Chocolate Orange Squares

DSC04964What is it with mint in desserts? I’ve never understood its appeal. Mint chocolate chip ice cream? For me, it’s like eating toothpaste with chocolate. Sure, there have been a handful of times when I had a thin mint after dinner because someone offered them, but it didn’t feel like dessert. It was more like chewing gum after dinner. (As I am writing this I am realizing that I sound very much like our French friends who complain about Americans’ obsession with cinnamon in desserts. Je vous comprends mes amis, finalement!)

So when Melissa Clark posted a new video on the New York Times website where she made mint chocolate squares, I watched it (because I will watch anything with her in it) and then forgot about it. I was never going to make them. But a couple of days later I had a sudden inspiration. Why not replace the mint in the recipe with something else? And what goes better with chocolate than orange? So after a few easy replacements, these chocolate orange squares were born.

This isn’t a difficult recipe but it does happen in three steps, so it takes a little bit of time, though most of the time is just waiting for things to cool down or chill in the fridge. The great thing about these, though, is that you can pop them in the freezer in a ziploc bag and whenever you want a sweet bite (emphasis on ‘bite’; these are rich so you won’t be eating them by the handful), you just take one out and leave it on the counter for 20-30 minutes to lose its chill before eating it. DSC04961

Chocolate Orange Squares – Adapted from the New York Times

Makes 36 squares (or 16 larger ones)


For the chocolate shortbread:
1 cup/125 grams all-purpose flour
½ cup/100 grams granulated sugar
2 tablespoons/15 grams unsweetened cocoa powder
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
8 tablespoons/113 grams unsalted butter (1 stick)

For the orange filling and chocolate top:
3 ¼ cups/405 grams confectioners’ sugar
3 tablespoons/43 grams unsalted butter, softened
¼ cup/60 milliliters heavy cream
2 teaspoons orange juice
1 ½ teaspoons finely grated orange zest
9 ounces/255 grams bittersweet chocolate (at least 60 percent cocoa solids), chopped
½ teaspoon coconut oil (optional)


1. Heat oven to 325 degrees. Line a 9-inch-square baking pan with parchment paper, allowing 2 inches of paper to hang over the sides.

2. Make the shortbread: In a food processor, pulse together flour, sugar, cocoa powder and salt. Add butter and process until a smooth dough forms. Press dough evenly into the bottom of prepared baking pan. Bake until firm to the touch, and sides of the crust are beginning to pull away from the pan, about 25-30 minutes. Cool completely.

3. Make the filling: In a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine confectioners’ sugar, butter, cream, orange juice, and zest. Beat until mixture forms a thick, smooth paste. Press filling evenly over shortbread. It will be a little sticky. Use an offset spatula and your fingers to coax it into place. Cover with plastic wrap and chill to set the filling for at least 1 hour and up to overnight.

4. Use parchment paper overhang to lift the shortbread and filling out of the baking pan and onto a cutting board. Cut into 1 1/2-inch squares (there should be 36 squares). Place squares on a rack placed over a parchment-lined sheet tray, and let them come to room temperature for about 15 minutes.

5. In the top of a double boiler or in a heatproof bowl set over a pan of simmering water, melt 7 ounces chocolate, stirring occasionally, until smooth. Remove from heat, add remaining 2 ounces chocolate and let sit for 2 minutes.

6. Add coconut oil, if using, and stir the chocolate until smooth. Spoon 1 teaspoon chocolate on top of a cut square, using the back of the spoon to spread chocolate to the edges. Be sure to fully cover the top of the square with chocolate. (Leave the sides exposed, though it’s O.K. if some of the chocolate drips down.) Repeat with remaining squares.

7. Let squares sit at room temperature until chocolate is set, at least 1 hour. Serve them at room temperature or chill in the fridge first. You can also store them in the freezer. Let sit on counter for 20-30 minutes before eating if you freeze them.

Roasted Squash with Pomegranate and Mint

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“Let’s quit our jobs and stay here until our money runs out,” Steve said to me. We were half way through our 10-day vacation in Hawaii, sitting outside our room in the bed and breakfast where we were staying in Maui. There was a light breeze and we were watching the sun slowly slide behind the island of Lanai across the ocean. I knew he was joking. It didn’t stop me, or Steve, from seriously considering it for a few seconds though.

That’s the impact of Hawaii. I had been there twice before almost 20 years ago but this was Steve’s first time. We planned this trip as a celebration of his 50th birthday and I was hoping that Hawaii was still the magical paradise I had remembered from the past. It surpassed all of our expectations. Words can’t properly describe the feeling you have when you wake up to sunny skies, with the temperature hovering in the upper 70s, a cool breeze rustling the palm trees and an orchestra of tropical birds welcoming the day.

Every day was a revelation. The Martian landscape of the Haleakala volcano one day was in stark contrast with the overwhelming lushness of the tropical jungle of the road to Hana the next day. On more than one occasion, we pulled off the road on a whim and jumped into the warm and crystal clear waters of the Pacific Ocean. We ate ahi tuna so fresh, it seemed almost like a vegetable. We discovered li hing mui powder, and we became instantly addicted to dried mango slices covered in it. We realized that the Aloha spirit is not some gimmicky lie for tourists but the true way of living generously for Hawaiians.

I could go on for ever. It was the first vacation I can remember where we really did not want to come back home (we usually look forward to returning to our home and routine). But alas, we had to. So, we found ourselves on Tuesday back in New York, bracing against a wind chill in the teens, trying to hold on to the memories of sipping Mai Tais by the ocean.

I wish I had a recipe for you that evoked Hawaii. But I don’t. The closest would be the passion fruit coconut pound cake recipe that I posted a little while back. But I do give you this roasted squash recipe. If nothing else, it will bring some Hawaiian color in your winter blues.DSC04315 (1)

Roasted Squash with Pomegranate and Mint


1 kuri or kambocha squash
olive oil
salt and pepper
2 teaspoons ras el hanout spice mix (if unavailable, substitute with equal parts cinnamon, cumin, paprika, and coriander)
pomegranate molasses
fresh pomegranate seeds
fresh mint leaves


Preheat the oven to 425° F.

Cut squash in one-inch slices and place in large bowl. Drizzle a good amount of olive oil, add salt and pepper and the ras el hanout mix, and using your hands mix well. You want every slice to be covered in the oil and spice mix.

Roast on baking sheets for about 25-30 minutes or until the squash is cooked through and the bottom of each slice is dark brown.

Arrange in serving bowls or dishes, drizzle some pomegranate molasses on top, and garnish with pomegranate seeds and mint leaves.

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.

Eliopitta / Ελιοπιττα (Olive and Mint Cake)

When I was a little kid I never did well in sports. I could never keep up with all the other kids and always ended up winded and tired, while everyone else was still running and kicking balls around. It was generally decided that I was just a “weak” kid, so I learned to live with that label and gave up on sports. It wasn’t until my early teen years that we found out the real reason for my “weakness.”


I remember it was a night when my parents were out visiting some friends and my sister and I were home alone. This was a time when it was acceptable and safe to leave your young kids alone at home. I started coughing and the more I coughed, the harder it became for me to breathe, which made me cough even more, creating a vicious cycle that ended in my sister calling our parents and asking them to come home because I was having difficulty breathing.


To make a long story short, we soon found out I had asthma (though it wouldn’t be until a couple of decades later that I would learn on my own that there is such a thing as exercise-induced asthma, explaining my “weakness” in sports). My parents were told to take me to an allergist, so one day my dad and I visited one. I still remember his office, a dark room that smelled of stale cigarettes (remember, this was in the early 80s) and old leather. He opened a large wooden box with several vials in it and pricked my arms to test my sensitivity to allergens. His verdict? I was allergic to olive tree blossoms.


Now, keep in mind that I lived on a Mediterranean island. There were olive trees everywhere. There was even one outside my bedroom window, which my dad, in an attempt to help me, cut down completely. To this day, I don’t really believe that I have a specific allergy to olive blossoms. I do have seasonal allergies and I do have exercise-induced asthma. But olive blossoms specifically? Doubtful.


Fortunately, the allergist didn’t tell us that I was allergic to olives themselves because I would then have missed out on this olive and mint savory cake that my mom made regularly. It was a great snack or quick breakfast that my sister and I loved to eat. It features a divine trinity of flavors: olives, mint, and onions. The onions turn sweet and combine with the briny saltiness of the olives, only to be confronted with the aromatic mint, in a combination that is as salient in my childhood as peanut butter and jelly is to most kids in the U.S.


Eliopitta / Ελιοπιττα (Olive and Mint Cake)

Note: I like to make this cake in a bundt pan because that’s how my mom always made it but you can use two regular loaf pans instead. I’ve also made this into muffins that are great for a picnic or a party. If you make muffins, adjust the cooking time down.

4 eggs
1 12 oz can of evaporated milk (unsweetened)
1/3 cup olive oil (plus some more to grease pan)
2/3 cup vegetable oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 cup of pitted, black olives, coarsely chopped
3 tablespoons chopped, fresh mint or 2 tablespoons of dried mint
3 cups (375 gr) all-purpose flour (plus some more for plan)
3 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

Preheat oven to 350°.

Use a little olive oil to grease either one bundt cake pan or two 9×5 inch loaf pans. Sprinkle with flour and shake out excess. Set pan(s) aside.

In the bowl of a mixer beat eggs well for a few minutes until they have expanded in volume and they are pale yellow and creamy. Add the evaporated milk and the oils and beat until combined.

In a medium bowl whisk together flour and baking powder. Add the flour mixture to liquids. Mix with a spatula until just combined. Do not overmix. Fold in olives, onions, and mint. Pour batter into prepared pan(s) and bake for about 50-60 minutes, until a knife inserted in the middle comes out clean.

Let cool in the pan for 10 minutes and then invert onto rack to cool completely.