as soon as it shows up in our grocery store.  One jug lives in the fridge (sometimes a depressingly short life, truth be told) while its backup dancers keep a juicy vigil over the rest of the dry storage in the laundry room.  It’s not that I don’t end up drinking it; I can polish off a half gallon during an episode of House if I put my mind to it.  I just prefer it cold.

And yet I want to love it as a hot beverage.  Is there anything more intrinsically blessed with your mind’s perfect image of fall?  Hot apple cider screams fall and winter, the very words on a page conjure images of orchard donuts and bales of hay, or Dickensian Christmas scenes with cherry-cheeked children scampering around a cozy living room in their socks while the dog barks with joy.  Right?

So every year, I approach my first mug of hot cider with unforgivably poetic expectations.  Like, over the top.  The kind that would make Norman Rockwell roll his eyes and say “girl, pull yourself together and drink the damned apple juice.”  And every year I am slightly disappointed.  Every year, that is, until this one.


My friend Josh was kind enough to share his favorite wassail recipe on his blog, and at the very mention I knew what was missing from my cider.  I didn’t want hot cider at all.  When fall clicks its heels on my doorstep and ushers a biting crispness into the air, I want wassail.  The sweet acidity of the orange juice and lemon juice bring something lively to the cup. And oh, the spices.  As they mull together with each other, the juices, the maple syrup, they reach the perfect storm of spicy complexity that I’ve been missing in all those mugs of plain hot cider.  Beautiful.

It’s a rather Christmassy drink, I’ll give you that.  But I maintain that it’s never too late to indulge yourself in something so wonderful.  Enjoy yourself; it’s a brand new year.

(Keep reading Wintry Wassail…)

Spend the better part of 27 years following an academic calendar and you’ll suffer a few years of being taken unaware by the holidays.  That’s my excuse, anyway.  It has been over two years since I graduated from law school, and I’m still a bit lost when it comes to taking note of the advent of Advent.  Throw in the fact that I live in a land of two seasons (very nice and nice) and I’m perpetually surprised by the emails and phone calls from my family asking what I want for birthday/Chanukah/Christmas.  Even though I loudly lamented the lack of time to shop, the end of fall semester was an easy way to mark the coming holidays.  If you are one of those lucky folks with an internal calendar, I suspect you already have your shopping done and can totally disregard the rest of this post.


For those of you who suffer like me, here are a few gift ideas to round out your holiday shopping.  Scrambling for night 8? Nothing says “I did NOT forget!” like presenting someone with an envelope containing a screen shot of the things you ordered.   Looking more along the lines of kitchen equipment and gadgetry? See my Kitchen Equipment page for ideas.  Full disclosure: I participate in the Amazon Associates program, and receive a small percentage of the purchase price for Amazon purchases made through this site.  Wondering what the picture of creme-filled vols-au-vent has to do with gifts? Nothing. I just didn’t want it to go to waste. Now, on to the gifts!

Ratio - for everyone with an iPhone and a kitchen

As I have previously mentioned, Michael Ruhlman’s book Ratio is an essential addition to any home cook’s library. By breaking recipes into 32 fundamental ratios, Ruhlman arms you with the tools to go beyond recipes and launch into your own universe of tinkering and experimenting with your cooking.  As if the book were not enough, he has recently released an iPhone app by the same name that includes the 32 critical ratios, each complemented by a calculator that adjusts the ratio according to your inputs. It has a save feature, and allows you to add notes to your recipes for later recall.  Out of all the recent attempts to marry classic concepts with new technology, this might be the very best union yet.  At $4.99, it’s also a fantastic buy.  I’ve included a link below for the book; consider giving them as a pair.

Zingerman’s - for everyone with a mouth

This isn’t so much a specific gift recommendation as it is an introduction to my very favorite gift source. For the uninitiated, Zingerman’s is a magical deli in Ann Arbor, Michigan that boasts a robust mail order business.  If you find yourself in Ann Arbor, do not leave until you have stopped by the deli on Kingston.  If you have more time and feel like serious restaurant indulgence, the Zingerman’s Roadhouse takes comfort food to another level.  Let me put it this way: the Roadhouse introduced me to the donut sundae concept, and I have never looked back.

Gift-wise, is the end-all, be-all resource for the foodies on your list, or anyone who falls into that difficult has-everything-they-need category.  They carry everything from cheeses to baked goods to cured meats to rare and wonderful vinegars.  The customer service folks are kind and knowledgeable - if you find yourself unable to make a decision, give them a call and they’ll be glad to help.  Here are a few of my favorites, but this is just the tip of the tasty Zingerman’s iceberg.

Gingerbread Coffeecake
Cookie Sampler
Peppered Bacon Farm Bread
Chocolate Sourdough Bread
10-year Aged Balsamic

Agrodolce White Balsamic Vinegar
French Roast Coffee
Scones and Tea for Two
Arkansas Peppered Bacon

Ice Milk Aprons - for the woman who loves simple, classic things

In a world of disposable everything, it is refreshing to find people who design products with future generations in mind.  The lovely folks at Ice Milk Aprons are enchantingly enamored with the concept of heirlooms and have fashioned their beautiful aprons as such.  Available in full or half lengths (mine is pictured below), these gorgeous aprons are meant to be loved in your kitchen, then passed along for new lives in generations to come.  Each apron comes in an heirloom kit, complete with a tag to hold its owners’ embroidered initials and recipe cards for your most treasured creations (which come in handy even if you, ahem, happen to store your recipes in a decidedly unromantic, electronic form, like someone I know).  One of these days, I’ll post a picture of myself actually wearing my beautiful apron.  Such an occurrence will require a combination of foresight and daylight that has yet to manifest in the Salty Spoon kitchen.  In the meantime, enjoy the way it looks on a vintage Madame Bust:

Photo courtesy of Ice Milk Aprons

Photo courtesy of Ice Milk Aprons

OXO Mini Measuring Cup - for the usefulness quota inherent in every stocking

Some of the most profound workhorses in my kitchen happen to be the smallest.  This 4 tablespoon liquid measuring cup by OXO is one of those little workers - I use it almost every time I cook, especially when I halve or quarter a recipe and need an eighth of a cup of liquid.  Yes, you can always remind yourself that 4 tablespoons equals a quarter cup, but it’s nice to have the same measurement spelled out in several, easy-to-read units.  This isn’t one of those gifts that will knock the recipient’s socks off right away; soon, though, they’ll find themselves stunned and barefoot.



If I were to write out a list of every good cookbook with which I’m acquainted, the post would be unmanageable. Instead, here are a few favorites and a few recent finds that I think are particularly delightful.

Sunday Suppers at Lucques - for anyone seeking a bit of simple elegance

The Craft of Baking - for your favorite baker

The Grand Central Baking Book - for your other favorite baker


craft-baking grand-central

Betty Crocker: Everything You Need to Know to Cook Today - for the novice who doesn’t know where to begin

The Flavor Bible - for anyone looking to learn more about flavor profiles

Ratio - for the anyone looking to reach beyond mere recipes





About a year ago, I blew out a candle on a piece of white cake with pink frosting, my standard birthday fare. I made a wish.  I wished that I would have the inspiration, time, and wherewithal over the coming year to figure out a way to bring my writing and cooking together into a big, lovely project.  I wished for a way to begin building an audience of readers with whom I could share my love of food, cooking, and a few stories along the way.  In effect, I wished for all of you.

We have just finished off another white cake with pink frosting.  Why so simple, you ask? Though I like to think of myself as a reasonably seasoned baker, I never go with anything fancy or new or complicated for my own birthday.  The white and pink combination is something I fell in love with when I was very small - somewhere in that post-toddler epoch that finds so many little girls swaddling themselves in billows of pink everything.  I think it also has something to do with having a December birthday.  Once Thanksgiving comes and goes, the default thinking behind every decorated cake seems to begin and end with wintry/Christmas things until February comes along with its shower of red and pink clashiness. Somewhere along the way, I came to prefer a cake that didn’t have anything to do with the season.  To me, a stripe of pink frosting between layers of fluffy white cake just screams BIRTHDAY and nothing else.  Though I have been known to take my birthday cake in a chocolate direction (the recipe for which I must share with you soon, because it’s a real charmer), more often than not I find myself coming back to my favorite pink and white number.


The cake itself is just plain perfect.  Not only does it turn out beautifully every time I make it, you cannot find an easier recipe to execute.  Dump, mix, dump in the eggs, mix again.  I can barely justify a rundown for this one because it’s so incredibly simple.  Several years ago I looked and looked for a recipe that would give me a simple white cake with a tiny, moist crumb.  A few mediocre misfires lead me back to the Betty Crocker Cookbook, one of my kitchen’s secret weapons.  Straightforward, comprehensive, and full of helpful tables and asides, it is an invaluable resource for understanding cooking basics.  Plus, it’s ring-bound, which allows it to lie flat on your counter.  If you are ever looking for a cookbook that can act as a starting place for someone new to cooking, this is it.  My mom gave me a copy when I moved into my first apartment, and I refer to it at least once a week.  My copy is visibly well-loved and some of the pages have acquired dribs and drabs of their recipes, not the least of which is the page facing the recipe for this cake.


Back to that wish.  Tonight, my lovelies, I want to take a moment to thank you for being a part of this little blog of mine.  Over the past several months I have had the wonderful privilege of sharing my recipes, photos, and ramblings with you.  It has been a pleasure to read your comments, your emails, and share this wonderful journey through our kitchens together - over 7,000 kitchens to-date.  I can’t begin to tell you how honored I am to be part of your virtual food milieu.  Your willingness to return week after week is one of the best, most exhilarating gifts I have ever received.  Thank you.

(Keep reading White Birthday Cake…)


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’ve been putting off this post for a few weeks because I am desperately trying to remember the salient details of a story about lentil and sausage soup.  It was at least 20 years ago.  I can remember being doubled over laughing in the soup aisle of a grocery store, shrieking and crying over the hilarity of Progresso’s Lentil and Sausage Soup.  If you just stopped to reread that sentence in order to pick up whatever word you missed that would clue you in to what might possibly be so uproariously funny about lentil and sausage soup, do not panic.

That’s the detail I can’t remember.  I’ve been kicking that story stub around my poor little brain for several days to no avail, and I just can’t hold out on the recipe any longer.  It doesn’t help that I’ve had a song stuck in my head for days.  A horrible song.  It is nearly impossible to remember funny stories from your childhood when the one-hit-wonder LEN is screaming WOULD YOU STEAL MY SUNSHINE?!! during every quiet moment, to say nothing of the difficulties it presents at work.  I’m not going to say that those words made it into a motion last week, just that having professional proofreaders on staff is a really beautiful thing.

The upshot of the story is this: we tried the soup, it was amazing, I fell in love with the combination of lentils and sausage, and Progresso can enjoy an everlasting bout of shingles for discontinuing it.


Since the soup is no longer available, we have to make do on our own.  But freed from the confines of the can, lentils and sausage show themselves to be equally charming without the accompaniment of broth, their trusty backup dancer.  We had so much fun with butternut squash earlier this month that I thought I’d feature acorn squash, another one of my favorites.  Petite and perfect, they bake handsomely when paired with a little butter and maple syrup. I find combining them with lentils and sausage to be particularly satisfying.  The lentils and squash are both earthy and smooth, but in slightly different ways; their textures complement each other while their flavors layer gently.  Hot Italian sausage, when paired with the sweetness of the maple syrup, is vibrant but softly restrained.  The result is a happy little barbershop quartet of flavors, portioned perfectly in its own ready-made bowl.


You will notice that you end up with a lot of extra lentils.  It’s sort of intentional.  In order to avoid leaving you high and dry without sufficient lentil coverage for any particularly robust acorn squash you may encounter, I’ve asked you to make more than you need.  Still, since it’s frustrating to end up with an extra third of a serving of something, I’ve given you a basic proportion for about three cups of cooked lentils.  This way, you have plenty to eat as leftovers by themselves, in a salad, in soup, whathaveyou.  If having extra lentils really puts a knot in your knickers, reduce as your heart desires.
(Keep reading Acorn Squash with Lentils and Sausage…)


Peanut butter, your cookie reign has come to an end. Drop whatever you are doing and get a jar of almond butter, lovelies; a cookie revolution has begun.

Aside from the general avoidance annoyance inherent to any food allergy, I don’t feel like I miss out on very many things due to my inability to eat peanuts. True, peanut M&Ms were tough to give up at first (I didn’t figure out I was allergic to peanuts until I was in high school), but I rarely lament my inability to indulge in the world of everyone’s favorite salty legume.



Except that every so often I really miss peanut butter cookies. The rich, salty ombre of the peanut butter brings a toasty mellowness to an otherwise basic cookie dough in a way that I always found quite irresistible. Once, one of my dad’s coworkers gave everyone in their department a tin of peanut butter chocolate chip cookies and I thought I might keel over and die with happiness. They were, in a word, awesome. So awesome, in fact, that I find myself thinking about them every so often.

In thinking about those crazy, wonderful cookies the other day, I realized that I have never tried substituting almond butter for peanut butter in cookies. It seems like a reasonable substitution, but I have never seen a recipe that contemplates it. To my knowledge, I’ve never seen an almond butter cookie. After a bit of research to compare the properties of peanut butter and almond butter, I was convinced that I could swap one for the other without much fanfare.


I’m thrilled to share that it worked; after a few trials and tweaks, I think I’ve come up with a really satisfying cookie. In true peanut butter cookie fashion, the dough provides an ample yield, making this a wonderful option for holiday baking and gifting. You can omit the toasted almonds if you wish, but I think they lend something lovely to the final result. You can also swap them out for ¾ of a cup of semi-sweet chocolate chips for a chocolate chip cookie that will blow your cookie-loving mind. You will, I’m sorry to say, discover that the dough is perhaps the loveliest, richest, most craveable cookie dough you’ve come across in a long time. I recommend making these when everyone else is out of the house, lest you find yourself in competition for who gets to lick the beaters.

almond-butter-cookies-munch-ss (Keep reading Almond Butter Cookies…)


There are two reasons why Farmer Boy is my favorite Laura Ingalls Wilder novel, and both of them have to do with the descriptions of the food Almanzo Wilder enjoyed as a boy growing up on the farm.  The Wilders spared no expense in describing the food in this novel – and I suppose it should come as no surprise to me today that I loved these descriptions so dearly as a child.

The first reason has to do with the doughnuts Almanzo’s mother made on a regular basis.  I’m a lifelong doughnut fan, having grown up around the corner from Wally’s Donuts, a true mom and pop shop that I will tell you more about another time.  To me, doughnuts were (okay, still are) food nirvana.  Sweet, soft rings of dough topped with frosting and wrapped in fragile squares of waxed paper for me by Wally’s wife; bliss.  Still, I knew nothing about how they were made until I read Farmer Boy.  I have only recently begun making my own, and I can’t help but picture Almanzo and his mother whenever I slide a doughy ring into the hot oil.  What they shared by the stove is timeless, and it is part of why I cook so much today.

The second reason has to do with the pumpkin Almanzo raised for the fair.  To ensure maximum size, he devises a way to feed the pumpkin milk as it grows by slitting the stalk just above the chosen pumpkin and inserting a candle wick, the other end of which he places in a small dish of milk.  For years, I swore I would attempt the same.  One spring followed another and another, and each year my mom and I would plant pumpkins in the garden in our front yard.  Somehow, I never got around to tracking down a wick to test the milk-feeding method.  Instead, I watched in wonder as the blossoms became little secret orbs hiding beneath the vine’s broad, dusty leaves.  It was captivating, a daily treasure every day upon my return from school.


Ever since, I have come to love pumpkins and their related squash brethren as fall’s delivery on a tiny promise that begins in late spring with a hint of a something buried under a leaf.  Slowly, so slowly, they burgeon and ripen, developing tough rinds to ward off the elemental torment of months on the ground.  They are, to me, a sweet surprise to enjoy as night begins earlier and earlier; the subtle reminder the good things really do come to those who wait.

This recipe comes to me by way of my stepbrother, Brian.  He and his lovely wife, Sarah, dazzled the family with it last year in Salt Lake at Thanksgiving. It’s a genuine beauty, both visually and in terms of the delicate layers of flavors.  As you know, orange foods occupy a special place in my heart, and this dish is no exception. The spunky little orange cubes are silky and inviting, especially when stippled with a shot of fresh mint.  Sweet, tangy, garlicky, and salty, there is something in this dish for every palate.

(Keep reading Honeyed Butternut Squash…)


October was a powerful month. It managed to pull the perpetually sunny southern California into semi-submission to its wiles. During our 12-day visit to the east coast in the middle of the month, something here changed. Upon our return, it was as though a switch had been flipped. Suddenly it was dark for the first four snooze cycles of my alarm clock. My drive home was cloaked in navy velveteen, the sky betraying its last few gasps of mauve behind inky silhouettes of palm trees that keep watch over Sunset Boulevard.  Though warm and golden during the day, dawn and dusk decidedly fell prey to the seductive, autumnal call of October.

I can’t blame them. Even in temperate zones, fall is cotton-clad warmth. Fall is cozy. Fall is a gilded, tender embrace before the year tumbles swiftly and rambunctiously into oblivion. However fleeting it may be, fall is a lovely time of year.


As I bid adieu to summer’s berry-laden bounty each year, I am quickly comforted by the sweet, earthy delights of squash and wintry greens. Enter kale, and its acerbic wit. Growing up, I enjoyed heaps of kale in a delicate beef stew, speckled at the last minute with a beaten egg. Its stiffly leafed fortitude is no match for heat; no matter how many leaves you add to the stew, it always seems to accommodate them.

Though I had planned to braise a bunch of kale with cauliflower and beans last week, I couldn’t resist tossing a few leaves into a blistering hot pan with garlic and the last ears of the summer’s sweet corn. I made this for myself one night when I was home alone, fully intending it to complement some leftover chicken but never making it that far. The back-arching tang of the lemon joins with a bit of sea salt to goad the vegetables into asskicking mode. Pay attention, they seem to say, this is going to knock your socks off. Hang on tight and keep another pair of socks handy; November is here, and it isn’t messing around, either.

(Keep reading Kale and Sweet Corn…)

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