Engaging stories of love, joy, comfort and friendship with proven scrumptious, healthy recipes, we celebrate LOVE as the secret ingredient for wonderful food!

Chocolate Soufflé

Chocolate souffle on a candlelit dining table
There’s nothing like chocolate to end a meal and nothing (well almost nothing – a little romp in the sack can go a long way here) more magnificent than to pull a soufflé out of the oven and present it at the table. And then my French friend, Alain, speaks about the crisp, and then the hiss – the sound that’s made when spooning out the first serving. It’s beautiful, exciting and delicious! Just like I hope your Valentine’s Day turns out to be! Make this chocolate soufflé for dessert, with LOVE and it will be the perfect way to end a Valentine’s Day dinner.

This recipe is from Mark Bittman, originally printed in the NY Times, and it is super easy and the very best part is that you can make this in the morning, keep it refrigerated and bake it while you’re eating your main course and it will be ready in about 25 minutes! Now the soufflé won’t rise quite as much this way, but who cares? The trade off of not having to jump up and make the whole thing after dinner is well worth it. And it’s even gluten-free as there’s not a speck of flour in it.

Now Mark says this recipe serves two, but I say it really serves four. You can’t make it smaller as you can’t have one and a half eggs, right? So make this for the two of you but know that you can also use this recipe to serve four. I don’t have a picture of the serving, but I want to tell you that I garnished it with a whole strawberry to add a little color. It was beautiful. Raspberries are also nice.

MARY's secret ingredients winter 2014 box.If you haven’t gotten your V-day gifts in order, may I suggest a MARY’s secret ingredients full year subscription? Or at least a Spring box? This was our winter box over here on the left.

If it’s a year-long subscription, it’s the Valentine’s Day gift that keeps on giving all year! And while our spring box mails on April 25th, we have this adorable certificate that you can present now.

Use the promo code LOVEVDAY2015 for 25% off a year long subscription or 4LOVE2015 for $4.00 off on a single box. Download the certificate here: 


MARY's secret ingredients Valentine's Day certificate.CHOCOLATE SOUFFLE  – serves 2 – 4  – Recipe by Mark Bittman

About 1 Tbs. butter for dish
1/3 cup sugar, plus some for dish
3 eggs, separated
2 oz. good quality bittersweet chocolate, melted
Pinch of salt
1/4 tsp. cream of tartar.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter one 4-cup soufflé or other deep baking dish. Sprinkle with sugar, invert it and tap to remove excess sugar.

Chocolate souffle prepared bowl with butter and sugar.Chocolate souffle - beaten egg yolks.

Beat egg yolks with all but 1 tablespoon sugar until very light and very thick; mixture will fall in a ribbon from beaters when it is ready. Mix in the melted chocolate until well combined; set aside.

Wash beaters well, or use a different set, then beat egg whites with salt and cream of tartar until whites hold soft peaks; continue to beat, gradually adding remaining tablespoon of sugar, until they are very stiff and glossy.

Chocolate souffle - folding in egg whites.Chocolate souffle ready to bake.

Stir a good spoonful of whites thoroughly into egg yolk mixture to lighten it; (egg yolk mixture will have become very stiff so this step is very important) then carefully fold in remaining whites, using a rubber spatula. Transfer to prepared soufflé dish. At this point you can cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until you are ready to bake.

Bake until center is nearly set, 25 to 35 minutes. Serve immediately.

Lemon Sole Roasted with Leeks and Tomatoes

Lemon Sole roasted with leeks and tomatoes finished on pan.

Just out of the oven!

If the quality of your ingredients is great, your job as a cook/chef is easy. I adore leeks but really the only recipe I know and love that uses them in all their glory is Julia Child’s recipe for oven braised leeks, which takes about an hour to prepare which is way too long for a weeknight. I had one and half leeks left over from a beef braise I had made last weekend. So what to do? At our local market upstate, the freshest fish they had was Lemon Sole fillets. (What the hell is Lemon Sole anyway? There’s no fish named Lemon Sole, is there?) Anyway, it’s some sort of sole and it was fresh. And then I had my leeks. I made this Lemon Sole Roasted with Leeks and Tomatoes and it was sooo good! The leeks caramelized, the tomatoes added their lusciousness and all was so delish!

Preparing Lemon Sole Roasted with Leeks and Tomatoes.

I like this idea of putting things underneath the fish and then oven roasting it. Everything melds together nicely this way and I have been having fun experimenting with different vegetables. This turned out exceptionally well, this method is so easy and it elevates a simple roasted fish to extraordinary.

About Lemon Sole, this is from the Harbor Fish Market in Portland, ME. This fish goes by many names, which name it gets marketed under depends on the weight of the fish. If the fish weighs under 1 lb. it is called Blackbacks or Peewees. If the fish weighs between 2 to 4 lbs. they are called Winter or Georges flounder. If they come to market weighing more then 4 lbs. it is called Lemon Sole. When we put Lemon Sole out in our retail store we always get asked the question, “Does this fish taste like lemons?” (No.) Sole is a wonderful eating fish. European chefs have had a love affair with sole, (mostly Dover) for decades. It is a flat fish and like most flat fish it’s eyes are on one side of its head, which is the dark side of the fish, it has a white underside. The designs of nature are probably some of the best; the eyes on the dark side allow the fish to hide on the ocean floor and still be able to see its prey.

Pretty perfect, right?

Preparing Lemon Sole raosted with leeks and tomatoes ready to go into the oven.

Ready to go into the oven.


1 lb. of lemon sole fillets – preferably in 2 pieces, washed and paper towel dried
Olive oil
1.5 leeks – white and very light green parts only, trimmed, split in half lengthwise, washed and cut into 1/8” slices
2 plum tomatoes, cored and cut in 1/8” thick slices

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Slick a rimmed baking sheet with olive oil. Lay out the sliced leeks in two shapes that mimic the shape of the fish fillets. Drizzle a little bit of olive oil on top of the leeks and season with salt and pepper. Lay the fish fillets on top of the leeks. Drizzle some olive oil on top of the fillets and use your fingertips to spread the oil around evenly on the top of the fillets. Salt and pepper the fish and lay sliced tomatoes on top to cover evenly.

Roast on the top shelf in your oven for 12 – 17 minutes. Figure on 10 minutes for every 1” of thickness of your fish and vegetables.

Serve with LOVE immediately – enjoy!!!

Escarole, Currants, Pine Nuts and Garlic

Cooking is an art and your dish should be like a great piece of art – or design – or music. All of those things, if they’re great, have tension and contrast as well as harmonious elements. Certain notes, colors, images, or type should come to the forefront while others recede. A great dish should do the same. It should have a contrast of textures such as crispy and succulent in a piece of fried chicken, a contrast of colors, such as pomegranate seeds on chicory or frisee and a contrast of flavors exemplified by my favorite combination of sweet and savory or the way a wine pairs with a meal. Thinking about all these things gets me excited when creating a new dish. I know, call me crazy, but since design is in my blood, this is really nothing new. (And yes, I am crazy.) And this is how I came up with this simple but really outstanding vegetable dish of Escarole, Currants, Pine Nuts and Garlic recipe. Of course, a little bit had to do with what I had on hand, as always, but the foresight I had in choosing this combination had to do with the principles above, really basic design rules.

This dish delivers on all – the contrast of colors – black, beige and different greens; the contrast of flavors – the bitter of the escarole pitted against the sweet currants, and the contrast of textures – the softly wilted escarole with the crunch and buttery flavor of the pine nuts, and then the spicy heat of the garlic. Scored on all!!!

I hope you’ll make this dish as it will delight. My husband even talked about it the next morning. And as I said, while this truly evolved from just what I had on hand, I will specifically make this combination again and make this dish for company. And don’t forget to add your LOVE when making. Enjoy!Escarole currents pine nuts and garlic.


1 small head of escarole, washed and cut into bite size pieces
2 Tbs. olive oil
6 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced
3 Tbs. currants
2 Tbs. pine nuts

Warm the olive oil in a large skillet, add the garlic and cover and sweat for 5 – 7 minutes on low heat. Do not let it brown.

Turn up the heat and sauté the escarole, flipping the garlic on top so it doesn’t burn. Add the pine nuts so they can toast. After a few minutes, when the escarole is still crisp with the dark green leaves wilted, stir in the currents, season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve with love.

Super Bowl chocolate footballs.How was your Super Bowl Sunday? I hope you didn’t eat too much junk food – that’s why I thought this healthy vegetable dish would be a good counterpoint to yesterday. Supposedly, Super Bowl Sunday is one of the most highly caloric days for most people! Yep, that’s what I heard on the news. I made an amazing beef chili that I cooked for 2 days and I’ll share that with you later but for now, aren’t these little chocolate peanut butter footballs just the cutest? (The peanut butter was a surprise!)

Broth Bowls at Panera Bread

Panera Broth Bowls invitation.
Right before the holidays, I received an email invitation from a sweet Emma at Panera Bread to a Broth Bowl tasting. Hmm, broth bowls… sounded interesting. And now with this frigid weather we’ve been having, what could be better?  The formal invitation arrived, positioning the event as “An Evening of Umami.” A small group of folks interested in food, nutrition and cooking gathered in this lovely loft in Chinatown. We were treated to a terrific presentation from their Culinary Institute-trained and former teacher, Dan Kish. Dan and his colleague, Mark McDonough, (Director of Product Development) traveled the world (wouldn’t I love to be them!) to research and pull together umami tastes, spices and fresh ingredients to create the newest four dishes, these broth bowls at Panera Bread. Then they served us our choice of broth bowl(s) for dinner, along with some lovely wine.

Panera broth bowl chefs.Here’s what I knew about Panera Bread. They started in St. Louis as the St. Louis Bread Company! I am originally from St. Louis, so you know, they have to be good.

Here’s what I learned. They’re now huge (1,845 cafes) and an incredible company! I mean, having Culinary Institute trained chefs create their dishes and also be concerned about their green footprint, is BIG. For instance, they’ve considered the repercussions of transporting the broth (water is heavy) to all locations or deliberated if it should it be concentrated and then concerned if it can it retain the taste, as well as, considered how to efficiently make the bowls out of components and achieve the desired consistency, using the least amount of energy through all of the processes. Their ingredients are nearly all organic – no antibiotics in the chicken and nearly all cage-free eggs. That’s huge! This “fast casual” food has been designed to be genuinely healthy, even low calorie and totally delicious! I mean this company is really doing amazing things to feed our bodies and take care of our planet. It is not easy to create healthy food available in about 5 minutes after you order at their counter. But boy if they can change our fast food culture into something this great, wouldn’t that be way cool? Really!!! Having healthy energetic people walk the planet exuding wonderful positive energy is just what we all need.

The problem is, is that I never knew any of these things about Panera. (I think they need us to do their marketing and to spread the word, don’t you think?)

Panera Broth bowls veggies.Panera Broth bowls veggies.

So what exactly is Umami? I wanted a succinct answer. Here’s what the Umami Information Center says. (Yes, it’s true, there is one. Just Google it.) Taking its name from Japanese, umami is a pleasant savoury taste imparted by glutamate, a type of amino acid, and ribonucleotides, including inosinate and guanylate, which occur naturally in many foods including meat, fish, vegetables and dairy products. As the taste of umami itself is subtle and blends well with other tastes to expand and round out flavors, most people don’t recognize umami when they encounter it, but it plays an important role making food taste delicious.

Could it be that fake Umami is monosodium glutamate – MSG? Well there’s none of that here.

Check out these broth bowls – they’re delish!!!Lentil-Quinoa_Chicken_Table1-2

I particularly liked the quinoa lentil one with the hard boiled egg on top!Panera Bread lentil quinoa egg broth bowl.

Striped Bass with Shallots, Fennel and Persimmons

Striped Bass with Shallots, Fennel and Persimmons ready to cook.

Ready to go into the oven to roast.

Do you think I will live long enough to cook all the recipes I’ve clipped from newspapers or marked in cookbooks? I have made it a New Years Resolution to go through all of the Times Dining sections I’ve saved from the past year that have piled up, that I never seem to have time to get through on my subway ride to work because there are just way too many business messages I need to take care of first. I used to keep piles of those clipped recipes on my kitchen counter for easy access and inspiration. When the piles got to be over a foot tall (seriously), one of my friends told me I was being ridiculous and to move it somewhere. So now I am hiding these piles – in a space in a kid’s closet, under my bed, taking up two deep drawers in a dresser. It’s pitiful.

And then you know what – I come home from work, late, starving and I just want to eat something good and different, so I just make something up, quickly, with what’s on hand, no time to read a recipe. So on Friday night, I made up this dish, always welcoming sweet and savory combos and this, this roasted striped bass with shallots, fennel and persimmons was really, really delicious and different! (and super easy)

Striped Bass Roasted with Shallots, Fennel & Persimmons - finished.

Sorry, I cut this already, getting ready to serve and then remembered to take a pic.

Here’s what I did.

– serves 2 – with a little left over

1 lb. striped bass fillet – washed and patted dry
Olive oil
1 shallot, sliced very thin on a mandoline
1/4 of a fennel bulb, sliced very thin on a mandoline
Salt – preferably French grey salt
Pepper – fresh ground
Paul Prudhomme’s seafood seasoning
2 persimmons, cored, peeled and sliced very thin

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Slick a rimmed baking sheet with olive oil. Lay out the shallot and fennel evenly in a shape mimicking your fish shape. Drizzle a tiny bit of olive oil on top and season with salt and pepper.

Lay your fish fillet on top, covering everything. Drizzle a little olive oil on top of the fish and spread around to cover with your fingertips. Sprinkle on Paul Prudhomme’s seasoning to your liking. Cover with persimmon slices and drizzle a tiny bit of olive oil on top of those.

Roast in the oven for about 15 minutes, until the fish flakes to your liking.

Serve with love – enjoy!

A question for you all:

What is the difference between the dull and shiny side of aluminum foil? Can somebody tell me? I mean, I know they’re different but for what purpose, if any?

Duck Braised with Red Wine and Prunes

Duck braised with red wine and prunes on a plate.

I took Judy’s advice and served it with sauteed polenta, along with some green beans tossed with olive oil and toasted walnuts.

I have been wanting to tell you about this dish. It is so delicious, silky in texture, totally yummy and best yet, it’s super easy. You just need time, so a weekend is good. This Duck Braised with Red Wine and Prunes is a recipe from the famed Judy Rodgers, the chef and owner at Zuni Café in San Francisco. She left us way too soon, just a little over a year ago when she was only 57. (cancer) I feel a kindred spirit with Judy. She was also from St. Louis and she loved great basic food perfected. She was known for refined simplicity.

Her Zuni Café cookbook is different. Her recipes read like she is standing next to you, telling you what to expect, variations that may come up and what to do. Therefore, all recipes are very copy heavy, which is a little intimidating and time consuming to get through it all. But the upside is, she is teaching you HOW to cook, with tips all the way through on every possibility that may come up, and why, not just how to cook that particular recipe.

She has a definite fondness for salting the proteins early, even days before. If you think about it and can do it, it really does work. It tenderizes, promotes juiciness, improves texture, and flavors the meat or poultry all the way through.  It’s interesting, that by seasoning judiciously early, you will use less salt overall. As Judy says, “you will eliminate the habit of repeated doses, and accidental overdoses, of “surface salt” at the table.”  

One of my all-time favorite dishes of hers to make, and it is the most popular dish at the restaurant, is her Zuni Roast Chicken with Bread Salad. It takes an hour to order at the café, but that hasn’t put a damper on its demand. I’ll have to share that at another time.

Because I love her roast chicken so much, I thought she couldn’t go wrong with duck, right? She did not disappoint. Here is her recipe. I made it with LOVE for our friends Margaret and Wayne during the holidays, using 6 duck legs and increasing the recipe proportionately, and then we got to have another dinner out of it later that week.

Duck braised with red wine and prunes on a white platter.

I decided it needed a little color so I garnished it with some chopped Italian parsley.

DUCK BRAISED WITH RED WINE & PRUNES – serves 4 – a Judy Rodgers recipe

A rich old French dish. If you use the orange zest or the clove, it will have a dramatic impact on the flavor and character of the dish, making it sneakily festive. I like it both ways. (I used both the orange and cloves)

Muscovy, or Barbiere (Barbary), duck has firm, almost beefy, dark red flesh that supports long cooking and generous old-fashioned flavors. Very good with toasted polenta.

Wine: Cabors, Chateau du Cayrou, 1996

For 4 Servings:

4 Muscovy duck legs (10 to 12 ounces each)
4 cups medium-bodied or hearty red wine, such as Sangiovese, Merlot, Syrah, or Cabernet Sauvignon
2 cups Duck Stock or other bird stock or Chicken Stock
2 medium yellow onions (about 8 oz. each), root end trimmed flat, peeled, and cut into 1 ½ inch wedges
2 ounces garlic cloves (about ½ cup), unpeeled
1 bay leaf
2 wide strips of orange zest about 2 ½ inches long, removed with a vegetable peeler, and/or a whole clove (optional)
12 prunes, preferably with pits

Trimming and seasoning the duck legs (for the best flavor and succulence, do this step 2-3 days in advance):
Trim lumps of fat, ragged edges or meatless flaps of skin (it’s worth saving and rendering these: even a few scraps can be enough to flavor a soup). Rinse the duck legs, lay between dry towels, and press to absorb surface moisture. Season evenly all over with salt (we use a scant ¼ teaspoon sea salt per pound of duck). Cover loosely and refrigerate.

Cooking the Duck:
Preheat the oven to 300°.

Reduce the red wine and the stock separately to about 1 cup each. The stock should have body and will be slightly salty. Set aside.

Press the duck between towels to wick off excess moisture. Place a dry 10- or 12-inch skillet over medium heat. When the pan is hot enough that the duck hisses on contact, add the legs, skin side down, and leave to set a golden crust, about 10 minutes. The duck will begin to render fat within a few minutes; reduce the heat if the fat starts to smoke. Turn the legs over and brown for just a few minutes on the flesh side, then arrange skin side up in an ovenproof 3-quart sauté pan. Pour off the rendered fat from the skillet; if any appetizing golden bits remain in the skillet, add the reduced red wine to the pan and simmer briefly, stirring to dissolve them. Set aside.

Duck braised with Red wine and Prunes ready for the oven in a Le Creuset pot.Nestle the onion wedges in between the duck legs. Add the garlic, bay leaf, and optional orange zest and/or clove. Add enough of the reduced wine and stock, in about equal doses, to come to a depth of ½ inch; save any extra wine and stock for extending the sauce. Swirl the pan as you bring to a simmer over medium heat, then cover tightly, place in the oven, and cook for about 1 hour.

Turn the duck legs over and add the unpitted prunes, making sure they are submerged in the braising liquid; work quickly, so you don’t lose too much heat. (If you are using pitted prunes, add them after 10 minutes more.) Cover the pan tightly and return to the oven.

After another hour (or about 40 minutes if the duck legs are on the small end of the range listed), turn the legs over, turn the heat up to 375° and return the pan to the oven uncovered. When the legs feel just tender and are slightly browned, usually within another 20 minutes, remove the pan from the oven. Turn off the oven and place a serving platter to warm in the oven for a minute or two. Leave the duck legs to rest for about 5 minutes, then carefully lift from the sauce to the warm serving platter.

Skim the abundant fat from the surface of the braising liquid, and taste the liquid. If it seems thin in flavor or texture, set the pan over medium heat and, skimming attentively, reduce to the texture of warm maple syrup. If the sauce tastes too rich, dilute it with a trickle of water. If you seem shy on sauce and you have extra wine and reduced stock, add a little of each, then simmer to bring the sauce to a slightly syrupy consistency.

Serve each duck leg with 3 prunes and a few silky onion wedges and slippery garlic cloves. There should be a few tablespoons of sauce for each leg.