Faux Pho Soup

Meaty beef short ribs and beef shank ensure a rich broth, the star of this Pho Soup. Simmering cinnamon and star anise ensure a wonderfully scented house.

A bowl of Pho Soup garnished with mint, cilantro and lime
…the season of suicide and divorce and prickly dread, wherever the wind blows.”
                                                         – Joan Didion, Slouching Toward Bethlehem

No riot of color or chilling air, October’s subtlety in LA is lost to anyone not labeled “native.” Feigning Hollywood starlet ennui, tanned summer leaves serenely suicide from weary trees, “Too hot,” they lament, “I cannot stay a moment longer.” Stifling Santa Ana winds unfurl scents of burning sagebrush with feelings of prickly dread and stopped time. “Earthquake weather,” we proclaim. Porch lights flicker awake by 6:00 pm, lighting barefoot children pedaling bikes in dusty cul-de-sacs. LA quietly shifts into autumn, leaving paroxysms of sunset hues to the other coast.

Coincidentally, this soup popped up on my Facebook memories for today – I first made this recipe exactly seven years ago.


Faux Pho Soup

Meaty beef short ribs and beef shank ensure a rich broth in the Pho Soup. Simmering cinnamon and star anise ensure a wonderfully scented house.


Ingredients

  • 1 ½ lbs. bone-in beef short ribs
  • 1 ½ lbs. beef shank, cut into 2 or 3 pieces
  • ½ onion, sliced
  • 1-inch piece ginger, smashed
  • 1 bunch scallions, white parts smashed and greens chopped and reserved
  • 2 large garlic cloves, smashed
  • Fresh red chili or serrano chili, stemmed and halved
  • 6 cups water
  • 2 Tablespoons soy sauce
  • 2 whole star anise
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 8 oz. dried flat Asian rice noodles
  • Mint sprigs, roughly torn
  • Cilantro leaves, roughly torn
  • Lime wedges
  • salt and white pepper

Directions

  1. Brown meat in batches in a large soup pot with a bit of oil. Set meat aside. Saute onion, ginger, white parts of scallions, garlic cloves, and chili until onion begins to brown.
  2. Add water, soy sauce, star anise, and cinnamon. Return meat and any accumulated juices to pot. Bring to boil, reduce heat, cover, and simmer for 2 ½ hours.
  3. Transfer meat to cutting board. Discard bones and membrane and shred meat into small pieces.
  4. Strain broth through a sieve lined with cheese cloth and skim fat. Add meat back into broth and season with salt and white pepper.
  5. Meanwhile, cook rice noodles according to package directions. Place noodles in individual bowls, add scallion greens, torn mint springs and torn cilantro leaves. Ladle hot soup over noodles and finish with a squeeze of lime juice.

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Moroccan Berber Soup

This highly-flavored soup relies on an exotic mix of spices to provide its complex flavor.

A bowl of Moroccan Berber Soup

Last Monday, she was surprised to discover a long weekend punctuating the end of her week. Her weekend plans were already set – big plans – plans to simmer soups and trim gangly backyard bushes; plans to kick her blogging back in gear and plans for uninterrupted hours of reading. Plans to nest and regroup, really. Once she realized the calendar was gifting her today as a bonus (Columbus Day, really?), her mind turned instead to great escapes, her grand plans easily slipping away – the simmering, the trimming, the blogging, the nesting. Her mind has been on a roller coaster of late and, even more than her kitchen, miles of asphalt between her and her problems pacify troubled thoughts. Her first idea was a hotel and mineral springs nestled in an oasis of desert palms about 90 minutes from home – tranquility and a lobotomy brought to you by three days of pruney soaks. Sadly, her budget and their rates did not align. Her next solution, further afield, was a rustic riverside cabin sheltered within a shaded grove of pines. Sold out. Disheartened, she resigned herself to stay home, with soup and bushes and blog and books, wishing to be somewhere else entirely.

Flashing back to 2009, I developed this Moroccan-inspired soup as part of my culinary school final. Unique spices like ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg and turmeric result in an exotically complex flavor that won over Chef as well as the other students.


Moroccan Berber Soup

This highly-flavored soup relies on an exotic mix of spices to provide its complex flavor.


Ingredients

  • ½ onion, finely chopped
  • 2 stalks celery, finely chopped
  • 2 carrots, peeled and finely chopped
  • 2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon nutmeg
  • ½ teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 28 oz. whole canned San Marzano tomatoes with juice, chopped
  • 6 cups chicken stock
  • 7 oz. fideo pasta (found in Hispanic section of well-stocked markets) or capellini
  • ½ cup chopped fresh cilantro
  • 3 Tablespoons chopped fresh Italian parsley
  • 3 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • Salt and freshly-ground pepper
  • Plain yogurt, for garish

Directions

  1. In a large soup pot, sauté onion, celery and carrot in a bit of oil until softened. Add the ginger, turmeric, cinnamon, nutmeg, and black pepper and sauté until fragrant. Add the chopped tomatoes with juice and chicken stock. Bring to boil, reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes or until carrot is soft.
  2. Add fideo pasta and simmer for 10 minutes. Add cilantro, parsley, and lemon juice. Season with salt and pepper. Garnish with plain yogurt and serve.

Chocolate Almond Tiramisu Cake

Layers of dark chocolate cake soaked with almond liqueur and fluffy mascarpone frosting result in a richly satisfying cake.

Tiramisu Cake dotted with Amaretti cookies

“Piano, piano,” Chef John cautioned me. This was my first Italian term I learned that did not come from my Rosetta Stone education. The English translation of the reproach “Piano, piano” would be “slowly.” How appropriate that I would encounter this first! It was during gelato school and I’m certain I wanted to know something that Chef John wasn’t ready to reveal. I wanted to push ahead, I wanted to understand. Label me impatient – you wouldn’t be incorrect. I always need to move forward, never happy with the in-between, never satisfied in the moment. STOP: That’s not true – I am often contented just being. CORRECTION: I’m not satisfied in the undefined moment – I’m not comfortable with vagueness. I want to know, I want to understand, I want mastery of my situation. It’s difficult for me to thrive in uncertainty. I’ve recently been reminded once again that others don’t always want to play along at my pace – and I need to learn to be comfortable with that. “Piano, piano,” I tell myself over and over again.

I’m thinking of Italy today because this cake was inspired by Beth’s upcoming tour of the booted country. She hosted an Italian “festa” for her birthday in preparation for her travels and I supplied the desserts, this cake being one of them. The idea was to combine pillowy tiramisu with a proper birthday cake. I chose my favorite chocolate cake for her husband, who claims he loves everything chocolate, soaked the sponge in Disaronno Italian liquor instead of the requisite tiramisu soaking liquid of marsala and espresso, generously layered it with a fluffy whipped mascarpone frosting and finished it with Amaretti cookies. The result is a rich, impressive, not overly sweet 4-layer cake that’s an ideal send off for anyone traveling on a trip of a lifetime.


Chocolate Almond Tiramisu Cake

  • Servings: 12-14 slices
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Layers of dark chocolate cake soaked with almond liqueur and fluffy mascarpone frosting result in a richly satisfying cake.


Ingredients

    Cake
  • 2 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups cold water
  • ⅔ cup canola oil
  • 1 Tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 2 teaspoons white vinegar
  • Filling
  • ⅓ cup almond liqueur such as Disaronno
  • ¼ teaspoon almond extract
  • 3 8 oz. containers mascarpone cheese
  • 1 ⅓ cup heavy whipping cream
  • ⅔ cup powdered sugar
  • ½ teaspoon almond extract
  • Amaretti Cookies (optional)
  • 1 ½ cups almond flour
  • ⅓ cup sugar
  • 3 Tablespoons powdered sugar, plus ½ cup for coating
  • ⅛ teaspoon salt
  • 1 large egg white, beaten
  • ¼ teaspoon almond extract

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350⁰ F. Line two 8” cake pans with parchment paper and lightly butter paper.
  2. Sift together flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt. Combine water, oil, vanilla extract and white vinegar. Slowly whisk wet ingredients into dry ingredients. The batter will be wet.
  3. Pour the batter into the prepared pans and bake for 30 minutes or until a tester inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean. Cool in the pans for 10 minutes, then invert onto a wire rack to cool completely. Slice each cake in half horizontally to make 4 even layers.
  4. Combine the liqueur and extract in a shallow dish. Set aside.
  5. Place the mascarpone cheese in a large bowl and beat until smooth. Gradually beat in the heavy whipping cream and powdered sugar to make a creamy, spreadable frosting. Beat in the almond extract.
  6. Brush the bottom layer of cake with almond liqueur mixture, spread with frosting and top with another layer. Keep layering the cake and frosting and then frost the top and sides of cake. Decorate with Amaretti cookies (optional).
  7. If you are making the amaretti cookies, combine the almond flour, sugars, and salt. Add the egg white and almond extract until the dough holds together. Shape into a thin disk and refrigerate for 30 minutes. Preheat oven to 325⁰ F. and line a baking sheet with parchment.
  8. Roll the dough into 9-11 gram balls. Roll the balls in powdered sugar and place on the baking sheet. Gently press down each ball to flatten slightly. Bake for about 20 minutes until they’ve cracked slightly, are golden under the sugar, but are still slightly soft when pressed in the middle. Decorate cake with cookies.

Nectarine Bruschetta

Nectarine Bruschetta is an easy-to-assemble, no-oven-required, summer appetizer that takes advantage of the season’s bounty and pairs well with white wine, rosé and bubbles.

Nectarine and Ricotta Bruschetta

Just as July 4th in my neighborhood is certain to be punctuated with a cacophony of illegal fireworks, the same holiday never fails to produce my nectarine tree’s first juicy orbs ready for plucking. The harvest is brief, yet prolific, and I’m often overwhelmed with the task of making use of this summer bounty.

A warm evening cocktail party and a very pregnant tree resulted in this recipe that’s perfect for summer, taking advantage of the season’s gifts in a simple, no-oven-required, appetizer.


Nectarine Bruschetta

An easy to assemble, summer appetizer that pairs well with white wine and bubbles.


Ingredients

  • 2-3 nectarines, thinly sliced
  • 6-8 basil leaves, finely chopped
  • 2 teaspoons good-quality balsamic vinegar
  • ⅔ cup whole milk ricotta
  • 4 Tablespoons honey
  • ½ teaspoon lemon zest
  • salt & freshly ground pepper
  • 24 toasted baguette slices
  • 4 Tablespoons chopped hazelnuts or pistachios, toasted

Directions

  1. In a small bowl, combine nectarines, basil and balsamic and set aside.
  2. In another small bowl, combine ricotta, honey, zest, salt and pepper.
  3. To assemble, spread ricotta over baguette slices, arrange 1 or 2 nectarine slices over ricotta and sprinkle with toasted nuts. Serve.

Giant Brioche Hamburger Bun Recipe

Giant Brioche Recipe
When he first came to her with the project, she was hesitant. Would her baking skills hold up under pressure? He was the “meat guy,” contributing a 12-inch, six pound burger to the project. He needed a brioche bun to match. Having never made hamburger buns – let alone a giant bun – she was daunted.

A cake pan wouldn’t be large enough – her largest, a springform, was a mere 10-inches across. She settled on a 12-inch sauté pan and found a working recipe to build from. Three test buns, plenty of jokes about her giant, fluffy, white buns and a few tweaks later, her contribution was perfected.

Their giant burger raised over $250 for charity.


Giant Brioche Hamburger Bun

  • Servings: One 12-inch Bun
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If your culinary adventures ever call for a giant 12-inch bun, I have the ideal recipe for you.


Ingredients

    Starter
  • 2/3 cup milk (heated to 107⁰ F)
  • 1 package active dry yeast
  • ¾ cup all-purpose flour (3 ¼ oz.)
  • 3 Tablespoons sugar
  • Dough
  • 3 cups plus 2 Tablespoons all-purpose flour (14 oz.)
  • 1 ½ teaspoons salt
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 stick (8 Tablespoons) unsalted butter, softened
  • Egg Wash
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 Tablespoon water
  • Sesame seeds (optional)

Directions

  1. Line the sides and bottom of a 12” sauté pan (with straight sides and oven-safe handle) with parchment paper. In a glass measuring cup, combine milk and yeast and let stand for 5 minutes.
  2. In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine ¾ cup all-purpose flour and sugar and stir in yeast mixture. Cover with plastic wrap and let stand for 30 minutes (the mixture should appear fluffy and covered with bubbles).
  3. With the dough hook, mix in the remaining flour, salt, and eggs. Once fully combined, continue kneading for 4-5 minutes.
  4. With the machine running, slowly add the softened butter, two tablespoons at a time, and knead for an additional 10 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. (The dough will be very soft and sticky).
  5. Oil a large bowl. Scrape the dough into the bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and place in a warm area (proofing drawer or near a cooling stove) for 1 ½ hours or until doubled in size.
  6. Punch the dough down and scrape onto a lightly-floured surface. Fold over a few times and shape into a round disk. Transfer to prepared pan, flattening the dough until it touches the sides of the pan. Cover with plastic wrap and place in a warm area for 45 minutes until dough is slightly domed.
  7. Heat oven to 400⁰ F. Whisk together remaining egg and water. Bush the egg gently over the bun and sprinkle with sesame seeds, if using.
  8. Bake for 15 minutes at 400⁰ F. Reduce oven to 350⁰ F. and bake for 20 minutes longer until golden brown and internal temperature reads 200⁰ F. Cover with foil if browning too quickly.
  9. Cool, slice and enjoy!

* adapted from The Spruce Eats Buttery Brioche Hamburger Buns

Giant Brioche Bun