Chocolate Babka

I’ve been meaning to post this recipe for chocolate babka for a week but the holidays kept getting in the way. There’s something about the week between Christmas and New Year’s that makes me not want to do anything except bake and eat, but I’m okay with that.

I’ve wanted to make babka for a long time. Every time I thought about doing it, though, I chickened out. Babka requires your undivided attention and A LOT of work. It’s not the type of thing that you can sit down and bake in a few hours. It’s a one- to two-day process with lots of waiting, working, and holding your breath.

I was worried that my loaves wouldn’t turn out well because I’ve had some disasters when baking with yeast in the past. I’m not sure why but if I had to guess, it’s because my apartments in D.C. were too cold during the winter when I attempted a lot of bread and cake baking.

When you bake with yeast, it requires a fair amount of heat so the yeast activates and the dough rises. If your dough doesn’t rise, you will be left with subpar dough that doesn’t turn into real bread or cake. If you try to bake with it (as I did a couple times), it will probably turn into a rock-hard lump.

By now I’ve probably completely scared you away from making babka, but actually you should persist and make it. If you follow this recipe from The New York Times‘ Cooking section, you should be okay. I followed it pretty much word for word and I was rewarded with two beautiful, golden-brown loaves filled with fudge and topped with chocolate streusel. I gave one to my mom on Christmas and saved the other for my best friend and boyfriend. They all loved it.

A couple notes on the NYT recipe: Invest in an instant read thermometer. It will be your friend during the babka baking process. You’ll use it at the beginning to make sure the milk is warm enough before you add the yeast, and later to make sure the babka is done baking.

Don’t be afraid to add a little more flour to the dough as you’re beating it in the mixer. But, as the recipe says, you should be sure to beat it fully into the dough before adding more. You don’t want too much flour in the dough because the resulting babka might be too hard. I found that a couple extra tablespoons of flour went a long way.

I’d encourage you to make the filling and streusel ahead of time. Maybe you could even make the dough ahead of time, too. Doing this will save you a lot of work and make the whole process more enjoyable. I make the dough the night before so it would develop flavor in the fridge overnight.

A lot of comments on the original recipe ask if using the sugar syrup at the end is really necessary, and I would say, yes, it definitely is. It will add moisture to the cake and give it a little more sweetness, which might seem unnecessary but strangely it is.

Last but certainly not least, don’t be afraid to braid your babka. The NYT recipe doesn’t really give you good directions on how to do this, although watching their video tutorial at the top can be helpful. I watched this tutorial and it made me feel better about the process.

Enjoy this recipe! If you end up making it, tag me on Instagram. I want to see your loaves!

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Dimanche (That Means Sunday)

Welcome to this edition of Dimanche (That Means Sunday), a roundup of things that caught my eye this past week.

This week was basically a countdown to the holidays. I finished up some projects at work, bought final presents and cards, and met up with friends whom I haven’t seen in a while. Last night, I took a walk down the street with my boyfriend in his neighborhood to look at the light display pictured above. I’m a big fan of Christmas decorations.

The end of December has always been one of my favorite times of year. I’m not a fan of the weather, per se, but I love all the lights, decorations, presents, and most importantly, cooking. I’m planning on spending tonight and most of Christmas Eve making babka. Stay tuned for pictures on Instagram.

I hope that you have a fun, restful Christmas if you’re celebrating. Even if you’re not, I hope you enjoy at least one or two days off of work. I think it’s important to slow down this time of year and enjoy life’s small pleasures, whether that’s trying a new recipe, taking a walk to see the Christmas lights, treating yourself to a few chocolates, or doing whatever most brings you joy.

Without further ado, here is Dimanche:

I’m reading Michelle Obama’s memoir and I’m so into it. I went to Cornflower Coffee and Tea for the first time yesterday and spent a couple hours reading and enjoying a pot of Earl Grey tea. An old colleague of mine told me recently that the audio book of the memoir is narrated by Michelle Obama, so I might have to download that and listen after I’m done reading the book. IMG_7919

I’m extremely worried about Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Earlier this week, I read an article with Ruth saying that she’s in good health and almost recovered after breaking some ribs in a fall last month. Now, new sources are reporting that Ruth had cancerous nodules removed from her lungs. I literally can’t write about this without getting massive anxiety so I’ll leave you with the story from CNN.

I couldn’t stop laughing at this first-person account of a New York Jewish woman trying to become a Southern lady for a week. Yes, the story plays into stereotypes but some of the dialogue and situations ring true. The writer is commissioned by her editor to follow tips from Reese Witherspoon’s new memoir and how-to guide, “Whiskey in a Teacup,” and hilarity ensures. Check out the story in Vulture.

Customer service reps for DNA testing companies are starting to become like therapists. I thought this article about the reps was fascinating, especially when they talk about the phone calls they get and the incentives the company gives them following a particularly stressful call. Check out this article in Bloomberg for perspectives from the customer service reps and people learning startling information about their family via DNA testing.

St. Louis made Food & Wine‘s top five list of places to eat in the U.S. and everyone in town freaked out. Kudos for the magazine for confirming what we all knew already. There were some well-deserved shout outs in the article for Chef Rob Connoley, Balkan Treat Box, Vicia, Logan Ely, and other local restaurants and chefs who are shaking up the city’s food scene. Check out the full list in this Food & Wine feature.

Speaking of St. Louis… Chef Ben Grupe, a James Beard semi-finalist and the former executive chef at Elaia in St. Louis’s Botanical Heights neighborhood, is hosting a pop-up series next month. Grupe will prepare small, seasonal plates with Midwestern ingredients. Read more about the dinners in my latest story for St. Louis Magazine.

I really enjoyed this story about baking reducing stress. I agreed with pretty much all of it except the part when a food writer is quoted saying that baking is cheap and easy. I don’t think it’s either of those things but it is very relaxing via mindfulness. Read the full article in The Atlantic.

Last but certainly not least, I made tomato sauce two times last week because I had so many tomatoes from Tony’s Family Farms and MightyVine. Tony from Tony’s Family Farms supplies produce for restaurants in St. Louis, and one of his partner farms is MightyVine in Chicago. MightyVine specializes in glasshouse tomatoes, which can grow year-round despite very cold external temperatures. I was lucky enough to get a crate of their tomatoes from Tony so I made some delicious tomato sauce. Get my recipe in one of my latest blog posts.IMG_7876

Enjoy your week and holidays! Here’s a song to get you started. It’s my favorite Christmas song.

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Homemade Tomato Sauce

Last week, I was lucky enough to get a complimentary shipment of tomatoes from Tony’s Family Farms. I interviewed Tony, a local farmer and produce supplier, for a story I was writing and the next day he showed up with a giant crate of glasshouse tomatoes from MightyVine in Chicago.

MightyVine’s tomatoes are, in a word, delicious. I think they could make even a tomato nonbeliever into a believer. They’re ripe, bright red, juicy, and fresh. The cherry tomatoes pop in your mouth and are as addictive as candy. I will be very sad when this crate is empty.IMG_7859Still, there were so many tomatoes in the crate that I panicked a little. How would I use them all up? Would they go bad if I didn’t use them in the next few days? How should I store them?

The answer is, the tomatoes keep for a pretty long time on the counter at a cool room temperature. I have mine in the kitchen, uncovered, and they’ve lasted about a week so far. Tomatoes are fragile beings so you don’t want to crowd them or handle them roughly. As long as you keep that in mind, you should be good.

I decided to make homemade tomato sauce with my tomatoes. I came across a recipe from Marcella Hazan, a famous Italian cookbook author, as I was trying to find ways to use up the tomatoes.

HOWEVER, I only used Hazan’s recipe as a guide. If you look at it, you’ll see it calls for two cups of tomatoes with their juices. Hazan most likely was thinking of canned tomatoes so that’s where the two cups and juices comes into play. Obviously, I was not using canned tomatoes so I more or less eyeballed it and I added a little water to the pot when I combined the ingredients for the sauce.

Second, I had waaaay more tomatoes than Hazan did when she made this recipe, so I did rough arithmetic and tripled it. I say “rough” because I threw most of the middle-sized tomatoes into a pot and estimated that it was around six cups.

A few other notes about this recipe: It calls for a lot of butter. This might freak you out but don’t panic. The butter is very subtle and it gives the sauce a velvety, smooth texture. You will be happy that you went all out when you taste the finished product.

Second, this sauce takes a long time to cook. Hazan’s recipe says it will take 45 minutes but again, that’s if you’re going by the book and using two cups of tomatoes. Using 20 medium tomatoes or 10 big ones means that your sauce will take about two hours to cook. I know this commitment isn’t for everyone but trust me when I say, it’s worth it. You can put the sauce in one big jar or multiple jars to share with friends and family. You can even freeze it, if you’re so inclined.

An easy trick for peeling the tomatoes is to boil them first. Cut small x’s in the bottom of each tomato with a paring knife, submerge them in boiling water for a minute, and then carefully place them into a big bowl filled with cold water. The skins will practically remove themselves after that.

This recipe yields a sauce that’s so good, I’m having trouble finding the words to describe it. It’s better than the sauce I’ve tried at many Italian restaurants. I had my boyfriend over for dinner the night I made it and he was impressed. He’s still talking about it days later.

So yeah. Make this sauce as soon as possible. I made another batch last night with the large tomatoes and it turned out as well, if not better. Even though my recipe involves a lot of eyeballing ingredients and improvising as I go, I’ve provided a rough guide for you below.

Here’s a song to get you started on your tomato sauce journey.

Homemade Tomato Sauce


20 medium-sized ripe Roma-style tomatoes, or 10 large ripe cutting tomatoes, peeled
2 cups of warm water
2 sticks of butter (16 Tbsp)
1 onion, peeled and cut in half
salt to taste
sugar to taste


Combine the tomatoes, water, butter, onion, salt, and sugar in a large, heavy-bottomed pot. I’d start with more salt than sugar and taste and adjust later. Bring the mixture to a boil and then reduce to a simmer on medium heat.

Allow the mixture to cook down for about two hours, mashing down large bits of tomato with a spoon or even a potato masher. Stir the mixture every so often to make sure it’s not sticking to the bottom. Taste and adjust your salt and sugar. I usually end up adding a little more sugar.

Once the mixture coats the back of a spoon and has reduced to your liking, pour the sauce into a clean prepared jar or jars. Seal tightly and allow to come to room temperature. Place in the fridge to store it. Or, if you want to enjoy delicious pasta right away, mix some of the sauce into noodles.*

*A great way to make pasta is by saving a little of the pasta water from when you cook the noodles, putting it into a large pan, mixing some sauce in, and then tossing the noodles in the pan.


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French Yogurt Cake (Gâteau au yaourt)

Yogurt cake, or “gâteau au yaourt,” is a recipe that every French person has in their back pocket. Talk to someone from France about the cake and they’ll probably tell you a story about how they watched one of their parents making in the kitchen, then they started helping, and now they can make it at the drop of a hat. It’s one of the country’s many fine culinary traditions.

I didn’t actually experience yogurt cake much when I lived in France because I was mostly around small children, and I did not cook much. I taught elementary school and nannied for some kids outside of school hours, and food was basically confined to whatever was lying around the house or whatever I could drum up in a hurry. Still, I do remember people talking about the cake and at least on one occasion, I ate some at holiday party.

Maybe it’s nostalgia, or maybe it’s just because I had a mostly full container of whole milk yogurt after making a marinade for chicken last week, but I decided to make French yogurt cake the other night for dessert. I actually started making it while I was cooking dinner because I’m impatient and I have trouble waiting for dessert.

This cake is one of the easiest things to bake. You essentially mix together some flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt, and then mix it with eggs, whole milk yogurt, and sugar. I also add some lemon zest because I’m a fan of citrus flavor in cake, but you could leave that out.

You’ll notice that the recipe doesn’t call for much sugar. This runs contrary to American cake, which is mostly full of sugar. French cake is light and delicate. When you bite into it, it springs back a bit but it also melts in your mouth. It is subtle but striking, which I think describes French culture well.

The measurements for the cake ingredients are mostly in milliliters and grams. I’ve been baking more by weight later and I’ve found that it makes a huge difference. Find a good but relatively cheap kitchen scale and you will be rewarded with superior baked goods. It’s worth the investment.

You can serve this cake on its own or with some berries on top. Or, if you’re feeling more American than French and you want to jazz things up, you can serve it with a scoop of ice cream. I’ve eaten it both ways and both are delicious.

Here’s a song to get you started on your yogurt cake journey. It was running through my head as I made this cake.

French Yogurt Cake (Gâteau au yaourt)


250 mL whole milk plain yogurt
2 large eggs
160 g granulated sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
80 mL vegetable oil
250 g all-purpose, unbleached flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 pinch salt
zest of one lemon


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter and line a 10-inch cake pan with parchment paper. Set aside.

Beat together the yogurt, eggs, sugar, vanilla extract, and vegetable oil in the bowl of a stand mixer. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and lemon zest. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and mix until just combined and there are no traces of flour. DO NOT overmix.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and cake in the oven on a middle rack for 30 to 35 minutes, or until the top is golden brown and a tester inserted in the middle comes out clean. Let the cake cool for 10 minutes on the stovetop and then let it cool the rest of the way on a wire rack. Make sure to bring the cake to room temperature before you store it or cover it. It will keep for a while in the fridge. Enjoy!

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A Very Merry Soup Roundup

I realized earlier this month that I ate soup for two weeks straight, but it was SO necessary. I was fighting a bad cold and soup is one of the best antidotes. It’s warming, spicy, fragrant (even if you can’t really smell), and comforting.

I decided to roundup a few of my favorite soups below. It’s not an exhaustive list but it includes some of my favorite recipes including miso-tahini squash soup, French lentil soup, and classic chicken noodle soup. These soups will get you through the cold winter months and remind you that eventually, spring will come.

I enjoyed digging through my archives to find these. I’d forgotten about some of them including sunchoke soup with thyme, which sounds super intimidating but is actually pretty easy to make (as long as you can find sunchokes). I want to make that one again soon.

I did not include gazpacho on the list because I can’t/won’t think about cold soups during the winter. If you want some good recipes, though, just search my archives for “gazpacho.” I have a good recipe posted that calls for sungold tomatoes, which are popular during the summer at farmers’ markets.

I’m sick of writing “soup” so I’ll just cut to the chase. Here’s a roundup of the best soup recipes on Allez Le Food:

1.) French Lentil Stew with Mushrooms and Kale

This soup got me through a very cold winter in Washington, D.C. It’s full of hearty ingredients including lentils and garlic, and it has thyme and white wine, so your apartment/house/dwelling will smell amazing while you’re cooking it.

2.) Seven Spice Chickpea Stew with Spinach

As you can tell from the beginning of this post, 2016 was a very cold winter in D.C. and I relied on soup to get me through. This soup is skillet friendly so you can make it on the stove top, stirring occasionally for the best results.

3.) Classic Chicken Noodle Soup

There are few soups as comforting as classic chicken noodle. I rely on this soup to get me through sickness, cold weather, and any other obstacles that winter throws my way. The best part about this recipe? You don’t even need to cook a whole chicken.

4.) Miso-Tahini Squash Soup

If you like multi-layered flavors in soup, this one is for you. There’s a lot going on in this miso-tahini squash soup but it works in its favor. Ginger, turmeric, and squash all come together to create something spicy and warming. Pair it with brown rice for an even heartier meal.

5.) Slow Cooker French Onion Soup

I made this soup with my sister a couple years ago and it is so. good. You can make it in a slow cooker, which shaves off a lot of steps in the cooking process. Your house will smell so good as it cooks. Caramelized onions, baguette, thick, melted cheese…what more do you need in life?

6.) Tomato Bread Soup

I’m a big fan of bread in soup, which brings me to this tomato bread soup. It’s a playful take on classic tomato soup that calls for any day-old bread you have lying around. If you don’t have any bread, it’s a perfect excuse to buy some and then not close the bag all the way for a couple days.

7.) Slow Cooker Sweet Potato Lentil Soup

Winter calls for slow cooker recipes and this sweet potato lentil soup is one of my favorites. It requires minimal effort but yields maximum taste. If you want to spice things up, consider adding some hot sauce or harissa to the mix.

8.) Thai Red Curry Noodle Soup

A lot of times during the winter, I go out for Thai food just so I can have a spicy, warming soup. If you’re feeling ambitious and want to make one at home, this soup is for you. It’s full of noodles, red curry, garlic, and ginger. Just writing about it makes me hungry.

9.) Carrot Turmeric Coconut Soup

This soup gets a big lift from coconut milk, which gives it a thick, velvety texture. Double or triple the recipe for the maple-glazed nuts on top and use them in other dishes such as salad.

10.) Sunchoke Soup with Thyme

I made this soup a few years ago with a friend when I was living in D.C. I forgot about it until today, not because it’s forgettable but probably because it’s one of those once-in-a-lifetime soups. It requires a lot of ingredients including sunchokes, which can be hard to find in grocery stores. If you find them, though, this soup is worth making. I wouldn’t make it every week but now that I’ve found it again, I want to make it at least once or twice a year.

Enjoy these soups! Here’s a song that reminds me of this list.

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Dimanche (That Means Sunday)

Welcome to this edition of Dimanche (That Means Sunday), a roundup of things that caught my eye this past week.

This week was a little hectic with holiday parties and plans. I had a great time getting tea and pastries with my colleagues and spending time with my family, but today, I was ready for some solitude. My boyfriend and I drove an hour out into the country and went on a long hike through Klondike Park, one of my favorites places to hike in rural Missouri.

I took the lead when we hiked since my boyfriend had never been there before. I noticed as I went a long the trail that it was easy. It’s not a particularly challenging trail but it was even easier than I remembered.

I realized that it was easier for two reasons: One, my body has almost completely recovered from all the injuries I incurred earlier this year. Two, I know the trail almost by heart. It was an exciting thing to realize. I used to come to the trail a couple years ago and tiptoe around parts, scared that I was going to fall or slide over some rocks. Now I can practically do the trail with my eyes closed.

The next week is full of more holiday parties, last minute projects, and work obligations. When things get particularly stressful, I’ll return to the peace of the trail. And as this year wraps up and a new one is around the corner, I’ll return to the realization that I had while hiking today. If you do challenging things enough times, eventually they get easier. And once you get through the obstacles, you’re rewarded with something resembling bliss.

Without further ado, here is Dimanche:

I finally tried the pizza at Louie and it was un. real. I’d highly recommend heading over the restaurant in DeMun and trying it soon. I got the butternut squash and fontina combo and it was so delicious. I’m still thinking about it a day later.IMG_7883

I always hear about new restaurants opening in Chicago and I want to make a trip up as soon as possible to check them out. This new one from Stephanie Izard, chef and owner of Girl and the Goat, sounds like a place I need to visit soon. “Tiny Goat” is opening above Little Goat, an upscale diner close to Izard’s other restaurants. If you’re in Chicago and you’re looking for a place to celebrate New Year’s, this could be your spot.

Every year around this time, the CDC puts out its warning against eating raw cookie dough. Every year, I ignore the warning and eat dough, and I’m still alive. “Say No to Raw Dough!” is probably my least favorite public healthy announcement. Read opposing sides of the argument in this Washington Post story.

I had the pleasure of meeting Tony White from Tony’s Family Farms this week. Tony’s business supplies St. Louis area restaurants with fresh produce year-round including glasshouse and greenhouse tomatoes. He brought me a shipment from a farm he works with in Chicago called Mighty Vine and the tomatoes are so good. I used a bunch to make homemade tomato sauce on Friday. Look out for the recipe on the blog later this week!IMG_7859IMG_7876

I’m a big fan of Sylvia Plath so it was fun to read this comic about her earlier this week. You might be thinking, “Sylvia Plath and comics? What?” The comic is just another way of telling a story about a book of Plath’s letters, which was recently published by Harper Collins. I learned a lot about Plath from reading the story, which is basically just drawings with short captions. Check out the comic in The New Yorker.

I just discovered Basically and I’m obsessed. It’s a website from Bon Appétit that answers common cooking questions. This story about powdered sugar might come in handy during holiday cookie baking. Also there’s a recipe from brown butter wedding cookies at the end.

I love hearing about what people in the local food industry are doing. This interview in Sauce Magazine features Suman Shekar, who oversees process improvements and quality assurance at Companion, a popular bakery in St. Louis. I liked what Shekar had to say about working in the food industry and the dedication it requires. Check out the full interview on Sauce‘s website.

Last but certainly not least, Epicurious found a bunch of Gourmet‘s old holiday recipes and everyone freaked out. Gourmet, a once thriving food magazine, went out of business a while ago to the disappointment to pretty much everyone. So it’s a big deal that Epicurious, a now thriving food website that makes recipes available to the masses, has some of Gourmet’s holiday secrets. Read this blog post for more information.

Enjoy your week! Here’s a song to get you started.

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Chicken Noodle Soup

Chicken noodle soup is the ultimate fixer. It comes in when you’re feeling your worst and warms you up, clears your very clogged sinuses, and makes you believe that maybe, one day, you’ll feel better again.

My mom used to make chicken soup for me and my siblings a lot when we were little. I remember it as a holiday dish because we often ate it for the Jewish holidays, but also, I remember it as a remedy to any cold or flu that I acquired. I was in awe of my mom’s ability to make something so medicinal and healing. I thought for a long time that she was making it the hard way, with a whole chicken in the pot.

Then about a year ago I got sick and I asked her for chicken noodle soup. She brought me some so quickly, it didn’t seem possible. “Did you use a whole chicken?” I said. She laughed. “No, I used rotisserie.”

This was a big shock to me, who believed for more than 30 years that my mom was using an ancient medicinal recipe for the soup that involved chopping up a whole chicken and soaking it in broth. After my initial disbelief, I felt empowered. “Yes,” I said to myself. “I can do this.” Plus, who has time to deal with a whole chicken when they’re sick anyway? I thought to myself.

Armed with this newfound confidence, I went to the grocery store when I got sick last week and bought a rotisserie chicken. I got a few stalks of celery, carrots, onion, wide egg noodles, and chicken broth. When I got home, I essentially threw everything into a pot and let it cook for a while, and then added chopped rotisserie chicken once the vegetables were soft enough and the egg noodles were cooked through.

I don’t want to say that this soup cured me, because it didn’t. However, it did play an instrumental role in helping me feel better. It helped me turn a corner at just the right time. I was starting to think that I’d be sick the rest of December.

I guess the moral of this story is, if you’re scared of making chicken noodle soup, know that there are shortcuts. You will still have delicious, healing soup at the end of the process and you’ll be no more sick or stressed for it. My boyfriend likes to make the soup completely from scratch when he’s sick, which I applaud, but I think he has an iron constitution. I become weak and needy when I have a lingering cold, so I need fast and easy relief.

Here’s a song to get you started on your chicken noodle soup journey. I found it last week after forgetting about it for years. I’d highly recommend playing it while cooking.

Stay tuned for a soup roundup post next week!

Chicken Noodle Soup


1 Tbsp canola oil
2 celery ribs, chopped
2 medium carrots, chopped
1 medium onion, peeled and chopped
8 cups chicken broth
1/4 tsp pepper
3 cups uncooked whole wheat egg noodles (about 4 ounces)
3 cups coarsely chopped rotisserie chicken


Heat oil in a heavy-bottomed stockpot over medium high heat. Add the celery, carrots, and onion. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables and onions are tender, about five minutes.

Add the chicken broth and pepper to the pot and bring the mixture to a boil. Stir in the noodles. Cook for about 13 minutes or until the noodles are soft. Stir in the chopped chicken and heat through. Enjoy!

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