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roasted cauliflower with almonds, raisins and capers

I’m a list-maker by nature, and the end of the year brings with it unlimited list-making opportunities: books read, restaurants visited, James Bond movies watched in a single week (thank you instant Netflix!). The most rewarding list, however, is always my “year in recipes.” Nothing reminds me more vividly of the distinct settings of my year–New York, Columbia, home, the farm–than the things I cooked and ate, and each of the following recipes was a genuine favorite, made multiple times and either shared or joyfully hoarded. I hope that you enjoy this selection, and that it reminds you of the recipes and meals that make up your own.

Guilt-free cookies with coconut, banana, ground almonds and dark chocolate.

Spicy spaghetti with fennel, lemon, pancetta and parsley.

— A goat cheese tart with Greek yogurt, honey, berries and oats.

Orzo salad with feta, lemon, broccoli, asparagus, and sprouts.

— Baked brunch oatmeal with bananas, berries, vanilla and almonds.

— Hearty meatballs with breadcrumbs, parmesan, parsley and egg.

— A refreshing ice cream with cream cheese and handfuls of fresh mint.

— A perfect bread pudding with toasted bread, vanilla, raisins and pecans.

— And lastly, a personal favorite from our Christmas Day lunch:

Roasted Cauliflower with Almonds, Raisins and Capers

1 large (or 2-3 small) heads of cauliflower

olive oil

large handful almonds, chopped

1/2 cup raisins, red or golden

1/4 cup capers

salt and pepper

red pepper flakes

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Chop the cauliflower heads into florets, then toss in a bowl with several glugs of olive oil. Add the chopped almonds, raisins, capers and salt and pepper to taste, and continue to toss until everything is nicely mixed and coated with oil. Spread on a baking sheet and sprinkle with pepper flakes, then roast in the oven until the almonds are toasted and the florets begin to brown, tossing occasionally. Serve as a side, warm or cool.

christmas mince pies

I know—I’ve had rather a high proportion of sweets-related posts in the last few months. But I can’t let Christmas go by without writing something about mince pies, which are for my family the equivalent of chestnuts roasting on an open fire (or something like that).

Mince pies aren’t all that common in the US. They’re the sort of thing that as a child you imagine Christmas couldn’t exist without, until you encounter enough raised eyebrows at their mention to set you straight. You could think of them as a dessert, but their ideal counterpart is tea—steaming PG Tips served in china teacups with gold rims. In my family the mince pie-making starts early in December, and it’s all about the assembly: cutting the bottoms and tops with a tall beer glass, buttering my grandmother’s special indented pans, slicing little crosses on the tops for the steam to escape. To this end we’ve always kept it simple with store-bought pastry and store-bought mincemeat, though the jar is liberally doctored with rum as soon as it’s opened, of course.

When December arrived several weeks ago, though, I had no pastry in the freezer, no bottle of mincemeat mysteriously still fresh after a year in the back of the fridge. I’d never considered making the filling—a rich, jammy mix of fruit of spices—myself, but desperation drove me to eye the raisins and apples in our pantry and the ancient bottle of vermouth perched above the cottage stove. The following recipe comes after several tries, but I can safely say I’m a homemade mincemeat convert. Playing with it—trying different fruits, nuts, and liquors—has been lots of fun, and there’s little else I can imagine that will make your kitchen smell quite so delicious.

Christmas Mince Pies

Below is my own recipe for the mincemeat filling, and I also made the pastry from scratch using this recipe from the blog I turn to for all things baking, Smitten Kitchen.

1 Tbsp butter

2 apples, peeled and chopped into small cubes



1/4 cup brown sugar

zest and juice of 1 orange

generous splash rum (or sweet vermouth)

1 cup dried fruit, chopped (I used raisins, prunes, dates, and dried cherries)

1 recipe for pie pastry

To make the filling, melt the butter over medium heat in a small saucepan and add in the chopped apples. Sprinkle with liberal pinches of cinnamon and cloves, then add the brown sugar and stir until the apple pieces are coated with butter, sugar and spice. Add the orange zest, juice, and rum to taste, then add in your assorted dried fruit. Pour a bit of boiling water until the fruit is just covered, then turn the heat to low and simmer, covered, until everything is soft, thick and gooey.

Meanwhile either make or defrost your pastry and roll it out until it’s fairly thin. Use a glass to cut your circles, and place the bottoms in a muffin pan. Scoop a small spoonful of the mincemeat into each bottom and run a finger dipped in water around the circumference of the pastry–this will help the top adhere to the bottom. Press the tops on using your fingertips to pinch the edges together, then finish by cutting small crosses on your pies and brushing them with egg. Bake at 350 degrees for 15-20 minutes, or until the pies are golden brown.

chocolate mila cake

I remember loving two things as a 13-year-old: my lilac stretchy halter dress and Mila cake.

The dress I thought “showed off my curves” (the non-existent ones), and I wore it to every dance at my school that year, not to mention trips to the grocery store, youth symphony rehearsals, and birthday parties. It was at one such birthday that I first encountered Mila cake, a hybrid brownie-cake creation of a friend’s Swedish mother that was crumby on the outside and irresistibly gooey in the middle. I was going through a bit of a “health phase” at the time, baking tasteless brick-like lemon loaves that oozed olive oil and dreaming of opening a soy-products store called “Edamame.” The Mila cake was the first glimmer of my return to butter, sugar and cocoa, a herald of the joyfulness eating could be.

I tasted it a handful of times after that, and then it was gone—disappeared into the vault of childhood memory along with Zoo biscuits, Nicole’s mom’s shepherd’s pie, and the curious sweetness of the chocolates that came in my Christmas Advent calendar. For years I imagined what it would be like to make it, and no brownie or chocolate cake quite lived up to that legendary first bite. A photo of me in my dress eating Mila cake became a sort of talisman, a perfect moment when all my younger, simpler desires were fulfilled. It only occurred to me this week, almost ten years later, that the cake might be a Swedish specialty, and a quick google search revealed my hunch to be on the right track—the photos of “kladdkaka,” a traditional Swedish chocolate cake, looked almost exactly like the cake that had eluded me for so long.

We all know no memory can ever be truly fulfilled—no tube of Nestlé Smarties tastes quite like the one you were given by your grandparents when they came to visit, and that crush you had in fourth grade definitely looked cuter with braces. But having made what I still consider “Mila cake” three times now, I feel I’m getting close (partly because no cake lasted more than three hours on the kitchen table). And along with the old memories, I now have a collection of new ones: my last winter nights in the cottage, with Christine playing music, Phillip and Ross playing zombies, Sara eating a bagel on the couch, Adam in his red sweater and hat, and an empty pan of Mila cake crumbs on the living room table.

Chocolate Mila Cake

Adapted from the recipe for Swedish Kladdkaka on It’s Time to Bake.

2 eggs

2/3 cup sugar

1/2 cup flour

3 Tbsp cocoa powder

pinch salt

2 Tbsp vanilla extract

1/2 cup melted butter

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Beat the eggs with the sugar until mixed, then add in the flour, cocoa powder and salt one at a time. Whisk the vanilla extract with the melted butter, then combine with the egg mixture and pour batter into a greased 8-inch pie plate. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the edges are set and the middle is still soft and gooey.

cranberry, chestnut, and apple salad with lime dressing

Browse any website or magazine rack beginning early November and you’ll come away with one vision of Thanksgiving: it’s about the food. It’s almost as though the idea of being thankful has been quietly engulfed in glossy photos of turkeys and latticed pies, and for a while it bothered me as a “socially conscious” high school sophomore that the defining characteristic of our holiday of thankfulness was excess. I can’t say my self-righteousness was entirely misplaced, but there was so much joy to be gained in letting it go.  The role of eating and food in celebration is sacred, and really, what better way is there to express gratitude?

For the last several years my family has shared hosting Thanksgiving with close friends, and this year we made the pilgrimage to their home for our holiday meal. I use the word pilgrimage with absolute seriousness, because Nick and Jane’s home has always held a special spot of reverence in my parents’ (very) discerning eye—it is beautiful in a way that is both effortless and tasteful. Then there is the food… gold-rimmed plates with soft-rind cheeses and soft-boiled eggs in china egg cups and large wedges of tea cake resting regally on the counter. It is one of the few places I know that is truly wonderful to visit.

This salad exemplifies the ways Jane’s cooking has inspired my mother and I over the years–simple and visually stunning, it was the perfect accompaniment to cold slices of ham and turkey the day after Thanksgiving. One week later the five of us sat at Manresa tasting the arugula flowers I’d shown them in the garden, and in a way I felt I’d come full circle: after the beautiful way of eating I’d experienced in their home since childhood, I had the chance to share something of my time on the farm with them.

Cranberry, Chestnut, and Apple Salad with Lime Dressing

Adapted from Gourmet Magazine, November, 1981

1 1/2 cups fresh cranberries, cut in half

3 Tbsp sugar

2 bunches of watercress

1 cup chestnuts

3 green apples

1 Tbsp grated lime rind

juice of 3 to 4 limes

2 tsp Dijon mustard

pinch salt

2/3 to 1 cup olive oil

Zest the limes and set aside. Toss cranberries with sugar in a small bowl and let sit at least one hour covered and refrigerated.

In a large glass or ceramic bowl, combine 1/4 cup lime juice with the mustard and salt. Whisk in the olive oil.

Core and cut the apples into bite size pieces.  Toss into the dressing.  Quarter the chestnuts and add to the bowl. Cover and refrigerate.

Line a glass bowl with the watercress (set the stalks up against the side of the bowl to create a nice visual presentation, and add more leaves on the bottom). Add the apple-chestnut mixture creating a small hollow in the center, then fill the hollowed-out space with the tossed cranberries.  As a final touch, sprinkle the lime zest over the salad and serve.

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