Tuesday, March 09, 2021

The Big Debate (in my head)

This morning my brother called me. He was enjoying toast with some of my homemade peach-vanilla jam and it reminded him that he recently had some lemon-pear marmalade that was out of this world. He gently suggested that I should make some when pear season rolls around. Definitely a good idea, as I like pears and lemons very much and already make several varieties of marmalade, as well as lemon curd, pear jam and pear butter. 

This conversation sparked a little niggle in my head…something that had been bothering me. Recently I saw a cooking competition with professional chefs. I’m always intrigued by how they use ingredients. But one chef made a dish in which she included a peach marmalade she had made on the spot. I was appalled that she labeled what she had made as marmalade—as it didn’t contain any citrus—and even more outraged that the judges didn’t call her out on it. Why you ask?


Well, I believe in certain distinctions between jelly, jam, preserves, marmalades and fruit butters. I probably have a unique but fairly professional view on the topic, as my family owned a processing plant that manufactured jellies, jams, preserves, and marmalades (as well as fruit filling, peanut butters, and some other odd and assorted items). I’ve also been home canning for 30 years, and actually built a canning kitchen on the old screen porch of our cabin. I’m also an editor who is a stickler for proper terminology. 


In my own head, which was confirmed by several other reputable and more objective sources, these distinctions include:


  • Jelly: uses fruit juice, requires pectin, final product has no chunks of fruit at all
  • Jam: uses mashed fruit, can be made with or without pectin, final product has some chunks of fruit
  • Preserves: uses whole fruit or large chunks of fruit, no pectin necessary, final product is mostly fruit chunks
  • Marmalade: uses whole citrus fruit, including the peel, no pectin, slivers of peel visible in final product
  • Butters: uses fruit puree, no pectin, no chunks of fruit in final product


So, by definition a peach cannot be made into a marmalade. However, my brother’s recommendation of lemon-pear marmalade can be classified as a marmalade as it has citrus fruit in it. 


Check back in the late summer/early fall 2021 when pears are at their ripest and I’ll give that lemon-pear marmalade a go…..

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

The Taste of Fall

As the leaves turn their magnificent fall colors—brilliant gold, burnt orange, deep red—there’s nothing more warming than a hot cup of apple cider. Redolent with traditional spices of cinnamon and clove (with an occasional hint of ginger or cardamom), this distinctly fall beverage perfectly captures the apple harvest in our area.


But apple cider isn’t just for drinking. It also makes a delicious caramel that is easy, albeit a bit time consuming, to make. I happened across an Instagram post from the Smitten Kitchen blog with a drool-worthy picture of said caramels. What I liked about the recipe, aside from the flavor profile, is that it uses fresh, local apple cider. Right now…especially right now…we are trying to support our small local merchants and farmers, so what better way than to buy some fresh unfiltered apple cider and make these treats?


The process is simple and doesn’t require any fancy tools or pans, although a candy thermometer does help immensely. The time-consuming part of the recipe is boiling down the apple cider until it is almost syrupy. Going from 4 cups of cider to 1/2 cup takes 30-45 minutes. You don’t have to stand and watch it. Just stir now and then. As it gets close to the end, it’s wise to hover a bit, so it doesn’t burn. But once you have your concentrate, you add the main ingredients, stir and boil until it hits about 252 degrees. Really, it’s just that easy.


When you take it off the heat you hit the mixture with a bit of cinnamon and flaky sea salt, which really makes the caramel pop. (I’m sure you could eliminate both and they would still be out of this world, but why mess with perfection?) Pour into your prepared pan and refrigerate until hard. Then enjoy the goodness. And while you’re at it, why not double recipe and spread the wealth? I shared with all my neighbors, to help ease the pain of celebrating Thanksgiving in isolation. 


NoteIf you don’t have access to fresh unfiltered apple cider from a local grower, most supermarkets carry unfiltered apple cider (NOT juice), which has been pasteurized and bottled and is shelf-stable.


Recipe after the jump…

Monday, November 23, 2020

Holiday Eggnog Bread

 My godmother is a good cook, when it comes to savory items. I’ve never really known her to do sweets. Partly because she and my godfather were not big fans of sugary treats and she rarely had time to put into baking.

One sweet treat she has been making for years—decades probably—is a delicious eggnog bread. It’s an easy semi-homemade loaf that is moist and full of flavor. The simple recipe is easily doubled (each batch makes two loaves), so that you can freeze some to have on hand for guests or to give away to friends and family. (It will be much more welcomed than the traditional fruit cake.) 


You can find the recipe for the eggnog after the jump and in my second cookbook, aptly named Eating Suburbia, available here.


NOTE: Last week I shared a cherished recipe for eggnog that was generously shared with me. It’s the perfect ingredient for this holiday eggnog bread, but if you don’t have the time or the inclination to make it, you can head to the store—COVID willing—and pick up some premade eggnog to use. 


Holiday Eggnog Bread

1 box yellow cake mix    

1/4 cup butter, softened

2 large eggs    

2 tablespoons rum

1 1/2 cups eggnog


Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease two loaf pans.


Beat eggs first then add the rest of the ingredients and mix well. Pour into prepared loaf pans.


Bake for 45 minutes. Allow to cool, then remove from pans.


Yield: 2 loaves



Monday, November 16, 2020

Tis the Season…for Eggnog

Almost a decade ago, my two oldest children rented a house together on one of the best blocks in Redwood City. The day they moved in, neighbors came by to welcome them, drop off a list of everyone’s phone number, and tell them about the Facebook group that the neighborhood had. 


In the years since, we’ve become part of that neighborhood by extension. The annual Easter Eggstravaganza and fall Oktoberfest have been highlights, where the street is blocked off and everyone shares in food and drink, games and karaoke. Halloween is an event, where over 500 kids come through to see all the decorations. Memorial Day, Fourth of July and Labor Day are often celebrated at The Resort, a beautiful home where one couple has a pool and a tiki bar and doesn’t mind a neighborhood invasion. 


Spending time with these generous and friendly people was a highlight of our time in the suburbs and we do miss it now being in the mountains. While we have been back for events since we moved, those events have been a little less sparkly and joyful due to the death of the street’s matriarch. Bobby was a gregarious, and sometimes outrageous, woman…one I think I’d like to be when I grow up. She often had wildly colored hair, brightly decorated nails, loved her Four Roses bourbon, and had a great laugh. She also made the very best eggnog I’ve ever had, although I rarely got much of it, as Mr. B quickly drank copious amounts whenever she delivered it to our house. 


Last week, Bobby’s daughter kindly shared the recipe for her eggnog, which not surprisingly contains her beloved Four Roses. She told Brilliant Daughter and me that Bobby would want us to have it. And because it’s just so darn stinkin’ good, I wanted to share it as well. It’s the perfect time for it, with the holidays winging our way.


So, a big “Cheers” to Bobby, may she smile down upon us as we enjoy this delicious beverage. And “cheers” to all of you, hoping you have a happy and healthy holiday season.


Bobby’s Famous Eggnog 

12 egg yolks

1 cup sugar

2 tablespoons vanilla

2 quarts half and half

¼ cup Meyers dark rum

¾ cup Four Roses bourbon

Cinnamon and nutmeg to taste


Blend egg yolks, sugar and vanilla with a hand or stand mixer until light yellow. Add the half and half slowly and mix completely. Add in rum and bourbon, then stir in cinnamon and nutmeg. 


Refrigerate immediately. Good for up to two weeks. 


Side Notes:

And while it may be sacrilege to utilize this delicious eggnog into anything other than a beverage, you might want to use it to make eggnog bread, which is a simple treat that is easily frozen for later enjoyment and makes a nice gift to neighbors. I’ll share that recipe later this week.


And don’t throw out those egg whites either. They can be scrambled for a healthy breakfast or made into these delicious meringues, which are sweet and chocolate-y and will satisfy the biggest sweet tooth and the dieter alike—as they are only 30 calories apiece.


Chocolate Chip Meringue Cookies

4 egg whites, at room temperature

1 teaspoon vanilla

1/4 teaspoon cream of tarter

1 1/3 cup granulated sugar

1 1/3 cups mini chocolate chips


Preheat oven to 275 degrees. Line a cookie sheet with Silpat or parchment paper. 


In a medium mixing bowl with whisk attachment bowl, beat egg whites on super high speed until soft peaks form. Add cream of tarter and vanilla and mix again for 30 seconds. Scrape the bowl and return to high speed and add sugar 2 tablespoons at a time. Beat on high until the meringue holds very stiff peaks. Gently fold in the chocolate chips.


Drop mixture by rounded tablespoon 2 inches apart on the prepared cookie sheet (a mini ice cream scoop makes even-sized domed cookies; a pastry bag yields cookies with a gentle swirl pattern). Bake the cookies in the oven for 25 minutes or until the bottoms of the cookies are lightly browned. Turn oven off and let cookies finish cooking for 15 minutes. Remove and transfer cookies to a wire rack and allow to cool.

Thursday, August 13, 2020

Time for Gringa Taquitos and a Specialty Cocktail


The other day, my son went to a friend’s house to do some electrical work. While he was there, his friend’s mother-in-law made taquitos (aka flautas) from scratch for lunch. His retelling this had a very subtle subtext: Why don’t you make homemade taquitos?


It’s true, I don’t make taquitos. I do make homemade tamales, ceviche, carnitas, and other assorted Mexican dishes, despite the fact that I am wholly European in origin (unlike aforementioned mother-in-law). I don’t make taquitos because I don’t do any fried foods. No fried chicken, no fish and chips, no onion rings. My only concession is beignets, which are soooo worth the trouble to make and the oil to fry them in. 


Then the other day I ran across a recipe for a baked taquito in a magazine. I remembered my daughter making baked chimichangas back in the day and thought this might be a good alternative. And since I just made a dozen pints of homemade salsa, this would be a good accompaniment.


Turns out, making taquitos is a pretty simple thing to do. They make for a quick snack or easy dinner and can be filled with all manner of things. The original base recipe calls for avocado, pinto beans, shredded rotisserie chicken (from the store) and cheese. But you can substitute black beans, fresh (canned or frozen) corn, refried beans, leftover steak or pork, or sautéed veg (maybe kale and zucchini, which are in season now). They can easily be made vegan or vegetarian, or spiced up with some fiery jalapenos or serrano peppers. You are limited only by your imagination and what is in your fridge and pantry. 


By baking the taquitos, you still get the crunch of a fried taquito, but without the added oil and calories. So, it’s a healthy version that both kids and adults will love. And love them we did….


But in all fairness, my son wasn’t around when I made these, so I invited the neighbors. Hence that really lovely looking cocktail at the top of the post. It was bribery to get them over to test my recipe. They all agreed that the taquitos and the cocktail were superb. 


As for the cocktail, I made some fresh watermelon juice and squeezed some limes, which I added to vodka. It needed a bit more something, so I decided to add some of the lemon balm syrup I make. Perfecto! Slightly sweet and tart at the same time, and very refreshing on what was a very hot day.  


Side NoteLemon balm is part of the mint family, growing pretty prolifically without much care. Pour boiling water over and steep for a calming tea that can help anxiety and insomnia. The tea is also good for colds and flu. During the summer, I chill the tea and drink it iced with a bit of the syrup, which is just 1 cup water, 1 cup sugar, 1 lemon cut into fourths and a big bunch of lemon balm (leaves and stems). Bring to a boil and cook until sugar is melted, then let it steep for 10-15 minutes and strain. Syrup can be used in hot or cold tea or any cocktail which could benefit from a sweet and subtle lemon flavor. 


My modified taquito recipe can be found after the jump.

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Tiny Tea Cakes: Two for the Price of One!

Tea is a bit of a family tradition. Both my nana and papa emigrated from the UK and were avid tea drinkers. It’s the only caffeine I had until I was well through college and learned what real coffee beans tasted like. And while I start my day with a cup or two of Peet’s Major Dickasons, my go-to beverage the rest of the day is tea, be it hot or cold.

While Lipton was my early introduction to tea, I expanded to the Bigelow brand in my teens and herbals in college. While I am not a fan of flavored and fruity teas, I do love a good Earl Grey, and mint or chamomile after dinner. A culinary trip to Taiwan in 2004 got me more into leaf teas and certain blooming flower teas, as have my frequent forays to the U.K. over the last decade. 

There are times when I wish I was a throwback resident in London, working in an office where the tea cart came round twice a day. But sometimes I pretend and make some little tea cakes and sit down in the afternoon with a pretty pot and cup and saucer. Occasionally I invite over friends or neighbors to partake in a little tea party.

Hence my constant search for a good tea cake to serve. In early March, before this whole shelter in place edict, two of my neighbors joined me for tea and I made my nanny’s shortbread along with cherry and almond tea cakes and some fresh strawberries. 

I found the recipe on Pinterest and it’s actually from Martha Stewart. You use stemmed cherries, and the stems poke out the top of each little cake. The recipe calls for a fresh sweet cherry, like a Bing, but I had a jar of Trader Joes Pitted Amarena Cherries with Stems (in syrup) that I keep on hand for cocktails and ice cream sundaes. They worked really well. Up to you what type you use, just make sure they’re pitted!

I also made a really delicious batch of mini lemon tea cakes about two weeks prior to Easter. They originally appeared on the blog, Back for Seconds, also found via Pinterest. I brought a basket of these little gems to each neighbor, along with decorated Easter cookies and a little bunny door decoration I made. We were a few weeks into the quarantine and I thought everyone could use a bit of cheer. 

Both recipes are worth a share. Both are pretty darn easy to make and the lemon ones make a whopping 48, so they can be shared, as I did, or frozen for later consumption. 

You’ll find the recipes after the jump….