Pani Puri

My husband and I were sad when Mahesh moved south to Santa Clara. No more midnight Scrabble runs, no more weekend hikes that end with naps in the sun. But you can’t blame a guy for falling in love, buying a beautiful home, and starting an adorable family. Luckily for me, the happy couple still invite me to their dinner parties. One of the most memorable (and delicious!) was a chaat party where they filled and dipped and served an endless stream of pani puri.
Continue reading “Pani Puri”

Sweet Snowballs

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I miss snow. Sure, shoveling the driveway ranks up there with washing third-floor bay windows, but building icy forts and sledding right past the edge of safety are among my favorite memories of being a kid. I loved the slow, silent flakes of winter’s first snow, the magic of maple syrup candy, and the crunch of my boots breaking through the late season’s deep crust. The very best, of course, were snowball fights with my sister.

Living half a continent away, I’ve had to figure out other ways of sending her my love. White chocolate truffles are not as hard or as cold or as painful as a frosty, well-aimed projectile, but I guess they’ll have to do.


The original, quick-and-easy recipe from Gourmet (Dec 2000) skips the whole nuts, the fleur de sel, the excess rum and the butter bath that you’ll find in the recipe below. I obviously like booze, crunchiness and that sweet-salty thing, but both versions are equally yummy. The most important part is to splurge on the best white chocolate you can find. Burlingame-based E. Guittard’s wafers are among my favorites. As you can tell from the yield, this recipe was designed for sharing.

12 ounces macadamia nuts, lightly toasted
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons rum
1 pound good-quality white chocolate, coarsely chopped
1/2 teaspoon fleur de sel (coarse sea salt)
2 tablespoons butter, melted
2 cups desiccated coconut (unsweetened)

  1. Line an 8-by-8-inch pan with plastic film.
  2. Select 64 whole nuts and set aside. Pulse the remaining nuts in the processor until finely ground.
  3. Heat the cream and 1/4 cup rum in a heavy saucepan over low, swirling occasionally, until small bubbles rise. Remove from the heat, add the white chocolate and stir until smooth, returning the pan to a very low flame if needed to melt the chocolate completely. Stir in the ground nuts.
  4. Pour half the mixture into the lined pan and spread evenly. Arrange the whole nuts in an 8×8 grid over the surface of the chocolate. Sprinkle the fleur de sel over the whole nuts. Carefully spread the remaining half of the chocolate over the nuts with an offset spatula. Cover with plastic film and chill until firm, 4 to 6 hours.
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  5. Invert the chilled chocolate onto a cutting surface. Cut into 64 cubes, centering a whole nut in each one. Roll each chocolate cube into a ball between your palms.
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  6. After all of the balls have been formed, stir together the butter and remaining 2 tablespoons rum in a small bowl. Dip each ball into the rum-butter mixture, and then roll the ball in coconut to coat completely.
  7. Chill until firm, letting the truffles return to room temperature before serving.

Makes 64 snowballs.

Ingredient Shuffle

In this day of confusing health reports and lax public policy, it’s nice to know that there are still some simple guidelines out there. From bread to yogurt, brief is best. You want whole, recognizable ingredients that don’t require a dictionary or chemistry degree to understand. Whether I’m teaching a cooking class for moms in Marin or teens from Chinatown, I always say: Look for short words and short lists.

Lab beakers

How strange, then, to read the latest recipes by cutting-edge chefs. Sure, I’m used to restaurant menus that wax poetic about seasons and provenance, like a rambling culinary almanac, but to see the transformation of recipes into chemistry formulas is jarring.

“Add xanthonomas campestris….Place mixture in blender and add stabilizers….Cover tightly and flash freeze in liquid nitrogen.” Continue reading “Ingredient Shuffle”

How laziness can be healthy

My first job in a restaurant was as the Saturday morning prep girl.

Tomato wedgeOnce I’d proven to the chef that I could pick thyme and reduce parsley to green dust, he trusted me with a day’s supply of concassé. That meant blanching a case of tomatoes and then shocking them in iced water. Then peeling them. Then seeding them. Then dicing them. Continue reading “How laziness can be healthy”

Of Boats and Boxes

shipping containersFifty years ago…

On April 26, 1956, the freighter Ideal X left port on its maiden voyage. Following the coast from Newark to Houston, the converted WWII tanker didn’t have far to go or much to transport. Yet, its historic cargo would revolutionize the way people around the world eat, dress, live, play and work: On board were 58 of Malcom P. McLean’s standardized shipping containers. Continue reading “Of Boats and Boxes”