Tuesday, October 20, 2015


Up until five years ago, there was only one baby in my life, and she was cuddled and adored beyond imagination. I had hundreds of pictures of her in my phone, I would cry when I had to leave her home during my Italian trips, and I made sure she was raised a classy lady, exposed to the best Italian cheeses. Mr Bee and I nicknamed her "Most-Kissed Dog", and one night I even got on my knees and asked her to marry me. That baby is now 7 years old, and her name is Trixie: She's my crazy pitbull mix.

After the birth of my two boys, the level of attention that Trixie was used to plummeted in a way that I'm not proud of (I'm not going to bore you with details, but my sentiments are perfectly expressed by this spot-on apology by The Ugly Volvo). Nonetheless, Trixie will always have a huge and special place in my heart that I want to celebrate today.

Trixie is the most hyper and affectionate dog you'll ever encounter, a canine tornado of love whose only goal in life is to French kiss all of our guests. Once she calms down from her bursts of PDA (it might take hours with our dog-loving friends), she will curl up into a ball right next to you, wagging her tail every now and then to show you that her love is real. And given my food-centric view of the world, the first time I saw her curl up to sleep, the only thing I could think of is that she looked like the most amazing marble bundt cake.

The "donut" position gets tighter in winter.
I started researching recipes to replicate Trixie's beautiful, dark brindle coat as closely as possible, and that's when I found that I could get pretty close with a standard marble cake, including one that used used cocoa and apple butter. However, I wanted a more distinctive flavor, so I replaced the apple butter with pumpkin butter, and then reworked the amounts of butter, sugar, and yogurt so that the cake would be rich and sugary to my taste (universal tip: more butter, less sugar). I then doubled the amounts to make a bundt cake. 

After several attempts, I can say that my current Trixie Cake is perfect: a soft, fragrant cake that all of the talking men in my house have on permanent request for birthdays, holidays, Sundays... you get the idea. The pumpkin butter really comes through and pairs very nicely with the cocoa, and the yogurt makes it moist and soft as I like it. The visual effect is a perfect representation of Trixie's brindle coat, with reddish and dark brown layers rolling together into crumbly ribbons. It's such a pretty cake in her unassuming simplicity, and I almost feel bad cutting it: She looks so cute when she sleeps.


3 1/2 C all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1 1/2 C sugar
2 sticks of butter, at room temperature
2 C plain yogurt (no-fat works fine)
4 eggs
2 tsp vanilla extract
juice from half a lemon
1/3 C pumpkin butter (for a change of flavor, pear butter is the best alternative)
4 tsp powdered cocoa

Utensils: Bundt cake mold
  • Preheat oven to 350F degrees. Butter and flour the cake mold.
  • In a large bowl, mix together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and sugar.
  • Mix in the butter in small pieces, and then pour in 1C of yogurt until mixture comes together but is still very lumpy.
  • In another large bowl, mix together the eggs, vanilla, lemon juice, pumpkin butter, and the rest of the yogurt until well combined.
  • Add the wet mixture to the flour mixture in 2 or 3 batches, mixing until just combined.
  • Transfer half of the resulting batter in the bowl that is now empty, and then mix in the cocoa until well combined.
  • Pour the chocolate batter into the other batter, stirring with a spatula just a few times in order to create a marbling effect.
  • Pour the final batter into the cake mold, and place in the oven for 50 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the thickest part of the cake comes out clean.
Very important: Trixie Cake is best served with a dollop of whipped cream to reprise the white marking Trixie has on her chest—and the whipped cream might or might not be spiked with bourbon according to whom is going to eat it.

And here's another shot of Trixie, because you deserve it.

Thursday, October 1, 2015


Pasta with smoked bell peppers.

What I love the most about Italian cuisine is its simplicity. There are so many fantastic dishes that rely on just a handful of ingredients... Which means you really have no excuse for not cooking good food even for the quickest and loneliest of home lunches. Of course, when you're working within the parameters of simplicity, your ingredients need to be top-notch. But even if you can't count on the best, slow-dried pasta or the freshest Neapolitan mozzarella or the sweetest ripe cherry tomatoes from Campania, just focusing on moderately good ingredients can yield something truly delicious. This is a long way of saying, have fun with your Italian cooking but don't use egg noodles and broken-up Velveeta slices for pasta cacio e pepe.

One dish I like to make in the warmer months is pasta with roasted bell peppers. In the past, I would roast my peppers directly on the gas stove, charring the skin until it would to peel off easily. You might be acquainted with this technique: The "gas burner" method is the quickest and easiest way to have perfectly cooked bell pepper fillets for your pasta (or bruschetta, or sandwich, or vegan side dish, or whatever).

A year ago, however, Mr Bee and I were experimenting with roasting whole eggplants on the stove by wrapping them in aluminum foil, and we were delighted to discover that the eggplant would come out with a great smokey flavor (perfect for baba ganoush). So, we thought, why not try with bell peppers? Thank you, insatiable human curiosity! The peppers tasted amazing, as if we had just pulled them out of the smoker. And since it was time for lunch, we chopped the peppers up, sautéed them with a little chopped onion, and served them on pasta. Perfect, mega-flavorful, super-easy, four-ingredient (vegan!) dish.

This pasta is so easy and rewarding in itself, it really doesn't need any extras. However, if you are one of those people who likes bolder flavors, you can add cheese (Parmigiano, Pecorino, ricotta salata, or fresh mozzarella), salt-cured olives, capers, or fresh basil. But, really, you don't need anything fancy. This can be the simplest of lunches, with just a touch of private celebration.

Pasta with smoked bell peppers.
OK, so we added some cheese to this one.


2–3 bell peppers (any color except green)
2 tbsp EVOO
1 smallish onion, chopped
10 oz good-quality pasta (any format will do with the exception of egg pasta and thin, long pasta)
  • Wash the peppers and wrap them tightly in two sheets of aluminum.
  • Place each pepper on a gas burner, and roast for 15–20 minutes, turning every few minutes or so with metal tongs to make sure the peppers are cooked all over. Bell peppers are ready when they feel soft when prodded.
  • Once the peppers are ready, let them cool down and then peel off the charred skin. 
  • Cut the peppers into fillets and then chop them in smaller pieces.
  • Heat the extra-virgin olive oil in a large frying pan.
  • Add the chopped onion and cook until soft and browned.
  • Add the bell peppers and a pinch of salt and cook for another 5–8 minutes to blend the flavors.
  • Cook the pasta al dente in the appropriate pot.
  • Drain the pasta, add it to the pan, and cook for another minute or so.
  • Serve immediately, and drizzle with more extra-virgin olive oil if preferred (I prefer).
And since we're making pasta, let's refresh our basic pasta skills: