Miso Caramel. Hang On. Let Go. It's Good.

The last time I wrote about caramel I talked about “letting go.”  And right now I feel like I’m riding a bucking bronco.  Life.  Is an animal.  And I’m just trying to saddle up, and hang on.

Which has me thinking about how difficult it can be to manage "it all."  To be a good daughter.  Good girlfriend.  Good student.  Good sister. Good employee.  Good friend.  Good cook.  Good human.

And now that I have unpacked all of this I’ve realized I don’t have a good solution for you today.  All I have is a good caramel recipe. 

It’s made in the same manner as the last one.  And the importance of letting go here is just as crucial as it was when I first mentioned it.  But this recipe attempts to subvert what it means to be caramel by including a savory note.  

The miso (said savory) mellows once it sits a little while, so if the initial flavor is a tad too strong for you, just hang on.  It ultimately imparts a little umami.  That's all.  Not that caramel really needs anything fancy.

All you need to know is that it's good.  Really good.  And thick.  And gutsy.  And it bucks the notion of what it means to be caramel.  So let go ... and hang on, friends.

Miso Caramel
Adapted from Food52


¾ cup sugar
¼ cup water
½ cup heavy cream
2 tbsp white miso
1 tsp vanilla extract


Place sugar and water in a medium saucepan; stir just to combine, and then stop stirring, allowing the mixture to come to a boil over medium heat.  You can swirl the pan occasionally to help the sugar caramelize evenly.  (You can also use a wet pastry brush to wash down the sugar crystals that can form on the side of the pan, but I don’t usually do this.  Nor have I found the need to, just be gentle with the swirling.)  The most important thing is that, under no circumstances, should you stir the mixture.  See here for additional information.

Once the mixture is deep golden brown, remove the pan from the heat.  Pour in the cream (the caramel will bubble up).  Put the pan back on low heat to aid the caramel in returning to liquid form; stir with a rubber spatula, as needed, to smooth the mixture out.  Whisk in the miso and vanilla extract.  Store in the fridge.

Makes about 1 cup

-Underneath the caramel is a small mountain of sheep's milk yogurt, topped with hazelnuts; a breakfast that I gladly ate for days. And one that I highly recommend.

-This caramel stays nice and thick.  If you want to pour it over something (and I'll leave that something up to you), just warm it up a bit.


Handsome Spiced Millet Burgers with a Mint Yogurt Sauce

I have been feeling less than fabulous of late.  Sleep deprivation will do that to a person.  As will seeing chronic holes in your mismatched socks and big circles under your eyes.  And making sweatpants your [fashion] statement of choice past 7 PM.  And subsisting on cabbage and beans. (And pizza, lots of pizza, pizza for days.)

And just when you thought things couldn’t get less sexy, here I am about to introduce a millet burger to you.

Millet is not sexy.  You can find it in big bulk bins at co-op grocery stores that smell of patchouli and righteousness.  Is it healthy?  Yes.  Interesting?  Perhaps.  Alluring?  Not bloody likely.

Especially if you overcook it, which is what happened when I let mine sit a little too long on the stovetop.  It turned into a bit of a mush.  Mush is decidedly not attractive. 

But then things took a turn.  For the better. (For the millet, not for myself, mind you.  In the interest of full disclosure, I probably had on some form of leisure wear at the time.)

It turned out, the "overcooked" millet held together quite easily when I clumped it.  So the mush got mixed with some pantry spices and a few … wait for it … Italian prune plums, forming some version of a Middle Eastern-esque burger by way of A Plum By Any Other.  A fine-looking burger, in fact, that held its shape quite handsomely.

The plums, though admittedly a bit past season, add a hint of acidity and play off the sweetness of the currants, working well with the warm spices.  And the mint yogurt sauce brings everything home, ultimately making for one fabulous sandwich. 

A sandwich that—try as it might—still can’t make you look stunning in ratty socks and grey sweatpants.  But it can help make you happy.  And healthy.  And perhaps even a little more interesting.  All of which just might help to bring sexy back.

Spiced Millet Burgers with a Mint Yogurt Sauce


For the burgers

1 cup dry millet
the juice of two limes
4-5 tbsp olive oil, plus more for sautéing the burgers
½ tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp ginger
¼ tsp allspice
¼ tsp turmeric
¼ tsp tsp cumin
3 Italian prune plums, chopped into bite-sized pieces 
¼ cup dried currants
¾ cup walnuts, chopped
2 tsp capers (drained from their brine)
¼ cup mint leaves, roughly chopped
a pinch of red chili flakes
salt and black pepper, to taste
1 egg

For the yogurt sauce (makes enough for about four burgers)

4 tbsp sheep’s milk yogurt
1 tbsp diced red onion
a pinch of red pepper flakes
¼ cup mint leaves, minced
3 cardamom pods, smashed with seeds ground and pods removed (or add a pinch of ground cardamom)
a generous pinch salt


Cook the millet by adding it to a medium-sized saucepan with 3 cups of water and a pinch of salt; bring the mixture to a boil, then cover it and simmer for about thirty minutes until it is fully cooked; let the cooked millet sit, covered, for about 5 minutes before fluffing it with a fork (it will appear a little sticky). 

While the millet is cooking, combine together the lime juice, oil, and spices.  When the millet is ready, pour the lime dressing over the millet and add in the chopped plums, currants, walnuts, capers, mint, and chili flakes; add salt and pepper and taste to adjust for seasoning.  (The mixture should taste ready to eat, so season it until you like how it tastes.)   Add the egg and stir to fully combine all the ingredients.  Shape the mixture into patties about the size of a quarter pounder.  Let the burgers chill for 15-30 minutes in the refrigerator to help them stay together during the cooking.

While the burgers are chilling, combine all the yogurt sauce ingredients.  Taste and adjust for seasoning, as needed.

When the burgers are ready, heat a sauté pan on medium high heat; add enough oil to lightly coat the bottom of the pan so that the burgers won’t stick (about a tablespoon of oil, give or take).  Cook the burgers until golden brown on one side, flip them, and then cook the burgers until golden brown on the other side; adjust the heat as needed to prevent scorching.  (It should take roughly 10 minutes or so to cook the burgers throughout and you will probably need to cook them in two batches.)

Serve the burgers on sliced focaccia.  (I used Iggy’s roasted onion focaccia).  Top with arugula and a dollop of yogurt sauce. (I also added a green tomato slice to the mix, but they might be hard to find now, as well.  I'm a wee bit behind on this posting.)

Makes enough for 8-10 burgers

-Millet is a gluten free whole grain (though not if you put it on a sandwich). It can be prepared to be fluffy, like rice pilaf, or creamy, like polenta.  Millet’s mild flavor makes it easy to pair. It is also high in magnesium and offers up a good dose of antioxidants.  Now, antioxidants ... antioxidants are sexy.

-You can substitute plain yogurt for the sheep’s milk variety, though I’d go with whole milk yogurt if you can, since it's the only fat you'll have for the sauce.  You'll have more burgers than yogurt sauce, but the burgers can also be treated as a starchy side, like you would a potato pancake. 

-You could try substituting two ripe, regular-sized plums for the prune plums.  They might be a bit more tart, but that doesn't mean they won't work.


Old Wine For Red Roasted Pears

Pasta.  Pork.  Pears. 

All things that take handsomely to leftover red wine.  The pasta can get boiled in it.  (Sprinkle garnet-colored spaghetti with some pecorino and you’ll have lunch.)  The pork shoulder can get braised in it.  (I know you people and I don’t have to mention uses for pork shoulder.)  But one of my favorite ways to dispose of red wine a day or two past its prime is to call the pear into duty.

In times like this, I usually make a spice bath out of a cinnamon stick or two, an orange peel, and a few cloves, and turn to poaching.  But with a recent poor showing of red wine consumption that left me with a third of the bottle remaining, I decided to give some Boscs the old roasted rhubarb in a crisp white wine treatment, courtesy of Orangette meets Canal House Cooking Volume 3.

Quite a mouthful, I know.  But it could otherwise be known as roasting fruit in wine with some sugar and a spliced vanilla bean.  And I am now a champion for the method. 

Not that poaching pears is really all that complicated, mind you.  But when you can leave on fruit skins and let your oven do most of the work, it’s hard not to make a “thing” out of this type of lazy behavior.

You can also coax a good deal of caramelization from the halves and create bruléed tops with the addition of a bit more sugar and a broiler.  Not to mention that the whole roasting performance causes the pears to shrink down in their skins and acquire some charming rose-colored wrinkles.  It also concentrates the natural fruit sugars, intensifying the pear itself. 

This sweetness means they compliment simple, unsweetened things with a little fat in them.  A thick sheep’s milk yogurt at breakfast works rather agreeably.  As does pairing them with a gusty blue cheese after dinner.  Thus, red wine becomes repurposed.  Fit for breakfast, dessert, and every course in between.  (Though I’d argue that red wine alone could also fill this role, depending on the day.)

Admittedly they never do quite live up to the ruby hue of the poached variety.  But what the pears lack in color, they make up for in specks of vanilla bean and the pool of syrupy spiced liquid they sit in.  I promise you.  They also contain ample red wine, enough to cause a nice little blush on them.

So what is old becomes new.  What is pear becomes better pear.  And all of this becomes, well, an excuse to open another bottle, frankly.

Red Wine Roasted Pears


about ¾ cup red wine
3 whole Bosc pears
1 star anise 
1 cinnamon stick
about 5 whole cloves
about 8 black peppercorns
1 vanilla bean, split with the seeds scraped out and pod saved
4-6 tbsp turbinado sugar, divided
pinch of kosher salt


Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Slice the pears in half lengthwise and take the core out of each half with a melon baller (or a small scoop or spoon).  Pour enough wine so that it covers the bottom of a baking dish between ½-1 inch (I used a fairly small dish, about 10” x  6”).  Add the anise, cinnamon stick, cloves, black peppercorns, vanilla bean seeds and pod to the wine.  Lay the pears cut sides up on top of the wine. 

Sprinkle the pears with about a ¼ cup of sugar (some will go into the wine, this is only natural and it is a good thing) and season with a pinch of salt.  Bake until the pears get soft and start to shrivel; this took me about 30 minutes, checking on the pears occasionally and rotating the baking dish once or twice. (My oven temperature runs a little low, so watch them and make sure the wine doesn’t reduce too quickly.)

Once the pears are no longer hard and have started to wilt a bit, sprinkle them with roughly two tablespoons of sugar.  Also, you may need to add a little more wine here if the syrup is starting to look too sticky, like it might soon burn.  (I added a few more tablespoons of wine at this stage.) Broil the pears until the sugars caramelize, rotating the pan occasionally.  This took me about ten minutes, but watch them.

Makes 6 servings (or 6 pear halves)

-Whatever red wine you have around is fine.  I used a Bourgueil.  The most important thing is that the wine doesn’t go to waste.  (Horrors!)

-If you don’t have turbinado you can use regular granulated sugar, but I think it adds a little richness if you can get it.  No need to go searching far and wide though.  You could also try subbing in brown sugar.

-This post was likely influenced by my recent ushering into thirty.  Perhaps I am now biased and pro-wrinkle. Like a fine wine.


Thirty, Oneness of Self and Pasta

To those who tell you you're at your prime in your twenties,

You liars. 

Here is what will happen in your twenties.

You will wonder what you were thinking with that gold sequined tube top.

You will get mono from playing beer pong at a frat house. 

You will wish you never told your mother that you once ate a live goldfish for a can of Natural Light.

You will regret those pink suede pants. 

You will learn how to drink vodka in the shower and still graduate college with a 3.8.

You will then learn this 3.8 does not matter in grad school.   You will feel dumb reading Marx.  And you will realize that all that vodka probably didn’t help matters.

You will fret about not being married at twenty-six, twenty-seven, and twenty-eight. At twenty-nine you will stop caring.

You will come to understand that in order to be a good baker you have to measure things.

You will learn how to make a cake and you will think this will help you keep a man.  You will learn that homemade cakes can’t keep men.  And that thinking this way is stupid.

You will chronically worry about losing five pounds.  You will find that no one notices those five pounds but you.  And that the people that matter probably care more about how you treat strangers on the subway.

You will learn how to roast chicken.  How to kill cockroaches.  How to make friends with neighbors.  How to keep a rosemary plant alive.  And how to be happy in your skin, whatever that means.

This brings us to pasta, which is about as good a metaphor as any for all of this.  And it’s why I’m giving you my recipe without any instructions.  My pasta will be different than yours.

You may not form it in a food processor. You may not find it equally therapeutic listening to Bill Maher, Marc Maron, or The Splendid Table while you flatten your dough.  You may not hang it over mop shafts and broom handles.  You may not shape it into little nests and store it in your freezer.

Heck, you may not want to make any pasta at all.  How you get to whatever you eat will be unique to you. ¾ cup of flour to 1 egg is my recipe.  The rest is shaped by experience.  Whether it’s making tagliatelle or getting through your twenties, you can’t understand it until you’ve done it.  Mistakes and all.

So, yes, I turned thirty on October 1st.  And it finally feels like I have my rhythm.  My oneness of making pasta ... and of self.

Homemade Pasta

¾ cup all-purpose flour
1 egg

This is a per person ratio.  Fill in the instructions as you wish.

-I  owe “oneness of self and pasta” to my professor, Carole Counihan.  She said it in class tonight and I must give credit where credit is due.  It was the missing link I needed to help bind this pasta post.  And she fits in beautifully. 

-I can’t remember where this pasta ratio originally came from.  But I know it’s been working for years.  I recognize it may be annoying that I don't list any instructions.  But the truth is that they probably wouldn't make much sense without spending time in my kitchen.