Simple Syrup

Simple syrup is a handy thing to have in the sweet kitchen. I like mine flavored with lemon and vanilla. (Vanilla adds a floral, tropical scent which I adore.)

It is in fact simple: equal parts by volume sugar and water. Increase ratio of water for poaching pears.

To use for fruit salad:

¾ c sugar

¾ c water

Heat over medium heat, stirring to dissolve sugar. Raise to boil, then simmer one minute.

Remove from heat and add:

1-2 slices lemon peel (taken off with peeler, pith removed w/ knife)

1-1/2” vanilla bean, split lengthwise


Pour into heat-proof dish (Pyrex measuring cup is good)

Let cool to room temp. Scrape vanilla bean with knife to put seeds into liquid; put all back in, probably removing lemon peel then or later.

Refrigerate up to 2 weeks.



Baranbaum, Pie and Pastry Bible, p 260


Okay, kids, boil away!  “No way!” I hear hordes shouting.  Yes, indeed, I’m here to tell you that those staple roots available at very reasonable prices at farmers markets in early summer and fall to winter are actually an enjoyable vegetable to eat at dinner.  They’re a low carb alternative to potatoes on your dinner plate.  And if you cook them promptly the greens are delicious with ’em, so you get a double dose of veggies — roots and greens — for one effort. And everything is better with roasted garlic, which this has.

Here’s what you do, per the very excellent and wacky Power Vegetables by the Lucky Peach folks.  Boil them and toss them with a snazzy anchovy, caper vinaigrette and eat your low-carb veggies happily.  You boil the peeled, cut turnips for 15 minutes or less, throw in their greens at the end (or arugula or spinach, as I did), then toss with a Riviera/Italian wacky vinaigrette and … wow!  A great side to chicken or I’m told roast pork.


5 garlic cloves, unpeeled

3 anchovy filets

1 t capers, rinsed and chopped

2 T chopped parsley

1/2 T red wine vinegar

1 T olive oil

4 turnips, peeled and cut into large bite-size pieces

Turnip greens, arugula or spinach (all optional)


  1. Heat oven to 300 degrees (or can go to 350 if need be)
  2. Put garlic cloves on pan and bake for 30 minutes until soft.  Peel when cool enough to handle.  Mash if you want.
  3. Put up large pot of water to boil.
  4. Make (low-volume liquid) vinaigrette: Put anchovies, capers, parsley, oil, vinegar & S&P in a jar and shake.  Add garlic if cool, or else just hold on side to add with turnips later.
  5. When water boils and you’re ready to eat in 15 minutes, salt water and add turnips and boil for 15 minutes or until no resistance when poked with a knife, but before turning mushy.  Add greens at end and drain, returning all to pot.  Add dressing and garlic and stir well. Serve hot.






I love reading cookbooks.  I usually have several on my living room table out from the library that I read through and then after a couple months if I really do not want to return it, I end up buying a copy for my sagging cookbook-stuffed bookcases.

I especially love reading the introductions in cookbooks, in which the author sets out her philosophy, or view of cooking.  The usual theme is:  be fearless, start simple, and to be a good home cook, cook often.  I agree wholeheartedly and that’s the principle motivating my writing this blog.
THEN I take out a book called Taste & Technique, by Naomi Pomeroy, a restaurant owner.  Starts out with a friendly introduction encouraging folks to cook at home, promises helpful guidance if you follow her recipes in her book, and then proceeds to call for pickled mustard seeds, three different baking dishes for fennel gratin, and a recipe for “Mom’s simple salad” that has 16 ingredients including edible flowers(!) This is NOT weeknight simple cooking.  It is discouraging even for a confident home cook.  It is NOT what I have in mind.

If you’re still timid about home cooking, or even somewhat accomplished, I encourage folks to use cookbooks and not merely grab recipes helter-skelter on the internet.  (One exception: NY Times publishes good recipes.)

One reason for choosing cookbooks over internet recipes, is that getting to know an author builds trust and confidence.  We get to know their voice, their technique, and over time it’s like they’re there with us in the kitchen.

So here are some cookbooks I recommend for home cooks:

Mark Bittman, How to Cook Everything.  (He is annoying and arrogant personally, but he does a good job of guiding one gently in home cooking, including variations.)  Bittman also wrote “How to Cook Everything Fast” which seems like a good idea, though I confess I have not used it even though I own it.

Deborah Madison, Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone.  This is a bible of good cooking, not fussy.  For example, there is a simple potato soup recipe that everyone who wants to develop soup-making skills should start with. Also, surprisingly good and easy desserts/baking at end of book, including A Little Nut Cookie, long a favorite of mine.

Marcella Hazan, Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking.  You can live a good, full life cooking entirely from this cookbook.  From her stupendously simple and excellent tomato sauce with onion, to sautes, meats and vegetables.  And she has lots of useful opinionated advice on ingredients (e.g., dried basil is to be shunned). Excellent vegetables. Marcella is a treasure.

Then if you want to also bake, pick up Dorie Greenspan’s Baking From My Home to Yours.  Or a Rose Levy Beranbaum baking book and you’re good to go.  For years probably.

Bonus recommendation:  Sundays at Moosewood Restaurant.  Vegetarian cooking that spans the globe.  The Italian section in my copy is falling apart from use.


Baking a cake is not a big deal.  Really.  If you can bake a cake from a mix, you can bake a much more delicious chocolate cake by using this recipe for everyday cocoa cake.  You don’t even have to frost it — just sprinkle with some confectioner’s sugar and serve with a beverage.

One of the problems in my view with American desserts is that they are too sweet.  Think: pecan pie.  One or two bites and your palate is weary from all that sugar.  If you use less sugar, you can actually taste the flavors.  From a cake mix box, there is no natural flavor to appreciate, so sugar is dominant.

Next time you need/want to bake a cake, check out of the library Rose Levy Beranbaum’s Cake Bible or Rose’s Heavenly Cakes and bake a simple yellow cake.  You will be happy.  Here’s a good one to start.

In the meantime, if you want a project that will reward you, try this Donauwelle recipe (pictured) when you have part of two days.  It’s not difficult, just has several steps.  And it will reward you not just in taste — which is superb, like the best Vienna pastry — but in confidence as well.