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Warming Wonderful

North Carolina Cassoulet (Navy Beans & Meats in Ham Hock Stock)

January 31, 2021

This satisfying Southern dish full of richly flavored stock, smoky pork, vegetables, and creamy white navy beans, came to me by way of a North Carolina chef who had ready access to both locally grown-vegetables and humanely-raised meats. My home-cook version is a warming supper for chilly, stay-at-home days. I start the stock first thing in the morning in order to have the navy beans in the oven for their bake by midday, filling the house with rich, smoky, mouth-watering aromas. By suppertime, no one needs to be called to the table—they’re all ready and waiting. Add a nice side dish of cooked greens to go along with if you like, and some crusty fresh bread for dunking. Continue Reading…

American Classics

Banana Pudding with Homemade Vanilla Wafers

January 24, 2021

This is comfort, pure and simple. Smooth and creamy vanilla pudding, fresh sliced bananas, crisp little vanilla wafers, and a dollop of whipped cream. Perfection. When I was little, we used to put store-bought vanilla wafers into the warm pudding, letting them soften as the pudding chilled. But making the cute little cookies from scratch is easy, and I like the crunch they add served whole as a garnish, or, crushed into crumbs to sprinkle on top. This recipe makes four individual servings of the banana pudding–but 80 or more of the quarter-sized vanilla wafers. Note: The wafers bake up quite hard, which helps them hold up well in the pudding, but they are much harder than the boxed ‘nilla wafers. They do work well crushed as a crust for a cheesecake, or,  for dunking in coffee or tea. Continue Reading…

Holiday Punch

Mexican Holiday Punch (Ponche Navideño)

January 5, 2021

The tiny little tejocotes were so cute, I bought a handful just to look at them! When the guy at the checkout asked me if I knew what they were, I said “No,” and he happily filled me in. Tejocotes, he told me, are one of the main ingredients used in Ponche Navideño, a traditional Mexican hot fruit punch that is served during the winter Holidays. Known as hawthorn apples here, tejacotes are fragrant and loaded with pectin. My interest prompted him to walk me back to the aisles of produce, where I filled my cart with guava, tamarind, apple, sugar cane stalks, pinoncillo (unrefined Mexican brown sugar that comes in cone shapes) and other dried fruit. Even nicer? He gave me his family recipe for the punch. We are still in the 12 days of Christmas, so try making this lovely warming drink to round out the Holidays!

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Baked Treats

Fresh Cranberry Bars

December 20, 2020

From the Oleson-family-owned O&H Danish Bakery, just north of Chicago in Racine, WI, these bars are easy-good. Third-generation baker Eric Oleson was happy to share the recipe which he says has been passed down in his family for close to 100 years. The slices put two good things together: the Danish penchant for butter, with Wisconsin’s bounty of fresh cranberries. The bars only appear at O&H during the Holiday season. “It’s kind of a traditional thing,” says Oleson, who likes to serve these very-moist bars chilled with a dollop of whipped cream. Sometimes, I add some orange zest to the batter and bake these in two nine-inch cake pans lined with parchment.  Baked that way (as you see in the photo) the wedges are so pretty. Continue Reading…

Vintage Veg

Brussels Sprouts (Petals with Bacon & Onion)

December 17, 2020

Today it was an impulse buy. But seeing those beautiful, almost prehistoric looking stalks of Brussels sprouts, I couldn’t resist. I love them! For a while, I had relegated the little green globes, which the French endearingly call “petit choux” (little cabbage) to the bottom of my vegetable list. The “why” was simple: During my childhood, my mom overcooked them, thinking the result would be milder and more palatable. But overcooking Brussels sprouts leaches out their sulfurous-smelling, cancer-preventative compounds, making them soggy and less nutritious. Writing for WebMD magazine about better ways to prepare them, I perfected this simple, delicious recipe: A delicious quick saute of  brussels sprouts petals, with diced onion, bacon and the tiniest drizzle of maple syrup. To make it, the only fiddly part is removing the tiny cabbage cores. You just poke the tip of a sharp knife in the base of each one, twist and cut that little piece out. Then, you can easily pluck the petals apart, wash them well, and saute. As a side dish, this is fantastic with poultry. Please enjoy! Continue Reading…

Holiday Baked Treats

Mincemeat Tarts

December 11, 2020

Among traditional Holiday foods, mincemeat goes waaaaaaay back.  Dating from the 11th century, mincemeat pie originally packed (along with the meat, fruit, sugar and spice) a lot of religious symbolism: The trio of spices –cinnamon, clove and nutmeg, represented the gifts of the Magi. The crust (or casing) represented a cradle (i.e. manger), and in early renditions, pies were topped with an itty-bitty baby Jesus. As decades rolled by, the practice of preserving meats with sugar and spice prevailed, but the pies eventually shrank in size. And, for two sad decades in mid-17th century Massachusetts, the Puritan’s ban on all things Christmas just about eradicated the pie altogether.

But, mincemeat endured! If you have had only the store-bought version, you are in for a treat: homemade is most-definitely better. Here is a lovely rendition from my dear friend and talented chef, Tory O’Haire. Continue Reading…

Happy Holidays

Christmas Pudding

December 7, 2020

Stir it up! That’s the chorus in Britain on Stir it Up Sunday, right before Advent. Churchgoers hear, “Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people,” and anyone—churched or not, with a love for boozy Christmas puddings stirs up the fruity mix to get the holidays going.Loaded with spice, fruit, nuts and tradition, the Christmas “pud” is a lovely creation, more moist and mellow than American fruit cake. Since it’s fed little tipples of brandy from the day it’s made until Christmas, the treat emerges a well-spirited highlight of the Holidays. For even more tasty Holiday tradition, try our recipe for Mincemeat Tarts! Continue Reading…

Poultry Perfection

Persian Quail with Pomegranate Walnut Sauce (Fesenjan)

November 24, 2020

Sweet, tart, earthy and rich, this beautiful celebratory Persian dish originated thousands of years ago in the Iranian province of Gilan on the Caspian Sea. You may have seen fesenjan served as a chicken stew, but here, I’ve elevated the dish by serving the sauce with honey-and-spice-glazed grilled quail–a gorgeous presentation for fall and winter feasts. If you prefer? Swap out the quail for grilled bone-in chicken. Continue Reading…

American Classics

Skillet Cornbread with Molasses & Honey

November 19, 2020

Hailing from Texas, my Mom made a lot of cornbread: Corn dodgers, corn cake, cornbread…we ate it with butter and molasses, dunked it in spicy stews, crumbled it over our chili. This version is one of my favorites. It bakes up nicely moist, with a crispy crust and lovely crumb. Be sure to use stone-ground cornmeal—white, or golden, for best texture and flavor. You can gild the lily by stirring a few spoons of diced green chilies or fresh corn kernels into the cornbread batter before baking if you like. But it’s just fine without, eaten piping hot, right out of the oven. Continue Reading…

Fresh Fruit

PBJ Bars (Fresh Concord Grape with Peanutty Crust)

October 21, 2020

The grape harvest had happened, truckloads of deeply fragrant Concord grapes already on their way to become juice and jam. But my friend Vera said, “There are loads of grapes still left on the vines!” With permission from the vineyard’s owners, off we went to glean the field, baskets and clippers in hand. Within an hour, our feet wet from the long grasses, backs warmed in the late afternoon sun, fingers and lips stained from the grapes we’d eaten on the spot, we had gathered all we could carry. Continue Reading…