Challah is my favorite thing to bake, hands down. I don’t do it often, but I relish every opportunity to bake a couple of loaves for friends and family. My friend Vered invited me to her family’s Rosh Hashanah dinner, so I decided to bring a couple of loaves of round challah (the traditional shape for starting the New Year), one with golden raisins, one with sesame seeds.

My favorite challah recipe comes from Deb Perelman’s blog, Smitten Kitchen. It’s an adaptation from Jewish cookery guru Joan Nathan. However, I did not follow Deb’s instructions on how to braid a round challah (though, her directions on how to weave a six-stranded challah are perfect). A while back, I researched how to weave a round challah, and I came across this gem from Chabad’s website. That link shows you how to weave the challah, and also how to incorporate raisins into the dough without driving yourself crazy.

The raisin challah. Vered’s mom said it reminded her of her own mother’s challah. The ultimate compliment!

As Deb (by way of Joan Nathan) suggests, I allowed the dough to rise three times — the second rising took place in the fridge overnight. In the future, I’d probably double the raisins because, while I’m not the biggest fan of raisins generally, I do like a very raisiny raisin bread.

photo 3

I even made a baby challah wreath for myself.

Blackberry (Pie) Eating in the Month of September

I’ve been craving pie for a couple weeks now. It all started because I had a dinner party gig in Woodstock for which I baked a couple of peach pies. This week, I finally decided to do something about it. And I even remembered that I had lard in my freezer that my friend Nicole Taylor had bartered with me. I’ve never made a lard pie crust before, so I was super excited to experiment. Let me tell you — I’ll never go back to just all-butter crusts again. Now, butter crusts are delicious, which is why I went about searching for a lard and butter pie crust recipe. The butter imparts flavor (and gives the crust its flakiness), but the lard bestows upon it divinely tender texture. Truly a match made in heaven.


The pies that started it all.

As for the berries… I’ve hardly eaten any berries at all this summer. I don’t know what I’ve been doing, wasting precious summer months without eating berries! And September is generally peak blackberry season, so I went forth to the Union Square Greenmarket in search of blackberries. Phillips Farms did not disappoint me. And so, armed with ripe blackberries and lard, and a couple of solid recipes, I made a pie celebrating the tail end of summer.

A few notes. I made a lattice-topped pie, as you’ll see in the photo, but I think that I ought to have made it a tighter weave or a solid-topped pie to hold the pie together a little better. The recipe as written below is for a solid top, but I’ve also included a link to lattice-top instructions at the end. There was an advantage to the loosely-woven lattice top, however. I didn’t add the optional sugar to the pie before baking it (I always err on the side of less sweet). And, in fact, the pie was a bit too tart even for me. So, the next day, I sprinkled about 3 tablespoons of sugar over the whole thing and put it back in the oven for about 20 minutes, and it was perfect.


Mmm… pie… (the lard is in that half-pint container)

Blackberry Pie with Lard-and-Butter Pie Crust

makes one 10-inch pie

(adapted from Leite’s Culinaria)

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
13 tablespoons cold butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
8 tablespoons cold lard
4 to 6 tablespoons ice water

  1. Mix flour and salt in food processor fitted with a metal blade.
  2. Cut in butter cubes with five 1-second pulses. Add cold lard and continue cutting in until flour is pale yellow and resembles coarse cornmeal with butter bits no bigger than small peas, about 4 additional 1-second pulses. Turn mixture out into a medium-sized bowl.
  3. Sprinkle 3 tablespoons of ice water over mixture. With a fork, fluff to mix thoroughly. Squeeze a handful of dough — if it doesn’t stick together, add remaining water, 1 tablespoon at a time.
  4. Divide dough into two balls, one slightly larger than the other then flatten into 6-inch discs. Refrigerate for 30 minutes before rolling.

(adapted from

4 cups blackberries
3/4 cup honey (blackberry honey if you can find it)
1 tablespoon fresh lemon or lime juice
3 tablespoons instant tapioca
1/4 teaspoon salt
Optional – 1/4 cup super fine sugar, or to your taste
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Wash and drain the berries.
  2. In a large bowl: add the berries, honey, lemon or lime juice, tapioca, and salt. Taste test before adding optional superfine sugar. Stir the mixture and let sit for 15-20 minutes to allow the flavors to blend.
  3. Line a 10 inch pie dish with a rolled out bottom layer of pie crust. Fill with the blackberry mixture and dot with butter.
  4. Roll out the remaining pastry crust and cover the top of the pie. Seal and crimp the edges together. Brush with milk or cream. Sprinkle with a little sugar. Cut a few slits, with a sharp knife, to create steam vents.
  5. Bake for 45 to 55 minutes, until the crust is browned and the filling is bubbling.

I recommend covering a baking sheet with foil and baking the pie on top of that — your oven will thank you.

Here’s an instructional video from Saveur magazine on how to weave a proper lattice top.

Blackberry Eating

It’s blackberry season — my favorite variety of berry by far. And this is one of my favorite poems of all time. I think I first heard Galway Kinnell recite it on a PBS broadcast from the Dodge Poetry Festival when I was middle school. I love the imagery, of course, but I also love how the words Kinnell chooses evoke the mouthfeel of eating a big, fat, plump blackberry. Enjoy!

Galway Kinnell

I love to go out in late September
among the fat, overripe, icy, black blackberries
to eat blackberries for breakfast,
the stalks very prickly, a penalty
they earn for knowing the black art
of blackberry-making; and as I stand among them
lifting the stalks to my mouth, the ripest berries
fall almost unbidden to my tongue,
as words sometimes do, certain peculiar words
like strengths and squinched,
many-lettered, on-syllabled lumps,
which I squeeze, squinch open, and splurge well
in the silent, startled, icy, black language
of blackberry-eating in late September.

Salt and Pomegranates

I started a dinner series in May called Salt & Pomegranates. I’ve long wanted to explore Persian cuisine and cuisine from the Republic of Georgia. Since I live alone (and, honestly, don’t like cooking for one), I decided to start a supper club, which would give me the opportunity to explore new recipes and to entertain about a dozen people at a time. Two of my favorite activities on earth!


Photo: Melissa Danielle

Why the name? The saltshaker, as you know, is the logo for my personal cheffing business. I decided a while back that any endeavor I undertake would have to have salt somewhere in the title. (For example, I used to hold an art and culinary salon that was called Salt Salon.) And pomegranates are a prominent ingredient in Persian and Georgian cooking. You’d be hard pressed to find a Persian cookbook that didn’t have a pomegranate on the cover. Also, I have fond memories of sitting on the floor of my cousin’s living room, newspaper spread on the coffee table, tearing into pomegranates as a kid. I even have two pomegranates tattooed on my back. Salt & Pomegranates also evokes the savory preparations of pomegranates that is pervasive in dishes from Iran, Georgia, and many countries in between. (Plus, I just think the title sounds kind of poetic.)

Feasts take place in Brooklyn, and I hope to bring them to cities around the US where I have friends posted. Please check out the website — — and sign up to receive updates on the Contact Page.

I’ll leave you with a recipe that incorporates salt and pomegranates — Basturma of Lamb, a Georgian kebab recipe from one of the inspirational cookbooks I’ve been working out of.


Photo: Melissa Danielle

Basturma of Lamb
from Darra Goldstein’s The Georgian Feast

Serves 4-6

2 pounds boneless shoulder or leg of lamb, cut into 2-inch cubes
skewers for grilling

2 cups pomegranate juice (see Note, below)
1/4 cup olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 bay leaf, crushed
2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed

  1. Thread the cubed meat onto skewers and place the kebabs in a deep baking pan or pot just wide enough to accommodate the skewers.
  2. Mix together all the ingredients for the marinade and pour over the skewered meat. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator. Allow to marinate overnight, and up to 48 hours.
  3. About an hour before cooking, take the meat out of the refrigerator. Remove the skewers from the marinade and dab with paper towels to remove excess moisture. Allow the meat to come to room temperature. In the meantime, prepare the coals for your grill (if you have a charcoal grill). Grill the kebabs for about ten minutes, flipping them to cook evenly on all sides.

Note: I used bottled, not-from-concentrate pomegranate juice. During the winter, when pomegranates are in season, I would suggest using freshly-squeezed juice.

Variety, Spices, etc.

Folks, for a long time, I had an organizational dilemma. I can’t blame it all on my proximity to Kalustyan’s (a truly remarkable spice and specialty-food market in Manhattan), but it certainly hasn’t helped. You see, I have about fifty different spices in my pantry. I know, this may seem excessive, but I really need every last one of those dried herbs and spices in my possession. Over the past several years, I’ve been teaching myself the arts of Indian, Georgian, and Persian cuisines — cuisines whose dishes are redolent with the aromas of cardamom, coriander, and cumin. And then there’s fenugreek, ginger, saffron, and turmeric. And let’s not forget rose petals, marigold, and nigella seeds… Well, you get the point.

I’m lucky to live in a fairly spacious (by New York standards) one-bedroom apartment in Manhattan, but my kitchen is… challenging at times. At about 6-by-9 feet, it sometimes feels like a walk-in closet. (The double doors add to this illusion.) So, making it a user-friendly space has been an evolving process, and one of the trickier challenges has been how to consolidate the spices into one area. Previously, I had a set of magnetic spice containers that I kept on the fridge. And I kept the bulk of my spices in a cabinet over the sink, and the overflow went into a 3-tiered wall-mounted spice rack. I have a very visual/spatial memory, so I could make the situation work pretty well, but it really bothered my inner organizational enthusiast.

Behind these doors is not the utility closet you were expecting. It’s my kitchen.

A couple months back, I had an epiphany … I figured out I needed stackable, airtight containers with wide enough openings to fit varying sizes of measuring spoons. I realized that 4-ounce jelly jars fit the bill. So, I ordered five cases of these smooth-sided canning jars from Fillmore Container — they’re a wholesale vendor of glass jars, lids, candle supplies, etc. Since these jars come without lids, I ordered white metal lids to go with them. And then, finally, I used these erasable labels to label the jars. I found out about the labels through one of my clients, and I love them. They stay on through dish washing (by hand or in the machine), microwave- and (as far as I can tell so far) conventional-oven usage. You write directly on them with permanent marker that easily erases with a dab of rubbing alcohol.

This is but a fraction of my spice collection.


Alphabetically, we’ve only gone through the C’s.









I prefer erasable labels because my spice collection changes based on need, and I don’t want to have to deal with leftover adhesive messiness once a spice container is empty. And while I can be obsessively organized about this kind of thing, I also like irregular, handwritten labels.

The jars are short and flat enough to stack four-high, and they all fit in one section of my kitchen cabinet. The biggest con is that I have to take down the front stacks to get to the rear stacks. I’m working on a solution for that. Ideally, I’d keep them on a shelf like this one above my counter, but I only have room for the one, and I need all of these things within arm’s reach at all times.

Vital ingredients to have within easy reach: coffee (obviously), cooking oils and ghee, no fewer than three kinds of sea salt and a pepper grinder.

The spices in their natural habitat (with refills above).

For now, this works well enough for me… until I have the next epiphany about how to more conveniently store the jars.