December 21, 2007

Cheryl's Sugar Cookie Icing (Plus)

Nothing says the holidays more than taking three evenings to make one type of cookie, but I like to spread the work out so I'm not standing all night. This iced sugar cookie and recipe is everyone's favorite. I make other kinds, but this is the one I'm demanded to make by family and friends, especially by Kyle who won't let me make anything else for his class and parties. I have lots of cookie cutter shapes for the each of the holidays, because a I think variety on the plate looks festive. And although there's an extra step in this cookie method (freezing the dough over night), it all goes fast once you get the hang of it.

Here's how I do it:

Day 1. I make I make Mamaw's sugar cookie dough and freeze it overnight (freezing makes it less sticky and much easier to roll it out really thin, tomorrow).

Day 2. The next night, I roll the cookies very, very thinly and wafery and bake them so they're still dough-colored, barely browned (so watch them carefully).

Day 3. I ice the cookies.

Cheryl's Sugar Cookie Icing
3 cups confectioners sugar
3 tablespoons butter (melted and hot)
1 1/2 tsps flavoring extract (vanilla, lemon, orange, etc.)
Food coloring as directed below
Approximately 6-7 tsps of milk

1. In large bowl, sift confectioner's sugar.
2. M
ix in very hot melted butter.
3. Stir in the extract.
4. Add food coloring.*
Add the milk 1-2 tsps at a time while stirring with a spoon, and mix until it's thick enough to coat a cookie, excess can drip off, but not run off like water!

NOTE: Extract and food coloring will thin the icing, so for every few drops, you need one less tsp. of milk to thin it. Too thin and the icing will turn speckle-y when it cools.

6. Place cookies one at a time upside down in bowl on top of icing. Remove and let excess drip off.
7. Place icing side up on cookie sheet and refrigerate overnight. Once hardened, transfer to air-tight tin.

*If making multiple colors of icing, separate the icing into equal amounts into wide bowls. Add the different food colorings to each bowl and blend until you have the color you want.

The icing isn't only for Christmas. Depending on the holiday, I use different food coloring and flavoring:

Easter = Lemon extract and an assortment of light pastels (just 2-3 drops of yellow/green/blue/red)
Thanksgiving & Halloween = Orange extract and orange food black, browns and purples.
Valentine's day = red and vanilla; I've even made purple hearts for Memorial Day.
Christmas = Vanilla with 3 colors: red, green and white.

To make the colors darker and richer, I mix them like this:
Green = 2 drops of red for every 6 drops of green to make a rich forest green
Red = 2 drops of green for every 6 drops of red makes cranberry
White = The vanilla extract colors it a rich ivory color

December 18, 2007

Cheryl's Hot Mulled Wine

Here is a drink that makes me feel warm and cozy inside, and always reminds me of Christmas. A friend of mine introduced me to this, oh, about 10 years ago at a Christmas party. She's from England and apparently this is a yuletide staple there. Later this friend gave me a spice mix to add to the warmed wine, but after some experimentation I came up with this version, my very own Mulled Spiced Wine. Funny thing is, after all those years, she and I went through our separations and divorces at the same time. Now we have become great friends. As have our exes.

In a pot on the stove, or in a crock pot, pour a magnum of merlot or cabernet, and warm on med/low.

1/4 tsp. nutmeg*
1 tsp cinnamon*
1/4 tsp cloves* (or more or less to your taste)Orange or clementine rinds (optional)
1/4 teaspoon vanilla

Warm (remember, don't boil it or you'll lose the kick when the alcohol evaporates out) and serve with a ladle. Mmmm....

*Spices may be loose or put it in a tea strainer [or cheese clothe]. If you put them in loose be sure to strain the liquid before serving.

December 15, 2007

21st Century Magic Bars, with Ginger and Dark Chocolate

The gingeriness of these irresistible bars makes them taste really Christmasy to me!

I love Magic Bars but I always feel like I’ve overdone it after eating them. I don’t remember, even, anyone in the family ever making them. Maybe that’s why. Maybe they are a little over the top for the Methodist sensibility (though anyone who knows me knows that I don't suffer much from that malady, myself). But with the recipe below I think I’ve managed to bring the traditional Magic Bars into the 21st century, and it came about through my effort to do something with those failed butter/sugar cookies (from the random recipe) that turned out like rocks. I mean really, how can one just through away the 2 ½ sticks of butter it took to make them? In a nutshell (so to speak), I crumbed the cookies in the blender and used them to replace the graham crackers in the traditional recipe. This version is not nearly so cloyingly sweet as the original, and the bite of the ginger takes it yet further to the side of decadence without toothache.

Magic Bars with Candied Ginger and Dark Chocolate

1 1/2 cups cookie crumbs (you can use graham crackers here, or crumb some butter/sugar cookies)

1 Tablespoon ground ginger
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, melted
1 1/3 cups sweetened flaked coconut, halved
1/3 cup candied ginger bits
1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk (NOT evaporated milk)
1 cup chopped pecans

For Ganache
1 pound dark chocolate, broken up into chunks (the better the chocolate, the better the dish)

¾ cup heavy cream

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

1. With a whisk, combine the ground ginger with the crumbs.
2. Add the candied ginger.
3. Add half of the coconut.
4. Pour the melted butter over the crumb mixture, and toss.
5. Press firmly into a square brownie pan.
6. Pour the sweetened condensed milk over the pressed crumbs.
7. Top with the remaining coconut and press down with fork to compact.
8. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until lightly browned.

9. While the baked part is cooling slightly, put the chocolate chunks in a heat-proof bowl.
10. Boil the cream.
11. Pour the boiling cream over the chocolate and let it sit, undisturbed, for five minutes.
12. Whisk the warm mixture until it is homogeneous.
13. Pour it over the baked crumb part.
14. Chill in the refrigerator for an hour, then remove and cut into squares.

Yum! Yum! Yum! Yum! Yum! Yum! Yum! Yum! Yum! Yum! Yum! Yum! Yum! Yum!

December 12, 2007

"The Recipe" from Our Mamaw, and Jam Thumbprints

I'll get to the cookies on the right in a sec. First, "The Recipe." This is the coolest story, and we totally have to have this as a "syllabub" option this holiday. Here's how my mom tells it: Aunt Janey was cleaning out the downstairs freezer at the Smith Estate (smile), and in it she ran across a peanut butter jar labled, in masking tape, with the simple moniker: "The Recipe." Apparenlty all three sisters were in attendence at the house, and with a little reflection it hit them what this was.

Mamaw, "Mother" to them, had when she was living of course belonged to the Desk & Derrek Club, an organization for women who work in the oil industry. The Club had conventions, as clubs tend to do, and Mamaw's friend Ola Chapman every year brought "The Recipe" as her contribution to the refreshment table. Mamaw brought frozen strawberry daquiries. Sounds like rather a lively convention of ladies, no?

At any rate, of course, Mamaw has been gone a while, and my own mother says that the best they could figure it was at least 10 years before her death that she'd attended a Desk & Derrek convention, as she had natuarally been retired for some time. Nonetheless, the sisters opened the peanut butter jar with its Masonic-secret sounding label and toasted their departed mother with its contents, "The Recipe." It was quite fine. They could not, however, find the recipe for The Recipe.

But not to despair. Ola Chapman is still living, and quite present in my mother's weekly bridge club. Ola filled my mother's request for the recipe, and so we have it here. I think you'll agree, The Recipe sounds fantastic. As a holiday syllubub I can't see that it can miss. I beleive that we should honor Mamaw, her long working life, and the little-seen fun loving side of her that would, according, again, to my mother, most years bring home a jar such as this filled with this drink and in the evening walk a few steps through the kitchen while prepairing dinner for "just a spoonful" of The Recipe. Cheers, Mamaw.

The Recipe

1 12 oz. can frozen lemonaide
1 12 oz. can frozen limeaide
2 10 oz. bottles of Squirt
1 quart ginger ale
1 quart whiskey

Mix in an air tight container, then transfer to the freezer. Don't thaw -- just serve it directly from the freezer.


On another subject, just a quick note about these delicious little jam thumbprint cookies. I've adapted Ina Garten's recipe for the ones pictured. Essentially, it's the same. But I added an egg (this might not be necessary, but I was having trouble that day getting the dough to come together), made them smaller than hers, and used lingonberry jam. I love the little sheen and very, very slight crispness the egg wash gives them. Making them small like this means that each one is a single bite, and so each bite has jam in it! The lingonberries of course are a nod to Scandinavia, which is forever in my mind as the most beautiful place to spend Christmas in the entire world (besides, other than grape it was the only jam or jelly I had on hand!).

Jam Thumbprints
adapted from Ina Garten

3/4 pound (3 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract (I use the
preserved vanilla bean paste)
3 1/2 cups flour
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 large egg
1 egg beaten with 1 tablespoon water, for egg wash

7 ounces sweetened flaked coconut
Lingonberry jam

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
2. Cream together the butter and sugar until just combined, and then add the vanilla.
3. Separately, sift together the flour and salt.

4. With the mixer on low speed, add the flour mixture to the creamed butter and sugar.
5. Add the egg. Mix until the dough starts to come together.
6. Dump on a floured board and roll together into a flat disk.
7. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill for 30 minutes.
8. Roll the dough into 1-inch balls (I used a teaspoon to measure them out).

9. Dip each ball into the egg wash and then roll it in coconut.
10. Place the balls on an parchment lined cookie sheet and press a light indentation into the top of each with your finger.
11. Drop just enough jam into each indentation to fill it.
12. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until the coconut is a golden brown.
13. Cool and serve.

Evelyn's Honey Bars & A Homemade Hot Chocolate Mix

Long time friends of ours, Evelyn and Paul Bostick, had a B & B in a small town outside of Waco, Texas, Clifton,in the central Texas hill country. She is an excellent cook and this was one of her very quick and unusual cookie recipes. Clifton is the Norwegian Capital of Texas - they have great annual festivals there. Clifton also has been recognized as one of the top 100 small art communities in the nation on several occasions. Think you would like it, Margaret. Small college town.

No, John and I didn't make it to their B& B. They both were corporate or medical people - wanted to get out of the hustle and bustle of the DFW area so bought the B& B. However, they found it tied them down and so sold it. Paul had continued to work for the health insurance, etc. Back to the recipe. Paul and Evelyn are Methodist, we became friends, enjoyed going to a Cowboys game or two and exchanging recipes. They live several hours from us so we don't get to see them too much. Just good folks. She would often bring these cookies to potlucks (we Methodists love to do potlucks, of course), and this is her most requested recipe. I truly don't know where it came from originally, but sure is good. I just pulled a batch out of the oven. A quick 15 minute or less preparation -- and it bakes in 20.

Evelyn's Honey Bars

Mix together:

1 cup sugar
3/4 cup cooking oil
1/4 cup honey

Mix together and add to oil mixture:

3 cups sifted flour
1/4 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. cinnamon


1 egg, beaten
1 cup chopped nuts (walnuts seem to be the best)
Press dough into a cookie sheet with sides.

Bake at 325 for 20 minutes and glaze while hot.


Thoroughly mix:

1 cup powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
2 Tablespoon mayonnaise (not Miracle Whip)
1 Tablespoon water

And there is an good hot chocolate mix that can be made up and kept on hand:

3 Cups powdered milk
3/4 Cup good cocoa
3/4 cup fine sugar

Stir thoroughly.

Mix 4 Tablespoons with 8 oz.. of hot water and enjoy.

London Fog -- The Wilbois' Traditional Christmas Eve Party Drink

London Fog

1 gallon of vanilla ice cream
2 cups of gin
½ cup of cream of sherry

Blend all the ingredients thoroughly with mixer or immersion blender, then put it in an air tight container and back into the freezer for at least an hour. Remove it from the freezer 40 minutes before serving to let it soften up.

You can always mix in more ice cream if it is too strong for your taste (or visa versa).

Kristy's Story: This drink has been the house drink every year at my mother’s annual Christmas Eve open house party. It was always a big hit and people would look forward to having it each year. It packs a powerful punch, so be careful! One year my sister was in town from Minnesota. It was Christmas Eve and we would make an enormous amount of London Fog to accommodate all of the guests. We would put the buckets of it out on the back porch to keep them cold because we wouldn’t have enough room in the freezer. This particular Christmas my sister’s schnauzer, Ashley, was let outside to do her business. She evidently, however, got into our business!

Somehow, apparently, she got the lid off of one of the containers of London Fog, and, unbeknownst to us, decided to help herself to the holiday cheer! When we let her in later, we noticed she was behaving very oddly. She was running into things and acting quite “out of it.” She tried to go down some stairs but her front paws were glued to the floor and she lifted her back legs up in the air trying to move-- she was doing a hand-stand (or paw-stand)! When we went to get the London Fog from the porch we saw that over a cup was missing, explaining the dog’s behavior. Most of us thought it was hysterical, but my sister didn’t see it that way. She thought Bill and I intentionally got her dog drunk! Poor dog, the whole next day she didn’t even move!

The sad part of it is that my sister and her family moved to Florida and Ashley was eaten by an Alligator. It lived in the pond very close to their house. I guess Ashely is one of those dogs who would have been better off staying inside.

December 11, 2007

Sugar Cookies That Work, with Four Variations

Here is my mom's favorite sugar cookie recipe. If it's the one I think it is (and I'll tell you on Monday), it will make perfect cookie-cutter cookies. I needed this recipe badly, since my efforts have been less than stellar on the decorated Christmas sugar cookie front.

Yes, of course there is lots of Christmas cookie baking going on at the Waverly Place residence -- at least as much as the mandatory 60 hour work week I'm operating under in my day job allows (sorry, just had to add a little whine). I cannot say that I'm yet an expert cookie baker, but I'm learning. Last night a metrosexual man friend (and yes, I mean friend) came over and we played with making fun cookie glaze colors, painting the sugar cookies in all sorts of child-like, crazy ways, and generally discovering that our lack of talent was not a detriment to cookie decorating enjoyment. I'll take some pictures! I love most, I think, the red-headed angel I made for my red-headed daughter (see the picture? isn't it pretty?). Or, from my friend, the purple mane and tail he painted on my sky-blue pony.

But the trouble is finding exactly the right sugar cookie recipe. I've tried two in the last two days. One just wouldn't come together, so I added a whole egg to the one yolk it called for, and still the dough would not roll out, so I made little balls that I then pressed with a cookie form. They taste like rocks. The batch I made last night rolled great, tastes great, but the cookies puffed up upon baking a lot more than my mother's or Mamaw's ever did. I know this beyond a doubt, because I am using the cookie cutters that my mother used when we were growing up, and her angels and Santas and bells and stars and odd Celtic cross thingy were always quite well formed, almost identical to the mold, and mine came out looking like cloud forms that one, with enough leisure to stare at the sky, might imagine were angels and Santas and bells and stars and odd Celtic crosses.

Nicely, though, this morning I received an email from Aunt Janey sending me, at her request, my mother's favorite sugar cookie recipe. Thanks, Mom. You heard my plea. I thought at first this was the recipe from our childhood cookies, but here's what Aunt Janey says about it: "I believe the recipe came from the Midwest Living Magazine. I made them for the first time two years ago, took Christmas cut-out cookies to Salem, that was when your Mother first tasted them and said she liked them better. I don't decorate them at all - just don't take the time. Guess the cream cheese takes some of the sweet out and may be the reason I like them over the traditional sugar cookie. Mother's sugar cookies were always so delicious - sometimes my stuff doesn't turn out like hers."

I hope to make these this coming Sunday. Can you believe I have something booked every single night from now until Saturday? My God. Here's the cookie recipe. If you try it before I do I know we'd all love to hear and see your results!

4-in-One Cookie Dough

The cream cheese adds richness and flavor to this simple, versatile recipe.

1 pkg (8 oz) Philadelphia Cream Cheese, softened
3/4 cup butter(1 1/2 sticks)
1 cup granulated sugar
2 tsp. vanilla
2 1/4 cups flour
1/2 tsp baking soda

1. Beat cream cheese, butter, sugar and vanilla in large bowl with electric mixer on medium speed until well blended.

2. Add flour and baking soda, mix well.
3. Wrap and refrigerate for half an hour.

Proceed below to the variation of your choice. They look great on their own or together on a tray.

Pinwheel Cookies

1. Divide above dough in half.
2. Add 2 sq. melted Bakers Semi-sweet Baking Chocolate to one half of dough, mix until well blended.
3. Divide each half into 2 equal parts (you should have 2 white and 2 chocolate pieces).
4. Roll 1 of the white and 1 of the chocolate dough pieces each into a 10 x 8 inch rectangle on floured surface.

5. Place rolled out chocolate dough onto rolled out white dough and press gently to form even layer.
6. Starting from the short side, roll up dough tightly to form a log; wrap in plastic wrap. Repeat with remaining dough.
7. Refrigerate 1 hour.
8. Preheat oven to 350 F.

9. Cut dough into 1/4 inch thick slices; place on ungreased baking sheets.
10. Bake 10 to 12 minutes or until lightly browned.

Makes about 5 dozen cookies.

Thumbprint Cookies

1. To the basic dough recipe above, add 1 cup finely chopped pecans.
2. Refrigerate 30 minutes.
3. Preheat oven to 350.
4. Shape dough into 1 inch balls. Place on ungreased baking sheets.
5. Indent centers.
6. Bake 10 minutes.
7. Fill each cookie with about 1 tsp. of your favorite preserves.
8. Continue baking 8 to 10 minutes or until golden brown.

Sugar Cookie Cut-Outs

1. Preheat oven to 350.

2. Roll basic dough recipe above to 1/8 inch thickness on lightly floured surface.
3. Cut into assorted shapes and place on greased baking sheets.
4. Bake 10 to 12 minutes until edges begin to brown.
5. Transfer cookies to wire tack.

You can frost these when they cool, or sprinkle with colored sugars before baking - use your imagination!

Pecan Bars

1. Preheat oven to 350.
2. Press dough firmly onto bottom of ungreased 15 x 10 x 1 inch baking pan (cookie sheet).
3. Bake for 20 minutes or until lightly browned.
4. Meanwhile, combine until well blended:

2 eggs
1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
2/3 cup light corn syrup
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) melted butter
1 tsp. vanilla

5. Stir in 3 cups chopped pecans.
6. Spread the egg/nut mixture evenly onto the warm crust.
7. Bake an additional 20 to 25 minutes or until the topping is firm around the edges and slightly soft in the center.
8. Cool and cut into 60 bars.

All this from one recipe! No wonder it's my mommy's favorite!

December 10, 2007

Hot Toddie from Lisa: Minted Mocha Hot Chocolate for Grown-Ups

Lisa says: This is a delish spiked hot chocolate. Doesn't get any easier. You can make hot choc from scratch, or just heat milk and add Hersheys syrup, or buy the envelopes [see Margaret's recipe below]. A candy cane stirrer looks festive, too.

1 oz.
peppermint schnapps
Hot chocolate
Whipped cream

Mixing instructions:
Add the schnapps to the hot chocolate and stir. Top with whipped cream.
Option: Sprinkle with chocolate

Lisa's story: This comforting hot chocolate was served to me by my freelance writer friend, Carol. It was a chilly (for FL), very windy evening last December. It was already dark out when I got to her house, and the kettle was whistling invitingly. Expecting a hot cup of tea, I was pleasantly surprised when she set down this fragrant mug in front of me. It smelled like a peppermint patty, a favorite candy of mine. She winked and lifted her cup, "Cheers, dear!"

We took a long drawn out sip and in unison, sighed, "AAAhhhhhhhh."

That warm break from routine was special, unexpected, and made our quick hello a festive little visit. I have made it since, and it always leaves me feeling like it's holiday time!

Margaret's Note: Here's my favorite way to make hot chocolate (adapted from Ina Garten), which I think would work fabulously with Lisa's Minted:

2 1/2 cups whole milk
2 cups half-and-half
4 ounces chopped bittersweet chocolate
4 ounces chopped milk chocolate
1 tablespoon sugar

Heat the milk and half-and-half in a saucepan on medium heat to just below the simmering point. Remove the pan from the heat and add both chocolates. When the chocolates are melted, add the sugar and vanilla extract and whisk vigorously. Reheat gently and serve immediately.

December 2, 2007

The History of Syllabub, and a Tudor Recipe

Cookies, hot toddies, syllabub -- these are our favorite things, for our December recipe call, anyway.

What is a syllabub? A syllabub is something Papaw asks for sometimes when he wants a cocktail. Growing up, I always thought it was a funny word my Papaw made up! Now that he’s nearing 100, and I 50, and my aural travels have brought me far enough afield to hear the word spoken outside of my grandparents’ house I find that a syllabub is a real thing, a dessert, a drink, a frothy liquor confection apparently greatly loved by the Tudors and Stewarts and perhaps by those dwelling even farther back in time than they. (And yes, those who know me can wink at the odd little Tudor connection there). So, this Christmas I vow to make my Papaw a real, true syllabub. Will he like it? I’ll let you know. But I’d love to collect some syllabub recipes here, and hear from you about your experiences making or imbibing it. And I’d love to know if anyone else’s grandpa ever referred to his cocktails this way. Also, just pure curiosity, is the plural of syllabub, syllabi?

-- Margaret

This recipe and commentary are from Food Heritage dot com:


Syllabub was a popular dessert in seventeenth, eighteenth and early nineteenth century England. It was popular for celebrations, special occasions and holidays due to its festive appearance. Many original recipes survive with various modes of preparation. Generally Syllabub was made with a mixture of whipped cream, whipped egg whites, white wine, sugar, lemon juice and zest of lemon. The quantity of white wine added would determine the consistency qualifying whether the mixture would be a creamy dessert or a popular punch. White wine could be substituted with apple cider or other alcoholic beverages. One could always detect the drinker of the beverage by the thick white mustache left behind. The following modern adaptation will make a Syllabub Dessert Parfait for 10 people. For a punch add more wine until you have achieved the desired consistency.

2 cups of whipped cream
½ cup of white sugar
1/8 cup of white wine
1/8 cup of freshly-squeezed lemon juice and zest of lemon
grated nutmeg
sprig of mint
lemon slice

Whip cream until thick in a chilled bowl. When the cream begins to thicken, add the sugar, white wine, lemon juice and zest of lemon. Continue to whip until thick. Chill in the refrigerator until ready to serve. Spoon the mixture into footed parfait glasses and garnish with a sprig of mint, a slice of lemon and a sprinkle of grated nutmeg.

10 servings

December 1, 2007

Cookies! Hot Toddies! Sillubub!

Thanksgiving. And a plethora of dressings. Bill’s mother-in-law Carol brought one, Bryan (brought along by Molly) brought one, and I made the oyster version.

I have to say, though, that minus that fruity one I made a couple of years ago (which seemed to make everyone forget all the good dressings I’d made in the past and decide I was a lousy stuffing maker) I am missing the cornbread-based versions I’ve whipped up in years past. Those were great. The last two years my mom has had packaged cornbread/bread crumb mixtures laying around and wanted me to use them, and really I’ve been rather horrified at the results, oysters or none.

Next year, then, I vow to post two stuffing recipes: my favorite, made from cornbread crumbs baked the night before and left out, half-crumbly to dry; and Mamaw Greatie’s, which in spite of its use of the packaged crumb product was always wonderful, not at all slimy or chewy. Had I remembered her recipes was in a pile of papers in my bedroom I would have made it! Alas.

In spite of that embarrassment of dressings and a few cranky persons (including myself) it was wonderful to see the old Papaw hanging in there for yet another holiday. Nearing 100. Wow, are we lucky.

And so -- on to December! with its call for Cookies! Hot Toddies! And Sillubub! Send them in, dears. Let’s launch this last month of the year with bang.

November 14, 2007

Wishing for Warmth, but White Wine and Brussel's Sprouts Will Do

The winds of November are here, and coming upon Thankgiving I am giving you a nice warming recipe for the holiday. Even Brussels Sprouts haters love this dish.

Brussels Sprout with Bacon

3 slices bacon, chopped
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 shallot, chopped
1 1/2 pounds Brussels sprouts, trimmed, small spouts left whole, larger spouts halved
Salt and pepper, to your taste
1 cup chicken broth

1. Brown bacon in a medium skillet over medium high heat.

2.Remove bacon to a paper towel lined plate.

3. Add extra-virgin olive oil to the pan, 1 turn.

4. Add shallots to the pan and saute 1 to 2 minutes.

5. Add Brussels spouts and coat in oil. Season with salt and pepper.

6. Cook Brussels sprouts 2 to 3 minutes to begin to soften, then add broth.

7. Bring broth to a bubble, cover and reduce heat to medium low. Cook 10 minutes, until tender.

8. Transfer sprouts to a serving dish with a slotted spoon and top with cooked bacon bits.

October 9, 2007

Apple Pie Contest!!! The first entry is in! Thanks, Aunt Sarah

So I put the call out for an Apple Pie Recipe Contest. The idea is:

1. All of you darling relatives send me your apple pie recipes.
2. I bake them.
3. They are judged by an "objective" panel of tasters (like my kids or neighbors).
4. We see which recipe wins.
5. Will there be a prize? Yes. I don't know what. It won't $10,000 or a trip to Hawaii, but it will be something.

And I get to learn a lot more about making various kinds of apple pies, in the process. As an aside but on the subject, on my way back from visiting friends in Kalamazoo, Michigan this weekend I stopped at an MI orchard and bought a really, really yummy deep dish apple-peach pie, all crispy and chewy with brown sugar and really crusty. I like really crusty, if it's good enough. I don't think I will be entering this contest, since it seems that would be sort of unfair since I'm more or less running the baking and the judging. But if I were, I think I would try to replicate that pie.

So -- the first entry is in! Yeah, Aunt Sarah! We should devise some award to you for being timely.

Carmel Apple Pie

1 recipe pastry for a 9-inch double crust deep-dish pie
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup butter, melted
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
5 cups thinly sliced apples
2/3 cup white sugar
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
20 caramels, halved
2 tablespoons milk

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

To make the taffy: In a small bowl combine brown sugar, melted butter or margarine, and 1/3 cup flour. Mix well and set aside.

To make the apple filling: Place apples in a large bowl. Add white sugar, three tablespoons flour, cinnamon, and lemon juice. Toss until all ingredients are mixed well and apples are thoroughly coated.

Spoon half of apple filling into pastry-lined deep-dish pan. Top with half of caramels and half of taffy mixture. Repeat process with remaining apple filling and caramels and taffy mixture.

Place top pastry over filling and seal well (this is very important - if edges are not sealed caramel will leak all over). Cut steam vents and brush top crust with milk or light cream.
Cover pie with foil and place on a baking sheet. Bake in preheated oven for 25 minutes. Remove foil from pie and bake for another 20 to 25 minutes, until crust is golden. Serve warm.

October 3, 2007

Easy Avacado-Chicken Salad

From Aunt Janey

This recipe isn't Italian but it is delicious. The dressing is good on sandwiches - maybe even a tossed salad. The son of our good friends, who are our age but were moving to a nursing home, served it to us. He, like your Brother Bill and you, is a great cook. You all chops like a professional. I didn't ask him about the roasted red pepper but think since we were drop-in visitors (brought a six pack to share) may have used pimentos. Not sure. Aren't pimentos roasted red peppers?

1 1/2 to 2 lbs. chicken breast - season and grill or broil, then cut into 1/2-inch cubes.

1/3 cup fresh cilantro - chopped
1/3 cup roasted red pepper, diced
15 oz. can whole kernel corn, drained (quality brand)
15 oz. can black beans, drained


1/2 cup Mayo
1 cup plain yogurt
Chipolte sauce
Combine to desired taste.

Mix all together and divide into individual servings, spooning the salad over 1/2 large avocado for each person.

September 14, 2007

Aunt Janey's Quick and Easy Tortellini Alfredo

John and I were at Olive Garden in St. Louis sitting at the bar - there were no tables available, of course, or we wouldn't have been in the bar. The gentleman next to us requested the kitchen to make this dish.


Either frozen or dried Tortellini. John and I need 1/2 package of the dried. We like the five cheese kind.

1/2 jar of Alfredo sauce - I have Frank Sinatra's on hand because I haven't found one that is outstanding and am trying Frank's. Start with your favorite brand of Italian sauces in a jar. One time I purchased dried packaged Alfredo Sauce - bad. Also, I am looking for a low calorie, low fat Alfredo sauce recipe. I could probably figure it out if I would just work on it but the purchased makes this a ten minute meal.

As many pre-cooked frozen shrimp as you would like. I keep this on hand for several different quick meals. One could cook their own but this is a quick and easy recipe. I also do a large salad topped with thawed shrimp for a quick meal.

Frozen peas (or could use fresh asparagus, steamed)


Put the shrimp and peas out to thaw [shrimp thaws well in cool water; leave it in the package -- so do peas, for that matter]

Cook and drain the tortellini.

Combine the above, heating thoroughly and serve. Can sprinkle with a grated Italian cheese.

Serve with garlic bread and either a Caesar or garden salad. Enjoy.

[Note from Margaret: In my thinking, there are certain things that are just not worth making in a low fat version. Alfredo sauce is one of those. Fake butter and low fat milk, to me, are not going to get it! Good butter, good cream. That's what it takes. But, Aunt J, if you figure it out then you will get the Best Recipe Modification Award for 2007-2008!]

September 6, 2007

Italtian! Our September Recipes

So confident am I that we are going to get multiple submissions this month that I am putting the plural right in the title. RecipeS. Ours. I know you're on the verge. -- Margaret

Italian Tomato Gravy -- Cheryl's First Recipe!

Okay, I'm actually going to do this one...I make great tomato "gravy." I make a big pot and freeze it in small containers to use throughout the week. It's very easy and doesn't take as much time as you'd think.

2 (large) cans Italian whole canned tomatoes (I use Scalfadi)

1 can Italian tomato paste (also scalfadi)

Fresh herbs: oregano, basil, parsley (I chop a couple of leaves each pretty wide)

1 small onion, chopped (you can also chop a whole big onion, use 1/2 and freeze to use the next time--if you want add a small clove of garlic; I can't eat garlic)



Merlot (wine)

Romano cheese (grated)

Olive oil (a good one)

1. Get a big pot and heat up the oil with the fresh chopped herbs, salt and pepper). I use a good amount of salt to bring out the flavor.

2. When oil's hot, put in the chopped onion and saute until they're transparent and soft -- not brown. This alone will smell really good.

3. Add the whole canned tomatoes and paste and then use a potato masher to smush really good. In fact, I smush every time instead of stirring. Heat well and simmer for as long as you want but really, by the time you make the pasta it's ready (the paste thickens it up; if you don't have paste, then you really should simmer until it's nice and thick, and it can take all day).

4. Add the cheese and Merlot towards the end. If it's bland, then add a little more salt and cheese to taste.

August 6, 2007

Margaret Wins Pie Baking Contest

Suburban Journal Article with Picture of Margaret with Her Winning Pie!

Yes, it's true, dear readers. Your favorite Cranky Cook won second place in the Clayton Farmer's Market Pie Baking Contest on Saturday. I used the French Lemon Cream we had at the reunion, with the ginger snap crust, but this time I put these gorgeous local blackberries on top, which had macerated over night, and then I reduced the resulting juice (adding some seedless blackberry jam to give it a little more sheen) and drizzled that over the top. It was kinda yummy. I won a tour or the market with the market master, and $25 to spend there (first price was $50).

July 10, 2007

Family Reunion

Countdown: three days and we're all together again. I can't wait to see you all and boat and libate and eat. I am certain I've never had a bad meal at one of our gatherings (sort of a criminal lack of prosity, that). Lisa is playing things close to the chest with her plans, but I'm going to go ahead and post the menu Bill and I have devised for Friday night (though changes are still possible). It's an evening in New Orleans, in case you can't tell.

Friday Night Dinner


Oysters Bienville
Wisconsin Cheese Plate
Guacamole with Lump Crab


Centralia House Shrimp
Pork Tenderloin
Macaroni with Five Cheeses
Salad of Lettuces and Herbs, with Bacon and Fig Balsamic Dressing
Fresh Hand Made Butter


Black Bottom Pie
Margarita Lime Pie
Pecan Bread Pudding with Whiskey Sauce

June 28, 2007

BBQ Ribs with Caramelized Onions and Lemon

I can't pinpoint it, but I remember these onions and lemons along with ribs being cooked somewhere, somehow, as I was growing up. I tried it myself a few weeks ago and it was fantastic. Slow cooking the ribs makes them fall-off-the-bone tender. This recipe is really kind of fool-proof.


The combination of the slow cooked, caramelized onion and lemon is unbelievable with the BBQ sauce. Make sure there is enough sauce to make it worth the onion's and lemon's while.

A sprig or two of rosemary put on the grill either near the ribs or directly on the coals is a pretty nice addition. Another branch will made a fragrant garnish on the platter, for your touch of green.

1. Take a couple of slabs of ribs, whatever kind you like, and marinate them in your favorite BBQ sauce for two days to a week.

At Least Six Hours Before the Meal (the night before works quite well):

Note: Precision in quantities is not an issue here.

1. Preheat the oven to 2oo degrees, with a rack in the center.

2. Slice 6-10 big onions of any color into medium-thin rounds.

3. Slice 3-4 lemons into very thin rounds.

4. Pour some olive oil into the bottom of a sided cook sheet or a hotel pan.

5. Lay 3/4 of the onions and 3/4 of the lemons into the pan.

6. Put the ribs on top of the onions and lemons.

7. Lay the remaining onions and lemons on top of the ribs.

8. Spray a big sheet of aluminum foil with non-stick oil stuff and cover the tray, making a tent/dome of the foil so that it isn't pressing down on the ingredients; seal the edges tightly to keep moisture in.

9. Put the loaded tray onto the oven's center rack and go away for a long time. Maybe you should just go to bed now.

In the morning (or a couple of hours before the meal):

1. Remove the ribs from the oven and set aside.

2. Prepare you other dishes.

3. Light the grill.

4. Carefully remove the foil from the rib pan and put the ribs on a platter, gently brushing off most of the clinging onions and lemons; put the pan with the onions and lemons into a low oven to warm them up, if they need it.

5. When the coals are white and ready to go, put the ribs on.

6. Grill the ribs for a few minutes on both sides, just long enough to mark them and give them a nice caramelization.

7. Just before removing the ribs from the grill sprinkle a moderate amount of onion and lemon on top of the meat.

8. Put the remaining onions and lemons on the platter, then put the grilled ribs on top of that.

9. Serve.

June 6, 2007

June Has Come Too Soon

God, it's been crazy around here. More has been happening than I can keep up with, and as a result, even though it feels like I've been cooking up a storm (to which my perpetually full-of-dishes sink will bear witness), I don't think I've done much that's original or noteworthy. Except -- I did make that lamb stew from Julia Child's Mastering, with some local lamb stew meat from the Tower Grove Farmer's Market (sorry, Soulard, you're just too crazy and unreliably sourced for me). I also got some fabulous bones from the same farmer ($1 a pound), and I'll tell you, that was a fine stock. It's totally worth it to keep a bag for vegetable and sundry scraps in the freezer for the purpose. The more I make them, the better my stocks get. I think it all has to do with just saving the scraps and then being totally not picky about what you put in the pot. As long as it doesn't have dirt on it, it goes in. I do give a flash of thought to the dish, I guess. For instance, some things might not like a ton of some strong vegetable taste, like asparagus, and I'll sort of sort through the bag with such things in mind. And of course the base is almost always onion, carrot, and celery, unless I haven't managed to get to the store for them. In that case, the scraps of these work fine.

At any rate, the stew recipe includes spring vegetables, and I used the entire crop of sweet peas from my garden (maybe two cups, tops; it's a small plot), which made the whole thing feel really springy -- lamb from a Missouri farm, my own garden peas. I meant to make some sort of amuse bouche or other out of fresh mint, but, what with Anth's surgery and all, it didn't happen. I do think a good stew is a very healing thing, and at least he did eat some of it.

I have been getting two quarts of organic berries at the TG market these last two weeks, and they have been fantastic. Just eating a handful here and there feels like such a luxary. These berries are smaller than the typical grocery store variety, and the flavor is far more concentrated. The trick of setting them in a single layer, on top of paper towels, in a sealable (like Tupperware) container without washing them first works very well to keep the berries fresh. Don't let them touch one another. Wash them just before you eat them.

I did make an unbelievable peach, raspberry, and apricot cobbler from a chef friend's family recipe. Ohmygod. I have never had a better cobbler. Strangely, I'd set out that morning for rhubarb and couldn't find any, but the cobbler ended up apparently mimicking rhubarb, as several people thought that's what it was. I have been sworn to semi-secrecy, though, regarding the topping recipe, so I regret to say that I can't share it here (the web is certainly not semi-secret). I will try to make it for the reunion this year, with whatever fruit I can find in season at that moment.

Beyond that, there's been a bit of grilling. I'm enjoying the little Weber Molly got me for Mother's Day. It's been at least 25 years since I've really grilled, and it's a lot of fun. Ribs, burgers, brats. Corn, mushrooms, eggplant, onions. Yum.

Not a lot of baking action. I've had to put a hold on it, more or less, for the sake of my butt. Since I started in on learning to bake a year ago I've put on 15 pounds! My God. There's no excuse. So, except when requested, I will no longer be playing with dessert recipes, at least for the foreseeable future. OK, I know that contradicts the cobbler paragraph above. I'm sorry. I can't explain it. Just remember that in paradox lies the heart of truth.

May 26, 2007

Lisa'a Breaded and Broiled Asparagus Spears

Here's a quick and yummy recipe for May:

These asparagus are so tasty that I have to fight not to eat them all before the platter gets to to the table!

A great side dish with meat or pasta, or serve as an appetizer (or just eat them cold out of the fridge- if you have any left over!).

Breaded Asparagus
Fresh asparagus, blanched (or frozen, blanched)
Beaten egg, salt/pepper
Seasoned bread crumbs
Grated or shredded Parmesan cheese (optional)

1. Blanch the asparagus lightly. Drain and let cool until they are easy to handle.

2. Dip each spear in beaten egg w/salt and pepper, let excess run off.

3. Dredge in breadcrumbs (if adding cheese, mix it w/breadcrumbs, then dredge spears).

4. Lay out on baking sheet, drizzle a bit of oil sparingly on the spears.

5. Broil (watch them closely, it only takes a minute or two).

6. Turn spears and broil until crispy.


April 20, 2007

Recipes So Far In April

Mother's [Wanda Smith's] Cream Cheese Cupcakes (from Janey Meek)

Rhubarb-Rose Bread Pudding (from Me)

Two Cupcake Recipes from Sarah Goodrich

Two Cupcake Recipes From Aunt Sarah

Walnut Raspberry Cupcakes

2/3 cup cream cheese, softened
1/3 cup butter, softened
1-1/2 cups sugar
2 egg whites
1 egg
1-1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup buttermilk
2 cups fresh or frozen raspberries
1/4 cup chopped walnuts

In a large mixing bowl, beat the cream cheese, butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the egg whites, egg and vanilla; beat well. Combine the flour, baking powder and baking soda; add to creamed mixture alternately with buttermilk. Fold in the raspberries and walnuts.

Fill paper cupcake cups three-fourths full. Bake at 350 degrees for 20 to 24 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool for 5 minutes before removing from pans to wire racks.
Yields 1 1/2 dozen.

If using frozen raspberries, do not thaw before adding to batter.

Red raspberries are my favorite berry, so this is a favorite of mine. Sometimes I use pecans instead of the walnuts - I like either one.

White Chocolate Macadamia Cupcakes

I enjoy making cupcakes because they are so versatile and everyone loves them. These sweet cupcakes remind me of one of my favorite cookies.

1-3/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup sugar
2-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 egg
1/2 cup milk
1/4 cup butter, melted
3/4 cup vanilla or white chips
3/4 cup chopped macadamia nuts

1/2 cup vanilla or white chips
2 tablespoons heavy whipping cream

In a bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. In another bowl, whisk the egg, milk and butter; stir into dry ingredients just until moistened. Fold in the chips and nuts.

Fill paper cupcake cups 2/3 full. Bake at 400 degrees for 15 to 18 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool for 5 minutes before removing from pan to wire rack.

For glaze, in a small microwave-safe bowl, melt chips with cream; stir until smooth. Drizzle over warm cupcakes. Yield: 1 dozen

April 12, 2007

Mother’s Cream Cheese Cupcakes

Editor's Note: In this instance "Mother" refers to Wanda Smith. This recipe was submitted by her daughter, Janey Meek.

I have this recipe in Mother's handwriting. I was never in Salem when she made it, but it sounds delicious, rather fancy, so it might be something she would take to one of the lady’s activities she went to. One of these days Mother’s daughters should make a cookbook with her handwritten recipes. Before we all get too old! I treasure my recipes in Mother's handwriting.

Mother was making a main dish, Hot Chicken Salad, for the Tuesday Lunch and Learn Brunch when she fell ill. I gave her that recipe when we lived in El Paso. She made it often for potlucks and lunches. I will send that recipe one of these days.

This is quite simple although it sounds "piddling.” Mother so enjoyed "piddling" with fancy foods. A good red raspberry preserve would be tart and delicious.

Mother's Cheese Cake Cupcakes. Serves 24

3 - 8 ounce packages cream cheese, softened
1 cup sugar
5 eggs
1/2 t. vanilla

1/2 cup sugar
1 cup sour cream
1/2 t vanilla

Your Favorite Fruit Preserves

The sugar will dissolve and the flavors of the topping will be enhanced if you mix the ingredients together either before making the cupcakes or right after you put them in the oven.

Cream softened cheese with 1 cup sugar. Add eggs one at a time and beat well. Add vanilla. Pour into paper cupcake cups about half full. Bake 40 minutes at 300.

Remove from oven. Put 1 teaspoon topping on each cupcake, then a dab of preserves. Bake another 5 minutes.

May be frozen.

Rhubarb-rose bread pudding with strawberry-rose sauce

Don't get the wrong idea. The party I describe below is not indicative of my general "lifestyle" (that is one of my least favorite words, by the way, and I use it a little bit sarcastically-- it's so deceptive; what is a life "style" anyway? the word implies that we are all living be some sort of grand design that we chose in consultation with some professional, and that we're careful not to veer off of it; as if; maybe that elusive 1%). Anyway, maybe once a year I manage something like this. But one of the reasons I'm currently aspiring to do some private cheffing is that I love to put together and execute menus. I would do it more if I had, well, more money, time, and energy!

Anyway, getting to the point, every year my neighborhood in St. Louis has a Spring House Tour ( Many home owners dress in Victorian outfits and proudly display their homes to tourists and aficionados of architecture. I haven't yet heard anyone expound, however, on the deep French influence in our Lafayette Square (for heaven's sake), in relation to the tour. They seem to lean toward the English expression of the period, totally. I hope to remedy that this year with a poetry reading in our Community Garden that includes both the Victorian and the French poets of the period. The French, while the Victorians were busy being all, well, Victorian about everything, just carried on being French, and so the two 'schools' play rather obviously off one another. It doesn't take a literary theorist to grok the implications. Imagine Victorian-costumed persons reading poems, with cocktails in their hands. Under the arbor in the garden. We're trying to get it together....

Anyway, last year I had just moved into the neighborhood. Molly and I had some friends over for the tour, and for a little pre-tour buffet I called A Brunch of Roses. I tried to make everything I could with edible flowers in it. It proved nearly impossible for less than a zillion dollars to find unsprayed flower petals and especially rose petals on shortish notice, so I worked with a lovely organic rose syrup from Tuscany ( and culinary rose water ( The whole thing was divine. If I may:

Champagne Rose Cocktails
Rose Iced Tea
Fresh Squeezed Orange Juice
Spring Water
Porcini Tart with Walnuts and Wild Arugula
Smoked Salmon, Prosciutto, and Fresh Baked Bread
Floral Butter and Jam
Herbed Grilled Spanish Cheese on ‘Seeduction’ Bread
Berries with Rose Cream
Rhubarb and Rose Bread Pudding with Strawberry Rose Sauce
Saffron and Rose Ice Cream (a quart of Briar's vanilla, softened slightly, then swirled with the rose syrup and a pinch of saffron)

Home Made Deep Chocolate and Rose Truffles

I had an unfamiliar-food-squeamish guest who just totally fell in love with the bread pudding (as did everyone), even though she'd never heard of putting flowers in food. It was by far the most raved about dish we served. It really is lovely, subtle, not too sweet. The rose aroma is the perfect compliment to the rhubarb.

This very simple recipe comes from Everything French Gardening ( I wish I could say I thought it up. But I am just happy enough to be able to eat it once a year. I'm giving it to you a little early so that you can be on the lookout for the rhubarb when it hits the markets. Definitely get it at its peak!

Rhubarb-rose bread pudding with strawberry-rose sauce
(Pain perdu à la rhubarbe et à la rose, coulis fraise-rose)


For 6 servings:
1 lb rhubarb, preferably pink
1/2 + 3/4 c. sugar
4 packed cups crustless brioche or good white bread
2 c. heavy cream, light cream, crème fraîche, and/or milk in any combination
2 whole eggs + 2 yolks
1 T + 1 t. rose water (or more to taste)
One pint very fresh, flavorful strawberries

Optional garnish: fresh organic rose petals or candied rose petals, mint sprigs

2 hours before serving, slice the rhubarb 1/4" thick and toss in a bowl with 1/2 c. sugar. After 2 hours, drain the rhubarb into a small enameled saucepan, pressing down on it with the back of a spoon, reserving the syrup. Chop the rhubarb medium texture by hand or in a food processor (if the latter be careful not to over-process). Toss in a bowl with the brioche cubes. In another bowl, whisk the eggs, yolks, cream mixture, 3/4 c. sugar, and 1 T. rosewater. Test for rose fragrance: the mixture should smell slightly of rose. Pour over the bread-rhubarb mix and toss gently to combine. Pour into a buttered 8" souffle dish or into individual ramekins for a more elegant presentation. Place in a larger baking dish and pour hot water around the container. Bake at 350 degrees for about 1 hour, or until a knife inserted in center comes out clean. Allow to cool.Meanwhile, heat the reserved rhubarb syrup to boiling and cook for about 10 minutes until reduced and syrupy. Puree the strawberries with the cooled syrup, add 1/2-1 tsp. rosewater (to taste). Strain the strawberry sauce through a fine sieve if you want to remove the seeds. Serve the pudding with a swirl of strawberry coulis, a scattering of rose petals (if you have them) and a sprig of mint to remind us that these wonders come from the vegetal world.

Note: This wonderful spring dessert combines 3 naturally complementary flavors. In fact, rose and rhubarb are so magical together I can't understand why I hadn't thought of pairing them before! We had this as dessert after soup of petit pois à la française and roast spring chicken stuffed with ramps (wild leeks), spring garden leeks, and pearls of new garlic.

End note from Margaret: Cooking with rose water is very old fashioned. I have a very old pound cake recipe that calls for three drops. Rose water is also very calming to the nerves. And good for one. Since 1988 I have been misting my face with rose water every morning and every night. It is supposed to ease inflamation and all sorts of other things. It is a lovely way to start and end the day, if nothing else. Also, for those of you interested in the spiritual side, rose water works on the heart chakra, so it's very good for opening one to the love and beauty of the world, and for healing the hurts that naturally fall upon one in the course of living.

March 30, 2007

Cupcakes and Easter Treats


Ah, spring. Isn’t it just wonderful? I don’t know about you, but I feel like an entirely new person, like I’ve been let out of jail. Like all the early evenings I sat in the house wishing I could take a walk but it was dark out and cold and lonely and I was trapped inside have just dissolved into the background noise that washes underneath all the melting-water bridges of every winter I’ve ever slogged my way through.

Now, here in the my town, anyway, there are all these white and pink fruit blossoms, yellow tulips and daffodils, the tiny purple fairies of grape hyacinth that make you stop to bend over and speak to them without moving your lips (lest the neighbors think/realize you’re nuts). And the ducks are doing odd things. And there is a dove on a nest in my dining room window. And my peas are in the ground! And it’s raining! And baseball season starts on Sunday. And my heart has awakened. And it’s a whole new world.

They tell me that SoCal and Texas and Florida have seasons, too, and that once you’ve lived there a while and paid attention, you begin to see them change. Of course this is true. Wouldn’t it be divine if, included with our Spring recipes, we wrote a sentence or two about our experiences of spring in our respective parts of the world? Or, if there is a memory of a place, a spring somewhere far away you’d like to muse upon, here we are – the audience and the opportunity.

For those of you who are still feeling daunted by this whole thing, here’s an idea:

What if you got the kids/grandkids involved? What better way to get them into observing these magical changes in the natural world around them? How lovely to encourage the sharing with the extended family? And writing (sorry, former writing teacher here)? How fun to have them help you compose a word or two about the change of seasons, and then concretize those by helping cook the dish you’re submitting with their writing of those observations?

Anyway, I know we’re all looking forward to the lovely spring recipes. Cupcakes? Candies? Easter treats? Lamb roast? A salad with mint and sorrel? What else? Two years ago I made some cupcakes with vanilla bean icing. Maybe I’ll see if I can modify that lovely white cake with lemon curd between the layers into a cupcake. How would that work? Could I inject the curd into the cupcakes, so they’d by like a springy Hostess Cupcake? Hmmm. How hard can that be?

All My Love,

March 13, 2007

Et tu, Pot Roast?

Alas, even the most sublime of winter companions must travel north by the end of March. “Must” is relative, of course, to whatever. But with license I’ll say that once the croci are up and April approaches I get in a totally different sort of mood, myself, here in the temperate Zone 6. After aperire mood isn’t even the issue, heat is, and if I decide to suffer through the roasting of meat it’s only to have it put away cold for sandwiches and salads.

So, Dominae et Dominus, send forth your final offerings of Winter, for Spring is upon us and the winds are bound to shift. Any roast meat, even chicken?


Roasted Root Vegetables

Kristy says: This was the most pleasantly surprising dish for me! I thought I would never eat these things in a million years when I saw them raw! We first made them when we had a dinner party with our 80+ year old neighbors, their children and grandchildren. Everyone loved them and were, too, surprised that they liked them so well. They were so sweet and full of aroma and flavor. Plus, I’m guessing they were pretty healthy, too (an added bonus)! They look so pretty on a plate because they are so colorful after roasting. Enjoy!


Sweet potatoes
Celery root

If you can’t find all of these particular root vegetables, don’t worry, just use what you can find.

1. Preheat the to 435 degrees.
2. Cut the vegetables into relatively thick chunky sticks.
3. Coat with olive oil and salt and pepper to taste.
4. Bake on a flat cookie sheet for 40 minutes.
5. Salt and pepper to taste.

-- Bill and Kristy Howard

March 8, 2007

Lisa's Simply Delicious Roast Chicken with "Hmm, What's in That?" Mashed Potatoes

So basic a beginner would have no trouble.

I love the idea of eating food that makes one feel like a princess, so I will be picking up some full-fat (yum) Velveeta and giving these [see "Nancy Howard's Twice Baked Potatoes") a try. We could all (our taste buds included) certainly use a bit of royal treatment.

I love roasted chicken and although it's as basic as can be, it's the food I crave when I'm on the mend from a cold, as well as when I'm cranky and in need of comfort. It's so simple, so tasty, makes a nice meal for company or just yourself, great leftovers and the scraps are the base for soup.

1. Preheat oven to 325 or 350.
2. Buy a fresh whole chicken, rinse outside and in (lightly salt cavity).
3. Set in a roasting pan (rack is helpful but not necessary).
4. Insert a cut lemon and onion in the cavity.
5. Rub skin with soft butter, salt and pepper (use other spices if desired).
6. Place in the oven uncovered, approximately 15 - 20 minutes per pound (or more -- I like mine WELL done and crispy).
7. Baste with juices in bottom of pan periodically (if breast gets too brown, cover it loosely with foil).
8. Cook until the chicken juices run clear when pierced deeply in the thigh, or to 170 degrees if you use a meat thermometer.
9. Let chicken cool (loosely covered with foil) for at least 10 minutes before carving.

Great served with baked, roasted, or mashed potatoes, or...

Lisa's "Hmm, What's in That?" Mashed Potatoes

1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil, add some salt for flavor.
2. Wash and peel any kind of potatoes, cut into chunks.
3. Wash and peel rutabagas cut into chunks (approximately 50/50 mix of potatoes and rutabagas).
4. Simmer until all are tender (approximately 20 minutes, depending on size of chunks).
5. Drain root veggies.
6. Pour milk into the saucepan, heat until just bubbling, add some butter.
7. Add potatoes and rutabagas to the hot milk and butter mixture and begin to mash.
8. Add more milk, butter, salt to taste if needed.

Serve nice and hot.

Note: Save the chicken carcass for soup (see, Daddy, your cries at the dinner table to "save it for soup" sunk in). Cut off good meat and wrap separately in foil to add back at end. Bones/meat can be frozen. Simply cover bones with water, add some carrots, onion, pepper. Simmer covered for several hours (at least 4). Skim off "scum" while bones simmer. Separate bones and veggies from broth, discard solids. Salt broth to taste (takes a bit). Add fresh or frozen veggies (endless combos) as desired (I buy a frozen "soup vegetables mix" w/okra). Add rice or pasta if you'd like, simmer until everything is tender (check salt/pepper again). At this point add back the cubed chicken meat that you've reserved (adding it earlier will toughen it) until warmed through. Mmmmm~ Enjoy! Soup can also be frozen.

-- Lisa

Bison Roast with Burgundy and Figs

Last fall I picked up a beautiful bison roast at a good local butcher. I conversed with him a bit on the issue of fat content and cooking methods, as bison is extremely lean and I worried about the roast being dry. Then, working off of his time and temperature instructions, I went home and devised this recipe. I know it looks long, but it's really simple. I'm telling you truly that the figs and wine together with the rich meat make soul wrenching combo -- and what all this does for the vegetables is unbelievable. Of course a pot roast of cow will work fine, and you may speed up the oven a bit if you choose the mooer.

You'll Need:
A Dutch oven or other heavy, oven-proof pan
A chuck roast of bison, not a fancier cut.
Carrots, one bag of baby organic
12 boiling potatoes, quartered
6 small whole Onions, peeled
1 small onion, chopped medium fine
10-12 small, or 5-6 large dried figs
1 cup Burgundy, or dry red wine with fruity notes, or even port
2-3 tbsp. course salt
1-2 tbsp. freshly ground pepper
½ tsp. allspice
Olive Oil

How long to cook it? That depends on the weight of your roast. Ask the butcher when you buy the meat how long the cut should cook at 300 degrees. Most sources say 22-25 minutes per pound of meat, or until internal temperature is 140-160 degrees.

1. Position a rack in the lower part of the oven and preheat the over to 300 degrees.
2. Rub the some olive oil, the salt and pepper on both sides of the roast. Now leave the meat out and let it come to room temperature, about half an hour.
3. While the oven is heating and the meat sitting, peel the onions, quarter the potatoes, and rinse the carrots.
4. Heat enough olive oil to cover the bottom of your pan over medium heat (it will go in the oven later). Add the chopped onion and the allspice. Cook until the onion is caramelized to a light brown.
5. Once the onion is browned, set the roast in the pan, on top of the onion. Don’t move it. Let it sit there, undisturbed, for five minutes, then flip it over (it should be nicely browned by now, if it’s not your heat may be a little low – in that case just raise the heat and let it keep browning before you flip it).
6. Sear this side until it’s browned.
7. Remove the roast to a platter.
8. Add the wine to the pan to deglaze, letting it come to a quick boil as you scrape the bottom of the pan to remove any tasty bits on the bottom and sides. Do not cook the wine off.
9. Turn off the heat.
10. Put the meat back in the pan. There should be wine in the bottom of the pan.
11. Set the potatoes, carrots, onions, and figs around and on the meat, then season lightly with salt and pepper.
12. Tightly cover the pan with a lid or foil.
13. Put the pan in the center of the oven.
14. Cook to desired doneness.
15. Remove the pan from the oven.
16. Remove the lid.
17. Let the meat rest for 15-20 minutes before cutting it. Serve with a fresh salad and crusty bread.

-- Margaret

March 5, 2007

Nancy Howard’s Twice Baked Potatoes

[Because potatoes are a root vegetable.]

My mom didn’t (yet) provide a story, so I’ll just make a little comment of my own: It seems to be a human tendency to favor the flavors we’ve been raised on, more or less, and I must have this quality, too, even though I like to try new versions of things. All I know about my mom’s twice baked potatoes is that I’ve never had any I liked better. Hers are, compared to most others, delicate. There is none of that heavy, chunky, welcome to Steaks ‘R Us uber-substantiality to them. And I like that – their lightness. It’s possible to feel like a princess while eating these, which is, with certain dishes, a quality assurance test I often employ.

Oh, she did point out that the Velveeta is mandatory. "Nothing melts like Velveeta," she said. We also agreed that the full fat version is far superior to the so-called "Lite." It's your life, but I'd say there are less traumatic ways to cut down on bad fats than by adulterating your Velveeta (or half-and-half, or mayonnaise).

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Four dry baking potatoes (Russet or Idaho)
Enough hot milk to make stiff-ish whipped potatoes
1/8 lb. or so of unsalted butter (at room temp. if possible)
Velveeta, four medium-thin slices

1. Liberally grease the potatoes with butter or shortening.
2. Place potatoes directly on the oven’s middle rack.
3. Bake about 1 hour, 15 minutes, until easily pierced through to center.
4. Remove from oven, but leave the oven on.
5. Cut the potatoes open -- in halves – immediately, to let steam escape (otherwise they will become too dense).
6. Heat the milk in a sauce pan.
7. When the potatoes have cooled just enough to handle, scoop the potato insides into a mixing bowl, being careful not to break the skins.
8. Put the butter on the potatoes to melt, and stir in.
9. Add some salt and pepper.
10. Stream in a little bit of the hot milk, stir, and begin to whip. Add milk as needed – but remember, you want a fairly stiff mixture.
11. Taste for seasoning and adjust if necessary.
12. Put the whipped potatoes back into the skins, top with Velveeta, and put back in the already-hot oven until the Velveeta melts.

Serve hot. Grilled meat and a green salad won’t hurt.

-- Nancy Howard