Many years ago, I was introduced to pastrami-style roast turkey breast at a local Jewish deli and loved it so much that I set out to make a version at home. It is now one of our family favorites, and a recipe I often double to enjoy for dinner and then in sandwiches for several days after. The classic peppery spices are key, but a huge part of the appeal of this dish is also how simple it is to prepare. Boneless turkey breast is commonly sold at supermarkets in a variety of sizes, and you can ask to have it butterflied, or easily do this at home. The simple technique allows you to spread the spices evenly over the meat, which is then rolled and tied. This results in a perfect distribution of spices, as well as a pinwheel effect once the meat is sliced. Serve it with roasted vegetables, sweet potatoes, or a tangy slaw on the side.
Last winter I had the good fortune of spending a week traversing the cities, deserts, ports, and verdant fields of Israel in the company of 20-plus fellow food-obsessed chefs and food writers; culinary heavyweights Jonathan Waxman, Ruth Reichl, Jenn Louis, Nancy Silverton, and Marc Murphy were among them. We were on a spiritual pilgrimage of a new kind: to uncover and understand what is arguably the most complex convergence of food cultures in the world. Together we visited farms, home and restaurant kitchens, morning markets, wineries, food incubators, renowned dining rooms, and late-night food stalls. We were eager to taste and to learn how a land so fraught by ages of conflict (yet still so new in its independent history) can preserve its ancient foodways with such passion and purpose.We were a ravenous bunch, consuming, questioning, and squealing with glee at every flavorful find. In fact, our discoveries felt so plentiful that after a while I lost count, even with the pages of notes and flurry of photos I took each day. Despite our feeding frenzy, there were several distinct moments of clarity and revelation, when I tasted something so utterly satisfying that it is now and forever burned into my sense memory. One such instance took place at the Carmel Market in Tel Aviv, known to the locals as Shuk HaCarmel. We spent the morning guided through stalls and stands by author Adeena Sussman, whose new Israeli cookbook Sababa was inspired by the vendors and foods of the market. Toward the end of the tour we stopped at a beautiful display of molds for halvah, the dense sweet that in the Middle East is often made of pressed sesame paste (tahini) and sugar then swirled or sprinkled with anything from dark chocolate to nuts to rose oil. The shopkeeper placed a piece of his favorite in my hand, and as soon as it dissolved in my mouth I knew it would be my favorite, too.Bright, tart lemon zest (not juice) added the most fragrant, floral note to the otherwise dense, earthy dessert. Dark, just-bitter cacao nibs balanced out what otherwise would have been a cloying sweetness. It was a masterful combination, one I knew I needed to bring back to my kitchen.Of course I bought a large slab and have been nibbling on it ever since (Pro tip: Halvah will keep, well wrapped, in a cool, dark spot in your pantry for over a year!). In addition, the trinity of lemon zest, tahini, and cacao nibs has been making its way into my sweets and baking repertoire ever since, from morning pancakes to the perfect ice cream topping—and these unassuming, irresistible Lemon-Tahini Cookies. They may just be the ideal holiday gift for everyone on your list this year, no matter your culture or creed. After all, deliciousness knows no bounds.
There are a few desserts I never pass up if they appear on a menu, and anything beginning with “sticky toffee” in the name has always fallen firmly in that category. Specifically, sticky toffee cake (or pudding, as it’s often called) is my kryptonite. The allure of warm toffee poured over date-enhanced sponge cake and served with vanilla custard or cream is too strong for my willpower to resist and far too satisfying to deny.What accounts for my fascination? A little digging suggests that the dessert made famous by British chef Francis Coulson at the Sharrow Bay hotel may in fact be Canadian in origin—which would explain my penchant for it given that I, too, am Canadian. The story goes that the dessert was initially made by Patricia Martin at her country hotel in Claughton, England, and later appeared as her contribution to a compilation of recipes published in 1971. Reports differ as to whether she learned the recipe from a Canadian friend or from two Canadian air force officers who stayed at her hotel.But I would love sticky toffee cake no matter where it originated. When the weather turns colder and I start planning for the holidays ahead, this spoonable sweet is everything I need in the dessert department. It’s easy to make for a crowd and undeniably decadent.I’ve recently taken to putting my own touches on the classic, giving the otherwise sweet and soft-textured dessert more dimension and depth. In addition to the traditional dates, I like to add chopped pears to the batter, where they cook down as the individual cakes bake, and I add miso to the toffee, which lends a salty savoriness that may sound gratuitous but exceeds expectations. My recipe serves 12, but you’ll be wishing you’d made a whole lot more.
Several years ago my husband and I flew to Arcachon, a small, seaside summer playground in southwestern France, just over an hour’s drive west from Bordeaux, for the wedding of a friend. Arcachon Bay, known for its oysters and cockles, was the ideal escape for a week of drinking wine and lounging by the sea, and we easily got the lay of the land.My favorite day of our trip started with a short ferry ride across the water to Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat, a sleepy resort village on the tip of the peninsula, complete with vacationers bicycling to the market in navy stripes and a smattering of simple seafood restaurants near the area’s fabled oyster beds. When we arrived for lunch, at low tide, the fishing boats on the bay had sunk into the sand on all sides of us, but as the tide rose, so did the boats, and by the end of our meal they bobbed in the gentle waves.We found a table outside and ordered from the limited menu: a few dozen raw oysters, bowls of tiny poached shrimp, a plate of crudités with herby aioli, garlicky escargots and tins of anchovies and sardines in their oil, butter and lemon slices on the side. I relished those tinned fishes, sopping up the briny oil with my bread, spreading and mashing silvery sardines and saline anchovies on top, slurping the oysters and sipping cool white wine. Back home in New York, I couldn’t get the flavors out of my head. That’s when I discovered anchoïade, a rustic Provençal spread made with tinned anchovies, vinegar or lemon, and garlic. My version includes chile flakes and a big pinch of lemon zest, but its essence remains the same. Making and using it—on seafood, on buttered bread, even as a condiment for steak—scratches that daydreamy itch for the flavors of the French seaside.
The first time I visited Jamaica was in 2012. Close friends who had been going there on vacation for years invited my husband and me to the cliffs of Negril, in the westernmost corner of the island. Among the many features of the area they extolled was a local jerk shack just down the road from the small hotel where we were staying. But, they cautioned us, don’t go too hungry, and be prepared to wait. After all, great jerk cannot be hurried, nor can island time. I was familiar with jerk seasoning from my childhood, when walks home from my public school in Toronto would take me through a Caribbean neighborhood where I devoured beef patties and jerk chicken thighs as an after-school snack. But that was the extent of my knowledge of Jamaica’s distinctive cuisine. The chance to get to know it better while sitting on the beach, eating chicken and seafood laced with Scotch bonnet peppers, allspice, and garlic, and washing it all down with an ice-cold Red Stripe was one I could not pass up.That first jerk shack did not disappoint, nor have any of the others we’ve frequented on our many subsequent visits. In the years since our first foray we have mastered our timing to arrive midafternoon, still full from a late lunch and happy to linger for a few hours sipping cold drinks while our dinner is prepared. After trying every item that can be basted or drizzled in the flavors of jerk, from shrimp to chicken to whole fish and even cocktails, hands down my favorite incarnation is lobster, where the jerk paste is stirred into butter and used to baste the crustacean while it cooks over the flames. My streamlined version is one that you can make all year round, but grilling the lobsters outside, beer in hand, is always encouraged.
August is the laziest month, in the best possible way. It seems to move a little slower than the other months of the year—in theory because of the heat, in fact because so many people are on vacation. It’s sluggish, languid even, but always welcoming. (After all, it’s far more fun to be lazy with friends.) All of that makes August, in my mind, the best month for leisurely dinners outside, for grilling in the backyard or by the beach or the lake, for cooking unfussy food. This means, of course, that it’s also prime frozen cocktail season.My most recent slushy obsession is a tequila, cucumber, and coconut water creation, blended up with cilantro and lime and rimmed with a mix of chili powder, sumac, and salt. It’s an ode to my favorite Mexican street snack: fruta con chile y limón, little bags of sliced mango, cucumber, and jicama usually sprinkled with Tajín, a spicy and sour snack seasoning. I make the icy concoction in big batches, and it never lasts very long, but a little advance prep and direction empowers my guests to blend more themselves without disturbing my valuable chill time. I peel and chop several cucumbers in advance, portion them out, and freeze them before guests arrive; squeeze lots of lime into a bowl; and chop an extra-big bunch of herbs on the side. The chili-salt mixture sits on a plate on the counter for people to sprinkle and rim as they please. And any extra doubles as seasoning for crunchy veggies, grilled corn on the cob, or a platter of watermelon. It’s August at its best.
My first professional New York City cooking job was right out of culinary school, as an apprentice in the kitchen at Le Cirque 2000. This was the late ’90s and under the leadership of the inimitable chef Sottha Khunn in the back and the Maccioni family in the front, and the restaurant felt like the epicenter of the New York fine-dining universe. The kitchens themselves were enormous, taking up the better part of two floors deep within the Palace Hotel on Madison Avenue. I was the lowest rung on the proverbial culinary ladder, not to mention the only woman in the savory kitchen at the time (there were a few other women working for dessert mastermind Jacques Torres in the pastry department). From day one, I was assigned to the hot appetizer, pasta, and risotto station, and my first task each morning was to make 50 or so perfect French crêpes. These would later become the wrappers for a delicate vegetable beggar’s purse, which would sit on a dramatic swoosh of rich yellow curry, alongside a single seared giant prawn.If you have ever made crêpes before, you know there’s a definitive process you must follow to ensure their success: mix batter, allow batter to rest (this allows air bubbles created during the mixing process to work their way out, the gluten to relax, and the starch molecules to absorb some of the liquid, which gives the batter a thicker and more uniform consistency), warm a well-seasoned crêpe pan (or small nonstick skillet) and add a little fat, then using a ladle, pour a small amount of said batter into the hot pan while simultaneously moving the pan in a smooth, circular motion to quickly and evenly spread the batter in a thin layer to cook. When small bubbles appear around the edges, flip the crêpe (best done with your fingers), let the underside cook for just a minute, and slide it onto a towel-lined plate to cool. The first crêpe is often a bust; the pan may not be seasoned enough yet, the temperature spotty. But persevere, and by the second you should be off and running. Repeat, repeat, repeat.My memory of those mornings is crystal clear. I would stand over the piping hot stove for about two hours, pouring and flipping, pouring and flipping, my face bright red from the heat. We had this one specific crêpe pan for the job, passed down from cook to cook, seasoned to perfection from years of use. The action of crêpe-making became muscle memory. To this day, I can almost feel the rhythm of it. Then there was the smell: raw flour and, in the background, a hint of blackberries. You see, while I was busy with my pan, the pastry team was prepping furiously for dinner service in the next room, mixing and whisking and sugaring away. My favorite dessert was their blackberry soufflé, a signature of chef Torres. On occasion, after a particularly difficult night of service, I would sneak into the back and they would slip me one, the ideal end to an otherwise grueling day.Since then, crêpes and blackberries have been intrinsically linked in my mind. Luckily they go well together, especially in July when the berries are at their peak and a lazy weekend morning spent flipping crêpes yields enough for my new favorite cake, layered with rich mascarpone whipped cream, tart berries, and a little lemon zest. I admit, part of making it is how good it feels to flex those muscles again, but even that pales in comparison to how satisfying it is to slice through all of its beautiful layers and take the first heavenly bite.
My adoration of sea scallops goes back as far as some of the first memories I have at my parents’ dinner table. In the ’70s and ’80s, my mother, a great home cook in her own right, used to make them in a creamy white wine sauce for dinner parties, calling them by their fancy French name (coquilles St. Jacques) and serving them in elaborate scallop shell plates that only came out of the cupboard for this one very special dish. They were, in my eyes, the height of sophistication.When I moved to New York as a young culinary-school student, I learned just how easy they were to cook and how delicious they could be simply seasoned with salt and pepper and seared over high heat in clarified butter. I would save up to buy half a pound at my local fishmonger and practice making them late at night for my roommate, tossing the barely cooked mollusks in angel hair pasta with burst cherry tomatoes and lots of fresh garlic, and setting off the fire alarm in our tiny kitchen in the process.What’s not to love about scallops? It’s hard to find fault in their naturally beautiful shape, pillowy texture, and distinctly sweet, mild flavor. They take well to an infinite array of preparations and cooking techniques, adapt to almost any cuisine, and (as any Top Chef contestant will tell you) can be cooked incredibly quickly or served raw, making them the ultimate blank canvas for everything from black truffles to black bean sauce, citrus to sambal. In summer, I cook them on the grill until just kissed by the flames and pile them on top of warmed veggies with a bright dressing. This version, a favorite for quick and easy backyard dinners, incorporates miso, ginger, and toasted sesame, adding a savory dimension to the salad and a rich contrast to the corn and scallops’ inherent sweetness.To achieve the best sear on your scallops, set them uncovered on a paper towel in the refrigerator for a few hours before grilling.
Like so many kids, summers at the beach were everything to me: freedom, friends, fresh air, and most of all—frozen treats from the truck that pulled into the beach parking lot each afternoon, which we'd run to meet with crumpled bills clenched tightly in our fists. There was nothing better than those sticky sweets and the satisfaction that came from choosing whatever you wanted from the familiar menu. I usually opted for a strawberry shortcake pop, but once in a while I relished a rocket pop. Who could resist those bright, sugary layers, as well as the bonus of the deep blue your tongue turned? Perfect for showing off to your siblings.Flash forward 30 years and I still get nostalgic for those pops. Of course, they've now become a favorite of my 5-year-old daughter, too, on our annual family pilgrimage to beautiful Good Harbor Beach on the North Shore near Boston. But, as a mom, the ingredients don't thrill me as much as they once did. So I decided to make a version of my own, still bursting with deep hues and summer flavor but with a slightly more adult approach. Mine are layered with strawberry-lime, coconut-banana and ginger, and blueberry-mint. Making the simple base for the layers is easy using a home blender; just be sure to freeze each layer sufficiently before pouring in the next, and use a small funnel to get even layers and keep the sides of your popsicle mold clean. Rest assured, the kids will still come running!