Thursday, February 24, 2011

Redemption in a meatloaf

Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books
I used to be a fan of meatloaf, digging in to my Mom's ketchup-covered meatloaf regularly, but somewhere in the years between wearing tri-color Keds to my current, comfy Clark's, I got lost. My husband can tell you flat-out that the worst meal I ever served was a meatloaf. I remember it well, remember clipping the recipe out of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (what a quaint notion - clipping recipes from newspapers!). The recipe was for a Turkey Meatloaf with Spinach. I liked turkey, ditto for the spinach, and as a new bride, wanted to go all June Cleaver and make a meatloaf.  The recipe called for egg whites, and that the resulting loaf was spongy and flavorless. To add insult to injury, I thought I'd recycle it the next night, chopped up in tomato sauce. I will only say that I learned my lesson: you can't fix bad meatloaf.

I may have tried other meatloaves through the years, but honestly, they weren't very memorable and I'd just about given up until I received a copy of Susan Russo's cute little cookbook "Recipes Every Guy Should Know" (Quirk Books, 2010). Russo has a beautiful blog, Food Blogga, and has packed her book (co-authored with Brett Cohen) full of family-friendly recipes designed to get guys in the kitchen.

In the midst of guy-friendly recipes like Foolproof French Toast and Baja-Style Fish Tacos, I spied the recipe for Bacon-Wrapped Meatloaf and decided that it was time to live that turkey meatloaf down and prove to my husband and kids that I could turn out a tasty dish. This meatloaf is yummy and has a great texture - not dry in the least, and very flavorful, especially with the added bacon and ketchup.

When I mentioned this meatloaf on Facebook, many friends chimed in with their favorite meatloaf recipes (if only I'd asked them for recipes before trying the turkey and spinach sponge.) Let me know in the comments if you have a favorite meatloaf recipe and what your secret ingredients are!

Bacon-Wrapped Meatloaf

1 tablespoon canola oil

1 small yellow onion, diced

2 pounds ground beef (85% lean is best)

¾ cup plain bread crumbs

2 eggs, lightly beaten

1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

2 tablespoons spicy mustard

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon black pepper

Several dashes hot sauce

6 tablespoons ketchup, divided

8 to 10 slices bacon

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add onions and sauté 3 to 5 minutes, or until lightly browned; let cool slightly.

2. In a large bowl, combine sautéed onions with all ingredients from ground beef through hot sauce, plus 2 tablespoons ketchup. Using your hands, mix until thoroughly combined. Transfer beef mixture onto a large baking sheet lightly greased with canola oil or cooking spray. Shape into an oval mound and lay bacon slices over the top so that they crisscross. Wash your hands, then brush remaining 4 tablespoons ketchup over bacon and meatloaf.

3. Bake 50 to 60 minutes, or until browned on top and cooked through. (A thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the meatloaf should read 160 to 165. degrees Fahrenheit If you don’t have a thermometer, insert a knife into the thickest part to ensure meat is no longer pink.)

(Recipe excerpted from "Recipes Every Man Should Know" by Susan Russo and Brett Cohen, Quirk Books, 2010.)

The generous folks at Quirk Books have offered a second copy of "Recipes Every Man Should Know" for a lucky reader. It's a great little cookbook, filled with family-pleasing recipes. Just leave a comment below before midnight on March 8 and I will select a winner at random and get you your book! You may enter both on this post and also the chili and guacamole post to win a copy of the book.

Friday, February 18, 2011

A little black book of recipes: Chili with beer, guacamole with bacon

The Mad Men-esque idea of a little black book in these days of smart phones and IPads is quaint and charming, but seemingly out of touch. Not so with “Recipes Every Man Should Know,” by Susan Russo and Brett Cohen, (Quirk Books, 2010) part of Cohen’s “Things Every Man Should Know” series. Men no longer need little books full of phone numbers, but they can certainly use a little book to guide them through the kitchen and basics of cooking meals for themselves and others.

This book is slightly larger than a Blackberry, smaller than an IPad and it fits in a coat pocket or backpack. Its compact design is ideal for flipping through for quick mealtime ideas, discreetly pulling out while grocery shopping, and propping on the counter while preparing the dishes.

Author Susan Russo says the idea of a cookbook for men came to her when she lived in a condo in downtown San Diego, where there are lots of single, professional men. “I got tired of seeing them carrying take-out on the elevator, so I started asking them why they didn't cook. Almost invariably, they responded, "I don't know how to cook." I thought, "Well, I can help teach them. It's easy." Teaching comes naturally to Russo; she is a recipe developer and writer who blogs at FoodBlogga (Rhode Island-ese for "blogger.")

For research, Russo “Talked with a lot of guys everywhere -- at the supermarket, the airport, bookstores, restaurants and bars, Twitter and Facebook, you name it. Guys of all ages were more than happy to share their thoughts with me and offer their favorite dishes. Plus, having grown up in a male-dominant household, I was pretty confident that I knew what guys would like.”

Guy-friendly recipes include Foolproof French Toast, Baja-Style Fish Tacos, and entire chapters devoted to Meat & Potato Dinners, and Beer, Bacon & Bar Food. And for that extra something that shows a guy really knows how to cook, the book concludes with cookies, cheesecake, strawberry zabaglione, milkshakes and cocktails.

Here are two excellent recipes that go well together or separately. The recipes are guy-friendly, to cook and to eat. The chili will become your go-to recipe - it's beefed up with beer and beans. The guacamole gets a shot of bacon to lift it into the "ultimate guacamole" territory.

Beef and Beer Chili

1 tablespoon canola or olive oil

1 large yellow onion, diced

1 large green or red bell pepper, chopped

1 to 1 ¼ pound ground beef

1 ½ to 2 tablespoons chili powder

1 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1 teaspoon ground cumin

Several shakes of salt

2 tablespoons light brown sugar

2 (14.5 ounce) cans pinto or red kidney beans, drained

1 (14.5 ounce) can diced tomatoes, with juices

1 (12 ounce) bottle dark beer, such as stout

1 tablespoon cornmeal, optional

1. Warm oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add onions and peppers and sauté 5 minutes. Add meat. Cook until browned, about 10 minutes. Stir in spices, salt and brown sugar. Add beans, tomatoes, and beer. Stir and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer 20 to 25 minutes, or until thick and soupy. Stir in cornmeal in you want a thicker chili.

2. Serve chili hot, topped with any of the following: shredded Cheddar cheese, sour cream, diced avocado, sliced scallions, or fresh cilantro.

(Takes 30 to 45 minutes start to finish, 6 to 8 servings)

Bacon Guacamole

6 slices bacon

Flesh of two ripe avocados

1 medium tomato, chopped

4 scallions (white parts only) finely chopped

Juice of one lime

A couple pinches salt

A couple dashes hot sauce

Small handful fresh cilantro leaves, finely chopped

1. Place bacon in a skillet over medium-high heat and cook until crisp. Drain on a paper-towel-lined plate. Let cool and chop into small pieces.

2. Combine remaining ingredients in a blender or food processor and pulse until chunky. I used a fork with excellent results and one less dish to clean. (Takes 15 minutes to prep, yields 6-8 servings).

The wonderful folks at Quirk Books have offered a copy of "Recipes Every Man Should Know" to a reader of A Cook and Her Books. This book is $9.95 in stores and is absolutely charming and useful. It makes a great gift for a young man just starting out on his own - college students, new graduates, bachelors, really anyone who needs a road map to the kitchen. Please leave a comment below before midnight on February 28 and I will draw one name at random to receive the book. Please be sure to leave an email address or a way for me to find you (i.e., are you the Melissa I know from church or the Kim I know from high school?). Thanks for reading!


Michelle, the 4th commenter, is the winner of this cookbook. Michelle, please contact me by Thursday, March 3, at so that I can get the cookbook to you. There's still a copy of the cookbook to be given away - leave a comment on the Bacon Wrapped Meatloaf story by March 8 for a chance to win.

Text & images copyright 2011, Lucy Mercer,
with the exception of the book cover image and the recipe.
Recipes excerpted from "Recipes Every Man Should Know" by Susan Russo and Brett Cohen
 (Quirk Books, 2010)

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Indulgent hot chocolate from Valentine's candy

Hot chocolate, the body-and-soul-warming beverage of snowy days, is essentially a liquid candy bar, so what if it were really a liquefied candy bar? The best cup of hot chocolate is traditionally made with chocolate melted and combined with dairy, either cream or milk, and topped with marshmallow. This sounds like a candy bar - chocolate, either dark or milk; sugar; marshmallows. In fact, it sounds just like a 3 Musketeers bar, which makes a stupendous cup of cocoa - the sweet milk chocolate is rich and the melted, toasty nougat dissolves and adds body, that creamy mouth-feel that the food writers go on about. Two ingredients, one cooking vessel, one serving mug, so very easy.

Many years ago my friend Billy gave me this ultimate hot chocolate recipe, and it’s an ideal way to use up leftover holiday candies. Three weeks after Valentine's Day, I still have a stash of pink- and red-wrapped milk chocolate hearts and kisses, plus caramel Rolos and Reese's Peanut Butter Cups (known in the South as "Reese-y's" and around my house as "Nature's Most Perfect Food"). At the supermarket, I picked up original 3 Musketeers ("whipped-up fluffy chocolate on chocolate taste") and new-to-me 3 Musketeers Mint with Dark Chocolate ("whipped-up fluffy chocolate on mint taste"), both in the fun size. On a whim, I tossed a box of Junior Mints into the basket. Add a sunny but cold afternoon, and some eager taste testers, and we were ready for a hot chocolate throwdown.

The recipe is pretty much a ratio, approximately 4 ounces of chocolate candy to 8 ounces of milk, beginning with a small amount of chocolate and adding more to taste. I began with milk heated on the stove and mixed up individual servings by placing the chocolate in the bottom of a measuring cup, topping off with milk, then heating in 15 second increments in the microwave.

The results are in: my personal favorite is the 3 Musketeers Dark Chocolate Mint bars. The dark chocolate takes the edge off the sweet and the mint adds a crisp note. There is a pleasant toasty marshmallow taste and the nougat contributes to the texture and body of the beverage. My second place vote goes to the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup. Rich, chocolaty and peanut buttery, two great tastes that taste great together, as the ditty goes. A slight grittiness from the p.b. is the only detraction there. Rolos are a sentimental favorite - try them with popcorn sometime. They make a sweet, thick cocoa, with a pleasant caramel kick. Aggressive stirring is required to incorporate the caramel into the milk.

The young testers gave thumbs up to the dark horse entry, hot Junior Mint. The deep chocolate color was the most appealing of all the cups and the extra sweetness appealed to the sugar-crazed kids. The preschool tester favored the simple 3 Musketeer version, with additional marshmallows.

Master Recipe for Candy Bar Hot Chocolate

Yield: One 8-ounce cup of hot chocolate


8 ounces whole milk

3 fun-size 3 Musketeers bars (or 10 small Reese's pb cups or 16 Rolos or 4 oz. Junior Mints or 8 Hershey's Milk Chocolate Kisses or Hearts)


Heat milk on stovetop or in microwave, just to scald. Place candy in bottom of mug and pour milk over. Whisk, whisk, whisk until candy is melted. Taste and add more chocolate, if necessary. You may want to place the mug in microwave for 15 seconds at a time to further dissolve the chocolate. Garnish with marshmallows or candy canes, or try this idea from the 3 Musketeers website - shavings from a frozen 3 Musketeers bar!
This story is a re-post - I thought it might be a good idea for all those extra Hershey's kisses around the house now that Valentine's is over.
What about you? Do you have leftover chocolate and do you have plans for it?

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Warm, hot, icy and spicy: An ice cream sandwich for Valentine's Day

I wrote this story in February 2010 for the Salon Kitchen Challenge. My assignment was to create a recipe using chocolate and chile together. It's a flavor combination that I love - both in savory and sweet dishes. When I thought about chocolate chile ganache, as in a truffle, I thought how nice it would be to have something cold and creamy to counteract the heat. That's how I ended up with cinnamon ice cream, chocolate cookies and chocolate-chile ganache. It's still one of my favorite creations, and worth making again very soon, to eat, and to take another picture - this one doesn't do them justice. 

Some days, I feel just like a minivan mom, which in fact, I am. But underneath this practical exterior beats the heart of Bizet's Carmen, a Gypsy vixen in Spain who sings in French and drives the men crazy. In my fantasies, I wear a red dress, sing like Jessye Norman and vamp like Jessica Rabbit.

I may be in my car, in an endless carpool line, but my mind is in sunny Seville, and after I dance and sing, I’m left to wonder: “What will I serve my lover Don Jose for Valentine’s Day?” To the strains of “Habanera,” I compose a dessert of fire and ice, cinnamon ice cream and chile-laced ganache sandwiched between chocolate cookies. Rich chocolate, spicy cinnamon and sweet cream tease your taste buds then the chile hits the back of your mouth and lingers near your throat. This cool dessert sizzles, and it’s meant to be eaten with your hands. Now, that’s sexy.

Chocolate-Cinnamon Ice Cream Sandwiches with Chile Chocolate Ganache
There are three components to the sandwiches: ice cream, cookies and chile ganache. All three elements can be made in advance. Assembly should take place a few hours before serving so they can set up.

Yield: 8 sandwiches.

Cinnamon Ice Cream

1 ½ cups whole milk

1 ½ cups heavy cream

¾ cup sugar

Pinch of salt

1 cinnamon stick

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

7 egg yolks

1 teaspoon vanilla

1. In a saucepan over medium heat, combine the milk, cream, sugar, pinch of salt and cinnamon stick and heat until scalding, which means that little bubbles will appear inside the perimeter of the pan. Remove pan from heat and let the cinnamon steep for 15 minutes.

2. Whisk the egg yolks and the sugar together. Slowly add some of the cooled cream mixture to the eggs, tempering them. Now, reverse and add the egg mixture slowly to the cream, whisking constantly to completely incorporate the eggs.

3. Cook the mixture over low heat for about 10 minutes, stirring constantly. The doneness test is when the custard is thick enough to coat a spoon. Remove from heat and strain through a fine-mesh sieve. Discard the cinnamon stick and any flotsam.

4. Freeze in an ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s directions. I use a Krups with the canister that you keep in the freezer. Once ice cream is complete, store in an airtight container in the freezer.

Chocolate Cookies

½ cup unsalted butter, at room temperature

1 cup sugar

1 egg

2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, melted and cooled

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 ½ cups all-purpose flour

¼ teaspoon cream of tartar

¼ teaspoon salt

1. In a large bowl with an electric mixer, cream together the butter and sugar until fluffy and nearly white-colored. Beat in the egg, cooled and melted chocolate, and vanilla extract.

2. In another bowl, combine flour, cream of tartar, and salt. Pour into the butter mixture and mix on low speed until combined.

3. Shape dough into a ball and wrap in plastic. Chill for one hour in the fridge.

4. Preheat oven to 400. On a floured surface, roll out dough to ¼ inch thick and use a 3-inch round cutter to cut out cookies. Roll scraps with scraps and cut until all the dough is used. Carefully transfer (an offset spatula is handy for this task) the cookies to a Silpat-lined cookie sheet.

5. Bake the cookies for about 8 minutes or until the edges are just crisp. Set on wire rack to cool. After five minutes, use a spatula to remove cookies and place them on the wire rack to cool completely. If not using right away, place in an airtight container and store at room temperature.

Chile Ganache

Kid friendly note: the cinnamon ice cream and the cookie are kid pleasers, the chile ganache for serious chile heads only. Make some ganache without the chile for the kids, or make the sandwiches plain without the ganache. Leftover chile ganache can be chilled and rolled into truffles; dust with cocoa powder and additional chile powder.

8 oz. cream

8 oz. dark chocolate such as Lindt Excellence 70% cocoa or Green & Black’s Organic Dark 70%

1 teaspoon chipotle chile powder (this is gringo heat, two teaspoons is fiery Gypsy heat)

1. Bring cream to scald, just below boiling, with bubbles on the perimeter. Break chocolate into pieces in a bowl. Pour warm cream over chocolate and stir until the chocolate is melted. Cool to room temperature. Store in refrigerator.


You’ll need a roll of plastic wrap in addition to the cookies, ganache and ice cream. If the ice cream is too hard to scoop, zap in microwave for 15 seconds at a time.

1. On a sheet of plastic wrap, place one cookie. Scoop the ice cream onto the cookie. Spoon a generous portion of ganache on a second cookie, place the two together and gently squeeze until the filling just meets the edge. Wrap in plastic and place in freezer. Continue with remaining cookies. Store cookies in an airtight container in freezer.

L'amour! L'amour! L'amour! L'amour!
L'amour est enfant de Bohème,
il n'a jamais, jamais connu de loi;
si tu ne m'aimes pas, je t'aime:
si je t'aime, prends garde à toi!

Monday, February 7, 2011

On Valentine's Day, bake biscotti for those you love

Cherry Pecan Biscotti by Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books
On Valentine’s Day, we celebrate the ones we love and what better way to celebrate than by baking? Chocolate is traditional and a good place to start – who doesn’t love brownies or cake or fudge? In my house, I bake biscotti for my valentine.

My husband likes the crunchy texture and fruity flavors in this twice-baked, butter-less cookie. You’ve probably seen biscotti in jars at cafés, the dry spears just perfect for dunking in a latte. My biscotti are crisp, but not tooth-breaking tough; they are enjoyable even without an accompanying cup of joe.

Although there are two trips to the oven, this is still a very simple cookie. First, you mix the dough, shape it into two loaves and bake for 25 minutes. When done, remove the loaves from the oven, let cool slightly, then slice loaves on the bias to show off the crispy crust. The cookies are delicious at this point – chewy and soft – but a final toasting in the oven will yield the crispy crackle of true biscotti. If you still want a taste of chocolate, you can gild the lily by dunking the cookies halfway into melted chocolate chips.

Baked loaves, ready for slicing. Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books

Cherry-Pecan Biscotti

2 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

1 cup pecan meal (see note)

1 cup sugar

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

4 eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2/3 cup dried cherries

1. Preheat oven to 350. Prepare pans - a half-sheet baking pan with Silpat or parchment paper. In the bowl of an electric mixer, blend flour, pecan meal, sugar, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Add eggs and vanilla, beating until dough is formed. Stir in dried cherries.

2. Turn dough out on a lightly floured surface and knead several times. Form the dough into two flat logs about 9 inches long and 4 inches wide. Bake for 25 minutes at 350 or until the loaves have risen and are lightly browned on top. Let cool on cutting board for 10 minutes.

3. While still warm, slice on the bias, about 1/2 inch thick, or a little less. You know what bias means - diagonal. This will give you the classic, elongated biscotti shape. Place on baking sheet and bake for 5 minutes at 350. After 5 minutes, flip cookies over and toast other side for five minutes. Remove from oven and cool on baking rack. Store biscotti in an airtight container at room temperature.

Sliced biscotti, ready for the second baking. Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books

Note: Pecan meal is available in local grocery stores by the packaged nuts. If not available, use chopped pecan pieces, whizzed in the food processor for about 15 seconds.

Biscotti are one of my favorite cookies to bake - what about you? What flavors do you like? Do you plan to bake for Valentine's Day?

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Super weekend for cooking

This is quite the weekend for people who like to cook – Chinese New Year and a little ol’ thing called the Super Bowl, which may be celebrated as much for food as for football. For Chinese New Year, I’ll let my friend Linda Shiue tell the story  about the dumplings she makes with her daughters. Francis Lam of has a funny story, too, about stuffing his gut with all kinds of dumpling deliciousness.

 As for Super Bowl party food, I should confess that I’m not really a football fan. I wrote this story last year, which pretty much sums up everything I know about football. I included a recipe for Smoky Tuna Dip with Paprika and Lime, a little something I came up with when I couldn’t find real smoked tuna. It’s a tasty and simple dip, a nice addition to a Super Bowl spread. I do know that the big game will take place in Texas, so I’m offering my Texas Caviar with Home-baked Lime Tortilla Chips. Texas caviar is a black-eyed pea relish that is absolutely yummy, and it’s a healthy choice for the menu, too.

Now, one holiday I can wrap my brain around is World Nutella Day, today - "Nutella Lovers Unite for Just One Day!" We love Nutella in our house – the hazelnut and chocolate spread is used in sandwiches and sweets. Coincidentally, yesterday was Show and Tell for the letter “N” at preschool, and my baby girl carried a jar of Nutella to show her class.

I first tasted a Nutella milkshake at Flip Burger, Top Chef contender Richard Blais’ upscale burger shop in Atlanta (there’s a Birmingham location, too). He makes his with liquid nitrogen and breaks out blowtorch for the burnt marshmallow garnish. Through the magic of Google, I came across this recipe for a Nutella milkshake and I have to say, it’s brilliant. Chocolate ice cream, milk, and a generous squidge of Nutella. No canister of liquid nitrogen involved. The real genius move, though, is the toasted marshmallow topping made without a blowtorch, but in the toaster oven.

Enjoy your weekend!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Molasses Pecan Squares: Or the Cookbook, the Chef and Me

Molasses Pecan Squares/Heart of the Artichoke (Artisan/2010).

Sorghum Pecan Squares by Chef Linton Hopkins, Holeman and Finch (photo by Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books)

When I was a little girl, just starting to bake, I would become very upset when my creations didn't look like the pictures in the cookbooks. The cakes would be lopsided, or cracked, too dark, sometimes too light. I remember my mom telling me that my creations were homemade and that's better than what's pictured in the book. Her advice has reassured me all these years in the kitchen because, while my food looks and tastes great, it still doesn't look like the picture.

I thought about this recently as I tried the recipe for Molasses Pecan Squares from David Tanis' wonderful cookbook "Heart of the Artichoke and Other Culinary Journeys." Tanis is part-time chef at the legendary Chez Panisse in Berkeley, Calif., the remainder of the year he writes and cooks from his home in France. I had the opportunity to meet Chef Tanis in December for lunch at Holeman & Finch Public House. Chef Linton Hopkins prepared a splendid meal for about a dozen Atlanta writers, bloggers and photographers, using recipes from Tanis' book.

The meal consisted of roasted chicken, Sea Island peas with ham hocks and bacon, cabbage with apples, and many more delightful items. The dessert was a very homey kind of sweet, typically Tanis, who has a gift for simple, elegant, seasonal food - Molasses Pecan Squares, the texture of a blondie and that molasses taste reminiscent of gingerbread (without the ginger). (The top photograph is from "Heart of the Artichoke" and shows Tanis' mouth-watering version of the recipe.) Chef Hopkins' version went all-out Southern, using sorghum instead molasses. The Holeman & Finch serving was flatter and larger and absolutely choked with pecans, as you can see in the second photograph, and was absolutely yummy. I intend to find some sorghum and give his version a try.

And here's my version, darker, flatter, with fewer pecans because I couldn't find that extra bag that I swore was in the freezer. Still, they were tasty and chewy and my Mom loved them. Thanks, Mom.

Homemade Molasses Pecan Squares by Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books

Molasses Pecan Squares

Molasses is a classic American ingredient, and so are pecans. Here they make a dessert that is a little like gingerbread.

8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter, softened, plus more for buttering the dish

1 cup packed dark brown sugar

2 eggs, separated

2 tablespoons molasses

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 cup all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup chopped pecans, plus a handful of whole pecans for topping

1. Preheat the oven to 375°F. Butter and flour a 9-inch-square baking dish. Cream the 8 tablespoons butter and sugar in a mixing bowl. (An electric mixer is helpful.) Add the egg yolks, molasses, and vanilla and beat well.

2. Sift the flour with the baking powder and salt, and add to the mixing bowl, stirring well. Stir in the chopped pecans.

3. In another bowl, beat the egg whites until stiff. Gently fold them into the batter.

4. Spread the batter in the dish, and sprinkle the whole pecans over the top. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes. Check for doneness with a kitchen knife; when it comes out dry, the dessert is done. Cool in the pan and cut into 3-inch squares.

Excerpted from "Heart of the Artichoke and Other Culinary Journeys" by David Tanis (Artisan Books, 2010)

Text and images copyright 2011, Lucy Mercer, unless stated otherwise.

For more stories and recipes from David Tanis, see:

Grapefruit Drinks

Black-eyed Peas with Ham Hocks and Bacon

Flat-Roasted Chicken with Rosemary

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Darling clementines

Clementines by Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books

Now that school is back in session, (holidays and snow storms have made this only the second full week of school since early December), I'm back to spending my days in the car. Two daily carpool runs on two different school schedules makes my minivan a second home. And just like at home, the girls will ask for snacks to tide them over on the short trip from school to home. My latest solution is to keep a crate of clementines on the back seat. They are easy to peel, and if you do it right, the peel comes off in a single, easily disposable piece. They are tasty and not one bit messy.

Even with evening temps in the 20s, the clementines are just nicely chilled, not frozen. We've gone through two crates in the past week, which leaves me with a problem: what to do with leftover clementine crates? Wouldn't you know, there's a Facebook page devoted to the puzzling question; there are some creative ideas on this page, too, from a baby doll bed to an herb garden. There are more mundane uses as well, like paper storage (I've employed one crate to hold coupons awaiting sorting.)

I also found a lovely-sounding recipe at Megan's Cookin' blog for clementines dipped in chocolate and dusted with sea salt. Sounds like gilding the lily, but sometimes that's a good thing.

What about you? Are you crazy for clementines? Do you eat them straight or cook with them? Any genius ideas for repurposing clemmie crates?