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Flicker and spark

When I worked at a theatre company in my teens, one season there was a play that opened with Geroge Gershwin's “Rhapsody in Blue”. I fell for it at first listen, somewhere in between the flirting tumble of notes at the beginning and the arcing rise up the scale before the clarinet cascades in a sigh. It was summer, and the play was a love story. One of my friends had a breathless crush on the production's male lead. One afternoon, the power went out in the theatre, so the show continued by candlelight.

It was all pretty romantic. 

I'm keenly aware of how strange it sounds but when I was trying describe these apple cider caramels, namely caramels spiced with chai masala, strains of "Rhapsody in Blue" kept coming to mind.


Before I lose you entirely, it might be best to try to lay out what we have here. The recipe starts with reduced apple cider, bulked up with sugars and swirled with butter and cream. Then things perk up with a combination of spices; cinnamon, cardamom, clove, and ginger, flinty with black pepper, which taste to me how that Gershwin tune sounds.

Caramel can oftentimes be flat, all sugary heaviness, a dud. These caramels lilt; they flicker and spark. There are highs and lows, deep sweetness, prickling warmth, fragrance and flavour that rolls and develops. They're romance and drama wrapped up in brown paper, and totally worthy of infatuation.

spiced soft caramels

They are soft caramels, not the kind that stick to your teeth and threaten to pull out your molars, but yieldingly-so; they stretch only the tiniest bit when bitten, then relax, supple and dense as you chew. 

We made them by the trayful for gifts this December, in both a straightforward cinnamon version and this fussed up one. They were so popular, I'll be making them into January as well. I am not one for candy, usually, but found it easy enough to make an exception in this case (this being my other). And speaking of ease, these are a cinch as far as candy making goes; some boiling and stirring, then pouring out. Just make sure to keep an eye on the bubbling pot towards the end — when it comes to temperature the caramel will be a smidge lighter in colour than these photographs show, as the shade deepens with the addition of the spices, and even further when the candy cools. 

apple cider caramels spiced with chai masala

And for that ease, you get something stunning. A candy that's interesting yet familiar, and altogether dreamy. Candlelight not required.

Happy new year.



Modified slightly from Deb Perelman and her book The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook (Appetite by Random House, 2012), rewritten by me, except as noted.

Cinnamon, cardamom, ginger, clove and black pepper are fairly standard for chai masala — the mixture used, as you might gather, to flavour masala chai. I think the assortment of spices brings further complexity to the caramels, and works nicely with the apple cider. And, as it's evocative of gingersnaps and gingerbread, the blend matches well with the echoes of the holiday season. While it's not traditional in masala chai, if so inclined, seeds scraped from 1/2 a fresh vanilla bean can be added to the spiced salt.

The original caramel recipe calls for cinnamon alone, so feel free to use 1/2 teaspoon of the ground stuff if that is your preference.

Deb says: Apple cider (sometimes called sweet or “soft” cider), as I’m referring to it here, is different from both apple juice and the hard, or alcoholic, fermented apple cider. It’s a fresh, unfiltered (it has sediment), raw apple juice — the juice literally pressed from fresh apples. It’s unpasteurized, and must be refrigerated, because it’s perishable. In the Northeast, I usually find it at farm stands and some grocery stores. I occasionally find vacuum- sealed bottles called apple cider in the juice aisle, but none of the bottled varieties that I’ve tried has the same delicate apple flavor as the more perishable stuff sold in the refrigerator section.

4 cups (945 ml) apple cider
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger 
1/8 teaspoon ground cardamom 
A good pinch ground clove
A few turns of freshly-ground black pepper
2 teaspoons flaky sea salt, less of a fine-grained one
8 tablespoons (115 grams or 1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into chunks
1 cup (200 grams) granulated sugar
1/2 cup (110 grams) packed light brown sugar
1/3 cup (80 ml) heavy cream
Neutral oil for the knife

Bring the apple cider to a boil in a large saucepan over high heat. Continue to boil, stirring occasionally, until transforms into a dark, thick syrup and is reduced to about 1/2-1/3 cup in volume, which should take around 35 to 40 minutes. 

Meanwhile, set out the other ingredients, as the candy comes together pretty quickly at the end. Line the bottom and sides of an 8-inch, straight-sided metal baking pan with a cross of parchment. Set aside. In a small bowl, stir together all the spices with the sea salt. 

Once the apple cider is reduced, remove it from the heat and quickly stir in the butter, sugars and heavy cream. Return the pot to medium-high heat and let it boil until a candy thermometer reads 252°F, about 5 minutes. 

Immediately remove the caramel from the heat. Add the spiced salt mixture, and give the caramel several stirs. Pour the caramel into the prepared pan and set it aside to cool; around 2 hours at room temperature, or faster in the fridge. Once the caramel is set, use the parchment paper sling to transfer the block of candy to a cutting board. With a well-oiled knife, cut the caramel into 1-by-1-inch squares. Place the cut pieces onto a parchment-lined baking sheet and place in the fridge for 10 minutes before wrapping. Once firmed up, wrap each in pieces of parchment or wax paper, twisting or folding closed. 

The caramels will be soft at room temperature, or can be kept firm in the fridge. They'll last about two weeks, either way. 

MAKES 64 candies. 


First photo taken from my Instagram. For those who asked about the recipe, this is for you. I hope you enjoy them. xo!


The big tah-da

I'm well aware that many of you are counting down the hours (minutes?) until Thanksgiving. To that end, I'll cut to the big tah-da: a spectacular savoury galette, one with caramelized onions, Fontina cheese, and roasted butternut squash.

For all of us not celebrating a holiday tomorrow, consider that lack of turkey, stuffing and pie an unexpected boon, as your oven is now free and clear to make said galette — which, if you don't mind the suggestion, is something I think you should do.


It is a recipe from Deb, found on page 99 of her bestseller, The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook (Appetite by Random House, 2012).

Deb is a superstar already, hardly needing any explanation or introduction as to why her recipes are crowd-pleasing and craveworthy, or how her writing gives only a glimpse of vivacious personality behind those words. All the things you've come to expect from her site have been seamlessly translated to her book; it is chock full of photographs, detailed procedures and helpful notes. She is right there with you for every step of the recipe.

A particular and attentive cook, Deb is one that considers details. She’s like America’s Test Kitchen with less suspenders and more fun, with the added bonus of an adorable toddler. She tests recipes thoroughly; she talks about what worked and what didn’t, she explains her thought process of why she tried this and not that, why she recommends a certain technique — she does her best to consider every angle, every possibility, every variation she can, to get to the best possible result.

So when she presents you with a golden-crusted, filled-with-goodness galette, it will, indeed, be as delicious as it looks. And oh, that crust. Made by hand, it comes together quickly, gorgeously pliable and forgiving to work with. Where lesser crusts might put up some resistance or even crack, this one feels like cool, weighty fabric and smoothly falls into neat pleats. When it bakes, it puffs into layers, opening up those folds and rounding out. The edge shatters into large flakes, and where it is thicker, it goes pillowy with air.

I can see this pastry as means of conveyance for all sorts of deliciousness, kale and feta maybe, or sliced tomatoes with roasted shallots. There's endless possibilities there; keep it bookmarked.

The filling is hardly a slouch either, lush with sweet onions and cubes of succulent squash, bound with cheese and set off with thyme. It is elegant and rustic, decadent and comforting, and absolutely autumnal.


In one of her earliest posts, Deb writes:

“I think that the basic instinct that gets us in the kitchen 'after all those messy sustenance issues have been attended to' is a deep-seated desire to make something taste a little better than the way we’ve come to accept it.”

That sums up why we keep turning to Deb, and her boundless generosity when it comes to her time, recipes and advice. She sincerely wants our meals to be better, and does her darndest to guarantee they are.

I'm thankful for her efforts, and her friendship.


Last week, I was honoured to host The Cookbook Store's author event with Deb in Toronto. Cheers to Alison and all the staff for organizing the night, to the chef school at George Brown College and Chef Scott for the welcome and the best signs I've ever seen. To everyone who attended, y'all were amazing. Your enthusiasm got me through some nerves.

And, congratulations Debbie on the book. It deserves all the success it’s getting, and more. Here's to another visit soon, French 75s all around. Tiramisu too.


Excerpted from The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook (Knopf Publishing Group, 2012). Deb suggests this as an appetizer, or as a main. The recipe can also be divided to make two 9-inch galettes.

For the pastry
2½ cups (320 g) all-purpose flour, including 1/2 cup whole-wheat flour if you like, plus more for work surface
1/2 teaspoon (2 g) table salt
16 tablespoons (227 g) or 2 sticks, unsalted butter
1/2 cup (64 g) sour cream or full-fat Greek yogurt, strained
1 tablespoon (15 mL) white wine vinegar
1/3 cup (79 mL) ice water

For the filling
2 small or 1 large butternut squash, about 21/2 pounds (1134 g)
3 tablespoons (45 mL) oil
1½ teaspoons (5 g) tsp table salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon (14 g) butter
2 large sweet onions, such as Spanish or Vidalia, halved, thinly sliced in half-moons
1/4 teaspoon (1 g) sugar
1/4 teaspoon (1 g) cayenne pepper, or to taste (optional
2 cups (180 g) grated Italian Fontina cheese
1 teaspoon (4 g) chopped fresh thyme, or 2 teaspoons chopped fresh sage
1 egg beaten with 1 tsp (4 g) water, for glaze (optional, but makes for a croissant-looking finish)


To make pastry: In a bowl, combine the flour and salt. Add the whole sticks of butter and, using a pastry blender, break up the bits of butter until the texture is like cornmeal, with the biggest pieces the size of pebbles. In a small bowl, whisk together the sour cream, vinegar and water, and pour this over the butter-flour mixture. Stir with a spoon or a rubber spatula until a dough forms, kneading it once or twice on the counter if needed to bring it together. Pat the dough into a ball, wrap it in plastic and chill it in the refrigerator for an hour or up to two days.

To prepare squash: Peel the squash, then halve and scoop out seeds. Cut into ½-inch to ¾-inch chunks. Pour 2 tablespoons (30 mL) of the olive oil into one or two smaller baking sheets, spreading it to an even slick. Lay the squash chunks on the baking sheet in one layer, sprinkle with ½ teaspoon (2 g) of the salt, and freshly ground black pepper, and roast in a 400 F oven for 30 minutes, or until squash is tender, turning the pieces occasionally so that they brown evenly. Set aside to cool slightly. Leave the oven on.

While the squash is roasting, melt the butter and remaining tablespoon of olive oil in a heavy frying pan, and cook the onions over medium-low heat with the sugar and remaining teaspoon of salt, stirring occasionally, until soft and tender, about 25 minutes. Stir in the cayenne pepper, if using.

Mix the squash, caramelized onions, cheese and herbs together in a bowl.

To assemble the galette: On a floured work surface, roll the dough out into a 16- to 17-inch round. Transfer to a parchment-lined baking sheet. Spread the squash-and-cheese mixture over the dough, leaving a 2 to 2½-inch border. Fold the border over the squash and cheese, pleating the edge to make it fit. The centre will be open. Brush the outside of the crust with the egg-yolk wash, if using.

Bake until golden brown, 30 to 40 minutes. Remove the galette from the oven, let stand for five minutes, then slide onto a serving plate. Cut into wedges and serve hot, warm or at room temperature.

Makes 1 hearty 12-inch galette, serving 8


Tara's Notes:

  • One day I used a mix of Fontina and Gruyère for the cheeses as I happened to have both in the fridge, but not enough of either to make up the full amount called for in the recipe; it was a nice combination.
  • In another incarnation, I added a diced Empire apple to the filling.
  • Dried red pepper flakes make a good substitution to the cayenne. 



Luisa's meatballs for new mothers


I came to know Luisa Weiss as you may have, through her site, The Wednesday Chef. I wish I could say what post was the first I devoured, or the recipe that was our introduction, but I can't. She's one of those people who seems as though they were always around. I do remember thinking her perspective was unique; born in Berlin to Italian and American parents, she was a woman who had studied in Europe and the United States, who loved food and now worked in cookbook publishing. She lived in New York. She seemed as sharp as she was kind, with a cracking streak of sarcasm and a real vulnerability. I thought her a little glamorous.

What sold me though was Luisa's impressive talent; she's got a knack for both words and recipes. She can line up a phrase in such a way that it comes across as both succinct and artful. She's a genius at sussing out good recipes, and specific and honest when it comes to analyzing the bad ones.

As Luisa continued to write, her circumstances changed and her skill evolved; the recipes were the way she talked about everything else in her world. Her highs and lows were shared over baked beans and Greek salads and pommes de terre boulangère.

Now, she has a book that covers all that more. And it is a Los Angeles Times bestseller.

When Sean and I packed up the boys for a late August jaunt to Montréal, Luisa's was the only book I tucked in my bag. It made for perfect travel reading, especially as we were going back to the city where I was born, and where Sean and I have spent so much time, starting from when we were dating. As Luisa recounted the journey she's had thus far, one divided into countries and continents, it made me consider my own.

I'll not spoil where her words leave off, but she sets us in an idyllic point of beginning and end. It is a moment filled with an appreciation for how we are in the constant collection of layers to our lives, how we are always building up these stories, memories, of people and places, adding and taking away from the patina of experience. She considers the complex, messy choices we make in the pursuit of growth and happiness, and shows a heartening faith in forward progress.

I thought a lot about my parents on that trip, how it was for them starting out as immigrants. I conjured younger versions of Mum and Dad in shops and restaurants, I tried to find places that felt familiar from my childhood, and I wanted to stand on the steps of the church where they married. I wondered what it must have been like to make the choices they did.

One evening after dinner, Sean and I walked with our sons through Parc La Fontaine. The light was gold and gleaming, and the shadows long on the grass. We ambled along the winding paths and listened to someone playing violin. I held Benjamin's hand, and Sean carried William on his shoulders until we reached Sherbrooke street. At that point, facing south, you're at the edge of the plateau, with its width to your back and the mountain rising from there. The road falls away at your feet, rolling down towards the port and waters at the city's southern border. There was something in that moment that felt like potential. I imagined us living there. If I squinted hard enough, I thought I could see the boys running up the stairs of one of the skinny Victorian houses that line the park, I could hear the jingle of keys in my pocket, and I felt for a moment we could be home.

(Dear friends and family: we're not moving anytime soon.)

Luisa's meatballs

I just finished My Berlin Kitchen for the second time, proving that the book doesn't require travel. I read it one afternoon, as I sat securely tucked on our couch, and Luisa's sentiments still rang pure and true. The next day, I made these meatballs for the third (fourth?) time, with her conjured company in the kitchen.

These meatballs aren't in the book, — there is however, a recipe she includes for meatballs in chipotle sauce that should be mentioned, and one for a classic ragù that is the closest I've ever come to the Platonic ideal. Luisa actually wrote about these meatballs right before My Berlin Kitchen was published, as mother to a newborn son.

They serve as a poignant epilogue to Luisa's story. She's already on her next chapter, and it's nothing short of wonderful to see her on her way.


Luisa's meatballs for new mothers
Recipe rewritten from Luisa Weiss. I find it as easy to make a large batch as it is a small one, so I often double the recipe, which guarantees that I'll have some to stash away in the freezer. See below for notes on that.

What do I like to eat meatballs with? Luisa says she likes hers with polenta or rice, and I'm in complete agreement with both of those recommendations. To add one of my own, I suggest you toast a slice of really crusty bread, then rub the cut side of a garlic clove over its surface. Tear a nice, milky ball of buffalo mozzarella and smush that into the bread. Ladle on some meatballs and sauce, snip over some fresh basil and a few chili flakes.

Toss together an escarole salad, and nestle a handful of leaves beside the meatballs on the plate.

Then grab a knife and fork and go at it. This deconstructed meatball sandwich makes for a rustic bit of business; with the bread both soft and crunchy, and then the mozzarella will be cool in some bites and melted in others, and the sharpness of the escarole stands out against the richness of the meat. Most likely at some point there will be sauce dribbling down your chin, which I consider undeniable proof of a good meal.

For the meatballs
2 slices of white bread, crusts cut off
1/3 cup milk
1/2 pound ground beef
1/2 pound ground pork
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 eggs
Fresh nutmeg
1 bunch of parsley, minced

For the sauce
1-2 tablespoons olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
1 28-ounce can tomatoes, whole, chopped or crushed
Salt and pepper to taste


Tear the bread into a bowl and soak the pieces with the milk. Allow to sit for a few minutes. Using your hands, squeeze out the bread and add it to a large bowl, along with the ground beef, ground pork, eggs, salt and pepper, maybe 30 grates of nutmeg, and the minced parsley.

Again using your hands, gently mix the all the ingredients together until they're a smooth, uniform mass. Cover the bowl and chill in the refrigerator for at least an hour.

An hour or so before you want to eat, make the sauce. In a large, heavy-bottomed pot, brown the garlic in the olive oil over medium heat. Pour in your tomatoes, give everything a stir and a good pinch of salt. Reduce the heat to low, and simmer the sauce for 25 minutes, stirring occasionally. Once the sauce is cooked, taste and adjust the seasoning.

To cook the meatballs, gently roll the meat mixture into smallish balls and line them up on a plate or baking sheet. (Luisa likes her meatballs about 2-inches in diameter, I like mine a bit smaller — see note below.) When all your meatballs are ready, carefully drop them in the warm sauce.

Cover the pot with a lid and leave it to simmer. Resist any compulsions to stir the pot; but, as Luisa says, if you're concerned you can shake the pot a little. After 25 minutes, the meatballs will be ready to eat, or you can allow the pot to cool completely then freeze everything for another day.


Notes on doubling the recipe:

  • Before forming the meatballs, pinch off a small amount and quickly fry up a little patty to check seasoning. It's an especially good thing to do when making large batches.
  • When the butcher has some on hand, I'll often add some ground veal to the mix.
  • If there are too many meatballs to fit into your pot of sauce, you cook the remaining meatballs seperately. I preheat the broiler to high, then pop in a baking sheet of meatballs about 3-4 inches from the heat. My smaller meatballs (1 heaped tablespoon of mix per ball) take around 8 minutes to get well-browned on the outside and cooked through. I allow the meatballs to cool, then freeze them on the sheet, transferring them to a sealable container for storage once frozen.




Time travel

icewine gelée with yogurt mousse and pan-roasted plums

Today has a funny feeling to it. The feeling of askew and unsettled.

There was the storm that knocked out our power and heat for 20 hours, which was a nothing in comparison to what so many of you are still dealing with. And then there's that I'm here, talking about a story I started working on three months ago, one that published one month ago, with food for September. Yet here we are, almost at November.

Do you think that Halloween, a day of ghosts and goblins, of tricks and treats and dashes of magic, is a good day for time travel?

I’m hoping so, as that’s my plan. Fingers crossed you’re up for the ride.

Over the summer, Nikole asked if I'd like to collaborate again, this time for a piece for The Globe and Mail. Michael had already agreed; it hardly took me a second to jump up and join them.

The idea was that we'd make a meal together, one that felt right for the end of summer and fall's beginning, one that suited big platters passed around, with a menu inspired by ingredients we found at the farmstands and orchards and markets we like. Nikole and I would sort the food together; then on the day, I'd cook, she'd get everything set in that way she does so well, and Michael would be tasked with capturing it all. 

Here's how it went. 

the meal, all together

We filled the table. (And I may have filled the studio with smoke at one point.)

There was a salad of Santa Claus melon and spiky, sharp arugula, dressed with Champagne vinegar. We stripped the gold and cream kernels off the cobs of a pile of corn, and sautéed them with sweet onion, ground fennel and coriander. There was a plate of brined pork chops, edged with crunchy fat and succulent through and through, finished with a cider pan sauce and decorated with fried capers. Capers are so nice that way, they split and crisp, opening up like blossoms with the tiniest of petals, frilled and crunchy. We leafed the Brussels sprouts to keep their shape, the ideal vessel for toasted hazelnuts and a dressing of olive oil. 

To afternoon before, we'd filled cups with layers of icewine gelée and a honey-kissed yogurt mousse and stashed them away in the fridge. To finish, wasn't much to do but for spooning over some pan-roasted plums. And there was dessert.

When all was settled and dishes empty, and the room quiet, we stayed around the table. We sipped on drinks and talked past dark.  


Thinking back to then from now, I think we achieved the meal we'd hoped for. It was a September dinner in Ontario's farmland, even though it was August in the middle of the city. I'm grateful for those who shared in the making of it all.

And I'm so very happy to now share a part of it with you.



If you'd like a way to help with relief efforts for those effected by Sandy, the Red Cross may be a place to start. 

And, I've not forgotten — for the copies of UPPERCASE issue 15, Mike and Lauren have been selected. Guys, I'll be in touch! 

For this post, all photographs by Michael Graydon, styling by Nikole Herriott and food by me. xo, pals.

(Be sure to check out Nikole's site for the corn recipe, it was a favourite! For those who asked, the glass cups for the dessert are egg coddlers; they are available at her shop.)


Icewine gelée with yogurt mousse and plums
While the recipe reads long, it isn’t especially complicated; the steps are spread out over the chilling time, with only short periods of activity. 

The icewine gelée is intensely flavoured, balanced by the subtlety of the yogurt mousse. Sautéed plums are simple, yet luxuriously lush, gorgeous with their claret juice. The unexpected addition of fresh thyme, and grassy, extra-virgin olive oil, bring a fragrant richness, evocative of fall.

Grilled figs would be a lovely substitution for the plums. Or maybe fresh cranberries, cooked with sugar and orange zest, until they just burst and go juicy.

Preparation time: 15 minutes
Cooking time: 10 minutes
Ready time: 3 1/2 hours (includes chilling time)
Serves: 6

For the icewine gelée
1 sheet leaf gelatine, gold extra strength
100 ml icewine

For the yogurt mousse
2 sheets leaf gelatine, gold extra strength
1 cup greek yogurt (2% butterfat)
3 tablespoons honey
Seeds scraped from 1/2 vanilla bean
1 cup heavy (whipping, 35%) cream, divided

For the plums
1 tablespoon olive oil, not extra virgin
8 small, firm plums, each cut into eight wedges
2 tablespoons Turbinado sugar, or thereabouts, depending on sweetness of fruit
Pinch of Kosher salt
1 small sprig thyme, left whole, plus more for garnish

Extra-virgin olive oil and store bought amaretti or other crisp biscuits, to serve
For the gelée, soak the gelatine in a shallow dish of cold water for 5 minutes to soften. Meanwhile, gently warm the wine in a saucepan over medium-low heat until under a simmer; do not boil. Remove from the heat, squeeze the excess water out of the gelatin and whisk into the warm wine until dissolved. Divide the wine mixture between six 1-cup-capacity cups and refrigerate gelées for 1 hour.

To make the mousse, soak gelatine in a shallow dish of cold water for 5 minutes.

While gelatine is softening, stir yogurt, honey and vanilla seeds together in a small bowl. Pour 2 tablespoons heavy cream into a small saucepan and set aside. In a large bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer, whip remaining cream to firm peaks.

Squeeze the water out of the gelatine and melt in the small saucepan with the reserved cream over low heat, stirring to combine. Whisk this into the yogurt mixture and then fold in the whipped cream. Spoon yogurt mousse into the dessert cups, on top of the icewine layer, filling to a generous two-thirds full. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours and up to overnight.

To prepare the plums, warm olive oil in a medium skillet over medium heat. Add plums, sugar and salt. Cook, shaking the pan gently and turning the fruit with care, until plums begin to soften, around 3 minutes.

Remove pan from heat, add the thyme sprig and stir. Let cool for 5 minutes.

To serve, remove thyme from plums and spoon fruit on top of prepared mousses. Garnish with fresh thyme leaves and a few drops of extra-virgin olive oil, passing the amaretti cookies and any remaining fruit at the table.


Note: We used the Cabernet Franc icewine from Henry of Pelham in the gelée for its beautiful colour and acidity. Peller Estate’s Private Reserve Icewine Vidal makes for a rich, golden gelée, and affords a more modestly-priced option.




Each on their own

I have a cardigan that's unmistakably ugly; the colour is drab and makes me look like I'm either coming down with a cold or getting over one. It was made for a tall man, which I am not, so the shoulders droop. On the left side, at my hip, above the pocket, there's a small hole, round and neat like you pushed a sharpened pencil through the wool. I've rolled the cuffs so many times that they're stretched out, and are beginning to ruffle at the edge. Still, the sweater is in my closet, because it is warm and comfy, and I like it. No matter its looks.

I feel very much the same way about panadeI'm a sucker for substance.


A panade is like a savoury bread pudding, or the best parts of French onion soup and a gratin packed together in a casserole. There's bread and cheese and vegetables stacked up on top of each other, baked until the bottom goes lush and the top is crusted golden. A collection of humble ingredients — a fine use of those past their prime, actually — and one that lands up at an end far more auspicious then its start. It's made with stock rather than a custard to bind the layers, so even though rich and filling, the flavour of is clearer. There's acidity from the wine and tomatoes, the sharpness of sturdy greens, the pronounced, aromatic nuttiness of Gruyère; all together, yet each on their own. 

You may be familiar with the recipe for chard and onion panade from the Zuni Café cookbook; if not, you'll find it has a deservedly faithful following. This version adds tomatoes, and their inclusion made it perfect for our start to October, as the trees are starting their turn to technicolour but the days are warm enough that there are (crazy) folks wearing shorts and no coats. This panade is what we had one night when, if not for dinner, I was ready for the blanket we keep tucked by the couch. Hot and bubbling from the oven, we spooned our meal sloppily onto plates — though the crust shattered with an impressive shower of crumbs, underneath there were puddles of broth, and the oozing slip of melted cheese. The vegetables were supple but retained a messy integrity, if not their colour. We had fried eggs on top.

season's ending.


It seems a counterintuitive to take vibrant tomatoes, minutes away from the end of their season, pile them with bouncily green bunches of rainbow chard and lacinato kale, and cook the lot of it to a muted sog, and yet, it makes absolute sense. The result is pretty much exactly what's going on outside right now, a season that blazes but feels cozy; one that's equal parts shining sky and colours turned up to eleven, as it is grey clouds and dim evenings, with the lights turned on early. 

Floppy sweaters and panades, both fit me fine.

Tomato, greens and Gruyère panade
Adapted from 
Food and Wine. With two children at the table, I didn't let the panade bake too long uncovered, since when the crust goes terminally crunchy it can be difficult for small mouths to manage. If that's not a concern, feel free to fully blitz the top until crispy all over. 

4 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided, plus more for the pan
5 pounds mixed sturdy greens, such as chards and kales, stemmed
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 large onions, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
1 small garlic clove, minced
1 cup dry white wine
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 cups chicken stock, preferably homemade
One 1-pound, day-old peasant loaf, sliced 1/2-inch thick
3 pounds beefsteak tomatoes, sliced 1/2-inch thick, see note
8 ounces Gruyère cheese, grated, plus extra for garnish

Butter a 10x15-inch baking dish and set aside. Preheat an oven to 400°F (200°C), with a rack in the upper third.

In a large, wide pot of boiling water, cook the greens for 2 minutes, then drain into a colander and run under cold water. Once cool enough to handle, squeeze out the excess water. Chop coarsely and set aside.

In the same pot, melt 2 tablespoons butter with the olive oil over medium-low heat. Add the onions and thyme and cook, stirring occasionally until the onions have softened, around 12 minutes. Stir in the garlic and cook for 2 minutes more. Raise the head to medium-high and pour in the wine; simmer until the wine has reduced to 1/4 cup, around 5 minutes. Stir in the greens and season with salt and pepper. 

In a small saucepan, bring the stock to a simmer. Line the bottom of the prepared baking dish with one-third of the bread slices, overlapping and trimming the bread to fit. Layer half the tomatoes on top, and season with salt and pepper. Spread half the greens mixture on next, then half of the cheese. Repeat layers with the remaining ingredients, gently pressing down as you build, ending with the bread. Carefully pour the stock over the casserole and press down again, this time using a spatula. Melt the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter and brush over all. 

Cover the dish with foil and bake in the preheated oven for 1 hour. Remove the foil and bake for 10-15 minutes more, until the top is browned and crisp. Remove from the oven and allow the casserole to rest for 10 minutes before serving. At the table, sprinkle some reserved cheese on top, if desired.

Serves 8, nicely with a salad and/or a fried egg alongside.


  • I used a mix of tomatoes we had hanging about; if you don't have beefsteaks, semi-roasted Romas would be particularly fine, as done here
  • Fontina is a good switch for the Gruyère




From UPPERCASE magazine, issue #15: cooking science and a recipe for roasted carrots with rough dukkah, and one for harissa mayonnaise.

I am especially proud to be a contributor to UPPERCASE magazine, and I'm heartily thankful for support shown for my stories over there. To show that appreciation, I'd like to give away two copies of the latest, jaw-droppingly gorgeous issue! It even has a super-nifty embossed cover — you'll want to see this one in person. Simply leave a comment here if you'd like to be considered. (Please provide a way to contact you, either through your own website or email address. If concerned about privacy on the latter, the information is only visible to me when entered in the contact email field of the comment form. It will not be made public.)

Entries will be accepted until at 11:59 p.m. on Friday, October 12, 2012.

My continued thanks and best of luck! xo