Tag Archives: soup day

Princeton Children’s Book Festival and Chocolate Protein Mini Muffins

Denis and I signed Hush Little Monster together

Denis and I signed Hush Little Monster together

This past Saturday we participated in the Princeton Children’s Book Festival.  It was a  beautiful day for celebrating children’s books!

We met a lot of interesting authors and illustrators and wonderfully supportive parents buying books.  It was also great to see old friends.

With Anne Rockwell, author of Truck Stop, and her daughter and illustrator, Lizzy Rockwell,

With Anne Rockwell, author of Truck Stop, and her daughter and illustrator, Lizzy Rockwell

With Denise Dowling-Mortensen, author of Good Night Engines and Wake Up Engines--we met in 2004, the year Jamie was born and when Good Night Engines was released. :)

With Denise Dowling-Mortensen, author of Good Night Engines and Wake Up Engines–we met in 2004, the year Jamie was born and when Good Night Engines was released. 🙂

I made mini donuts to hand out — they looked like these and the recipe is here:

Unfortunately I didn’t get a photo of them — I was too distraught over finding my cake stand had broken en route! The good news was that the pile of donuts quickly disappeared within the first couple of hours.

Jamie was a trooper and didn’t mind having to be with us at the festival all day long with no playmates.  He wandered about the four tents of 20 authors and illustrators and looked at books, sampled treats, and had his program signed by all 80 of them!

Table seating of each tent

Table seating of each tent

He also scored  cute drawings from Dave Roman (author/illustrator of the Astronaut Academy series) and Alexis Fredrick Frost (of Adventures in Cartooning fame):

dave roman sketches

By Alexis Fredrick Frost

By Alexis Fredrick Frost

Thank you so much for being so kind to my son!

Jamie also got to choose a couple books for himself and a friend which he had signed by Dave Roman and Fiona Robertson.  It’s so special when you can give and receive an autographed copy!

By Dave Roman

By Dave Roman

By Eva Ibbotson, Illustrated by Fiona Robertson

By Eva Ibbotson, Illustrated by Fiona Robertson

I knew it would be a long day of meeting people and signing books, as well as traveling to and from the event.  It’s the kind of situation where you never know if you’ll get really hungry in a place where there might not be healthy, portable options available.  In preparation, I made a dozen Shelly’s Chocolate Protein Mini Muffins to bring with us.

Chocolate Protein Mini Muffins

Chocolate Protein Mini Muffins

This recipe is from The World According to Eggface — a fantastic blog with lots of great recipes.  These muffins came in handy when we were stranded on the platform after just missing our train back to the city!  It was dinner time and we had to wait for the next train–in the end we were kind of glad we did, because we got to ride with more of our festival compatriots who arrived at the train station later.  Plus, we weren’t hungry anymore!

This coming weekend, I have more book events.  If you are in the NYC area, please come join me.  I will be at Greenlight Bookstore (686 Fulton Street at South Portland, Brooklyn, NY)  on Saturday, September 28 from 11- 12, reading Truck Stop and the board book version of B is for Bulldozer, which was just released this month!  On Sunday, September 29, I will be on a panel with Anne Rockwell and several other authors at Books of Wonder (18 West 18th street between 5th and 6th Avenues) from 1-3 pm.


Filed under Art Related, Books, Breakfast, Children, Snack, Travel, Vegetarian

Really Easy Asian Won Ton Soup

wonton up close

It’s April and we’ve seen teasing glimpses of spring, but it’s cold and rainy again today…

This means it’s still soup weather!

Here is the easiest soup in the world– especially if you use pre-made wontons.  My friend Judy of Bebe Loves Okazu has a wonderful homemade recipe here.  You can make these and freeze uncooked wontons on a plate.  When frozen,  transfer to a ziploc bag to have on hand for later use. They can be plopped into the broth and simmered in the soup–no need for thawing.

Today, I was lazy, and I used Trader Joe’s Chicken Cilantro Mini Wontons.  I also defrosted some homemade chicken broth.

I simmered the frozen mini wontons in the broth and added some chopped frozen spinach, cubed tofu, a couple of slivers of fresh ginger.  When it was all heated through, I added a dash of soy sauce and sesame oil and garnished with chopped scallions.  So warming and delicious — perfect for a cold, rainy spring day!

wonton soup

Really Easy Asian Wonton Soup

Note:  You can use whatever you have in your freezer or vegetable bin — try meatballs instead, or use snow peas or frozen peas or edamame.  You can’t go wrong either way!

About 2 cups of chicken broth (or other broth)

knob of ginger sliced thinly and jullienned

a handful of wontons

a handful of tofu cubes

a handful of chopped frozen spinach or other vegetable that can cook quickly

a dash of soy sauce (to taste)

a dash of sesame oil (to taste)

a spring of scallion, finely diced

1.  Heat broth in a saucepan and bring to a simmer.  Add wontons or other cooked meat, tofu, chopped spinach or other vegetable. Simmer until cooked and heated through, about 6-8 minutes.  Add soy sauce and sesame oil.  Garnish with scallions.  Serve.

Makes 2 servings.


Filed under Soup

Pea Soup Andersen’s Inspired Slow Cooker Pea Soup

It’s getting colder each day here in New York — you know what that means:  Perfect soup weather!  It’s our favorite thing to eat this time of year.

Jamie’s favorite soup – vegetable soup with alphabet pasta – inspired me to write and illustrate Soup Day.

The recipe is at the end of the story.

Other tasty soups to warm you in cold weather:

French Onion Soup

Roasted Tomato Soup

Creamy Green Soup

Butternut Squash Harvest Soup

Last week I was going through our pantry to collect food to donate to areas in our neighborhood which had been had been hit hard by the hurricane.  Among the things I came across was a half filled container of dried peas. I had no idea which presidential administration they were from– perhaps the Clinton era?  I decided to risk it and try to make some pea soup in my slow cooker.
A lot of recipes I came across called for a ham hock thrown in, but I was too busy to go on a hunt for one, so I used 1/2 cup chopped apple smoked cured nitrite free bacon from Trader Joe’s.  It was about 4 slices, and I trimmed off the excess fat.

I based my recipe on this one, because it mentioned Pea Soup Andersen’s – a beloved roadside restaurant in the Central Coast of California where I am from.

Jamie and I posing as Happea and Pea-wee in the parking lot.

It didn’t call for ham hock or bacon, but I decided to throw in some bacon just the same.  I also used 4 cups of chicken broth and 2 cups of water instead of all water, and I decided to cook it in my slow cooker instead of on the stove.

The resulting soup was smoky, flavorful, and creamy — just as good as its inspiration!  The amount of dried peas I used cost about $.75, so the whole batch cost about $3.25!  It made about ten generous portions, half of which I have stored in our freezer for future winter days.

If you are ever on the Central Coast, though, tootling along the 101, do stop by and check out Pea Soup Andersen’s.  It’s not just the soup and sharp cheddar sold there that are  great — the whole atmosphere of the restaurant and gift shop is unique.  Just a few miles away is Solvang, a town filled with restaurants, toy stores, bakeries, and gift shops built in the traditional Danish style of architecture.  It is kind of like walking into part of an amusement park–kitschy but cute.  (I think it is the reason why I never had a phobia of dentists — my childhood dentist had a practice there and I loved visiting all the gift stores and eating Ebleskevers afterwards!)  🙂

Pea Soup Andersen’s Inspired Slow Cooker Pea Soup

4 slices smoked bacon trimmed of fat and chopped up, about ½ cup

2 cups dried peas, rinsed and cleared of debris

4 cups chicken broth

2 cups water

1 celery rib, chopped

1 medium carrot, chopped

1 medium onion, chopped

1 bay leaf

¼  teaspoon dried thyme


pepper to taste

  1. Pour everything into slow cooker.  Cook on low for about 8-10 hours or high for about 6-8 hours.  Check to see how soft the peas are.  I cooked mine for low on 2 hours, but they didn’t seem to be getting soft and I knew they were really old!  So I cooked them on high for the next 4 hours.
  2. Remove bay leaf.  Puree soup in batches in blender until smooth (only fill blender half-way and leave an open vent at the top, either covering with a towel or using a lid with a vent – alternatively, use an immersion blender instead!).  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  Reheat and serve.

Makes at least 10 generous servings.
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Filed under Soup, Soup, Travel

We were interviewed on Jama Rattigan’s awesome children’s books and food blog, Jama’s Alphabet Soup.
Thanks, Jama! 🙂

Jama's Alphabet Soup

Don’t you just love it when one good thing leads to another?

I’ve been a big Melissa Iwai fan for awhile now. How could I not love someone who illustrates a book about a quest for pancakes and then follows up with a self-illustrated title about soup? In addition to her writing, drawing and painting chops, this girl can cook! Just check out The HungryArtist, where Melissa regularly creates tasty, healthy magic in the kitchen (please adopt me). 🙂

If you’ve seen Melissa’s delightful Soup Day (Henry Holt, 2010), you know it was inspired by the time she spent cooking with her son Jamie. Apparently, we can also thank Jamie for her latest book, Hush,Little Monster(Little, Simon, 2012), which was written by her husband Denis Markell. Because Jamie had trouble sleeping when he was a wee babe, Denis, an award-winning Broadway musical and comedy writer…

View original post 3,349 more words


Filed under Art Related, Books, Children

Fun Filled Weekend Involving Chocolate Peanut Butter Popcorn and the Brooklyn Children’s Museum

The Brooklyn Children's Museum. It looks like a square yellow submarine

I was in the midst of a deadline last week and didn’t have a chance to post a recap of our Brooklyn Children’s Museum visit.

If you are ever in the area, you* must* visit the museum which is located in Crown Heights.  It was renovated in 2008 and is a truly spectacular.  It is more spacious and inviting than its Manhattan counterpart (you can literally spend all day there!), and it’s the first “Green Museum” in the city.

To celebrate the opening of Muriel Feldshuh’s Brooklyn Literacy quilt, I read Soup Day in the museum library for Story Time.  All six of Muriel’s quilts are on display there.  It is fun to find favorite authors and illustrators in each one.

J insisted on "helping". My "green bean" square is in the 2009 orange quilt behind us.

Then we got creative and made collages out of a bunch of different materials.

The children were so enthusiastic with their projects. I wish I had taken more pictures, but I was busy meeting people (some came especially for the event–thanks, guys!) and helping out with gluing and cutting.  It was great fun.

After the workshop we ate lunch in the cafeteria and then visited our favorite part of the museum:  World Brooklyn.

Jamie has always loved this area from the time we first visited when he was just four.  World Brooklyn celebrates our borough and its amazing diversity. The “hands on” exhibit is comprised of child-sized versions of real stores in Brooklyn which kids can explore and do activities in.

Being a cashier in the International Grocery Store

The fake food is so realistic!

I love this sign which has sample shopping lists for a range of ethnically diverse meals.

Baking pizza at L and B Spumoni Gardens in Bensonhurst

Serving pizza

Baking Mona Bread at Don Paco Lopez Panaderia in Sunset Park

On to real food…

We had another movie afternoon the next day.  This time the feature was The Fellowship of the Ring (Denis and Jamie had just finished reading The Hobbit and the Fellowship of the Ring).  It gave me an excuse to make popcorn!

I was completely lusting after The Choco-aholic’s Chocolate Peanut Butter Popcorn recipe for days and had to make a batch.  I’m sure hers is much more “gourmet” than my lightened version, but I just couldn’t bring myself to do 2 sticks of butter and 2 cups of brown sugar, plus 1/2 lb. of chocolate and 1/3 of a jar of peanut butter for just one batch of popcorn!  If you want to make the original recipe, I say “go for it” though! 🙂

Ours was mighty tasty and the level of richness was just right for us.  The caramel flavor melds with the chocolate and peanut butter so perfectly.  Even the lightened version had the perfect trinity of sugar, salt, and fat, creating the “bliss point” of irresistibility that David Kessler writes about in The End of Overeating: Taking Control of the Insatiable American Appetite  … Ah well, everything in moderation!

Chocolate Peanut Butter Popcorn

Adapted from The Choco-aholic  (Lightened up and without the kettle salt, as I didn’t have any)

Non-stick spray

10 cups of popped popcorn (I used an air popper)

1/2 stick unsalted butter

1/2 cup of brown sugar

1/4  cup of light corn syrup

4 ounces of milk chocolate chips

1/3 cup creamy peanut butter

pinch of salt

1.  Preheat oven to 300 degrees.  Line a baking sheet with foil and spray with non-stick spray.

2. Pop popcorn and place in a large mixing bowl.

3.  In a large pot combine  butter, brown sugar, and corn syrup.  Bring to a boil for about 2 minutes.  Add chocolate chips and stir to melt.  Remove from heat and stir until smooth.

4.  Pour the boiled chocolate mix onto the popcorn. Toss until all the popcorn kernels are evenly coated with the chocolate.

5.  Spread out onto prepared baking sheet and bake in the oven for about 15  minutes. Remove, sprinkle with salt, stir and let cool for about 30 minutes.

6.  Melt peanut butter in microwave oven for about 30 seconds.  Pour chocolate popcorn back into mixing bowl and pour melted peanut butter over popcorn and coat evenly.  Refrigerate until hardened for about an hour.


Filed under Snack

Legoland California and Sweet and Sour Chicken

Apologies for the hiatus.  We were in Times Square this time last week:

Lego Times Square

Also here:

I had planned to post while in California, but I got hit with a *major* (sweat) deadline right before leaving, so all my “free time” was spent working on that. With the job, plus an amazing book event in my hometown, seeing old friends, meeting new ones, visiting Legoland, and all the requisite driving in between — I barely had time to sleep!

As soon as we landed, we rented a car and buzzed up the California coast to my home town, Lompoc.

Truck stop off the 101. Didn't get to see friends in Los Angeles and San Diego -- hopefully next time! Took pictures here for research for next book project...TBA!

The next day I had an amazing book event at The Bookstore.  So many old friends I grew up with, and friends and teachers from elementary and high school showed up!  (Did I mention that my mom is my best publicist?)

My friend, Joy, from high school, picked up a copy

The highlight was seeing my 6th grade teacher, Mr. Jackson, whom I haven’t see since.. um… 1977.

I had an amazing year in his class learning all about Latin America from which he has a passion.  He taught me my first Spanish words (we learned a new one every day), and I still remember to this day things about Central and South America that I learned then — a testament to his great teaching.

Mr. Taniguchi, my awesome Biology teacher

I also saw a guy from my Kindergarten class and met his family (he didn’t remember me– lol), my Biology teacher from high school (he looks exactly the same), my graphics arts teacher, a 3rd grade teacher, and my Blue Birds troop leader and babysitter.  Our dear family friends I’ve known all my life and their children and grandchildren also showed up.  I feel really blessed have all their support.  Thank you, everyone!!

That evening we had another “Hawaiian Potluck” — only it was a dessert one due to time constraints!

Mrs. V's bread pudding (recipe is top secret!)

Amanda's Valentine cupcakes

Mrs. W's bundt cake -thank you for organizing the potluck!

The main reason we went to California this time of year (other than to get out of dreary NYC winter days) is because Jamie had a winter break and this past summer I won 4 all day passes to Legoland for two days that we had to use before they expired!  Thank you, Santa Barbara News Press for sponsoring the sweepstakes! We spent the latter part of the week there with my mom and met up with friends who have a son Jamie’s age.

Anubis Jamie near Pharaoh's Revenge

Legoland in California was the only one in the US until last year when Legoland Florida opened.  Legoland is divided into different sections based on different Lego themes.  Jamie rode his first real roller coaster, The Dragon, in Castle Hill and he got his first “driving license”.

Jamie driving on the wrong side of the road -- good thing those pedestrians aren't real!

This is how I felt after two days of Legoland.

We were lucky it was sunny and warm while we were at Legoland.  Can you believe it rained half the time we were in California?  I had to drive 55 mph on the 405 going down to Carlsbad because of pouring rain– a rare event on both counts!

Fortunately, we were able to stop and rest half way there in Irvine where we got to meet a blogger friend, Judy and her adorable daughter, Bebe E!!

playing peek a boo!

It was so great to meet her in person.  I found her via her her blog, Bebe Love Okazu and fell in love with her wonderful recipes and writing.  I especially love her Japanese recipes passed down from her mom.  The gyoza is one of my favorites.  This one too! It’s corny, but it felt like she was an old friend that I was visiting — not someone I met on the internet!  We didn’t even talk about cooking, there was so much to chat about.  And as it turned out, we discovered we actually have friends in common in Los Angeles.  Such a small world!

Bonding over technology.

She baked us yummy cookies for the rest of our trip.  Thanks, Judy!

With fantastic memories of our California visit fresh on our minds, we’re back in Brooklyn now. My only regret is that I didn’t get a photo of Jamie and my mom playing their new ukeleles she bought on a recent trip to Hawaii!  One night when I was working really late on the laptop while Denis and Jamie were sleeping, my mom kept me company and practiced her ukelele and serenaded me with Hawaiian songs and “Silent Night”.   🙂

I’m SOOO happy to be car-less again, and living in a walking city.   It’s also a relief to be eating at home again and cooking!  I confess we indulged in our In-n-Out burger fixation, eating there three times while on the road.  Also diner food.  Mexican food… Denny’s.  It got bad.

I thought I’d conclude here with a recipe I recently made up that is decidedly non-take out, but tastes like it could be and is much healthier!  I took various recipes I found on line — from the most decadent to the least, and made a hybrid version.  Lots of prep work is required, but it comes together fast at the end.  I used vegetables my boys would eat, but it would be easy to swap these out for other ones.   The chicken is tender and flavorful and it’s not as oily as a restaurant version.  Also the batter is thinner (which my son prefers — he picks off thick crunchy batter!) and lighter.

Sweet and Sour Chicken


2 tablespoons  soy sauce

1 tablespoon rice vinegar

½ teaspoon cornstarch

1 lb. chicken tenders, cut into ½ inch pieces

Vegetables and pineapple

1 ½ cups canned pineapple pieces, drained reserving juice

¼ large onion, cut into bite sized wedges

1 carrot, sliced

½ medium or 1 small zucchini, sliced

½ can baby corn

1 green onion, sliced

1 garlic clove, minced

1 teaspoon minced ginger

Sweet and Sour Sauce:

¼ cup reserved pineapple juice

1/3 cup rice vinegar

¼ cup brown sugar

¼ cup ketchup

½ teaspoon soy sauce

1 tablespoon cornstarch dissolved in 1 tablespoon water


1/3 cup flour

1/3 cup cornstarch

½ teaspoon baking soda

2 egg whites

oil for frying

kosher salt to taste

1 tablespoon dry sherry, Chinese wine, or sake

  1. Whisk 2 tablespoons soy sauce, 1 tablespoon rice vinegar, and ½ teaspoon cornstarch in a bowl.  Place chicken tenders in bowl and coat with marinade.  Refrigerate, covered for 30-60 minutes.
  2. Prep veggies while chicken is marinating.  Place vegetables and pineapple in dishes for ease of stir frying later.
  3. Prepare sauce.  Whisk together ¼ cup of reserved pineapple juice, 1/3 cup rice vinegar, brown sugar, ketchup, and soy sauce in a sauce pan. Add cornstarch and water mixture and stir to combine. Bring to a boil then simmer on low until thickened.  Set aside and keep warm.
  4. Heat about 2 teaspoons oil in wok or large skillet.  Saute onions, carrots.  Then add softer vegetables, like zucchini, baby corn, and green onions.  Add garlic and ginger and pinch of salt.  Saute.  Add pineapple and sauté.  Add sherry, about 2 tablespoons water, and kosher salt to taste.  Then cover and let steam cook until vegetables are soft.  Transfer to a dish and keep warm.
  5. Mix flour, cornstarch, baking soda, and pinch of salt together in a shallow bowl.  Whisk egg whites in another bowl.
  6. Remove chicken from marinade, dredge in flour mixture, then egg whites, then flour mixture again.  Set on plate.  Repeat with rest of chicken.
  7. Clean wok or skillet and heat a tablespoon or two of oil.  Saute chicken pieces in oil until cooked through.  Drain on plate lined with paper towel.  Repeat with rest of chicken.
  8. To serve, combine chicken and vegetables and coat with sweet and sour sauce.  Serve immediately.


Filed under chicken, Dinner, Travel

National Soup Month and Soup Day Giveaway!

I can’t believe January is almost over!  Did you know January is National Soup Month? I’ve been making and eating soup all month with my new Vitamix that my wonderful husband gave me for Christmas.

The cool thing about the Vitamix is that you can throw in a bunch of veggies and liquid into the canister and “cook” the soup as you blend.  The powerful motor is four times as strong as a regular blender and can run for five minutes on high.  This causes friction which creates the heat to “cook” the soup.

I’ve been doing a hybrid of stove top cooking and vitamix “cooking” to make my soups. I love to put caramelized onions and/or garlic in my soups, and I find that cooking them on the stove first with seasonings and then blending makes a tastier soup.

Here are some of the soups I’ve been enjoying and tinkering with:

Roasted Acorn Squash Soup

Creamy Cauliflower Zucchini Soup

White Bean and Shiitake Mushroom Soup

I am celebrating National Soup Month by giving away a personalized autographed copy of  my book, Soup Day (which includes a recipe for Snowy Day Vegetable soup).

To enter the Soup Day book giveaway, do one or all (to increase your chances) of the following:

1.  Leave a comment and let me know what your favorite soup (recipe) is.


2.  Tweet (Hey everyone enter the @meliwai Soup Day giveaway! http://wp.me/pNxYO-tW) about this giveaway and follow me on Twitter


3.  Follow me on Facebook and leave me a comment about it.

4. Post about this giveaway on your Facebook page with my link (http://wp.me/pNxYO-tW).

Contest is open until February 6, 2012, midnight (EST).
Tuesday, February 7,  I’ll choose a winner using a random number generator and it on the blog.  🙂 I will also email the winner.  You’ll have one week (7 days) to respond to my email or another winner will be chosen. Giveaway is open to anyone in the world.  🙂

Soup Day is also available in stores and online.  I have already written the sequel, and am required to sell a lot of copies of it in order to make that happen! Thanks for your support!

And now, on to the recipes:

Garnished with roasted acorn seeds and crushed pepper.

1 small roasted acorn squash

½ small onion, sliced thinly, about ½ cup

½ teaspoon oil

pinch of kosher salt

1 cup chicken broth (or other broth you prefer)

¼ cup milk

½ teaspoon curry

½ teaspoon cumin

1 ½ teaspoon cinnamon

  1. Roast acorn squash and toast seeds.  To see how to do this, check out this post.
  2. Cut roasted acorn squash in to large cubes.
  3. Heat oil in sauce pan over medium heat. Add onion and sprinkle with salt.  Saute until soft and translucent.  Add acorn squash, chicken broth, milk, and spices and simmer for about 10-14 minutes. (Alternatively throw everything in Vitamix including parmesan and blend on high for five minutes.  Serve.)
  4. Blend soup with immersion blender or process in blender in batches, being careful not to fill blender more than half way.  Remove center cap and cover lightly with a towel while blending.
  5. Serve garnished with toasted acorn squash seeds.

Creamy Cauliflower and Zucchini Soup

Garnished with grated parmesan and crushed pepper.

1 half head of cauliflower (about 12 oz.) cut into florets

1 small zucchini (about 6 oz.), cut into slices

½ teaspoon oil

1 small onion sliced thinly, about 1 cup

salt and pepper to taste

Dash of dried thyme

2 cups chicken broth (or other broth you prefer)

1 tablespoon grated parmesan cheese

  1. Steam cauliflower and zucchini in microwave for about 4-5 minutes or in steamer on stove for about 6-8 minutes.
  2. Heat oil in sauce pan over medium heat. Add onion and sprinkle with salt.  Saute until soft and translucent.  Season to taste with thyme.
  3. Add steamed cauliflower and zucchini and broth and simmer for 10-15 minutes.  (Alternatively throw everything in Vitamix including parmesan and blend on high for five minutes.  Serve.)
  4. Add parmesan and blend with immersion blender or blend soup in blender in batches, being careful not to fill blender more than half way.  Remove center cap and cover lightly with a towel while blending.
  5. Garnish with extra parmesan if desired.

White Bean and Shiitake Mushroom Soup

Garnished with whipped cottage cheese, shiitake, and multigrain cracker.

This is a very thick soup – the consistency is that of condensed mushroom soup.  If you want a thinner soup, use 1/2 the amount of beans.

5 g of dried shiitake mushroom or other dried mushroom such as porcini

1 can of white beans (1/2 can if you want thinner soup)

½ teaspoon olive oil

Dash of kosher salt

Dash of thyme and marjoram

1 small onion sliced thinly, about 1 cup

1 clove of garlic, minced

1 ½ cups chicken broth or more for thinning

  1. Place dried mushrooms in a medium sized bowl and pour about ½ cup boiling water to cover.  I usually place a smaller dish or bowl on top to keep the mushrooms submerged.  Let sit for about 10 minutes. Drain mushrooms, but save the soaking liquid.
  2. Meanwhile rinse beans in colander with water to remove excess salt and drain.
  3. Slice softened shiitake into thin strips
  4. Saute onion in olive oil over medium low heat until soft.  Season with sat and spices.  Add shiitake soaking liquid and braise for until liquid evaporates.  Add garlic and sauté until softened.  Add shiitake and sauté for a few more minutes.
  5. Reserve about ¼ cup of sauted mushrooms and onions and set aside.
  6. Add broth and white beans to pan and bring to a simmer. Cook for about fifteen minutes.   (Alternatively, throw everything into Vitamix and blend on high for five minutes. Add reserved shiitake and onion and blend for a few seconds on low to combine.  Serve.)
  7. Blend with immersion blender or transfer soup to blender in process in batches, being careful not to fill blender more than half way.  Remove center cap and cover lightly with a towel while blending.  Add reserved shiitake and onion and pulse to combine.  Add more hot broth if you want to thin soup out to desired consistency.
  8. Serve with a dollop of creme fraiche, sour cream or whipped cottage cheese.


Filed under Art Related, Soup, Soup, Vegetables

Homemade Almond Paste and Pear Tart with Almond Filling

This past weekend I was at the Brooklyn Museum signing copies of my books. If you have never visited the museum, you should if you have the chance — it’s a wonderful space. They have an exceptional collection of Egyptian art as well — we will be making another visit soon to take advantage of this!

Anyway, back to the event — My table mate was Lisa Greenwald who was signing three of her Y/A novels. One book, Sweet Treats and Secret Crushes, involves fortune cookies, so she brought a duffel bag full of fortune cookies to give out at our table.

Lisa Greenwald and me at our table

The organizers at the museum ingeniously devised a game in which kids could collect stamps from each author table onto a sheet of paper.  If they got all the stamps, then they could get a prize. 🙂

Stamping sheets amid fortune cookies!

Me and Kate Hosford

Kate's book, Big Bouffant, and an Annabelle doll I made for her book launch.

The night before the event, we had dinner at our friends’ place.  I decided to bring an Almond Pear Tart. I wanted to make something autumnal that didn’t involve pumpkin or pecan since Thanksgiving is this week!

I love baking with almond paste (not to be confused with marzipan) but it can be difficult to find, and it is also somewhat pricey.  I found a great recipe for almond paste to make from scratch. For a fraction of the price of a 10 ounce can of almond paste, I made 7 ounces from a bit of blanched almonds, confectioner’s sugar, almond extract, and some egg whites.

I bought some pears a few days before the dinner and they were pretty hard, so I stored them in a paper bag.  As the fruit ripens, it emits a gas called ethylene.  When the gas is trapped in a bag, it speeds up the ripening process.  It did the trick!

If you have a melon baller, use it for coring the pears– it makes it a cinch!

This is an amazing recipe. The almond paste filling is very light and creamy and goes perfectly with the baked pears. I served it with whipped cream spiked with apple brandy (I would have used Poire William — a pear liqueur — but I didn’t have any on hand).  The only thing I changed in the recipe are the directions for placing the pears on the filling for baking.  I think placing each slice one and a time from the outside moving in is a better method.

Hope everyone has a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Almond Paste

4 oz. blanched almonds

2 ½ oz. confectioner’s sugar

pinch of salt

½ egg white (I used about 1 tablespoon liquid whites)

½ teaspoon almond extract

  1. Finely grind almonds in food processor.
  2. Add in confectioner’s sugar and salt and process again.
  3. Slowly pour in egg white while processor is running. I eyeballed it and stopped when the consistency looked right.  Add extract and process some more.

Store in refrigerator until ready to use.

Makes 6 7/8 ounces of paste


Pear Almond Tart from Bon Appetit 2003

2 large egg yolks

2 tablespoons apple cider

1 1/4 cups all purpose flour

2 tablespoons sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

9 tablespoons chilled butter

1/2 cup (packed) almond paste (5 ounces)

1/4 cup sugar

1/4 cup all purpose flour

4 tablespoons butter at room temperature

2 large eggs

1/2 teaspoon vanilla

4 medium Bartlett or Anjou pears

1.  Whisk egg yolks and apple cider in small bowl to blend. Blend flour, sugar, and salt in processor. Add chilled butter and process until mixture resembles coarse meal. Add egg yolk mixture and process until moist clumps form. Gather dough into ball; flatten into disk. Wrap in plastic and chill 1 hour. Roll out dough between two sheets of saran wrap to prevent sticking.  Lay dough evenly onto bottom and up sides of 11-inch-diameter tart pan with removable bottom; chill while preparing filling. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Keep chilled.)
2.  Position rack in lowest third of oven. Preheat to 375°F.

3.  Blend almond paste and sugar in processor until almond paste is finely ground. Add 1/4 cup flour and 3 tablespoons room-temperature butter and process until thick paste forms. Add eggs and vanilla extract and process until smooth. Spread filling in crust; cover and chill while preparing pears.

4.  Peel pears. Cut each pear in half lengthwise and core. Slice 1 pear half crosswise into 1/4-inch-thick slices. Press on pear half to fan slices toward wider end. Arrange slices in a concentric circle from the outer rim moving to the center of the pan.  Melt remaining 1 tablespoon butter. Brush over pears.

5.  Bake tart until pears are tender and crust is brown, about 50 minutes. Cool 30 minutes. Remove from pan and serve warm or at room temperature. (Tart can be prepared up to 8 hours ahead. Let stand at room temperature.)

Whipped Cream Topping
2 cups heavy cream
2 tablespoons confectioner’s sugar or to taste
dash of vanilla
dash of Pear Liqueur or Apple Brandy
1.  Whip cream and sugar in a chilled bowl of a stand mixer until soft peaks form.  Add vanilla and liqueur and whip a bit more until peaks are stiffer — be careful not to over whip though!


Filed under Art Related, Children, Desserts

Brooklyn Museum Children’s Book Fair and Roasted Tomato Soup

It’s steadily getting chillier these days.  This means it’s great soup weather.  What’s more comforting than coming home to a toasty kitchen and a hot bowl of goodness?

I’m doing more book events this season to promote my book, Soup Day, which takes place during the cold winter months.  This coming Saturday (November 19) I, along with more than 30 local Brooklyn authors, including Peter Brown (Children Make Terrible Pets), Tad Hills (How Rocket Learned to Read), my friend Kate Hosford (Big Bouffant), will be at the 5th Annual Children’s Book Fair at the Brooklyn Museum from 12-4.  Please come join us if you are in the area!

Last year when Soup Day was released, I mentioned that I had written a sequel that hopefully will be published once I sell a certain number of copies of the book (this provision is an indication of how difficult it is to sell a picture book manuscript these days!  About five years ago this wouldn’t be an issue).  Well, I’ve heard from my editor that I’m only a couple thousand copies away so I’m asking you all to help me reach my goal!  Please support my cause by buying a copy of the book for a budding chef in your life!  it is a great way to introduce young kids to the joy of cooking.

“Back at home we wash the vegetables. Then Mommy chops everything into different shapes. The celery and onions become tiny squares. The carrots become circles. The potatoes become cubes. The parsley becomes confetti.”

The book was designed so well by Patrick Collins at Henry Holt.  The pages are slightly thicker than regular paper and the cover and pages have rounded corners which are perfect for young children — such a thoughtful touch by Patrick!  It also has a lower price point ($12.99 v.s $16.99) than a traditional picture book.

I leave you with a new soup recipe I developed — Sweet Roasted Tomato Soup.  Roasting the vegetables brings out their natural sweetness.  I added carrots for flavor and texture — they are  a great natural thickener packed full of vitamins and fiber.  A dash of sugar at the end and optional heavy cream stirred in rounds out the flavors.  I also made Parmesan Croutons with an old baguette.  Enjoy!

Sweet Roasted Tomato Soup

6 Roma tomatoes, halved

2 medium carrots, sliced into ½ -inch slices

kosher salt and pepper to taste

5 teaspoons olive oil, divided

1 large onion chopped, about 2 cups

3 cloves of garlic mashed and minced

½ teaspoon dried basil

½ teaspoon dried oregano

14 oz. can of diced tomatoes

3 cups chicken or vegetable stock

1-2 teaspoons sugar

¼ cup heavy cream (optional)

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Toss tomatoes and carrots in 1 tablespoon olive oil and season with salt and pepper.  Spread in a single layer on baking sheet lined with foil.  Roast tomato halves cut side up.
  3. Roast in oven for 30 minutes, stirring carrot pieces halfway through.
  4. Remove from oven and set aside.  Heat remaining 2 teaspoons oil in large soup pot on stove over medium heat.  Add onions and garlic and season with a bit of kosher salt, basil, and oregano.  Saute until onions are transparent, stirring often.
  5. Add roasted vegetables to pot along with canned tomatoes and broth.  Bring to boil, turn down heat and simmer for 15 minutes.
  6. Alternatively, blend soup in batches in a blender (never fill blender more than half full), while covering lid (remove plastic center first) with dish towel.  Hold lid down while blending on low speed. Blend until soup is completely pureed and lump free. Return to pot after blending to reheat.
  7. Add sugar and salt and pepper to taste.  Add heavy cream if desired and stir to incorporate.

Makes 4-6 servings.


Filed under Art Related, Children, Soup, Soup, Vegetables, Vegetarian

Guilt-Free Potato Chips and Onion Dip

Last weekend was the fabulous City Harvest sponsored 1st annual Brooklyn Local.  It was a complete success — over 2,400 people attended and over $100,000 was raised to help fight hunger in NYC!

Here’s some snap shots of what I did that day:

I read my book, Soup Day.

Did collage crafts throughout the day with children and little “creatures”.

Played a drawing game with the kids.

Met some nice clowns, Tudie and Sammie.

We found out the next day that Jamie's 2nd grade teacher is married to the lead singer!

Listened to the beats of the Deedle Deedle Dees.

Wandered among aisles and aisles of artisinal local foods, and tasted quite a bit too with new foodie buddy, Esther, but didn’t get photos!   😦  We had many pieces of chocolate, nitrite free beef jerky, cheeses, granola, marshmallow treats, crackers, hotdogs with kimchee.  Everything was amazing!

With Billy Strynkowski, executive chef of Cooking Light

Got to see some familiar faces. 🙂

In my last post which featured potatoes, I didn’t get a chance to share two recipes I’ve been loving for a long time now:

Guilt-Free Potato Chips and Onion Dip

They are both “guilt-free” because the chips are baked, not fried, and are basically fat free. The dip is virtually fat free and packed with protein because it is made with my dairy go to —whipped cottage cheese.

Did I mention they are full of crunch and flavor??

The one key kitchen tool you need is some kind of vegetable slicer that you can use to slice the potatoes into paper thin slices.  I use my trusty “Benriner“, which is a plastic, cheap, Japanese version of the more expensive stainless steel French one.

By all means use the guard!   It is so easy to slice the tips of your fingers off if you don’t…  I’ve unfortunately witnessed this!

raw potato slices -- paper thin!

Spray with non-stick spray, bake at 400 degrees, checking every 3-5 minutes or so.

This is one potato!

Seasoned with a bit of salt, they are delicious and crunchy as is.  But of course, they are even better with the onion dip! 

Guilt-Free Potato Chips and Onion Dip

3 large onions, sliced vertically into thin slices

1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil

1 tablespoon butter

salt to taste

1/2 cup whipped cottage cheese

However many potatoes you’d like to bake — one large russet potato yields two big bowlfuls of potato chips

non-stick spray (I use Trader Joe’s olive oil)

1.  Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

2.  Whip container of cottage cheese in food processor for 3 minutes.

Unwhipped new container of cottage cheese.

After processing -- silky smooth!

3.  Slice onions while heating a large cast iron skillet or other large pan on stove (do not use non-stick or it won’t caramalize!)

4.  Melt butter with oil in pan.  Toss in sliced onions.  Turn heat down to low.  Stir to coat with butter and oil.  Season with salt.  Stir every few minutes or so.  Then cover and let cook for about 30 minutes, largely unattended while preparing the chips.  I stir every 5-7 minutes or so.

5.  Prepare two baking sheets with parchment paper.  Spray lightly.

6.  Slice some potato with a slicer.  Lay pieces on parchment.  Spray again and season with salt.  Repeat with other baking sheet.  Bake in oven for about 10 minutes, checking every 3-5 minutes and flipping chips halfway.  They don’t cook at the same time, so remove them when they look brown and continue cooking the rest.  Add new slices to pan as you removed cooked ones.

These are half baked -- watch closely -- when they are mostly brown, taken them out. They crisp up as they cool.

7.  After about 30 minutes of sauteing onions, remove cover and turn up heat.  Stir every minute or so, watching closely so onions don’t burn.  They should just brown evenly.

This is how much they reduce!

8.  Remove onions and let cool.  Stir in 1/2 cup of whipped cottage cheese.



Filed under Appetizers, Art Related, Children, Condiments, Vegetarian