Archives

Savory Pies

Chicken Under Cover (Best Chicken Pie)

October 31, 2018

Homemade chicken soup may be a comfort for body and soul, but tuck that beautiful stock, chicken and vegetables under cover of a flaky pie crust and you’re going one better! Fabulous hot from the oven, and just as good chilled, sliced and reheated the next day with a bit of cheddar, savory pies are a favorite of mine. My corn pie is a summer wonder. I love curried lamb pie with some silky whipped turnips served alongside. Piquant picadillo empanadas and Louisiana-style Natchitoches porkpies (a recipe I need to put up for you! ) are also so good. The list goes on : )

But for the fall and winter, with family coming home, this is a great dish to have on hand. Continue Reading…

Classic Casseroles

Johnny Marzetti Casserole

September 19, 2018

Johnny Marzetti could very well be America’s best loved and longest standing comfort casserole. A mix of ground meat, tomato sauce, garlic, onion, cheese and noodles, the dish has populated community cookbooks nationwide for decades under the guise of Salmagundi, Hamburger Hotdish, Elbow Goulash—even Irish Monkey (!) But as the story goes, Johnny Marzetti is both the “real” name of this dish, and  one of Columbus, Ohio’s most prominent early businessmen whose brother Joe and sister-in-law Teresa had a restaurant called Marzetti’s. I just wrote a cover story for the food section of the Chicago Tribune on this : ) Please enjoy the story of the men, the myths and the legendary dish–and  do try my version of the dish! Unlike bland community cookbook renditions which often include processed cheese food and canned soup in the mix, my version gets its deep rich flavors from fresh herbs, garlic, a blend of Italian sausage and ground beef, red wine and  the real star: oven roasted and caramelized tomatoes and onions—the best possible way to transform these vegetables into flavor-packed morsels of goodness. Continue Reading…

Baked Treats

Honey Cinnamon Graham Crackers

August 17, 2018

I love stories of positive change. With so much to be depressed about environmentally, it’s  encouraging to spend time with people like Harold Wilken of Janie’s Farm Organics and The Mill at Janie’s Farm in Ashkum, IL. One after another, land owners are coming to Harold with requests that he help them switch to organic farming. One after another, the acres in that bit of Illinois are returning to health, part of a growing grain revolution. And the certified organic grains Wilken and his farmers are stone-ground milling into whole kernel flours are full of living enzymes, germ, endosperm and bran. These flours make delicious breads like those featured at Hewn Bread in Evanston, IL, and got me thinking about a favorite treat of mine: Graham crackers. Continue Reading…

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…

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…