This will show those berry-American flag cakes who’s boss

So, did you volunteer to bring dessert to the annual fourth of July [insert you choice of event here]?  Did you maybe slack a little with the sign-up?  Maybe you were distracted by the return of True Blood or the College World Series.  And, in your distraction, did your next-door-neighbor or maybe your Aunt Janet steal the decorated-by-berries-to-look-like-an-American-flag cake, pie or tart slot?

Well then, I have a party cake for you.  Five words: pistachios, limes, angel food cake.

Still with me? If you’ve never made angel food cake, you need to try.  It’s really fun.  And this one starts with 10 egg whites (Hint: use the yolks to make ice cream).

A little cream of tarter will help to stabilize the meringue.

As will a little sugar.  Follow the instructions and repeat after me: one tablespoon at-a-time.

As you may have guessed at this point.  Or maybe you already knew.  Angel food cake gets its light and airy texture from a volumous and glossy meringue.  And this meringue?  Is decorated with lime zest.

The tenatious texture of the batter and the need to be really careful when transferring to your tube pan (so as not to deflate the whole mess) may have you momentarily wonder what you’ve gotten yourself into.  Not to worry.  You’ll see.

See, I told you the cake would turn out.

And here is the fun part–the cake cools…inverted.  If you are using a tube pan like I did, it probably has some handy little spikes that allow you to invert.  If not,  a bottle should work.

While the cake hangs-out, it’s time to attend to the pistachios.  I hand-shelled the ones in this recipe.  It took a long time. Then I learned that you can buy pistachio “meat” at specialty and health food stores.  I found them at Sprouts.  So, pistachios get a nice fine chop.

And then those zested limes?  The juice is made into a syrup.

And this is when the angel food cake gets dressed to party.  Paint on the syrup, smush-in chopped pistachios.  They’ll stick, I swear!

The original recipe calls for a little simple glaze, but, I love the green of the pistachios and didn’t think this cake needed anything more.

Light and refreshing with just enough zing from the lime to make you pucker a little and enough crunch from the pistachios to add intrigue.  Now, whose having us over for the fourth?


Did you know that Pandora has a Kate Spade channel?

4th of July Partay Cake

aka Lime Angel Food Cake with Lime Glaze and Pistachios, yawn

Bon Apetit, April 2010



  • 1 cup cake flour
  • 1 1/2 cups superfine sugar, divided
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 10 large egg whites, room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons finely grated lime peel
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon cream of tartar

Lime syrup and lime glaze:

  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 4 tablespoons fresh lime juice, divided
  • 1/2 cup unsalted raw pistachios (about 2 ounces), finely chopped in processor
  • 1/2 cup powdered sugar

Special equipment: 10-inch-diameter angel food cake pan with 4-inch-high sides and removable bottom (do not use nonstick pan)

For cake: 
Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 350°F. Sift flour, 1/2 cup superfine sugar, and salt into medium bowl; repeat sifting 3 times. Using electric mixer, beat egg whites, lime peel, and vanilla on medium speed in large bowl until frothy (mixture may turn neon green but color will change when remaining ingredients are added). Add cream of tartar; increase speed to high and beat until soft peaks form. Gradually add remaining 1 cup sugar, 2 tablespoons at a time, beating until stiff peaks form. Sprinkle 1/3 of flour mixture over whites and gently fold in until incorporated. Fold in remaining flour mixture in 2 more additions just until incorporated. Transfer to ungreased 10-inch angel food cake pan with 4-inch-high sides and removable bottom (do not use nonstick pan); smooth top.

Bake cake until pale golden and tester inserted near center comes out clean, about 38 minutes. Immediately invert cake onto work surface if pan has feet, or invert center tube of pan onto neck of bottle or metal funnel and cool cake completely.

Using long thin knife, cut around cake sides and center tube to loosen. Lift out center tube with cake still attached; run knife between cake and bottom of pan to loosen. Invert cake onto rack, then turn cake over, rounded side up. Set rack with cake atop rimmed baking sheet.

For lime syrup and lime glaze: 
Combine sugar and 3 tablespoons lime juice in small saucepan; stir over medium heat until sugar dissolves. Brush syrup all over top and sides of cake. Immediately press pistachios onto top and sides of cake, pressing to adhere.

Stir powdered sugar with remaining 1 tablespoon lime juice in small bowl until smooth. Drizzle glaze over top of cake. Let stand until glaze sets, about 10 minutes. DO AHEAD: Cake can be made up to 1 day ahead. Cover with cake dome and store at room temperature.

Transfer cake to platter; cut into wedges and serve.


Roasted what?

In early April, TD and I went up to Morro Bay to kayak for a long weekend.  Hurricane-like winds kept us from that activity (too bad we don’t kite-surf) so we found ourselves wandering the back roads of Paso Robles (at least inland the wind was a little warmer), sampling the wine and seeing what kind of trouble we could get ourselves into.  One morning we had breakfast at a little place in town.  TD’s meal came with the muffin of the day which happened to be strawberry.  Of all the fruits I’ve baked with, I couldn’t think of a single time I’d included strawberries in the actual baking part (sauces don’t count).  This is probably because strawberries can be incredibly watery–which can make the baked-good unappealingly soggy.

However, last summer’s peach cake got me thinking.  What if one were to roast the strawberries first?   Hmmmm.  Of course, research demonstrated that someone had already thought of it several times over and I had a plethora of recipes to choose from.

I’ll tell you–if you like strawberries, you’ve got to try roasting them.  As my kitchen filled with an aroma that would drive the Purple Pie Man to violence, my imagination conjured up multiple uses for these little gems beyond mere muffins.  As you see, they shrivel a bit and the flavor becomes intensely concentrated (berry concentrated if you will).  Sort of like strawberry shrinky-dinks.

Back to the muffins.  These would be really fun to make with kids.  The recipe is very tactile and  forgoes modern equipment for fingers and simple instruments.  The batter starts with sugar and lime zest that are rubbed together until the sugar is damp (yes, we’re back to lime sugar).  The other dry ingredients are then added to the sugar mixture.

Riccota cheese, melted and cooled butter and eggs are whisked together and then added to the dry ingredients.  And here is the trick–mix the batter as little as possible.  Here we are at 12 folds.

And here at 18 folds. Time to carefully fold-in the roasted strawberries.  Eighteen–that’s all you need.  I promise.

The dough will be incredibly thick–so much so that I actually stopped and review the recipe just in case I’d forgotten any of the wet ingredients.  Nope.

These are aethsetically beautiful muffins.  The batter takes on a nice golden hue that is contrasted by the deep pink berries and little flecks of lime zest.

As I’ve mentioned before, I happen to think it’s a crime to zest a lime and not use the juice. Here, I used tit with just enough confectioner’s sugar to create a thin glaze to dress up the muffins just a tad.  This is a slightly sophisticated breakfast treat and would be beautiful at a brunch buffet.


I admit that I often stack several recipes on a Saturday and power-through three or four at a time.  While an efficient use of time, it takes much of the relaxation out of the process and I often feel disconnected from what I’m doing.  The Sunday I made these I had the luxury of focusing on a single recipe.  Paired with some Hooverphonic, I was reminded of how fortifying working with my hands and concentrating on one thing at a time can be.  I need to do it more often.

Roasted Strawberry and Ricotta Muffins

Adapted from Vanessa Higgins


For muffins

  • 2 cups medium strawberries
  • 3/4 cup ricotta
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 10 Tbsp. butter melted and cooled, divided
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 1 tsp. lime zest
  • 2 cups flour
  • 2 tsp.baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 tsp. baking soda
For glaze
  • Juice of one lime
  • 1/4-1/2 C confectioner’s sugar depending on desired consistency


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Gently wash and cut strawberries into quarters. Place berries on a cooling rack, seeds-side-down over a sheet pan. Bake until strawberries are partially dried, about 45 minutes. Let cool.
  2. Increase oven to 400 degrees. Brush a 12-mold muffin tin with 2 Tbsp. melted butter. Set aside.
  3. In a bowl, whisk together ricotta, eggs, and vanilla. Stir in remaining butter.
  4. In a large bowl, use your fingertips to rub together sugar and lime zest until sugar is moist. Mix in flour, baking powder, salt, and baking soda. Use a spatula to gently but quickly fold ricotta mixture into dry ingredients. Don’t overwork it. The batter will be thick and heavy. Stir in strawberries and spoon batter evenly into muffin tins. Bake until tops of muffins are golden and springy to the touch, about 20-25 minutes.
  5. Out of the oven, allow muffins to cool 5-10 minutes, remove from tin.
  6. In a small bowl, squeeze-in juice from the lime.  Begin by adding 1/4 C confectioner’s sugar and stirring until smooth.  Add sugar until desired consistency is reached.  Drizzle over muffins.

When the hipsters are right

In a town full of hipsters, I am decidedly not.  I don’t have a cool fedora or any tatoos.  The last time we went out in Hollywood, TD and I were home by 10:30 (uhm, P.M.).  I think cocount water tastes like spit.  Despite the fact that I love Jud Apatow and think Lena Dunham is talented,  every time I watch  Girls all I can think is, ‘good gravy, just wash your hair…all of you’.  Well, maybe that last one just means I’m old.  I don’t Tweet because I am so not interesting enough.  So yeah, if hipsters are cool, I’m pretty much the opposite. 

We do share one thing in common, the cool kids and me: food.   One of my favorite hipstery places is Huckleberry in Santa Monica.  Despite its hipsteriness (or maybe because of it), I dig the whole vibe.  So of course, I want to emulate it.  And now I have and you can too because a couple of years ago Zoe Nathan (she of Huckleberry creation) published her recipe for salted caramel squares in Food & Wine

It starts with a shortbread base (see…I was trying to be all hipster and instagrahmy with the artsy fartsy picture).

So that the shortbread does not puff, the recipe instructs it be weighed-down with pie weights.  I use beans to the same end.

Be sure to line the unbaked cookie with parchment before adding the weights.  I’ve done it the other way.  More than once.  Not good.

While the shortbread browns, it’s time to get down to the business of making caramel.  Two pots: one with cream and vanilla bean, the other with sugar and just enough water to make you doubt whether the whole thing will work.

But it will.

This is a two-step process.  After the sugar reaches a certain temp, the cream is added and then brought up to a final soft-ball stage.  The last step: salt (they call for kosher, I used fleur de sel).

The finished caramel is poured over the golden shortbread.  And then, into the fridge.  For what seems like an interminable about of time.

This is what was going on in the other room while I was making the caramel.  Despite our lack of, ney, anti-hipster household, we have made the jump to the new iPads.  In my App downloading glee, I somehow procured a game for cats.  Yeah, I know.  In the game a life-like mouse skitters across the screen and if you “catch-it” it squeeks.  I showed it to the Kitchen Gods one time.  That’s all it took.  Now, no matter where they are in the house, if I turn on the game (it has little mouse squeeks in the background), they come running.  In fact, they only have to see the iPad to come running.   Suddenly, everything thing from Flipboard to Words with Friends is a cat game.  Nice.

Oh yeah, we were making something weren’t we?  Okay, once the caramel has set, the entire slab gets pulled-out by the overhanging edges of parchment.  Then cut. 

I have to admit, if standing in line ease-dropping on all of the hipster conversations wasn’t so much fun, I’d proclaim that I no longer needed Huckleberry.  Because these?  Are legit.


Elliott Smith.  Kind of introspective for making molten-hot caramel sauce, but what do you do?

Salted Caramel Squares

Zoe Nathan as published in Food & Wine July 2010.


Pastry Shell

  • 1 stick unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup confectioners’ sugar
  • 2 large eggs, beaten
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 large egg white, beaten


  • 2 1/4 cups heavy cream
  • 1 vanilla bean, split, seeds scraped
  • 2 1/4 cups sugar
  • 1 3/4 sticks unsalted butter
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt


  1. Preheat the oven to 350°. Line a 9-by-13-inch baking pan with parchment paper, leaving a 2-inch overhang on the short sides.
  2. In a large bowl, using a handheld mixer at low speed, cream the butter. Beat in the confectioners’ sugar. Add the whole eggs and beat until incorporated, then beat in the flour and salt. Press the pastry into the prepared pan in an even layer, 1/4 inch thick. Freeze until firm, 10 minutes.
  3. Line the pastry with parchment paper and fill with pie weights. Bake for 35 minutes, until just set. Carefully remove the pie weights and parchment. Brush the shell with the egg white and bake for 20 minutes longer, until golden and cooked through. Let cool.
  4. In a saucepan, bring the cream, vanilla bean and seeds to a simmer. Cover; keep warm.
  5. In a large, heavy saucepan, stir the sugar into 1/4 cup of water. Simmer over moderate heat, without stirring, until a deep amber caramel forms, 7 minutes.
  6. Remove the caramel from the heat and carefully add the cream. When the bubbling subsides, stir in the butter. Insert a candy thermometer and cook over moderately high heat, stirring with a wooden spoon, until the caramel reaches 240°, 10 minutes. Discard the vanilla bean and stir in the salt. Pour the caramel over the shell. Refrigerate until firm, 4 hours or overnight; bring to room temperature. Remove the bar from the pan using the parchment overhang; cut into squares.
  7. TMH note: these will keep well for a few days in the fridge.  While solid, the caramel will soften and attempt to slip over the sides of the squares if left at room temp.

A pico de salsa

In our household, salsa is a food group.  We eat it on everything.  And while there are as many types of salsas as there are things to put it on, during the summer months, pico de gallo is on the list of things made weekly in my kitchen.  Pico is a salsa of the uncooked variety.  Pico can be made many ways.  Here is how I do it.

Simple ingredients: tomato, purple onion, garlic, jalapeno, lime, salt, pepper and cilantro.

And, it starts as many salsas do, with tomatoes.  For pico de gallo, I like to use firm roma tomatoes.  This salsa version is a little more polite than others (and by that, I mean, less saucy).  For this reason, I like to cut the tomatoes in half, give them a squeeze to release the seeds, and let them drain for a few minutes.  For your salsa making needs, I suggest investing in a tomato corer.  Well worth the $2.50 (and can secretly be used on large strawberries if you please).

Once, the tomatoes have drained, rinse out your strainer and start chopping.  For a medium roma tomato, I like to cut each half into three ring, remove the middle, slice in half, and cut into smallish squares.  You can go larger or smaller as desired.  Two tidbits here.  First, after chopping your tomatoes, return them to the strainer and sprinkle over 1/2-1 tsp salt.  Then, toss and let drain for another 5 minutes.  This not only seasons your fruit (yes, they are a fruit), it also helps to release additional juice.  Second nugget: use your tomatoes…and your taste buds to gauge the ratio of the remainder of your ingredients.  Personally, I like to add half as many onions as I have tomatoes.

I like using purple onion because they’re pretty.  Use white or yellow if you prefer.  And, please, learn how to cut an onion. It’ll help you win friends, impress potential clients and shorten your prep time immensely (for the record, I cut horizontally first, then vertically).

Now things start to heat up a bit.  When cutting hot peppers (like jalapeno), I’ve conceded and use a plastic glove on the holding hand (or the reverse side of the plastic bag they came in).  For years, I put up with burned fingers, chalking it up to overly sensitive skin.  Then, one day, TD and I were watching Jamie Oliver make salsa in that ridiculous garden of his and he mentioned that while peppers don’t bother him, they burn his wife.  Apparently, peeling skin wasn’t enough to convince me I should protect myself, but a celebrity endorsement was.  I think I’ve lived in Los Angeles too long.

Anyhow, wear protective gear as desired.  I like to add half of a large jalapeno (seeds and ribs removed) for every two cups of tomato.  Adjust your quantities to your preferred heat levels.

Next up: garlic.  I like to use the rasper to sort of melt the garlic into the other ingredients.  I find it helps to better distribute the flavor and reduces the risk of running into a “hunk of raw garlic”  while eating.

Three more very important ingredients plus seasoning.  First two: the zest and juice of a large, ripe lime.  Then, about half of a cup of chopped fresh cilantro.  Now I know cilantro is a controversial and polarizing herb.  People tend to love it (me) or outright detest it.  There is actually some evidence that we humans may be genetically predisposed one way or another.  If you happen to be one of the poor, disadvantaged variety for whom cilantro tastes like soap, leave it out (and seek help, there are a bevy of support groups out there for you).

Salt and pepper as desired.

Next comes the hardest part of all.  Once all ingredients have been mixed together, cover your dish, put it in the fridge and let the flavors marinate for at least a couple of hours.  Trust me on this part.


Ozomatli’s in the house, you should know that by now.

Pico de Gallo


  • 6 firm (but brightly colored) roma tomatoes
  • 1/2 purple onion
  • 1/2-1 jalapeno pepper (depending on how brave you are)
  • 1 large or 2 regular cloves of garlic
  • 1 large lime (you’ll use both the zest and the juice)
  • 1/2 C chopped, fresh cilantorsalt and pepper to tastes


  1. Core and halve tomatoes.  Squeeze tomaotes to loosen seeds.  Let rest in mesh strainer for five minutes, shaking strainer occasionally to release juices.
  2. Chop tomatoes to desired size.  Return to mesh strainer and salt as desired gently shaking strainer to release additional juice and seeds. 
  3. Chop purple onione (chop should be the same size as the tomatoes).  Add both onion and tomatoes to a medium bowl.
  4. Rasp garlic into tomatoes and onions,  While you are at it, zest the lime into the mixture.  Then add lime juice.
  5. Donning protective gear (if you are a wimp like me), halve jalapeno.  Remove ribs and seeds.  Chop them into a small dice.  Add as desired.
  6. Chop cilantro, add to rest of ingredients along with salt and pepper to taste.
  7. MIx gently until well-combined.  Cover and let rest in the fridge for at least two hours (over night is a good call).