Barbecue Spice Mix

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We did it. After 13 months of planning, we got married! Two coasts. Two weddings. When it comes to wedding advice the most common that I came across was “it goes by so fast.” And it does, whether you get married once or twice. Somehow I thought the second wedding would feel a bit slower, but both days I felt like I had only just gotten my hair done and then suddenly the last song was playing.

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I cried walking down the aisle. Both times. Not the delicate, tears-welling-up kind of crying either. Big fat happy tears rolled down my cheeks as I took my first step and all I could think was that this whole assembled group had come as witnesses, to support us. To celebrate us. We spent two days surrounded by laughter, music, some tears, and good company. We spent two days surrounded by delicious food: Pastrami sandwiches with fresh rye bread. Piles of barbecued meat with coleslaw and collard greens. Cheese. Cake. Pie. We spent two days surrounded by the most overwhelmingly indescribable love. No one warned me about that. It wasn’t part of the advice; how overwhemlingly wonderful it is to be at the center of so much love. It was magical. Both times.

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There isn’t any leftover cake in our freezer. No pie either for that matter. What I have are the recipes. The recipe for the pie, and for the cake, and also the recipe for the jars of spice we handed out to guests in Massachusetts. It’s smoky and a little spicy and a perfect reminder of the wedding, much better than a stale piece of cake.

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Barbecue Spice Mix

Makes about 3/4 cup of mix

1 tbs cumin (8 g)
3 tbs paprika (25 g)
1 tbs smoked paprika (10 g)
2 tsp oregano (1 g)
1 tsp ancho chile powder (3 g)
1 tsp new mexico chile powder (3 g)
1 tsp chipotle chile powder (3 g)
1 tsp garlic powder (4 g)
½ tsp onion powder (2 g)

GRIND the cumin seeds using a spice grinder or a mortar and pestle.

COMBINE all the spices in a bowl. Stir to distribute and then store in an air tight container for up to a year (more than that and the spices will lose some of their potency). Use it to season almost anything – meat, fish, vegetables, dips; it’s a whole world of possibilities.

Cherry Pie

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The only part of my wedding I ever planned beforehand was the dessert. When we got engaged last year I didn’t have a lot of ideas of what the wedding would be like. I didn’t have dreams of what it would look like or what I would wear. The only thing I knew I wanted was to make my own wedding cake. And pie, since that’s my obvious preference when it comes to baked desserts. The first thing on my wedding to do list then, was figuring out how to make it happen.

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Look, I’m not totally crazy. I didn’t want to bake my own stacked and tiered wedding cake with sweet decorations and little details piped in with frosting. I didn’t want to deal with full size pies and lattice crusts that refuse to play nicely in the summer. I wanted to make rustic individual cakes and pies, the kind baked in little jars so that they don’t have to be shared. That way I could have pie and Jeffrey could have cake and it could be a compromise of sorts. The best kind of compromise where everyone gets what they want and no one actually has to give in. And since I am Team Pie in this relationship that meant I got to choose the pie flavor. Tart cherry pie, arguably the best pie flavor for early summer.

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But as with most aspects of wedding planning, just saying that I wanted tart cherry pie did not make it happen. Wishing for a perfect recipe and easy access to ingredients does not make it so; I had to work for it. To start with, tart cherries have an incredibly short season and they don’t even grow around Boston where the wedding was planned. I toyed with the idea of sweet cherry pie but dropped it after just one test pie – it was good but not good enough. I spent a few crazy weeks and months sourcing sour cherries (found the perfect ones at Trader Joe’s), testing out recipes, and perfecting the one I hacked together. There’s been a lot of pie around here over the past six months and it’s been glorious. This one in particular is glorious. I can’t wait to have one more at the wedding. And maybe a second one the day after.

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Cherry Pies
Recipe adapted from Bon Appetit’s Cherry Hand Pies from January 2011

Makes one 9-inch double crusted pie or 6 indidivual pies baked in 1-cup jars

1 recipe flaky pie crust
1 12-oz jar tart cherries in juice or light syrup, liquid reserved
1 ½ tbs cornstarch
1 cup dried tart cherries
½ cup sugar
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp vanilla extract

PREPARE the pie crust and let it sit in the fridge for a few hours or up to a few days. When it’s rested and chilled, roll half of it out to line the bottom of the pie pan or the jars. Save the other half to use later If using jars I found it easiest to cut out a piece for the bottom of the jar and cut a long wide strip to use for the sides and then pinch the two pieces together at the seam. Once the pie pan(s) is (are) lined with dough, put them back in the fridge to rest for at least an hour.

DRAIN the juice from the cherries and combine 1 ½ tbs juice with cornstarch and set aside.

COMBINE ¾ cup juice, dried cherries, and sugar in a pan over medium heat. Let simmer for 10 minutes, then add cornstarch mixture and boil for another few minutes until thick and glossy. Turn off heat, add salt and vanilla, and let it cool to room temperature.

PREHEAT the oven to 300F. Roll out the remainining pie dough and either cut it into shapes (I used hearts) to cover the top, make a lattice, or just roll out a full piece of dough to lay on top.

SPOON the filling into the chilled pie shell(s) and then cover with the top crust. If using a full piece of dough be sure to cut some slits in the top for steam to escape.

BAKE for 30-40 minutes, until the crust is golden brown and the fruit is bubbly. Remove from the oven and let cool to room temperature before slicing. The pie is good fresh and can also be refrigerated and served cold, room temperature, or hot for about four days.

Black Forest Cake

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In the nine point five years that Jeff and I have been together we’ve learned a lot about each other. I know that he always chooses dark chocolate over milk and that he prefers savory oatmeal to the sweet variety. I know the answers to his security questions and where his scars came from. Sometimes when we go out to eat I can figure out what he will order before he even decides and even if I’m wrong, my guess is usually at least his second choice. But it was only last year that I discovered his favorite cake.

That’s not to say I didn’t know his favorite dessert but when you’re as interested in food as the two of us are there is room for more categories of favorite than just breakfast, lunch, dinner, and dessert. We were standing in line at a cafe waiting to order and I saw a beautiful black forest cake – decorated with plump cherries and a dusting of grated chocolate. Slices had been cut into it and you could see the stripes of cake, whipped cream, and cherries stacked in each piece. Black forest is my favorite cake and I mentioned it to him as I debated what to order with my cup of tea. Cake isn’t usually my choice when it comes to dessert and he turned to me in surprise when I mentioned it. It took us more than eight years to figure out that we both have the same favorite cake.

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In our defense, black forest cake doesn’t come up very often. It isn’t particularly popular on restaurant dessert menus, although I can’t see why the combination of dark chocolate cake, sour cherry jam, and barely-sweetened whipped cream would be so roundly dismissed. More often it comes as a disappointing slice of slightly stale cake with sugary icing and not enough cherry flavor to make it anything more than an ordinary chocolate cake. I made my own version of it that year for his birthday and spent the last few months refining the recipe. I tweaked the amount of chocolate and cherry, found a vegetarian way to stabilize whipped cream so the cake could be kept in the fridge for a few days, and came up with something particularly special. Which is just as well, since we’ll be serving it at our wedding a few weeks. But you can have some now.

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Black Forest Cake
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen’s Chocolate Cake

Makes 1 triple layer 8-inch round cake or 18 1-cup jar cakes with room for whipped cream on top

3 cups (600 grams) sugar
2 1/2 cups (315 grams) all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups (aprox. 130 grams) unsweetened cocoa powder (not Dutch process)
2 teaspoons baking soda
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
2 teaspoons kosher salt
3 oz (85 grams) semi-sweet chocolate, grated
1 1/2 cups (12 oz) hot brewed coffee
3 large eggs
3/4 cup (6 oz) vegetable oil
1 1/2 cups (12 oz) buttermilk
3/4 teaspoon vanilla
3/4 teaspoon kirsch

PREHEAT the oven to 300 F and grease three 9-inch cake rounds or 18 1-cup glass jars. If using the jars, line a baking sheet with foil and arrange the jars on the sheet.

COMBINE sugar, flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl. Stir and set aside.

POUR hot coffee over grated chocolate and set aside, stirring occasionally, to let the chocolate melt.

BEAT eggs, in a stand mixer or with a hand mixer, for a few minutes until light and fluffy. Then add oil and buttermilk and beat to combine. Add vanilla and kirsch, then chocolate/coffee mixture and beat for a few more minutes. Slowly sift in dry goods and beat until just combined. Pour the batter into the prepared pans or jars

BAKE at 300 F for about 45 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clear. Let cool to room temperature.

For the filling:
1 12-oz jar of sour cherries in water, juice, or light syrup
1 tsp cornstarch
⅓ cup sugar
pinch of salt

MIX 1 tsp of the cherry liquid and combine with 1 tsp cornstarch, stir to combine and set aside.

COMBINE cherries and remaining juice, sugar, and salt in a pot over medium heat and let cook for 30-40 minutes, until concentrated and well broken down. Use an immersion blender to blend into a smooth jam.

ADD cornstarch/juice mix, stir thoroughly, bring to a boil and cook for 5-10 minutes until thick. Let cool until room temperature

For the whipped cream and to assemble:
2 cups whipping cream
1 tsp agar agar
2-4 tbs powdered sugar
1 tsp vanilla
About 1 ounce of chocolate, grated

SPRINKLE agar over cream and let soften for a few minutes.Then beat to fluffy peaks, adding sugar and vanilla when it is mostly done.

REMOVE cakes from their pans or jars. If making a layer cake, spread some cherry filling on the top of two of the cakes, using half for each, and stack them so there is cherry between each layer. Then spread the whipped cream on the top and down the sides. You can also instead put both cherry and cream between each layer and then put some of both on the top as well. Sprinkle the top with shaved chocolate as well. If you’re making individual cakes, slice them in half and place the bottom half back in the jar. Spoon in a few tablespoons of the cherry filling and then add the top half of the cake. Spread whipped cream on top and sprinkle with chocolate shavings.

You can serve these immediately or refrigerate for up to two days. Then bring it back to room temperature before serving.


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It’s June. This might not be a surprise to you, after all, June infallibly follows the 31st of May every year, but for me it’s a bit overwhelming. June is always a big month in this house. Jeff’s birthday is in June, my birthday is in June, and that takes care of about two weeks of celebration. So normally most of the month is taken up by preparing for or coming down from a party. But this year we’ve been planning for June since last May. Because besides the two birthdays, this June we’re getting married. Twice.

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Yes, you read that right. We’re getting married twice. It sounds crazy every time I say it and I’ve been saying it for the better part of a year at this point. The reactions all confirm this idea that we’ve bitten off more than we could chew; most people stare in disbelief and then say something along the lines of “wow”. Well, we’re within a month of both wedding days and the planning that’s left is pretty managable. Over the last few months the idea of getting married (twice! To the same person!) has shifted from sort of terrifying to exciting and just a few weeks ago it reached the tipping point of being more exciting than scary. Oh, and overwhelming. Completely overwhelming.

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Part of me is waiting for this all to just blow up in my face. I keep thinking I must have forgotten to take care of something, that some large piece of the puzzle must be missing. But the checklists (oh the checklists!) make it seem like this is really going to work. We are really going to get married. Twice. And on man, do I need a drink. I need a drink to toast this amazing month. And I need a drink to relax. This one is a classic. I think I’ll keep it nearby this month.

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1 shot bourbon or rye whiskey
1/2 shot sweet vermouth
1-2 dashes Angostura bitters
2 Luxardo cherries (for a garnish) plus a splash of the juice

SHAKE bourbon, vermouth, and bitters together with ice in a shaker or covered container. Also add the splash if cherry juice, is using
STRAIN the liquid into a fresh glass and a single large ice cube or a few smaller ones (no crushed ice)
GARNISH with the cherries and sip.

Perfect Soft-Boiled Eggs

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Chefs say that cooking eggs is a good judge of technical skill in the kitchen. Have you noticed this? In every chef interview that I read (which is a lot of them) if the subject turns to judging cooking skills, the benchmark is almost always eggs. And while I wonder sometimes whether in practice eggs cookery is used to judge new chefs, there’s no doubt that the idea makes sense. Eggs are surprisingly difficult to cook well and there are hundreds of ways to do it – and as a result hundreds of ways to do it wrong. Plus everyone has their preference for how any given egg dish should taste; runny yolks or firm, large or small curds in a scramble, French- or American-style omelettes, and those are just the basics.

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Over the years I’ve slowly learned how to make eggs well. It started with omelettes (French style please), which admittedly Jeff is much more accomplished at making than I am. Years of flipping, dropping eggs on the floor, trying again. Then I moved on to scrambled eggs, trying different methods and styles until I settled on a favorite (medium curds while Jeff prefers smaller curds). And there are always over-easy fried eggs, added to leftovers or morning oatmeal. They were our staple for years, along with the greasy pan that came along with them. But more recently I’ve moved from the fry pan, conquering the perfect soft-boiled egg with the help of the Ivan Ramen cookbook.

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Ramen is the most common place to find a soft-boiled egg and it was in a bowl that I first had one, with the soft yolk melting into the hot soup. The first time we tried to make them at home we ended up with half-cooked whites that wouldn’t peel. They were inedible. But the second time, and every time after that, it’s been perfect. Soft-boiled eggs are an easier version of poached eggs – runny yolk, just barely cooked white, and none of the odd shapes I inevitably end up with when trying to poach an egg. Now if only I could master the hard-boiled egg.

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Perfectly Soft-Boiled Eggs
Adapted from Ivan Orkin’s 6:10 eggs

BOIL a pot of water on medium-high heat, big enough so that when the eggs are placed in it they will be completely covered and water temperature won’t drop below a boil for more than 30 seconds. I use a small pot/two cups of water for 1-2 eggs, a medium pot/one quart of water for 3-4 eggs, and a large pot/half gallon of water or more for 5+ eggs.

ADD eggs gently to the already boiling water. Keep the heat on medium-high so the water continues to boil and set a timer for 6 minutes.

SET UP an ice bath with a bowl of water and a few ice cubes to place the eggs in when they’re done and set it aside.

REMOVE the eggs from the boiling water when the timer goes off and immediately put them in the ice bath for at least a minute. Then peel and eat immediately or you can refrigerate them for a week and reheat them in a bowl of hot (but not boiling) water for a few minutes before eating.

* For those who are curious, the delicious bowl of food under that lovely egg is a riff on this recipe substituting cabbage for bok choy.

Greek Salad

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I was one of those kids with a messy room – clothes strewn on the floor, books and papers piled up on the desk, stuff everywhere. Things got swallowed up in the mess and resurfaced months after they were no longer needed, often broken or with missing pieces. I existed in that state of disarray except for the uncommon times when my mom would insist that it get cleaned up, generally after too many of her things had been borrowed and lost. I’d sit on the bed and stare at the mess, eventually dissolving into tears from the massiveness of the task. No idea what to tackle first. Paralyzed. That feeling where my shoulders are up around my ears, back against the wall, not sure where to start. I’m feeling that again these days.

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Stress creeps in slowly. It starts with just a small thing and then just two small things and then at some point it’s so many that I can’t see how I got so deep in without noticing. I still haven’t quite gotten the hang out of how best to clean up my own messes. I flounder a bit, wade deeper into the mess until I can see it clearly and start to pick my way out. It gets easier every time – if not the actual simplifying than at least easing the stress. I start in the kitchen. Chopping, mixing, soothing myself with the comfortable familiar before trying to dive into the chaos.

Comfort food means different things depending on the season and when the weather is warm all I want greek salad. Thick cubes of cucumber, tomato, and pepper to make the chopping easier, crumbles of rich feta cheese, lots of lemon-and-oregano dressing. It’s quick to make, the cleanup is easy, and if you leave out the greens you can make it ahead and reach for a bowl whenever the to do list gets too long. And if the stress doesn’t magically melt away, at least it’s easier to face with a full belly.

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Greek Salad
Makes two side salads or one hearty meal

About 2 cups roughly chopped cucumber, tomato, and red or yellow bell pepper – choose your own ratios, I like a lot of tomato.
Up to ¼ cup crumbled feta – use as much as you like
2 tbs chopped fresh oregano
Juice of half a lemon
1/3 cup olive oil
1 tbs tahini
1 tsp dried oregano (it holds up against the acid better than fresh which turns a bit brown)
Salt to taste

COMBINE lemon juice, tahini, olive oil, oregano, and up to ½ teaspoon of kosher salt and whisk to combine. Set the dressing aside.

TOSS cucumber, tomoto, pepper, feta, and oregano in a large bowl. Add dressing to taste and toss again. Eat now or later or whenever you need a little comfort.

Guacamole Salad

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I had planned to share a holiday-themed post today. Something Cinco de Mayo esque. Maybe something taqueria-esque or heavy on the lime or maybe even a margarita-something. I spent a while thinking about what to make and then I spent a while worrying about it. And then I decided that it wasn’t worth it because it felt like I was writing for someone else’s blog.

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Sometimes I get really caught up in what other people are doing, particularly in the world of blogging. It starts out rather innoculously. I fall in love with a new blog about a complicated cooking project or find a blogger whose cooking is much more “cute” than mine. Then I start to wonder if I should try to do something similar, to find a way to fit those kinds of recipes into this kitchen space. And then I find myself avoiding cooking, to avoid blogging, because I feel uncomfortable. It’s like I walked out of a party with someone else’s shoes but I don’t realize until I’m hobbling down the street in too-small shoes unsure why my toes feel so cramped. So I took those shoes off and stepped back into what this space is all about. The every day cooking. The impromtu meals that fall into place based on what’s in the fridge and the weather and whatever I feel like making and eating at any given moment.

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I let the Cinco de Mayo theme go and instead decided to just invite some friends over. We planned an unfancy wine tasting accompanied by roast chicken, bread, some salad. And it was exciting, putting together this decidely ordinary meal. My shopping list started out with just chicken, bread, cheese, and “salad greens” that I figured I’d elaborate on when I got to the market. I started with a container of cherry tomatoes on my counter and some red onion in the fridge. Avocados are always around and despite their increased prices, the limes looked good when I was out grocery shopping. And then just as it was coming together I realized that I’d made a guacamole salad. And well, here’s your damn Cinco de Mayo post.

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Guacamole Salad
Serves 4-6

1 pint cherry tomatoes, sliced in half
1/2 cup thinly-sliced red onion
3-4 avocados, divided
1/4 cup finely chopped cilantro, divided
1 tsp chile powder
1 tsp salt
Juice of 3 limes
2 tbs oil
1 head of lettuce, washed and torn into bite-sized pieces

BLEND together half an avocado, two tablespoons of chopped cilantro, chile powder, salt, lime juice, and oil until smooth. You could also mash this all together into liquid with a fork or potato masher. Put the dressing aside.

RINSE the red onion slices by putting them in a strainer under running water. This helps take out some of the string of the raw onions.

DICE the remaining remaining avocados into 1/2 inch cubes.

COMBINE the halved tomatoes, rinsed red onion, avocado cubes, remaining 2 tbs of cilantro, and dressing in a large bowl. At this point you can put it in the fridge for a day or two if you want to make it ahead. If you are adding the lettuce toss it in right before serving.

Raspberry Lemon Squares

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Hands up if you ate lemons as a kid. And I don’t mean sucking the juice out of a lemon slice on a dare with your face all squinched up. Did you eat them like they were orange slices, chewing the pulp with a straight face so all that was left was a thin slice of rind? Because I used to any chance I got. Maybe it was a bit about proving myself – I took great pride in eating lemons with a straight face while everyone around me pucked up their lips – but I also just liked the sourness. Even without an audience I’d work my way through a dish of lemon slices meant to accompany some dish or drink, piling up the yellow rinds as I went. I was the kid who asked for a slice of lemon in my water just so I could ungracefully fish it out and eat it on the side.

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A mix of restraint and embarrassment now keeps me from stealing extra lemon slices from a tray of condiments or sticking my fingers in a glass of water in a restaurant, although if no one’s around I might go after it with a spoon. But more often I take my lemon in a more socially acceptable form – lemon squares. And if you were wondering, “Aren’t there already two versions of lemon squares on this site?” let me reassure you, there are. This pink variation owes its color to a half pint of raspberries but it’s still mouth-puckeringly tart, just the way I like it. How many lemon square recipes is too many? Well, I think I can fit at least one more…

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Raspberry Lemon Squares

Crust adapted from Dorie Greenspan‘s sable recipe

Makes about 18 2-inch squares

For the crust
2 sticks butter, at room temperature
½ cup sugar
¼ cup powdered sugar
½ tsp salt
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups all purpose flour

For the filling
Juice and finely grated zest of 5 lemons (about ¾ cup and 3-4 tbs of zest)
¾ cup sugar
5 eggs
½ pint rasperries
½ tsp kosher salt

To Make the Crust:

BEAT the butter with the sugars in the bowl of a stand mixer or using electric beaters on medium until the mixture is fluffy and lighter in color. Add the eggs and the vanilla and beat to combine. Then turn the speed to low and add in the flour slowly. Mix until just combined, scraping the sides if needed to incorporate everything.

WRAP the dough in plastic so that it forms a square and then put it in the fridge to firm up for a few hours. If you’re pressed for time you can also put it in the freezer for about 30 minutes so that it’s firm enough to work with. In the meantime, line a 9 by 13 pan with foil.

REMOVE the dough from the fridge/freezer and place the square of dough between two sheets of parchment paper. Roll it out until it’s at least big enough to fit the bottom of the 9 by 13 pan and about ¼ inch thick. Then peel back one piece of the parchment, place the dough in the lined pan, then peel back the other piece of parchment.* Use a fork to dock the dough so it doesn’t puff up too much while baking.

PREHEAT the oven to 350F and once its hot bake the dough for about 15 minutes, until the edges are golden brown. Remove it from the oven and let it cool completely to room temperature.

To Make the Filling:

COMBINE, in a blender or the bowl of a food processor, the lemon juice, lemon zest, sugar, eggs, raspberries, and salt. Blend or process for a few minutes on medium speed until smooth.

Putting It All Together

PREHEAT the oven to 375F.

POUR the filling into the pre-baked cookie crust and bake for 20-30 miutes or until the filling is set and doesn’t jiggle when you shake the pan gently. The longer you bake it the more solid the filling will be – pull it earlier if you like it to be more like pudding and let it bake a few more minutes if you prefer your lemon squares to have a baked custard texture. After removing them from the oven let the bars cool fully before slicing.

SLICE the squares into… squares to serve although if you’re transporting them it is generally easier to transport them in the pan rather than cutting them ahead of time since they’re too soft to stack nicely. Any leftovers will last for a week or so in the fridge.

* This dough is very soft and sticky which makes a nice soft cookie base, but it also means you can’t just pat it into the bottom of the pan. If you don’t let it chill before rolling you’re going to have a bad time.

Chickpea “Tuna” Salad

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“Does anyone here have any dietary restrictions?” has become a normal question in my life. It comes up almost every time I eat with friends, either at a restaurant or at someone’s house. More often than not there’s at least one person at the table who is vegetarian or vegan. But a few weeks ago I found myself out to dinner with a dozen friends and when the inevitable question was asked, no one answered. Everyone looked around in surprise. A few jokes were made and a couple of us giggled and then the moment passed. We got down ordering a variety of dishes, a number of which ended up being vegetarian. Just because.

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Eating and making vegetarian meals is more of a difficulty for me that you would expect given that I was a vegetarian from the time I was 15 up until about six years ago. To be honest, ‘vegetarian’ is a bit of a misnomer for how I ate then anyway. What vegetables I did eat were mostly covered in ranch dressing or came in the form of pasta sauce. It’s only since I began eating meat again that I’ve learned how to cook vegetarian meals that aren’t entirely based on refined carbohydrates.

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This particular vegetarian dish came out of a recipe for a fancy tuna salad in this book. It’s the kind of tuna salad that is more like an actual salad than a spread for a sandwich and the recipe included a vegetarian alternative using whole chickpeas. From that suggestion I reasoned that similar ingredients could easily make a fish free, and thus office friendly, tuna sandwich and now I can’t see myself going back to canned tuna. Fair warning though, this tastes weirdly similar to real tuna fish salad, probably owing to the (lack of) flavor of canned tuna and the addition of celery salt, something Jeffrey introduced me to and that is now vital to any “tuna sandwich” – fish or no.

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Chickpea “Tuna” Salad

1 can chickpeas (14 oz), rinsed and drained
1/4 cup mayonaise (veganaise would make this a vegan sandwich filling too)
1 tsp celery salt (or mix equal parts kosher salt and ground celery seed)
Up to ¼ cup finely diced crunchy or salty vegetables (pickles, carrots, cucumber, capers, bell pepper, red onion, etc)

MASH the chickpeas in a large bowl using a fork or potato masher until most of them have been broken up and there are only a few whole chickpeas left. For a smoother texture you can mash them all into almost a paste.

ADD mayo, celery salt, and diced vegetables to the mashed chickpeas and stir to combine. When it’s thoroughly mixed you can spread it on a sandwich, add some to a salad, or put it in the fridge for up to a week and use it to bulk up (or create) a last minute meal.

Asparagus Gratinee

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Matzah is a well recognized symbol of Passover. That flat oversized cracker that tastes like nothing so much as cardboard. It’s often a little stale, doesn’t digest easily, and in a cruel twist it always seems to appear just as Easter candy hits store shelves. But matzah isn’t the only iconic Passover food. There’s brisket, the generally adored centerpiece of the traditional holiday meal, an unnecessary variety of packaged kosher-for-Passover desserts, most of which aren’t worth eating, and then there’s asparagus. As far back as I can remember there has been asparagus on Passover and I’ve had a troubled relationship with it.

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The asparagus I remember eating as a kid at Passover seders was always steamed till it was almost grey and served without salt. Both are major faux pas in cooking this particular vegetable – overcooking and underseasoning make asparagus’s bitterness more pronounced – and as a result I avoided it in all forms. At best I’d eat one or two tips and then only after they’d soaked up the sauce from my serving of brisket. But the stalks? Forget it. Even now I’ll still probably pass on steamed asparagus. But at some point I was introduced to roasted spears and then I fell for shavings of raw asparagus on salads and pasta and pizza. I’m hooked.

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When asparagus season rolls around in the spring I spend a few months gorging myself on it. At the beginning of the season I stick with plain roasted spears and then start adding it to everything I can until by the time it’s going out of the markets I’m glad to see it go so I can move onto something else. I can’t say whether this preparation would tempt my asparagus-hating self – who knows if the cheesy topping would outweigh the earthy vegetal flavor that I then disliked and now enjoy. But if someone brought this for Passover these days, well, I’d be sure to clean my plate.

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Asparagus Gratinee

Makes 3-4 servings

About the title of this dish – gratinee is just a fancy way to say “with cheese baked on top”. And while it’s not perhaps the healthiest way to eat your vegetables, it’s certainly delicious.

1 lb asparagus, bottom 2-3 inches removed
1 tbs olive oil
1 tsp salt
1/3 – 1/2 mayo
1/4 – 1/3 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese

PREHEAT the oven to 400 F. Line a sheet pan with foil and arrange the asparagus spears on the pan, tossing them with the olive oil and salt.

ROAST the asparagus for 10 minutes and then remove it from the oven. Turn on the broiler (and turn off the oven if your broiler control is separate from the oven control).

ARRANGE the asapargus spears on the sheet pan so that all the spears are touching. Then, using a spatula or off-set knife, spread the mayo over the spears. You can coat them entirely or leave the tips uncoated (which I prefer). Sprinkle the parmesan over the mayo and slide the asparagus under the broiler.

BROIL for 3-5 minutes or until the top is browned and bubbly. Keep an eye on its since the cheese can burn quickly.

SERVE immediately, this dish is best hot and fresh. To serve, it helps to separate the asparagus into 3 or 4 spear bunches – if you just pull on a spears individually the cheesy topping sometimes gets left behind. For better or worse this dish doesn’t reheat well and the leftovers just aren’t as tasty so only make as much as you need.