Perfect Peppermint Meringues

Meringues make me nervous.  They are too beautiful, too ethereal, too delicate. They remind me of those women you see in the streets of New York who are so skinny, so perfectly dressed, so well-groomed that you know that they have never spent the day with their belly fat dripping out over their elastic pajama waists picking at the M& M-sized zit on their porcelain chins.  They are of a different world than people like me, people who are of the breed that impatiently jerks open plastic packaging as the contents ricochet off the ceiling instead of carefully cutting along the dotted line.

Which is why I knew I had to make make meringues. And not any meringue. I had to make the pink-tutu-clad peppermint swirl meringue on the cover of the December Bon Appetit I bought in the Boston airport. Because, you know, being that cooking is my hobby and something I truly enjoy, I have to think of some way to ruin it and make it not fun.

But, like a lot of things that strike you are complicated and nerve-wracking and never-to-be-even-attempted-until -your- bucket-list, meringues are surprisingly, almost disappointingly, simple. (Conversely it is of course the obvious, the water boiling/egg frying parts of life that end up tripping you up.) Of the five recipes that my friend Lacey and I made during our second-ever Christmas Cookie-a-thon today,these were by far the easiest. I mean even the no-bake cookies included tedious steps that were in unto themselves more time-consuming than making the meringues–i.e. chopping marshmallows, a substance that is about as choppable as chewed-up Hubba Bubba into “pea-sized” marshmallow bits.

As for the taste, these meringues are good but I’m not sure you’d want more than one–kind of like those pinwheel peppermints they give you at diners. Which hopefully will not be the next dish I attempt….


Peppermint Meringues

Adapted almost-not-at-all from the Dec. 2011 Bon Appetit

3 large egg whites, at room temperature (Apparently this is VERY important–the room temperature part)

1/8 tsp kosher salt

1/3 cup granulated sugar

1/2 cup confectioner’s sugar

1/8 tsp peppermint extract

12 drops red food coloring

Preheat over to 200 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicon baking liner. Beat egg whites and salt with a mixer for 5 minutes on medium high. Add sugar in three additions, beating 2 minutes after each addition. Add powdered sugar and peppermint and beat for one minute. (I timed all of this precisely with my phone and it came out well.) Drip food coloring over whites but don’t mix. As you drop the meringues onto the parchment, the color will swirl

If you’re feeling fancy or, like me, want to try out the pastry piper you bought on sale a year ago and have never even removed from the packaging, put batter in the piping tube or pastry bag and line the prepared baking sheet fluted starlets.(Or, in my case, starlet-like globs). Otherwise, drop the meringue mixture on the baking sheet with a tea spoon.

Bake for two and a half hours. You might also need to let the cookies dry for a few more hours if you don’t live at 5,000 feet in a climate that sometimes feel like a dry sauna gone cold.

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Chilled cucumber soup

The perfect summer soup is a little bit like the perfect summer dress–simple and cool. (Okay did I really just write that? It sounds like second tier catalog copy that sells dry soup mixes and…mumus..) What I was trying to say was ..It’s been pretty hot lately.. and this soup requires no cooking. Just like a..sundress.

Chilled cucumber soup

Adapted from “Fresh & Light,” a Williams-Sonoma cook book which was for some reason in my attic when I went searching for something else the other day. It was very hot in the attic which was probably how I got the idea to make this soup.

2 pounds cucumbers, peeled and roughly copped (The original recipe says to seed them. I say it’s too hot outside to be removing flea-sized seeds from anything in the kitchen. For a smooth texture, just run the soup through a strainer before you serve it..or.. skip the straining and slurp it standing up in front of the AC)

1 onion, peeled and roughly chopped

1 cup low-fat butter milk

1/2 cup fat-free plain yogurt

salt and pepper to taste

Put everything in the food processor or blender and mix until smooth. Add salt and pepper to taste, If it’s too tart, add a little sugar. If it’s too bland, add a squeeze of lemon or a little garlic powder. Eat it on the back porch.

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Oatmeal and strawberries for dinner.

Oatmeal is not a food I usually eat for dinner. Nor do I generally associate strawberries with the gas grill. That’s what I like about these two recipes–they’re a little unexpected. Both recipes came from newspapers. (Yes I am the only person under the age of 80 who still clips recipes from the paper.) The oatmeal salad  recipe appeared in the Denver Post column of a local chef, whose wife created the dish. It would be perfect for a barbecue or a pot luck, if only to ad a decorative element of surprise: What? Oatmeal with a …dressing? I got the idea for the strawberries from the Wall Street Journal’s wonderful (and way too brief) Saturday food coverage. It’s an easy and healthy way to end a barbecue.

Oatmeal salad

Adapted from John Broening’s column in the Denver Post

1      cup steel-cut oats (They really need to be steel cut or the salad will be..well..oatmealy.)
4      cups water
1/2    cup finely diced red onion
1      cup fresh or frozen corn kernels
1      cup cooked black beans, drained and lightly rinsed
1      red, green or yellow pepper
1/4   cup finely chopped parsley


Juice of 2 lemons
1     teaspoon granulated sugar
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1/4   cup extra virgin olive oil
Pinch cayenne


Bring oats and water to a boil with a pinch of salt. Turn down heat to low and simmer about 20 minutes–until al dente. (I know–it’s weird to think of oatmeal that way.) Drain and rinse the oats very well because this step removes the creaminess from the oats that makes them seem like they need a dollop of brown sugar, some raisins and a little milk. Chop the onion then submerge it in cold water for about 5 minutes. Rise the onions and add them to the salad along with the corn, beans, peppers and parsley. Blend or food process the lemon juice, cayenne, sugar, salt and pepper to taste. Slowly add the olive oil. Pour this dressing over the salad. Taste and adjust seasoning. 

Grilled strawberries

Adapted from the Wall Street Journal

1 pint strawberries

non-stick spray

1 tablespoon sugar (optional)

vanilla frozen yogurt (for serving, optional)


Rinse and core strawberries. Spritz with nonstick spray and, unless they’re extremely flavorful, sprinkle with sugar. Heat gas grill to high for 15 minutes. Once the grill is hot, scrape it clean with a wire brush. (Or, scrape clean the hot grill you used to cook your dinner.) Place the strawberries on the grill, making sure the smaller berries do not fall through the holes in the grate. Cook, gently turning the berries until they have grill marks all over.  Serve hot, with frozen yogurt.








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Quote of the Week: Gabrielle Hamilton on Farmers Markets

“There’s always the girl with the bicycle, wandering along from stall to stall, with two apples, a bouquet of lavender, and one bell pepper in the basket…admiring the way her purchases are artfully arranged for all to see.” Gabrielle Hamilton, “Blood, Bones and Butter”

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Nutella Challah Chocolate Chip Slow Cooker Bread Pudding

Why can’t you win a Pulitzer or a Nobel for things that count? As in..we need to seriously reward the person who first thought of the idea of mixing chocolate and hazelnuts and selling it in a little jar and then excusing you for eating it first thing in the morning by claiming that it was an integral part of a “tasty yet balanced breakfast.” After all, if we spent more time each morning spreading Nutella on our wheat toast we might not need a peace prize or an investigation into corporate malfeasance because we would be too busy licking our fingers. We definitely would not need  these things if  the Nutella reappeared after dinner in the form of Nutella challah chocolate chip bread pudding. This dessert is delicious beyond in I gave more than half of it away so I wouldn’t eat it all and then immediately wanted it back. It tastes something like french toast injected with Nutella spiked with chocolate chunks. It’s another Cooks Illustrated recipe so it actually can be counted upon to come out perfectly on the very first try. That said, even if you burnt it beyond repair or substituted salt for the sugar, you would still have the Nutella jar to lick out.

Nutella Challah Chocolate Chip Slow Cooker Bread Pudding

Adapted from Cook’s Illustrated Slow Cooker Revolution (so far my favorite new cook book of the year!)

non-stick spray

14 ounces challah cut into 1-inch cubes

1/2 cup chocolate chips

2 cups heavy cream

2 cups milk

9 egg yolks

1 cup Nutella (which is most of the a standard 13-ounce jar)

3/4 cup plus 1 tbs granulated sugar

4 tsp vanilla extract

3/4 tsp salt

2 tbs brown sugar

Slow cookers get extra hot under the collar (haha) directly across from the control panel which can burn your food. Create insulation by folding heavy duty foil until you have a six-layered rectangle that’s about 16″ by 4″. The recipe also suggests making a foil sling to facilitate removal by fitting two large sheets of heavy-duty foil perpendicular to one another, with excess hanging over insert edge. Although I followed these instructions and was okay with the results, I’m not sure it was necessary to make the sling. This pudding is just not pretty, even if you remove it from the cooker in a single gloppy, brown chunk. If you do make the sling, spritz it with non-stick spray. Otherwise, spritz the inside of the cooker and the collar.

Place challah cubes on a baking sheet and cook 40 minutes in  a 225 degree oven on the center rack.

While bread is cooking, combine cream, milk, egg yolks, Nutella, 3/4 cup granulated sugar, vanilla and salt. Cooks Illustrated suggested whisking these ingredients. I used an electric mixer to more evenly distribute the sticky Nutella.

Remove bread from oven and add to slow cooker along with chocolate chips. Pour Nutella liquid evenly over this mixture, pressing down slightly to completely submerge the chocolate and the bread. Mix the remaining table spoon of granulated sugar with the brown sugar and sprinkle it over the pudding. Cook for four hours on low, or until the center sets.

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Sriracha Slaw

According to my brother-in-law, you can tell how long a couple has been married by checking out how much Tabasco sauce is left in their bottle. Or..something like that… only nothing like that applies to my husband and me. We go through hot sauce and hot peppers like most people go through salt and pepper. Which is why, after hearing a radio report on an entire cookbook of recipes using Sriracha Thai-style hot sauce, I immediately drove home to order the book on Amazon.  I would not necessarily recommend “The Sriracha Cookbook,” mainly because it only contains 50 recipes, some of which are kind of lame. (E.g: Recipe for Sriracha ketchup: Mix Sriracha and ketchup.) Still, I loved the one recipe I have tried so far. The Sriracha slaw is both tasty and Goldilocks just-right hot (although maybe not to the couple who celebrate their 60th with a dash of the nuptial Tabasco.)It is also colorfully festive in a 4th of July-barbecue kind of way, which will remind you that, despite the winter chill, summer grilling will be here soon.

Sriracha Slaw

Adapted from The Sriracha Cookbook by Randy Clemens


1/3 cup peanut butter (I used smooth, reduced-fat but Clemens recommends chunky)

1/4 cup fresh-squeezed lime juice

1/4 cup fresh pineapple or orange juice

1/4 cup Sriracha sauce

2 cloves minced garlic

2 table spoons fish paste (I used vegetarian oyster sauce so the dish would be vegetarian)

1 tablespoon ginger paste or fresh minced ginger

2 tablespoons sugar (I’d reduce this because I thought the peanut butter and orange juice added enough sweetness)

a few shakes of toasted Sesame oil


1 and 1/2 pounds napa cabbage

1/2 pound red cabbage

2 carrots

2 red bell peppers

6 green onions

1/4 cup cilantro and 1/4 cup mint or basil (My husband just revealed to me that he hates fresh herbs so I set aside a portion without the herbs and it was fine)

1/2 cup slivered almonds

pepper salt OR soy sauce to taste

TO MAKE DRESSING: Combine all ingredients except sesame oil. (I used a food processor.) Set aside.

TO MAKE SLAW: Preheat oven to 350. Spread almonds in pan and toast in preheated oven for about 15 minutes or until fragrant.

Shred cabbage. Julienne carrots and bell peppers. Slice green onions. Chop herbs. (I simply julienned everything in the food processor, in stages, of course, given the bulk of the ingredients.) Place all slaw ingredients except salt/soy sauce and pepper, including toasted almonds, cooled, in a very large dish. Toss with dressing. Season to taste with salt/soy sauce and pepper. Drizzle with a few shakes of toasted sesame seed oil. Serve at the first barbecue of the year.

FYI the version in this picture also contains oven-toasted Ramen noodles. I would not add these again because they quickly grew soggy.

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Slow Cooker Chocolate Chip Pudding Cake

“Interesting.” That’s the phrase my way-too-polite friend Lacey uses to describe the evenings when my vegetarian cooking efforts are..less than successful. Lacey is so polite, in fact, that my friend Michael and I have taken to gauging her true opinion of the new recipes I continually attempt by intensely scrutinizing her face as she takes her first bite then counting the number of servings she takes. Because while Michael and I will readily admit that my experiments are occasionally revolting concoctions too good for the garbage can, “interesting” is about as harsh as Lacey gets. Particularly memorable “interesting” dishes have included frozen Indian vegetables that tasted like toothpicks and a kohlrabi stew that the dogs rejected without tasting. (Including my weenie dog who’s known to eat..well I won’t go into it here…)

“Interesting-in-the-Lacey-sense-of-the-word” is what I initially thought when, while flipping through my brand new, hot-off-the-press copy of America’s Test Kitchen’s Slow Cooker Revolution, I first read a recipe for chocolate pudding cake. Fueling this impression was an author’s note that conceded that the cake sounded like “a recipe for disaster.” Mainly this is because, after preparing the batter and sprinkling it with sugar and cocoa, you act like you have forgotten your cake outside during a summer rain–i.e. you pour an entire cup of boiling water over the pan. Also, who bakes cakes in a slow cooker?

Like most of the food I make, the cake was, appearancewise, a bit of a disaster. But like all concoctions involving chocolate, butter and sugar, it was a beautiful disaster, a chewy brownie pavement pockmarked with with gooey puddles and tiny islands of still-firm chocolate chips. If this sounds good to you, you can probably start making it right now: As the cook book authors note, the ingredients  are all “pantry staples.”

Chocolate Chip Pudding Cake

Adapted from America’s Test Kitchen Slow Cooker Revolution

Non-stick spray

aluminium foil

1 cup sugar

1 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 cup cocoa powder. (The recipe calls for Dutch processed, which I didn’t have. I happened to have a tin of Scarfenberger  natural cocoa powder, which worked very well.)

2 tea spoons baking powder. (Because I live at 5,000-plus feet, I reduced this to 1 and 1/2 tsps, with good results.)

1/4 tsp salt

1/2 cup whole milk (I used 2% because, again, that’s what I had. It was fine.)

4 table spoons unslated butter, melted

1 egg yolk

2 tsp vanilla extract

1 cup chocolate chips (The original recipe calls for 1/2 cup. As I do with most recipes that call for chocolate chips, I doubled the amount.)

1 cup boiling water

One of the revelations of Slow Cooker Revolution is that the side of crockpot opposite the control panel can get very hot, burning half the food. To solve this problem, the ever-resourceful America’s Test Kitchen authors came up with the idea of creating an “aluminum foil collar” to insulate this section of the pot. To create the collar, fold heavy-duty foil until you have 6 layers. Use the layered foil to create a strip that is about 16 inches long and 4 inches wide. Use the strip to line the wall of the pot opposite the control panel. (No need to line the bottom of the pot.) The food will hold the strip in place. Spritz the pot and the foil strip with non-stick spray.

Whisk flour, 1/2 cup sugar, 1/4 cup cocoa, baking powder and salt in large bowl. Whisk milk, butter, egg yolk and vanilla in a separate bowl. Add milk mixture to flour mixture and stir until just combined. Add chocolate chips. Put batter in slow cooker. (My batter was very stiff and barely covered the bottom of my crockpot, which is a very standard 6.5-quart Cuisinart. ) Combine remaining 1/2 cup sugar and 1/4 cup cocoa. Sprinkle over batter. Pour 1 cup of boiling water over the entire cake. (I know, weird.) Cook on HIGH until the top of the cake cracks, the sauce bubbles and moist crumbs cling to an inserted toothpick. America’s Test kitchen suggests this takes 90 minutes. I checked mine after 85 minutes and sections of the top were a little dark. I’d suggest keeping an eye on it the first time you make it since slow cookers vary by model.

You’re supposed to let it sit 10 minutes before serving with a dollop of vanilla ice cream but come on who really does that…

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