Chocolate-covered grapes


I keep a journal for each of my children. Wait, no, that’s a bit misleading. I own three small books with their names written inside, and hold firmly to a delusion an intent to keep a journal for each of them. When they were very small this seemed like an easier and more realistic task — they got a tooth, said something cute, pooped somewhere not-so-cute. These days, with all their new-found conversational, emotional, and philosophical needs, well, let’s just say I’m doing good to keep them fed.

So let’s back it up a bit. Let’s pretend I was good at keeping a journal for each of my children. If so, they would have plenty of documentation to take with them to their therapist’s office in 20-30 years. My son will flip to that page from 2008 when I moved him from his crib to a toddler bed, making room for his new baby sister (insert deep-seeded feelings of vulnerability, fear of falling, etc.). My daughter might be affirmed in her memories of severe pain after her tonsilectomy at age 5 — and, for sure, all three of them will read admissions of guilt from the days I am not up to my mothering best. But the one thing that at times seems like the most traumatic entry ever — the thing that causes the most confusion in their delicate child psyches is the fact that I don’t often buy grapes.


MOM, (insert any name here)’s MOM ALWAYS BUYS GRAPES!


And, ok, that last one will work sometimes. If grapes are <$1.99/# (incidentally, that’s my exact shorthand for if/then statements on the grocery list when I send Tim to the store) then I will occasionally buy a pound or two. My complaint with grapes is twofold: economics and nutrition.

I know that grapes are delicious. They are juicy, sweet, and refreshing — like nature’s popsicle. And they do have nutritive value, I suppose (anti-oxidants, maybe?) — but they are really high in sugar content, and that’s why my kids can pop them like candy. Add to this the fact that they are usually from South America, where they are sprayed with who knows what (and who can ever afford the organic ones?), and also are rarely on sale — my kids can eat up $4 worth of grapes in one sitting, and could do so every single day. Not a good thing for the grocery budget, especially when so many other seasonal fruits give much more bang for the buck.

Laugh at me, if you will, but so runs my logic: when I came across a recipe last week for chocolate grapes, it was a no-brainer. If grapes, to me, are like candy, we might as well take that idea to its fullest end.

The method was in that big beautiful cookbook, the one I borrowed from Greg Hardesty, the one that left me longing for ripe red tomatoes. The recipe is French, which automatically makes me it cool. I made these as contribution for a dinner party, and while an amazing ganache-covered chocolate cake whipped up by my friend Amanda took top honors, my bowl of grapes was gone when the dishes were done.

And my kids? Let’s just say I’m writing this one down in their books.


Recipe: Chocolate-Covered Grapes

: retold from a recipe by Michel Richard in Happy in the Kitchen


  • 1 pound firm grapes, stemmed and washed
  • 4 oz bittersweet (60-70% cacao) chocolate (I used a bar of Ghirardelli Bittersweet), finely chopped
  • 1-2 Tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder


  1. Dry grapes thoroughly, and place in the refrigerator to chill for at least an hour (the temperature of the grapes and chocolate is important — otherwise the chocolate won’t correctly set)
  2. Set a medium mixing bowl (glass or stainless steel) over a pot of simmering water (the bowl should not touch the water). Add the chocolate to the bowl, and stir until melted.
  3. Set chocolate aside and let cool to body temperature: dip your finger in the chocolate and touch it to your bottom lip; when it is the same temperature as your lip it is ready.
  4. Transfer the chilled grapes to a large mixing bowl. Drizzle the chocolate, a spoonful at a time, over the grapes, and stir the grapes to coat (the chocolate will begin to set quickly, so stir gently but quickly).
  5. Sift the cocoa powder over the grapes, and stir to coat, separating grapes that have stuck together.
  6. Serve immediately, or chill for up to a day.



King candy corn


In his Yellow Farmhouse Cookbook, Christopher Kimball writes of corn:

Although the supersweet hybrids are all the rage, I find that they lack the depth of flavor that I associate with older varieties. Last summer I planted a hybrid called Bodacious and it was extraordinarily sweet and light, but it was a bit like cotton candy; it melted in the mouth leaving a sweet but slightly unpleasant aftertaste. By comparing sugar levels, I realized that the new hybrids areally are much sweeter. Old-fasioned “sweet” corn has 5 to 10 percent sugar, “sugar-enhanced” corn is 15 to 18 percent, and “supersweet” is 25 to 30 percent. …[I am] abandoning the supersweets entirely.*

I’m not quite sure I’ve ever tasted corn of an older variety — anything other than supersweet (or, more likely, if I came across it sometime in the 1980s, the memory was erased by years of hairspray abuse). These days the ears we buy at the farmer’s market are no doubt supersweets — and yes, they are reminiscent of candy. Which means that when we cook them, we must balance out all that sweet with a heavy dose of salt or acid.

Our favorite ways to eat candy-sweet corn are either grilled or in a fresh corn salad. The former is easy if you’re grilling other things as well — but to get some caramelization you need a very hot grill, so plan to put your ears on first. Simply rub husked corn with a good dose of extra-virgin olive oil, and sprinkle generously with salt. Place ears directly on a very hot grill, turning often with tongs, until some black spots appear on the kernels. Let cool on a plate while you grill the rest of dinner, and then serve alongside — they need nothing else (in the photo, the ears have also been rubbed with Old Bay seasoning, a favorite of the Wine Benefactor [slash] Grill Master).


When the grill isn’t hot, or when you’re taking a side dish to a cookout, the corn salad recipe below (from Ina Garten) is ideal. A perfect side for almost any grilled protein, it has sweet, salt, and acid all at once. Fresh basil tossed in at the end makes this dish fresh and classic enough to take to just about every event of the summer where you can’t show up empty-handed. Bringing the grand total to TWO of Possible Dishes Katy Will Bring If You Invite Her To Your Cookout.

Don’t be shy about making the salad your own. A handful of this or that, fresh from the garden (I’ve added radishes and red peppers, and currently wonder what an avocado might do) is always welcome. Supersweet corn, it turns out, was bred for hospitality.

Recipe: Corn Salad

: From this recipe by Ina Garten


  • 5-6 ears fresh corn, husked
  • 1/2 red onion, finely chopped
  • 3 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
  • 1/2 tsp salt (plus more for cooking water)
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • handful fresh basil, cut into strips


  1. Bring a very large pot of water to a boil. Add 2-3 tsp salt, and the ears of corn. Boil for just 3 minutes, then remove ears to a large bowl of ice water (this retards cooking, important for retaining firmness).
  2. After corn has cooled, dry lightly on a towel. To remove the kernels, stand an ear on end inside a large bowl. Using a chef’s knife, cut down the sides of the ear, as close to the cob as possible. Repeat until all kernels are removed from cobs.
  3. To the bowl of corn, add onion, olive oil, vinegar, salt & pepper. Toss to coat. (To make ahead, complete through this step and refrigerate up to a few hours.)
  4. Just before serving, stir in basil.

Number of servings (yield): 6-8


*Kimball, Christopher. The Yellow Farmhouse Cookbook, p. 181

Red tomato blues


It was all going so well, wasn’t it? June was an absolute delight — nary a day when the temps rose above 90º, with soothing rains that brought cool breezes. Humidity was low, mosquitos were non-existent. It was like the summer of my dreams, one that provoked a declaration to friends that I think I’ve been converted into a lover-of-summer, and then their response of a disbelieving raised eyebrow, since they know me so well.

And then, just like that, overnight even, I was transported back to the summer of my youth. The one that sits thick outside the back door my kids never remember to shut (welcoming the fly that is currently, this very moment, buzzing around my head). The summer that sucks your breath like one of those Death-Eaters in Harry Potter. The drought-infused heat that stunts growth and ripening in our garden, causing all the green tomatoes on our vines to just sit, stubbornly, refusing to blush. And I can’t say I blame them — I’m finding new ways to reserve unnecessary energy too.

I want summer recipes, but haven’t wanted to buy tomatoes — I mean, that’s why we planted so many, right? Though after walking by a community garden this morning, and holding onto the chain-link fence as I stared longingly at some juicy red specimens (guess they got theirs in the ground before we did?), I might break down, swallow my self-sufficient pride, and bring some home from the farmer’s market this Saturday.

We were at dinner the other night at Room Four (which, by the way, was most excellent — and I would write a stellar review except that now I’m afraid I’ll curse the place, having written a recent stellar review of another new restaurant in town only to hear of a friend having a lousy experience there the next week). Chef Greg Hardesty was able to chat a bit, as the other half of the restaurant, Recess, was closed for the night. I was asking him about my failed attempts to recreate the amazing chicken liver mousse we had at Recess last winter, and he went to fetch the cookbook that lent inspiration for the dish. As I read the recipe, he offered to just let me take the book home for a few days, adding as an afterthought that he “wouldn’t buy any more produce from my husband’s farm” (i.e., the Butler Campus Farm) until we brought it back.

The cookbook is big, and stunning, and way over my head (obscure ingredients, required mandolines and the like). But I sat last night, salivating over each and every tomato recipe. A yellow tomato tart, tomato trifle, tomato tartare, fresh tomato soup. All of the photos showcasing the brightest red of red specimens, and it’s all I can do not to start scraping at the page with my nails, my brain tricked by the mirage.

I find myself constantly craving acid. Not the hallucinogenic kind, but anything edible and tart, in that sharp, pungent way. I eat pickled things, but in the end they aren’t quite sweet enough. Aren’t fresh enough. Aren’t tomato enough.

Come on, summer, don’t be stingy. Give us tomatoes, they are currently your one saving grace.




Well, rock my world.

Once in a blue moon, Tim and I go out to eat. Not this kind of eating out, but just regular, old-fashioned, date-like behavior.

The reason? Not only does the moon have to be blue, the stars must also align:

  1. One of us must think farther than 6 hours into the future, in order to make a plan.
  2. The plan must then be communicated to the other person, not telepathically, since that doesn’t really work yet.
  3. We must cajole a good-natured friend to keep our kids for free find a sitter.
  4. Our kids must remain healthy and in good working order during the 24 hours that pass between nos. 1 and 3.
  5. We have to be excited enough about a restaurant to pay them money to cook for us. Seriously, this is where the plan falls apart most of the time. This has everything to do with the fact that we are lazy, cheap homebodies.

But last weekend, all of the above did happen, in just 24 hours. I’d been hearing rumblings, good ones, of a new place downtown called Black Market. A plan was made, a friend was cajoled, we were out the door, even managing to rope Nathan and Sarah into our excursion. No sooner had the four of us walked in, sat, and started menu-browsing than I began mildly hyperventilating.

The menu. Pulling a Pavlov, I began salivating just reading the simple, pub-inspired but urban-twisted offerings. There were local, limited-edition brews on-tap. I think I felt my eyes brim with tears.

The prices were reasonable. The atmosphere was somehow comfortable, welcoming, brooding, and magazine-worthy. The server was warm, honest, and knowledgeable. I was giddy.

Amongst our quartet, we shared 3 appetizers, 3 entrees, and 3 desserts. Vegetarians be warned: we ate meat, six times over, and then dessert. Duck, lamb, beef tongue — one entree was over-salted, one was under-salted, and that was the extent of my complaint. The desserts were delightfully simple, the star being a campfire shortbread that was a cookie layered with dark chocolate ganache and a bourbon marshmallow. Sounds humble, but in those layers somewhere was a delightful salty punch, and campfire or not, I could’ve eaten a dozen.

The standout entree was a burger. Something I would’ve never ordered had my arm not been twisted (everyone chose a “non-negotiable” from the menu) — the only time I order burgers is when I’m at a sports bar (which means I’ve ordered exactly 2 burgers at restaurants in the past decade). I mean, what can you possibly do with a burger?

Well, for starters, you can use a combo of good local beef and lamb. Second, you can cook it well (i.e., don’t over-do it). AND THEN you can put herbed goat cheese and pickled green tomatoes on top — apparently, this is the step that takes a burger from Something-You-Order-Once-Every-Five-Years to Oh-My-Goodness-Let’s-Order-Another-One.

Which Sarah really did do, and didn’t share it at all. But I’m not bitter, because she inspired me by trying to recreate the burger the next night at her house. You can read about her attempt here — but the gist was that while Trader Joe’s supplied the herbed goat cheese, she still lacked the star ingredient: the pickled green tomato.

We were planning to grill burgers on Sunday (I don’t order them at restaurants but that doesn’t mean I don’t eat them at home) and I got An Idea In My Head. On Saturday, I stopped by my beloved Goose The Market and picked up a pound of green tomatoes. I googled away, looking for a recipe that would do the job in just 24 short hours (must everything in my life revolve around that time frame?). I found one at Food & Wine — and within the hour I had a jar pickling.

Friends. I am here to proclaim: you have not yet lived until you have eaten a burger on which rests a pickled green tomato. And if you aren’t into burgers, then might I suggest them as an excellent topping for black beans, or thrown into grain salads, or just about anything to satisfy the strongest craving for a thing pickled.*

Our jar was gone in — you guessed it — just 24 hours.

One last thing before getting to the magic of the PGT: if you live in Indianapolis, for the love of good restaurant food — please patronize Black Market. It’s located at the very end of Mass Ave, where it hits 10th St, and I would very much like for it to stay there (as will you, I am confident, after you partake).

*If you really love things pickled, you might also try red onions, beets, okra, or radishes.


Recipe: Pickled Green Tomatoes

Makes one quart.


  • 3/4 cup water
  • 3/4 cup apple cider vinegar (I like raw unfiltered)
  • 4 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 Tbsp sugar
  • 1 Tbsp whole black peppercorns
  • 1 tsp minced fresh rosemary, or 1 Tbsp minced fresh dill
  • 2 garlic cloves, sliced thin
  • 1 pound green tomatoes, cored and sliced 1/4″ thick


  1. In a small saucepan, warm the water, vinegar, salt, and sugar. Stir until salt and sugar dissolve. Remove from heat, and let cool to room temperature.
  2. Add the peppercorns, herbs, and garlic to the brine.
  3. In a clean quart-sized canning jar, layer the sliced tomatoes. Pour the brine over the top. Press tomatoes down so they are completely covered by the brine. Cover loosely with a lid, and let sit at room temperature for 3-8 hours, then transfer to the refrigerator.
  4. Will last a couple weeks in the frig.

Quick notes

Very closely adapted from this recipe at Food & Wine.





Homemade spoon oil

Ahem. So. Remember our little reno project, the one where I was desperate for better kitchen feng shui? Remember the hole in my kitchen wall, the cabinet space voided? What began back in April took a nice 2-month hiatus as we waited for our Ikea countertop to re-stock in Cincinnati, and I’m happy to say that we are so, so very close to a finished kitchen. Tiling is underway, then we just lack shelves. And a paint color (on that subject, let’s just say I am infamous for having Tim paint a dining room wall in our last house with ELEVEN different sample colors — each time, he painted the entire wall which I gazed upon for a few days before deciding it just wasn’t right — so don’t hold your breath for those “after” pics just yet. And no, my husband will not be doing that again. So far we’re at color sample number 4. I figure, like Little Bunny FooFoo, I get just one more chance before he lops off my head).

But our countertop. We only replaced a portion of it — our budget on this project is about what some women might spend on a nice dress, and I conveniently didn’t want a whole kitchen of butcher-block. But this counter, I could sing to it in the morning. It is warm, soft, heavy, and handsome. It welcomes with grace and humility both dough work and the elbows of kids and guests sitting at the bar. It brightens the whole room, I’d swear it radiates some sort of transcendent light.

As with anything in my kitchen I love with questionable intensity, I wanted to care for it well. Protect it, give it longevity, but with no chemicals. Nothing that wasn’t food-safe (as in, not sort-of food safe as claimed by a chemical company, but food safe so you could actually eat it). I didn’t need a completely waterproof finish, didn’t want it to look hard or glossy. After some nice, obsessive online research, I landed on spoon oil.

A paste of beeswax and mineral oil, spoon oil can be used to treat all of your wooden kitchen utensils, from spoons (hence the name) to cutting boards to salad bowls. I hesitated, using mineral oil, since it is petroleum-based and we avoid petroleum in almost all other products — but it seemed the consensus among wood-workers that vegetable-based oils go rancid, and that can be disastrous in wood. So I’m chalking this up to minimal exposure, while welcoming better ideas.

The counter arrived minimally finished, just enough to give it a slightly-golden hue. I applied the thick goop with my hands, wiping with the grain, covering the entire surface area. If you have a particularly thirsty surface, the oil might soak in quickly — but after about 7 hours on my counter, the oil had only absorbed slightly, and I figured it had had its chance.

I used paper towels to wipe up the excess, then buffed with a cotton rag. The result left a deeper golden hue, with a dull sheen. The mineral oil conditions the wood, and the beeswax helps with water resistance. Water and burns are the primary threats to the surface — that, and the ball-point pen that my 5-year old scrawled on the counter while drawing a picture. But that sanded right out, and then a re-application of spoon oil fully erased the transgression (lucky him).

If you have a stack of cutting boards or a crock of spoons that are looking dry and depressed, try this salve. Feel free to make a smaller amount using the same ratios — though once mixed it should keep indefinitely. I picked up one-ounce bricks of beeswax at my local health-food store, and the mineral oil can be purchased at any pharmacy (look in the laxatives section). The materials cost about $8, and this jar should coat my countertop about 3 times over, with my spoons and cutting boards getting a dose or two in-between.


Spoon Oil

Bring water to simmer in a large saucepan. Place beeswax in a quart-sized canning jar, and carefully lower into a pot of simmering water (add water, if necessary, so level comes halfway up the side of the jar). Using a wooden spoon, stir beeswax occasionally, until fully melted. Set aside.

Pour the mineral oil into a separate canning jar, and lower into the simmering water, just until heated through.

Pour the warm mineral oil into the beeswax, and stir. Place back into the simmering water, stirring until fully incorporated. Remove to a counter, and let cool completely.

Once cool, apply with hands to unfinished wooden surfaces. Let soak in for several hours or overnight, then wipe away excess and buff with a cotton cloth. Store extra spoon oil in a lidded jar in a cool place.



This post was linked up to Simple Lives Thursday, via GNOWFGLINS.



Book review (& giveaway): a nutritionist connects the dots between food & childhood ailments.

As the mom of an allergic child, I have long been frustrated with what seems to be a gaping hole in pediatric medical care: the connection of food to illness. While most any doctor will tell you a child needs to have a “balanced diet” to remain healthy, that’s where the causal relationship typically ends in conversations at the doctor’s office.

For instance, when my infant son had severe eczema, I had to repeatedly (even forcefully) ask for a referral to a pediatric allergist for testing. Our doctor just kept saying that it was “dry skin” — that we needed to find the right lotions, bathe him less often, bathe him more often, change laundry detergents. But in my gut I knew it was food.

And there are other illnesses and/or disorders that many parents find improve by a change in diet: everything from autism to chronic ear infections. But the unfortunate truth is that much of this dietary knowledge comes primarily from online communities, obsessive research, and independent observation — not from the traditional medical community. Which leaves many parents feeling like they are going rogue with their children’s healthcare.

I was cautiously optimistic when offered a review copy of a new book by licensed dietician Kelly Dorfman, What’s Eating Your Child? The Hidden Connections Between Food and Childhood Ailments. If a licensed nutrition specialist was writing a book about this, I wanted to read it. Could this finally be a mainstream publication addressing the connection between diet and sick children?

Indeed it is. This book is an important step in the right direction — if for no other reason than it’s written (and well-documented!) by a professional in a scientific field — with a forward by a pediatric allergy specialist. These MDs, LNDs, and MSs give credibility to a topic that often gets pidgeon-holed into a category of psychosomatics and granolas, ripe with pejoratives.

Medical credibility or no, the most important thing the book does is empower the parent. She encourages parents to become “nutrition detectives,” becoming keen observers, note-takers, scientists on behalf of their child. Many of her own clients end up in her office as a last-resort — they have seen every doctor, specialist, psychiatrist (yes, food can be a culprit in behavioral disorders) for their problem and have nowhere else to turn. They have been given Rxs for everything from reflux to ADHD, but their gut tells them to keep searching before handing their kids the drugs (or they’ve used the drugs, with no improvement).

It might seem like a large task — and sometimes it is. But the book goes a long way to get a parent started. Each chapter details a different case study, along with her thought process during treatment and the end result. Does your child have no appetite? It could be a zinc deficiency. Does your child have reflux? Dairy is often the culprit. Does your child have bumpy skin (otherwise known as “chicken skin”)? It could be a deficiency in EFAs (essential fatty acids).  From chronic ear infections to high anxiety to constipation, the cases are covered. The book addresses picky eaters, too — limited diet is often a sign of allergy (but even if no allergy is present, the book offers practical ways to broaden your child’s diet).

The book gets a little long, and many readers might choose to skip chapters that do not relate to their child. But there is information to be gained in each chapter — nutritional information is given in such a way that it is generally helpful — not just in feeding our children but in feeding ourselves. I was happy to read that the author addresses pesticides as potential allergens, admits that popping supplements is not always a magic pill solution, and paints a true and demonizing picture of HFCS and sugar.

My major criticism of the book is that, while full of the usual disclaimers, it can give the impression that finding solutions to some of these problems is easy — like the mystery flick where, once solved at the end, seemed to be obvious all along. But most of us don’t have 20 years experience in the field of nutrition, two decades of gathering clues. We are simply busy parents who are trying to help our children while keeping our heads above water — and elimination diets are not easy, especially with children who have been eating the same way for years. I also wish the solutions didn’t rely so heavily on supplements rather than dietary change — but I understand that that is often the fastest, easiest way to get necessary nutrients into deficient little bodies.

That being said, I would recommend the book (and have already, more than once!) to any parent who seemed concerned about his child’s health, and is looking for solutions beyond medications that simply treat symptoms. The book can get a parent into the right frame of mind, and give her a starting place on the road to solution. Which hopefully, in the very near future, will by default include a nutrition-detective pediatrician as well.



**UPDATE: This giveaway is now closed. Congrats to Gina, of comment #27, who “hated squash and chinese food, and still doesn’t like slimy foods.” Thanks to everyone who entered, followed, tweeted, updated, and shared their most-hated foods as a child.

If you are interested in winning a copy of What’s Eating Your Child, you have three ways to enter (each person can have a maximum of 3 entries):

  1. Leave a comment below, telling me the one food you most hated as a child.
  2. Tweet this giveaway. You might write “Hoping to win Kelly Dorfman’s *What’s Eating Your Child*– a book giveaway from @katyshecooks:;
    Leave a link to the tweet in a separate comment below.
  3. “Like” me on Facebook. If you already “like” me, you can post a link to this giveaway in a status update. Tell me which you did in a separate comment below.

You can enter anytime between now and Monday, July 11, at 8:59pm EST. A winner will be selected from the entries, using I will email the winner on Tuesday (make sure your email address is correct when leaving a comment) to get a shipping address — the winner has three days to respond, or the world might end (and another winner will be chosen).

Fine print: Other than the free review copy of the book, I received no compensation for hosting this giveaway.


I linked this post up to Simple Lives Thursday, at GNOWFGLINS — a great blog resource for natural solutions to myriad household challenges, in the kitchen and elsewhere.