Roasted Red Grape and Ricotta Crostini, Kale Avocado Salad, and Killer Romesco Sauce

IMG_4315It’s a day too cold to spend much time outside, so why not see a mid-day movie and then have an impromptu dinner party? For this type of relaxed dinner, I am one to look to a couple reliable favorites, a new recipe that looks foolproof, and crostini.

Here’s our menu:

Crostini with fresh ricotta and roasted red grapes
Kale and avocado salad with lemon-pecorino dressing
Roasted butternut squash with figs
Multicolor quinoa pilaf
Roasted shrimp with Romesco sauce (the new recipe that turned out to be foolproof)

Before our friends arrived, we did the prep—making the Romesco sauce, washing kale and stirring together the dressing, peeling and slicing butternut squash,  rinsing quinoa, and chopping onions for the pilaf and cilantro for a garnish.

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Cardamom Five-Seed Granola Recipe and Homemade Holiday Gifts

Granola BagsIt’s Cement Truck Kitchen’s favorite time of the year, because we are more indulgent than usual. We experiment with new granola recipes and other treats that can be put into labeled coffee bags or spooned into cellophane packages and secured with shiny bows.  And, it’s the time of year when some people appreciate a festive digestif on a cold night, so we’ve tried an experiment.Gifts

This year’s projects included a cardamom five-seed granola, roasted rosemary walnuts, and limoncello. Continue reading

Healthy honey almond flax granola recipe

The Cement Truck Kitchen was in full holiday gift manufacturing mode this month. We made triple batches of this granola, gearing up for all the bags to deliver from Chanukkah through the new year’s parties.

I’ve been auditioning granola recipes for years. My family has been happy about this and is at the ready to do batch comparisons and blind taste tests.

This recipe is a distant cousin to a long ago Martha Stewart recipe.

In Cement Truck Kitchen taste tests, it’s less sweet, but still tied with Melissa Clark’s olive oil granola and Molly Wizenberg’s granola. I encourage you to make this recipe your own–replace the almonds and pecans with other nuts that you like (pistachios, walnuts, hazelnuts?), swap whole flax seeds or pumpkin seeds for the sesame seeds, and mix in your favorite dried fruits.
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Top picks for homemade holiday food gifts

My favorite part of this time of year is thinking about and making homemade treats for my friends and family. A gift that a friend makes with great care and thought says “hey, you are special,” as I can attest to, having just received these beautiful handknit cashmere socks.

Since you can’t touch them, I will tell you that they are as sumptuous as petting the world’s softest cat and are made from Ellie’s reclaimed cashmere. After having met Ellie and seeing a huge display of her yarns spun from recycled sweaters into gorgeous and subtle color combinations, and having spent many hours knitting a lone sock, I appreciate these socks even more. Continue reading

Easy curried sweet pea dip

Party season is upon us, and so I’m sharing one of my favorite go-to party recipes, a curried pea dip that takes 10 minutes to prepare. It’s sweet and spicy and looks pretty in a white bowl.

This is one of my mom‘s recipes, from her book The Nut Gourmet. She drizzles it with pomegranate syrup and calls it hot karachi pea dip, because she’s much cooler than I am.

If you are serving it for a holiday appetizer, feel free to get crafty and form it into a tree or a wreath–with tiny red bell pepper pieces for ornaments! Serve it with crackers or celery sticks. You can even use it as a spread in a roasted vegetable sandwich, or as a topping on a flatbread pizza along with feta or goat cheese.

Even better, it’s a pantry recipe, if you keep a bag of peas in the freezer and have a lemon or a bottle of lemon juice in the fridge.

Curried Sweet Pea Dip
1 1/2 cups frozen peas, thawed
1/2 cup pistachio nuts
5 TBS water
1 TBS lemon juice
3/4 tsp salt
3/4 tsp curry powder
1/8 tsp cayenne, or more or less, depending on how spicy you want it

Put all ingredients in the food processor and mix until blended and creamy. Serve warm or room temperature with crackers and celery. Can be made up to 2 days before serving.

How to Host an Oktoberfest Party

Want to have a fun, semi-traditional Oktoberfest party with traditional food and music? Ok, well, then how about an excuse to get together with people you like and drink beer with some good food?

Here’s how to host a successful Oktoberfest party in three easy steps. For more on traditional menus and recipes, I recommend this Oktoberfest food guide.

Step 1: Invite friends and neighbors who can walk or take public transportation to your party.
Step 2: Plan a menu (more on that below) that goes well with beer and assign your guests to bring a dish or beer. The point is not to spend all day in the kitchen, unless you are my neighbor Josh (more on that below).
Step 3: Download traditional music and be prepared to switch to something less polka-like after about an hour. Continue reading

Persian haroset, roasted asparagus, and matzoh “lasagne”

Once I realized that Passover didn’t have to be Maxwell House hagaddah-driven (how many more pages until we can eat something?), with chewy brisket,  weird-textured dessert, and macaroons from a can, I started to look forward to it. Now it’s one of my favorite holidays, and we’ve established a tradition of celebrating with a lovely group of friends.


Persian haroset
Fresh horseradish
Lamb with dates
Braised red cabbage with apples
Tunisian-style spicy carrots
Roasted lemony asparagus
Roman vegetable and matzoh “lasagne”
Dessert: chocolate caramel crack, hazelnut chocolate thumbprint cookies, chocolate walnut cookies


Caramel chocolate "crack" and other delicious cookies

I’m going to describe the dessert first, because we all wanted to have the dessert first once we saw what it was. My lovely baker friend made Smitten Kitchen’s hazelnut chocolate thumbprint cookies and chocolate caramel crack, and Payard’s flourless chocolate walnut cookies.

One guest told a not entirely convincing story about a tribe in his homeland who starts the seder by having dessert. We all wanted to believe him, especially when we saw the chocolate caramel crack, which is caramel-covered matzoh coated with chocolate and walnuts. It was, hands-down, the best Passover desert I’ve had. 


Persian haroset


This haroset recipe is inspired by one of Joan Nathan’s. It’s so good, and every year my husband asks why we only have it on Passover.  The cardamom and black pepper give it an unexpected kick and heighten the sweetness of the fruit. Making this was the first time I “got” cardamom, and after that I wanted to put it in everything. Caution: you can overdo the cardamom, so if you want to jack it up a bit, do it in small increments.

Persian haroset
Serves 8-10
25 dates, pitted and diced (I used a mix of Medjool and Deglet)
1/2 cup unsalted pistachios, roughly chopped
1/2 cup almonds, roughly chopped
1/2 cup golden raisins
2 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, and diced
3 tangerines, peeled and diced
5 dried figs, diced
3/4 cup sweet red wine (Manischewitz)
2 TBS apple cider vinegar
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/8 tsp ground cardamom
1/2 tsp cinnamon
pinch of cayenne
a couple grinds of black pepper

Combine fruit, nuts, and spices. Add the wine and vinegar and stir. Taste, and add more wine or spices to taste. This can be made earlier in the day and refrigerated. Bring to room temperature and remix it before serving.

Horseradish: When a friend offered to bring prepared horseradish made from fresh horseradish, I was excited. Then he said that when his dad was grating it, its potency made his dad yell and anyone entering the kitchen was immediately in tears. Was it going to knock us out before we even got to the dinner? Or wipe out our ability to taste anything else? Fortunately, it mellowed. It was still extremely pungent and a bit of a punch in the face, but in a good kind of way.

Muhammara: I’ve made many variations of Muhammara, and I like the one in Claudia Roden’s The Book of Jewish Food the best. I modified it to replace the whole wheat bread it calls for. I often serve this as an appetizer with pita chips. 

Serves 8-10
4 red bell peppers, roasted with skins removed, OR 2 12-oz jars of Trader Joe’s fire roasted red peppers
pinch of red chile pepper flakes (or more to taste)
1 1/2 cup walnuts
1/2 cup almonds, whole with skins
1 small garlic clove, minced
juice of 1 lemon
1 generous tsp honey
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp cumin
3 TBS pomegranate molasses
Parsley for garnish

Combine all ingredients in the food processor, pulsing until well blended and creamy. Adjust salt and pepper to taste. Can be made a day in advance and refrigerated. Bring to room temperature before serving. Garnish with parsley sprigs.

Lamb with dates: I looked through all of the lamb dishes in The Book of Jewish Food by Claudia Roden before I decided to make this recipe with dates, which is a variation on a lamb with prunes dish.

The recipe is basically a lamb stew with Moroccan spices (saffron, ginger, nutmeg, and cinnamon) and soft caramelly dates. This dish is hard to mess up, and a good one for dinners when you are not exactly sure when you will be serving the main meal.

Spicy Tunisian style carrots

For the side dishes, my selections were based on what would taste good with the lamb, be colorful, and be somewhat seasonal (grown somewhere in North America).

My should-be-a-food-stylist friend brought a spicy Tunisian carrot dish, which was boldly spicy and a nice companion to the rich lamb.

braised red cabbage

The braised red cabbage with apples recipe came from the New York Times, and I made it a day in advance because the recipe said it would be better that way.

Roasted asparagus: The roasted asparagus recipe is adapted from one on epicurious.


Roasted lemony asparagus
Serves 8-10
2 1/2 pounds asparagus, washed and dried, with stem ends broken off and discarded
2 TBS olive oil
2 TBS minced shallot
2 tsp grated lemon peel
juice of half a lemon
2 tsp salt

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Combine olive oil, shallot, lemon peel, lemon juice, and salt, and then toss with asparagus on rimmed baking sheet. Bake for 12-15 minutes, tossing asparagus a couple times while baking. Serve warm or at room temperature. Ask should-be-a-food-stylist friend to garnish it.

Lemony asparagus, with the food stylist touch

Roman vegetable and matzoh “lasagne”: This dish is adapted from a Joan Nathan recipe that lives somewhere deep in the archives of the New York Times. I make it every year.

On first read, you might think it’s a lot of work, but it goes quickly and you can do other things while some of the vegetables are sauteeing. When I first read the recipe, I was skeptical–layering matzoh with other foods brought me back to Sunday School and the “cake” we made with alternating layers of matzoh and canned chocolate frosting. I got over that and actually thought the matzoh made a light layering base.

This dish was well liked, and if you need to bring a  dish to a friend’s seder, this travels well and is quite popular. I added cannelini beans to make it more hearty, but they are optional.

Roman vegetable and matzoh “lasagne”
Serves 8-10
Olive oil
4 onions, about 2 pounds total, thinly sliced
2 14-oz cans of artichoke hearts (or same amount of frozen and defrosted), rinsed, drained, and quartered
3 TBS lemon juice
6 cloves of garlic, minced
1 TBS minced shallot
3/4 tsp minced fresh rosemary
3/4 tsp minced fresh sage
pinch of crushed red pepper flakes
1 pound of fresh baby spinach cleaned and rinsed
1 15-oz can cannelini beans, drained and rinsed
1/2 tsp herbs de Provence
1 pound cremini mushrooms, thinly sliced
9 matzohs (plan to have a couple extras on hand)
1 1/2 cups vegetable broth
5 large eggs, lightly beaten with a pinch of salt added
1 TBS minced parsley for garnish (optional)

1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Lightly grease a 9 x 13 baking dish, and set aside.

2. Heat a large skillet (preferably not nonstick) over medium heat. Add 3 TBS olive oil, and then add the onions and toss to coat. Add a couple pinches of salt. Caramelize the onions, stirring and scraping the bottom of the pan every few minutes until onions turn a golden brown, about 20 minutes. If onions start burning, lower the heat. (Onions can be made a day in advance). Put the onions on the bottom layer of the prepared baking dish.

3. In a large nonstick skillet, heat 1 TBS olive oil over medium heat, and saute 2 garlic cloves’ worth of the minced garlic for a minute. Add the artichoke hearts, rosemary, sage, and salt and pepper to taste, and saute until softened, about 5-10 minutes. Stir in 1 TBS lemon juice. Put the artichokes in a small bowl and set aside. Using the same pan on medium heat, add 1 tsp of olive oil, and 2 cloves worth of the minced garlic. Cook for 1 minute, then add the spinach, and keep stirring as the spinach wilts. When the spinach is wilted and cooked, add pinch of crushed red pepper flakes and salt to taste, and stir in the cannelini beans. Transfer the spinach and beans into a small bowl.

4. Wipe out the nonstick skillet.  Heat 2 tsp olive oil on medium high heat, add the remaining minced garlic and saute for 1 minute. Add herbs de Provence and the mushrooms. Cook until mushroom start to soften, about 5-8 minutes. Remove from the heat and add salt and pepper to taste.

5. Now you are ready to assemble the dish. Fill a large bowl or baking dish (I used a 9×9 Pyrex baking dish) with water. Put 6 pieces of matzoh in the water, and carefully turn the stack so all pieces get wet. When they are moist and almost crumbling, put two matzohs over the onions in the baking dish, and break a third matzoh to cover the rest of the onions. It’s OK if the matzohs start to crumble. You just want to put down a layer of matzoh, even if it’s in crumbly pieces. Add the spinach and artichokes for the next layer, and cover with a layer of matzohs. Put the remaining 3 pieces of matzoh into the water. Put the mushrooms on the next layer, and then cover with the last layer of matzohs.

6. Pour the vegetable broth over the dish. Pour the beatened eggs and remaining lemon juice over the dish. Bake for about 30 minutes. Sprinkle minced parsley over the top and serve warm.

The food-stylized platters