As a teenager, I spent what felt like entire summers babysitting for the kids across the street. There were three of them, aged 4-10, and they were a handful. But they also had a pool and they paid well, so it was a good job all in all. The kids used to love eating pastina, basically tiny little pasta stars, with masses of butter and that shakeable powdered parmesan cheese. I rarely had to cook anything for them (their mom was a great cook and there was always tons of food in their house), but I made pastina once or twice. It was perfect comfort food for kids, no spice, all warmth and simplicity.
Fast forward 15 years. Trevor and I just started a major kitchen renovation (!) and the house is full of dust. It’s still cold and snowy, and it’s that time of year where you’re just on the edge of being sick all the time. We’re ready for spring and it’s not here yet. Comfort food is in order pretty much every day. A few weeks back (before the renovation started!), in this late winter state of being, I was staring forlornly inside the fridge, hoping for inspiration to strike from a handful of leftovers. I was in a bad mood. I was tired. And there was really very little in the fridge since we’d been proactively cleaning it out. So I dumped half a container of homemade kitchen stock in a pot and boiled some Israeli couscous in it. I added a huge amount of freshly grated parmesan cheese and some cracked black pepper. I plopped it unceremoniously in a bowl and took a bite. And it turned out to be the most perfect thing – creamy, savory, comforting, cheesy – and just like pastina with butter, but all grown-up.
I’ve finessed this recipe a little bit to share with you, but it really is very simple. Use the best chicken stock you can as that’s where all the flavor comes from. Don’t be shy with the parmesan or the pepper or the parsley. Your reward for 10 minutes of effort will be a bowl of super delicious pasta to get you through these last few weeks of winter.
A super simple, super comforting pasta, rich with the flavors of chicken broth and parmesan cheese.
Author:Katie at the Kitchen Door
2 cups high quality chicken stock, preferably homemade
1 cup Israeli couscous (also sold as pearled couscous)
3/4 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese, plus more for serving
Freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup minced fresh parsley
Add the chicken stock to a small saucepan and bring just to a boil. As soon as it reaches a boil, add the Israeli couscous (don’t wait as your stock will evaporate and there won’t be enough left to fully cook the couscous). Let stock return to a simmer. Simmer the couscous, stirring occasionally, until the couscous is tender and the chicken stock has been almost completely absorbed, about 7 to 8 minutes.
Remove the pan from the heat. Don’t drain it – the couscous will continue to absorb the stock, and it should have a slightly loose, creamy texture. Add the 3/4 cup of grated parmesan cheese, a generous amount of black pepper, and the chopped parsley. Stir until the cheese has melted into the couscous. Serve immediately, topped with additional parmesan and black pepper if desired.
December is the season of cookies and champagne and lots and lots of cheese. Everyone has their own favorite food traditions this month. I indulge in Bailey’s-spiked hot chocolate with real whipped cream, in two slices of cranberry-vanilla coffee cake on Christmas morning, and in the truly excellent gouda my grandfather sometimes brings to our house. This year we are headed to Munich and Brussels around Christmastime, so I expect there will also be Belgian waffles, glühwein, pretzels, and lots of yummy Belgian beer. I try not to feel guilty about these indulgences – it’s part of the season! – but I do find myself strongly craving vegetables after a few days of heavy meals. Of course, it’s freezing cold in Boston, so the vegetables still have to be warm and comforting, which is where grain bowls save the day.
Grain bowls are a pretty regular feature of our weekly menu. Usually they are a pretty basic affair. Roast brussels sprouts and sweet potatoes are a staple, along with a few pieces of whatever cheese we have sitting in the fridge. There is maybe a dollop of hummus that serves as dressing and a handful of greens. The grain itself is whatever we have on hand – usually farro or rice. These grain bowls are always satisfying, but they aren’t always cohesive – it’s just a mess of stuff I like to eat on one plate. So every once in a while, I like to put a little more thought into how the components of the bowl will go together. Recently, we made a Middle-Eastern inflected grain bowl that came out so well that I thought it was worth sharing here (as well as documenting for myself!).
This grain bowl has a lot of goodness in it. Spicy honey-cinnamon roast sweet potatoes. Cumin-scented roast cauliflower with sticky dates. Crispy brussels sprouts. To pull it together there’s a tangy tahini-yogurt sauce, creamy goat cheese, and jewel-like pomegranate seeds. Each individual component is highly flavorful – the sweet and spicy sweet potatoes in particular are addictive. All together in one bowl each component enhances the others, for a warming, slightly exotic meal. Plus, if you double up on the quantities below you’ll have plenty of leftovers to see you through the week.
Middle-Eastern Grain Bowl with Sweet Potatoes and Cauliflower
A step above your average throw-it-all-together grain bowl. This recipe combines honey-cinnamon-roasted sweet potatoes with cumin-spiced cauliflower and tahini dressing for a Middle-Eastern inflected grain bowl.
1 head of cauliflower, washed and cut into florets
20–30 brussels sprouts, outer leaves removed, cut in half
3 TBS olive oil
1 tsp whole cumin seed
sea salt and black pepper to taste
8 dates, halved
For the dressing:
3 TBS tahini
3 TBS plain Greek yogurt or skyr (the tangier the better!)
1 TBS honey
1/4 cup lukewarm water
Juice from 1/2 a lemon
Sea salt and pepper to taste
Several handfuls fresh baby spinach
2 oz. fresh goat cheese, crumbled
Arils from 1/2 a pomegranate, about 1/2 cup
Preheat the oven to 400F. Bring a pot of salted water to a boil. When the water is boiling, add the farro. Cook until al dente, about 20-25 minutes. Drain farro and set aside.
For the sweet potatoes: whisk the olive oil, honey, cinnamon, cayenne, salt and pepper together in a large bowl. Add the sweet potato wedges and toss to completely coat with the honey-olive oil mixture. Spread the sweet potatoes out on a rimmed baking sheet and place in the oven. Roast until very tender, about 25-30 minutes.
For the cauliflower: in the same bowl you used for the sweet potatoes, whisk together the olive oil, cumin seed, salt, and pepper. Add the cauliflower florets and toss, making sure to thoroughly coat the tops of each floret with the olive oil mixture. Add the halved brussels sprouts to the bowl and toss to coat. Spread out on a rimmed baking sheet and roast until the vegetables are tender in the middle and crispy on the edges, about 30 minutes. About 10 minutes, before the vegetables are done, add the halved dates to the roasting pan so that they roast slightly (they will get a little bit more sticky and caramelized).
For the bowls:whisk all dressing ingredients together in a medium bowl until smooth, then adjust seasoning to taste. Divide the cooked farro and the baby spinach between two bowls. Top each bowl with several roast sweet potato wedges, pieces of cauliflower and brussels sprouts. Crumble goat cheese on top of the bowls, then sprinkle with pomegranate arils. Drizzle with dressing and serve immediately.
All the cooked ingredients have approximately the same cooking time, meaning if you start the farro at the same time as you put the vegetables in the oven, everything will be ready almost at once.
All wedding pictures in this post are by our very talented photographers, The Spragues. These photos cannot be used without their permission.
Almost a year later, I have finally managed to sit down and write about our wedding. It was largely a DIY affair, brought to life by many, many helping hands. We celebrated with a small group of 40 people – just immediate family and close friends – at my parents’ house in Maine, where Trevor and I have been going together since high school. Insanely, wonderfully, my parents built a barn on the hill above our house to host our reception. By hand. I know, we are incredibly spoiled. It took many weekends of labor to bring the boat barn to fruition, but in some ways building the barn was the part of the wedding I loved most of all. Working alongside both sets of parents to build a structure to house our friends and family felt purposeful and unifying. And walking up the hill that day to see the barn filled with our handmade oak farm tables, tables covered in copper vases and pink flowers, candles and string lights filling the whole space with warmth… it was so incredibly beautiful. I don’t really have a photo that adequately captures the magic of that space, but these come close.
I don’t remember the day in that much detail, but what sticks with me the strongest is our ceremony. Standing under the pine trees clinging to Trevor’s arm, my brother welcoming our friends, my mother standing at my side, and the teary-eyed faces of so many of the people that I love staring back at me, I felt a truly powerful surge of love and wonder. We spent the weeks leading up to the wedding writing our ceremony, which was difficult, but important: when we stood up there, we knew exactly what we were saying and why. My brother officiated, and standing in the basement in a bit of a panic moments before the ceremony, hearing my friends laugh as he stood up there joking with the crowd was truly what calmed me enough to get myself out the door.
And then, we were off. People stood in clusters on the lawn drinking white wine and playing lawn games, or sat on the dock watching the light change over the lake. As the sun started to set we were seated at the long farm tables and the toasts began, making me cry, for the first time that day. Then we ate, and laughed, and talked, and it felt exactly like the wonderful dinner party we were envisioning.
After dinner, the evening devolved, as we had hoped it would, into tequila shots and dancing barefoot on the lawn, friends sneaking off into the woods and out on the canoe, sitting around the campfire and eating s’mores. This is less a memory and more a blur of mental snapshots. Immediately after the wedding I felt devastated by the fact that I couldn’t remember each moment, but a year later, I’ll take the happy blur. Happy blur is what we were going for, after all.
As for the details, for those of you who get into this kind of thing: the ceremony benches were planks of white oak milled from trees on the property. The tables, too, were made by hand and painstakingly finished to showcase the beautiful wood. I did the flowers myself, with the help of my bridesmaids, using homegrown dahlias, garden roses, astilbe, eucalyptus and hypericum. Plus cosmos, Queen Anne’s lace, and leucothoe borrowed from a neighbor’s garden two days before the wedding when it turned out one of the flower companies I had ordered from was a scam. Those missing flowers were the only near disaster of the whole DIY affair, and the day was promptly saved by my incredible friend Veronika, who bought all the roses at Wholefoods before she left Boston, and several generous neighbors. Cosmos and Queen Anne’s lace have a special place in my garden now.
And, since this is a food blog, the menu: for the happy hour, ceviche, buttermilk fried chicken bites in a waffle cone, and sliders (at the bride’s insistence!) with blue cheese and candied bacon. Dinner was family style, and heaping platters of espresso-rubbed flank steak, lemon rosemary roasted chicken, sweet corn succotash, and smoked gouda mashed potatoes made their way up and down the length of each table. We skipped the cake and instead went for mini pumpkin cheesecakes, blueberry pies, and banoffee parfaits. Everything was incredible and our caterers, Bar Harbor Catering Company, did a truly fantastic job. Not only was the food delicious but the event planning and coordination that they provided was just really game changing. Last but far from least, The Spragues captured everything perfectly, while somehow managing to seamlessly join our guests in the party.
Beyond these pictures and memories, I have one more thing to share with you: our signature cocktail recipe. We wanted something that was autumnal without being overly cozy, to suit that in-between season of mid-September in Maine. We ended up with the Liquid Ditty: bourbon, dry hard cider from Bantam, Calvados, and honey-sage syrup. (An aside, Trevor and I just engaged in a rigorous debate about what to name this cocktail. A search on “Golden Apple” led us down a Wikipedia rabbit hole through Greek mythology to recently discovered dwarf planets. “Apple of Discord” was deemed unfit for a wedding cocktail, and I couldn’t convince him that “Apple of Bliss-chord” was hilarious. We considered “The Spitz,” named after the Esopus Spitzenburg apple tree in our front yard., but ultimately, we’ve settled on the “Liquid Ditty.” It’s a reference to Poe’s poem “The Bells,” which Trevor strongly associates with our wedding day. Plus, it’s catchy. Alternate name suggestions still welcome.) Nearly a year later, I’ve mixed up another batch to drink on the porch with Trevor. It’s just as delicious as I remember it – crisp and appley with just a hint of sage. We’ll be drinking these all September.
The Liquid Ditty: Bourbon, Calvados, and Cider Cocktail
A crisp and refreshing cocktail for the season in between summer and fall. Hard cider, Bourbon, Calvados, and honey-sage syrup come together for a chilled autumnal sipper. We came up with this drink to celebrate our wedding and now it’s a September favorite.
A Katie at the Kitchen Door original recipe.
Author:Katie at the Kitchen Door
For the honey-sage syrup:
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup honey
15 leaves fresh sage, roughly chopped
For each cocktail:
1 part Calvados
2 part Bourbon
1 part honey-sage syrup
1 part chilled hard dry cider, such as Bantam Wunderkind
1 sage leaf, for garnish
For the honey-sage syrup:
Bring all ingredients to a simmer. Let simmer for 3-5 minutes, until sage is bright green and syrup is foamy. Remove from heat and let steep for 10 minutes.
For each cocktail:
Stir together Calvados, honey-sage syrup, and Bourbon to combine. Pour over ice in an old-fashioned glass. Top off with cider, garnish with a sage leaf, and serve.
Every year in the middle of July there’s a spike of traffic on my red currant posts – these red currant crumb bars are particularly popular. And I get so excited, because it means that there are other people out there who like these beautiful berries as much as I do! We get a bumper crop of red currants every year around the second week of July: they are easily the most productive, easiest crop in our little garden. We transplanted one small bush 3 years ago when we moved in, and this year we picked almost four pounds of currants from it.
Four pounds of currants is quite a few. Thankfully, they freeze very well. But I also try to come up with at least one new red currant recipe every year. Judging by the search traffic on my other red currant recipes and your comments on this post, I can tell that lots of you are still wondering what to do with these sour little berries. And it’s a good question! There aren’t a ton of recipes out there, as these berries are still relatively uncommon in the US.
This year I made an easy Red Currant Coffee Cake to use up some of our bounty. Coffee cake is such a great American recipe. Of course, like most American things, it originated somewhere else – Germany in this case. But 150 years on, I think it’s fair to say that there’s a distinct American tradition of coffee cake that has evolved from its German roots. There’s something so satisfying about a crumbly-topped, cinnamon-scented slice of cake eaten with a mug of tea or coffee. It isn’t dainty like British tea-time snacks, it’s unapologetically just… cake for breakfast. And when packed with red currants, it has a great sour, juicy tang to counter some of that over-the-top sweetness.
I managed to cram two cups of berries into one cake (making cake for breakfast feel almost virtuous) but we still have loads of currants to use up. If you’re in the same boat and looking for more inspiration, why not try out some of my other red currant recipes, below!
2 cups (12 oz.) fresh red currants, tossed with 2 tsp flour
For the streusel:
3 TBS butter, room temperature
3 TBS brown sugar
3 TBS white sugar
1/4 cup flour
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
Make the cake: Preheat the oven to 375F. Butter and lightly flour a 9 inch cake pan or springform pan. Tap any excess flour out over the sink. Set prepared pan aside.
Whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl. Set aside.
Add the softened butter and the sugar to the bowl of a mixer and beat on medium until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs one at a time, beating just until they are incorporated, then stopping the mixer. Add half of the flour mixture to the butter-sugar-egg batter and beat just until incorporated. Now add the milk and beat on low just until incorporated. Add the remaining half of the flour mixture and beat until incorporated. Remove the bowl from the mixer – you’ll do the rest by hand.
Stir in the vanilla extract until it is evenly mixed into the batter. Add the flour-coated currants (the light flour coating helps prevent them from sinking when mixed into the cake) and gently stir until they are evenly distributed throughout the batter. Use a spatula to scrape the batter into the prepared cake pan. Smooth out gently so the batter is level.
Make the streusel: In a small bowl, use your fingers to mix together the butter, brown sugar, sugar, flour, and cinnamon until it forms a crumbly mixture with pieces the size of peas. Sprinkle over the top of the cake batter.
Bake the cake: Transfer the cake to the pre-heated oven and bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean and the top of the cake is golden brown, about 50-60 minutes. Remove from oven. Let cool for 15 minutes, then remove from the pan, slice, and serve warm.
I just spent the loveliest six weeks at home. It’s the first time this year that I’ve been home for more than a few weeks at a stretch and boy did I need it. I leaned hard in to the rhythms of being home: cooking dinner, evening runs, couch time with Trevor, grocery shopping, sleeping in, long yoga sessions, learning a new sonata on the piano. I have always been a creature of habit and a bit of a homebody – a few weeks of chill is a type of bliss for me. Travel makes the pleasures of being home that much sweeter.
Since getting home, I turned 29. Trevor turned 29. I got my first pair of glasses, and was amazed by the clarity of trees in the distance, and of our TV. The fruit trees bloomed and faded in a whirlwind few days. Our garden turned from a patch of dirt with a handful of lonely daffodils into a plot bursting with green potential. The first rose opened, and the irises are brilliant in full bloom. Every day we get a few perfectly ripe strawberries – whatever the pesky robin doesn’t get overnight. We had a rainy mother’s day brunch by the fire that turned into a brilliantly sunny walk in the woods an hour later. My best friend from high school got married in the Boston Public Library on a chilly grey day filled with love and champagne. It’s a beautiful time of year to be in Boston and I’m so grateful to be home for it!
For each of our birthdays I made a cake. For mine, a vanilla sponge with strawberry jam and strawberry buttercream. For Trevor, an earl grey sponge with honey-fig buttercream. Both cakes disappeared without a problem, but Trevor’s earl grey cake was truly special. Pretty cakes are not my strong suit (a buttercream expert I am not) but this tasted so good that I covered it up with fresh figs and flowers and snapped a few pictures so I could share it with you. I can’t take credit for either recipe component, only the combination. The earl grey cake is from Liv for Cake and the Italian meringue fig buttercream is from Sticky Spatula. I struggled a bit with the buttercream splitting after a night in the fridge, but the flavor was beautiful and paired perfectly with the cake. If you have a special occasion coming up that calls for subtle flavors and a bit of refinement, I highly recommend this cake!
Microwave the milk on high until steaming, about 60-90 seconds. Add three of the earl grey teabags to the milk and let steep for 10 minutes. Remove the teabags, pressing any extra milk out of them with a spoon. and discard the teabags. Set earl grey milk aside, allowing it to come to room temperature.
Add the butter and the sugar to a mixer and beat with a paddle attachment on medium until it is pale, creamy and very smooth, about 2 minutes. Turn off. Add one egg and beat on low just until the egg is incorporated. Repeat with the remaining eggs, one at a time. Scrape the sides of the bowl with a spatula as needed to ensure that all the ingredients are being evenly mixed.
In a medium bowl, whisk togther the flour, baking powder and sea salt. Cut open the remaining earl grey tea bag and pour the tea into the flour mixture. (If the tea is in very large pieces, pulse it in a coffee grinder before adding to the flour). Whisk to combine.
Add 1/3 of the flour mixture to the batter and beat on low just to incorporate, about 30 seconds. Add 1/2 of the earl grey milk and beat just to incorporate, another 30 seconds. Repeat twice more, ending with the final 1/3 of the flour mixture. You should have a smooth, spreadable batter without any lumps.
Preheat the oven to 350F. Butter the bottom and sides of three, 6-inch cake tins. Cut a round of parchment paper to fit into the bottom of each tin and use this to line the bottom of the each tin. Divide the cake batter between the tree tins, using a spatula to evenly smooth the batter out. Batter should fill a little more than half-way up each tin. Bake the cakes in the preheated oven for 40-50 minutes. They are done when the cake surface springs back when lightly pushed down, and a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Remove from the oven and let cool for 10 minutes, then run a knife around the inside of each cake tin and invert to release the cake. Let cakes cool completely on a cooling rack before frosting.
For the frosting:
Wash and quarter the figs, removing and discarding any remaining stems. Place in a saucepan with 1/2 cup of the sugar and the honey. Gently mash the figs with a wooden spoon. Bring to a simmer over medium heat. Simmer, stirring often, until the figs are soft and jammy, about 15 minutes. Strain the jam through a mesh strainer, setting the thinner jelly aside to add to the frosting. Save any remaining fig chunks for another purprose (or just eat them!).
Place the remaining 3/4 cup of sugar in a saucepan. Add the 1/4 cup water and stir to fully moisten the sugar, taking care not to get sugar water on the sides of the pan (which may cause the syrup to crystallize). Bring the sugar water to a boil over a medium-high heat. Clip a candy thermometer to the side of the pan and bring the sugar to 240F. As soon as it reaches this temperature, turn off the heat.
Add the egg whites to the bowl of a mixer. Beat on high until they are white and frothy and form soft peaks. At this stage, continue beating while very slowly and carefully drizzling the hot sugar syrup down the side of the bowl into the egg whites. Pour in a thin stream until you have used all the sugar syrup up – egg whites should be glossy and hold stiff peaks.
Continue beating the egg whites on medium speed until it is room temperature with no warmth felt through the bowl. At this stage, begin adding the butter 1 TBS at a time. Butter should incorporate into the frosting smoothly. Once all the butter is incorporated and the frosting is smooth and glossy, add the fig jelly to the buttercream and beat until incorporated. If you’re having trouble with the buttercream, try reading some of the tips in this article.
If necessary, use a serrated knife to cut any domed top off of each cake so that both the top and bottom of each cake is flat. Use a dab of frosting to stick the bottom layer cake to a cake stand. Smooth a thick layer of buttercream on top of the bottom layer of cake, then top with the next layer of cake. Repeat until you have three layers of cake with two layers of buttercream between them.
Smooth a thin layer of buttercream all around the cake. If the cake is crumbling into the frosting, pause here and refrigerate the cake for 30 minutes to set the crumb coat, then continue frosting so that you have a smooth, thick layer of buttercream on all sides of the cake. Top with fresh figs, sliced in half, and a drizzle of honey.