Pizza in Paris

Disclaimer: This is sort of a long one that gets a little off topic (very unusual for me, right?!). If you can make it through, you definitely deserve a pizza. For that reason I have created a TOC so you may skip ahead.

So anyway, I went to Paris the other day, because, you know, why not. While I was there I had the opportunity to talk shop with a friend of mine who is also a self-proclaimed amazing chef. While I don’t have firsthand evidence of his skills, I do take his word for it because he is tall and French and speaks in an authoritative manner. And then also of course we all know that the French can never be mistaken when it comes to food.

On this occasion we were talking about pizza, as you do, which was a little ironic because France is actually not known for excellence in this category … or perhaps it’s totally un-ironic because if you want to have good pizza in France you must obviously make it yourself. This is not dissimilar to my problem in Philadelphia when it comes to Mexican food. But that’s another rant story.

Anyway, my friend shared with me that he always makes his own pizza but he uses sauce from a jar. Nothing against jar sauce, and if you have a good one you like, please let me know – however, I am picky about sauce so I usually make it myself.

Inspired by this recent conversation, I decided it was time to share my pizza recipe, from dough to sauce to cheese and everything in between. If you want proof points for why it’s good, I can offer up the testimonial from my son “I like Mom’s pizza better than order-out pizza.” In my house there is no higher praise than that. So here I am doing my part to bring quality pizza to people all over the world.

Before we get started, IMPORTANT NOTE: The key to keeping homemade pizza a reasonably practical dinner option is to spend the time to make the dough and sauce in a big batch, and then freeze it for assembly on demand. This recipe assumes that basic strategy. ALSO: Once you have made all the things, skip to the end for how to combine them into a pizza.

The Dough (pronounced “doe,” rhymes with “so” – for my international readers)


I have some bad news for you, this is going to take a couple days if you want it to be really, really perfect. If you don’t mind it being only mostly perfect, it doesn’t take long at all. In actuality, the time that you are actively working on it is about 20 minutes, but there is a lot of resting the dough and punching it down and resting it again, etc etc etc. So, this is my preferred method but feel free to use THE SHORTCUT (see below).

  • 4 cups flour
  • 2 ¼ tsp or ¼ oz yeast
  • 1 – 1½ c warm water (100-110 degrees F)
  • Small handful of sea salt
  • Olive oil for drizzling
  • Corn flour, which will be used later when you are actually making the pizza, so don’t worry about it now, just make sure you have it


  1. Dissolve the yeast in the warm water
  2. Mix the flour and salt together
  3. Add the water/yeast combo into the flour, stirring to combine
  4. Adjust the water/flour ration if necessary – more water if the dough is too dry, more flour if the dough is too sticky
  5. Transfer the dough to a floured surface and knead for about 10 minutes, until smooth
  6. Transfer the dough to a large oiled bowl, big enough to let it expand to twice its size. Cover it with a damp dish towel, paper towel or plastic cling wrap
  7. Let the dough rest for a couple hours until it has doubled in size
  8. Punch it down and return to oiled bowl, covered.
  9. Now, if you want to do it the long way, what I usually do at this point is this:
    a. Refrigerate the dough overnight
    b. Punch it down and cover it again
    c. Repeat this process so that the dough has risen, been deflated, and re-risen a total of three times
    d. What is happening during this time period? Some chemical process is taking place with the yeast and the gluten and it leads to a chewier crust. This is how I like it. Others might prefer it another way. No judgment on my part, however if you ever feel your pizza crust isn’t chewy enough, you should try it this way.
    e. Once the dough has risen and re-risen enough times, divide it into three, drop it into three storage containers (I use Ziploc bags and I usually label them with the date because I’m meticulous like that).
  10. THE SHORT CUT: If you want to take the short cut, all you have to do after step 7 is punch the dough, divide it into 3 equal portions, place in 3 oiled bowls lightly covered with a damp towel or plastic wrap, let them rest one more hour and then place in separate containers to freeze. Now you have your dough, so let’s move on. Quoi d’autre? Que mas? Cos’altro? What else?

The Sauce

This is easy so I will try not to waste too much time entertaining myself with unnecessary exposition.


  • Olive oil, about 3 tbsp
  • Garlic, 4 large cloves, peeled and smashed (I just press them with the side of a knife until they burst, which is pretty fun)
  • One big white onion, halved and roughly sliced
  • One 28 oz can of plum tomatoes OR two 14 oz cans of whatever kind of tomatoes you have OR you could even use an equivalent combination of fresh tomatoes and canned tomatoes OR you could completely use fresh tomatoes, but if you do that, I would roast them in the broiler for a minute and pull off the skins before cooking them
  • Italian seasoning to taste (oregano, thyme, basil) – I used dried seasoning here because I don’t like how fresh herbs get creepy when they’re cooked and frozen
  • 1-2 tbsp of tomato paste, to taste
  • Sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper to taste (I usually throw in a kid-sized handful of each)

You will notice certain recurring themes if you happen to have read my Tomato Soup or Pasta Arrabiata recipe. This is because Italian tomato-based recipes all boil down to these 4 basic things – garlic, onion, tomatoes, seasoning. Proportions and cooking methods are the only variance.


  1. In a large saucepan or stockpot, heat the olive oil
  2. Throw in the garlic and onion and saute for about 5-10 minutes, until everything is soft, fragrant and the onion is a little gold
  3. Remove the mixture and transfer to a food processor (CuisinArt or what have you)
  4. Add the tomatoes and tomato paste to the food processor and blend until smooth
  5. Transfer the whole mix back to the saucepan or pot
  6. Add seasonings to taste and cook on medium until the sauce is thickened to your desired consistency – this usually takes me about 10 minutes
  7. Taste and adjust seasonings if necessary
  8. Allow to cool and divide into three storage containers to freeze

The Cheese (obviously not vegan but you can use vegan cheese)

The cheese you don’t have to deal with ahead of time. Shred it right before you start the pizza.

This part is also easy, but it’s the most difficult to put into words, because it’s not so much a recipe as a philosophy. Hear me out for a minute:

Here’s a little known fact: the perfect pizza cheese is NOT mozzarella alone. Mozzarella is just one component of the perfect pizza cheese because there should always be more than one – there should be at least two and possibly several, depending on what you like. No one can tell you what your favorite pizza cheese blend will be, it’s something you’re going to have to figure out on your own. But whatever your taste, you must bear in mind these principles:

You need at least one melting cheese for a base (this would typically be mozzarella)
You need at least one salty cheese (Asiago, Parmesan, Pecorino, Romano, etc)
You may want to add others for character and complexity (cheddar, gouda, goat, feta, etc)

You will have to experiment. I usually use whatever I have on hand, which nearly always includes:

  • Mozzarella (should be 50% of the total mix)
  • Monterrey Jack
  • Parmesan
  • Cheddar

I shred about 3 cups per pizza. If I have feta, I may sprinkle it across the top after I’ve spread cheese over the whole pizza.

Putting the Pizza Together

  1. Take one of the bags of dough out of the freezer and let it thaw on the counter for an hour or so. It won’t take long. If you’re in a rush, you can run warm water over it (keep it sealed in the bag).
  2. Preheat your oven to 500 degrees. If you have a pizza stone, place it in the oven before pre-heating so it doesn’t crack with a temperature shock.
  3. Take one of the sauce containers out and either microwave it or thaw it on the stovetop.
  4. Shred the cheese.
  5. Lay out a piece of parchment paper on a large, smooth surface,
  6. Spread about a half cup of flour on the parchment and keep some more nearby in case you need it.
  7. Rub some flour on your hands and over a rolling pin and get ready to roll out the dough.
  8. With the floured rolling pin, roll the dough out to a thin circle – not too thin or the pizza will be soggy and fall apart. I usually roll it to about ¼ inch thickness – the pizza diameter will be about 9-11 inches.
  9. THIS IS VERY IMPORTANT: When the pizza is rolled, lift up the dough and spread a handful of corn flour underneath it. This will prevent it from sticking to the parchment
  10. Spread the sauce evenly over the pizza to about 1 inch from the edge of the dough; I use a big flat spoon for this
  11. Sprinkle the cheese evenly over the pizza
  12. Layer on whatever ingredients you want – I usually include:
    • Prosciutto (obvs not vegan or vegetarian)
    • Fresh basil
    • Black olives
    • If I don’t have fresh basil and prosciutto, I will usually throw a handful of sliced jalapenos, but I don’t do that with basil and prosciutto because that would not be a very good flavor profile
    • Honestly toppings are really up to you and what you want on your pizza
  13. Now transfer the whole thing onto the pizza stone – parchment paper and all. I usually slide the pizza onto a pizza paddle and then slide it over to the stone (or baking sheet or oven rack – however you roll).
  14. Cook for 5 – 10 minutes depending on desired crust texture – I like mine a light golden brown and a little chewy.

So, there you have it. Thanks for sticking with me through all that, and I hope you enjoy!

Not Your Mom’s Creamy Tomato Soup (VGN/VGT/OMN)


Yeah I need a food photographer for sure.

Ever notice how so many recipes out there on the internets make the claim “just like Mom’s” or “just like Grandma’s”? Anyone else have the reaction, “Wow, actually that’s the last thing I want in a recipe”? All due respect to the ladies in question, in my household tomato soup consisted of Campbell’s. Which is decidedly NOT what I want from tomato soup.

Further compounding my ire over this trope is that it was actually my father who did most of the cooking in my family. So stick it, ya sexists! But his domain was the cuisine of the Olde Country, San Diego (which is next to America). In case you didn’t know, that basically translates to Fresh Mex all the way, which does not include tomato soup. Besides that, trust me, you don’t even want to know what passes for Italian food to Southern Californians.

Anyway, you can see how my best hope for a decent tomato soup is my own damn self. While my husband has Italian ancestry, he has little to contribute on this subject apart from the ability to tell me whether I’ve nailed it or not. (By the by, the latter points obviously make more sense if you know that tomato soup is Italian.) Moving on …, I love this because it’s easy and versatile, and you can throw it together with a few ingredients one normally has on hand (and if one doesn’t, one should).


– Olive oil
– One white onion, sliced
– 3 large cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
– 28 oz canned tomatoes (whole, diced, whatever) OR equivalent combo of fresh tomatoes and canned tomatoes OR equivalent amount of fresh tomatoes
– 2 c. Veg stock or water
– Heavy cream* to taste (Optional. Obviously not vegan. I use about 1/3 cup.)
– Salt and pepper to taste
– Chopped basil for garnish (optional)


In a large stockpot or Dutch oven, heat the olive oil on medium, then throw in the onions and garlic. Sauté, stirring regularly, until onions are translucent and golden.

Transfer onions and garlic to food processor and add tomatoes. Purée until smooth.

Return mixture to pot and heat on medium, stirring regularly until slightly reduced and thickened. Add stock and bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer until reduced to desired consistency.

Salt and pepper to taste (probably around 1-2 teaspoons salt should do it). Stir in cream* (if desired) until blended.

Serve with grilled cheese sandwiches or crusty bread or whatever you want.

*Vegans take note: I have said before and I will say again that for some recipes, it is not worth trying to use dairy substitutes. None of the plant-based milks of the world would add anything to this soup except for broken dreams. I’d suggest enjoying it on its own in all its nightshade glory.

Lettuce Soup (Vegan or VGT)

TooManyVeggiesOh, it’s been a long time indeed. So long that you surely find yourself with a refrigerator full of greens and no humanly possible way to consume them before they plummet southward. That is why I have invented the Kitchen Cleanup Soup, aka Lettuce Soup, aka Random Greens Soup, and plenty of other things we could call it. Be honest, how many times have you found yourself with way too many seemingly unrelated greens on your hands and no good plan for how to  quickly and easily use them all together? Broccoli, asparagus, kale, kohlrabi, romaine – how can we unite them with one minimal, all encompassing effort? This soup is the perfect answer to that dilemma.


This is a lovely, light summer soup, a tasty and comforting autumn soup, a crisp and energizing spring soup, and basically an all-around all purpose soup that you can make in a huge batch and then freeze for a rainy day. It’s super easy, but it does take some time, though it is mostly passive time, letting the soup simmer away covered on the stovetop. Also, I hope you have a gigantic pot. Otherwise, queue the “we’re going to need a bigger boat” jokes.

So many things can go in this soup, but here’s what I happened to toss together today.


  • 2 carrots, chopped
  • 2 celery stalks, chopped
  • 1 head broccoli, chopped
  • 1 head romaine lettuce, chopped
  • ½ lb assorted leafy greens, including kohlrabi, kale, chard, arugula (random stuff we picked at the u-pick farm without a specific plan – never a good idea, btw)
  • 1 large russet potato, chopped
  • 1lb asparagus, cut in 1inch pieces (tips reserved)
  • 4-6 cups soup stock (how much you need depends on your volume of veggies – should just cover the veggies in the pot but not so much that they’re drowned)
  • Cream to taste – either vegan sour cream or heavy cream of your choice
  • Salt to taste
  • Black pepper to taste
  • White pepper to taste
  • Reserved steamed asparagus tips (as garnish)
  • Parsley as garnish
  • 2 tbsp butter or olive oil for cooking

The easiest way to think of preparation is to break it down in three key steps:

    1. Creating the base. In a large dutch oven on medium heat, heat the oil or butter. Start by sauteeing the mirepoix (carrots, celery, onion, optional garlic if you swing that way). When everything is softened and it smells awesome, you’re ready to move to step two.
    2. Making the soup. Add the soup stock and all the other vegetables and seasonings, except for garnishing vegetables and cream (eg, asparagus tips, parsley, cream – those go in at step 3). Bring everything to a boil, then reduce to simmer, stirring often, for 20-40 minutes (basically until you’re firmest vegetables are tender – if you’re including potatoes, they will take the longest).
    3. Finishing touches. This is where you will adjust the seasonings and stir in the cream. When the soup is done, ladle into bowls with a dollop of cream, parsley, and a handful of steamed asparagus as garnish. I also like to serve it with a crusty baguette and/or a side of rice.






Blueberry Cornmeal Pancakes (Vegan)

'Bout to get drowned in syrup ...

‘Bout to get drowned in syrup …

If you’re wondering why the streak of breakfast foods, it’s mostly because recent life changes have conspired not only to make me too tired to cook anything but breakfast, but also to crave carborific breakfast treats that I normally would never eat because I would be too full after scarfing my now forbidden runny eggs. (Sorry, vegans. They were humanely farmed, at least.) That being said, I’ve also been experiencing some personal recidivism on the dietary front in general, and finding myself increasingly put off by the concept of animal products – again. Are we re-invegginating ourselves? I don’t know, maybe. A recent bout with having to feed my geriatric dog baby food due to veterinary issues brought me face to face with the horror of pureed chicken, which got me reflecting on the benefits of raising baby HashTag* on a vegetarian diet. And then there are some other things to consider, but that’s a long story for another day and I don’t want to stand in the way of you and these awesome pancakes.

Please note that you can swap out the coconut milk for any other kind of milk – rice, almond, soy, dairy, whatever. Also, you can pretty much use any kind of oil you want – I used walnut because I was trying to use it up before it expires, but you could use coconut oil, vegetable oil, peanut oil (though the latter might add some peanutty flavor – but that could awesome too, so go for it!).

You can also use regular white flour instead of wheat flour – whatever you have handy.

Blueberry Cornmeal Pancakes

  • 1 1/2 c. coconut milk
  • 1 tbsp walnut oil
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • 1 tbsp apple cider vinegar or lemon juice
  • 1 c. wheat flour
  • 1/2 c. cornmeal
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 2 tbsp sugar
  • 1  c. fresh blueberries

Preheat your oven to 200 degrees and have a baking sheet handy so you can keep the completed pancakes warm as you cook the remaining batter.

Mix the dry ingredients, then stir in the wet ingredients, then stir in the blueberries. Let the batter rest for a few minutes.

Heat a tiny bit of oil in a medium size non-stick skillet on medium heat. When everything is hot, pour 1/4 c. of batter onto the skillet and cook until the edges firm up and the batter begins to bubble a bit.

These pancakes do not bubble as much as your typical pancake, so keep that in mind and check them with a pancake turner for firmness. When they are cooked on bottom, flip and cook another minute or two on the other side. Transfer to baking sheet to keep warm. Serve with maple syrup, berries or jam.

*Not his real name.

Savory French Toast with Sundry Sauces (Vegetarian)



This French toast was inspired by my newfound constant craving for French toast and my perennial wish to make something J would like. Tragically, he doesn’t like sweet things for breakfast. Reasoning that French toast is pretty much just a bread omelette, I figured it shouldn’t be a problem to prepare and garnish it as such in lieu of the typical powdered sugar and maple syrup. Mind you, these days I am not quite so precise and careful at measuring things as before, so I can only give you an approximate recipe. You will have to give yourself over to that universal instinct that prevents most independently functioning people from being able to mess up French toast.

For the sauces, I served it with a few things I had on hand, including:

… but don’t feel limited by my choices (btw, recipe for the sapote butter is coming soon).  It would go well with pretty much anything you might use as a condiment for eggs.

Savory French Toast with Sundry Sauces (Vegetarian)

  • 3 – 4 large, organic cage-free eggs
  • 3 tbsp heavy cream or half & half (could also use milk if you prefer)
  • 1/2 c. grated cheese (I recommend Parmesan, Cheddar, Monterey or Gruyere*)
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Dash of cayenne, if desired
  • ½ loaf of French bread or baguette, sliced thickly (about 2 inch slices)
  • Butter or olive oil

Preheat your oven to the Warm setting (or 200 degrees if you don’t have Warm). Have a baking sheet handy.

Crack the eggs carefully into a medium sized bowl. Break up the yolks first, then whisk in the cream briefly. Be careful not to over-whisk; over-whisking results in excessively fluffy eggs, which I can not abide. Also, you want the eggs to be extra thick and eggy for a more savory toast. Not necessarily something anyone would notice besides me, but hey. Season to taste with sea salt and pepper, and stir in about half the grated cheese, reserving the rest for topping.

Heat a large skillet on medium. When the skillet is hot, add the butter (or oil) and heat. Dunk a bread slice in the egg mixture on each side, making sure each is thoroughly saturated. Place in skillet and cook on each side until cooked through and lightly browned, approximately 3 – 5 minutes each side. I recommend cooking two or three slices at a time. When each slice is done, place on baking sheet and sprinkle with a bit of cheese. Place them in the oven to melt the cheese and keep them warm until they’re all ready to be served. Garnish with the egg dressing of your choosing and a sprinkling of parsley or basil, and enjoy! If you need ideas, the Seared Grape Tomatoes with Balsamic is quick and easy.

*Some cheeses are made with rennet, which is not vegetarian. Depending on which type and brand of cheese you use, this dish may not be 100% free of “meat.” Just saying. Gotta keep it real.



Seared Grape Tomatoes with Balsamic (Vegan)

This is a bastardization of a delicious tomato sauce our friend Anthony makes. I once asked him how he made it and he said nonchalantly, “Oh, you know, sear the tomatoes and add some vinegar. Balsamic, sherry, red wine, whatever.” I, however, have never succeeded at achieving either his exact sauce or his nonchalance. But I think my version isn’t too bad. Makes a great topping for Savory French Toast, or pasta, or bruschetta, or just chomped plain. Also it’s really easy and takes just a few minutes.

Seared Grape Tomatoes with Balsamic

  • 4 oz grape tomatoes, halved (or cherry tomatoes – whatever)
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Balsamic to taste (about 2 – 3 tbsp, or a few light shakes of the bottle)
  • Chopped basil or parsley as garnish, if desired

Heat a medium skillet on medium-high. When it is hot, toss in the tomatoes, stirring constantly. Cook until they begin to darken and soften, about 3 – 5 minutes. Add a few splashes of balsamic and continue to stir a bit longer until the liquid is reduced. Stir in a dash of salt and pepper. Serve immediately and garnish if desired.

Phyllis’ Old-Fashioned Baked Beans (Vegan or Vegetarian)

“If there’s a secret to any of the few dishes I can create, it’s simplicity. And sugar, you can never go wrong with sugar.” – Phyllis (my mother)

Sage words, indeed. Phyllis said this in response to my fanatical raving about how awesome my baked beans turned out after I used her recipe for a 4th of July party and asked her where the heck she got it from. It is a dish that she has distilled to perfection over several decades of experimentation, based on a – yes, seriously – Betty Crocker original from a cookbook that she was given as a wedding gift in the 60s. Anyway, don’t let its humble origin fool you. These beans are fantastic and if you serve them at a party, they will disappear in short order.

A word about baked beans in general. They are a Midwestern potluck and bbq staple, and as such, we must make certain allowances for their unique strategy for tastiness. I am often a little hesitant and bashful to share the ingredients of some Sweet Home recipes of mine, because people are sometimes shocked at their … pragmatism, to put it delicately. In more candid terms, what I mean is that on the West coast I think people usually assume anything delicious comes from fresh, organic, farm-raised, sustainably produced, obscure and esoteric ingredients. Not always so back at Sweet Home. See, there’s this magic, versatile substance that is a mainstay of countless classics, which can be substituted for any number of more expensive, time-consuming and unpredictable ingredients … trust me, you’d be amazed. The mystery food in question. Is.

Catsup. There, I said it.

Now, before you judge me for using catsup instead of something more bohemian (not that you would, I’m just projecting), please consider for a moment the controversial cultural origin of America’s favorite condiment. For instance, it’s been theorized that modern catsup has origins as distant and arcane as 16th century Chinese tomato and fish sauces, or possibly similar time period Indonesian, Thai or Phillipino concoctions, or even possibly 17th century European adaptations of an Arabian pickling sauce, which evolved from the Arabic term “kabeees,” anglicized to “caveach,” the term for something you might know as “escabeche.” The thing is, food and language historians can’t agree. So instead of thinking of catsup as something commonplace and American, let’s appreciate it’s exotic and mysterious properties. And further, with these potential Asian/Indo/Euro origins in mind, I’d like to postulate a theory about the genealogy of old-fashioned “American” baked beans as we now know them, and suggest that perhaps they’re not too distantly related to the beloved Indian dish known as chana masala? Think about it – the white beans, the sweet and sour sauce, the hint of spiciness? Anyway, this is how I like to think about them. Don’t talk to me about English breakfasts or Boston beans. Chana masala is my story and I’m sticking to it. The end.

So without any further ado …

Phyllis’ Old-Fashioned Baked Beans

  • 1 large green bell pepper, diced
  • 1 large white onion, diced
  • 1 – 2 jalapeños, minced
  • 2 – 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • Dash of cayenne
  • 6 cans navy beans (cannelinis could work too)
  • Ketchup to taste (~2 tbsp
  • Brown sugar to taste (~1 cup)
  • Salt to taste
  • 5 tbsp olive oil or butter to be used in phases (if you choose butter that renders it unvegan, obvi)

Preheat oven to 300.

Heat a large skillet on medium. When the skillet is hot, add 2 tbsp olive oil or butter. When the oil or butter is hot, add the onions, pepper and garlic, and saute until softened. Salt to taste and stir in a dash of cayenne, to taste. Set aside to combine with the beans later.

To prepare the beans for baking, in the words of Phyllis:

“I use a rectangular cake pan but it doesn’t matter. Layer 1 to 2 inches of beans, sprinkle brown sugar generously over beans.* Continue layering until you reach the amount you want. At the top, instead of brown sugar, layer catsup . Doesn’t matter how much. I’m not crazy about catsup so I don’t use lot. Bake around 300 for about 45 min or until the catsup on top is thickened and beans are hot. Salt if preferred.”

*At this juncture I should point out a couple of departures I made from Phyllis’ method. For one, when I was layering the beans and brown sugar, I also dropped in small pats of butter for each layer. When I talked to her live she told me that sometimes she does it. You could also drizzle a tiny amount of oil or vegan butter instead. This is not mandatory but does add a creamy, rich flavor.

Also, the vegetables are my own embellishment. They are not standard but intended to make up for the fact that she usually makes them with ham or bacon or both, so I wanted to add flavor to compensate for the absence of pork.

Anyhoo, after you follow Phyllis’ method of preparing the beans, when they are five minutes from fully baked, pull them out of the oven and stir in the sauteed vegetable mixture. If you like, drizzle a bit more catsup on top and then bake for another 5 minutes or so. Serve hot.

Awesome Russian Borscht (Vegan or Vegetarian)

Mmm, sveklaI know what you’re thinking: “Borscht? Isn’t that made with beets? BLARGH!” If so, it’s probably just because you’ve never had beets prepared well. The atrocities that are commonly committed against beets have conspired to make multiple generations of Americans despise them, and understandably so. Oh believe me, I was one of the haters. My loathing of beets was so deep and profound that when I was given the opportunity to travel to Russia as a teenager in the 90s, my fear of having to eat beets was one of my top concerns, surpassing all of the following: fear of being in a country without speaking the language, fear of flying for 20 hours, fear of being separated from my family for the longest period of time so far, fear of visiting our notorious Cold War enemy, and fear of living with another family that I’d never met. Mind you, while I was there I learned how stupid that was, not just because beets are actually awesome if you know what to do with them, but because obviously there were plenty more valid things to be terrified about in post-Soviet Russia than my naive adolescent mind could ever have fathomed prior to my travels there. Of course there were also equally as many things to be moved and amazed by as well. Which brings me to …

A brief back story for the interested (all others, feel free to skip to the recipe)

So, back in 1993 I was part of a group of teenage students who participated in an exchange program to Russia about one year after the dissolution of the Soviet Union.We stayed in a town called Izhevsk, and at the time that we visited, Izhevsk had been closed to foreign travel for 70 years due to its strategic importance to the USSR (there was a huge munitions plant located there). Hence, when we arrived, we were the first non-Russians that most of Izhevsk’s people had ever seen. Which may seem like a trivial detail, but let me explain what that translated to: Our presence there was such a marvel that our agenda was published in newspapers and on TV every day. What that resulted in was that everywhere we 15 adolescent Americans went, we were met with an ever-growing crowd of passionate Russian youths who saw us as harbingers of progress. I could go on and on here about the people I met, the gifts I was given, the lessons I learned, the heartbreak I experienced (these new friends of ours had some tough political times ahead of them, the likes of which few US citizens I know have ever had to face –  plus we were all fairly new to the concept of suffering and injustice and economic hardship. Not to mention, most of these new friends we would never see again). But I shan’t go on about that. If you want to know more, email me and I’ll share. What I will say is that the group I was part of was a brave, sensitive, intelligent and talented group, and yet, as we prepared for our travels, we had NO idea what was in store for us. And that being the case, with all of us being teenagers, and  with all of us hating beets, we took it upon ourselves to learn one essential Russian phrase, so universal to us it instantaneously reached permanent inside joke status: Nyet svekla. Translation: “No beets.” The one who conceived and coined the phrase will forever hold a place in my heart for her comic wit, resourcefulness and candor.

That said (and I think she’d agree), looking back on the scenario and knowing what I know now, I can’t imagine ever saying something like this to someone from Russia. But from the perspective of my teenage self, the concept seemed sheer genius and hilarity. When we did utter it to Russians, we were met with a quizzical furrow of the brow that was probably akin to how Americans would respond if a generally non-English speaking Russian teen were to enthusiastically proclaim “Decline potato!” – a reaction which would be a mixture of equal parts “Um, what?” and “Really? Why?”

In any case, “nyet svekla” being our eminently confident attitude, you can imagine our astonishment when we were unwittingly fed a mysterious, unbelievably delicious pink soup and then later learned it was the dreaded borsht, aka beet soup, we’d feared so much. How could this be?!?! For starters, we’d made it very clear – we wanted NO SVEKLA. But more than that, how could svekla be so damn tasty? Mmmmm. What else is in it? Can I get the recipe? And the people I’d baffled with my broken Russian, unnatural aversion to beets and weird American clothes were filled with glee.

Although the following is not the original Russian recipe, it is the closest one I’ve found to the soup I was first fed that made me such a pro-svekla devotee. So please give it a chance – I think you’ll be glad you did.

Russian Borscht

  • 1 c. potato, thinly sliced
  • 1 c. beets, thinly sliced
  • 4 – 6 c. water (to your desired soupiness/thickness)
  • 1 – 2 tbsp olive oil or butter
  • 2 c. onion
  • 1 tsp caraway seeds
  • 1 stalk celery, chopped
  • 1 carrot, sliced
  • 3 c. shredded cabbage (a little less than half a head)
  • 1 tsp fresh dill (plus extra for garnish)
  • 1 – 2 tbsp cider vinegar
  • 1- 2 tbs honey
  • 1 c. tomato paste
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Sour cream and dill for garnish

In a large sauce pan, place potatoes, beets and water and cook over medium heat until tender (~20 – 30 minutes).

Meanwhile, melt the oil/butter in a Dutch oven on medium heat. Add onion, caraway seeds and salt. Cook, stirring regularly, until onions are translucent (~8 – 10 minutes).

Add celery, carrots and cabbage, plus ~2 cups of the cooking water from the potatoes and beets. Cover and cook over medium heat until the vegetables are tender (~10 minutes).

Add the remaining ingredients (including all the potato and beet water), cover and simmer for 15 – 30 minutes more. Taste to correct seasonings. Serve hot with a dollop of sour cream and dill to taste.

Spicy Baked Eggs (Vegetarian)

First of all, I invite you to follow me on Twitter @zdoerck for my 140 character version of this recipe and more to come. For those of you who are seeing this on Facebook, apologies for the redundancy.

This is an adaptation of a Pakistani recipe from The Spice Spoon (bonus: contains charming nostalgic reflection upon author’s childhood experience). My modifications include doubling the onion, adding garlic, cayenne and red chili flakes, and cooking stovetop instead of baking. You certainly can bake it if you prefer, but I find the eggs cook more uniformly on the stove, and it is also easier to avoid over-cooking them. You could also use any form of chili you like – a bit of minced jalapeño or serrano would be lovely in place of the dry chili seasonings.

Spicy Baked Eggs

  • 4 cage-free organic eggs
  • 2 tbsp olive or grapeseed oil
  • 4 medium tomatoes, blanched, peeled and diced
  • ½ onion
  • Pinch turmeric
  • Pinch cayenne
  • 1 – 2 cloves garlic
  • Red chili flakes to taste
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Chopped cilantro for garnish

Blanch tomatoes for one or two minutes. When skins begin to break, plunge into cold water to stop the cooking. Peel off the skins and dice the tomatoes.

Heat oil on medium heat in medium sized skillet. When the oil is hot, add the onion and sauté until translucent. Stir in the tomato and spices and cook, stirring frequently, for about 5 – 7 minutes.

Place the raw eggs on top of the tomato mixture. To ensure no broken yolks or eggshell, I would recommend cracking each egg into a small bowl and carefully placing them on the mixture one at a time. Incidentally, did you know that some chefs recommend cracking your egg on a hard, flat surface rather than an edge, to ensure more even cracking? I’ve tried it and it does seem to yield better results …

Once the eggs are in place, cover and leave them to cook. Check back in about 12 to 15 minutes – if you prefer runny yolks, 15 to 17 minutes is probably all you need; for more solid yolks, you may need about 20 minutes.

Garnish with cilantro and serve immediately with naan or pita.

Homemade Coconut Peanut Butter (Vegan)

You know what’s easier to make than peanut butter? NOTHING.

Basically, take a cup of peanuts (salted or unsalted, roasted or not), drop them in the food processor and blend until smooth, which takes about a minute or two. If you have used unsalted peanuts, add a little sea salt to taste.

However, if you, like me, are never content to settle for just one ingredient, there are many tasty things you can add. For my first batch I specifically wanted to use coconut oil, because that seemed like it would be crazy delicious.

I made this version for J for his birthday (words could never express how much that man loves peanut butter). It’s on the sweet side – best probably as an ice cream topping or dessert snack. It would also make an awesome peanut butter and banana sandwich.

Homemade Coconut Peanut Butter

  • 1 cup salted peanuts
  • 2 tbsp coconut oil
  • 1 tbsp honey

Combine and blend. And that’s the end.