Mango-Key Lime Pie: Tropical Cool

I’ve had mangoes on my mind recently. Living with a fertile mango tree in your backyard for a month in Key West will do that to you.

While I was there recently, mangoes came pelting down so frequently each day that I certainly took them for granted. There are only so many mango slices and salsas one can eat, after all.

Now that I’m back in New York City however, I’m come to rather miss that tree. So when I happened to see a display of beautiful mangoes in Brooklyn shortly after my Let’s Lunch group decided to share a “Too Hot To Cook” dish for our June virtual lunch gathering, I started thinking …

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Bacon Grease Cake: Resuscitating an Oldie

The same problem arises in my kitchen just a little too often: After a few days of intense bacon activity, what to do with the cup or so of grease sitting on the counter?

For years, my go-to use for this grease has been Swedish ginger cookies — a recipe from New York Times fashion critic Cathy Horyn that is fool-proof. (If this sounds insane to you, bacon grease actually works very well in spicy sweets — the smokiness of the fat is a nice foil for the tastes of cinnamon, cloves etc. Just ask Modern Woman magazine, which listed it as one of 10 ways to use bacon fat in 1943.)

One can only eat so many bacon-fat ginger cookies, however. And when I started itching for something else, a little poking around online unearthed an old recipe for an intriguing blackberry jam cake …

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Green Tea Butter Cookies: Dragon Year Treats

Chinese new year, for me, has always been about my late grandmother’s pineapple tarts.

The buttery cookies topped with sweet home-made pineapple jam are so firmly connected with the holiday that all other cookies simply cease to exist whenever the lunar new year rolls around.

As much as I love them, I don’t quite have the equipment at hand to make them this year, alas. One must still celebrate, nonetheless. So, in a pinch, I whipped together a batch of buttery shortbread cookies flavored with green tea powder I’d picked up in Singapore and had never used in baking before.

The result? A delicious springtime treat that I may just have to include in my new year cookie rotation in years to come…

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Lithuanian Poppy Seed Holiday Cookies: Santa-Worthy Treats

I have the great fortune of living near Sahadi’s, a wonderful little Middle Eastern grocery in Brooklyn that’s filled with bins of dates and nuts and shelves of treats such as pomegranate molasses, Turkish apricots and three kinds of orange blossom water.

As much of a thrill as it is to walk through Sahadi’s on any day, given that you never know what new delicious morsel you’ll discover, it’s particularly lovely in December, when the usually crammed store gets absolutely packed with a shoppers and a frenetic holiday spirit that’s uniquely New York. Excuse me, there are meals to be made — out of my way! You going to get that box of tea or what? Hurry up! (OK, perhaps I am alone in having these thoughts — everyone else may well be imbued with saintly patience since it is the holiday season, after all.)

Being there always gives me that seasonal rush that propels me to the finish line that is our Christmas dinner, however. And this year, I picked up a little extra something I’d been curious to cook with: Poppy seed paste.

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Auntie Jane’s Potato Gratin: A Singaporean Christmas Casserole

Chinese new year may belong to my grandmother, she of the legendary pineapple tarts. And my Koh family aunties, a stalwart group of women who make mooncakes rather than buy them each year, may own the Mooncake Festival. But Christmas — that will always, always be my Auntie Jane’s holiday.

In Singapore, where Christmas is typically celebrated by people of all races and religions — largely as a secular festival, one squarely centered on getting together to eat and exchange gifts — my family, representing a jumble of religions in itself, would do the same. It didn’t matter whether you were Buddhist, Protestant, Catholic or Jewish — we were united on Christmas Day in our quest to eat well, share gifts and sing along to cheeseball Christmas carols.

The venue for these celebrations was usually my Auntie Jane’s — she always had a beautiful tree, a wonderfully decorated home complete with holiday cards she had received fashioned into a 2-D Christmas tree plastered onto a wall and a large buffet table topped with turkey and ham, fried rice and noodles.

The one dish we truly looked forward to, however, was a potato gratin she whipped together just once a year — filled with sliced chipolata, a skinny British sausage that’s packed with seasonings, mushrooms, onions and potatoes, this gratin was a meal in itself. (And it’s usually a hit with even the pickiest of child eaters.)

Despite my fondness for it, this gratin was yet another family dish that I’d taken for granted and never attempted to make. But when my Let’s Lunch group, a monthly Twitter-fueled virtual lunch-date, decided on sharing a holiday dish from your family or culture this month, I decided it was high time I gave my Auntie Jane’s recipe a shot…

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Wordless Wednesday: Fresh Strawberry Pie

There is no story behind this pie.

Well, nothing beyond the fact that the plumpest, most gorgeous-smelling strawberries were on sale anyhow. And, also, the fact that it’s summer and pie seems to be calling to me every day.

And so I present my first Wordless Wednesday — which turns out to be not exactly wordless given that I had to share the recipe behind this delicious photo as well. (I know, I know — as the husband said: “You just can’t help yourself.”)

So, feast your eyes on this picture, dear readers. And if you want to give the recipe a spin, just carry on reading …

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Cheddar-Pecan Crisps: Bubbly-Friendly Bites

Summer always brings much to celebrate — delicious pies, sandy beach picnics, sunny farmstands plump with fresh produce.

This July, we have one more thing to toast: the second anniversary of Let’s Lunch, a monthly Twitter lunchdate that began two years ago when three women from Paris, San Diego and New York gathered online over a sudden — and monstrous — shared craving for BLTs.

Since that first lunch, the group has expanded — the Let’s Lunch bunch now includes folks from ParisSydney (yes, Australia), St. Louis, and more. To mark the many feasts we’ve had, we decided to devote July’s lunch to nibbly bits that that go well with champagne.

What to make? I decided to pull out an old favorite …

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Japanese Curry Pot Pie: Asian Comfort Food

June always has me thinking of the summer a few years ago that I devoted myself to conquering pies.

With a perpetually hungry Iowan in the house, pies are often in huge demand around here, no matter the season. But this craving fully rears its head when it’s warm and farmers markets start filling up with sturdy red sticks of rhubarb and berries, plump and bright. Having made enough pies to feel confident enough to try any filling combination, however, I recently set my sights on savory pies.

Having grown up in a former British colony, pies filled with steak and minced lamb have long been a favorite of mine. So when my Let’s Lunch group of bloggers suggested baking pies for our June virtual lunchdate, I immediately started plotting my version of a curried pot pie…

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Chocolate Mayonnaise Cake: A Toast to Art, Life, Yaddo

Chocolate mayonnaise cake has been on my mind recently.

It’s not so much the cake itself — delicious as it is — but rather, what it symbolizes.

This time last year, I was nestled amid 400 acres of woods in Saratoga Springs, New York, ensconced in a cozy writing studio with little more than a pesky woodpecker for company all day and a big deadline looming ahead of me. The deadline was terrifying — it was for my very first book. And it was, for various reasons, not the sort that can be pushed off for months or years. This book was coming out in February 2011 come hell or highwater — there was simply no changing it.

And so I packed up my laptop, my notebooks, letters and diaries. And I left the intense social pressure and the cacophony of New York City, fleeing upstate to Yaddo, a storied artists colony that I had long dreamed of attending. I had read about this Yaddo — a place of extreme quietude run by a non-profit corporation that devotes itself to providing literary non-fiction writers, novelists, poets, painters and composers with a little hideout away from the crazy world outside, a window of calm to create.

Among these studios and woods, a shimmering roster of artists has passed through. It was here that Sylvia Plath penned the poems that would form the backbone of her first volume of poetry, “The Colossus.” Patricia Highsmith completed “Strangers on a Train,” her first book, at Yaddo. It’s also where Carson McCullers wrote “The Ballad of the Sad Cafe.” John Cheever practically lived at Yaddo for chunks of his career; and other artists who have spent time at there include Langston Hughes, James Baldwin, Philip Roth, composer Leonard Bernstein and photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson.

As a big McCullers and Plath fan, it was humbling for me to be invited to Yaddo to finish my book. (It is hard not to begin your writing day feeling the eyes of those before you scanning your screen, probably thinking, “You really gonna write that?”) More important, however, it turned out to be essential help at a crucial time. I was given a comfortable room, a lovely writing studio, three meals a day and an embarrassment of riches in time and solitude to peck away at my memoir.

Earlier this year, “A Tiger in the Kitchen: A Memoir of Food and Family” hit bookstores. That the book managed to make its way out into the world on time is a testament to this warm little place in the woods that gave me peace and fed me well. It was here that I wrote my book, yes, but it was also here that I had my first sliver of chocolate mayonnaise cake at dinner one night.

Both events, I will never forget.

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Caramel-Walnut Upside-Down Banana Cake: Doctor’s Orders

There are many perfectly lovely blogs out there that extol the virtues of healthy eating. Page after page will be filled with photos and recipes of jazzed up salads and low-calorie sweets, all nudging you to at least try to live a better life.

This blog, dear readers, is not one of them.

Yes, there has been the recent issue of the doctor’s concern. But when this concern has somehow led to an untouched mound of rapidly browning bananas sitting on the kitchen counter (because the doctor has ordered the consumption of a banana a day), something has to be done.

Not that this leads to any bananas actually getting consumed, mind you. Instead, a recipe is found — one that calls for ripe bananas that will be turned into a banana cake topped with a thick, hot layer of sweet caramel and walnuts.

The recipe oozes decadence and sin. But it does have a saving grace — there are bananas in there, after all. Isn’t that what the doctor ordered?

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