Autumn in New York

I just got back from a wonderful time spent in New York City.

It all came about in one of those natural, organic, inspired ways . . . .

I belong to a culinary book club that has been meeting for over 20 years. (We can never quite figure out just how long it has been, it has been that long.) Eight remarkable women gather at someone's house to read and discuss a culinary-themed book: a cookbook, a biography, a memoir, or a novel that has something to do with food and wine. And we all bring a dish.

We always remark on the woman-hours it took to produce such a feast. And then we enjoy every bite!

When it was my turn, I chose the cookbook Buvette: The Pleasure of Good Food by Jody Williams, featuring the ambience and dishes she serves at Buvette in the West Village.

I covered my table with black chalkboard paper, wrote the names of the dishes in white chalk, set out votive candles and bottles of wine, and everyone brought a dish.


And then, as great minds tend to do, we all thought "Let's actually go there!"

A few weeks later, we arrived at the West Village apartment we rented and set out to explore the neighborhood.

A West Village townhouse

Hidden Courtyard in the West Village

On Monday and Tuesday, I was fortunate to have meetings with the people responsible for publishing my first novel, The Cake Therapist (Berkley, June 2015).

We met for lunch at Hundred Acres

and then for a meeting at the Penguin Random House office

where I persuaded these three fabulous women to let me take their photo:

Meet Stefanie Lieberman, agent extraordinaire;  Katherine Pelz, publicity director; and Kate Seaver, my amazing editor at Berkley. A DREAM TEAM.

And then, of course, it was time to go to Buvette yet again!

When I came home and had the family for dinner, I doubled the simply wonderful Brussels sprouts salad that has only five ingredients. It's delicious enough to feature on any Thanksgiving table.

Shaved Brussels Sprouts Salad with Pecorino and Walnuts
Adapted from Buvette by Jody Williams
Serves 4

2 dozen Brussels sprouts
1/2 cup raw walnut halves
1/4 cup finely fork-crumbled Pecorino Romano cheese from a wedge
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
A pinch of coarse sea or kosher salt

Trim off the tough outer leaves and trim the bottoms of each Brussels sprout. Chop very finely by hand or in the food processor. Combine the shaved Brussels sprouts with the walnut halves, fork-crumbled cheese (simply take the tines of a fork and twist it into the wedge of Pecorino Romano to get little bits of cheese), olive oil, and salt.

The Top 5 Techniques for Grilling Pizza

The sun is shining. A fresh breeze is blowing. It's that Al Fresco time of year again!

And time to expand your bbq repertoire.

Karen Adler and I have spent the last two years experimenting with pizza and flatbreads on the grill. Our new book, Patio Pizzeria, is a testament to our love of thinking outside the bbq box.

Whether you're young or old, meat-loving or vegan, aficionados of traditional dough or gluten-free, there is a pizza or flatbread for you.

Plus, there are FIVE different ways to grill pizzas, depending on your grill, your pizza equipment, and your expertise. 

Let's start with the most basic technique.

1. Pizza on the Grill Grates. 

This technique offers the best grill flavor. You simply roll out or pat small rounds of dough, brush them with olive oil, and slap them on a medium-hot grill, right on the grates. Leave one side of the grill unheated. Each dough round will get grill marks and firm up, so you can turn it over and put on your toppings. 

Fresh from the garden toppings. . . .

Or traditional toppings. . . .

Then, slide each pizza over to the unheated side of the grill, close the lid, and let the cheese melt and the underside get cooked. Easy!

2. Pizza on the Plancha

Heat up a grill griddle or a cast iron skillet on your grill grates, grill lid closed, for about 20 minutes or until you know the cast iron is hot.

Then grill your flatbread or pizza rolls right on the plancha with the grill lid closed. This works especially well for gluten-free pizza dough.

Depending on your grill, you might want to turn the pizza or pizza roll over if it looks like the underside is getting really brown.

3. Pizza on the Pizza Stone

There is a trick to getting good pizza on a pizza stone with a traditional gas or charcoal grill. 

You have to turn it once, then put on the toppings.  Why? Although the pizza stone evens out the temperature on the bottom of the pizza,  the hot air circulating in the grill goes to the top of the grill lid; the heat does not hover on top of the pizza. So the top takes longer to get done. By turning the pizza dough over, you speed that up.

So, simply place the dough on the hot pizza stone and close the grill lid. When the dough is brown on the bottom, turn it over with a grill spatula. Add your toppings, close the grill lid, and finish grilling until your pizza is done.

4. Pizza in a Pan.

You can do delicious focaccia in a disposable aluminum pan on the indirect side (no heat) side of your grill.  Here's how we did it recently on TV:

Watch how to make pizza in pan

5. Pizza in a Pizza Oven.

You can turn your charcoal or gas grill into a pizza oven that will grill-bake pizzas at temperatures of 500 to 600 degrees F. with a pizza insert. A pizza insert traps the hot air right around your pizza instead of having it drift up into your grill lid.

Here is a Beefeater pizza insert for a gas grill. Note the temperature dial on the front so you can see how hot your pizza "oven" gets. And also note the pizza stone right on the grill grates.

To grill a pizza in a pizza insert, you need to sprinkle cornmeal on a pizza peel

And then quickly slide the dough onto the hot pizza stone in the pizza insert.  It will cook in minutes.

If you want to do a Neapolitan-style pizza with a very thin crust, use Italian 00 flour so it will roll very thinly. Put on your toppings and slide it all into the pizza "oven."

In a few minutes, you'll have a pizza (with those raised, charry blisters known as cornicione) you can't believe you just made. 

That's Patio Pizzeria!

Celebration Chocolate Cake

Time to Celebrate!

The Back in the Swing Cookbook, which I wrote with Barbara C. Unell, has won the "Golden Globes" of the cookbook world: The International Association of Culinary Professionals Cookbook Award for 2013!

This book delivers just what it promises--recipes for eating and and living well every day after breast cancer. 

Barb and I looked through a lot of scary cancer books and decided that was not the way to go.  Of course, you need the latest research, nutritional and lifestyle info if someone you love has breast cancer.  But how are you going to start feeling good again if you accentuate the negative instead of the positive? 

We focused on real science and real food that tastes good and is good for you.  All the foods in this book have certain roles to play in getting you back in the swing.  Some build you back up. Some help you slim down. Still others perk up your appetite or help keep stray cancer cells (we all have them, every day) from multiplying.

We called on many experts to vet this information, and you'll find a sizable resource guide in the back of the book.  The result? The Back in the Swing Cookbook is a virtual survivorship center between the covers of a book. 

So, to celebrate, we're sharing our Celebration Chocolate Cake which is great for Mother's Day, graduation, holidays, awards parties, or book launches. 

Check out my friend Linda Rodriguez' fabulous new mystery novel Every Broken Trust.

Have your cake and eat it, too!

Celebration Chocolate Cake
From The Back in the Swing Cookbook: Recipes for Eating and Living Well Every Day After Breast Cancer

It's not a party without cake. And this one-bowl, dark chocolate little number is an especially perfect match for our devotion to pumpkin and cocoa. Adapted from a recipe by dessert chef Emily Luchetti, our version ditched some of the fat and sugar but kept the joyful flavor. Use a large bowl, so you can easily whisk the batter together. Let the chocolate glaze cool a bit, and it will thicken like ganache.

Tip: If you don’t have buttermilk, substitute 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice or vinegar in 1 cup milk. Stir and let sit for 5 minutes before using.

Serves 14

What You Need:
1 cup buttermilk
1 cup water
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1/3 cup unsweetened applesauce
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

8 ounces neufchatel or low-fat cream cheese, at room temperature
1/3 cup canned pumpkin puree (not seasoned pie filling)
1/4 cup honey, agave nectar, or sorghum
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

1/2 cup half-and-half
3/4 cup semisweet chocolate chips

Seedless red grapes, whole blackberries, pistachios, and curls of fresh orange peel

What You Do:

1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Coat 2 (9-inch) round cake pans with cooking spray; dust with flour and tap out any excess over the sink. Set aside.
2. For the cake, whisk the buttermilk, water, oil, applesauce, sugar, eggs, baking soda, and salt together in a very large bowl until well blended. Whisk in the flour and cocoa powder until smooth. Divide the batter between the prepared pans.
3. Bake for 32 to 35 minutes, until the top springs back when lightly touched. Let cool in the pans for 10 minutes, then invert onto wire racks to cool.
4. For the filling, whisk the cheese, pumpkin, sweetener, cinnamon, and nutmeg in a medium bowl until well blended. Place one cake layer on a plate. Spread with the filling, and top with the second layer.
5. For the glaze, heat the half-and-half in a saucepan over medium-high heat until it starts to bubble. Remove from the heat and add the chocolate chips. Let sit for 1 minute, then whisk until glossy, smooth, and dark. Let cool for 20 minutes, or until slightly thickened. Pour half of the glaze over the cake; pour the remaining glaze into a small bowl to pass at the table. Casually arrange the topping ingredients on top of the glazed cake.

Calories 336
Total Fat 14g
Saturated Fat 6g
Carbohydrates 51g
Protein 6g
Dietary Fiber 3g
Sodium 88mg

If you make the Glaze ahead of time,  gently heat it over simmering water or on the Defrost setting of the microwave so it’s pourable.

Day 12 of the 12 Days of Cinnamon Rolls

On the twelfth day of cinnamon rolls, my true love 
gave to me. . . .

Twelve Festive Fancies . . .

Here's the big finish--classic, ooey-gooey cinnamon rolls
with the flavors of cranberry and orange. 

Happy Holidays!  

On the eleventh day of cinnamon rolls, my true love 
gave to me. . . .

Eleven Swirling Swedish . . .

Kanelbullar.  Swedish cinnamon rolls with a hint of cardamom in the filling.
When you bake the rolls in cupcake papers, they create their own topknot. The final flourish is a sprinkling of Swedish pearl sugar.

On the tenth day of cinnamon rolls, my true love 
gave to me. . . .

Ten Top Cinnamon Roll Bakeries

In no particular order. . . 

1. Greens and Ackermans Bakery in Brooklyn, NY.  Using a dough recipe from long ago in Hungary, this bakery makes cinnamon rugelach and the cinnamon rolls in loaf form--babka.

2. Flour Bakery in Boston, MA.  Here you'll find the ultimate sticky bun.

3. Graeter's in Cincinnati. OH.  They do deconstructed cinnamon rolls

 known as "crowns."

4. Cinnaholic in Berkley, CA.  Decadent and vegan?  Yes!

5. Wheatfields in Lawrence, KS.  Their giant cinnamon roll is

made from dough rolled out to 26 inches. That's a lot of cinnamon roll. 

6. Machine Shed restaurants in Iowa. Slabs of cinnamon roll come to the table with a steak knife and a warm lava of icing.

7. Virginia Bakery via Busken Bakery, Cincinnati, OH. Did I mention that Cincinnati is a great bakery town? Oh-so-rich schnecken, from the late great Virginia Bakery, is now made by Busken during the holidays. "Schtock up on Schnecken," they advertise. 

8. Grand Central Baking Company in Portland and Seattle, WA. Although I'm partial to their "hand pies" and "jammers," their cinnamon rolls are wonders to behold--and eat.  Portland and Seattle are also great bakery towns.

9. Cinnabon.  When you're stressed from lost luggage, pat-downs, poor food, missed flights, weather delays--the list goes on--Cinnabon is there at the airport with 

warm, spicy cinnamon rolls that instantly comfort.

10. Johnson's Corner Truckstop in Johnson's Corner, CO. Big as a plate, ooey-gooey, all delicious.

But the best cinnamon rolls?  Homemade in your kitchen, still warm.

Nine Tasty Tidbits

To make great cinnamon rolls, you need a few key ingredients:

1. Choose your favorite cinnamon--light and citrusy Indonesian (Korintje), 
medium China Cassia, or bold Saigon or Vietnamese.

2. Try grated Mexican chocolate.

3. Change up the flavor with rose, black pepper, and cinnamon.

4. Add a little coffee.

5. Drizzle on some honey.

6. Spice them up with pumpkin.

7. Add cranberry and orange.

8. Apples in a skillet (Tarte Tatin Cinnamon Rolls).

9. And lots of ooey-gooey.

On the eighth day of cinnamon rolls, my true love 
gave to me. . . .

Eight Cooking Classes

I've had so much fun this year rolling right along with
people who really get into cinnamon rolls
at cooking classes.

Here you see cinnamon roll filling, portioned out for a hands-on class.

And here you see the excellent job people did with rolling their cinnamon rugelach.

Cook's Warehouse and more for a very fun year!

On the seventh day of cinnamon rolls, my true love 
gave to me. . . .

Seven Swirls of Schnecken

Schnecken is basically a loaf of cinnamon rolls, baked in a pan sauce of butter and sugar, then inverted onto a serving platter to slice and enjoy.

Six Gluten-Free

Here you see the gluten-free rolls right before baking.

These rolls require a different shaping method (on an oiled flexible cutting board)
 as the dough is more soft and batter-like.  

In this photo, I'm using a dough scraper to roll the dough over onto itself 
and the cinnamon  filling.

Easy and delicious for all the gluten-free people in your life!

On the fifth day of cinnamon rolls, my true love 
gave to me. . . .

Five Gold Rings

(Cinnamon Honeybuns)

On the fourth day of cinnamon rolls, my true love gave to me. . .

Four Falling Pears

Okay, this is a bit of a stretch, but fresh pears layered on top of
a cinnamon roll filling--or used in place of apples to make
Pear Tarte Tatin Cinnamon Rolls--can be fabulous.

On the third day of cinnamon rolls, my true love gave to me . . . .

Three French Gems
(a buttery, flaky, croissant-like cinnamon roll)

They start with a sweet yeast dough, then get a butter and flour layer.

You fold the dough over the filling, then turn and roll the butter layers in several times to achieve a "laminated" or Danish pastry, like a croissant dough.

After you cut the individual rolls, you use the handle of a wooden spoon to squish them so the filling comes out the sides. Brush with egg wash.

For an authentic European finish, sprinkle pearl sugar (or coarsely chopped sugar cubes) on top of each roll.

C'est si bon! Croissant meets cinnamon roll!

On the second day of cinnamon rolls, my true love gave to me. . . .

Two Carrot Loves

(the Carrot Cake Cinnamon Roll)

And a Roll with Some Ooey-Gooey.

from I Love Cinnamon Rolls!