Recipe Box: Blackberry Sage Glazed Meatballs

blackberry sage glazed meatballs

The lovely folks at Driscoll’s sent over some blackberries for me to play with in my kitchen. While their original invitation involved dessert and treats, I kept imagining the winsome combination of blackberry and sage having their way with meatballs. Cocktail meatballs are noted in the annals of party hors d’oeuvres and involve grape jam, so the idea wasn’t entirely farfetched. Rather than using commercial jam, I kept imagining rotund balls of beef or ground turkey slathered in a just-made glaze still kind of chunky from the slightly muddled blackberries mingling with tawny Port.

We eat with our eyes, don’t we? The first batch was a far cry from what I envisioned in my mind’s eye and resembled a practical joke. That first batch  ended up finding their ways into the mouths of some food friends who were being kind and tried my “purple meatballs.” All the while, I heeded a warning that they looked weird but tasted reminiscent of meatballs in a purple tomato sauce. The disquietingly purple hue left much to be desired.  Steph gave a thumbs up on the flavor but let’s be honest, no one outside of an alien planet in the outer reaches of the Milky Way would serve these at a party.

Back to the drawing board I went, tinkering with the ingredient proportions. This time, I struck gold. Purple gold. One down the hatch became four in a mere shadow of minutes for Beck.

Oh yes, shellacked purple gold.

NOTE: Driscoll’s sent me the blackberries for free and all opinions about the culinary dexterity of blackberries are mine.

blackberry sage glazed meatballs

Blackberry Sage Glazed Meatballs

I didn’t use breadcrumbs in the meatballs. To be frank, I wanted to see if breadcrumbs are an imperative in meatballs. No is a good short answer here. Then again, I know there are purists who chafe at the idea of a meatball not involving pork, beef and veal, but we don’t eat two of those meats. So I encourage you to experiment and use the meat combination that most appeals to your sensibilities and consider ground turkey as another alternative. Batch one didn’t have anything other than the egg and spices for a binder which turned out okay, but I prefer them as laid out below with the almond meal. I think of it as an extra touch of protein and a bit of textural intrigue, not to mention they’re gluten free.

YIELD: 20 meatballs
TIME: 45 minutes

  • 1 cup blackberries
  • 1 shallot (4 tablespoons, minced)
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1 inch ginger (1 tablespoon, minced)
  • 1 tablespoon evoo
  • 6 sage leaves, minced
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1/8 tsp. salt
  • pepper
  • ½ cup tawny Port
  • ¼ cup chicken stock
  • 1 lb. ground beef
  • 1 egg
  • ½ cup almond meal
  1. Preheat oven to 350.
  2. Add ½ tablespoon of minced ginger, 1 tablespoon of minced shallots, egg and almond meal to ground beef. Mix with hands until well combined. Then form into small meatballs and place on lightly greased roasting pan. There should be 20 meatballs. Place in oven to cook for 25 minutes, turning meatballs halfway through their cooking time.
  3. Saute the remaining shallots, ginger and garlic in a pan with the olive oil until lightly brown. Then add the sage and cook for another minute. In a large glass with a muddler, slightly muddle blackberries not until they are mushy. Then add muddled blackberries to pan and add the port. Stir in the sugar and lemon juice. Stir in chicken stock after about five minutes and let cook on low heat for about five minutes more or until thickened.
  4. Remove the meatballs gently with tongs. Place them into the large pan with blackberry sage glaze. Spoon the sauce over the meatballs and let simmer for five minutes, turning the meatballs gently.
  5. Serve hot and make sure to scoop any remaining sauce from the pan onto the meatballs in your serving dish or bowl.

Recipe Box: Peppermint Chocolate Rochers

peppermint chocolate rochers

Looking for reasons to bake in December is not difficult. Do you find yourself any other time of year looking for reasons to break out the eggs, sugar, butter and flour with the gusto that the holidays inspires? I didn’t think so.

We hosted our second annual Cookie Swap this past weekend with local food blogger friends. Among those RSVP’d, I knew of two food allergies to keep in mind. Two friends I knew for certain are gluten free. One is in the process of eliminating ingredients and is avoiding eggs. I made Buddhettes for my egg-free friend and baked up a batch of these gluten free Peppermint Chocolate Rochers.

Yes, neither of these would “technically” constitute as cookies, but I tend to be a spirit of the law kind of gal. And Anita brought some cupcakes so clearly this could be construed a Baked Good Swap? Her alphabet Linzer cookies became our party entertainment. Mike, Anita’s husband suggested a rule early on that you could only eat a cookie if you could spell something with the other cookies.

What started as “happy holidays” became everything from “play shop” and “Als Pho” later to be followed by “Laos.”

happy holidays cookie tilesplay shopcookie tiles

Faith brought vegan Peppermint Candy Crisps. Susie baked up Drunken Almond Macaroons. Charissa and Patrick arrived with Coconut Peanut Butter Chocolate Gluten Free cookies.

peppermint candy cookiesDrunken almond macaroonsgluten free coconut peanut butter chocolate cookie

Steph brought Blackberry Rosemary Shortbread Bars. Sabrina made a batch of Lemon Rosemary Cookies with Black Pepper.

blackberry rosemary shortbread barslemon rosemary black pepper cookies

Irvin brought two batches of cookies: chocolate raspberry striped cookies and cinnamon bun swirl cookies.

chocolate raspberry cookiescinnamon bun cookies

It was a rollicking good time. Somehow baking up a baker’s dozen always allows everyone to try the different cookies and leave plenty for the hostess. I’ve got a plan for those extra cookies and cupcakes and it involves another favored reason for the holidays- gifts that keep on giving.

peppermint chocolate rochers

Peppermint Chocolate Rochers

I’ve been a fan of the blog Orangette since 2006 when I originally started la vie en route. I can safely say this is my favorite recipe of hers. She nails dead on the rochers from local bakery Tartine. They make a version with toasted almonds and another one with cacao nibs.  I baked a batch of Rochers for Thanksgiving after finding myself the proud recipient of extra egg whites left over from making a Maple Custard Pie. I played around with the recipe for a Christmas-infused adaptation and it resulted in something special. The chocolate chips melt in your mouth and the peppermint is subtle- think of this as a sophisticated York peppermint pattie.

Adapted from this Cocoa Nib Pavlova recipe from Orangette

  • 4 egg whites, at room temperature
  • ¼ teaspoon cream of tartar
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 Tbsp. cornstarch
  • 1/4 cup cacao nibs
  • 1/4 cup mini chocolate chips
  • 1 teaspoon peppermint extract

Set oven to 275. Prep two pans with parchment paper or silpat.

Place egg whites, cream of tartar and salt in a heavy duty mixer and mix on low for a few minutes and then increase to medium speed until soft peaks begin to form.

In a small bowl, mix together the sugar and cornstarch.

Set the mixer on medium high and slowly pour in the sugar mixture. Continue mixing for about 5 minutes. Toward the end, add the peppermint oil. The mixture should be very thick.

Mix in the chocolate chips and cacao nibs. Drop spoonfuls of the mixture onto each pan with several inches in between. I like to swirl the spoon on the top to give it a swirled look. Once all the mixture has been doled out onto the pans, place them into the oven on the top rack and lower rack.

Drop the temperature down to 250. Bake for 30 minutes, switching racks halfway through baking period. Once done, the rochers will be firm to the touch. Let cool on a rack.

NOTE: If you notice your rochers are still gummy underneath when you lift them up with your spatula, place them back in the oven for 5 to 10 minutes and that should do the trick.

Makes about a dozen large rochers, best enjoyed up to a few days after baking. Store in a sealed container.

Recipe Box: Buddhettes (Buddha’s Hand Orangettes)

buddhettes - buddha's hand orangettes

I spied the Buddha’s Hand sitting on my friend Andrew’s counter. Amid the happy cacophony of food bloggers sprawled out in his house and front patio, I caught the words, “take one.” He didn’t have to say it twice. Off I went to survey the boxes of buddha’s hands brought by Melissa’s. Eschewing those with fingers extended, I found a single gnarled citrus that would be travel-friendly. Irvin said it looked like the buddha’s hand was shooting me the bird.  I finagled it into my bag shortly before heading to the airport. There was no surprise that security pulled my bag aside to pilfer its depths as I said, “you’re looking for the buddha’s hand.”

That first buddha’s hand sucked me in and made me a fan with its intoxicating aroma similar to a lemongrass candle that burns in Mama’s kitchen. On to buddha’s hand two and three and our house has been smelling pretty great as of late. This citrus is primarily pith, that white fibrous material that clings to the peel. Unlike oranges, lemons and numerous other citrus, there is no fruit inside. You can zest it and substitute for lemon zest or you can make marmalade using Karen Solomon’s recipe or the one in the Blue Chair Jam book.

And you can candy it… which led me to think of my favorite Parisian treat that Olga introduced me to many years ago. Wrapped in a sophisticated hot pink and black lacquered box and under gold wrapping, matchsticks of candied orange rind enrobed in dark chocolate waited. Oh Fauchon, you fool with my affections! I’ve tried other orangettes and they just don’t taste quite right. I think part of it includes the stroll up la Rue des Capucines and basking in the history of La Madeleine. Ambience plus exclusivity result in such a delicacy.

buddhettes - buddha's hand orangettes


In my kitchen, I’m not usually a stickler for perfection. With making these buddhettes, you really do want to use matchstick shaped buddha’s hand peel. Don’t throw away the oddly shaped bits of buddha’s hand though. We are going to use them too. Set them aside until after you’ve finished dipping your buddhettes and then we can tackle them there in the note following the buddhette recipe. So hang with me and we’ll use as much of the fragrant citrus as we can. Waste not, want not, right?

  • 1 buddha’s hand
  • 1 cup sugar
  • ½ cup water
  • ½ cup good quality bittersweet chocolate

Carefully with a knife, cut the fingers off of the buddha’s hand making it easier to cut off the peel from the white pith. It’s okay if you cut off some pith with the peel since you can trim it later. As you’re cutting off the peel from the buddha’s hand, try as much as possible to cut long strips. Once you’ve cut off all the peel from the buddha’s hand, cut the long strips into matchsticks.

Let strips rest in a bowl of water on your counter overnight.

The next day, add buddha’s hand to water and let boil for 10 minutes, making sure the water is covering the citrus sticks. Drain in a colander. Let dry.

In a heavy pot, heat 1 cup sugar and ½ cup water until the sugar is dissolved. Then add the buddha’s hand matchsticks and set to simmer for 15 minutes. Stir occasionally. Remove the matchsticks and let dry. Set out a sheet of wax paper onto a countertop. Set liquid aside for the simple syrup recipe below.

In a double boiler, add in chopped bittersweet chocolate and stir until completely melted. Take off the top of the double boiler and set the bowl of melted chocolate by your candied matchstick peels and wax paper.

Dip and swirl the buddha’s hand peels into the chocolate until completely coated and then place on wax paper. Repeat until all buddha’s hand matchsticks are enrobed in chocolate. Let cool.

Keep in a tightly sealed container and in a cool location. They should keep for a week if you don’t find yourself sneaking one or a few of them at a time.

buddha's hand ginger simple syrup

Buddha’s Hand Candied Ginger Simple Syrup

NOTE: Those bits of buddha’s hand odds and ends that you saved above? Chop them up. Take about an inch of ginger and then skin it and mince it. Add an additional cup of sugar and 1/2 cup water to the simple syrup leftover from simmering the buddha’s hand matchsticks above. Stir and cook over low heat until sugar disappears. Then add your newly chopped ginger and buddha’s hand to the pot and simmer and stir for 15 minutes. Begin scooping out the newly candied ginger and chopped buddha’s hand onto a plate with a paper towel, letting them dry.

For the last remaining bits use a lemon juicer as a way to save the candied bits and contain the simple syrup easily. If you don’t have an apparatus like this, you can use a vegetable steamer in a bowl. Store the simple syrup in a covered container for up to a week in the fridge.

draining simple syrupbuddhas hand candied ginger simple syrup

As for those newly candied pieces of minced ginger and buddha’s hand, use them in this recipe for Gingerbread or mixed into homemade scones. Go crazy and stick them in your homemade Stöllen or fruitcake. I have a hunch you’ll find this ginger / buddha’s hand combo equal parts festive and fragrant.

Recipe Box: Maple Cream Pie with Toasted Pecan Crust

maple cream pie

For all the dessert options available at the Thanksgiving table, I wanted to suggest a dark horse in the running.

At the eleventh hour. After all the groceries for Thanksgiving have been bought and shelved in the pantry.

To that I politely apologize.

And offer you a slice of pie that Beck described as an Old Fashioned Doughnut with Maple Glaze. Yes, that about covers it. And that was after his second slice. After he mentioned he could eat the entire pie by himself. My Beck, the non-sweet tooth: I’ve found his kryptonite.

Step aside Pumpkin Pie. Move over Pecan Pie. There’s a new sheriff patrolling, come high noon, turkey time.

maple cream pie

Maple Cream Pie with Toasted Pecan Crust

Note: I adapted the graham cracker crust recipe below from the back of the graham box.  I get to play with grahams freely because my company makes an organic version of them.

PREPARATION TIME: 20 minutes active time + let set overnight
YIELDS: 6-8 servings

 Maple Custard Filling

  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 6 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1/2 cup plus 4 tablespoons maple syrup
  • ¼ teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 6 egg yolks
  • 2 tablespoons butter

Toasted Pecan Graham Cracker Crust

  • 10 full sheets honey grahams
  • 3 tablespoons maple, grade A
  • 3 tablespoons grapeseed oil or other neutral flavored oil
  • ½ cup toasted pecans

1. To make crust, break sheets of graham crackers in half and place in food processor. Pulse until finely ground. Add maple, grapeseed oil and toasted pecans and pulse until just combined. Pour graham cracker crumbs onto pie plate. Cover your hand with a plastic sandwich baggie to prevent sticking and then press down and up the sides until graham crumbs are evenly spread. Place in refrigerator to set.

2. In a medium sized bowl, whisk together the egg yolks and 1/2 cup maple syrup.

3. Whisk milk, cornstarch, vanilla extract and 4 tablespoons of maple syrup in heavy pan. Bring to a boil, constantly whisking until mixture is thickened and silky.

4. Pour thickened mixture from pan into egg yolk bowl and whisk. This helps bring the temperature down by transferring it from the hot pan into the bowl.  Then pour back the combined yolks and milk mixture into the pan and continue whisking constantly while bringing to a boil. Remove from heat once the custard is completely integrated. Place pan in a large bowl with a few inches of  cold water to stop cooking.

5. Add the pats of butter into the custard and whisk them in until completely integrated. Set aside to cool.

6. Once cooled, pour the custard into the graham cracker crust and place in the refrigerator.

7. Refrigerate overnight for the pie to set.

8. Serve with a dollop of freshly whipped cream spiked with a hint of cinnamon and perhaps some candied pecans.

Recipe Box: Zucchini Aioli Mashed Potatoes

zucchini aioli mashed potatoes recipe

When served a cone of freshly crisped hand-cut fries, some of you might reach for a bottle or spoonful of ketchup. I would join you there except for very rare exceptions: there is really nothing like a crunchy French fry dipped in mayonnaise.

Now hear me out, those of you scoffers who would eschew this combination. The creamy and rich mayonnaise shellacs and clings to the fry. I hear the Dutch are rather fond of the combination. So I’m not alone in my wayward affection. Taking this a step further, I re-envisioned this pairing and introduced zucchini into the mix. Is this a classic for the ages? I don’t know, you tell me. I will let you in on this little secret though: this is one sexy side dish.

The garlicky French variation of mayonnaise, aioli, brings a slightly sophisticated twist to mashed potatoes. Fingerlings lend a certain silkiness and natural buttery flavor to the zucchini which gives a pop of color, texture and an unexpectedly winsome flavor. Try this at your next dinner party or kick up your heels and serve it during the holidays.

zucchini aioli mashed potatoes recipe

Zucchini Aioli Mashed Potatoes

Yield: 6 side dish sized servings
Time: 25 minutes

  • 12 fingerling potatoes
  • 16 baby zucchini
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed to a paste
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
  • ½ teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • ¼ cup olive oil

1. Fill a medium sized pot a little more than halfway full of water. Set to boil.

2. Wash potatoes and baby zucchini well as you are going to mash them and want to remove any dirt from the skins.

3. When the pot of water is at a rolling boil, add potatoes to the pot and cook on medium high heat for 8 minutes. After your 8 minutes is up, add the baby zucchini to the boiling water and cook for 12 minutes.

4. While the potatoes and zucchini cook, make your aioli.

5. In a small bowl, whisk together the egg yolk, lemon juice, garlic paste, Dijon mustard and olive oil. You’re going to whisk this until it’s glossy but not thick and set like a proper aioli. You want it to have some fluidity.

6. Once the zucchini and potatoes are fork tender, drain the water from the pot by pouring the potatoes and zucchini into a colander. Then move the potatoes and zucchini back to the pot.

7. With a masher, begin pressing down on the potatoes and zucchini, smashing them into each other.

8. Once they are coarsely combined, begin pouring in the aioli and continue smashing and mixing until the aioli and mashed potatoes are completely combined.

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