Reflections on Lobster & a Cook’s Life

I don’t think that employment in a 2-Michelin starred restaurant’s kitchen is really the dream that people might imagine it to be.  It’s certainly far away from anything I could have imagined before I worked my way through Le Gavroche in London in 1999.  It’s not just that it’s hot, or that it’s stressful, or that the hours are long, or the pay is low.  It’s that while you’re there, none of this matters.  It’s like a black-out situation where you start working and the only thing that is important is correctly doing your job; in my case, making desserts.  It’s incredibly strange.  Sometimes I’d have to tell myself as I attacked another crazy day, “It’s just dessert.”  It’s not like my work was critical to anyone’s life, well-being, survival.  But for some inexplicable reason, it was critical to mine.

So one Saturday afternoon in December, we were working.  Normally off on Saturday & Sunday, a skeleton team was required to come in an extra day that week to cater a dinner for the Queen’s jeweler.  Maybe you know that the Queen of England has her own personal jeweler.  This man hosted his Christmas party for 80 close friends and family for decades at Le Gavroche, complete with party favors at each place setting which were rumored to be extraordinary and expensive. 

The atmosphere in the kitchen was different that afternoon, lighter somehow. With just one menu to prepare there wasn’t the usual chaos.  My pears were already poached with star anise, cinnamon, cloves and mustard seeds; my Poire William sabayon cream was setting in the fridge.  I just had to make 80 pepper tuiles, paper-thin, spicy cookies that would balance in the cloud-like cream, and to sliver my pears and reduce their poaching liquid into a syrup to glaze them on the plates.  The usually grim, Scottish head chef even passed around a major surprise at one point: money! The restaurant wouldn’t be compensating us for the extra day’s work, but the munificent jeweler bestowed each worker with a crisp, new note: 100 pounds for each section leader & 50 pounds for each helper.  I was pleased by the warm feeling that bill aroused in my hand.  I felt appreciated & emboldened.

Silvano was the long-time manager of Le Gavroche’s dining room.  He was infamous in London dining circles.  A sharp, cool Italian, he barely glanced at the cooks unless there was an error.  Then you could expect to look up at a face frozen in fury – no words were even necessary but of course there would be some choice ones.  He was famous for his cruelty as much as his charm.  He was necessarily required to know the regular guests intimately – to anticipate their needs and preferences.  He could recognize an anonymous Michelin critic as they stepped out of their taxi onto the pavement in front of the restaurant.  He was the face of the dining room – pure control & elegance.

In my time at Le Gavroche I had never spoken to Silvano.  As far as I knew he had never acknowledged me either, a good thing for all concerned.  On the Saturday afternoon of the Queen’s jeweler’s party he stood casually at the pass – the counter where the chef sends the finished plates out into the dining room – and loudly spoke to no one in particular about the management meal for that night. Before every lunch & dinner service we prepared a separate meal to send out to the management.  For this special day, a yearly ritual and apparently a tradition, the management was to eat the lobster that was going to be the main course for the party.  “But Michel won’t be here for the management meal” Silvano bemoaned theatrically.  “His daughter is playing a match and he’s not arriving until 6.  Who is going to eat his lobster??”

“I will!” the joking response flew out of my mouth across the white-tiled kitchen before I could stop myself.  A silent pair of hands and feet who had skittered through the kitchen 5 long days & nights each week for nearly a year, I had barely spoken to anyone if it wasn’t necessary the entire time. This was completely against my normally hyper-social nature, but it was necessary to get through the job. Now here I was joking around as I dared to look up into Silvano’s ice blue gaze directly.  He smiled. And he replied, “Alright, good” and walked away. I turned back to my marble table and my pears, blissfully alone in that normally-crowded space for a change.

My boyfriend, Franck, the sous-chef and the reason I was working in this crazy place to begin with, startled me a bit later when he popped his head around the wall into my pastry corner and said “Your lobster is served.” “What are you talking about?” I replied, incredulous.  “Your lobster, you told Silvano you would eat the management meal with him today. It’s ready, go eat.” I felt panic tighten my stomach. I had no idea where I was even supposed to go.  Where did the management eat the meals we put on the pass for them twice a day? I looked blankly at Franck. “Where do I go?” “In the dining room, of course.” Obviously.

I had never seen the dining room of the restaurant.  In one year I had never had any reason to look through the door at its lush, burgundy velvet curtains, its famous artwork on its silk-lined walls and the heavily draped tables. Each table sported a unique sculpture, whimsical animals made of antique cutlery, and was set with gold-trimmed French porcelain. Each Limoges plate was ironically decorated with a small, painted figure of the urchin boy, the rebel, the Gavroche, from Hugo’s “Les Miserables.” I stood unsteadily at the threshold in wrinkled, stained chef’s whites and I took it in: rich, luxurious, intimidating. I didn’t want to walk further. I wanted to be back in the kitchen. That site of anxiety, exhaustion, and humiliation was truly the place where I felt comfortable. I didn’t want to sit with this scary man and share a meal. But there was a table set for two in the corner on a cozy banquet, a bottle of Evian water, two crystal glasses, and two plates each bedecked with a steaming, glistening, butter-laden lobster. I slid onto the velvet cushions, inhaling the perfume of garlic and herbs mingling with butter & lobster. This might not be so bad. I looked up at Silvano and smiled. Who gets to do this? What other cook has actually come through the kitchen door into this legendary dining room, sat and eaten a proper meal here? It was surreal. Silvano chatted with me. He might have even been nice but I really didn’t register anything he said. As I tasted my first forkful of that ethereal lobster I honestly was lost in my own private heaven. It was the most luscious and delicious bite of my life. It was beyond anything fabulous you have ever tasted yourself. It was the taste of survival, of success. The crushing feelings of never-ending work and never-attainable perfection that had weighed on me, the constant tension and frantic sense of inadequacy that haunted me, all slipped away as I lost myself in my lobster.

Just as my plate was sadly emptying, Chef Michel arrived and flopped down on the banquet next to me. If he was surprised to see me there he didn’t show it. He looked pleased to see me, completely out of place; my face no doubt awash with pleasure and satisfaction.  We chatted too.  All awkwardness had melted away on this strange day. After working so diligently for a year, I wasn’t seeking their approval. I knew that I had done what was expected of me, and had more than done what I had ever expected of myself. I realized that in order to work at this level of intensity I had nearly checked out of normal society for a year, rarely calling anyone, too exhausted to socialize on the weekends. I stumbled into the kitchen before sunrise and left after midnight. Insults and cruel jokes and orders were constantly hurled around me. I slept-walked home to a hot bath and into bed and an alarm woke me 5 hours later to get up and do it again. I had completely lost touch with myself, my desires or pleasures. I was completely detached from any sense of the pleasure that my own work was giving to the people just on the other side of that kitchen door.

I returned to my station, smiling as I remembered what it felt like to be really happy for the first time in months.  The transformative power of food. Nothing became easier after that; in fact the holiday season is the most crushing moment of the year at that restaurant.  But I’ve never been the same, really, and if anyone wants to know, Roasted Lobster with Garlic Butter is my favorite dish.

Roasted Lobster with Garlic Butter

The Garlic-Herb Butter recipe makes a lot. You can easily halve the recipe, but I would recommend making the whole batch and freezing some in smaller containers. This butter is so good, the balance of garlic, parsley and shallots is perfect. You can use it on other fish or shellfish, either as you roast it or as a finishing touch, and it’s also great with vegetables, particularly mushrooms. It’s an easy way to make some roasted cauliflower or pan-fried mushrooms absolutely fantastic! We recommend using a scale to get the amounts just right every time.

Garlic-Herb Butter

1pound soft butter

30 g (1oz) shallots

20 g (5-6 cloves) garlic

50 g chopped (flat or curly) parsley (Wash parsley thoroughly and squeeze it in a dishtowel to take out the moisture. Remove all leaves from stems and chop them finely before adding to the food processor with the other ingredients to incorporate the parsley evenly and not make your butter super green in the machine)

Splash Pernod

Salt & pepper – to taste (you must taste before removing from the processor)

Place shallots and garlic in food processor and pulse to chop, then add parsley and mix everything thoroughly together.  Add butter and seasonings and pulse to combine. You can chop everything by hand and mix in a large bowl, too. You don’t need a food processor.

For the Lobster:

Bring a large pot of water to the boil with a generous amount of kosher salt (Franck says the water has to taste “like the sea” in order to have enough salt). Place 1 1/4 lb. lobsters (1 lobster per person) whole into the water, cover and wait until the water comes back to the boil. Now you must time carefully 6 minutes to blanch the lobsters. This is just the right amount of time for the lobsters to cook enough to remove all of the meat, and then to roast in the oven with the garlic butter and not be overcooked at the end. Have a large bowl of ice handy and after 6 minutes, use a tongs to remove the lobsters directly into the bowl of ice. The ice will stop the cooking and cool them down so you can handle them. Preheat oven to 375F. Now for the fun part: Each lobster must be cut open vertically down the middle, using a big, sharp knife & starting at the head to get your knife right in the middle. All of the meat should be removed from large leg & claws, the tail. Line the body of the lobster with 3-4 teaspoons of garlic butter all along it (we find that a teaspoon is best to get the butter into the shell). Place all of the meat of that half of the lobster back into its shell: the tail and all of its claw meat. This is what makes this dish so decadent: not only is the lobster cooked in the most delicious garlic butter, but you don’t have to do any messy work when you’re eating it, everything has already been done. Top the meat in the lobster shell with 3-4 more teaspoons of garlic butter all along it (you can always melt more and offer it on the side if you feel that the lobster meat could be drenched further!). Place the lobsters in the hot oven to roast, about 10 mins. You know that they are done when the butter is sizzling. Serve with plenty of bread.

Welcome to Chez Nous! A Video by Dave Sondrini

Check out this behind the scenes look at Chez Nous! A special thanks to the Filmmaker/Producer Dave Sondrini. To see more of Dave’s work, check out his website

Creamy Fish Pie: Manger! Boire! Outtakes

All winter long we get to try new recipes and ideas out on our Manger! Boire! Eat! Drink! customers every Thursday night.  It’s fun for them:  food, wine, recipes, and a cooking demonstration for $35. and it’s usually pretty delicious.  But it’s really fun for us, too.  We have done so many themes over the years, tried Indian, Korean, Moroccan recipes…classic dishes, retro dishes, techniques — how to make gnocchi, for example, or risotto, or puff pastry.  The sky’s the limit and it gives us a chance to experiment and revel in what is so beautiful about our profession:  you never stop learning.  This past week’s theme was British comfort food, and the guests were able to dig into a menu which included a Scotch egg, a Creamy Fish Pie, and a Lemon Posset for dessert.  We were so happy with the way everything turned out: it was a really fun menu to execute (and eat!).  We often wish that we could share these dishes more widely; everyone who comes to Manger! Boire! leaves with a sheet of paper with the recipes on it.  Here is the recipe, for those that couldn’t join us last night, for a great winter dish, a classic English Fish Pie, topped with Creamy Mashed Potatoes.

Fish Pie

Serves 4-6

2 lbs fish of choice: cod, hake, salmon

For the sauce:

3 T butter

3 T flour

3 c milk

Salt, pepper

1 medium onion, finely chopped

½ c white wine

Juice of 1 lemon

1/2 c peas

1/2 c chopped carrot, blanched

1/2 c chopped leek, blanched

Melt butter in sauce pan, add flour and cook on low heat 5 mins.  Pour in the milk little by little, stirring, add seasoning and simmer 10 mins.  To finish the sauce, melt another 2 T butter and add onions.  Cook 5 mins over medium heat, then add the wine & lemon juice and reduce by 2/3.  Add the creamy sauce.  Add fish to the hot sauce.  Finish with the prepared vegetables and chopped scallions, if desired.  Pour into baking dish, topped with mashed potato and back for 15 mins at 375F until golden.

For the mashed potato:

1 ½ lb potato, peeled and diced

2 T salt

5 T butter

½ c warm milk

Nutmeg, salt, pepper

2 egg yolks

Cream Cheese Mousse “Cheesecake”

And voila!  Here it is, the most-requested recipe of the summer, our unbaked, creamy cheesecake.  This recipe is so versatile; we enjoyed making it with vanilla bean this summer, serving it with fresh berries, sour cherry compote, and lemon curd sauce.  It would be fabulous, however, with a gingersnap crust and pumpkin pie spices folded into it; or with chocolate cookie crumbs and chocolate ganache swirled through the filling before chilling to set.  Consider this recipe a base, and have fun transforming it into a new special dessert

Cream Cheese Mousse Cheesecake


1 9” springform pan

2 c cookie crumbs (can use plain or chocolate graham crackers, butter cookies, ginger snaps)

6 T melted butter

-Preheat oven to 325F.  In a mixing bowl, stir together crumbs and butter, then press into the pan and place in the oven for 10 minutes to toast the crust.  Remove from oven and let cool thoroughly before adding the mousse.



2 t gelatin powder

3 T cold water

2 ½ c heavy cream

1 ½ lbs soft cream cheese

½ c sugar

1 T vanilla

(optional: zest of 1 lemon or orange)

-Place the gelatin powder in a small cup or bowl with the cold water and set aside to “bloom” the gelatin (thoroughly hydrate it so it dissolves nicely).

Softly whip the cream (not stiff peaks, just lightly holding) and set aside.

Cream the cream cheese with the sugar and vanilla (and zest, if using) until soft and fluffy.  You can use a mixer with a flat beater, or a spatula and your own big muscles!  Fold in a bit of the whipped cream to loosen the mix, then the rest of the cream, using a spatula.  Melt the gelatin and water mixture, in a microwave is easiest for about 10 seconds until clear and fluid, or you can place the dish directly down into a pan of simmering water and stir the gelatin to melt.  Switch to a wire whisk to quickly and thoroughly whisk the gelatin into the cream mixture.  This recipe is a good work-out:  you need to whisk very hard and fast to avoid the gelatin clumping up and hardening, and to make sure that it is evenly distributed.

Spread the mixture into the pan with the crust and smooth the top (or swirl! Express yourself!).  Pop into the fridge to chill thoroughly, at least 4 hours or overnight.  Serve with seasonal fruit, lemon curd, drizzle with chocolate ganache…possibilities are endless!

Spicy Moroccan Harissa

We have so many requests for this recipe, we thought it was time to share it here.  This harissa has a great balace between spicy and sweet, with a large amount of roasted red peppers & sundried tomatoes blended in to the spice mix.  Perfect with grilled fish, kebabs, on the side with your Moroccan Tagine, as a marinade, schmeared on a grilled vegetable sandwich…endless possibilities!Harissa

1.5 T Cumin

1.5 T Coriander

1.5 T Anise seeds

2 T Caraway Seeds

½ c Chili Flakes

-Toast in a dry pan until fragrant 

-powder in spice grinder


1.5 T Salt

8-10 cloves garlic

2 c roasted red peppers

1.5 c sun-dried tomatoes

-puree in food processor with spices

-drizzle with olive oil for consistency of smooth paste


Easy Pickles for “Real” Gardeners

Where are you, cucumbers???

Where are you, cucumbers??

In the kitchen, and in the garden, there’s the fantasy, and then there’s real life… I love the idea that I’m going to go to the farmer’s market in the summer, bring home loads of yummy local produce, cook lots of delicious stuff for our family to work on through the week, and repeat the following Saturday.  The reality, or course, is that the restaurant is too busy in the summer for me to go to the farmer’s market and buy anything beyond a few peaches to snack on because I’m not going to be cooking anything at home.  I also love the idea of having a big, beautiful garden, with tons of my all-time favorite food, fresh heirloom tomatoes.  With these tomatoes I will feast on salads with feta or mozzarella cheese and the copious amounts of basil that I plant alongside them all summer long…  The reality is that I’m a terrible gardener.  I haven’t got the time or the patience to baby plants, pulling off all of the suckers, tying them up diligently as they grow, feeding them and watering them sufficiently.  It’s taken me years to accept this reality.  But this year I finally accepted the situation; I flattened the entire garden and bought a few Earthboxes to house just a few plants.  So far, so good.  The Earthboxes are nice and easy to maintain.  The tomatoes have grown enormously big:  I may end up with more than I did with 8 times the amount of plants before!  The cucumbers remain challenging — they’re growing fantastically well but they are STILL so hard to see!  In the small, contained space of the Earthbox, the little, pickling cucumbers that I always like to plant, are growing like the Little Shop of Horrors, and are bound to produce a ton of cucumbers, which is great for a challenged gardener like me.  In the ideal world, they would each be picked at the same size, so all of my pickles would be uniform.  The reality is, every day I go out to check if anyone’s ready to come to work with me and get pickled, and no matter how hard I look, the next day when I come back there are ENORMOUS cucumbers instead of dainty little cornichons, and I end up having to slice them to get them in the jar.


But the pickles…oh my gosh, they are so EASY!  They are so good and even I can manage to make them with this terrific method, via my mother-in-law in France.  We usually end up with a couple of half-gallon jars of these pickles by the end of the summer, despite my gardening challenges and my inability to see what’s in front of my eyes.

My pickle jar now, at the beginning of the season…

The best thing about these pickles is that you do them as you harvest throughout the season and you season them however you want.  I assume that everyone’s fantasy is like mine:  to raise a bunch of cucumber plants with attention and love, bring in a huge harvest of cucumbers all together, and spend a hot and steamy afternoon pickling them and lining the shelves with the glimmering, green jars.  And in fact that’s not reality — some days I have 2 cucumbers ready, some days I have 10 (and don’t forget that they’re all of varying sizes!) — this method allows you to just work with what you have on a given day, and keep adding to a jar in your fridge until it’s full.  At that point, you shove the full jar to the back of the fridge and forget about it for a month or so while everything finishes pickling as much as it’s going to.  We usually enjoy these in the winter with Raclette cheese, our favorite winter-night-off-with-friends meal.  We hope that you enjoy them, too!


Easy Pickles for “Real” Gardeners

The Materials:

1 very clean glass jar with a lid (more as needed throughout the summer)

1 large bottle of distilled white vinegar

garlic, shallots, sweet onion

peppercorns, bay leaf, mustard seeds, sprigs of dill, anything else you fancy

kosher salt

freshly-picked cucumbers

The Method:

Bring in your cucumbers and give them a good wash.  If they’re different sizes, cut them into vaguely the same size pieces (if they’re fairly small, you can leave them whole).  Place the cucumbers in a non-reactive bowl and cover with kosher salt (a few tablespoons).  Leave on the counter while you go about your day.  The amount of time that they stay in the salt determines how strongly salted the pickles will be at the end.  I usually leave them for 3-4 hours.  After that, I find that they are too salty for my taste.  If you’re not sure, rinse one after a few hours and slice off a bit.  Make sure it tastes nicely salted.  Rinse the cucumbers with cold water, drain and then place in the jar.  At this point you add whatever seasoning you like.  I usually add a couple of garlic cloves, peeled and sliced in half, a couple of shallots or a small sweet onion, sliced, about 1 T peppercorns, 1-2 t mustard seeds and 1 bay leaf.  Hot pepper flakes are wonderful if you want them to be spicy.  Cover everything with some vinegar, close the jar, and pop it in the fridge.  The next day, or whenever you’ve collected a few more cukes, repeat the process, and just carry on until the jar is full.  If the cucumber to seasoning proportion seems to be off, you can throw in a few more garlic cloves, etc. as you go; just make sure everything is covered with the vinegar. Since some of the cucumbers have been in the jar for a few more days/weeks than the others, I just leave the jar alone in the fridge for a month or two once it’s full, so everything finishes preserving itself to more or less the same degree, and then we can enjoy them for months afterwards.  Pickles done this way keep in the fridge all winter long.  

Franckie’s Turmeric Tonic Ice Cubes

We’re never really about moderation around here…we love what we do, we love to eat, it all goes hand in hand.  The results can be euphoric or destructive…it’s a mixed bag and often both at once.  For cooks, it’s really hard to find a balance between not standing too much, not lifting too much, not eating too much.  Now we find ourselves looking at maybe a bit more weight than we’d like to be carrying around, a bit of back pain here and shoulder pain there.  One remedy that caught our eye was Turmeric Tonic, a refreshing beverage based on the anti-inflammatory properties of turmeric.  Why not give it a try? we thought.  And, going along with our tendancy towards a lack of moderation, why don’t we make the stuff in massive quantities so that we can drink it every day??  And why don’t we make it super-concentrated and freeze it in the ice cube trays we used to make baby food in way back when??  And then all we have to do is just dilute it in hot or cold water, depending on season/preference/mood??I assure you, this stuff is actually delicious.  And extremely handy to have around.  Making a smoothie?  Throw a couple of cubes in.  Feel like you’re coming down with a cold?  Boil water and add cubes and a touch of honey.  Why not try it in a cocktail?  Looking to make your sparkling water into a tasty spritzer…voila!  It’s a great way to get some healthy fresh tumeric into your diet on a regular basis.  We love it so much we wanted to share it with you.  Now that the garden is blooming we’re thinking about whirring some fresh mint into the next batch.  Feel free to multiply the recipe…

Franck’s Turmeric Tonic

-makes 4 ice-cube trays worth of concentrated tumeric cubes

1 large ‘hand’ fresh ginger

1/2 lb fresh tumeric

1 lemons, zest & juice

2 oranges, zest and juice

1 t black pepper

pinch salt

optional: honey

Bring 2 qt water to boil in a large saucepan.  Wash the tumeric and ginger thoroughly, then puree in food processor.  When water boils, off heat add the tumeric & ginger puree, the zest and juice, pepper and salt and optional honey.  Allow mix to steep at least 1 hr or overnight in the fridge.  Press through a seive to remove the solids, then pour into ice cube molds and freeze.

Anson Mills Cornmeal, Einkorn & Cranberry Cakes

This recipe has very good origins:  Pierre Herme & Dorie Greenspan, two of the world’s greatest bakers.  Dorie says it’s “hip” to use olive oil & cornmeal in a cake; I say it’s even “hipper” to use Einkorn flour instead of all-purpose flour, too.  I’m even taking it a step further these days, and milling the Einkorn in my new, beautiful grain mill.  Then I went beyond and called Anson Mills in North Carolina to get their beautiful, milled-to-order cornflour.  Our photographer, Greg Nesbit, is luckily just as wacky as I am, because I made him take a picture of the flours, I think that they’re so beautiful.  What do you think?

Cormeal, Einkorn & Cranberry Cakes

You don’t have to go and buy a mill or order your cornmeal online (unless you’re crazy, like me).  These cakes are luscious, melt-in-your-mouth fabulous any which way you choose to make them.  Of course, we live for great ingredients, but a great recipe will take you far.  I love Cranberry with orange, but I can’t wait for summer to make these with Blueberry and Lime or Raspberry & Lemon.

1 1/4 c fine cornmeal

2/3 c flour (I used Einkorn flour, but all-purpose is fine)

1/4 c cornstarch

1 1/2 t baking powder

1/2 t salt

1 c sugar

zest & juice 1 orange

4 eggs

1 t vanilla

7 T butter, melted

1/3 c olive oil

1 c cranberries, chopped


1/2 c confections sugar mixed with juice & zest 1 orange

Prepare pans:  this recipe makes either 4 5X3 inchi mini loaf pans or two 8 inch rounds, or 10 individual cakes.  All should be greased and lined with parchment on the bottom.  Heat oven to 350F (325 convection)

In a stand mixer with the whisk, or a large mixing bowl, whisk eggs, sugar and zest until tripled in volume.  The mix will be pale and thick.  Whisk together all dry ingredients. Slow down the mixing and add vanilla and juice, then the dry ingredients.  Add butter and oil in a steady stream while mixing.  Finally, fold in the fruit. Transfer batter to the baking pans and bake until golden and a tester comes out clean (loaves, about 30 mins, small cakes, about 14, and large cakes about 24).  While warm, prick cakes with a toothpick and brush over with the glaze.  Allow to cool slightly, then unmold onto cooling racks and cool completely.

Really Excellent Rugelach

From a baker whose first words were “cookie good,” here is a recipe for one of my first favorite cookies.  A beautiful one for the holidays, a must, actually.  If you’ve never made Rugelach before this is the recipe to start with.  My “jelly roll” technique is much quicker and easier than the way many Nana’s (mine included) used to roll them, croissant-style.  I actually prefer (sorry, Nana) them this way because I thought that the ends of the little croissants tended to brown too much and get bitter.  If you prefer them as croissants, then roll out your band of dough and cut it into long triangles after spreading with the filling.  Or if you’re like me, and love to make these tender, sweet cookies faster and easier, roll the band into a jelly roll and cut with a sharp knife.  This recipe is also a bit unusual for having a small amount of powdered sugar in the dough.  Many Rugelach dough recipes are sugar-free, all of the sweetness coming from the filling.  Of course, I don’t mind things a little sweeter and I do think that the dough is a little more tender this way, too.


1 c soft butter

8 oz soft cream cheese

1 t lemon zest

2 c all-[urpose flour

¼ c powdered sugar

½ t salt

-In mixing bowl, cream the soft butter & cream cheese until fluffy.  Add lemon zest.  Sift dry ingredients together and add all at once to the creamed mixture.  Gently incorporate until a soft dough forms.  Place dough onto a large sheet of plastic wrap. Let chill for at least 2 hours or overnight (dough can be made ahead and frozen at this point).

When you’re ready to make the cookies, prepare your choice of fillings.  Can use jam, cinnamon sugar & nuts, chocolate chips, any combination thereof.  Melt 1/2 stick of butter and have some cinnamon sugar handy to sprinkle on the cookies before they go in the oven.  Preheat oven to 350F.  Line cookie sheets with parchment paper or butter well.  Roll out the cookies as shown:

Brush each cookie with melted butter and sprinkle with a little cinnamon sugar.  Bake in preheated oven about 15 mins until golden.


Not Your Average Crackers

Houseguests last summer arrived laden with gifts:  home-made jams (they’re jam junkies), books, fresh-picked fruit from a farm close to their Vermont home, and huge tins of home-made…um…crackers…

I have to admit, the last part left me a little less excited.  Never really been a particularly keen cracker-eater.  Always preferred my carbs in bread or cookie form, it must be said.  Good scones, too.

But then we politely tasted the crackers.  And of course, we should have known (not just because we love these friends and they are amazing cooks), but also because isn’t home-made just always going to be BETTER??  Isn’t that just the rule?? These crackers were so delicious, and so packed with good-for-you stuff, it really was a revelation.

And of course, I wanted to make them myself now.  And I wanted mine to be better than theirs.  Of course.

Just before summer hit, I had collected a copy of a new cookbook, hoping to have some time to play with it before I got too busy, which of course I didn’t.  But I remembered seeing pictures of crackers in this book.  And I remembered how uninterested in them I had been compared with all of the other delicious things.  And I realized that this book was probably going to be the perfect place to start my mission to out-cracker my friend.  And it was. 20160226_140032

I have recounted my journey to gluten-free baking here and will only say that the first reason why I love this cookbook so much is that it doesn’t claim to be a gluten-free baking book, even though that’s exactly what it is.  But, unlike many of the books and blogs and magazines which have lots of not-very-good stuff in them, “Flavor Flours” is by Alice Medrich, an acclaimed and experienced baker and cookbook author.  She’s absolutely fabulous.  And she’s written the book that we’ve been waiting for:  a gluten-free baking book which focuses on FLAVOR!  Alice Medrich is a skilled technician, and all of the recipes in this book work beautifully, but they’re also delicious in a way that gluten-free goods made with blends of rice flours and starches aren’t: the flours impart distinctive and yummy flavors that take everything to the next level.

Now, onto the crackers.  Alice Medrich has a few recipes for crackers in the book, since each chapter focuses on a different flour, and I started with her “Seed Crackers” since they were the most similar to the crackers that my friend had made.  The list of ingredients may be a little bit daunting, so I apologize for that.  If you’re into gluten-free baking, then you may already have a few of them around.  All of these ingredients are now readily-available, if that’s some comfort, and also if you would allow me to take this moment to once again recount the benefits of baking with a gram-scale (trust-me, it makes baking quicker, cleaner, more accurrate and more fun!  for $25!), that will make it less annoying to handle all of these ingredients, trust me.  I just bring the gram scale and the Kitchen Aid bowl right over to the counter in front of where I store all of the stuff and start throwing things into it.  Doesn’t take more than a couple of minutes, I swear!

And did I mention that this copious list of ingredients happens to be comprised of tons of nutritious things?  And that they’re dairy-free?  And that they’re absolutely addictive?  And finally, it really makes a lot, so at least you’ll be rewarded for your efforts for a longer-than-usual time after baking something delicious. Give them a try and let me know if they make you into a cracker-convert, too.

Garlic & Paprika Seed Crackers

Preheat oven to 400F

Measure into a mixing bowl:

1/2 c  (80 g) brown rice flour

1/2 c (80 g) white rice flour

1/3 c (40 g) oat flour

2/3 c (80 g) cornmeal

1/2 c (65 g) sunflower seeds

1/4 c (35 g) sesame seeds

1/3 c (40 g) flaxseed meal

2 T (25 g) brown sugar

1 1/2 t (8g) salt

3/4 c water

2 t rice vinegar

1 t (5g) baking powder

1/4 c plain oil

4 cloves crushed garlic

2 t sweet paprika

Mix everything together for about 3 minutes with a flat beater or spatula until thoroughly combined.  The dough is soft, but not particularly sticky.  The best way to work with it is to roll it between two pieces of baking parchment.  That way you can get them fairly thin and even.  I use an ice-cream scoop to portion out similar-sized lumps of the mix onto the parchment.  Cover with another piece of parchment and then roll out with a rolling pin, until you have long ovals (you do need to flip over and peel away the parchment from time to time, so that it doesn’t impede the rolling out of the crackers). You can always dust them with a bit of rice flour, too, to help, if you’re not comfortable with the softness of the dough.  Just play with it a bit and you’ll see, it’s very forgiving and you can patch it back together if it does tear.  Then I like to just peel away the top piece of parchment and flip the parchment and cracker-dough together onto a baking sheet so that the dough is touching the metal (they toast better this way, rather than baking them on the parchment).  Bake for about 5 to 6 minutes, then check on them and remove the parchment.  You can flip the crackers over to toast the other side, and bake for another 3-4 minutes, until well-browned.  Let cook completely and enjoy!

For all the tips and tricks for making these delicious crackers, check out this video from our Facebook Live series.