I’ve long been enamored by the quaint Chinese legend called the “Red Thread of Fate.” According to the myth, the matchmaker god, Yuè Lǎo, ties an invisible red thread around the left little finger of couples who are destined for one another, regardless of time, place or circumstances. This magical string may stretch or tangle, but never, ever breaks.
I sometimes imagine my red thread tied to my own Fate, a lifetime away from me – a tangled web of knots dotting this thin cord between us, this frayed thread snagging on craggy rocks and endlessly entangled around gnarled tree trunks, as we go about our separate lives. My Fate, entwined into a snarled mess. Sometimes, this thread tugs away from me so fiercely, so determinedly, my pinky dislocates from the effort.
I find comfort, as always, in a poultice of butter, flour and sugar. This is my go-to cornbread recipe, adapted from Mel’s Kitchen Cafe and definitely on the sweeter side of the sweet vs. savory cornbread spectrum. If you like moist, sweet cornbread, this is the one – perfect paired with a bowl of smoky chili.
If you like moist, sweet cornbread muffins, these are the ones for you.
- ½ cup cornmeal
- 1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
- ⅔ cup sugar
- 1 Tablespoon baking powder
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ⅓ cup canola oil
- 3 Tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
- 2 large eggs, beaten
- 1 ¼ cups whole milk
- Preheat oven to 350⁰ F. In a large bowl, stir together flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Make a well in the center and add oil, butter, eggs and milk. Stir until just combined. Pour into mini-muffin tins and bake 12-15 minutes until just brown around the edges and a toothpick comes out clean. Gently remove muffins from tin. The recipe can also be made in a 8×8” square pan baked for 35 minutes.
She types ‘goodbye’ on the keyboard. The word, its meaning so resolute, looks ambiguous on her screen. She’s written that word before – not once, not twice, but by her tally, there’s been six of these goodbyes over the years. She’s weary of it. Like a smoker saying ‘I quit’ yet again, she wonders if this time it will stick.
She grabs a few lemons from the basket on the counter. What she needs now is a distraction, a recipe to cure.
This recipe was adapted from Lidia Bastianich’s Tiramisu Al Limoncello.
A refreshingly tart tiramisu studded with fresh raspberries makes an elegant finish to an Italian dinner.
- 3 large eggs
- 4 teaspoons lemon zest
- 6 Tablespoons lemon juice
- ½ cup sugar, divided
- ¾ cup limoncello liqueur, divided
- ½ cup water
- 8 oz. mascarpone, room temperature
- 24 Italian savioardi (lady’s fingers), or more if needed
- Fresh raspberries
- Make zabaglione: Separate the eggs and place the yolks in the top of a double-boiler. Add 2 Tablespoons sugar and ¼ cup limoncello. Simmer water in bottom of double-boiler while whisking yolk mixture constantly for about 8 minutes or until it thickens enough to form a ribbon on the top of the zabaglione. Remove top pan from double boiler and cool.
- Make soaking syrup: In a small saucepan, combine 1 teaspoon lemon zest, all the lemon juice, ¼ cup sugar, ½ cup limoncello, and water. Bring to a boil and cook for about 5 minutes to evaporate the alcohol. Set syrup aside.
- Make mascarpone layer: In a large bowl, stir together mascarpone and remaining lemon zest until light and fluffy.
- In the bowl of an electric mixer, whip egg whites, adding remaining 2 Tablespoons sugar slowly until whites hold moderately stiff peaks.
- Fold cooled zabaglione into mascarpone in 3 additions, keeping as much air in the zabaglione as possible. Similarly, add the egg whites in 3 additions, keeping as much air in the whites as possible.
- Assemble: Pour the cooled soaking syrup in a shallow pan. Briefly roll the savioardi in the syrup and place in the bottom of an 8×8” square pan. Arrange ladyfingers in tight rows, filling the bottom of the pan completely. You may need to trim the ladyfingers to fit. You should be able to fit about 12 cookies in the bottom of the pan.
- Scoop half the mascarpone cream onto the ladyfingers and smooth. Dip and arrange a second layer of ladyfingers on top of the mascarpone cream and cover with another layer of mascarpone cream.
- Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 6 hours and up to two days to allow flavors to meld and tiramisu to firm up. Decorate with fresh raspberries and serve.
This recipe was inspired by a chatty office worker and his bitchy co-worker (me).
Five cubicles away, the conversation was getting louder, but then the conversation always seems loud when she’s trying to focus. She isn’t very good with noise, even background office noise, even after 11 months, even though he’s her friend. That’s why she’s in the far corner, tucked away from the rest of them, or that’s what she tells herself anyway. She stuffs earbuds in her ears and re-reads paragraph 5 of the contract.
Twenty minutes later, she pulls Chopin from her ears to find she can still hear him talking and her words just slips out, “Don’t you ever shut up?!” His saucer-sized eyes stare back at her, his mouth agape. She meant it as a gentle jab, but perhaps her irritation was too near the surface.
They’re joking about it soon enough – her caustic comment. She might have just the solution to her problem. Could she make a dessert to shut him up? He calls it “Shut your Piehole” pie. What filling could she use? Peanut butter, of course, that culinary sealer of loose lips and wagging tongues.
With that as her impetus, she creates Shut your Piehole Peanut Butter Pie.
This recipe doesn’t use a premade crust, Cool Whip® or packaged vanilla pudding, because she has the time and inclination to bake from scratch. Her only “cheat,” such that it is, is using a box of graham crackers rather than making her own (She doesn’t have THAT much time).
Peanut Butter Silk Pie
A fluffy peanut butter layer and fudgy chocolate layer all wrapped in a cinnamon graham cracker crust. They only thing you’ll say is mmm…
- 1 ½ cups graham cracker crumbs, about 9 whole graham crackers
- ¼ cup packed brown sugar
- ½ teaspoon cinnamon
- ⅛ teaspoon salt
- 7 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
- 1 ⅓ cups heavy whipping cream, divided
- 5 oz. bittersweet chocolate
- 2 Tablespoons corn syrup
- ¾ cup creamy peanut butter
- 4 ounces cream cheese
- ⅓ cup sweetened condensed milk
- Lightly sweetened whipped cream (for garnish)
- Candied peanuts or shaved chocolate (for garnish)
- In the bowl of a food processor, whirl graham crackers to crumbs. Pour in a medium bowl and stir in brown sugar, cinnamon and salt with a fork. Add melted butter and stir until the mixture resembles the texture of wet sand.
- Press the mixture on the bottom and up the sides of a 9” pie plate, using a glass or the bottom of a measuring cup to firmly press the crust into the plate. Place the crust in the freezer to chill and firm up.
- Combine ⅓ cup whipping cream, bittersweet chocolate and corn syrup in a small microwavable bowl. Microwave at 30 second intervals, stirring in between, until chocolate is melted (about 60 seconds total). Pour and smooth ganache over crust and return to the freezer.
- In the bowl of the food process, combine peanut butter, cream cheese and sweetened condensed milk. Whirl until smooth. Add remaining 1cup heavy cream and process until the mixture is light and fluffy, 1-2 minutes. Spread the peanut butter mixture over the top of the ganache layer, cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours. Garnish with sweetened whipped cream, grated chocolate and candied peanuts. Remove from refrigerator 10-15 minutes before serving. Take a big bite and shut your mouth.
This recipe was the result of a last-minute decision to co-host a neighborhood progressive dinner. With only a few hours before the start, I had to come up with something special using ingredients I had on hand. Luckily, my freezer was stocked up with leftover nuts from holiday baking. I started with the concept of a pecan pie-type filling, using hazelnuts, then added a bit of instant coffee and some leftover bittersweet chocolate. The final tart was a hit.
Hazelnut Mocha Tart
This decadent tart is loaded with toasted hazelnuts, rich coffee and dark chocolate.
- 1 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 1 stick (4 oz.) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
- 1 ½ – 2 cups roasted unsalted nuts, roughly chopped (I use hazelnuts)
- 1 large egg
- 1 large yolk
- ¼ cup light brown sugar
- ¼ cup light corn syrup
- 2 teaspoons instant coffee
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 4 Tablespoons (2 oz.) unsalted butter, melted
- 1 Tablespoon whole milk or heavy cream
- 2 teaspoons all-purpose flour
- ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
- ¼ cup bittersweet chocolate, chopped
- Flaky sea salt
- Lightly-sweetened whipped heavy cream
- Make crust: Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. In a bowl, stir together flour, salt and melted butter. Press dough along bottom and up sides of a 9” tart pan. Place pan on a piece of aluminum foil to catch any leaking butter. Bake for 20 minutes. Cool slightly, cover crust with nuts and chill until ready to use.
- Make Filling: Beat together egg, yolk, sugar, corn syrup, instant coffee, and salt. Whisk in the melted butter, milk, flour and vanilla. Stir in chocolate. Pour over nuts (don’t overfill)and sprinkle with flaky sea salt. Bake for about 40 minutes until the filling is set at the edge but slightly wobbly in the center. Cool pie completely before slicing. Serve with lightly-sweetened whipped cream.
Sitting at my desk, my grumbling stomach turns from my work to thoughts of lunch and the leftover pork and plantain stew in my fridge. The stew is an easy answer to my hunger – a brief microwave and lunch is served, yet what I crave this minute are vegetables. I quickly realize that all I’ve eaten for the last week is a combination of meat and starch with nary a vegetable in sight. I leave the stew where it is and order a humongous Asian chicken salad from the local café instead, devouring it in about 30 seconds. This woman needs more veggies in her diet.
Some purists would argue this isn’t truly a bourguignon. After I respond with, “Thank you for your feedback” (Event planner speak for “I don’t care what you think.”), I would reply that this is my no-fail, go-to, beef bourguignon recipe, with the beef removed and the mushrooms turned up to eleven. It’s bourguignon in my book. Omit the bacon and switch out the beef broth for vegetable broth if you want to serve this dish to your vegetarian friends.
This is comfort food you can feel good about.
- 3 strips thick cut bacon, diced
- 2 lbs. Portobello mushroom caps, sliced ½” thick
- 1 carrot, finely diced
- 1 celery rib, finely diced
- ½ onion, finely diced
- 2 Tablespoons tomato paste
- 2 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 1 cup pinot noir
- 1 cup beef stock
- 2 sprigs fresh thyme
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 cup frozen pearl onions, thawed.
- Salt and pepper
- Preheat oven to 350⁰ F. Sauté bacon in a Dutch oven until crisp. Remove bacon and reserve. Sauté mushrooms in bacon drippings until beginning to soften, but not until they release all of their juice, 2-3 minutes. Remove mushrooms and reserve.
- Add a bit of oil to the Dutch oven and sauté carrot, celery & onion until beginning to brown. Add tomato paste and flour and sauté 1-2 minutes until flour turns golden. Add pinot noir and reduce until thickened, scraping up any brown bits from the bottom of the pan. Add stock, thyme sprigs, bay leaf, pearl onions, reserved bacon and reserved mushrooms with any accumulated juice. Bring to a boil, cover and transfer to oven. Braise for 30 minutes or until carrots are tender. If sauce isn’t thick enough, cook uncovered on the stovetop for an additional 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Serve over egg noodles, polenta, or rice.