Breakfast

Sweet Rice-Flour Pancakes (Crespelle)

July 10, 2018

I didn’t have the chance to visit 4000-year-old Otzi The Iceman, oldest mummy in Europe, at the South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology, while I was in Italy. But I was amused to learn that the last meal he ate may have included a very rough version of pancakes, based on the highly-processed einkorn scientists found in his belly.

Pancakes, it seems, are one of the world’s longest-standing culinary creations. Stone Age pancakes may have been made of ground cattails, mixed with water and baked on hot rocks. The earliest known pancake in China, made of millet meal, dates back to the 4th century B.C. Ancient Greeks ate a version called kreion with honey. Native Americans made theirs of cornmeal. And from all of these far-flung origins there developed crepes, galettes and eventually, the pancakes we know today.

In my household, allegiances swing widely, from thin-battered crepes, to earthy buckwheat cakes, to fat and fluffy buttermilk pancakes.  Sometimes a Saturday thing, they have the power to coax late-sleepers out of bed, and, nothing says “company brunch” more comfortingly. But as much as we like all of the above, our newest favorite is actually a gluten and sugar free pancake made of sweet rice flour called a crespelle. It’s a bit like a crepe, and includes milk and eggs in the batter, but no sugar. The texture reminds me of a blintz, with a satisfying bit of chew to it. Continue Reading…

Fresh Fruit Desserts

Raspberry Fool (Raspberries + Cream)

June 30, 2018

Berries and cream have been a thing as long cows and brambley hedges have roamed and rambled across the British countryside.  “Fooles”–desserts of tart, sugared fruit, simmered, crushed and mixed with cream, were first mentioned in British texts in 1598, but some food historians think they may go back as far as the 15th century. In America, fools led the way to “fridge cakes”  billowy fruit-mousse desserts with whimsical names like “marlowes” and “mallowbets” that emerged with the advent of the electrically powered refrigerator. Continue Reading…

Salad Days

Seven-Layer Salad (A Classic Updated)

May 27, 2018

A thing is the sum of its parts. If the parts are crap…well then. But if the parts are stellar the whole can be a beautiful thing. Take Seven Layer Salad for example. A somewhat maligned American creation of the 1950s borne out of someone’s need for “quick, tasty and feeds-a-crowd,” the salad has popped up at picnics, on home buffets and at community dinners ever since. Classically, it’s built in a glass dish (like the trifle dish you got at your bridal shower but never used) and includes layers of chopped lettuce, tomato, hard-cooked egg, cucumber, sharp cheddar cheese, bacon, green onion,  a thick mayo-sourcream dressing and (my favorite part!) lots and lots of sweet peas. The recipe’s provenance is thought to be Southern, but it doesn’t appear in my regional cooking tomes (Clementine Paddleford, Helen Corbitt, etc.) just community cookbooks where it was initially referred to as “Seven Layer Pea Salad.”

Which brings us back to peas. I’ve always loved the “green” scent of them, their looks, their shape, their shoots, tendrils, flowers, how they “pop” when you bite ‘em.  But there are so few recipes that really let peas shine: not overcooked, not mushy, not blended into oblivion in a soup. In this salad, they get to be their best. When your farmers market comes in with fresh ones, use those lightly steamed and cooled. (Otherwise, frozen/thawed will work.) As far as the other layers are concerned? There are so many fine examples of good sharp cheddar cheese and uncured hardwood smoked bacon, choose those. And experiment a little! Milky white goat-milk cheddar is delicious, and super-aged 10 year cheddars are amazing. Continue Reading…

Baked Treats

Rhubarb Rosette Upside-Down Cake

April 12, 2018

Gorgeously colored from ruby to pinky-red with blushes of celery green that take on a satiny-sheen in the light, rhubarb is soooo pretty. It’s also delightfully odd. Super-tart rhubarb is actually a perennial vegetable, not a fruit, in spite of being called the “pie plant” in 19th century cookbooks. It comes in season in April peaks in June and if you’re lucky, hangs around in the home garden until September. It has a very distinct aroma—sharp, sort of vegetal funky—and if I had to put a color to the scent: red-brown. And although it very-much resembles celery (with its fleshy stalks and “strings,”) unlike celery, rhubarb cooks VERY quickly, and the strings entirely disappear, making it a lovely choice for topping this sweet-tart of an upside-down cake.   Continue Reading…

Salad Days

Brown Derby Cobb Salad

April 2, 2018

From Hollywood’s Brown Derby restaurant and named for its owner, Robert Howard Cobb, the Cobb Salad is the original chopped salad. A mix of finely chopped watercress, curly endive, Romaine and iceberg lettuces topped with crisp bacon, hard boiled egg, tomato, chive, chicken breast, Roquefort cheese and avocado, the original was served with a house-made “French” dressing that was more akin to red wine vinaigrette than the sweet orange goo labeled “French” on a salad bar.  Continue Reading…

Sandwiches

Egg-Salad Sandwich (Perfection)

March 26, 2018

I am an egg-salad snob. Let me just say that up front. Because to me, the best egg salad is a refined egg salad. I mean, if we’re exploring in the realm of protein-“salad” fillings, chunky is fine if you’re eating chicken, turkey, lobster or even tuna. But with egg salad, chunky seems clunky to me.  A lightly-textured egg salad, on the other hand–one made with ultra-smooth whipped yolks, riced hard-cooked whites, home-made mayonnaise, very-finely minced herbs & pickle, and home-baked pain de mie bread—now that is a thing of beauty.

I imagine my preferences were borne of good memories of refreshments at countless Ladies Aid functions (I was a churchy kid,) plus innumerable engagement parties, birthdays and baby showers all including some form of egg-filled finger sandwiches, deviled eggs, or both. These snacks were served a lot because eggs are both economical, and stretchy—a little bit goes a long way.  Anyway, after some hundred bite-sized snacks or so,  the line between deviled egg and finger sandwich sort of blurred for me. With both, it was the smooth, tangy/spicy/piquant yolk filling that drew me, not the bland, bald-slipperiness of those flabby whites.

With that in mind, figuring out how to make the perfect egg salad sandwich meant coming up with the right ingredient combination for that yolk mash, and then putting it together with the best ratio of finely-chopped egg white,  best bread and best contrast-providing vegetables. Continue Reading…

Spring

Naturally-Dyed Eggs

March 26, 2018

Well, here’s a Jacob Grimm you may not have heard : ) As a philologist studying Germanic folk customs, Grimm speculated that the custom of Easter eggs may have stemmed from springtime frolics in honor of Eostre—the Proto-Indo-European goddess of dawn.  If so, it’s just one more in a longtime legacy of eggs and the ancients. 60,0000 year old decorated ostrich eggs have been found in Africa. Rituals connecting eggs and rebirth go back 5000 years or more in Egypt, Sumeria and Mesopotamia. And historians tell us Christians in the latter culture were the first to dye eggs ritualistically, coloring them red as a reminder of  blood. Continue Reading…

Meaty Mainstays

Kirk Douglas’ Favorite Meatloaf

March 17, 2018

Before there was Michael Douglas (Fatal Attraction, Basic Instinct and more movies,) there was Kirk Douglas, a 1940s matinee idol with the deep cleft in his chin some of my boys have, but dislike. (They call it a “butt chin”…) If it weren’t for Ant Man, in which Michael had a nice role, and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, which Noah considers “epic” for its crude special effects (first sci-fi shot in Cinemascope), my kids would be unfamiliar with either of these actors. But back in the ’70s, Kirk was still, very much, a familiar film legend. Which is where this meatloaf comes in… Continue Reading…

Cake Walk

Red Velvet Cake (Monica’s All-Natural)

February 15, 2018

It’s been a while since I’ve been to Beeville, TX. Not far from Normanna, Orangedale and Skidmore, it’s the Bee County seat, built around a typical Texas town square with an enormous Renaissance Revival courthouse at the center. It’s not like there’s a plaque or anything, but ask around, and you may find old timers who know the town’s connection to America’s long-lingering flavor obsession: Red Velvet. Yep. When chemist John A. Adams pulled up stakes in Michigan to move his family in 1905, this was where he landed, launching the eponymous food-coloring and additives firm in Austin that truly put the “Red” in Red Velvet. Continue Reading…

Salad Days

Quinoa Roast Potato & Caramelized Onion Bowl with Arugula & Tahini Lemon Dressing

January 25, 2018

January being a time of new beginnings, it’s not surprising I’ve heard from readers and friends searching for the healthy recipes they once saved but now lost : ) I told them what I’m telling you: Keep it simple and feel free to experiment! Some of my favorite daily put-togethers are salads that combine the varied textures and tastes of hot & cold ingredients, and, that don’t weigh you down with too much meat or fat. Which brings me to this bowl. A mix of peppery baby arugula, with the mellow smoothness of oven roast potato, onion and garlic, and crisp-oven “fried” brussels sprout petals on top, this dish also stars red quinoa which is gluten-free, and the only plant-based protein to have all nine essential amino acids. Pulling it all together? A drizzle of paprika-spiked tahini-lemon dressing. This bowl works very well at lunch. To make that easy-doable, prepare the quinoa & roasted veg the night before and then microwave quick-heat those ingredients when you toss the salad together next day. Continue Reading…