Chai-Spiced Meringues

We’re moving (again). Everything is in boxes and I can’t find anything. While cooking amongst piles and piles of boxes, I keep looking for certain appliances that I’m not even completely sure that I’ve ever actually owned, like a garlic grater, bamboo steamer, or pastry bag. It turns out that I have, in fact, never owned any of those. Although I’m starting to lose my mind a little, I’ve become quite the MacGyver. I’ve fashioned gadgets and gizmos out of twigs, burlap, and duct tape. Well, not really, but I did successfully make a frosting tip out of a magazine cover and a pastry bag from a cut-out Ziploc. It’s been rough, but we’re surviving.

My MacGyver skills came in handy for my Chai-Spiced Meringues. In all honesty, I decided to make these in an attempt to reduce the amount of items in our pantry and refrigerator. That’s another annoying component of moving – trying to use up all food already on hand. I must say though, that these meringues turned out to be happy little treats born out of nothing and created using resourceful methods (my magazine frosting tip and Ziploc pastry bag proved to be very effective). While Thomas now calls these MacGyver Meringues, I’m just happy that they pack up easily and can join us in our move.

Chai-Spiced Meringues
Makes about 36 mini meringues - each one is less than 5 calories!

Note: Meringues can be quite tricky sometimes. Things like the bowl's material and even the humidity can ruin their formation. Here is a link that explains all of those pesky factors that can work against you and your meringue: Meringue Tips


2 egg whites, room temperature
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon fresh lemon juice or cream of tartar
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground cardamom
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1/8 teaspoon ground ginger
3 tablespoons brown sugar
Dash black pepper


Preheat oven to 300 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Using an electric mixer, beat egg whites, salt, and lemon juice or cream of tarter until soft peaks begin to form – this takes about 3 minutes. Add the spices and sugar (one tablespoon at a time) and continue to beat for another few minutes, until the meringue is stiff and can stand up on its own, as shown in the picture above. Fill a pastry bag with the meringue and form small circles on the lined baking sheet (I made mine about 1.5 to 2 inches in diameter). You can also spoon the meringue onto the sheet if you don’t have a pastry bag, or don’t feel like pulling a MacGyver. Bake for 20-25 minutes until golden and crisp, and then let the meringues cool. Sprinkle with cinnamon, if desired, and enjoy!


Caramelized Onion and Gruyère Crostini

Signs of Fall are all around. The air is getting crisp and the leaves are starting to change hues. For some, Fall means breaking out cozy sweaters and boots, while for me, it is synonymous with hearty soups, stews, and chowders. I am a firm believer that there is nothing more comforting than a hot bowl of soup on a chilly day. My favorite at the moment happens to be French onion soup loaded with caramelized onions, broth-soaked bread, and bubbly browned Gruyère. Although this soup is practically perfect in every way, let’s face it, the best part happens to be the gooey cheese, which I insatiably scrape off the bowl like I haven’t eaten in days.

Caramelized onion and Gruyère crostini is a tasty variation on traditional French onion soup. This dish features warm crusty bread, sweet caramelized onions, and most importantly, loads of glorious golden Gruyère. While this delicious crostini may not be quite as comforting as French onion soup, the resulting baked-on cheese is just as fun to scrape off the baking sheet as it is the bowl.

Caramelized Onion and Gruyère Crostini
Serves 6


½ loaf of crusty bread, such as French baguette
2 tablespoons olive oil, plus 1 tablespoon for the onions
2 medium sized Vidalia onions, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon butter
½ teaspoon dried thyme
½ cup beef broth
Splash of Cognac or sherry
Salt and pepper
2 cups grated Gruyère


Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Cut bread into 1-inch slices and brush with olive oil on both sides. Place bread on a baking sheet and toast in the oven for 10-12 minutes, turning halfway through.

Melt the butter and olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onions and thyme and cook until the onions begin to soften and caramelize, stirring occasionally for about 15 minutes. Add the beef broth and Cognac or sherry and continue to cook for a few more minutes until the liquid has absorbed and evaporated. Season accordingly with salt and pepper.

Increase the oven temperature to broil. To assemble, place the onions on the toasted bread slices and then top with heaps of grated Gruyère. Place baking sheet under the broiler until the cheese is bubbly and browned. Enjoy!


German Pumpkin Pancake

This is my absolute favorite time of year – crisp air, changing leaves, cozy sweaters, Oktoberfest celebrations, and pumpkins. I just love how pumpkins find their way into almost every meal and drink during the autumn months. I fully compensated for the dreadful pumpkin shortage of 2009 the following year by including canned pumpkin in everything – from my morning oatmeal, to smoothies, to risottos, to face masks. If you couldn’t find canned pumpkin in your grocery store in 2010, it wasn’t because of Mother Nature, it was because of me.

As a way to integrate my beloved pumpkin and German traditions that are celebrated during Oktoberfest, I decided to whip up a German-style pumpkin pancake. This fluffy creation is a cross between a cake, popover, frittata, and soufflé. The greatest part of this recipe is that you can just pop the pancake in the oven, as opposed to standing and flipping individual pancakes on the griddle all morning long. Now that you have some time freed up, go put on your dirndl or lederhosen and fuel up on this German pumpkin pancake for a long day of Oktoberfest partying. Prost!

German Pumpkin Pancake
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen
Serves 2-4


4 eggs
1/3 cup canned pure pumpkin
1 tablespoon sugar
2/3 cup flour, sifted
2/3 cup milk
½ teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon unsalted butter


Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a bowl, combine all ingredients except butter, mix together until smooth, and then set aside.

Add butter to a 10-inch cast iron skillet or cake pan and place in the oven for a few minutes. After the butter melts, remove from the oven and swirl around the butter to coat the bottom and sides. Quickly pour the batter into the hot skillet and transfer back to the oven. Bake for 20 minutes until the sides raise and brown and the middle sets. Top with toasted walnuts and maple syrup and enjoy!


Poached Eggs Over Roasted Vegetables

I have a confession to make. I'm obsessed with reading menus. Sometimes when I’m bored, I will sit at my computer and read them online – one after another, like a menu-studying zombie. When I go to a restaurant with friends, I look up the menu online beforehand, just to save them from watching me dissect each and every selection. I’m also that annoying diner who thinks that I can piece together different menu items to build my own personal dish. Who do I think I am? Why don’t I just make it at home myself? I know, I know. It’s a control issue. I’ll work on it. Until then, if you are a server at a restaurant and see me walk through the door, ask for me to be sat in someone else’s section.

I committed that cardinal restaurant sin recently at brunch, where I felt the need to rearrange the menu selections. I wanted one menu item simply because it had roasted brussels sprouts, while another entrée featured poached eggs. When the server approached us, I performed my usual I-feel-so-bad-but-can-you-guys-make-this-instead act. “No problem,” the server graciously replied. Thankfully, I felt absolutely no shame for being such a crazy controlling bruncher.

That’s what I love about living in Colorado. All the people out here are macrobiotic, gluten-free, vegan, vegetarian, etc., so diners, for the most part, are free to play around with the menus to fit their needs. (Sometimes I pretend that I’m a vegetarian to make myself feel better about my selective menu ordering, but that’s just between you and me.) That Sunday afternoon at brunch, I ended up having poached eggs over the chef’s selection of roasted market vegetables, which was so delicious that I decided to remake it at home. This meal is a perfect dish for any time of the day. Scaring away servers, playing make believe, and controlling behavior need not apply. Go crazy with your vegetable selection and enjoy!

Poached Eggs Over Roasted Vegetables
Serves 2


Use any vegetables that you would like, but I chose to roast:

Brussels sprouts
Cremini mushrooms

Olive oil
Salt and pepper
2 eggs


Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Halve the brussels sprouts and cut all vegetables into 1 inch pieces. Combine all vegetables in a bowl, coat with olive oil, and season with salt and pepper. Spread vegetables on a baking sheet in a single layer, being careful not to crowd them. Roast for 20-25 minutes, turning them halfway through.

Pour a few inches of water into a pot. On the stovetop, bring the water just to a simmer, where tiny bubbles begin to form. Using a spoon, make a whirlpool in the water. This helps the whites surround the yolk, making the egg more compact. Carefully crack an egg into a small bowl and then slide the egg into the water. Scoop the whites over the top of the egg with your spoon to help it out a bit. After 3-4 minutes, take the egg out with a slotted spoon. Repeat the process for the other egg. Place the eggs over the roasted vegetables. Garnish with more pepper, herbs, or some Parmesan cheese and enjoy!


Puttanesca-Stuffed Tomatoes

Spaghetti alla Puttanesca loosely translates to “whore’s spaghetti.” No, seriously. Apparently, the Italian prostitutes used to prepare this dish in brothels to either attract clients or to eat in between (ahem) appointments. No one really knows exactly, but what we do know is that spaghetti alla puttanesca has a rather unfortunate name.

To switch it up a bit, I decided to make puttanesca-stuffed tomatoes, a super simple recipe that includes items that are probably already in your pantry. What? You don’t have anchovy paste on hand? For shame! There’s nothing subtle about this dish and that’s the beauty of it. It’s spicy, salty, and kind of smelly. Maybe that’s why it’s called “whore’s spaghetti!” Who knows? So here’s to slutty-stuffed tomatoes, and here’s hoping that the saying “you are what you eat” doesn’t apply. Don’t my tomatoes look rather coquettish? So plump and all that rouge. Those hussies.

Puttanesca-Stuffed Tomatoes
Serves 2


Olive oil
2 large tomatoes (I used heirlooms)
½ cup Kalamata olives, chopped
1 tablespoon capers
2 teaspoons anchovy paste
2 teaspoons garlic, minced
½ teaspoon crushed red pepper
½ teaspoon dried oregano
2/3 cup canned crushed tomatoes (San Marzano are the best)
¼ cup whole wheat pearled couscous (or regular pearled couscous, or quinoa)
Freshly chopped parsley and grated Parmesan for garnish


Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cut the tops off the tomatoes and scoop out the insides, leaving the walls intact. Brush tomatoes with olive oil and set on a baking sheet.

In a saucepan over medium-high heat, sauté the olives, capers, anchovy paste, and garlic in some olive oil for about a minute or two. Stir in the crushed tomatoes, red pepper, and oregano and continue to cook for another few minutes. Add the dried couscous and some freshly chopped parsley and stir to combine.

Fill the tomatoes with the puttanesca sauce. Bake for 25-30 minutes, and sprinkle with Parmesan during the last 5 minutes. (If using quinoa or another grain instead of pearled couscous, you may need to bake the tomatoes a bit longer.) Serve with a side salad and enjoy!


Caesar Croque Monsieur

Thomas and I are fortunate enough to have traveled to France a number of times. As seen here, we are complete Francophiles. While he speaks impeccable French, I, on the other hand, always manage to blow his American cover with what I like to call my “menu French.” He always ends up shaking his head or laughing with the snooty waiter whenever I ambivalently order at a café or bistro. My “menu French” has its advantages, though, as it has introduced me to the wonderful world of French food. It’s not as intimidating as you might imagine. In fact, I find pronouncing the dishes way more challenging than actually cooking them.

Without fail, Thomas always eats one or two (sometimes three!) croque monsieurs per day while in Paris. He absolutely loves these fancy-sounding grilled ham and cheese sandwiches. Typically, the croque monsieur is made with ham, Béchamel sauce, and Gruyère or Emmental cheese. Now that I’ve explained what a croque monsieur is, you’re probably wondering what Béchamel sauce is, right? It’s a sauce often used in French cuisine made simply from flour, milk, butter, and nutmeg. I like to make the lazy man’s version of croque monsieur for Thomas – meaning one without the Béchamel sauce – so, essentially just a warm ham and cheese sandwich with a fancy pants name.

For my Caesar Croque Monsieur, I’ve replaced the typical Béchamel sauce with Caesar dressing. I know, I know. Caesar dressing isn’t very French (quelle horreur!), but just trust me on this one - c'est magnifique! The absolute best part of this glorified sandwich is that it’s not only easy to pronounce, but it is also easy to make (and eat!).

Caesar Croque Monsieur
Serves 2


4 slices bread (Sourdough or French bread are great)
2 tablespoons Caesar dressing, store-bought or from this recipe
4 ounces thinly sliced Black Forest ham
1 cup grated Gruyère cheese


Preheat broiler. In a large oven-safe skillet, melt about a tablespoon of butter over medium high heat. Spread one side of all bread slices with Caesar dressing. Place two slices of bread in the skillet, dressing side up. Top each with 2 ounces of ham and about half of the Gruyère cheese. Top with the other two bread slices, dressing side down. When the bottom bread slices are golden brown, carefully flip the sandwiches. Immediately smother the sandwiches with the remaining Gruyère, and then place the skillet in the oven under the broiler. The bottom slices of bread will continue to cook while the cheese topping will brown beneath the broiler. Broil for about 3-5 minutes until the cheese is golden and bubbling. You can top the sandwiches with fried eggs to make croque madames, if you’d like. Bon appétit!


Brown Butter Fig Upside-Down Cake

I remember turning up my fussy little nose to Fig Newtons when I was a kid. “Figs? Hmmmm,” I said as I crossed my arms and pouted like a little brat when I discovered them in my lunch box. Where was the chocolate? Where were the marshmallows? Then I tried one. I’m pretty sure that I ate an entire sleeve of those delicious fig jam-filled goodies as soon as I got home from school that day.

Flash forward a few years. Remember the whole fat-free fad? Did it make you feel like you could eat an insurmountable amount of fat-free treats without the guilt, like Snack Wells cookies and Fig Newtons? Yeah, me too. Guilty as charged. I probably ate my weight in fat-free Fig Newtons alone – they were fat free, so that meant they were good for me, right?

It’s so funny to look back on those absurd fat-free days now. We were all just sugar-craving fiends that were duped by corporate marketing schemes. Speaking of marketing, Fig Newtons’ slogan was genius – A cookie is just a cookie, but a Newton is fruit and cake. Mmmm, fruit and cake. That’s where I got my idea to make a Brown Butter Fig Upside-Down Cake. This cake tastes amazing when served warm with a scoop of vanilla ice cream or at room temperature with coffee or tea. And although it is not fat free per se, that certainly shouldn’t stop you from indulging just a bit. Or you could always polish off an entire box of Snack Wells, if you’d like – I heard they just went through a whole marketing revamp…

Brown Butter Fig Upside-Down Cake


2 tablespoons unsalted sweet cream butter
1/3 cup brown sugar
8 fresh figs
½ cup unsalted sweet cream butter, softened
2/3 cup brown sugar
1 egg
2/3 cup vanilla Greek yogurt
1/3 cup milk
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon cinnamon


Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease an 8-inch round cake pan with cooking spray. Cut out a corresponding 8-inch circle of wax paper, place it at the bottom of the cake pan, and then spray it again with cooking spray.

Remove the stems from the figs, cut each one in half, and then set aside. In a pan over medium-high heat, melt butter. Swirl pan and watch until the butter bubbles and browns. Remove from heat and whisk in brown sugar until it dissolves. Pour into the bottom of the wax paper-lined cake pan. Arrange the figs, cut side down, at the bottom of the pan.

In a mixing bowl, cream together butter and sugar with an electric mixer for about 2-3 minutes. Add the egg, yogurt, milk, and vanilla extract and beat until incorporated. By hand, carefully fold in the remaining dry ingredients, and stir until well combined with a spatula.

Pour the batter over the figs and spread to an even layer. Make sure that the batter reaches the sides and down in between each fig (I lightly hit the bottom of the cake pan against the counter to help the batter sink down around the figs). Bake for 28-30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Let cake rest for an hour before inverting in onto a plate, and then remove the wax paper. Serve with vanilla ice cream and enjoy!

Truffled Sea Salt Cashews

When hosting a get-together, have you ever spent hours making the most delicious hors d’oeuvres, only to find yourself wanting to lock out your guests and devour everything all by yourself? This is one of those hors d’oeuvres. Well, that isn’t exactly true. Truffled Sea Salt Cashews will undoubtedly turn you into a greedy party host, yet they won’t take hours to make. In fact, you can make this tasty appetizer in the same amount of time that it takes to make a cocktail. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go turn off all the lights, pretend I’m not home, and hope that my expected guests can’t hear me chomping on what was supposed to be their intended bar snack.

Truffled Sea Salt Cashews


2 cups unsalted cashews
2 teaspoons truffle oil
½ teaspoon sea salt


If you’d like, you can toast the cashews on a baking sheet in the oven briefly (I didn’t). Mix cashews, truffle oil, and sea salt in a bowl. Allow to sit for a bit to let the oil infuse and enjoy with cocktails!