Port Jelly and Stilton Butter Canapés

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  1. Dissolve one packet of gelatin in 1/4 c. room temperature water. Bring 3/4 c. port to boil and pour over gelatin mixture. Whisk until gelatin has dissolved, pour into glass container and chill for several hours until completely set.
  2. Using a fork, mash together equal parts Stilton cheese and room temperature butter.
  3. Serve on water crackers.

Tuesdays With Calamari



About 6 cleaned squid, sliced into ¼-inch rings

5 cups vegetable oil

Tempura batter:

1 cup seltzer water, ice cold

1 egg white

1 cup flour

1 tbsp cornstarch

1 tbsp salt

1 tbsp. black pepper


Juice one lemon

½ cup mayonnaise

Salt and pepper, to taste

Fresh chives to garnish


  1. Heat vegetable oil to 375 degrees.
  2. Whisk lemon juice and mayo. Sprinkle with chives and set aside.
  3. Combine flour, cornstarch, salt, and pepper. Whisk egg white and combine it and the dry ingredients with seltzer until just combined (it’s okay if the batter is lumpy).
  4. Using chopsticks or a fork, coat each squid ring in the batter and fry for about a minute and a half (until light golden brown), turning midway through cooking.
  5. Serve immediately with lemon mayo.

Enjoy squid tempura with Mitch Albom’s Tuesdays With Morrie, and check in at for future recipes!


Eggs are difficult to master, in terms of texture, timing, and accompanying flavors. The art of the omelet is no easy undertaking, and when you’ve finally achieved it, your first instinct is probably to spread the word.

“I’ll host a brunch!” you exclaim confidently. Impulsively you begin to invite family, friends, old elementary school crushes, and four thousand Facebook acquaintances. You even promise your dog a few bites.

But keeping track of one omelet is much easier than, say, ten. Quickly your brunch plans spiral into chaos. Like the structure of Joseph Heller’s Catch-22, the cooking process becomes a bit hard to follow. The eggs are rubbery before the cheese melts, and the bacon dries out before the spinach has cooked through. The sequence of events abandons chronology, and it’s up to you, the chef, to keep everything straight.

An easy solution is to take care of the egg component in a fool proof, synchronized way, and let your guests worry about their own toppings. These mini filo quiche cups break the omelet-making process down into simple bite-sized pieces. Like the individual storylines in Catch-22, each quiche cup carries its own personality and customization. They are easier to manage if treated as individuals, yet the end result makes clear how they all serve the greater purpose (which, in this case, is a fantastic, low-stress brunch).


Filo quiche cups:

6 sheets filo dough

1/2 stick melted butter

8 eggs

1/2 cup whole milk

1 tsp salt

1/2 tsp pepper

Suggested toppings: crispy pancetta, goat cheese, caramelized onions


 1. Brush one filo sheet with melted butter, then place second sheet on top. Brush the second sheet with melted butter and place third sheet on top. Repeat this for the next three, so that you have two separate three-layer filo doughs.

2. Cut filo dough into nine squares per sheet (18 squares total). Fit squares into mini muffin tins that have been grease-proofed with cooking spray.

3. Whisk eggs, milk, salt, pepper, cheese, and parsley. Pour into filo cups.

4. Bake filo quiche cups at 350 degrees for 20-25 minutes. Allow to cool just until the quiche filling as deflated. Add desired toppings and serve.

Enjoy filo quiche cups with Joseph Heller’s Catch-22, and check in at for future recipes and book reviews!

The Spy Who Cumin From the Cold

I’ve been having an addiction problem recently; I just can’t seem to quit sourdough bread. Practically every breakfast place in London has an artsy chalkboard “specials” menu boasting any variety of mushrooms, poached egg, smoked salmon, avocado, all resting comfortably on a hefty slice of sourdough. The horrifying thing is that these restaurants charge ten pounds for one slice of slightly dressed up bread, and often I am left starving and penniless for the rest of the day.

Like Alec Leamas, the protagonist in John LeCarre’s The Spy Who Came In From the Cold, I have trouble keeping up with London prices. I know how quickly transportation can suck up funds, switching from tube to taxi to bus depending on worker strikes (or trying to shake agents tailing you). By the time Sunday comes around, I’m not eager to spend my remaining pennies on a meal I can clean up in three bites.

And so, for the same price, I’ve set out to produce an appetizer that can feed about six people. This spiced dip has elements of espionage: bringing heat, but in a very subtle way. The flavors seem sweet at first, but a powerful kick catches you off guard. Using an entire loaf and minimal (yet flavorful) ingredients, I can continue to fuel my bread addiction and feel a bit better about my spending habits.


Cumin-spiced vegetable dip:

Sourdough loaf, sliced

2 eggplants

1 red bell pepper

1 garlic clove

2 tbsp cumin

4 tbsp olive oil

Salt & pepper


1. Slice sourdough loaf into quarter inch-thick pieces. Lay on baking sheet and drizzle with half of olive oil, then sprinkle with half of cumin, salt, and pepper. Bake in 350 degree oven for 5-7 minutes (until bread is golden brown and toasty). Set aside to cool.

2. Peel eggplant and cut into quarter inch-thick disks. De-seed pepper and cut into quarters. Toss eggplant, pepper, and peeled garlic clove in remaining olive oil, cumin, salt, and pepper. Turn oven up to 400 degrees and roast vegetables for 8-10 minutes (until tender and turning brown).

3. When vegetables are cooked, peel skin from pepper and put in food processor with eggplant. Blend to desired consistency (from chunky to smooth). Season with salt to taste, and garnish with chopped fresh parsley.

Enjoy cumin dip with John Le Carré’s The Spy Who Came In From the Cold, and check in at for future recipes and book reviews!

A Wrinkle in Thyme

I work as a nanny for four French children between the ages of two and six, which can get a bit exhausting at times. The four and six-year-olds are inquisitive (to say the least), constantly asking me, “Where are you going? When are you coming back? Why are you reading that? Will you come play with me?” The two-year-old twins, just learning how to express themselves clearly, ask “Quoi? Quoi? Quoi” while pointing to various objects throughout the house.

The children’s questions are pretty easy to answer, but questions from elsewhere are more difficult. For example, a recent exam for my culinary science class asked about the properties of gelatin, and why in a panna cotta the structure could stay firm in its mold but also spread so well on a cracker.

I must admit, though: at times it gets tiresome, and every once in a while I wish the children (and my culinary science professor) would just stop asking questions. But two weeks ago, as I listened to the children’s mother on the phone with family in Paris, I realized the importance of being able to question. The journalists and cartoonists who worked at Charlie Hebdo were murdered because they questioned extremists through word and art. They were robbed of their expression, which robbed them of their lives.

Though there may be times when I don’t feel like answering the children’s questions, I realize it is important to encourage such curiosity, even if only in a small way, so that they may always feel the freedom to express themselves. In Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time, Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who, and Mrs. Which, give the children hints and direction throughout their journey. Their names alone represent the importance of questioning as a way to illuminate darkness. An inquisitive mind and a childlike curiosity are great powers, and they make finding any answer an exciting adventure, as Meg discovers in L’Engle’s beloved novel. (Although even now, I just prefer to leave the properties of gelatin as a big question mark.) DSC_0254

Savory panna cotta:

350 ml heavy cream

150 ml whole milk

125 g goat cheese

Juice and zest of 1 lemon

~10 sprigs of thyme

1/2 teaspoon of salt

4 gelatin leaves


1. Soak gelatin leaves in cold water for several minutes.

2. In the meantime, on medium heat, whisk cream, milk, and goat cheese until cheese is melted. When simmering, add thyme, lemon zest and juice, and salt, and turn off heat. Let sit for five minutes, then strain into a bowl.

3. Squeeze excess moisture from gelatin leaves and whisk into hot, strained cream mixture until dissolved. Optionally transfer to pitcher to make pouring into mold easier.

4. Pour into any mold of your choosing, then chill in refrigerator until set. (Depending on size of mold, this could take anywhere from one hour to overnight.)

5. When set, use a paring knife to loosen the edges of the panna cotta from the mold. Turn out onto plate, and serve with crackers, an arugula salad, or any sort of chutney.

Enjoy thyme and goat cheese panna cotta with Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Thyme, and check in at for future recipes and book reviews!

One Flew Over the Couscous Nest

One of my New Year’s resolutions for 2015 is to eat more vegetables. The trouble is, I hate eating most vegetables and would much rather tuck into a nice frozen pizza. I’ve realized that the only way to actually stick to this resolution is to find ways of making full, quick meals out the few vegetables I do like, instead of peeling a carrot, eating it raw, and subsequently rewarding myself with a deep-fried something or other.

This resolution is not unprovoked. Over the past fourteen months, I’ve been ill at least seven times. Despite being almost overly obsessed with hand washing, the germs seem to find me and make themselves a comfy home. After the most recent bout of fevers and aches made me miss some Christmas festivities, I realized I needed to make some changes to give my immune system a much-needed boost.

However, there is a danger to eliminating ‘junk food’ completely. As was the case when Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest was banned in many schools due to its controversial nature, total lack of exposure simply made people more curious as to its subject matter. As is the case with crash diets, when people try to limit themselves to the pure things, they end up either miserably deprived or lapsing to the other extreme. It is important to read ‘controversial’ books like Kesey’s to be informed, aware, and balanced. So, in the spirit of a well-balanced resolution, after a healthy lunch of couscous stuffed peppers, I think I’ll treat myself to a chocolaty afternoon snack. Happy New Year, everyone!


10 Minute Couscous-Stuffed Peppers

1/4 cup couscous

1/4 cup chicken broth (alternatively vegetable broth or water to keep the dish vegetarian)

1/2 tsp cumin

1/2 tsp coriander

Salt to taste

2 bell peppers (color of your choice)

Simple Hummus Filling

1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed

1 tsp tahini

1 tbsp lemon juice

1 garlic clove

Generous pinch of salt

Up to 1/4 cup olive oil


1. Bring chicken broth, cumin, and coriander to boil. Add couscous, turn off heat, cover, and let sit until liquid has been absorbed, about ten minutes. Fluff with fork.

2. In the meantime, cut top off, remove seeds and pith from pepper. Depending on how big you want your ‘nest,’ slice rings from top of pepper and save for dipping garnish.

3. In food processor, pulse chickpeas, tahini, lemon juice, garlic, salt. Gradually add olive oil. Combine to desired smoothness; I left the hummus chunky to give the salad texture, but the flavors combine nicely when blended until smooth.

4. Combine couscous and hummus. If mixture needs moisture, add a bit more olive oil. Spoon into pepper cup and serve with extra pepper slice, toasted bread, or on its own.

Enjoy couscous-stuffed peppers with Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, and check in at for future recipes and book reviews!

A Farewell to Parms

For the first ten years of my life, my family lived in a quaint house on a quiet street – Rosedale Avenue. The downstairs did not have doors; instead, the complete circle of living room, den, kitchen, and dining room was divided by open doorways. Every Saturday night, my father would make some elaborate dish – often chicken parmesan. As Andrea Bocelli or another Italian divo crooned, smells of garlic, bay leaf, and a happily simmering tomato sauce would drift throughout the downstairs rooms. My mother made a similarly divine eggplant parmesan every once in a while, incorporating the same ingredients in a vegetarian option.

I absolutely adored my parents’ respective “Parmesan” recipes, but often bemoaned the hour at which they were finally served. After cooking out the sauce to perfection, breading the chicken and shallow frying it, melting the cheese under the broiler, and assembling the various elements, Saturday night dinner often did not begin before a spouse grew hungry, daughters cranky, and chef positively exhausted.

Like Ernest Hemingway’s writing style, this recipe takes the essential flavors and leaves out all things superfluous. It is minimalistic but still complete and complex. With only five basic ingredients, this ratatouille (and it’s very own cheesy carrying case) is still vibrant, colorful, and satisfying. As Hemingway used the omission technique to describe the relationship between Frederic and Catherine in A Farewell to Arms, this vegetable parmesan marries very few flavors (but encompasses all that is necessary to achieving the warm Italian dish).


Ratatouille-Filled Parmesan Baskets

1/2 aubergine (eggplant)

1 courgette (zucchini)

1 red pepper

1 tbsp tomato paste

2 tbsp olive oil

1/2 cup Parmesan cheese

Chives to garnish


1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grate a thin layer of parmesan cheese onto parchment paper (into a disk shape). Melt in oven, remove after about 4 minutes, immediately mold into small basket shape using espresso cup or shot glass. Let molded parmesan rest in dry, cool place until set.

2. Chop aubergine, pepper, and courgette into tiny cubes. Cook in olive oil over medium heat for about 5 minutes. Finish by binding all vegetables in tomato paste. Season with salt.

3. Let ratatouille cool. Serve in cooled Parmesan basket. Garnish with chives.

Enjoy vegetable parmesan with Ernest Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms, and check in at for future recipes and book reviews!

Mushroom With a View

I have called Philadelphia home for my entire life. We’re known for our cheesesteaks and frightening sports fans, but the city has both historical and cultural charm, and the surrounding towns add to the richness of the area. The Main Line is studded with sweeping estates, renowned universities, and my beloved high school (where my love for literature flourished). Nearby is Kennett Square, the mushroom capital of the world. I wanted to take advantage of this incredible local commodity during my brief time at home this summer, so this dish is truly a celebration of where I’ve grown up and learned so much about classical literature.

I first read E.M. Forster’s A Room With a View during my final year of high school. I was in my seventh and final year at the Academy of Notre Dame, but it was the first time I truly felt the Main Line history surrounding me. English class was held in the mansion, the main and most beautiful building. Our campus had once been the grounds of a country estate, and the stone mansion’s wraparound terrace and sweeping great hall made class feel much more glamorous. After reading certain books, our universally adored teacher, Dr. Califf, would host movie nights in the old library. He’d project onto a large screen whichever film adaptation coincided with our curriculum. A Room With a View is one of the few works that I find equally enjoyable on screen and in print. Being able to discuss the text and watch the film inside the walls of a glorious Main Line estate only heightened the experience further. The film and book adaptations appeal to all the senses, transporting the consumer to both the bustling streets of Florence to the pleasant lawns of the English countryside. These stuffed mushrooms similarly engage the nose, eyes, and tongue. The stars of the show – the mushrooms – are only enhanced by surprising lemon and smokey bacon.

I can look back on home as the place that shaped my interests and education, and it is somewhere I can continue to return to enjoy the world’s most sought after mushroom (and the occasional cheesesteak).

SONY DSCStuffed Mushrooms:

20 or so button mushrooms

1/2 small onion, minced

3 strips bacon, diced

1/4 cup parsley, chopped

2 tbsp lemon juice

1/4 cup white wine

4 tbsps melted butter


1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Wash mushrooms and remove stems. Dice half the amount of mushrooms and set aside. In each whole mushroom, make a small well using a melon baller.

2. In sautee pan, cook diced bacon until crispy. Remove bacon to drain on paper towel but save about two tbsps of fat in pan.

3. Sweat onion in bacon fat. Add diced mushrooms and cook on medium-high heat until moisture has evaporated. Add lemon juice and white wine to pan, scraping up bits that have stuck to bottom. Cook until moisture has evaporated again, then add bacon back to pan and combine all ingredients.

4. Assembly: spoon about a teaspoon of mixture from the pan into the remaining mushrooms. Place stuffed mushrooms in baking pan with melted butter. Bake in oven for about twelve minutes, or until mushrooms are tender.

Enjoy stuffed mushrooms with E.M. Forster’s A Room With a View, and check in at for future recipes and book reviews! 

Our Flan in Havana

Around the age of 6 or so, I dreamt of becoming a spy. I’d sit on the windowsill in my parents’ bedroom and watch cars and people passing by, writing down observations and descriptions. This was pretty dull work as we lived at the far end of a quiet residential block. Occasionally if I was ‘spying’ during the early evening, I would be able to record a groundbreaking “6:48 pm: Mr. So-and-So* comes home from work.” (*Name has been changed to protect Mr. So-and-So’s privacy.)

Graham Greene clearly had a better understanding of the world of espionage. In Our Man in Havana, he describes a world of political mission and international secrecy. Greene’s main protagonist, James Wormold, stumbles through the world of the British secret service on the backdrop of Cuba in the 1940s.

The flavors of Cuban cuisine carry plenty of heat. This roasted red pepper flan is light and airy, and to the naked eye, it is quite simple, but one taste reveals its powerful flavor combination of oregano, cumin, and chili powder. Perhaps my aspirations of trickery are better suited for the kitchen.


Roasted red pepper flan:

6 red bell peppers

1/4 cup veg oil

1 tbsp oregano

1 tbsp cumin

1/2 tbsp chili powder (or more, depending on how much heat you like!)

1 clove garlic

Salt and pepper

Zest of 1 lime

1/4 cup heavy cream

3 eggs


1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cut the bell peppers in quarters and remove seed and whiteish flesh.

2. Make a marinade of oil, salt and pepper, garlic, and half of the oregano and cumin for the bell peppers. Coat the peppers on both sides with the marinade and roast in oven, skin side up, for twenty minutes.

3. Remove bell peppers from oven and transfer back to marinade bowl. Cover immediately in cling film and allow steam to continue to wilt the bell pepper skins.

4. When bell peppers have cooled, remove skin and put in blender. Blend bell peppers, lime zest, chili powder, and remaining oregano and cumin. Taste and add salt to season. Blend in egg and heavy cream. Transfer into miniature spring form pan or any mold whose shape you’d like your flan to take. Place mold in larger pan and create a waterbath.

5. Cook flan in oven until for about thirty minutes (until mixture is firm and toothpick comes out clean).

Enjoy roasted red pepper flan with Graham Greene’s Our Man in Havana, and check in at for future recipes and book reviews!

A Tale of Two Chutneys

Anyone who has thrown a borderline stale baguette into the garbage and exclaimed, “This is the worst of times!” perhaps needs to remember how Charles Dickens began A Tale of Two Cities. Although this day old bread may seem like a lost cause – a sign that you were too preoccupied yesterday to dig into some freshly baked carbohydrate-y goodness – what otherwise would be a waste may indeed be a golden (well, golden-brown) opportunity. By turning a baguette into small toasts and accessorizing it with delicious toppings, this appetizer will make you rejoice and declare, “It is the best of times.”

Like the two male protagonists in A Tale of Two Cities, crostinis can be seemingly similar – identical in foundation, size, shape – perhaps no one can say which is ‘better’ or ‘more desirable.’ One may prefer a Charles Darnay character: a simple flavor, transparent, no surprises, elegant, easy to figure out. Or, like me, one may be intrigued by the complexity of Sydney Carton – a sweet chutney with the surprising cut of vinegar on the smoothness of brie. The reader and eater can constantly side with one and in the blink of a bite or chapter begin sympathizing with the other.



Baguette (I use sourdough, but anything will work!)

Olive oil

Brie cheese, room temperature

Fig -Apple Chutney:

1 red onion, finely chopped

2 apples, diced

10 (or so)  fresh figs, diced

1/4 cup apple cider vinegar

1/4 cup brown sugar

1/2 tbsp cinnamon

Olive oil


1. Preheat oven to 250 degrees.

2. In saucepan, sweat red onion in olive oil until softened (medium heat). Stir in brown sugar and allow to melt on heat. Add apple cider vinegar and allow to reduce by half.

3. Add apples, figs, and cinnamon, lower heat, and cover saucepan with lid. Allow chutney to cook until apples have softened and begun to break down. If, when apples are cooked, the chutney looks too wet, remove the lid and raise the heat to medium to allow some moisture to evaporate.

4. Slice baguette into rounds, about a half-inch in thickness. Drizzle with olive oil and let bake in oven until golden brown and crispy.

5. Spread brie on the toasted baguette rounds, top with chutney.

Alternative (Pineapple-Lime) Chutney:

1 can of crushed pineapple

1 lime, zest and juice

1/4 onion

1 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon olive oil

Basil to garnish


In saucepan, cook onion in olive oil and salt on low heat until caramelized. Add crushed pineapple, lime zest and juice and warm through. Raise the heat to medium to allow some moisture to evaporate. Garnish with basil.

A Simpler Assembly:

(In place of apple-fig chutney and brie.) Toast baguette rounds. Top with a slice of cheddar cheese, several slices of apple, and a bit of prosciutto.

In honor of Bastille Day, enjoy chutney on baguette with A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens, and check in at for future recipes and book reviews!