One of our America’s Table staff has a husband stationed in Iraq this Christmas, so we’d like to take this opportunity to remind you that we can’t all be home for the holidays. One way to let our military personnel abroad know that we’re thinking of them is to send a package of goodies by December 15th.  This shoutout is for the Army First Infantry Division.

REMEMBER THE TROOPS on Americas-Table.com

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Honey and spice are two ingredients that are meant to be together, like medieval star-crossed lovers. Arthur and Guinevere, or Tristan and Isolde –  a legendary romance, yet the combination never quite works in reality. Honey is a sweet but subtle flavor that is easily overwhelmed by spicy ingredients like ginger, cloves, and nutmeg. That’s why the honey is not mixed into the cake, but drizzled on top of it, to give the perfect spicy-sweet marriage in a fragrant loaf cake. Without the honey, the cake is not sweet enough, and the spices are not present in such quantity that you can’t appreciate the honey flavor. A beautiful amour!

HONEY SPICE CAKE on Americas-Table.com

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There’s something so satisfying about a tender cut of pork, redolent, juicy, and hot out of the oven. This recipe delivers on all the deep, rich flavors of fall – sage, mustard and a hint of marjoram to keep things interesting. Spoon these scrumptious morsels into a bowl over mashed potatoes or turnips, drizzle a little of the pan juices on top, and settle back on the couch to watch that favorite TV show you’ve been looking forward to all week long.  A slow cooker makes this a breeze to cook, and the leftovers served on hot sourdough toast the next day are meltingly tender and delicious.

Mustard Sage Pork Shoulder on Americas-Table.com

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We have some dear British friends spending the Thanksgiving holiday with us, so there has to be tea – at least once. We’re not home for the holidays this year, so my plan is to keep things simple – recipes with just a few ingredients, using the most basic cookware. I don’t want to miss out on the fun, so the recipes need to be fast and easy.

ROSEMARY SHORTBREAD on Americas-Table.com

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Some of my best White House food memories are about soup. It made the perfect first course at so many meals, especially in the fall and winter, served in delicate two-handled soup bowls of White House china. It wasn’t meant to fill guests up; it was just enough of a delicious mélange of flavors to whet the appetite and let guests know that they were in for a genuine gastronomic experience. When the Bush’s hosted dinners in their family dining room in their family quarters, I would sit in the tiny kitchen adjoining the dining room and have the same dinner at a minuscule table that looked out on Lafayette Park. It was frequently the first thing I’d eaten since breakfast, and became a welcome moment to sit down and take a deep breath after a full day. I associate those times with delicious soups like this one, which I found in Gourmet Comfort Foods. It is definitely White House (and your house) worthy.

BUTTERNUT SQUASH AND APPLE SOUP on Americas-Table.com

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First of all, happy almost-birthday to former first lady Laura Bush. Here’s a recipe she gave me last year that I just love. One of my favorite things about working for Laura Bush was her genuine appreciation for good food, whether it was a perfectly-crusted filet mignon or a crispy, healthy pizza. Her whole wheat pizza is no exception: crunchy crust, classic vegetable toppings, and plenty of gooey cheese.  Whether you want the ultimate veggie pizza for a cozy night in, a classic pizza margarita to complete an Italian supper, or – my personal favorite – a garlicky white pizza, Mrs. Bushes recipe is a must-make.

LAURA BUSH’S WHOLE WHEAT PIZZA on Americas-Table.com

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This is not so much a recipe as it is a set of assembly instructions. One of my friends has been on a serious and successful diet. When we got together for lunch, I wanted to make her favorite dessert – a banana split – but I didn’t want to sabotage her weight loss achievement. My daughter told me about an ice cream treat called Halotop that has only 240 calories in a pint (or what I like to think of as a single serving of ice cream). I bought the vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry flavors, and some of the little bananas that are turning up in grocery stores more often now. That was a discovery – the mini-bananas are very banana-y and sweet.

THE UPDATED BANANA SPLIT on Americas-Table.com

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I promised not long ago that I would be sharing my all-time favorite ginger cookie recipe, and here it is! This isn’t a ginger snap – it’s a soft, chewy, moist, molasses ginger confection that is just right. I first had this cookie at Mountain Sky Guest Ranch in Emigrant, Montana many years ago, and on a recent visit was so happy to find they were still serving them. The margarine keeps these cookies soft, and the baking soda makes them rise a bit, so they are beautiful as well as delicious. You can mix, chill and bake – from conception to first bite – in about an hour. And, for future reference, it’s a really solid Christmas cookie.

GINGER COOKIES on Americas-Table.com

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When melon is no longer in season, and pears have yet to reach their prime – cue the dates! A staple on an autumn cheese plate whose nutty flavor and sweetness cut the saltiness of the prosciutto, this quick salad is substantial and satisfying. Add fresh spinach, a smattering of pecorino, walnuts for a little crunch, and you’ve got a hearty starter salad or an easy-to-assemble dinner. Who doesn’t love a little prosciutto?

DATES, PROSCIUTTO AND PECORINO on Americas-Table.com

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This fall is getting away from me, especially with the Jewish holidays falling (no pun intended!) so late this year. We celebrate both Jewish and Christian holidays in our family – as my daughters often say, we are equal-opportunity Holidayists.
Here are two classic recipes that we pull out at this time of year – some of our favorite food, and some of our favorite days. I always appreciate the joy of Rosh Hashanah, and the feeling of a fresh start after Yom Kippur. Hopefully both of these will become a staple in your breaking of the fast; I also highly recommend trying chive cream cheese with your smoked salmon, which has become a recent favorite in our house.
Shana Tova!

Beef Brisket Meal

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This is a farmhand breakfast, fresh and filling as they come. How did I live this long without tasting a corn pancake?!? They’re transformational, with their little kernels of fresh sweetcorn popping happily with each bite. Pour on some maple syrup or molasses and you’ll think you’ve time-traveled into a Laura Ingalls Wilder book. I added bacon corkscrews (so easy) to round out this big, bad breakfast.

FRESH CORN PANCAKES WITH BACON CORKSCREWS on Americas-Table.com

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As the acorns pile up on the lawn and the trees begin to turn, it feels like the food we eat should change along with the color of the leaves. It’s time for a hearty meat pie, like this toothsome beef-and-mushroom variety. I love one-dish dinners, and this stick-to-the-ribs meal does involve more prep time than I’m usually willing to do, but you can make them in quantity, freeze them, and have a special treat waiting in the freezer for that hectic night when there’s no time to cook. It also makes a great weekend meal – the leftovers get better each time they’re reheated.

BEEF AND MUSHROOM PIE on Americas-Table.com

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Isn’t it a marvel the way you can taste, or smell, or hear something long forgotten and have it brought back to life in an instant, a powerful memory you didn’t even know was still there? For me, the smell of Concord grapes is like being thrust back in time to my five-year-old self, perched on the fender of a tractor as my uncles stacked wooden boxes of grapes to go to market. Another thing that brings back happy childhood memories is the taste of simple butterscotch pudding, sweet and smooth. It might sound a little prosaic, but it’s a classic example of traditional home cooking, made extraordinary by wholesome ingredients stirred with patience and love. I paired the pudding with a thin, crispy gingersnap for a spicy contrast, and garnished with a dollop of whipped cream. Childhood in a pudding bowl!

BUTTERSCOTCH PUDDING on Americas-Table.com

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As the weather begins to change, it’s nice to welcome fall with a hot toddy, so I thought: what better combination than bourbon and apple cider? Unfortunately, that turned out to be way too sweet and a little disappointing. I have an old book of cocktails from the 1930s that suggested boiling down the apple cider to syrup form before mixing with the bourbon, and that was a good tout. The apple flavor become much more pungent, and a squirt of orange juice keeps it all from becoming too sweet. This is the kind of drink to sip on the back porch, wrapped up in a sweater on a chilly evening. Enjoy!

APPLE CIDER BOURBON on Americas-Table.com

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We’ve been in the process of moving, and it’s wreaking havoc on my neat lists of recipes to make and post. There was going to be a peach pie, but then the pie pans were packed and nowhere to be found. Pantry staples are sketchy; the bread knife is MIA. Despite the disruption, there were enough interesting ingredients to make a decadent granola bar – peanut butter, chocolate, and some healthy stuff too, to assuage my guilt. Moving is more than a physical wrench, and at this time of year when kids are heading off to new lives at school, a comforting snack waiting when they get home, or dropped into the mail, is both familiar and welcome.

PEANUT BUTTER CHOCOLATE CHIP GRANOLA BARS on Americas-Table.com

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Calvados in any apple dessert gives it substance and deeper flavor. This recipe is based on clafoutis, but uses caramelized apples instead of pears or cherries. If you love custard and baked fruit, this is about as easy and delicious as it gets. It’s a great way to use up old apples, and makes a warm and welcoming hot dessert casserole for a buffet table or tailgate party. If you leave the calvados out, it’s a big hit with little ones too!

BAKED APPLE TERRINE WITH CALVADOS on Americas-Table.com

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Food and Wine magazine is one of my favorite sources of inspiration for new recipes, and last summer they had an intriguing recipe for cherry and onion salad with an Asian fish sauce and vinegar dressing. The fish sauce was strong, but when I tried it with a simple balsamic vinaigrette instead, it allowed the cilantro, cherries, and onions to meld without overwhelming them with additional flavor. I loved it! It reminds me of the mango and black bean salad I make regularly – sweet and savory in a way that’s so refreshing.  It’s getting late for cherries, but when I saw these at the grocery store I took it as a sign to try this recipe. This is an original dish for a Labor Day picnic – easy, fresh, and delicious.

CHERRY AND GREEN ONION SALAD on Americas-Table.com

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I love a good Saturday afternoon sandwich, something unique and savory to wake up the taste buds and fortify myself for the afternoon. Have I mentioned that we just moved after 16 years in the same house? What a job to pack up all those memories; I admit there were some teary moments in the attic, finding old doll carriages under the eaves and dusty first-grade art projects.

WEEKEND SAMMIES on Americas-Table.com

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Here’s a between-seasons favorite that deserves to be re-posted.  So simple and easy to love, just like a Beatrix Potter picture book.

As a child I always loved the stories of Peter Rabbit, Mrs. Tiggywinkle, Squirrel Nutkin, and the dangerous Mr. Tod, as did my own children.   Later I came to admire Beatrix Potter even more for the independent life she was able to create for herself through her writing and art, especially in an era when it was difficult for women to control the trajectory of their own lives.   Her first story, The Tale of Peter Rabbit, was initially rejected by all of the publishers she submitted it to.  She believed so strongly in the appeal of the adventurous little bunny that she published it herself, and it became one of the most popular children’s stories of all time.   The gentle melding of reality and fantasy in her tales of farmyard and forest animals have delighted and entertained generations of children around the world.

 

IMG_0931

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I’m a big fan of Gourmet magazine (I still miss the monthly version), and I found this appealing summer salad recipe in their grilling issue a few months ago. It’s fresh, and very beautiful – all the bounty of summer on one big treat-yourself plate. Pair this with a baguette and a glass of icy white wine, and you’ve got a brilliant, elegant meal.

GRILLED CHICKEN SALAD on Americas-Table.com

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This is just the cocktail to kick off a buzzy, bubbly party! Martinis pack an alcoholic wallop to begin with, and when you add the caffeine in a little espresso, it becomes a fast wallop. I’ve rediscovered iced coffee this summer, so a delicious and eye-opening coffee cocktail was the logical progression. Dark and frosty, and brightened with vodka and coffee liqueur, you couldn’t ask for a more satisfying summer libation.  You definitely won’t be falling asleep on the porch after one of these. Enjoy!

ESPRESSO MARTINIS on Americas-Table.com

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This end-of-season cooler is fruity and light. I think of watermelon as a smoothie fruit, not a milkshake fruit, but this has a tropical flavor that’s enhanced by the strawberries. Somehow the strawberries strengthen the watermelon flavor, rather than adding their own unique taste, and it’s very clean and smooth. This would be yummy at a kids’ outdoor birthday party, or it could be something you want to drink poolside with a little rum blended in to celebrate a more adult birthday. Very decadent and rich!

WATERMELON STRAWBERRY MILKSHAKE on Americas-Table.com

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I love a salad you can make a meal out of, and this rice salad will appeal to both vegetarians and meat-eaters. It’s simple, as things should be in August. Just the crisp, tangy ingredients of a Greek salad combined with cold, cooked rice. If you want extra protein, grilled salmon or chicken are flavorful additions. I had this salad three times over the course of the weekend: once with warmed pita bread for lunch, another time with grilled boneless chicken breasts for dinner, and finally, standing in front of the fridge, fork in hand, as a late-night nibble. One of the nice things about being an empty nester is that you can do things like that – there’s nobody else around to be considered. We haven’t started drinking out of milk cartons…yet, but there are some advantages to being on our own again.

GREEK RICE SALAD on Americas-Table.com

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There’s a really fascinating book called “Letters of Note: An Eclectic Collection of Correspondence Deserving of a Wider Audience,” which I’ve been reading this summer. It’s a compilation of historic, moving, and extraordinary letters written by famous people throughout history.  One of the more endearing is a handwritten letter from Queen Elizabeth II to President Dwight Eisenhower, in which she shares her recipe for drop scones – which the President had tasted and admired while visiting the Queen at Balmoral Castle.

THE QUEEN’S DROP SCONES on Americas-Table.com

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A summer ham is so versatile. It goes seamlessly from Sunday dinner to Monday morning breakfast with eggs, and then maybe a ham sandwich with dill pickles and mustard for lunch. Stone fruits are one of my favorite things about the summer – they remind me of this lazy, easy time of the year and have such versatility. I decided to combine the two: I pickled some apricots as a delicious garnish, as well as pureeing some into a glaze, for a sweet edge on the ham. The beautiful late summer color in this dish makes it a feast for the eyes as well as the stomach.

GLAZED HAM WITH PICKLED APRICOTS on Americas-Table.com

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It’s time for another of those unhealthy treats that I cannot resist from time to time. Chocolate sodas. Here’s my rationale for making them: they’re delicious, especially when you use thick chocolate milk, cold-pressed coffee, and dark chocolate and Turkish coffee ice cream to amp up the flavor. To make them less unhealthy, I made them half the size of a standard ice cream soda. They satisfy the craving, but not in a way that fills you with self-loathing afterward.

CHOCOLATE SODAS on Americas-Table.com

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Really good vegetable recipes are easy to find these days. Here are two – one new, and one dating back to the Kennedy White House. Both are memorable. They’re the kinds of vegetable dishes that you’ll want to make again, and I especially love the history behind the endive recipe.

SIDE BY SIDES on Americas-Table.com

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“Blueberries as big as the end of your thumb,

Real sky blue, and heavy, and ready to drum

In the cavernous pail of the first one to come!”

Blueberries by Robert Frost

Blueberries are one of the greatest foods ever. They’re so forgiving; toss them into a muffin, a cake, a pancake, a pie, and they bubble and ooze into all the other flavors, making everything taste better. Maybe we should all try to be more like the humble blueberry, making every place we go the better for our presence.

BLUEBERRY COCONUT BAKED DOUGHNUTS on Americas-Table.com

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I can’t believe how gorgeous this pasta is! It’s so summery, with little striped bow ties and lengths of pasta that look like grosgrain ribbons nestled in a plate! The colors pop when you cook them, so there’s no need for further embellishment. A simple meal like cacio e pepe – salt, pepper, cheeses, a little butter and the pasta of your choice, can become a stunning meal with these amazing pastas. Add a green salad, a chunk of crusty bread, and a glass of wine, and you’ve got a spectacular feast for the senses in less than 30 minutes.

CACIO E PEPE on Americas-Table.com

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We haven’t had a Tex-Mex meal for a while, and it was starting to create a deep, dark hole in my psyche. There’s something so joyous about Mexican food – the spices, the colors, the textures – where would we be without it?  The chocolate and cinnamon combination commonly found south of the border is the perfect marriage of two singular flavors, yet when they’re combined, the whole becomes greater than the sum of the parts.  The cinnamon smooths out the bite of dark chocolate, and in this recipe, a graham cracker crust provides a not-too-sweet base for the chocolate-cinnamon cream.

TEX-MEX CHOCOLATE CINNAMON CREAM PIE on Americas-Table.com

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There’s something magical about blue flowers. True blue – real blue – is not easily found in flowers, and they don’t seem to grow just anywhere, or for anyone. A morning glory is such a simple flower, with its delicate Madonna-blue spirals, but when was the last time you saw one? They favor sunny spots, moist soil, and a rusty mailbox or old copper downspout to climb to make them perfectly happy.  They flourish in the summer, when their color is strong and vibrant, like a summer sky.

July blues, photo 1

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Don’t you love a good pancake supper? This savory Dutch baby, topped with bacon, avocado, tomato, and crème fraiche is just the twist on an American classic – though it’s also the kind of thing that will blow your guests’ socks off at Sunday brunch. You can even pull out your onion soup bowls and make individual babies – so cute and so easy!

BACON, AVOCADO AND TOMATO DUTCH BABY on Americas-Table.com

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Cooking well takes time, so whenever I can find a recipe that has multiple uses, I’m more likely to give it a try. A flaky buttermilk biscuit doesn’t take long to make, and when you add cooked bacon before baking, you’re creating a lovely and substantial breakfast biscuit while leaving yourself the option of bacon, lettuce, and tomato biscuits for a light lunch later. Made in smaller sizes, the BLT biscuits are perfect summer hors d’oeuvres, because who doesn’t love a crunchy BLT in a bite? The biscuit dough is so rich that you don’t need to butter them, especially when there’s all that bacon flavor to appreciate.

BACON BISCUITS on Americas-Table.com

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Boardwalk food. Just the words conjure sea breezes and special summertime feasts available only at seaside locales. Saltwater taffy, fried oysters or Ipswich clams, crinkly fries flecked with sea salt. This recipe for fried oyster sandwiches, or po’ boys, as they’re known in the South, has a distinctive and delicious Asian twist, served with kimchee and a hearty helping of pickled French fries. (If you like salt and vinegar chips, you’re going to LOVE these fries.) And if you’re going to deep fry something and splatter oil and smell up the kitchen, why not make the most of it? Add some batter-fried mushrooms – still one of the best deep-fried foods ever – or okra, or mild peppers.  It’s all good, hot, and salty as a day at the ocean!

FRIED OYSTER SANDWICHES AND PICKLED FRENCH FRIES on Americas-Table.com

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We have so much in this country. Sometimes we forget, or take it for granted. But not everything is easy or fair. The great gift of this country is opportunity – wherever we begin in life, we don’t have to stay there.  Personal responsibility and freedom go hand in hand…

FOURTH OF JULY

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Good balsamic vinegar – the real deal, made in only two places in Italy and aged for anywhere from 12 to over 25 years – is an investment.  Someone recently gave me a bottle of balsamic vinegar – the $20, not the $275 version – and it’s been a joy to cook with it. This week on America’s Table both recipes feature balsamic vinegar, thusly named not because it has balsam in it, but because it is thought to have restorative effects. This recipe is adapted from the  Food52 Genius Recipes cookbook, and I think you’ll love it – especially if you like sweet and sour flavor combinations. These ribs are tender and tasty, and without tomatoes in the barbecue sauce, the rich roasted pork flavor comes through.

BROWN SUGAR BALSAMIC RIBS on Americas-Table.com

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Sometimes a recipe begins in one place and ends up somewhere else – and more often than not it’s a do-over (and over again). This time, things turned out even better than I dreamed! What began in concept as a galette in a skillet became instead a cherry coffee cake with the crispest top, the scent of which would raise any sleepyhead from their bed on a weekend morning. A cast iron pan of this not-too-sweet-cake left on the counter with a pot of strong coffee is all anybody could ever hope for at breakfast, especially when the cake’s been topped with a dollop of yogurt. It reminds me of the blueberry cake that is one of AT’s all-time favorite recipes with followers – simple to make, multiple textures from cookie crisp top to warm, juicy cherries supported by a cakey base, and delicious all day long! You’re going to love this – I promise.

CHERRY ALMOND SKILLET COFFEE CAKE on Americas-Table.com

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I thought I knew about fish and chips – crisped on the outside, warm and flaky inside, thick chips littered with salt and a splash of vinegar – but this version is different and delightful. The recipe is from Nelly Salvacion, the best Asian chef I know, and it has a totally different set of flavors; the chickpea batter is tasty and light, and the mint, yogurt, cilantro, and lime dip gives it a completely different culinary context. She quick-fries everything twice, which makes both the fish and the chips extra crispy and golden. You’re going to love this!

NELLY’S FISH AND CHIPS on Americas-Table.com

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This is a nice make-ahead breakfast or brunch meal if you have weekend guests getting up at different times of the morning wanting breakfast, and you don’t want to be standing in the kitchen, spatula in hand, waiting for their orders. The virtue of a raised waffle (besides the fact that there’s less work in the morning – you just heat waffle iron and pour) is that they get crisp and stay crisp. You can warm up a raised waffle hours after it’s been cooked, and it will still be crunchy and delicious.  The sliced oranges and ginger cinnamon syrup (no maple syrup needed) can also be made ahead of time. This syrup recipe is especially handy for the times when you’re out of maple syrup and don’t realize it until the pancakes are being flipped on the griddle. You can always make your own syrup with favorite spices and flavorings.

RAISED WAFFLES IN SPICED ORANGE SYRUP on Americas-Table.com

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A barbecued rack of ribs deserves a strong accompaniment, a potato salad worthy of the name – redolent with smoky bacon and the sweet-sour tang of balsamic vinegar. This is a very masculine potato salad, if a potato salad can have a gender; it’s what you serve with a 20-ounce Porterhouse or a full rack of ribs, with an icy beer in a frosted glass on the side. This recipe is deeply flavored by herbs, sautéed green onions, and crisp bacon bits. If you’re looking for a do-ahead, non-mayo potato salad now that picnic season’s in full swing, this is the one for you.

GRILLED POTATO SALAD on Americas-Table.com

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One late afternoon my daughter and I fell into a little café in Walton Street in London, looking for a cup of tea and something sweet to give us the energy to push on through one of our “lists of things we have to do while we’re here.” There’s something about travel that gets the adrenaline humming – maybe it’s knowing you might never come this way again, so you don’t want to miss a thing. We were already falling behind on our list when we encountered this blacker-than-black chocolate pudding that looked like sort of a pudding but was maybe a cake, almost as if they’d taken a cake out of the oven too soon. The insides were soft and warm and full of the richest chocolate flavor, though not too sweet. We shared a piece and plotted a strategy for getting the recipe for America’s Table, but, sadly, the girl behind the counter had no idea about how the pudding was made.

ENGLISH CHOCOLATE PUDDING WITH RUM CREAM on Americas-Table.com

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Summer comes early in Washington, DC. By late April we need air conditioning, and any thought of outdoor parties has to be put away until the fall, unless you manage to spontaneously catch a rare cool night. This doesn’t mean that there aren’t summer parties here, though it helps if they involve alcohol and light clothing as distractions. Washington was built on a swamp; in fact, British diplomats who served here in the 19th century were given extra pay for living in such an inhospitable semi-tropical climate. That’s why I’m calling this a summer party, even though it took place in April.

SUMMER DINNER PARTY on Americas-Table.com

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No matter how you spell it – crozetti, corzetti, curzetti – this northern Italian pasta is delightful. I was walking through Georgetown one day and saw that a new shop called Via Umbria had opened up. I thought it was an Italian kitchenware shop, but it turned out to be so much more. There was beautiful Italian food to eat there or take away, a wine room with a generous tasting going on, and lots of great Italian pastas – including this disc-shaped Ligurian pasta stamped with various symbols or initials, depending upon the whim of the pastamaker. It made me start thinking immediately about what would be good with croxetti; they’re a substantial pasta, so they need accompanying ingredients with strong flavors to stand up to the big carbs.

CROXETTI on Americas-Table.com

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There’s a wonderful Greek restaurant in Malibu called Taverna Tony’s, where they serve an addictive dip with warm pita bread that’s so good we barely have room left to eat all the Greek deliciousness that follows. I always say to the waiters, “What’s in this stuff?” – like there’s some secret ingredient that explains why we – and everyone at the tables around us – are scraping the bowl and licking our fingers. The friendly waiters patiently reel off the ingredients, and still we marvel at how such ordinary items can combine to make such an extraordinarily good dip. I went home and played around with it and came up with my homage to Tony’s Greek dip. Don’t leave anything out – the avocado, the red caviar – it all comes together perfectly. You’re going to love this!

GREEK DIP on America's-Table.com

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When I was a kid, we had a big strawberry patch that needed to be picked clean every June, beginning just as school was out for the summer. My brother and I hated that damned patch. When the fruit was ready, we’d spend long mornings bent over in the hot sun picking berries –  itchy, sweaty, back-breaking work – which my parents then gave away to friends and neighbors. One especially hot summer when the season was over, the straw that served as bedding for the berries caught fire and the whole patch burned away in a matter of minutes. My brother and I stood at the back of the garden and cheered while we watched it burn. I remember my father coming out of the house, looking grim. “Waste not, want not,” he said, and grounded us for cheering instead of putting the fire out. Tough love, but an important lesson.

STRAWBERRY NUT TART WITH CINNAMON ICE CREAM on Americas-Table.com

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Is there an etiquette to picnics, that most casual and relaxed of summer get-togethers? Sadly, yes – just a little – because wherever humans gather in groups of more than one, the potential for thoughtless behavior exists. It’s a bummer, I know, but just a little bit of self awareness and forward planning can help ensure that your next sunny day in the park or out in the backyard with friends will be as much fun as you imagined it would be.

picnic etiquette, photo 1

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I’m always on the hunt for a really great chicken-based burger – one that stands up to the weight and flavor of a cheeseburger – and this is it.  The combination of bacon and ricotta in the burger is so good I don’t know why this hasn’t replaced McDonald’s Big Mac. It couldn’t be more simple: just mix up ground chicken, ricotta, and bits of crispy bacon, throw it on a hot grill, add your favorite condiments and a brioche bun, and be sure you don’t leave out the sriracha and vegenaise sauce – it’s heaven!

CHICKEN BACON RICOTTA BURGER on Americas-Table.com

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I love multi-purpose recipes, and I love re-purposing the kitchen accessories and serving pieces I have to make the most of them – and this recipe does both. The gazpacho is smooth in texture but strong in flavor, and while it makes a great appetizer – particularly with the addition of a mustard cream garnish (a great recipe from The Paris Cookbook by Patricia Wells) – I found that adding some vodka to the mix gave me a whole new kind of cocktail shooter. I have a beautiful vodka and caviar server which I was given as a gift many years ago, and now I know why I haven’t used it before – it’s really a gazpacho shooter-and-crudites server (at least that’s how I should have been using it). Now there’s both a reason and a recipe.

GAZPACHO SHOTS WITH MUSTARD CREAM on Americas-Table.com

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You know that annoying moment when you’re fully absorbed in eating a cookie, you’re down to the last bite, and you want to soak that final delicious bit in milk, but you don’t want to put your fingers in your milk? Here’s the solution: a cookie with a flange, a little extra handle that allows you to dunk your cookie and eat it too. It’s not a solution for world peace, just a novelty that might make someone smile.

COOKIES WITH A FLANGE on Americas-Table.com

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This phrase from Shakespeare describes just how I feel about this time of year. Nature is bursting with color and life: flowers that we won’t see again for a year are in full bloom – ranunculus, delphinium, peonies, and foxglove – and we can truly enjoy them. I hope you’re enjoying these fleeting days of great spring beauty.

THE DARLING BUDS OF MAY on Americas-Table.com

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Bone broth has entered the realm of hip new foods that are said to have all kinds of big health benefits – good for the hair, the skin, the immune system, and the digestion. I have no idea just how good for you it really is, but it is delicious and nourishing. My grandmother used to make this when anyone in the family was getting over a long bout with the flu or a terrible cold, though she always added small liver dumplings that made it even richer and more fortifying.

BONE BROTH on Americas-Table.com

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Here’s an easy and delicious breakfast or brunch sandwich that is bursting with flavor, yet it must be the lowest-calorie bagel sandwich in history. I used a scooped bagel (a bagel split in half and hollowed out to be filled with yummy things – hence the fewer calories,) leftover grilled and marinated tuna from the night before, wasabi mayonnaise, and black sesame seeds and chives for color. In the time it took to assemble (less than five minutes) I had a very cutting edge and California-esque meal that would be so appealing on a buffet table. The tuna was marinated in soy sauce and fresh ginger, and sprinkled with sesame oil to keep it juicy. Enjoy!

SCOOPED TUNA AND WASABI BAGEL on Americas-Table.com

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In my travels around the local farmers’ markets and online food purveyors, I came upon rose petal jelly, and immediately ordered some because one of my children loves anything flavored with roses, violets, or lavender. In looking for another way to serve it (other than on a piece of toast), I added it to a favorite dinner salad of grilled goat cheese and spring greens. The rose jelly elevates a fairly common salad combination to new heights of flavor – it’s a piquant combination. It tastes of this time of year, when spring becomes summer and the first roses start to bloom.

SPRING GREENS AND GRILLED GOAT CHEESE SALAD WITH ROSE PETAL JELLY on Americas-Table.com

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There were beautiful spring pea shoots at the grocery this morning, which reminded me of a standout recipe in The Cheesemonger’s Seasons by Chester Hastings, a cookbook to bring joy to the hearts of cheese lovers everywhere. The very best recipes have only a few ingredients, which, when combined, are so delicious that they draw your complete attention to the plate – making you grateful for the moment. This is one of those recipes. Some good burrata, a little olive oil, lemon, salt, pepper, and spring pea shoots (I also threw in a handle of fresh peas), and you’ve got a first course that is both elegant and rustic. The original recipe calls for lemon-infused olive oil, which sounds great, but since I didn’t have any I squeezed a few drops of lemon juice over everything to get the same effect.

FRESH PEA SHOOTS AND BURRATA SALAD on Americas-Table.com

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If you’re craving cheesecake but the caloric intake is making you think twice, these tarts are a light and lemony way to have your cheesecake and eat it too. Individual tarts have built-in portion control, and the amount of mascarpone is minimal but satisfying. I think the filling would be equally refreshing when made with limes instead of lemons, if you’re more of a key lime lover. This recipe is adapted from The Cheesemonger’s Seasons by Chester Hastings. I added a little sweetness to the crust by brushing a light coating of melted semisweet chocolate on the inside of the crust, to give the cocoa/pistachio flavor a boost.

LEMON MASCARPONE TARTS WITH CHOCOLATE PISTACHIO CRUST on Americas-Table.com

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William Shakespeare’s 400th birthday is this April 23rd, worth noting for lovers of great literature everywhere. When I worked at the White House, the President and Mrs. Bush hosted a dinner to celebrate Shakespeare’s birthday one year, inviting scholars and actors whose professional lives revolved around the Bard, with an Elizabethan-period meal and performance of “As You Like It” in the East Room afterward. I LOVED planning this dinner, and the chefs and calligraphers outdid themselves with both the menu and the menucards (which were done on parchment, and included quotes from Shakespeare relevant to each course).

CAULIFLOWER CHOWDER on Americas-Table.com

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This recipe should carry a warning label: if you love coconut, this is the best macaroon cookie, completely, utterly addictive, and gluten-free. Even the cookie dough is so good it was all I could do to stop eating it. You know the process – drop a spoonful on the baking sheet, eat a spoonful, drop another 2 spoonfuls on the baking sheet, take another nibble… It’s the joy of cooking – if there’s some self-discipline involved. For that, you’ll have to go to another blog.

ALMOND MOCHA MACAROONS on Americas-Table.com

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In my view, there aren’t many foods that can’t be improved upon by the addition of fresh ginger, and fried rice is no exception. The crisp, fresh ginger flavor is heightened by flash frying first, then setting it aside to add to the top of the fried rice just before serving. Fried rice can be heavy on the calories and carbs, but if you flip your proportions a bit – use more vegetables than rice – it makes a leaner, healthier meal, and I added stir-fried shrimp to boost the protein. I love this recipe because it makes especially good leftovers (who doesn’t love cold Chinese straight out of the fridge?) and it’s full of good things like shitake mushrooms and baby bok choy. There are no eggs in this fried rice recipe because there’s enough flavor going on here already, but add it if you think you’ll miss it. This is the kind of meal that gets into the regular weekday lineup and stays there!

GINGER FRIED RICE WITH SHRIMP on Americas-Table.com

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Recently I planned a farewell lunch for a good friend of mine who was moving to Europe. The RSVPs were in, the caterers lined up, the silver polished, the menu and place cards already on the table, and buckets of flowers waited to be arranged. On the morning of the party, the minor precipitation predicted became six inches of a wet, heavy snow surprise that made our street impassable, and most of Washington’s roads treacherous. It doesn’t take much for Washington to skid to a stop, if you’ll forgive the expression, in winter weather; the city’s snow removal motto seems to be “It’ll melt eventually.” And so my friend’s farewell luncheon was cancelled, with frantic mid-morning calls and emails to guests. (There’s nothing worse than cancelling a party and forgetting to tell one person – who shows up on your doorstep expectantly, leaving you to explain lamely how you somehow let everyone know – except them. It feels a lot like finding out you’re the only person who hasn’t been invited to a party.)

APRIL FLOWERS on Americas-Table.com

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Hot breakfast cereals are back, and when you find a recipe that can be made days ahead of time and kept in the fridge to be microwaved as needed, it’s a keeper. I first had this oatmeal/quinoa mix at Malibu Farms, and while I’ve changed the proportion of oatmeal to quinoa to get a nice thick morning porridge, the treats you can load on top are what make this your own private breakfast nirvana. Don’t be afraid to mix it up – coconut milk, flax seeds, maple syrup, hazelnuts, loads of fresh fruit – it’s all good. (My personal favorite is all of the above.) This is a whole different experience from the lumpy hot cereal I ate growing up (sorry, Mom!) and more like a hot and healthy breakfast sundae. Enjoy!

OATMEAL QUINOA HOT CEREAL on Americas-Table.com

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Growing up with a Bohemian grandmother – that’s big “B” Bohemian, as in small eastern European country, not small “b” bohemian like Birkenstocks and VW vans – I know something about dumplings. They’re the most uber-satisfying, slide-down-the-gullet comfort food of all time. But, whether they’re made from potatoes or from flour, they definitely aren’t lean cuisine. Dumplings hearken back to a time when food options were few, so making a filling meal out of a potato was a valuable culinary skill. We ate dumplings a lot when I was growing up (maybe that’s why we all looked like dumplings!) because that was our tradition. Here’s my downsized version of the chicken-and-dumpling classic, using Cornish game hen, tender baby dumplings, and lots and lots of veggies. You get all the satisfaction of tender poultry, young spring vegetables, and light clouds of chive dumplettes without the massive carb and calorie intake. It’s the perfect Sunday dinner, if you’re feeling big ‘B’ Bohemian – or just really, really hungry.

SPRING VEGETABLE GAME HEN AND DUMPLINGS on Americas-Table.com

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Many years ago, while out shopping with my four-year-old daughter, I ran into an elderly friend and stopped to chat. There was a large fake rubber tree that was part of a clothing display nearby, which Liddy started to climb. I tried to catch her eye to make her stop, and kept throwing her dirty looks as I attempted to keep the conversation going with my friend. Liddy looked up at me and said loudly, “Why are you looking at me with fiercely eyes?” She knew I was trying to tell her something, but she didn’t know what it was, and I was busted. Besides the fact that I was secretly delighted with her use of the word ‘fiercely’ – even if it wasn’t exactly grammatical – it reminded me of how closely kids watch and learn from us. How they behave, their manners, and their attitude toward the world, are a reflection of our own.

MANNERS FOR KIDS on Americas-Table.com

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Finger food is especially appealing to small children who are able to feed themselves, but haven’t yet mastered the use of a knife and fork. I’m for anything that encourages kids to feed themselves and give them confidence at the table. This is a really simple way to offer a ‘serve yourself’ breakfast or brunch to a group of toddlers – just some good old-fashioned buttermilk waffles served with small pieces of bacon and fresh berries – all arranged on a single platter and accompanied with little bowls of syrup for some messy, creative dunking.

TODDLER BREAKFAST on Americas-Table.com

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Sometimes you know a recipe is going to work even before you start mixing up the ingredients. What could ever be bad about blackberries and white chocolate, right? I found this recipe in Country Life magazine, my bimonthly fix of all things English, and thought the combination would be irresistible. What a scrumptious late afternoon treat with a cup of tea, or a perfect addition to a late weekend brunch! They’re sweet, with a very fine, cake-like texture that would delight the most discerning pastry lover.

BLACKBERRY WHITE CHOCOLATE MUFFINS on Americas-Table.com

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It’s Tex-Mex Thursday on America’s Table, with a kid-pleasing breakfast recipe from our favorite Texas chef, Matt Wendel. Cheese enchiladas with a yummy fried egg oozing deliciously all over the melty goodness and seasoned with salsa and guac – what could be better? This definitely falls into the ‘breakfast for dinner’ category also, and is a very fast and filling meal.

STACKED CHEESE ENCHILADAS on Americas-Table.com

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I’ve always wanted to dye eggs using natural foods instead of the little colored pellets from the drugstore that produce bright, BRIGHT Easter eggs. After consulting several websites and books about the best foods to use and how exactly to dye eggs using beets or kale or onion skins (the online instructions for this are pretty vague), I found that a lot of what was suggested didn’t work at all, or it took so long that I would never do it with kids. My girls’ little heads would have exploded with anticipation waiting for grape juice to turn an egg to a nice shade of lavender – which is funny, considering how grape juice is such an instant-and-forever kind of stain on anything else it touches.

The colors that did work are amazing – soft and rich and glowing so beautifully that I went a little crazy and took too many photos. I had the best results with onion skins, kale, and beets. Spinach, blackberries, and lemon peels were a failure – though the blackberries did yield an odd but beautiful shade of grey. I also colored quail eggs (especially interesting because they’re already covered in brown spots). Coloring brown eggs will give you really deep earth tones like burgundy and rust – also beautiful. They made some unusual-looking egg salad after the fact. I wrapped rubber bands around a few of the eggs to create asymmetrical lines around the eggs, just for variety.

COLORED EGGS MADE WITH NATURAL DYES on Americas-Table.com

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This post started with a good idea but many obstacles. I wanted to make a rabbit cake that looked like the Velveteen Rabbit – you remember, that lovingly-worn stuffed bunny who became real through the magical loving memory of his little boy. (See link below.) Easter lambs are pretty common at this time of year, and adorable, but if you’ve ever tried to make one you know how frustrating it can be: the heads fall off, chunks of the cake get stuck in the mold, the batter overflows the mold, and they won’t stand upright. Then it becomes a reclamation project with the frosting, trying to cover up the fact that the ears are missing and half of the hind end oozed out of the mold while baking because the mold wasn’t tied firmly shut. File this under “not worth the effort.” And because it’s almost Easter, a bunny really is in order.

Gingerbread Velveteen Rabbit on Americas-Table.com

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Here’s a combination of two things kids love: chicken soup and alphabet pasta. If you’re thinking you don’t have time to make soup, think again, because this recipe takes less than an hour – in fact, it’s best when served as soon as it’s ready, while the vegetables are still crunchy and bursting with flavor. I added fresh spinach to sneak in a green veg, and the lemon juice brightens the flavor of the broth – but don’t forget the celery leaves for garnish, because their fragrant rawness is so clean and refreshing.

CHICKEN ALPHABET SOUP on Americas-Table.com

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This kids’ dessert is fun, healthy, and easy. The gluten-free little chocolate drops are my all-time favorite cookie, and so I never make them. (No self control around these things, but I make an exception to share this recipe with you!) It’s my mom’s recipe, though we never knew anything about ‘gluten free’ when I was a kid, we just liked the soft chocolate taste and texture.  And this is not just a kids’ cookie; they’re great with an afternoon cup of coffee or for a TV-watching snack.

GLUTEN FREE CHOCOLATE DROP COOKIE KEBABS on Americas-Table.com

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This is not so much a recipe as it is a strategy for dealing with picky eaters. There are so many food bloggers doing incredibly inventive food styling today; their work would draw even the most finicky eaters to the table. I love to look at these gorgeous works of art, but I don’t think I would have had the time or temperament to do much of it myself when my kids were small. They would go through phases that made me crazy: one would only eat pasta with butter for dinner, then she switched to cheese agnolotti, and over time moved on to cocktail shrimp, chicken soup, cucumber and avocado sushi, and cheese sandwiches. There is a children’s book called The Teeny Tiny Woman (found on Amazon here), and they loved both the repetition and the inherent teeny-ness of everything in the story, so in an effort to get our kids to try other foods, I made the one thing that I knew they couldn’t resist: tiny food. I cut broccoli into the smallest flowerets, made orzo instead of fusilli pasta, and rolled meatballs the size of cotton balls.

TEENY TINY BREAKFAST on Americas-Table.com

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This March is all about kids at America’s Table, which gives me the opportunity to pull out some tried-and-true favorites for family meals. In keeping with my theory that if you’re going to eat something you love, it should be the most superbly prepared version of the thing you love, here’s the best homemade chicken fingers recipe I know. You can bake them and they’re still tasty, but they won’t have the golden crispness of the ones shown, which are fried very quickly in light olive oil.

CHICKEN FINGERS on Americas-Table.com

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This is a meal for the deep, deep winter. Lamb shanks need several hours of roasting to get to falling-off-the-bone-tenderness, but they’re so worth the wait! I’ve paired them with aligot, or as I think of it, extra cheesy mashed potatoes. Only the French could take something as good as mashed potatoes and melt mild cheese into them for the most over-the-top, heavenly, mind-blowing potatoes ever. If you’ve never tried them, you should, because they might be the best thing I’ve ever tasted. They’re much creamier than mashed potatoes, and hopelessly addictive. (I should never have made this meal on a weekend when I was home alone. It’s the only thing I’ve eaten for two days.)

LAMB SHANKS WITH EXTRA CHEESY MASHED POTATOES on Americas-Table.com

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We spent most of the waking hours of last Sunday immersed in “The Godfather,” Parts One and Two. (We never speak of Part Three in our house; The Godfather, Part Three is the Fredo of the film world – the sorrow and disappointment at its very existence is more than the family can bear.) Watching Clemenza teach Michael how to mix up a batch of red sauce got me thinking about Italian food, and mentally flipping through my Italian recipe file. I’ve always wanted to make bomboloni, those little balls of deep-fried yeast dough that taste like heaven, and happily, I had all of the ingredients in the kitchen. If you love doughnut holes, you will love bomboloni, because that’s what they are, sometimes served with dipping sauces. They really don’t need the sauces, because a warm, cinnamon-and-sugar-coated fresh bombolono is not easy to improve upon. Some people fill them with jam or crème, but that’s gilding the pastry lily. Just pop it in your mouth and enjoy, or to paraphrase a line from The Godfather: “Leave the gun, take the bomboloni.”

BOMBOLONI on Americas-Table.com

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I was wandering in the garden, making mental notes of spots that would need planting in the spring, and was surprised to find my sage plants pushing sturdily through the snow. It was such a surprise to see something green and harvest-able at this point in the winter; this sage, I thought, deserves to be appreciated.

Sage makes a particularly aromatic addition to a winter cocktail, so I put this recipe together based on what I had in the fridge. The blueberries add a little pop of freshness to the cherry liqueur, and the ginger ale is a cool, smooth base to support the mix of flavors that make themselves known as you sip and enjoy. This makes a really refreshing herbal mocktail, as well as an invigorating breakfast drink if you want to forego the vodka. I hope you’ll give it a try – fresh sage is usually available at the grocery, and if you can find Luxardo maraschino cherries to add as a garnish, you’ll love them. They’re not the bright red, faux cocktail cherries that are so common, but the real deal – deep burgundy cherries, full of flavor and swimming in a rich syrup that tastes sublime.

Cherry Sage Smash on Americas-Table.com

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I first ate nasi goreng in the late seventies, when I worked as a research assistant at a Washington think tank. I had been befriended by one of the secretaries, a wonderful Dutch lady who had lived an exotic and harrowing life: raised in Indonesia before World War II, she spent her teenage years in a Japanese internment camp in unimaginably horrible circumstances. Later, as an adult, she lived in Saudi Arabia with her husband and children, where one afternoon a month she made bathtub gin – in her actual bathtub – for the expats confined to the Aramco compound. Settled in Washington, she was always immaculately turned out in exquisite lace collars and the latest shade of nail polish, as if to give the lie to the hardships of her past. She would slip into fluent Malay at our lunches at a nearby Indonesian restaurant, where she taught me about the foods of her childhood. What an extraordinary person! I have always treasured her friendship, as well as her introduction to Indonesian food.

Nasi Goreng on Americas-Table.com

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There’s nothing like a 250-year old recipe to be really…disappointing. Our ideas about great food change with time. We have so many more food choices today, ingredient options that the founding fathers and mothers wouldn’t have had, and such a varied range of cuisines that have altered and opened the American palate that finding a historic recipe and making it work for modern tastes requires some adaptation. This recipe for Martha Washington’s crab soup would have been considered an elegant and luxurious offering for special guests. It’s a classic mid-Atlantic first course, the kind that you can still find on the menu in stuffy men’s clubs in Washington – rich, safe, and fishy.

Martha Washington’s Crab Soup on Americas-Table.com

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“All you need is love. But a little chocolate now and then doesn’t hurt.” – Charles M. Schulz

You might expect the creator of Charlie Brown and the lovestruck Lucy to say something so sensible: enjoy the love, but don’t forget the chocolate. Here’s a recipe that satisfies both needs, and it’s about as easy as any candy you can make: bark is just a layering of delicious ingredients in a sheet pan, which needs a little time to cool before being broken up into random pieces of instant joy. This would make a delightful Valentine’s Day gift, an anytime hostess gift, a family dessert surprise – or it might make you the most popular person in your office if you bring a batch to work.  With these basic ingredients – chocolate, sugar, and pecans – how can you go wrong?

Chocolate Toffee Bark on Americas-Table.com

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There’s never a more welcome time to enjoy a lush arrangement of flowers than in the dead of winter, and with Valentine’s Day around the corner, why not indulge yourself? I’ve been loving the evolution of flower arranging in the last couple of years – flower arrangements are looser, with old-fashioned and exotic blooms (or more prosaic and therefore unexpected), and things are joyously natural and free flowing. This arrangement has many different types of flowers, but only a few stems of each to keep it from becoming too formal or stuffy. You’ll notice the differentiation in height, color and texture in this photo, which gives it the feel of a Renaissance still life. It just makes me happy to look at it.

February Flowers on Americas-Table.com

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The Search for Delicious is not just a great book by Natalie Babbitt; it’s a lifetime quest, seeking food that satisfies our heads and hearts, as well as our stomachs. Before you dig in, remember that what you’re about to eat is going to become a part of you. You deserve to be healthy, so give yourself permission to eat what will keep you strong and well.

Here are two delicious breakfast foods to warm up the cold winter mornings. Both can be made in advance to cut down on prep time in the morning, for those of us who prefer not to work around hot stoves or sharp knives before that first cup of coffee. A cup of the warm cinnamon quinoa will keep you going strong well past lunch, if you have a hectic day ahead, and the apricot granola is delicious without the rose petals – it just makes me happy to use them.

THE SEARCH FOR DELICIOUS: CINNAMON BREAKFAST QUINOA AND APRICOT ROSE GRANOLA on Americas-Table.com

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I’ve been making these chicken potpies since my girls were little, and, over the years, I started getting special requests for the fillings in the pies. My husband wanted extra peas and pearl onions but no potatoes, one daughter is allergic to carrots, another liked the original version, and it became fun, and a special treat, to ‘customize’ the potpies. I marked the top of each with the initial of the person whose pie it was using a small cookie cutter (and often had help from the girls with this part). It’s a good idea to involve kids in cooking so they begin to learn about food and nutrition, understand the effort required to make a meal, and experience the pleasure of doing it. People who cook for themselves tend to eat more healthfully, so getting kids engaged in food prep is setting them up for a lifetime of healthier eating.

MINI CHICKEN POTPIES on Americas-Table.com

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A cheese plate can be one of the most creative, exciting, and inventive things you can make. Even if you don’t know how to boil water, you can still assemble a mind-blowing cheese plate that will have your friends scraping the cutting board for more. It’s an opportunity to let your food imagination run wild – no more boring cubes of bland cheeses on even-blander crackers! Get crazy with it, try a few new things, and include some of the more familiar items you might not have considered before, add a nice bottle of wine, and make a meal of it. For example, everyone loves a nice, runny brie, but have you tried it topped with a honey-soaked blackberry perched on a toasted baguette slice? How about a segment of lady apple topped with some fig and almond cake, or fig paste (or, as the Spanish call it, membrillo) and a thin slice of spectacular Wisconsin cheese like Pleasant Ridge Reserve, made from cow’s milk and very like the best gruyere you’ve never had.

Cheese Plates on Americas-Table.com

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Can you imagine a Superbowl without salsa and chips? I definitely can’t, and that’s why I’m so excited to have Matt Wendel’s dry-roasted Ancho Chili Salsa recipe to share today. If you read America’s Table regularly, you know that Matt worked for President George W. Bush and Mrs. Bush at Camp David, as well as at the Bush ranch in Texas, and he is a wizard of Tex-Mex cooking. For Tex-Mex Thursday (and Superbowl Sunday!)

Matt Wendel’s Superbowl Salsa on Americas-Table.com

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Lyndon Johnson had a good grasp of the perils of the presidency. He once said, “Being president is like being a jackass in a hailstorm. There’s nothing to do but stand there and take it.” There probably hasn’t been a president who didn’t feel the same way. Johnson’s extraordinary grasp of the art of legislating made him one of the most consequential presidents of modern times. He came into office with a nation in shock and mourning, and presided over the escalation and ultimate failure in Vietnam, but what we remember now is the landmark civil rights legislation he was able to enact. I think we’d all like to be remembered for our successes rather than our failures.

LYNDON JOHNSON’S PEDERNALES RIVER CHILI on Americas-Table.com

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If America’s Table had a motto, it might be “No Month without a Bourbon Recipe.” We might be overdoing it, but in the depths of miserable weather (and I’m referring to my friends in California), there’s nothing like a hot toddy to calm the nerves and warm the soul. Just the words ‘hot toddy’ sound like something old-fashioned and comforting, a good memory that’s slipped just past our recollection, but something we know we love.

Honey Bourbon Hot Toddy on Americas-Table.com

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This is an elegant breakfast recipe that I’ve streamlined heavily, because none of us would go to this much trouble – not even for a special birthday breakfast treat – unless it was more user-friendly. Souffles get a bad rap, but they are surprisingly easy: the only trick to a souffle is to beat the egg whites enough to make them rise. Then you’re just mixing up a handful of ingredients that you probably already have at home: oatmeal, milk, eggs, and maple syrup.

Oatmeal Souffle on Americas-Table.com

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There’s something so appealing about a tiny plant, and I must not be the only person who thinks so; every nursery or florist shop seems to be selling these adorable little greens in all their minimalist glory. Maybe it’s a reaction to the post-holiday excess of material goods, maybe it’s because they’re inexpensive, or maybe it’s because it’s an innocent indulgence to enjoy for ourselves. You can put a little plant on your desk or bedside table, near the kitchen sink, on a bookshelf at eye level – anyplace that you’re sure to see it and feel better when you do. They can also be gathered into one container and covered with a cloche for easy maintenance – no watering needed. (Ferns and plants needing lots of moisture do best in cloches.)

Tiny Plants on Americas-Table.com

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This is one of those delicious cake-like cookies that are a bit old-fashioned, the sort of thing you might be served at tea with the Dowager Duchess of Grantham. I love this cookie because it’s festive and unusual. Honey is more a sweetener than a flavor, so honey cookies can be a little bland, but the honey in the soft and shiny frosting comes through like the warm buzz of honey bees hard at work on a midsummer’s day – and the fresh ginger keeps it from being too sweet.

SOFT HONEY AND GINGER TEA COOKIE on Americas-Table.com

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One of my favorite snacks is a sea salt and vinegar potato chip; there is nothing quite so tangy and crisp. After a particularly unhealthy day of travel, when breakfast was a chocolate-covered granola bar and lunch was string cheese and an ossified apple, I treated myself to a bag of sea salt and vinegar chips. Who knew vinegar could have such an amazing effect on the stomach? Apparently almost everyone, but it was news to me. Vinegar increases the output of stomach acid, which aids in digestion. So for potato chipaholics (like me) you can eat chips and feel ever better afterward! As Ina Garten would say, how great is that?

Sea Salt and Vinegar Chips on Americas-Table.com

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It’s time to redress the excesses of the past few weeks with some clean eating! I find most veggie burgers disappointing; they either lack texture or lack taste, and you can’t fake it by adding barbecue sauce to the mix. Here’s a veggie burger that I can get on board with – the trick comes from SeriousEats.com (thank you!): they roast the black beans in the oven before assembling the burger. This takes the moisture (and hence the mushiness) out of the burger. I added toasted and ground mushrooms, and left the chilis and adobos behind as a matter of personal taste. Love them on a tostada or taco, but not so much on a cheeseburger.

Veggie Burger on Americas-Table.com

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Do you remember the old nursery rhyme, “What are little girls made of? Sugar and spice and everything nice…” These sugared and spiced nuts and seeds are an updated take on those delicious sugared pecans that have become a holiday classic. They make a terrific hostess gift, taking about ten minutes to assemble, followed by 40 minutes of baking. Just pop them into a jar, tie a ribbon around the base, and you’re all set. They would also be amazing mixed with freshly-popped popcorn at this time of year, when all the spices and the orange zest give it a taste of the holidays. I added pumpkin and sunflower seeds to vary the texture a bit, and also because I love them. In fact, feel free to add in any particular nut and seed favorites – the more the merrier!

 

Everything Nice Nuts and Seeds on Americas-Table.com

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As much as I love new year’s, there’s been enough celebrating, entertaining, and hostessing these last few weeks to last me for a while. That’s why, when I got to the new year’s recipe, I knew it had to be easy – so easy that you almost don’t have to think about it. There are lots of great champagnes available now at very affordable prices, so what could be more of a treat than a punch made with a champagne base? I wanted to make it special, without adding six kinds of liquor to make it so strong that your guests’ eyes will roll back in their heads, or adding fruit juice that make the punch so sweet it’s undrinkable. So here it is: I bought pre-seeded pomegranate seeds and popped them into a round mold, then poured equal parts grenadine and pomegranate juice into the mold to cover the seeds.  The mold was frozen, and then floated in the bowl of champagne. As it melted, the tart pomegranate juice added dryness to the champagne, and the bright red of the seeds kept it festive looking. And if you don’t have a punchbowl (which I don’t), you can use any large, deep bowl, like a mixing bowl or salad bowl. Just don’t make your pomegranate ring too big to fit inside the bowl! Happy new year!

Champagne Punch on Americas-Table.com

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“I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year.” – Charles Dickens

“I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year.” – Charles Dickens

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One of the perks of being a former White House Social Secretary is that we’re invited back for a Christmas luncheon each year by current White House Social Secretary, Deesha Dyer. It’s a chance to dish with my friends, admire the holiday decorations, and enjoy the warm hospitality of Deesha and the White House staff. We had a beautiful dessert service in the Green Room (with visits from White House Executive Chefs Cris Comerford and Susie Morrison), after lunch in the Ward Room of the White House Mess. We were greeted by the first dogs, had hellos and hugs with the Residence staff we worked with before, and enjoyed the White House as guests – a very different – and utterly lovely! – experience. Here are some photos from that day, with extra thanks to Deesha Dyer and the White House Residence Staff for making it possible. Happy Christmas!

White House Christmas 2015

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This probably does not seem like a Christmas recipe, but it’s a part of our family tradition of Christmas Eve. My wonderful Jewish husband embraced the celebrating of Christmas with both hands, but I always wanted to make sure that he felt especially included, so we created our own tradition in his honor: we always end our Christmas eve meal with my husband’s favorite chocolate sundae, garnished with thin pieces of meringue (which, when my girls were younger, they had fun spreading on the baking sheet themselves), and fresh blackberries. The meringue-chocolate-blackberry-vanilla ice cream combination is good at any time of year, but it makes a nice Christmas memory, and is a special one for us.  I hope you’ll give it a try.

CHOCOLATE BLACKBERRY MERINGUE SUNDAE on Americas-Table.com

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If you tuned into Fox and Friends this morning, we talked about a few of my favorite holiday recipes on the show. I hope you enjoy them as much as my family does!

WHITE HOUSE EGGNOG on Americas-Table.com

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I had a version of this beet salad on a recent trip to London, and couldn’t wait to come home and try it myself. Beets and horseradish have always been a good combination; when you add a flavorful mix of young greens and beet greens, and garnish with scallions and pine nuts, the whole mélange is just so good! It does take an hour to roast the beets, but the rest of it is as easy as making salad dressing and washing the greens – and the impact on the tastebuds is amazing. You’ll wonder at the amount of horseradish I used, but the crème fraiche and the cream cheese decrease the bite of the horseradish (and you need both to get the consistency just right). This also makes a lovely buffet salad with lots of Christmas color. Enjoy!

BEET SALAD on Americas-Table.com

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We’re officially into the last-minute shopping time of the year, and in my house, that means looking for gifts for my girls. It’s been such a crazy holiday season that I didn’t have time to do a gift guide – see last year’s here – but I was asked to be a tastemaker for To The Market, a wonderful website of survivor-made goods that allows you to shop by cause or country, so you know that what you’re giving is also helping to give a new life to the artisans who handmade it. It’s a wonderful way of making each gift truly unique and special. I hope you’ll enjoy it as much as I do – happy shopping!

GIFTING BACK on Americas-Table.com

Basha Boutique cotton reversible placemat (no longer available in this color, but similar here: http://www.tothemarket.com/kantha-place-mat-set-yellow-polka-dot-and-taupe.html)

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What a feast for the senses the flowers and evergreens of Christmas are! This year I’ve been unusually short on time and didn’t have the option of a leisurely comb through the cold rooms of the floral wholesalers. Much of my Christmas flower shopping was done at the grocery store – the apples, cinnamon, and astilbes came from Safeway and Whole Foods! The rosemary wreath was a very thoughtful hostess gift from one of my daughter’s friends. With a little doctoring, these basic ingredients became homey and welcoming holiday flowers. I used an apple, a cinnamon stick, an old flower pot, and some holly from the garden for the little apple topiary (those would make great Christmas place-card holders, by the way). The rosemary wreath was a Thanksgiving hostess gift re purposed with a new container and some elephant and white beech mushrooms. One bunch of white heather gave the kitchen a Christmas feel, and the rest – greens, roses, holly – were combined to provide little containers of holiday cheer all over the house. I hope you take the opportunity to see the extraordinary in the everyday, especially at this time of year. Cheers!
BLOOMING CHRISTMAS on Americas-Table.com
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There are two recipes in this post because I just couldn’t decide which one I liked better. The original plan was for a simple bourbon bundt cake, moist and redolent of alcohol, like a fruit cake without the sticky fruit and soft nuts. But then I found a recipe for a chocolate bourbon cake that I made for Thanksgiving and liked so much that I couldn’t leave it out. (The photos are of the bourbon bundt cake; I forgot to take pictures of the chocolate bourbon cake – too many things on the stove that day!) Chocolate and bourbon compliment each other beautifully; neither flavor dominates, they just enhance each other in a way you’re going to love. Both cakes benefit from several generous bastings of bourbon after baking; it keeps the cake moist and rich, so that a simple dusting of confectioners’ sugar will finish it off nicely.

Bourbon Cake

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One of my husband’s cousins who lived in South Carolina had a sign in her kitchen that said, “Shalom, Y’all,” which I always thought was a charming way to express both her faith and her geography. It’s the Hanukah season, and these three simple recipes combine both Jewish and southern traditions: rosemary roasted chicken, rustic cinnamon applesauce (my husband’s favorite condiment on a latke), and oven-roasted potato latkes baked in a cast iron cornbread skillet. It’s the kind of meal you hardly need to think about because it’s so easy, but the rosemary, apples, and tender chicken go together so well that you can practically pile them on top of each other and enjoy all the flavors at once!

Hanukah Dinner

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Louisa Adams was the sixth first lady of the United States, the daughter-in-law of John and Abigail Adams, and the wife of John Quincy Adams. She was one of the most experienced and formidable hostesses the White House has ever seen, living in Prussia, St. Petersburg, and London while her husband was in diplomatic service, and then entertaining frequently when her husband became Secretary of State and later President. When I found her four-ingredient recipe for clam chowder, I was intrigued. Could it still be done as it had been in colonial times – just clams, butter, flour and milk? Yes and no. I added celery, garlic, and potatoes, to enhance both the flavor and the heft of this hearty, classic, American soup, but it’s still a very simple recipe.

LOUISA ADAMS’ CLAM CHOWDER

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If you’re not familiar with Texas sheet cake, the holiday season is a terrific time to get to know it. It’s a delicious way to make dessert for a crowd in no time at all, and the flavor is unique: it’s not a brownie, and it’s not really a cake. It’s more like a chocolate pecan tray bake that has an indefinable end flavor that reminds me of a malted milk ball. They’re one of those treats that immediately makes you want to have another – one is definitely not enough!

TEXAS SHEET CAKE

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Rice bowl meals are satisfying and healthy – and a rice bowl today makes me feel as though I’m on the road to redeeming myself for the excesses of yesterday. These nutritious, hearty meals are everywhere now, and here’s one you can make at home without a lot of special ingredients or effort.

BROWN RICE BOWL WITH KALE-RADISH SLAW, SOY, AND FRIED EGG

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“Nothing is more honorable than a grateful heart.”

~Seneca

Happy Thanksgiving from our table to yours.

Happy Thanksgiving

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If you’re going to spend Thanksgiving with friends or family, and you want to bring along a hostess gift that shows your appreciation without breaking the bank, these chocolate sea salt shortbread cookies are easy and impressive. You can even make the dough ahead of time and store in the freezer. Pop them in the oven, half-dip them in chocolate, and sprinkle with salt. They’re pretty, delicious, and they look like they take a lot more time to make than they actually do.

GIFTS FROM THE HEART

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It’s Tex-Mex Thursday again, and I’m thrilled to pass along a recipe that puts a cheerful zing into what can be a traditional, but ordinary, Thanksgiving side dish. Matthew Wendel’s sweet and spicy sweet potatoes elevate a Thanksgiving staple to new heights: he uses chipotle chiles tempered with the soothing richness of Greek yogurt. If Matthew’s name is familiar to you, it’s because he worked for President George W. Bush and Mrs. Bush at their ranch in Texas and at Camp David, serving up all-American favorites to foreign dignitaries and family and friends for many years.  Here’s what he has to say:

From Matthew:

At the Bushes’ Crawford, Texas, ranch, the holidays were always a special time, and Thanksgiving was extra special. In Central Texas, the weather in November was usually clear and cool. The house was filled with family, friends, and the smell of good food. One of the staples at the Bushes’ Thanksgiving table were these mashed sweet potatoes. This dish is the perfect blend of sweet and spicy, with a hint of smokiness. It’s simple to make and will taste like you spent hours in the kitchen – it will be a big hit at your Thanksgiving table. 

MASHED SWEET AND SPICY SWEET POTATOES

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When I was growing up, my grandmother was friendly with another farming family who had orchards full of apples, pears, and stone fruits. It was a rite of fall for my mother and I to go to Schenks’ to buy apples, cider, and Italian plums for plum dumplings. We would walk past their farm stand to the apple cooler; its giant, maple-fronted steel door opened slowly, like a bank vault. Inside, the metallic fragrance of cold apples enveloped us, as we chose from the best of their produce – a professional courtesy among the local farmers. The cider was strong and sweet, and my grandmother always fried a batch of doughnuts made with apple cider and sprinkled them with powdered sugar.

APPLE CIDER DOUGHNUTS WITH CHOPPED WALNUTS

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Flower arrangements are evolving, becoming more naturalistic, asymmetrical, and unstructured, to be more in tune with our comfortable homes and unfussy lifestyles. There are some gorgeous flowers out there these days, and I want to share a few ideas as the holidays approach. The flowers below, Queen Anne’s lace, rosehips, David Austin Juliet roses, heather, clematis, and copper beech leaves are not things you’d commonly see in one bouquet – yet it works, because the flowers are gathered into loose clumps, not scattered throughout, and allowed to bow and loop and sprawl wherever they like in the manner of a Dutch still life.  The colors may not be standard either, and that’s part of their charm.

THANKSGIVING FLOWERS

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When you’re in the mood for a cozy, romantic dinner at home, wouldn’t it be fun to snuggle yourself and your significant other up to a good steak, flavored with brandy and black peppercorns, and accompanied by a red onion and sour cream tart tatin?  It feels like a special occasion meal, luxurious and special, but there’s less effort and expense than you would imagine: you grill a steak, pop some puff pastry dough from the freezer section of the grocery store into the oven, and top with sweet red onions, caramelized to perfection and dabbed with sour cream.  No heavy carbs to drag things down, just a satisfying and flavorful party indulgence. Don’t forget to add a nice red wine to round out the meal – maybe a Yellowtail Cabernet Sauvignon, or, if you’re splurging, a Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon.

RIBEYE STEAK WITH RED ONION TARTS TATIN AND SOUR CREAM

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I love a quick twist on a classic cocktail: it makes an evening a little more special. I was recently looking at the patch of lemon balm in my garden and thinking that it would be a fresh and fragrant addition to a gin and tonic.

LEMON BALM GIN AND TONIC

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One of the original desserts of early American cooking was hasty pudding, or, as it was sometimes known, Indian pudding. (You may remember that hasty pudding is mentioned in the lyrics of the Revolutionary War song, “Yankee Doodle.”) Made with cornmeal, eggs, milk, and whatever spices a cook had on hand, it was sweetened with molasses or maple syrup. Later versions added ice cream, or candied fruit. This is my updated take on hasty pudding, based on recipes found in the old White House Cookbook, and Teddy Roosevelt’s favorite version from a later First Ladies cookbook. This dish has an authentic connection to the past, but is updated to appeal to modern tastes, with thin, caramelized slices of acorn squash added for color and crunch, and a dab of crème fraiche to finish it off.

TEDDY ROOSEVELT’S PUDDING

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I’m a fundamentally lazy cook. I gravitate to recipes with fewer ingredients that aren’t too time-consuming, and are easily adaptable for different kinds of meals. This mushroom soup can be an elegant starter (wonderful for a Thanksgiving dinner), or it can be a dinner in itself with the addition of wild rice. It’s one of those surprising dishes that you might see on a menu and think, “Mushroom soup…meh,” yet it’s so flavorful, rich, and so much more than one would expect, that you will want to make it again and again. With the addition of caraway rye crackers (also a recipe with few ingredients that takes almost no time to make), this makes a winning combination. The crackers are as soft or as crisp as you prefer, depending upon how much time they’re left in the oven; they have tremendous flavor, and you can make them in any shape you like, to add rusticity to the place setting, or to sit primly in a little silver dish on the table.

Wild Rice and Mushroom Soup with Caraway Rye Crackers

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Several people have asked for a French toast recipe, and I’m happy to oblige. The basis for the batter recipe came from the Williams-Sonoma catalog, whose recipe collection is both classic and original. They’re not paying me to say that, but not all recipe sources are as reliable as Williams-Sonoma, and I appreciate that. You can certainly make this cheerful orange-and-ginger-flavored French toast in slices, but I prefer making them into “soldiers” for dipping in plain yogurt, flavored with ginger and orange. The yogurt has less sugar than maple syrup, and it makes any piece of French toast taste extra creamy and rich. It’s a great way to enjoy French toast without overloading on sugar.  Enjoy!

Orange-Ginger French Toast on Americas-Table.com

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Happiest of Halloweens! Wishing you all a day of tricks, treats, and a million spooks in between.

Happy Halloween

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Hurray for Tex-Mex Thursday!  If you need your regular fix of Tex-Mex food, here’s an easy recipe that can turn an ordinary meal into a fiesta by adding a happy jolt of jalapeno and sharp cheddar to a baking powder biscuit.  This recipe comes from my buddy Matthew Wendel, who cooked for the Bushes at their ranch in Texas and at Camp David.  He knows a lot about satisfying, simple home cooking.  Here’s what he says about today’s scrumptious recipe:

At the Crawford Ranch, time was a precious commodity.  Usually when I finished one meal, it was time to start preparing for the next one. My life was made simpler by developing recipes that I could make ahead, or that were easy to prepare at the last minute with ingredients I always had on hand. This was a go-to biscuit recipe for me. The Bushes loved it because these biscuits are full of flavor and texture. Experiment with the recipe using different chiles and different cheeses.

JALAPENO CHEESE BISCUITS by Matt Wendel

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I like this salad because it takes an American classic – the bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich – and changes up the quantities of the ingredients to make it a little healthier, though just as delicious. There is still toasted bread (in the form of buttered crouton squares), and there’s plenty of lettuce, tomato, and bacon to give that unique flavor combination that always reminds me of Saturday lunch at my mom’s house. The dressing is a light, creamy Italian with enough mayo (or vegenaise, if that’s your preference), to make it taste like the BLTs we know and love. It couldn’t be simpler, and I put it together in about five minutes more than the time it takes to fry the bacon.  Because the proportions of the ingredients are different, you’re getting lots more veggies and less bread, but the taste experience is the same.

BLT SALAD AND ADULT GRILLED CHEESE on Americas-Table.com

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When I was growing up, a succulent pork roast studded with caraway seeds was a regular occurrence in the cold weather months. In a family of Bohemian cooks, pork didn’t show up at the table without caraway seeds on it somewhere, usually accompanied by potato dumplings and sauerkraut.  My grandmother was well known for this particular meal, and her friends used to come out to the farm – ostensibly to hunt pheasant each fall – when what they really wanted was to put their feet under her lace-covered table and load up on roast pork with dumplings and sauerkraut. (The dumplings and sauerkraut, as much as I love them, are an acquired taste.) Here is an adaptation of her roasted pork loin, to which I’ve added apples for their sweetness and texture.  I like to serve it with barely-steamed spinach, which is a nice counterpoint to the apples.

Here is an adaptation of her roasted pork loin, to which I’ve added apples for their sweetness and texture. I like to serve it with barely-steamed spinach, which is a nice counterpoint to the apples.

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These red hot cinnamon candy apples always remind me of Halloween, a carnival, or the state fair; they’re a great bit of twentieth century Americana, and easy to make if you have a candy thermometer and a box of cinnamon red hots. I added red food coloring and a tiny touch of black food coloring to get that go-to-hell shade of red.

These red hot cinnamon candy apples always remind me of Halloween, or a carnival, or the state fair; they’re a great bit of twentieth century Americana

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Halloween is coming, and the urge to decorate a pumpkin, throw a party, or just arrange a ghoulish flower arrangement for the entry hall table is upon me. Halloween is the most un-serious holiday there is, and that’s why I love it. It is the best opportunity of the year to embrace your inner child: dress in costume, eat too much candy, get silly, and take a night off from the very solemn business of being an adult.

Here are a few fall flower arrangements to help make your All Hallows’ Eve a little more special.

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One of my daughters has been in Paris for work this week, which caused us to reminisce about our first family trip there and what had impressed her most as a child. She mentioned the two-level carousel near the Eiffel Tower, and a toy store called Au Nain Bleu, where they sold Marie Antoinette costumes and doll-sized tea sets in wicker picnic baskets (because who doesn’t want to have a tea party with their favorite doll, while dressed as Marie Antoinette in a Parisian park?) There is one place of memory she still frequents: Angelina Paris, the home of the greatest hot chocolate in the world. This pastry and chocolate café is best known for Chocolat a la Africain, a hot chocolate concocted from the cacao of three different African countries to achieve its unique taste. The Angelina hot chocolate is utterly decadent: liquid, pure chocolate poured into a cup and smothered with whipped cream.

HOT CHOCOLATE WITH TINY MERINGUES

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This pasta is the essence of the season – the Kumato tomatoes and fresh pumpkin cubes are like autumn leaves nestled among the green of the arugula and the soft brown of the whole wheat linguini. It’s a warm and comforting meal for a night when the wind is rising and you’re cozy indoors with someone you love.

PASTA WITH PUMPKIN AND HEIRLOOM TOMATOES

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I love a good family recipe, and this one is just wonderful! Sweet potato pie is an all-American favorite, and this version from the Gaspard family is smooth, rich, and melt-in-your-mouth scrumptious. The dough is very crisp, and a nice contrast to the texture of the sweet potato, which has a custardy consistency that is just plain elegant. The garnish – a few coins of cooked sweet potato sprinkled with sugar and browned in the oven – add a toothsome sweetness to the tart that really puts it over the top. If you’re looking to change up your Thanksgiving meal a bit, these sweet potato tarts are WHW –  White House worthy – and by that, I mean this is the kind of dish you could expect to find on a White House buffet.

Sweet Potato Tarts

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If you love chocolate and you love waffles, this is the perfect, decadent, brunch recipe. It would also be a terrific pre-made food on a brunch buffet; you can easily pick it up and eat it (basically using your hands). You can also adjust the amount of milk and eggs in the recipe to suit your taste: if you like a rich, cakey waffle that the syrup soaks into and imbues with the candy bar-like flavors of maple syrup and peanut butter, use an extra egg and a little more milk in the batter. If you want a thin and crispy cookie/waffle to dip into the yogurt or syrup and eat as a finger food, use the recipe as shown. The thinner the batter, the crispier the waffle.

Whole Wheat Chocolate Waffles with Peanut Butter Maple Syrup

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Herbed Spelt Pizza with Italian Sausage

If Leonardo da Vinci ate pizza, this would have been his go-to pie, and not just because it’s a delicious combination of Italian ingredients.  Spelt was the type of wheat grown in ancient and medieval Europe.  It’s enjoying a food renaissance now because spelt requires less fertilizer to grow well, and thus has been embraced by organic food growers.  It’s a much more flavorful wheat, crunchy and nutty, combining so beautifully with the flavors of fresh herbs, strong cheeses, olive oil, and sausage… all of the ingredients found in this pizza.

Spelt Pizza

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