Caramelized Pear Gingerbread

P1000309     A friend of mine gave me a small jar of really potent ground ginger that was just purchased from a specialty shop, and I knew exactly what I was going to use it for – one of my all-time favorite desserts – Upside Down Pear Gingerbread. This recipe is published in my fifth cookbook Vegetarian Classics,and I thought I’d print it here for those of you who do not have that book of mine.
Upside-down cakes hold a special place in the world of homemade desserts.  They combine the buttery texture of a cake, the candy-like topping of caramel, and the irresistible juiciness of fresh fruit. It is just as moist the next day, so it can be an ideal dessert when you are entertaining and want to make it in advance. Last night I adorned my upside-down pear gingerbread with whipped cream spiked with brandy – so good.  Rum is also a great choice for lacing the cream, or you could use a rich vanilla ice cream.
Selecting the right pan is key to the cakes success.  You cannot use a springform pan with removable sides because the cake is leak all over the oven.  Use a 9-inch cake pan intended for layer cakes, and butter it even if it is a non-stick pan.  When you flip over the pan and unmold the cake, the sight of that glistening caramel will make it all worth it.

Upside-Down Pear Gingerbread                                                                                              serves 8

The topping:

4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
1/2 cup firmly packed light or dark brown sugar
2 ripe but firm pears, preferably Bosc or Anjou

The cake:

1 cup unbleached flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1 egg
1/2 cup firmly packed light or dark brown sugar
1/3 cup molasses
1/2 cup sour milk (see below)
4 tablespoons melted butter
Lightly sweetened whipped cream (spiked with rum or brandy)

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Butter the sides of a 9-inch round cake pan (not springform).

2. To prepare the topping, melt the butter in a small saucepan.  Add the brown sugar and stir together until blended.  Scrape into the pan and spread evenly.

3.Peel and slice each pear into quarters, then remove and discard the cores. Slice each quarter into 3 slices. Arrange the 24 slices evenly around the pan.

4.To make the cake, in a large bowl combine the flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, ginger, and cloves. In a separate bowl beat together the egg, brown sugar, molasses, sour milk, and melted butter. Scrape into the flour mixture and mix until well blended.

5. Pour the batter over the pears. Bake 30 minutes, or until a knife inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes, then invert onto a plate. Serve slightly warm or at room temperature with the whipped cream.

Note – To make the sour milk, combine 1/2 cup milk with 1 tablespoon vinegar and let sit 5 minutes.

Polenta – quick fix

polenta with spinach, red peppers, and goat cheese

polenta with spinach, red peppers, and goat cheese

So often people ask me what I make for dinner when I need something quick and easy.  My first choice, by far, is polenta.  I can whip up a polenta dinner in 15 minutes, using vegetables I have on hand along with a generous sprinkling of some aromatic cheese.  I always follow the same formula: saute in combination or alone vegetables such as peppers, mushrooms, broccoli, cauliflower, tomatoes, corn, zucchini, green beans, asparagus, or spinach, then keep warm on the back burner.  You can throw in a smatter of fresh herbs, or add some tomato sauce to compatible vegetables such as peppers, cauliflower, green beans, or zucchini.


To make the polenta I bring  1 1/2 cups vegetable stock or water to a boil in a heavy-bottomed saucepan.  I add about 1/4 teaspoon salt and then lower the heat to medium low.  I VERY slowly drizzle in 3/4 cup cornmeal, all the while whisking with a wire whisk. Once the cornmeal is completely incorporated, I whisk it for about 5 minutes, or until smooth and thick.  This is not a fragile concoction; it is actually cornmeal mush, so you can fiddle with it without hurting it.  Add more water if it is too thick, or cook a little longer if too thin.  I have often covered my polenta and kept it on very low heat up to 30 minutes, then raised the heat and whisked in some more water to make it creamy again. Just before serving, I add a chunk of butter, some grated Parmesan cheese,  and some grated or crumbled  specialty cheese such as blue cheese, goat cheese, feta cheese, or smoked cheese.                                                           To serve, I first make sure the vegetables are piping hot.  The polenta gets spooned on the dinner plates then topped with the vegetables.  This will serve 2 generously.


smoked cheese polenta with mushrooms


Coconut Cupcakes (for Easter)

coconut cupcake

I could not resist experimenting with coconut cupcakes for Easter because my grandkids are coming and I know cupcakes will be the highlight of the weekend.  Here is the recipe for fabulous coconut cupcakes that makes enough to freeze extras for another occasion.  If you are going to freeze some,keep the cooked cupcakes and icing separate , then thaw and assemble when you are ready.

Coconut Cupcakes

makes about 33

2⅔ cups cake flour (such as Softasilk)
2¼ teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup canned coconut milk
1½ teaspoons vanilla extract
1 teaspoon almond extract
2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
1¾ cups sugar
4 eggs, yolks and whites separated, at room temperature
1 cups sweetened shredded coconut

  1. Line muffins cups with paper liners.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  In a medium-size bowl combine the flour, baking powder, and salt and mix well.  Set aside.
  2. Combine the coconut milk, vanilla and almond extracts and set aside.
  3. In a large bowl with an electric mixer cream the butter until very soft.  Gradually add 1 1/2 cups of the sugar and beat until light and creamy, about 3 minutes.  Add the yolks and beat until smooth and creamy.  Add the flour mixture in three parts alternating with the coconut milk in two parts.  Beat until very smooth. Gently stir in the coconut.
  4. In another large bowl beat the egg whites until soft peaks form.  Gradually add the remaining 1/4 cup of sugar and beat until stiff peaks form, but the mixture is not dry. Using a rubber spatula gently fold 1/4 of the egg whites into the batter, then gently fold in the remaining egg whites until they are evenly incorporated.
  5. Spoon batter into the muffin cups, filling 2/3 of the cup – no more. Bake 17 minutes, or until a tester inserted in the center of the cupcake comes out clean. Remove the individual cupcakes onto a wire rack, then repeat filling the pan with the remaining batter.   Let cupcakes cool completely before icing them.

The icing:

1 stick unsalted butter, very soft
8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon almond extract
2 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar
1 1/2 cups (appx.) sweetened shredded coconut

  1. With an electric mixer beat the butter in a large bowl until very soft.  Add the cream cheese, vanilla, and almond extracts and beat until mixed.  Gradually add the sugar and beat until incorporated.
  2. Generally ice the cupcakes and cover the tops with coconut.

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A friend recently gave me some ground sumac to use in a salad that was featured in Yotam Ottolenghi’s cookbook Jerusalem. I was previously unfamiliar with this spice and so I did a bit of research. It is made from the dried berry/fruit of the sumac shrub and has a beautiful burgundy color and a lemony flavor.  Ground sumac is the principal ingredient in the Middle Eastern spice mixture called za’atar (pronounced ZAR-tah), and it is this fabulous spice blend that I want to focus on today.



Za’atar, used all over the Middle East, is sprinkled on hummus, labneh (yogurt cheese) flatbread, and pita bread, spread on meats, such as kebabs, and added to chickpea salads – to name just a few of its uses. In other words, it is used freely as a spice in all areas of cooking in that region. You can purchase za’atar or make it yourself by combining sumac, sesame seeds, dried thyme, dried oregano, and perhaps marjoram and other herbs, as some versions do. Here are the proportions that I follow:

1/4 cup sumac

2 tablespoons dried thyme

2 tablespoons dried oregano

1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds, ground

1 teaspoon salt

I love za’atar on pita chips.  I split pita into 2 rounds (I use scissors to cut around the edges) and brush a very light coating of olive oil on the rough sides of the pita.  I sprinkle za’atar all over the surface, then cut the rounds into triangles to make chips.  I bake them  at 350 degrees for 7 minutes or so, or until golden. These are spectacular served alongside chickpea salad with feta and some labneh or tzatziki.



Spicy Candied Pecans

I’ve been a nut lover from a very early age. I love all kinds of nuts prepared in every possible fashion: nestled in dark chocolate, sprinkled on salads, mixed in cookie batter, tossed in Asian dishes, and just plain to nibble on. One of my favorite creations is a recipe called Spicy Mixed Nuts in my book Quick Vegetarian Pleasures in which the flavors of cumin and chili powder stand out to create a totally addictive snack. They are a perfect holiday gift and always a big hit.

I have another favorite nut recipe that I know you’ll love. It is for Spicy Candied Pecans that are ideal in a salad. When salty feta or pungent blue cheese is included in the salad, they contrast with the sweetness of the nuts and make an outrageously good combination. They also make a fabulous gift, and they can be prepared a few weeks in advance and refrigerated.

Spicy Candied Pecans
(for 8 salads)

3 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons maple syrup
1 1/2 cups pecan halves (6 ounces)
A few dashes cayenne pepper
Dash salt

Put the sugar in one small bowl and the maple syrup in another small bowl and keep near the stove. Place a large plate on a nearby counter.

In a large heavy skillet toss the pecans over medium heat until fragrant and toasted. Watch them carefully so they don’t burn at all. Sprinkle on the sugar and pour on the maple syrup. Quickly toss well to thoroughly coat the nuts. Sprinkle on the cayenne and salt and cook 2 minutes, tossing the whole time.

Scrape the nuts onto the plate and let cool thoroughly before storing them in a jar or container. You can add more cayenne at this point if you want them spicier.

The Allure of Kale

Kale and Vegetable Soup

I don’t know if it is because I am from New Bedford, MA and Portuguese kale soup is part of my childhood or just because it is such a darn good vegetable, but I am totally smitten with kale. I just made this soup on the weekend when we got the first frost of autumn, and it couldn’t have been a better choice. In this aromatic soup base the kale becomes exceptionally tender while at the same time giving the soup wonderful body. Just for fun I added a half-teaspoon of smoked paprika and it gave it the meaty flavor that Portuguese linguica gives traditional kale soup. Fabulous! Hey, just because I am a vegetarian doesn’t mean that I don’t know how good meat can taste.

As a gardener it is easy to appreciate how much fun it is to grow this great leafy green vegetable. It actually improves when you wait until after the first frost to pick it. To freeze kale all you have to do it rip it off its stem and chop it into small pieces,then stuff the leaves in a ziplock freezer bag. No blanching or precooking needed.

I have two new kale preparations that I now enjoy: kale shakes and kale chips.  To make a kale shake I follow my son’s recipe.  Throw a few handfuls of kale and spinach in a blender along with some blueberries and a peach, pear, or banana.  Add some ice cubes and a little water and puree it all.  Pour it into a tall glass and enjoy.  It’s hard to get a more nutritious cleansing shake.

For kale chips wash and spin dry a bunch of kale that has been removed from its stems.  Tear it into 2-inch pieces and pat very dry with paper towel. Lay it on a baking sheet and drizzle on 1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil and toss it with your fingers until each leaf is coated.  Sprinkle on a little salt – not much. Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Bake about 20 minutes, turning over the leaves halfway through cooking.  The “chips” are done when they are crisp and golden on the edges.  Let cool and enjoy.


Hello everyone.  Welcome to my new blog.  I’m so excited to have the chance to share my love of food with you.  My sixth book, Simply Satisfying, will be available at bookstores and online at the beginning of November.  Since my first book, Vegetarian Pleasures, went out of print 10 years ago, I have gotten many letters from fans looking for a copy to give to a best friend or fellow food lover.  Having this opportunity to bring it back to life with new recipes, a new format, photos, and updated text is a dream come true.  So many of these recipes are still among my all-time favorites. Fragrant Vegetable Stew with Corn Dumplings is about as good as a soup can get.  Pillowy corn dumplings  nestled in a beautifully- colored vegetable soup of corn, tomatoes, zucchini, and beans that has a hint of clove in its broth is a feast for all the senses, and you’ll want to prepare it again and again.  Pair that with Hot Fudge Pudding Cake and you’ll have an informal meal that will rank at the top of your list.  These are  a few of my favorite things…  I feel like I am about to burst into song.   More to come.