Yogurt Scones with Roasted Pears and Chocolate Chunks


Dave and Lorie, Steve’s brother and sister-in-law were in New York city last weekend. The flew up from Raleigh, NC to celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary. We met up with them for brunch on Sunday at the Bryant Park Grill, a restaurant right behind the New York Public Library on the edge of Bryant Park. We had just been seated at our table and placed our drink orders when Lorie turned to me and half-whispered: Is that who I think it is, sitting behind you? I turned around and saw a handsome, older man, with perfect hair, wearing a black dress shirt and a dark, orange tan, sitting right next to me. I recognized him immediately. It’s Mitt Romney, I half-whispered back to Lorie. We both smiled and the four of us went back to catching up.

That’s one of the things I love about living in New York city. Not the celebrity sightings per se, but the fact that when you do see someone famous, they are often doing exactly what you are doing: walking the streets (I walked next to Ted Donovan the very next day after the Romney sighting), taking the subway, eating at a restaurant right next to you. The walking-centered life of the city and the sheer density of it means that no matter how famous you are, it’s hard to hide behind a limo’s darkened windows or in private rooms in restaurants. It also means that New Yorkers will see you and go on with their lives (most of the time). You won’t be hassled or stopped for autographs and selfies.

So, the next time you are in New York, or if you live here, and you are standing in line at a coffee shop ordering your half-caf latte and a roasted pear and chocolate chunk scone, look around you. That woman with the long, curly hair standing behind you might just be Sarah Jessica Parker. And if she is, don’t freak out and yell Carrie! in a high-pitched girlie voice. Be cool and act like nothing happened.

Oh who am I kidding! If you do see SJP, you have my permission to go fanboy/fangirl-crazy. But just this once. You’re back to your cool and aloof New Yorker self after that.


Yogurt Scones with Roasted Pears and Chocolate Chunks – Adapted from Smitten Kitchen


2 large (or 3 small) firm pears
1 1/2 cups (190 grams) all-purpose flour
1/4 cup (50 grams) brown sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons (8 grams) baking powder
1/2 teaspoon table salt
3/4 cup (7 oz) Greek yogurt (full fat)
1/4 cup (60 ml) heavy cream
1 large egg
1/4 cup (3 ounces or 85 grams) semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, chopped in chunks
1 large egg and 1 tablespoon water, whisked together
1 tablespoon turbinado sugar


Heat oven to 375°F. Peel and core the pears and cut them into 1/2-inch cubes. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. Arrange pear pieces on parchment and roast until they feel dry to the touch and start to brown underneath, about 25-30 minutes. Remove from oven but leave oven on. Allow pear pieces to cool while preparing the rest of the recipe.

In a large bowl, whisk flour, baking powder, sugar and salt together. In a separate medium bowl, whisk together yogurt, cream, and 1 egg until combined. Pour yogurt mixture over flour mixture and gently fold it with a spatula until it just comes together. Add cooled pear pieces and chocolate chunks and fold a few more times. Don’t overtax.

Dump dough on a lightly floured surface and pat it into a 6-inch round. Cut into 6 wedges and transfer to baking sheet lined with parchment paper, at least two inches apart. Brush with egg and water mixture and sprinkle with 1 tablespoon of turbinado sugar.

Bake scones until firm and golden, about 30 minutes. Transfer to a cooling rack to cool.

Chilled Avocado Cucumber Soup


This is the first time in my life that I am terrified of the coming winter. In the past, I’ve always welcomed the cooling temperatures and the fuzzy feelings of cold-weather nesting: lazy weekends under a blanket on the couch, steaming cups of tea, rich meat stews and red wine. But this year it’s different. I blame it on the last winter we endured. Non-stop subzero temperatures and snow storm after snow storm for weeks on end will traumatize even the most ardent fan of winter. And so I find myself grieving the loss of summer and contemplating, for the first time, how nice it would be to live in a place like Florida or LA.

If you are feeling the same way, here’s a small way to briefly extend the summer: a chilled cucumber and avocado soup. I know that cucumber season is over but fortunately you can still find decent cucumbers at the store. And avocados seem to be available year round. The flavor of this soup isn’t very strong, so feel free to make it your own. Here, the recipe calls for  some toasted coconut flakes on top and a few drops of Sriracha sauce. But you can use whatever makes you happy. A dollop of sour cream and chopped fresh dill would be fantastic. Add a couple of grilled shrimp and top it with some finely grated lemon zest and you have lunch. Whatever you do, it will help take your mind of the fact that winter is coming…Jon Snow! (sorry, I couldn’t help it).DSC04052

Chilled Avocado Cucumber Soup – Adapted from Food and Wine

Makes about 10 servings


Two 12-ounce cucumbers—peeled, seeded and chopped
2 Hass avocados, coarsely chopped
4 teaspoons Thai green curry paste
2 teaspoons sugar
2 teaspoons finely grated lime zest
One 13-ounce can unsweetened coconut milk
3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1/2 cup unsweetened coconut flakes, for garnish
Sriracha sauce, for garnish


In a food processor, puree the cucumbers until smooth. Add the avocados, curry paste, sugar, and lime zest. Process until blended. Add 3 1/2 cups of water, the coconut milk and lime juice and process until smooth. Transfer the soup to a large bowl and season with salt. Cover and refrigerate until chilled.

Meanwhile, in a skillet, toast the coconut over low heat, stirring a few times, until lightly browned and crisp, 3 minutes. Let cool.

Ladle the soup into small bowls or cups, garnish with the toasted coconut flakes and Sriracha sauce and serve.

Pickled Carrots


There is a Greek Orthodox holiday called clean Monday (kathara deftera). It’s the end of carnival (the Sunday right before it, when everyone dresses up in costumes, much like Halloween) and the beginning of the great lent before Easter. Carnival is the last day of being able to eat meat and clean Monday is the first day of fasting. Since it always takes place in the spring, the tradition has always been to go out into the countryside and have a picnic that is all vegetarian.

Even as a kid, I wasn’t that excited by the idea of eating on the hard ground outdoors. But there was one reason for which I really looked forward to clean Monday: the pickles. These weren’t the American variety pickles, in salted brines or heavy on spices. These were pure vinegar, sugar, and water pickles. There were all kinds of vegetables (cauliflower, beets, carrots), all tantalizingly tart and crisp. And there was pickla, a mixture of veggies pickled in a vinegar and mustard sauce that I ate by the spoonful.

I absolutely loved everything pickled, and I still do. This recipe for pickled carrots couldn’t be simpler. It’s a little different than how carrots would have been pickled when I was a kid, but it still has everything I love: bracing sourness, a satisfying amount of sweetness, and an audible crunch.


Pickled Carrots

Note: If you don’t have the right spices, don’t worry. You can use whatever whole spices you have. Experiment with different flavors.


1 lb carrots peeled, and cut into 1/2″ thick sticks
1 cup white wine vinegar
1 cup water
1/2 cup sugar
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
2 cloves garlic, peeled and lightly smashed
2 mason jars or any other glass containers that can withstand boiling water


Place carrot sticks in mason jars (don’t pack them too tight; leave room for the brine). Divide peppercorns, mustard seeds, fennel seeds, and garlic between the jars.

In a small saucepan, bring vinegar, water, sugar and salt to a boil, stirring to make sure the sugar and salt dissolve. Carefully pour boiling brine over carrots in mason jars, leaving only about 1/2 inch from top. Let them cool for about 30 minutes, close jars with their lids, and refrigerate.

Pickles are ready to eat after just a few hours but they are best after a day or two. They last in the fridge for at least a couple of weeks.

Honey and Fennel Granola


Surprises aren’t always welcome. And I’m not just talking about bad ones (Surprise! Your appendix burst!). Sometimes even good surprises can be unpleasant. When I was in 7th grade, some of my classmates and I organized a surprise birthday party for a boy who was at the time my best friend. We went to his house while he was away and anxiously waited for him to arrive. When his parents (who were working with us for the surprise) brought him in the door, we yelled “Surprise!“, at which point he immediately burst into tears and ran off. It took his parents 3o minutes to calm him down and bring him back to the party, which ended up being a lot of fun.

I never understood why he reacted that way until four years later, my parents announced to my sister and me that we were going out to dinner. When we got to the restaurant and opened the door, about 50 of our friends from school were there yelling “Surprise!” They had organized the party for both of our birthdays (which are four days apart) with the help of our parents. This was such a wonderful thing that our friends and parents did, but my immediate reaction was to want to turn around and run away. It was too much for me, the unexpected obligation to be at this party, to adjust from a quiet dinner out with my family to a night of dancing with my friends. I got over it after a few minutes, but I finally understood why my 7th grade friend had run away like that when we surprised him.

In food, good surprises are always welcome. In fact, I long for them. Bad surprises are never good (Surprise! That was a glass shard you just chewed on!). But an unexpected ingredient or an unknown cooking technique, they make me deliriously happy.

Granola isn’t known for its ability to surprise. But when I made this recipe and we tasted it for the first time, we pursed our lips and nodded in satisfaction. It was unexpected. The fennel and honey combined to make a truly unique flavor, at least for granola. We were surprised. Pleasantly. And we didn’t run away. We dug in for seconds.

Honey and Fennel Granola – From Bon Appétit


⅓ cup pine nuts
⅓ cup raw sunflower seeds
¼ cup slivered almonds
1 tablespoon sesame seeds
2 teaspoons fennel seeds
½ cup honey
3 tablespoons smooth peanut butter
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
½ teaspoon finely grated orange zest
1 tablespoon fresh orange juice
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2 cups old-fashioned oats
½ teaspoon kosher salt
½ cup dried apricots, chopped
½ cup sweetened dried cranberries, chopped


Preheat oven to 350°. Toast pine nuts, sunflower seeds, almonds, sesame seeds, and fennel seeds on a rimmed baking sheet, tossing occasionally, until lightly golden, 5–7 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 275°.

Meanwhile, whisk honey, peanut butter, oil, orange zest and juice, and vanilla in a medium bowl until smooth. Toss nuts and seeds, oats, and salt in a large bowl. Pour honey mixture over and gently mix until oat mixture is completely coated.

Spread out on a parchment-lined rimmed baking sheet and bake, stirring halfway through (edges will take on color before center does), until golden brown, 20–25 minutes. Let cool; granola will crisp as it cools. Break up into pieces, then stir in apricots and cranberries.

Do Ahead: Granola can be made 1 week ahead. Store tightly covered at room temperature.

Macadamia and Basil Pesto


On Wednesday night, we took our friend Martine who’s visiting us from France to see “Kinky Boots” on Broadway. It’s a fun show, a real crowdpleaser, and Martine loved it. It was nice to go back to the theater. When we lived in Hell’s Kitchen we used to go very often since we were just a few blocks away from Broadway, but since we moved to Brooklyn, we don’t go that much, which is a shame. I love the theater. It’s such a truly transporting experience (or a soporific one, when you hit the wrong show).

The issue one always has to deal with, when going to a show in New York, is dinner. Since shows start at 8pm (with a few exceptions), most visitors take advantage of the pre-theater dinners at many of the local restaurants. They start at 6pm-6:30pm and they get you out in time for your show. Steve and I, however, would eat at home. We wanted something quick and easy, so we almost always opted for pasta. In the summer, we would make pesto (from a recipe from Steve’s mom, Cora) and freeze it in portions, so that we could have it all year round, including for a pre-theater quick dinner at home.

After a couple of shows, however, we realized that we needed a new plan. You see, Cora’s pesto uses a lot of raw garlic. The first time we ate pasta with pesto and we went to a show, ten minutes into it, we started burping deadly fumes. We could smell each other’s garlic breath and we were sure that so could all the other people around us. After a second show where we exposed people to our garlic breath bombs, we decided to switch dinner ideas.

So, I came up with a different version of a pesto that is without garlic. It still packs a punch, with lemon zest and parmesan, but it’s gentler on the people sitting next to you who may not like to be tear gassed while watching a play.DSC04239

Macadamia and Basil Pesto

Make 1/2 cup pesto, enough for 4 pasta servings


2 cups loosely packed basil
grated zest of half a lemon
1 cup grated parmesan or pecorino
2 tablespoons olive oil
12 macadamia nuts, toasted in 350° oven for 6-7 minutes, cooled, and roughly chopped
1/4 tsp salt


Place everything, except oil in a food processor. Pulse a couple of times to combine. Start the food processor and drizzle oil in while processor is running. Pesto will be thick. Add some hot pasta water to dilute and mix with hot, cooked pasta.

Plum Torte


I spent yesterday preparing for a friend who’s here visiting us for 10 days and another friend who’s visiting us this weekend and the next. When I was little, we lived in a small two-bedroom house (which became a three-bedroom when my parents split one bedroom into two tiny ones, for me and my sister). When people would come visit and stay overnight, they usually took my and my sister’s beds. We were relegated to the living room where we slept on cots (or “camp beds” as we called them). They were uncomfortable and squeaked when you moved, but I didn’t care. I loved having visitors in our house. DSC04152

They brought new life to our family, with their funny stories and different ways. And usually they brought gifts too, for me and my sister. My mom always stressed about having guests stay with us and now as an adult I can understand why. Our house was really small, and where we lived, there was no public transportation. We had one car only and my mother didn’t learn to drive until I was a teenager. But she always made sure our visitors (aunts and uncles, grandparents, cousins) felt welcome and comfortable. She cooked and baked and often made the “special” desserts that she made only on important occasions.DSC04157

I’m not as stressed as my mom was when friends or family visit Steve and me. We are lucky to have extra space and people who visit us can usually take care of themselves in New York city. But just like my mother, I make sure nobody leaves our home hungry. I bake for a couple of days to make sure we have many breakfast options. I make at least two different ice creams for a quick dessert and I plan out at least one big, home cooked dinner at our place.

So in anticipation of our friends coming this weekend I made this plum torte. It comes together in 10 minutes and it’s the perfect summer dessert. The plums get covered with the rising batter and they bake slowly, releasing their juices into the buttery cake. I think our friends will be happy at dinner tonight.DSC04168Plum Torte – Adapted from Smitten Kitchen


2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon (note: if you don’t like cinnamon, substitute with 1/2 tablespoon finely grated lemon zest)
1 cup (125 grams) all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon (5 grams) baking powder (the aluminum-free kind, if you can find it)
Large pinch of salt
1 cup (200 grams) granulated sugar
1/2 cup (115 grams or 8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, softened
2 large eggs
6-7 black plums or 12 small Italian purple plums, halved and pitted (or use pluots, nectarines, or peaches)
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice


Heat over to 350°F. In a small bowl, mix together 2 tablespoons of sugar and 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon (or 1/2 tablespoon grated lemon zest). Set aside. Sift or whisk together flour, baking powder and salt in a medium bowl. In a larger bowl, cream butter and sugar together with an electric mixer until fluffy and light in color, about 2-3 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time and scraping down the bowl, then the dry ingredients, mixing until just combined. Batter will be thick, like frosting.

Spoon batter into an ungreased 9-inch springform pan (you can put parchment paper in bottom for easy removal) and smooth the top. Place the plums, skin side up, all over the batter, covering it. No need to press them into the batter. It will rise and mostly cover them. Sprinkle the top with lemon juice, then with the cinnamon sugar (or lemon zest sugar).

Bake until cake is golden brown and a toothpick inserted into a center part of the cake comes out free of batter, about 50 to 60 minutes. Cool on rack.

Pasta with Peas and Pine Nuts in Minted Yogurt Sauce


For three weeks, Steve and I went completely gluten free. It was meant to be a test, to see if gluten is the source of my joint problems that I’ve had for the last twenty years or so. It’s become almost a joke with my friends. “What’s hurting this week?” I seem to develop tendonitis at the drop of a hat, and in some cases it takes years to go away (or never has, like with my shoulder). I’ve had various blood tests that haven’t shown any severe allergies or auto immune disorders, but we thought that maybe I have an intolerance for gluten that isn’t full blown celiac disease. A friend of ours who does have celiac was a very good source of information on going gluten free. So, we both gave it a try. Here’s what happened in those three weeks:

  1. A blood vessel burst in Steve’s right eye (nothing serious, but it did fill the inside of his eye’s white with red blood)
  2. I developed a weird rash on my upper body and started getting itchy at night
  3. The pain in my hip that I’ve been trying to treat for two years and which had been getting a little better started getting worse
  4. I developed a persistent heartburn

You get the idea. We didn’t feel any different or better by giving up gluten, so we ruled out gluten as a source of problems for me. Though we did joke that all of the things that happened to us during those three weeks were due to a severe gluten deficiency.

Here’s what I did learn by going gluten free for three weeks:

  1. In some ways, it’s relatively easy. You can eat almost everything, except wheat, barley, and rye, which can hide themselves in foods without you realizing it. But because of the gluten free craze, everything is well labeled and most restaurants indicate gluten free dishes on their menus
  2. You also don’t have to give up cake or pancakes or any baked goods like that because there is a fantastic gluten free flour called Cup 4 Cup that works incredibly well. I made a few cakes with it and we couldn’t tell the difference.
  3. I some ways it’s also very hard. If you have celiac disease, then you have to worry about gluten cross-contamination. If someone uses the same knife to cut bread that they use to cut your meat, depending on the severity of your allergy you can get very sick. That’s very hard to control, especially when eating out in restaurants.
  4. Bread is virtually impossible to replicate without gluten. So is pizza crust. All of a sudden, because we couldn’t eat them, bread and pizza because something we craved endlessly. There are gluten free pizzas and breads, but none that we tried came close to the original.
  5. Pasta is a different deal. There are some great pastas made with non-wheat flours (like corn and quinoa) that taste fantastic and even have that pasta chewiness. And since most recipes for pasta (like the one here) use ingredients that are gluten free, you can eat pasta to your heart’s content.

Our gluten free experiment ended last Sunday with white bread toast, slathered with butter and apricot jam. We are considering going off sugar for three weeks next but that’s much tougher. For now, we’ll replenish the gluten in our body and go from there.


Pasta with Peas and Pine Nuts in Minted Yogurt Sauce – Adapted from Jerusalem: A Cookbook


3/4 cup (7 oz; 200 g) whole-milk Greek yogurt
1/3 cup (75 ml) olive oil
1 small clove garlic, pressed or grated on microplane
10-12 mint leaves
finely grated zest of 1 lemon
10 oz fresh or thawed frozen peas
6 oz pasta shapes of your liking
1/4 cup (30 g) pine nuts
1 teaspoon Aleppo pepper (or 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes)
4 oz (120 g) feta cheese, coarsely crumbled


In the bowl of a food processor, combine the yogurt, 3 tablespoons (45 ml) of the olive oil, the garlic, the mint leaves, the lemon zest, and 2 oz (about 1/3 cup) of the peas. Process to a uniform pale green sauce, and transfer to a large mixing bowl.

Cook pasta in boiling salted water until it is al dente. While the pasta cooks, warm the remaining olive oil in a small frying pan over medium heat. Add the pine nuts and Aleppo pepper or chile flakes, and cook for 2-3 minutes, or until the pine nuts are golden and the oil is deep red. Also, warm the remaining peas in some boiling water (you could use some of the pasta water for this) and drain them.

Drain the cooked pasta into a colander, and shake it well to get rid of excess water that may have settled into the pasta’s crevices. Add the pasta gradually to the yogurt sauce; adding it all at once may cause the yogurt to separate. Add the warm peas and feta. Toss gently. Taste and adjust salt. Serve immediately, with pine nuts and chile oil spooned over each serving.