Pasta with Beets for Valentine’s Day

by Caroline

potato-print Valentines (a project supervised by my arty husband)

There was a time when Valentine’s Day had me making heart-shaped chocolate sandwich cookies, or even, just a few weeks before Ben was born, brownie ice cream sandwiches (I’ll never forget the lady who saw me standing in the ice cream aisle — I was looking for flavor inspiration — and commented, “It’s a bit too late to be counting calories, don’t you think?” I guess she’d never seen anyone who was pregnant before). But this year, as I’m entering the second week of an energy-sapping, mind-numbing head cold, I couldn’t imagine baking anything special to celebrate the day. So, uncharacteristically, I cooked dinner.

I can’t remember where I first discovered this recipe, but it’s a staple of our winter suppers, as it’s delicious, quick, and beautiful. You can pull it together in the time it takes to boil water and cook pasta, or you can make the beet topping ahead of time and let it sit until you’re ready to cook your pasta.

1 tbsp butter
2 tbsp olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
3 cups (packed) peeled and coarsely grated uncooked beets (about 3 large beets)
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper (more or less to taste)
2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
12 oz tagliatelle, fettucine, or other long pasta
8 oz sour cream (yogurt or goat cheese work nicely, too)
6 tbsp chopped fresh Italian parsley, divided
1/2 cup toasted walnuts, coarsely chopped

Melt butter with oil in large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add garlic; saute until pale golden, about 1 minute. Add the shredded beets and cayenne; reduce heat to medium-low and saute until beets are just tender, about 8 minutes. Stir in lemon juice. (At this point, you can set the beets aside till you’re ready to boil pasta for dinner)

Cook your pasta in large pot of boiling, salted water, stirring occasionally, until done.

Drain pasta, saving a little bit of the cooking water, and return to cooking pot. Stir in sour cream and 4 tbsp of parsley, then the beet mixture. Add a little bit of the pasta-cooking water if the mixture seems too dry. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Transfer pasta to bowls, garnishing with remaining parsley and chopped walnuts.

Hickory Puffs

all three

My dad and sons added a new cookie to their repertoire this year, one I grew up with thanks to the nut-gathering efforts of my dad: hickory puffs. Now, most Californians don’t know about hickory nuts; the trees grow in New England and Wisconsin, and the nut shells are so hard and the nutmeat so small that they aren’t cultivated. Further, as my dad writes,

“Hickory trees are individualists. Some produce nuts every year, some only when they feel like it. Some produce nuts the size of a small baseball, some produce nuts more the size of a large marble, some are round in shape, some are oblong, some come down from the tree with a thick green husk, some come down after shedding the husk. If you don’t happen to have a hickory tree on your property, keep an eye out as you drive. Often the edge of the road will be littered with husks and nuts and you can stop and scoop them up, keeping a careful eye out for traffic. This is best done on a dirt road or one with a low volume of traffic. You will not find hickory nuts in your local market so you will need strong hunter-gatherer instincts for this step in the process.”

Sometime I’ll get the boys back east in the fall to involve them in the nut gathering, but for now, they are very good at the nut cookie-baking, and I can’t complain about that. If you aren’t lucky enough to have someone gather and shell hundreds of hickory nuts for you, you can use pecans.

Hickory Puffs

Preheat oven to 300º

Beat until soft:
½ cup butter

Add & blend until creamy
2 Tbs sugar

1 tsp vanilla

Measure, then grind in a nut grinder (or pulse in a food processor)
1 cup hickory meats (be sure to sort for stray shells!)

Sift before measuring
1 cup cake flour

Stir the hickory nuts and the flour into the butter mixture. Roll the dough into small balls. Place balls on parchment paper-lined baking sheet and bake for about 30 minutes.

Roll while hot in
Confectioners’ sugar

To glaze, put the sheet back into the oven for a minute. Cool and serve, or store in a tightly covered tin.

Chocolate Hazlenut Roulade

By Lisa

My Christmas table wouldn’t be complete without a chocolate roulade, which my sister calls a giant ho ho, or giant yodel, and she’s right. But it’s  delicious, and deceptively easy to make. I’ve been making this recipe for about 8 years, though the recipe has morphed into its current incarnation.

I start with Jacques Pepin’s chocolate roulade, swap out the cognac for Frangelico, add finely ground, roasted hazlenuts for crunch, a chocolate glacage, and–this year–tempered chocolate leaves and merengue mushrooms. Ella added the fairies, which looked better in person than in the pictures I let my husband take.

This only seems like a lot of steps. The cake is really, really easy to make. It’s also flourless and has a rich, decadent texture. Try it on New Years Eve, or for your birthday, or your next potluck.  You don’t even need the extras (including the glacage) for a really stunning dessert.


Chocolate Hazlenut Roulade

Serves 10 to 12


  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, for pan
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 8 ounces bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
  • 7 egg whites, room temperature
  • 3 1/2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon cocoa powder, plus more for garnish
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 tablespoon Frangelico


  • 6 oz heavy cream
  • 6 oz bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
  • 2 oz butter

Mushroom Merengues

  • 1/2 cup egg whites
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 tsp. vanilla

Extra chocolate for tempering leaves; edible leaves to use as “molds”

Confectioners’ sugar &/or cocoa powder, &/or woodland fairies & sprites from your daughter’s collection

Make the Roulade
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees with rack in center. Butter an 11-by-17-inch jelly-roll pan or a 12-by-17 1/2-inch sheet pan, and line with parchment paper.
  2. In a small saucepan, heat 1 cup cream to a simmer. Add chocolate, reduce heat, and whisk until chocolate is melted. As soon as mixture is a uniform dark color, remove from heat and let cool for a few minutes.
  3. In a large bowl and using a hand mixer, whip egg whites and 2 tablespoons sugar to stiff, glossy peaks, about 1 1/2 minutes. Whisk one-quarter of the egg-white mixture into the chocolate mixture. Gently fold chocolate mixture back into the original egg-white mixture, and mix until smooth and well combined.
  4. Pour batter into the prepared pan, and spread it in an even layer with a rubber spatula. Bake until cake is set and puffy, 10 to 12 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack, and cool to room temperature. Lift parchment paper to remove cake from pan, and set it on work surface with long side facing edge of table. Using a fine-mesh sieve, lightly dust cake with cocoa powder.
  5. Make the creme chantilly: Whip the remaining 1 cup cream with the remaining 1 1/2 tablespoons sugar, the vanilla, and Frangelico.
  6. Sprinkle the roasted hazlenuts in a thin layer over the cooled cake.
  7. Spread the creme chantilly evenly over entire surface of cake.
  8. Roll the cake lengthwise, starting at a point 2 to 3 inches over the creme chantilly. Roll cake another few inches, pressing against parchment paper to make a tight spiral. Gently peel parchment paper off as cake layer rolls away. Complete the roll, stopping at the far edge of the parchment paper. Tuck the loose parchment paper around and underneath the cylinder so it is well wrapped and can be moved easily. Refrigerate.
  9. Remove parchment paper, gently rolling cake into center of cooling rack, with seam on bottom. (If roll has slumped or twisted, lay a piece of plastic over top and sides, and reshape with hands.) With a sharp knife, trim both ends of roll crosswise or on a diagonal.
  10. I set the rack over another baking sheet and set the whole thing in my very large sink in order to pur the glacage over it:

Make the Glacage

  1. Bring the cream to a simmer, then pour cream over the chocolate and stir until well blended.  Add butter and stir until blended. Pour the glacage slowly and evenly over the cake. Put in the refrigerator to set.

Make the Merengues

  1. Whip the egg whites until foamy.  Add the vanilla and then the sugar, slowly, a little at a time, until the egg whites are stiff and glossy.
  2. If you don’t have a pastry bag (mine is lost) spoon the mixture into a one gallon ziplock bag and snip a small hole in one corner. Pipe mushroom caps by holding the bag’s tip against the surface of a parchment lined baking sheet until you have a nice round dome. Pipe stems by piping a small, vertical stump. It takes practice but they don’t have to all be perfect or similar.
  3. Back in a 225 degree oven for one hour.
  4. When cool, make a small hole in the top of each mushroom and insert the tip of the stem. You can use a little tempered chocolate to glue them together.
  5. Sprinkle with a sifting of cocoa powder.

Tempered Chocolate Leaves

  1. Heat 8-10 oz finely chopped chocolate over a double boiler to 105 degrees.
  2. Take off heat and add 3-4 oz finely chopped chocolate
  3. Stir and blend until chocolate cools to about 88-90 degrees.
  4. With an offset spatula, spread chocolate in a thin layer on a slipat lined baking sheet.
  5. As chocolate begins to cool and set, firmly press edible leaves into chocolate and let set until hardened. I used orange leaves.
  6. When cool, score around edges of leaves with a paring knife. Carefully remove leaves from chocolate.

Use additional tempered chocolate to affix leaves and mushrooms to the roulade.

When you’re ready to serve, dust the serving platter and/or the top of the log with confectioners’ sugar and/or cocoa powder, and garnish with seasonal fruit. To serve, cut the roll into 1-inch-thick slices, and lay flat on dessert plates; top with additional creme chantilly, leaves and mushrooms.


Cooking with Granddad


We don’t have quite as many holiday food traditions as Lisa’s family — the meals always vary depending on whether we stay in California or travel east to my parents’ home — but one tradition that reaches back generations is, as in many families, cookie baking. My grandmother and mother kept tallies of the cookie count in the back pages of increasingly-tattered copies of Joy of Cooking, and now I do, too. I don’t produce as many cookies as my mom did in her heyday (when she hosted Christmas open houses for the entire church congregation and choir), but I like the history in the lists: 1998 (childless, newly partnered with Tony, and — most tellingly — in the thick of dissertation writing), I produced 11 different types of cookies; Christmas 2001 (the first year in our house) I made 10. The list for Christmas 2003 reads, “pneumonia, strep throat, bronchitis, and truffles.” Thank goodness for truffles!

A new tradition, and one I very happily encourage, is for my dad to make a couple batches of cookies with the kids. I don’t know quite how this started — probably just my dad wanted bourbon balls one year and realized that, despite the main ingredient, they are a terrifically kid-friendly, craft-project kind of cookie: smash vanilla wafers, mix with flavorings, scoop out balls, done — but the kids love it, of course. It’s fun to smash and mush. It’s fun to cook with Granddad. And it’s exciting to use such a grown-up ingredient as bourbon, and one which is adored by one of their favorite characters — Captain Haddock — in their beloved Tintin books.


The recipe is straight out of Joy of Cooking, with my comments:

Bourbon Balls
Sift (or not, depending on how much mess you can tolerate):
1 c confectioner’s sugar
2 T cocoa

In another bowl, whisk together
1/4 c bourbon
2 T light corn syrup

Smash, using either the food processor or in a resealable bag, with a rolling pin
2 1/2 cups vanilla wafers

Stir in
1 c coarsely chopped nuts (we use hickory nuts; more on those in another post)

Combine all the ingredients and roll into small balls. Roll in confectioner’s sugar and store at room temperature. They improve as they age.

Tomato Confit

by Lisa

For two years now, I’ve served my Christmas filet with tomato confit. It’s totally delicious, sweet, herbaceous, jammy concoction that is pretty and complex enough for your holiday table.

But every year I have way too much left over. This year, I halved the recipe and still had too much, and so when we were fatigued from eating meat (the very next day) I used the leftover confit to dress pan fried gnocchi, and on the next day it dressed the leftover (but not-yet cooked) shell pasta from the Christmas Eve Fish Soup.

The results were so good and so appreciated by the family, that I’ve resolved to periodicaly make big batches of this confit and use it for all sorts of things like:

  • quick pasta sauce
  • quick gnocchi sauce
  • to dress inexpensive cuts of beef (think skirt steak or strip steak or london broil, etc.)
  • to top hamburgers on or off the bun
  • to top meat loaf before cooking
  • I’m sure you can find other things to do with this….any firm-fleshed white fish like halibut could handle this as well…

The confit will freeze, so you can freeze smaller family-sized portions for another quick, fast, and a little-bit elegant weeknight meal. It might even remind you of something special, like Christmas.


Tomato madeira confit

from Gourmet

  • 8 large garlic cloves
  • 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 4 (14-ounce) cans diced tomatoes, drained
  • 1/2 teaspoon finely chopped thyme
  • 1/2 teaspoon finely chopped rosemary
  • 1/2 California or 1 Turkish bay leaf
  • 1/4 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 cup Madeira (preferably Verdelho), divided (you can also substitute a red or white wine; taste will vary, but it will still be good)
  • 1/4 cup water

Cook garlic in oil in a large heavy skillet over medium-low heat, turning occasionally, until golden, 10 to 15 minutes. Add tomatoes, thyme, rosemary, bay leaf, sugar, 1/4 teaspoon table salt, 1/8 teaspoon pepper, and 1/2 cup Madeira and briskly simmer, stirring frequently and crushing tomatoes with a heatproof rubber spatula, until tomatoes start to break down and oil separates slightly, about 1 hour.

Mash garlic into tomatoes with spatula, then stir in 1/4 cup Madeira. Discard bay leaf.

If you’re roasting anything, be sure to deglaze the pan and add the drippings to the confit before serving.