Avocado Grapefruit Fennel Salad

Avocado Grapefruit Fennel Salad

Avocado Grapefruit Fennel Salad

With the holidays behind us, we feel guilty about our episodes of gluttony. Though it may not last more than a week or two, we make New Years resolutions to exercise more and eat better. The gyms are packed and there’s that buzz about kale, quinoa, chia, and other healthy super foods. Since grapefruit is said to have properties that help reduce belly fat and we have all heard about the health benefits of avocado, I present you with this light Grapefruit, Avocado, and Fennel salad. A salad reminiscent of summer yet perfect for your post-holiday health kick, no matter how short it is.

You may be thinking that this healthy salad seems too modern to have any connection to my grandmother and the early American foodies. However, I actually found this recipe, in it’s most basic form (no fennel), in “The James Beard Cookbook,” by James Beard. I’m not sure of its history before his cookbook but to me, this qualifies grapefruit and avocado salad as a classic.

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The Best Recipes of 2014

Lasagna No Ricotta

It’s been an interesting year. From the disappearance of Malaysia flight 370 to the Ebola outbreak and many other poignant news stories, those compiling this year’s lists of highlights and countdowns have their work cutout for them. Since I’ve never done a list of highlights on this blog before but I always catch myself reading those that I come across,  I thought I would give it try – for my recipe posts, not news events of course (I have no business discussing those). So I went back and reviewed the roughly 30 recipe posts of 2014 and picked my favorite 5 recipes, almost exclusively based on taste. Yes, pretty photos and writing are important but what we really want is a darn tasty recipe, right?

Before we get to the top 5 picks, other notable highlights of 2014 for Megan Peck Cooks include the a few stories I wrote for Edible Magazine:

Striped Bass Plaki on Edible East End  – a story about my grandmother’s amazing whole striped bass dish made with local Eastern Long Island seafood.

Linzer Torte on Edible Manhattan (featured in the Holiday Issue) – holiday memories surrounding my grandmother, Paula Peck’s, festive cocoa scented Linzer Torte Recipe.

I also had the honor of participating in the research for “1000 Foods to Eat Before You Die,” by Mimi Sheraton – just recently released and can be purchased on amazon (available in bookstores January 13th).  It was such a pleasure to work with Mimi Sheraton, a good friend of my grandmother’s.

Now for my top 5 recipe posts of 2014:

Classic Baked Lasagna

A classic lasagna recipe made with béchamel sauce instead of ricotta cheese. This will quickly become your favorite lasagna recipe and replace that tomato sauce-drenched version from the local mediocre Italian restaurant.

Lasagna No Ricotta

Smoked Salmon in Sour Cream-Horseradish Sauce

Horseradish, salmon, and dill add a freshness to this dip-like spread. Add a few slices of cucumbers for a refreshing crunch and this is the perfect light lunch or appetizer.

Smoked Salmon Spread

Salad Nicoise with a Twist

A salad nicoise that doesn’t follow any of the rules. Purple Peruvian potatoes, cherry tomatoes, and garlic scapes are added to make an amazing seasonal salad, exploding with flavor.

Salad Nicoise with a Twist

Stuffed Baked Apples with Homemade Caramel Sauce

Baked apples are taken to a whole new level with this crisp stuffed version. Oats, sugar, butter, and cinnamon are stuffed into a whole apple then baked and topped with homemade caramel sauce and vanilla ice cream. Excessiveness never tasted so good.

Stuffed Baked Apples with Caramel Sauce and Vanilla Ice Cream

Ginger Almond Sandwich Cookies

Lemon buttercream fills these spicy ginger almond sandwiches. A Paula Peck cookie favorite turned into irresistible sandwiches that will disappear as fast as you can make them.

Ginger Almond Sandwich Cookies


Happy New Year and hope to see you all in 2015.


Mini Chocolate Almond Meringue Tarts

Mini Chocolate Almond Meringue Tarts

Mini Chocolate Meringue TartsI know this may seem like an odd selection for a recipe post just a few days before Christmas. It’s not holiday specific and it doesn’t contain peppermint, molasses or ginger, or any other Christmasy baking ingredient that is usually expected this time of year. What you have here is a tasty little party dessert that covers all your festive baking bases. Almond paste is the dominant flavor in the crust, which then accents the rich chocolate ganache filling. But lets not forget the meringue. These lovely white peaks are the finishing touch that brings all of the components together into one delicious mini dessert.

I developed this recipe solely based on inspiration. It is not a Paula Peck recipe nor one from her colleagues. I happen to try a version of these little delights at an Italian Bakery in New Jersey that I often frequent. A chocolate tart with an almond flavored crust seemed brilliant to me and I’m always a sucker for meringue. I had seen the recipe for Almond Short Pastry in my grandmother’s book , “The Art of Fine Baking,” and the use of both ground almonds and almond paste convinced me it would make the perfect tart dough. The richness of the hard cooked egg yolks (one of her best tart-making techniques) combined with the nutty almond pairs beautifully with the chocolate filling. The meringue may be over kill but it definitely gives these tartlets the snowy-peak feel appropriate for holiday entertaining. Besides, who can resist the pillowy white marshmallow texture on top of almond chocolaty morsels of magic?


Almond Short Pastry
1/2 cup almond paste
3 egg yolks
2/3 cup unbalanced almonds
1 1/4 cups all purpose flour, sifted
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1/2 cup butter
pinch cloves
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
2 hard boiled egg yolks, pushed through a sieve

Chocolate Ganache
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup whole milk
1-12 ounce bag of semi sweet chocolate chips
2 tablespoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs

4 large egg whites
1 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Lightly grease a muffin pan.

Cream almond paste with raw egg yolks until soft. Place almonds in a food processor and pulse until finely ground.

Mix flour and ground almonds together and place in a bowl, making a well in the center. In the well, place sugar, salt, lemon zest, softened butter, spices, hard boiled egg yolk, and almond-paste mixture.

With finger tips, combine the center ingredients, gradually incorporating flour and nuts to make a smooth, firm ball of dough. Chill until firm enough to roll between sheets of wax paper (about 1 hour).

Roll out dough 1/4 inch thick. Using a 3 inch round cookie cutter or top of a glass, cut out rounds of dough and gently place them in muffin tin, lightly pressing down to line each cup. Chill for 30 minutes. Meanwhile preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Bake 15-20 minutes or until just barely beginning to lightly brown. Half way through baking, prick centers of cups so they do not continue to puff up. Allow to fully cool.

While tarts cool, make the ganache filling:

Heat the heavy cream and milk in a pot over medium-low until it simmering slightly. Remove from the heat; add the chocolate and stir until melted and smooth. Add the sugar and salt and whisk until well incorporated. Beat the eggs and add them to the chocolate mixture, stir until completely combined. Pour the filling into the cooled tartlets and bake at 325 degrees for 15 minutes until the filling is set and the surface is glossy. Cool completely.

While tartlets cool, make the meringue topping:

Place egg whites, sugar, and cream of tartar in the heatproof bowl. Set over a saucepan with simmering water. Whisk constantly until sugar is dissolved and whites are warm to the touch.
Transfer bowl to electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Beat, starting on low speed, gradually increasing to high, until stiff, glossy peaks form, 5 to 7 minutes. Add vanilla, and mix until combined.

Pipe mixture onto tartlets. Raise oven heat to 350 and place tartlets in oven, until meringue is golden (about 5-10 minutes). Cool.

Yield about 12 mini tarts.

Mini Chocolate Ganache Meringue Tarts



Potato Pancakes with Honey Crisp Apple Sauce

Potato Pancakes with Honey Crisp Apple Sauce

Potato Pancakes with Apple Sauce

Before you discard this post because you don’t celebrate Hanukkah or understand why potato pancakes/latkes are so tasty, let me assure you that you don’t have to be religious to enjoy this simple (and vegetarian) side dish. I have an affinity for the sweet and savory combination of shredded potato and onion with cinnamon apple sauce. This may have started when I was was a child, with our attempts to celebrate Hanukkah by re-creating this traditional dish. It’s beyond that now. These pancakes actually follow the basic no-fail culinary combination of sweet, salt, fat, and acid – practically guaranteeing its tastiness.

This basic recipe was adapted from “The James Beard Cookbook,” by James Beard. It’s strange that James Beard published a potato pancake recipe but my grandmother did not. With her Jewish background, it seems only natural that she would have a recipe for such a common dish. But it appears she made Spinach Pancakes more frequently than potato pancakes (based on “The Art of Good Cooking”). Nonetheless, this is a great base recipe, and paired with my homemade Honeycrisp apple sauce, it’s even better. Simply grate potato and onion into a strainer and squeeze out some of the liquid. This is then mixed with egg, a small amount of bread crumbs (feel free to use gluten free!), and salt. Saute in butter (or blended butter and oil) and you have a crispy pancake that includes the salt and fat required for the dish.

The apple sauce makes up the acid and sweet components of the culinary combo. Just boil honey crisp apples (I like the juiciness and sweet honey flavor of honey crisps) in a little water with a tablespoon of honey, a tablespoon of sugar, and a touch cinnamon. Finish with lemon juice (for the acid and to help keep the color). You will have a delicious apple sauce and as you can see here, I almost prefer equal parts apple sauce and pancake. Each bite should have a good amount of both. Sour cream can also be added but I’ve never found it necessary. Whether you celebrate Hanukkah or not, these Potato Pancakes with Honey Crisp Apple Sauce make a satisfying lunch or snack.


4 medium potatoes
1 1/2 medium onions
1 egg
2 tablespoons dry bread crumbs (or gluten-free bread crumbs)
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground pepper

Honey Crisp Apple Sauce
6 honey crisp apples
1 cup water
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 tablespoons lemon juice

Wash and peel the potatoes. Grate with a grater and drain off all the liquid that collects in the bowl. Grate the onion into the potato and mix in the egg, breadcrumbs, salt, and pepper. Heat two tablespoons of butter in a large skillet. Put in four large spoonfuls of the mixture. Pat down slightly to create pancakes, about 2 inches wide. Cook gently until brown on the bottom, turn, and brown on the other side. Add more fat and continue cooking until all of the mixture is used.

To make the Honey Crisp Apple Sauce:

Peel and core the apples. Halve lemon and rub on apple halves to prevent browning. Dice apples. Place apples in a large pot with 1 cup water. Bring to a boil. Stir in honey and sugar. Simmer for 30 minutes or until apples are soft and create a sauce. Stir in cinnamon and lemon juice.

Serve pancakes with large spoonfuls of apple sauce.

Serves 5-6.


Poppy Seed Caramel Rolls

Poppy Seed Cinnamon Rolls

Cinnamon Rolls

Cinnamon and caramel rolls seem to be everywhere these days, or at least photos of them are. The gooey texture is both photogenic and irresistible. I often see these well-known breakfast rolls prominently displayed on large white plates or cake stands at cafés around New York City. I almost always have to buy one. A version of my own was long overdue yet perfectly timed with the Holidays.

The base of this recipe came from the “The James Beard Cookbook,” by James Beard but the inspiration came from two very different sources: a nostalgic Christmas memory and a popular babka bakery in New York City. Growing up in a cozy Minneapolis neighborhood, our neighbors exchanged small gifts (usually of homemade goodies) every Christmas. My family looked forward to the plate of Caramel Rolls that was routinely included in these gifts every year. Each roll was always the perfect size, not too big nor too small, with just the right amount of caramel. We would save them for breakfast on Christmas morning.

The addition of poppy seeds to this nostalgic replication was inspired by Breads Bakery, one of my favorite bakeries in New York City. They are known for many delicious breads and pastries but their chocolate Babka is particularly impressive (they even ship it nationwide!). The deep chocolate swirls remind me of black poppy seeds and inspired me to combine them into this indulgent sweet bready treat.

These delectable rolls can also be made plain, without poppy seeds, for a classic version. However, those of us who love poppy seeds, will enjoy the light crunch and texture that the spattering of poppy seeds provides. These caramel rolls may be different from those that I looked forward to every Christmas as a child, but they are better than what I find at most cafes here in the city. They just might make it on the table with the holiday desserts this year (as well as for breakfast, of course).


2 (1 1/2 tablespoons) packages active dry yeast
2 cups lukewarm milk
1 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon honey
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon salt
5-6 cups all-purpose flour
4 tablespoons soft unsalted butter
3/4 cup light brown sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 1/2 teaspoons poppy seeds

4 tablespoons + 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
3/4 brown sugar
cinnamon and poppy seeds for sprinkling

Mix the yeast in a large bowl with ½ cup of the warm milk, honey, and sugar. Let stand a few minutes to proof. Melt butter in remaining milk and add the salt. Combine with the yeast mixture.

Add the flour a cup at a time and stir it in with a wooden spoon. Continue mixing until dough is thoroughly blended. If you are using an electric mixer with a dough hook, knead at slow speed for 3-4 minutes, adding more flour as necessary, until dough is smooth and pulls away from the sides of the bowl. If kneading by hand, turn out dough onto a floured surface and knead until dough is very soft, smooth, and elastic. Transfer to a well-buttered bowl and allow to rise in a warm spot until double in bulk (around 1-2 hours).

While dough rises, grease bottom and sides of a 9 inch round cake pan or 8 inch square baking pan. Mix Melt 4 tablespoons of melted butter with ¾ cup brown sugar. Pour into prepared pan.

Punch down dough and turn out on a lightly floured surface. Roll out with a rolling pin into a rectangle, about ½ inch thick. Spread with softened butter, brown sugar, cinnamon, and poppy seeds.  Roll up and cut the roll into 1 – 1 ½ inch slices. Arrange slices in the prepared pan.  Cover and let rise 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Melt tablespoon. Brush the rolls with the butter and sprinkle with poppy seeds and cinnamon. Bake 15 minutes or until golden brown. Allow to cool slightly then run a butter knife along the sides of the pan to release the rolls. Place a serving plate on top of the rolls and while holding the bottom of the baking pan, flip upside down onto the serving plate so that the bottoms of the rolls are facing up and the caramel sauce covers them.

Yield 9 large rolls or 18 small rolls.

Poppy Seed Cinnamon Roll



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