Thursday, November 23, 2006


Today is traditional…well, mostly traditional. I wanted to do a Cajun Thanksgiving, but Son the Butcher put his foot down. He really is a very traditional boy, and he did bring me the most gorgeous Diestel turkey home from work. So we are compromising, without him knowing it. We will include some Cajun spices in the turkey rub and we will make 2 kinds of mashed potatoes—regular and a recipe Daughter found called Cajun Mash (recipe tomorrow if all goes well). Also stuffing, green beans, salad with spiced pecans, blue cheese, and dried cranberries, rolls, pecan pie, pumpkin pie, and chocolate pound cake.

But enough about food. Today is Thanksgiving and I will either be cooking food or eating food, allllll day long. So I just want to take the time to be thankful.

I am thankful that we will have enough food to eat tonight and that my mother and stepfather will be joining us for this Thanksgiving meal. They have a bit of a trip to make, but so generously offered to drive down when they found out my father and his wife would not be here to celebrate the holiday with us. And while I am very sad that I will probably never spend another holiday with my father, due to his illness and move to Missouri, I am very thankful for the extra time we have had together. We were told he only had days to live in July of this year, but he is hanging on, with a tenacious will to live. I am thankful for a wonderful family and friends who have supported me through that difficult time, kept me centered on the right path and make my life so rich and full. Without them I would be lost, huddled in a corner in some insane asylum, babbling to myself in some foreign-sounding tongue.

I am thankful to have been given the opportunity to do my book, The World Is a Kitchen, and to be able to continue this blog, with the help and encouragement of family, friends, and people like you. Both have brought me new friends and adventures and keep me focused on food and writing, of which I love.

I am thankful for every day. I know, now more than ever, the importance of every day. Some times I am too busy to remember that and sometimes I take it for granted, but I am working toward being better about these things. About savoring the events of every day, of trying to enjoy every day, and of trying to be more thankful every day.

And what are you thankful for?

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Mary Holmstrom’s Pumpkin Pie

The pie is in the oven as we speak (or blog). So pictures to follow….

Several years ago a good friend and co-worker graciously shared her grandmother’s incredible pumpkin pie recipe. And it has proven to be a crowd pleaser every year since. I always make two or three, so that we can have leftovers. And I apologize for not posting this earlier in the week, but this pie is great for any time, holiday or no.

First, I must confess that I do not make crust. I have tried multiple times over the years. I have used recipes with vinegar, ice water, lard, Crisco, butter, margarine. I have used marble rolling pins, store-bought wooden rolling pins, handmade rolling pins, even my nana’s 60-year-old rolling pin that she so generously gave me (thinking maybe there was magic in it). Alas, no luck. So I resign myself to Nancy’s frozen crust, and concentrate on the quality of the ingredients that go into the pie itself.

I do, almost without fail, use fresh pumpkin. I normally have to buy these in October and store them outside to keep them from rotting. Then I bake them or peel, cube and steam them. But I realize this isn’t for everybody, so go right ahead and use canned plain pumpkin (not spiced pumpkin). You will still be very pleased with the result.

One small warning before you start: This is made in a blender, and given the size of most blenders, you cannot double the recipe. But it only takes about 3-4 minutes to make once you assemble the ingredients, so making several is still a quick process.

3 eggs
1 ¼ cup brown sugar
½ t salt
1 t cinnamon
¼ t ginger
¼ t cloves
¼ t allspice
¼ t nutmeg
1 T molasses
1 ½ cup milk
1 ½ cup pumpkin

In a blender beat eggs, sugar, spices and molasses for 1 minute. Add milk and pumpkin and belnd for one additional minute, making sure all ingredients are mixed in (the molasses has a tendancy to stick to the sides of the blender). Pour into prepared deep dish pie shell. Bake at 375 degrees for 1 hour. Pie is done when center is puffed up and knife comes out clean.


Monday, November 20, 2006

Recent Failures

I really am not ignoring you.

Recently I have been cooking quite a lot and trying out new recipes. But most of the results have been mediocre at best. If I won’t cook the recipe again, I’m not going to pass it on through this blog.

Here are some recent failures:

Jamaican red beans and rice – made with coconut milk, slow cooked for hours. A recipe I had pulled from a well-known food magazine. The dish was bland and tasteless. Son the Butcher even brought home some of Schaub’s homemade Spicy Jamaican sausages to help bump up the flavor quotient. While the sausages were good, I am afraid that nothing could help the lackluster dish. If anyone has a good and flavorful Jamaican red beans and rice dish, please send it over so that I can try again.

Roasted Sweet Potato Fries with Bacon Vinaigrette – I should start by saying that none of my children wanted me to cook this dish. They are not huge fans of sweet potatoes. But I love them, so I went ahead anyway. Everyone ended up eating them, and commented on how much better they were than they thought they would be, but that was about the extent of it. Not bad, not great. Strike 2.

Sea Bass: I made 3 recipes out of my new Chronicle cookbook in one week. This was the only one that wasn’t up to par. I had seen the sign at Whole Food: Sea Bass is Back! and I was sooooo excited. I had been wanting to fix this recipe, served with a lemon gremolata, for some time. Cooked with fennel, but served plainly with the broth and gremolata, the dish was bland, and not what I wanted after waiting so long for sea bass to become available again. Strike 3.

Earl Grey madeleines: I am having a tea party in a few weeks for some old and dear friends, and am testing recipes to serve. I liked this twist on a classic, which I found in a 2005 Bon Appetit, but I really felt the texture of the madeleines was wrong and that the flavor just didn’t come through. While we didn’t toss them out, I also didn’t feel that they were worthy of presentation where the 5 of us only seem to be able to get together once every 5 years or so. And those who I did serve the cookies to were equally unimpressed, so its not just my old picky self snubbing my nose at them. Strike 4.

Pretty sad, huh? But you should know that not everything we try is going to turn out great. Nothing was horrible or inedible. And my family is always gracious enough to eat what I fix anyway, but I have certain standards when it comes to passing on recipes to all of you. So, I will persevere.

Soon to come: Mary Holmstrom’s Pumpkin Pie

Sunday, November 12, 2006


At the risk of being accused of bastardizing a classic, Brilliant Daughter and I reinvented the old-time favorite snickerdoodle to incorporate flavorful chai spices. (Brilliant because she came up with the idea in the first place.)

Snickerdoodles were one of the kids’ favorite cookies growing up. I didn’t make them as often as say, Tollhouse Chocolate Chip, as they required hand rolling in a sugar/cinnamon mixture, which was a bit more time consuming and meant my eyes were less attentive to active children (though they did like to help me roll the cookies in the sugar—hands caked in cinnamon by the end). But these cookies were always well received, not only by my own kids, but by the neighborhood kids as well. Snickerdoodles are a rich buttery-eggy tasting cookie with a slightly crisp sugar/cinnamon outer shell. The ingredients are basic, the dough easy and quick to make, with the only requirement that you hand roll the dough into balls and coat in sugar and cinnamon.

We were debating the origin of the snickerdoodle, or at least the hilarity of the name, and to further educate ourselves we found the following information at the James Beard Foundation: Foundation Snickerdoodles are: A cookie with character. There’s no question that these simple, old-fashioned, cinnamon-dusted sugar cookies are delicious, but culinary historians have a difficult time reaching consensus on the origin of their funny name. Sherry Yard in her Secrets of Baking contends that snickerdoodles are named after a character from an early 20th century children’s story. Apparently, Snickerdoodle (nephew of Yankee Doodle and cousin to Polly Wolly Doodle) was a tiny guy who drove a peanut car and heroically solved big problems—much like a snickerdoodle with a glass of milk can do on a rough day. Others argue that snickerdoodle is merely a nonsense word like doodly-squat, a word that gave rise to the song “Yankee Doodle Dandy.” Still other historians believe that snickerdoodle is, in fact, a very old name that comes from a New England tradition of giving little cakes and cookies fantastical names, such as Jolly Boys, Tangle Breeches, and Kinkawoodles. Snickerdoodles resemble many cookies that have come from England and Germany, but New Englanders usually get credit for their creation in the 18th or 19th century when a slew of similar spice cookies was popular. The recipe for these homey cookies reveals their age: it typically calls for cream of tartar and baking soda—not baking power as a more modern recipe might.

My snickerdoodle recipe is old and loved and I have never wavered from it. But we have been experimenting lately with flavorings for bread pudding, and the last one in the test kitchen was a chai bread pudding because we are a chai-loving household. Introduced to us by our Nepali friend Raj, it is a winter staple, warm and frothy, its scent permeating the whole house as it simmers. So there was a natural progression of thought, at least in our mind, with the bread pudding, chai, and snickerdoodles. Combining two of our favorite things to make something new seems to be our mission these days. So, we took the basic recipe, adjusted the rolling mixture, and saved ourselves some time by scooping the dough with a small ice cream scoop.

So, without further ado, we offer you the Chaidoodle:

1 c butter, softened
1 ½ c sugar
2 eggs
2 /34 cup flour
2 t cream of tartar
1 t soda
¼ t salt

Cream together the first 3 ingredients. Sift dry ingredients together and add to creamed mixture, incorporating well. Shake together the following in a lidded plastic container:

3-4 T sugar
1 t ground cardamom
2 t cinnamon
¼ t clove
¼ t ginger
¼ t allspice

Roll dough into walnut-size balls, or scoop with small ice-cream scooper, and drop several at a time into the lidded container. Shake to coat, and place on ungreased cookie sheet or silpat. Bake at 400 degrees for 10 minutes, or until cookies puff up and flatten out and are slightly brown.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Sunday Dessert

All the kids come home on Sunday for dinner (a condition they agreed to before moving out). We have an old-fashioned traditional, sit-down dinner, including dessert. This particular Sunday I was a bit pressed for time and didn’t plan ahead in the sweets department. But intelligent Daughter did, and brought along a recipe for Blueberry Crumble Cake.

Back when blueberries were at their best and in abundance at the markets, I bought a large quantity. Everyone in the family loves them and I use them in clafoutis, muffins, scones, pancakes. Blueberries are very high in antioxidants and low in calories, and are also a tasty addition to fruit salads, pairing well with melons. I’ve never grown blueberries, or even been to a blueberry farm, but if you go over to Tea and Cookies, she has as great post on Island Blueberries, which chronicles her visit to Sunny Brae Farms, a Washington State family blueberry farm. The post includes pictures of her adorable niece Alice chowing down on the blue beads by the handful, a recipe for pie and jam, and some interesting history.

The berries I bought were local and I processed part of them using the IQF method I learned back in the days when I worked for a cannery in San Jose, California. IQF stands for Individual Quick Freeze. You put the fruit on a cookie sheet, pop it in the freezer, and once the fruit is frozen, you can Ziploc bag it. I usually put the frozen berries in one- or two-cup portions in each bag, since that is the quantity called for in most recipes and it makes it easier to just grab and bag and go. But the joy of IQF is that the fruit does not stick together and so you can pile as many as you want into a gallon Ziploc and just pour out the amount you want each time.

This cake was quick to make, taking only about 5-8 minutes, baked up in half an hour, and was delicious on its own. (Although some of us did top it off with whipped cream!) It would also make a great breakfast or brunch cake as well, as it is not too sweet.

Blueberry Crumble Cake

¾ cup white sugar
¼ cup shortening
1 egg
1 cup milk
2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
2 cups blueberries, fresh or frozen

½ cup white sugar
1/3 cup flour
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ cup shortening, softened

Preheat over to 375°F and grease an 8x8 square cake pan.
Cream together sugar, shortening, and egg. In a separate bowl, mix flour, baking powder, and salt. Stir into sugar mixture, alternating with milk. Stir in blueberries and pour into pan.
For the topping, combine all ingredients and sprinkle over batter.
Bake 25-30 minutes.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Football Food

I really am a baseball fan. When the Giants could no longer make the post-season, I turned my attention to the Detroit Tigers, in honor of friends who are die-hard fans. I cheered them on, all the way up through their last loss in the World Series. It saddened me to see them lose, but what made me sadder was the prospect of baseball being over for almost 6 months.

So, we turn our attention (however half-hearted) to football. Depending on how rabid a fan you are, it could mean 1 game or 10 games a week. It could be the occasional Sunday game or you could start on Thursday and work your way through pro and college games all the way to Monday night. Either way, there are certain foods associated with football games: hot dogs and sausages, ribs, chili, and barbecue.

In honor of the pigskin, here is an easy to prepare barbecue pork. I start this on Sunday afternoon, so the smell permeates the house, and then pop it in the fridge for Monday night football. If you are having a crowd, you can easily double or triple the recipe.

Barbecued Pork

2 T vegetable oil
2 medium to large bell peppers, chopped
2 large onions, chopped
¼ cup chili powder
3 pounds pork cuves
1 6 oz can tomato paste
½ cup cider vinegar
½ cup packed brown sugar
2 T yellow mustard
1 T Worcestershire
1 cup water
2 t salt

Heat a 5-quart Dutch oven or heavy stew pot over medium-high heat. Add oil and cook peppers and onions until tender and lightly browned. Stir in chili powder; cook 1 minute. Add pork cubes, tomato paste, vinegar, sugar, mustard, Worcestershire, salt, and water. Stir and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat to low, and simmer for 2 to 3 hours, stirring occasionally, until meat is falling apart.

At this point, I use a potato masher to break apart the meat into shreds. Serve on buns.

PREP: 10-20 minutes depending on how you get your pork. You can use already cubed pork stew, which is the easiest; small boneless country style ribs that you cut into cubes; or a larger pork roast that you have to spend a bit more time cubing. The only other real prep is chopping the peppers and onions.

COOKING: Overall it takes about 3 hours, but the only labor intensive is the first 20 minutes, during the sauté and boil period. After that, I stir it about every 20-30 minutes. But the aroma is constant and lures you unwittingly to the pot during cooking time, so it’s really not a problem.

SERVING: This makes 8 generous sandwiches on large onion buns or sourdough rolls. Goes well with a coleslaw, potato salad, or green salad.

This refrigerates and reheats easily, so it can be made ahead when you have time and served during a busy weekday.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

London Calling

Guest post by daughter

For my last semester of college, I went to London in Chico State’s study abroad program. It was the best thing I ever did, and the best time in my life (thus far anyway). It is now approaching two years since I left for jolly ol’ England, and to satisfy my nostalgia, I decided to whip up good old Bangers and Mash, or a modern variation on it, with sautéed herbs and horseradish mashed potatoes.

During the first month in London, my roommate and I went to a pub (she had a Guinness, I had cider) to sort of celebrate being in London. She refused to believe that sausages and mashed potatoes were called Bangers and Mash. So, in my exasperation, I turned to the bartender and asked him if it was true. He said yes, and the older gentleman sitting next to me even told us where it originated. Though I can’t recall the story, I do believe he mentioned sailors and sexual connotations.

This was my first time making Bangers and Mash, and though Cumberland sausages are usually the meat of choice, these can be hard to find, particularly at the local Safeway. I had to make do with plain white bangers, which are significantly less flavorful.

Overall, I was a little disappointed with the meal. Even with all of the flavor going on, it was still rather bland. No one flavor zinged liked I hoped it would. But, then I remember, British food is known for being bland. All in all, this recipe is a good one, and I will be making it again, hopefully for my various roommates from London! And if you can locate Cumberland sausages, you’ll be ahead of the game.

Bangers and Mash

4 British bangers
3 cloves garlic
Sage leaves
Olive oil
4 Russet potatoes
Sea salt and black pepper
1 cup milk
½ cup butter
1 Tablespoon creamed horseradish
2 red onions
3 Tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 beef bouillon cube

For the sausages:
Heat olive oil and sauté garlic for a minute or two, then sauté the sage and rosemary until sage is crispy. Add sausages to flavored oil and fry according to package instructions.

For the potatoes:
Boil 2 quarts of water and peel and cut the potatoes into chunks. Boil potatoes until cooked. Drain and return to pot. Mash until smooth and add in milk, 5 tablespoons butter, and horseradish. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

For the gravy:
Fry the onions slowly in a little oil, covered for 15 minutes until soft, stirring occasionally. Remove the lid and turn up the heat. As soon as the onions become golden brown, pour in vinegar and boil until it almost disappears. Turn the heat down and add the rest of the butter. Crumble in the bouillon and pour in 1 ½ cups water and stir well. Let simmer until you have a nice gravy.

Top potatoes with sausages and spoon over gravy. Sprinkle garlic and herbs over the top, if desired. Serve with rolls, or the traditional “mushy peas.”