Rice Pudding Ménage à Trois

Patience is a virtue with oven-cooked rice pudding. A caveat: you will spend several hours peeking in the oven at thirty-minute intervals, stirring, waiting, watching (and wishing) for any sign of rice plumping. All the while the scent of simmering sweet milk teases your nostrils. It takes some time for the rice and milk to warm up to each other, but when they finally do, the wait is rewarded with creamy comfort like no other.

The foundation of rice pudding is incredibly simple -- rice, milk and sugar -- but from there, the possibilities are basically limitless. I tested three versions of Mark Bittman's recipe from The Basics using three different grains and three different milks: 1) Brown basmati rice and almond milk, with lemon zest, honey and crushed almonds (I particularly like the brightness of the zest here); 2) Arborio rice and rice milk, with coconut flakes and vanilla (exotic, rich, and very sweet); 3) Brown jasmine and regular cow's milk, with nutmeg, cinnamon, and pistachios (warmly spiced with a more subtle sweetness).

The arborio version achieved the creamiest consistency, while the brown rice delivered a coarser-textured pudding with a nuttier fragrance. Brown rice takes longer to cook than white, but if you want to speed up the process and make the pudding creamier, pulse the brown grains in a food processor a few times before cooking.


1/3 cup any rice
1/3 cup sugar
Pinch salt
4 cups milk (nut, rice, regular or coconut)


2 tsp lemon zest (add in Step 1)
Honey (stir in to taste after cooking)
Roasted almonds, chopped as garnish

1/2 cup coconut flakes (add in Step 1)
1 tsp vanilla (stir in after cooking)

Ground nutmeg (add in Step 1)
1 cinnamon stick (add in Step 1)
Toasted pistachios, chopped as garnish

1. Heat the oven to 300°F. Combine the rice, sugar, salt, and milk (along with any other flavoring add-ins) in a large gratin dish that holds at least 6 cups. Stir a couple of times and put it in the oven, uncovered.

2. Bake for 30 minutes, then stir. Bake for 30 minutes longer, then stir again; at this point the rice might be swelling up and the milk should begin to develop a bubbly skin (if so, stir it back into the mixture).

3. Cook until the rice plumps and starts to become a more noticeable part of the mixture and the skin becomes more visible and darker, about 30 minutes more. Now the pudding is getting close to done, so check on it every 10 minutes, stirring each time (it should reach the right texture in 10 to 30 minutes, depending on the kind of rice you used, but brown varieties may take longer).

4. The pudding will be done before you think it’s done. The rice should be really swollen and the milk thickened considerably but still pretty fluid (it will thicken more as it cools). Serve warm, at room temperature, or cold.


Rustic Four-Seed Bread

[Adapted from Bon Appetit's Sesame and Sunflower Whole-Wheat Bread]

Flax, caraway, sunflower and sesame team up in this hearty seed-packed loaf. Toasted sesame oil perfumes it with a unique flavor, and cracked wheat gives it an extra-rustic texture. 

2 cups whole wheat flour
1 envelope dry yeast
1 1/2 cups almond milk
1/4 cup honey
1 Tbsp toasted sesame oil
1/2 cup bulgar wheat (cracked wheat)
1/4 cup flax seeds
2 Tbsp caraway seeds
2 tsp salt
1 3/4 cups unbleached all purpose flour, plus more as needed
1/2 cup shelled, roasted sunflower seeds
3 Tbsp sesame seeds, black and white
1 Tbsp olive oil
2 tsp rolled oats
2 tsp caraway seeds

1. Combine 2 cups whole wheat flour and yeast in large bowl. Heat milk, honey and sesame oil in small saucepan over medium heat to 115 dgF, stirring occasionally. Remove saucepan from heat. Add milk mixture to dry ingredients. Stir in cracked wheat, salt, and about 1/4 cup flax seeds and 2 tablespoons caraway seeds. Slow mix in the all purpose flour 1/2 cup at a time to form soft, slightly sticky dough.

2. Knead dough on lightly floured surface until smooth and elastic, adding more all purpose flour if very sticky, about 10 minutes. Lightly oil large bowl. Mold dough into a round and brush with oil. Place ball of dough into the bowl and cover with kitchen towel. Let dough rise in warm draft-free area until doubled in volume, about 1 1/2 to 2 hours.

3. Lightly flower a work surface, removed dough from bowl and punch down. Fold in sunflower seeds and 3 tablespoons sesame seeds. Knead until smooth.

4. Divide dough in half. (I baked one in a rectangular bread pan and one on a baking sheet; choose whichever shape you prefer). Press half of the dough evenly into a greased bread pan. Shape the other half into a 1 1/2-inch-thick round. Place on a greased baking sheet. Cover both loaves and let rise in warm draft-free area until almost doubled, about 1 1/2 hours.

5. Preheat oven to 375 dgF. Using sharp knife, cut an "X" about 1/8-inch-deep into the round loaf. Brush 1 tablespoon olive oil over top of both loaves. Sprinkle with oats and caraway seeds. Bake until loaves are brown and sound hollow when tapped on bottom, about 40 to 50 minutes. Transfer to racks and cool slightly. Serve warm or at room temperature.


Grilled Chicken Hearts with Parsley Vinaigrette

I fell in love with chicken hearts when I had them as part of an offal appetizer at Blue Hill NYC. Oft-neglected and under-appreciated, they taste like little nuggets of dark chicken meat with a slightly metallic aftertaste (c'mon, think of all the blood they pumped), and their chewy texture is further reminder of how hard the little muscles used to work. Hearts and their "odd part" cousins (think tongue, liver, tail, and other byproducts of butchery) aren't frequently stocked at local grocers so when I found some at the farmer's market last week I pounced. The curious farmer left me mulling over how I was going to prepare the little organs, but the warm weather had me antsy to grill, and the size of the hearts makes them perfect for skewering, so that's the route I took. 

Piercing and grilling hearts on a stick might be somewhat of a romantic taboo, but the results are delicious. Taking inspiration from this Gourmet recipe, I brined the hearts for several hours, threaded them onto brochettes (homemade from whittled-down chopsticks), then grilled them and served with a fresh herb vinaigrette. I was restricted to using a cast iron grill over the range, but the hearts would really benefit from an open fire grill so they could take on the smoky flavor of wood or charcoal. 


1 qt cold water
2 Tbsp sea salt
1 tsp sugar
1/2 lb chicken hearts, visible arteries trimmed
1/2 cup flat parsley, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
Olive oil
Red wine vinegar
Crushed red pepper flakes
Sea salt

1. Combine 1 quart cold water with 2 tablespoons sea salt and 1 teaspoon sugar. Stir until dissolved. Add chicken hearts, cover, and chill for 3 hours.

2. Drain chicken hearts. Thread hearts onto presoaked wooden skewers, leaving about 1/2 inch between them, and place between paper towels to dry.

3. Heat grill or grill pan over high. Meanwhile, make vinaigrette by combining 1/2 cup chopped parsley with 1 minced garlic clove, equal parts olive oil and red wine vinegar, about a teaspoon of honey, plus crushed red pepper flakes and sea salt. (I didn't measure, simply adjust to desired taste and consistency.)

4. When grill is hot, brush chicken hearts with olive oil and sprinkle with sea salt. Place skewers over heat and cook, turning occasionally, 3 to 5 minutes total.

5. Serve with parsley vinaigrette.


On Simplicity

Some dishes succeed through a building of many flavors; others get their personality through simple, tactful selection of ingredients. I often work within a rule-of-three when I'm pairing flavors, and these two dishes exemplify how a recipe doesn't have to be thirty ingredients long to be delicious... 

Left: When it comes to polenta, you can do no wrong to add herbs and cheese to the creamy cornmeal. The combinations are limitless, but here I perfumed mine simply with fresh rosemary and parmesan for an earthy, rustic side. Right: Since Brussels sprouts and cipollini onions naturally get caramelized as they roast, I decided to play up that flavor by anointing them in a sweet honey-balsamic dressing. Neither dish is complicated, but in avoiding unnecessary frills both maintain the integrity of their ingredients and respectfully balance the original flavors. 


3 cups water
1 tsp kosher salt
1 cup polenta
1/2 cup parmesan, grated
1 Tbsp fresh rosemary, chopped (about 2 large sprigs) 
Freshly cracked black pepper

Bring 3 cups water and 1 teaspoon kosher salt to a boil and add polenta. Cook, stirring frequently, for 20 to 30 minutes until water is absorbed and polenta is creamy. Stir in freshly grated parmesan and about 1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, plus more as preferred. Season with salt and lots of freshly cracked black pepper.



1 lb brussels sprouts
1 lb cipollini onions
Balsamic vinegar
Olive oil
Freshly cracked black pepper

1. Preheat oven to 400 dgF. Wash and trim about 1 lb brussels sprouts; remove outside layer of leaves and quarter sprouts. Peel about 1 lb cipollini onions and place them in a medium bowl with the quartered-sprouts.

2. Whisk together balsamic vinegar, honey, olive oil and freshly cracked black pepper; adjusting to preferred taste. Drizzle honey-balsamic dressing over the sprouts and onions, and toss until evenly coated. (Reserve some of the dressing for post-roasting.)

3. Spread vegetables evenly on a baking sheet and roast for 10 to 20 minutes until Brussels sprouts are browning and leaves are beginning to char slightly. Onions should be browned and soft. (You may need to turn the oven down to 350 dgF and continue to cook if the sprouts char too quickly).  Remove from oven and toss the warm vegetables with a little more honey-balsamic dressing. Serve warm or cold.


Almond Brownies

Despite its simple seven-ingredient roster, this recipe is rich, complex and sinfully delicious. I bolstered Mark Bittman's classic version with some nutty additions: ground almonds were substituted for part of the flour, chopped almonds were folded into the batter, and I even sprinkled more on top before it went into the oven, just for good measure. 

When it comes to baking, brownies live outside the “toothpick test” rule that signals the doneness of other baked goods (like cakes and quickbreads). Once a brownie releases a clean toothpick, it’s gone too far. The trick is to time the baking so that the top firms up just enough to seal the molten middle. A good brownie is fudgy and moist; a bad brownie is cakey and dry. When my batch emerged, still slightly gooey and studded with nuts, it was hard not to indulge straight from the pan. But if you have the patience to plate, you can’t go wrong with a slice a la mode. 

Time: 30 to 40 minutes 
Makes: 9 to 12 

8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter, plus a little more for greasing the pan 
3 ounces unsweetened chocolate, roughly chopped 
1 cup sugar 
2 eggs 
1/4 cup all-purpose flour 
1/4 cup ground almonds
1/2 cup roasted almonds, roughly chopped
Pinch salt 
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract, optional 

1. Heat the oven to 350°F. Grease a square baking pan with butter or line it by overlapping 2 pieces of parchment paper or aluminum foil crosswise and grease the lining.

2. Combine the stick of butter and the chocolate in a small saucepan over very low heat, stirring occasionally. (Or microwave them in a large microwave-safe bowl on medium for 10-second intervals, stirring after each.) When the chocolate is just about melted, remove the saucepan from the heat (or bowl from the microwave) and continue to stir until the mixture is smooth.

3. Transfer the mixture to a large bowl (or use the bowl you put in the microwave) and stir in the sugar. Then beat in the eggs, one at a time. Gently stir in the flour, ground almonds, salt, and the vanilla if you’re using it. Fold in chopped nuts.

4. Pour and scrape the mixture into the prepared pan and sprinkle additional nuts (chopped and ground) over the top. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until just barely set in the middle. Cool on a rack until set. If you used parchment, lift it out to remove the brownies. If not, cut them in squares right in the pan. Store, covered, at room temperature, for no more than a day. 

Note: You can substitute 1/4 cup of any finely ground nuts (hazelnuts, almonds, walnuts, or pecans -- use the food processor or blender to grind them), or take out the nuts entirely and use 1/2 cup flour instead. 

See the original recipe from Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything: The Basics.


Pesto: Two Ways

 I can't quite say if the spring is making me see green or if I'm just trigger happy with my food processor, but pesto has been relentlessly invading my meals lately. Always game for incorporating unusual suspects into the whirlwind of oil and nuts, this week I concocted one version with radishes and another with dill. The radish pesto is comprised mainly the radish leaves (plus a few whole radish bulbs), is bulked up with hazelnuts and brightened with lemon zest. Parmesan and olive oil ground the tart flavor, but the peppery radish shines through, creating an especially pungent pesto. It is delicious spread on crusty bread, or tossed with warm chickpeas and incorporated into a simple salad of arugula, roasted asparagus and tofu [above].

In contrast to the bright radish version, the dill pesto has a much deeper, slightly sweet herbal flavor. Chives add a mild, oniony element, with garlic, lemon zest and a spot of dijon mustard elevating the overall flavor. I whipped up a simple roasted carrot soup and stirred in a dollop of the pesto for a delicious earthy fusion.

[Makes: About 4 servings]

8 large carrots
olive oil
3 garlic cloves
1/2 red onion
3 cups vegetable broth, plus more as needed
1/2 cup firm tofu, cubed
salt and freshly cracked black pepper

2 garlic cloves
1/4 cup hazelnuts
1/4 cup pepitas
1 cup fresh dill
1/2 cup chives, chopped
1/4 cup olive oil
1 tsp lemon zest
1 tsp dijon mustard
sea salt

1. Preheat oven to 400 dgF. Peel and chop carrots into smaller pieces. Toss with olive oil and spread on baking sheet. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes until carrots are golden and tender.

2. Heat 1 Tbsp olive oil a medium pot over medium-high. Chop 1/2 red onion and 3 garlic cloves. Add onion and garlic to the pot and cook until fragrant and browning, about 5 minutes. Add roasted carrots to the pot along with 3 cups vegetable broth. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer until carrots are tender enough to puree. Using an immersion or regular blender, puree the soup to a smooth consistency. Add 1/2 cup firm tofu and continue to puree. (Or you can skip the tofu if you want a thinner soup). Add more liquid as needed and season with salt and pepper.

3. Garnish with chives and dill and serve with a dollop of dill pesto (recipe below).

Dill Pesto: Peel and crush 2 garlic cloves. Add 1/4 cup hazelnuts and 1/4 cup pepitas to a food processor and pulse to a fine texture. Add garlic cloves and continue to pulse. Add 1 cup fresh dill and 1/2 cup chives, pulse until combined with the nuts and garlic. Add olive oil and continue to process until smooth. Stir in about 1 teaspoon lemon zest, 1 teaspoon dijon mustard, and sea salt, adjusting to taste.



1 small bunch radishes, greens attached 
1 small garlic clove, peeled and coarsely chopped 
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 lemon, juiced and zested
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup roasted hazelnuts
sea salt

Peel and crush 1 garlic clove. Add 1/4 cup roasted hazelnuts to a food processor and pulse to a fine texture. Add garlic clove and continue to pulse. Add 1 to 1 1/2 cups radish leaves and about 6 chopped radish bulbs; pulse until combined with the nuts and garlic. Add 1/2 cup olive oil (plus more as needed), 1 Tbsp lemon juice and 1 Tbsp lemon zest and continue to process until smooth. Stir in sea salt and adjust flavors to taste.


Steamed Hake with Leeks

Steaming fish with vegetables is a foolproof way to serve up a main and a side dish in a single pan. The recipe for steamed fish in Mark Bittman's new How to Cook Everything: The Basics features a classic summertime cast of eggplant, zucchini and tomatoes, but I opted to go with a more seasonal variation featuring leeks. Simply sauteed in garlic and sauced up with a little white wine, the leeks become a fresh-yet-buttery steaming machine. 

A thick, mild-flavored white fish pairs particularly well in this case – hake was my pick, but cod or halibut would be great too. Set atop the bed of leeks, the fish cooks in the steam as the vegetables bubble beneath. Lid on, it takes just about ten minutes for the flesh to become perfectly opaque and flakey. The leeks finish cooking with the fish, and, brightened with curly parsley and a squeeze of fresh lemon juice, are transformed from steamer to a delicious side.


1 lb fresh hake
3 Tbsp olive oil
4 leeks
2 garlic cloves
1/2 cup white wine
Salt and freshly cracked black pepper
curly parsley
fresh lemon juice, to taste

1. Trim and slice 4 leeks (the white and light green parts) and rinse them in a colander to remove all grit.

2. Put 2 tablespoons olive oil into a large skillet over medium-high heat and add 2 chopped garlic cloves. Cook the leeks in the hot oil, stirring occasionally, until they’re tender and begin to turn golden, 5 to 10 minutes. Add ½ cup white wine or water and bring to a gentle bubble.

3. Sprinkle the fish with salt and pepper and lay it on top of the leeks. Adjust the heat so the mixture simmers. Cover and cook until the fish is opaque throughout and a paring knife inserted into the fish at its thickest point meets little resistance. This will take anywhere from 5 to 12 minutes, depending on the thickness of the fish.

4. Transfer the fish to a plate, then stir fresh parsley and lemon juice into the leek mixture. Spoon the leeks over and around the fish, drizzle everything with the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil, and serve.


Kale Pesto Pizza with Caramelized Onions

There's no knead to buy pizza dough ever again. This novel idea from Jim Lahey (the baking brains behind New York's Sullivan Street Bakery) takes kneading completely out of the equation and employs hands-free overnight fermentation to get a rise out of the dough. The resulting crust is light and packed with air pockets that blister in the heat, creating an ideal terrain for toppings. The food scene is eating it up -- Bon AppetitFOOD52 and Serious Eats have all jumped on the Lahey bandwagon, celebrating the ease and simplicity of his method (and the release of his new book My Pizza).

I altered the composition of my dough slightly: whereas Lahey calls for strictly all-purpose flour, I used a combination of white whole-wheat and regular whole-wheat flours, yielding a slightly denser crust (that still bubbled and browned just as beautifully). The dough, stretched into a crust shape and brushed with olive oil, gets a little time alone in the oven before being joined by any toppings. (This is when the bubbling and browning happens). After the initial bake, I painted my crust with a pesto made of roasted kale and pistachios and brightened with a touch of lemon zest. Caramelized onions, fresh mozzarella, parmesan and more roasted kale complete the toppings, adding heft and a delicious harmony of flavors and textures. 

[on Jim Lahey's No-Knead Pizza Dough]

2 cups white whole-wheat flour
1 3/4 cups whole-wheat flour
1/4 tsp active dry yeast
2 tsp sea salt
1 1/2 cups water


1 cup raw pistachios, toasted
4 cups kale, roasted and roughly chopped 
fresh lemon juice (from 2-3 lemons)
1 tsp lemon zest 
3 cloves garlic
1/4 to 1/3 cup olive oil
1/3 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese


fresh mozzarella
freshly grated parmesan
1 1/2 cups roasted kale
1 red onion, sliced
1 tsp sugar
olive oil

Dough (prepare 1 day in advance; makes approximately four 12" round crusts): 
1. In a medium bowl, combine the flour, yeast, and salt. Add the water and mix with a wooden spoon, then finish scrunching the dough with your hands until the water is distributed. 
2. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap or a kitchen towel and allow it to rise at room temperature for 18 hours or until the dough has more than doubled. 
3. Flour a work surface and scrape out the dough. The batch makes about four 12" crusts, but feel free to divide the dough as you like (ie. you may want two larger pizzas instead). Shape each portion into a round and turn seam side down. Mold the dough into a neat circular mound. The mounds should not be sticky; if they are, dust with more flour.
Note: If you don't intend to use the dough right away, wrap the balls individually in plastic and refrigerate for up to 3 days. Return to room temperature by leaving them out on the counter, covered in a damp cloth, for 2 to 3 hours before needed.

Pesto: Preheat oven to 350 dgF. Toss kale (de-ribbed and torn) with a little salt and olive oil and spread on a baking sheet. Peel a few garlic cloves and add to baking sheet. Roast for about 10 minutes, until kale turns bright green and edges begin to brown. (The kale makes a great topping for the pizza, so you might want to roast a little extra and set it aside). Remove from oven and roughly chop the garlic. Meanwhile, toast the pistachios until fragrant; remove from heat and let cool. Combine garlic, kale, pistachios, lemon juice, garlic, olive oil and parmesan in a food processor; pulse into a chunky paste. Season with salt and pepper and adjust other ingredients to taste. (You may need to add more olive oil to thin the mixture).

Pizza: Preheat oven to 450 dgF. Place pizza stone in the oven to preheat for 15 minutes. Dust a work surface with flour and roll out the dough (See Step 3 in "Dough" instructions). I like to start with my hands to stretch it out gently and finish with a rolling pin/pestle/wine bottle to even it out. Brush the dough with olive oil and transfer to the pre-heated stone; bake until dough edges begin to brown (about 10 minutes). Meanwhile, thinly slice a red onion and saute with olive oil and a little honey until caramelized. Remove pizza from oven and paint the crust generously with the pistachio-kale pesto. Spread caramelized onions over the pizza, top with kale and fresh mozzarella, and finish with a sprinkling of freshly grated parmesan. Return the pizza to the oven and bake for an additional 10-15 minutes until the cheese begins to bubble and crust is browned.