Squash casserole is a classic Southern comfort dish. Nearly every community cookbook south of the Mason-Dixon line has a version—most with mayonnaise in them and many telling you to boil the squash, which can easily overcook it. So, I was delighted to see the New York Times’ give it a go. Their recipe mixed the traditional cracker crumb topping right in with the squash—a great way to soak up the excess liquid rather than having to strain it out. But, theirs also had you boil and puree the squash, for a result that was disappointingly pudding-like. For ours, we kept the lovely squash texture by cutting the veg into small cubes. We left out the old-school mayonnaise, included some home-pickled cherry peppers, and gilded the dish with a toasted brioche crumb topper. It is SO good!
Sour Cherry Hand PiesJuly 27, 2022
Hand pies take a person back. To fourth grade, maybe (or even earlier,) when you’d bike to that corner grocery store with friends after school, finding the rack of pies, wax-paper-sleeved, sugar slicked, and skimpy on the filling, but easy to grip in one hand as you wheeled to somebody’s house before piano lessons. We’ve built on that nostalgia with better flavor and fresher fruit. Our pies are full of fresh-picked sour cherries, in a tender, oven-baked butter crust with optional sugar glaze. A bit of almond flour and red wine vinegar in the dough adds to the texture and flavor. Continue Reading…
Fresh Strawberry PieJuly 25, 2022
This fresh strawberry pie, stacked high with just-picked farmers-market berries in a strawberry-juice glaze, comes with a great backstory. Liberace (pianist Vladziu Valentino Liberace)—once the world’s highest-paid entertainer, loved this pie, ordering it by the dozen from the place it was born: the now-defunct Hess Bros. Department store, of Allentown, PA. The man who sold it to him–Max Hess, Jr., was nearly as big a showman as Liberace himself. Continue Reading…
Flint-style Coney Chili DogMay 31, 2022
There are chili dogs, and then there are Flint-MI-style Coney chili dogs, grilled and topped with a very specific spiced-meat and onion sauce. Go anywhere near Southeastern Michigan, and you’ll be sure to find one. To set the record straight on all of the lore and legend that grew up around these saucy dogs in the last century, food historian Dave Liske spent about 12 years researching, culminating in his just published, “The Flint Coney, a Savory History,” (American Palate, a division of The History Press.) Continue Reading…
Ballymaloe Irish Lamb StewMarch 10, 2022
Cherished recipes are like ripples, each one an echo of the wave-maker that first broke the surface. This Ballymaloe House lamb stew is the 1940s original that started ripples of stews to follow. A version of it was later published in Gourmet magazine (1960s) and then again in Ruth Reichl’s 2004-published volume featuring six-decades of Gourmet recipe bests. Rather than look to the later versions, when a woman wrote me in search of the recipe, I reached out to Darina Allen, head of the Ballymaloe Cookery School in Shanagarry, County Cork, Ireland, and a member of the family running Ballymaloe House Hotel and Restaurant.
According to Darina, the simple, hearty recipe was given to her mother-in-law Myrtle Allen by neighbor Madge Dolan in the 1940s. It became a staple at both Ballymaloe House and at the Ballymaloe Cookery School. While lamb stew is extremely common in Ireland with regional variations from county to county, (no carrots in Northern Ireland; barley added for extra sustenance in other places,) this version differed from others of the period because the meat and vegetables are browned in hot fat before stewing, making the finished dish more flavorful. It’s a very simple and straightforward recipe—the love you add comes with peeling all those tiny potatoes and pearl onions (!) The stew is delicious served up right after you make it and is also good warmed up the next day.
40 Cloves of Garlic ChickenJanuary 5, 2022
When James Beard first whipped this up for Julia Child, he included matchstick-sliced carrot + celery plus slivered onion in the dish as we’ve done here—so very tasty. But for a less fatty version, we took out half of the olive oil and all of the chicken skin. You won’t miss it! We’ve also browned the chicken to add color before the long oven roast. The result is wonderfully rich and deeply flavorful. Serve the finished dish straight out of the Dutch oven, or, spoon all onto a platter. To save guests the trouble of plucking out the roast garlic cloves to squeeze and spread on crusty bread, we pull out about half of the cloves after baking, remove the skins and put the soft little dollops in a little crock to serve alongside the bread and chicken. Continue Reading…
Yule Log Cake (Bûche de Noël)December 4, 2021
Among our family’s Holiday-making traditions, filling rooms with boughs of evergreen is one of the brightest and best. As we bring armfuls of snowy branches in, there is freshness and chill, that wild citrusy conifer smell, and always, a swell of gratitude for nature’s provision. This celebratory cake, with its cute caps of meringue mushrooms, is a woodland fantasy in just that spirit.
In France, la bûche de Noël harks back to Medieval times and traditions. Then, placing a log on the hearth on Christmas Eve and burning it for three days was believed to bring good luck, and good harvest. Centuries later, cakes have replaced the log, with thousands of versions baked worldwide.
Like those, ours—a chocolate roll cake with vanilla mousse filling, light-chocolate buttercream and dark chocolate “bark”– conjures memories of favorite flavors from childhood. An elevated Hostess Ho-ho perhaps? Or Little Debbie Swiss Roll snack cake. We’ve included a recipe for crispy meringue mushrooms that fit the woodland motif and add a nice crunch when eaten with the cake.
To streamline assembly for when you bake the cake, the mushrooms, mousse and dark chocolate bark can be made ahead of time. The meringue needs to be made on a dry-weather day—rainy weather won’t work. And for best texture and flavor, you’ll want to refrigerate the finished cake at least an hour, and serve it very cold. Continue Reading…
Holiday Brandied Fruit & Nut BarsDecember 3, 2021
My Mom had a pecan tree on the grounds of her childhood home in Houston. Long after she married and moved to Chicago to raise me and my sibs, Mom’s family sent a big box of pecans each year for the Holidays. How Mom beamed when she opened that box! Then, she pulled out a battered baking tin and set to work making a dark, rich, fruit and nut spice cake. This recipe is an easy-to-make updo of that, baked in a buttered 9 x 13-inch pan with loads of toasted pecans, plus brandy-soaked dried cranberries, Montmorency cherries, Thompson raisins, a smattering of plump prunes, and some candied orange bits. Buttery and chewy at the edges, and oh-so-tender in the middle, it is my favorite Holiday baked treat. It’s very good with a hot cup of tea, and even better with whiskey! For another delicious Holiday treat? Try our Chocolate-Dipped Walnut Brittle.
Apple PieAugust 2, 2021
Good recipes are like friends, they come and they go. Some, you may not see for a long while, so when reconnected, it’s with a flood of happiness. Some you may take for granted. Others, you wish you could see much more of. Thinking of this, I realized that in all the years I’ve written about vintage recipes, I’ve never done a post about apple pie. Iconic. American. Just apple. Pie. It seemed about time.
I do have a favorite. I’ve tweaked it over the years to make my own. It’s originally credited to a community cookbook writer’s grandmother I don’t know to name, but sure would like to thank. This pie is pure, homely and perfect. Continue Reading…
Russian SaladFebruary 26, 2021
I laughed when I saw it. Delightedly chortled, more like, to see that the New York Times was running a recipe story featuring that thousands-of-renditions Slavic home food: Russian Salad. I’d just confessed my love for the stuff the day before to a friend, as if whispering a guilty pleasure. And now the Times had legitimized it. Classically a mosaic of colorful and carefully diced carrot and potato, plus peas and ham, bathed in mayo, I’d long ago found making variations on the Russian Salad theme to be a “treaty” way to eat veg. I make it using everything from trimmed stalks of broccoli (steamed the tiniest bit to tender them) or with celery root, jicama, radish, kohlrabi, and maybe a little cheese, skipping any meat inclusions entirely. But the classic version is good, too.
Near my house, Russian Salad is everywhere. Just travel up the road in Skokie-Evanston to the various mom-and-pop grocers and you’ll find it ready made both plain and fancy. Layered in clear bowls with piped swirls of cream on top, the fancy versions look like frilly parfaits.
As it turns out, fancy is actually a throw-back: The salad’s genesis was quite gourmet. Food historians place its origins in Moscow where a French chef named Lucien Olivier served it starting in the 1860s at the Hermitage restaurant, mixing in everything from caviar and crawfish tails, to capers and veal tongue. Oh, and Lucien slathered his in Provencal dressing. Post Russian Revolution, the salad took on the proletariat stylings that survive today.
With a nod to Olivier, my version of the current classic dolls things up a bit with home-made mayo, sour cream, dill, and quail eggs. Plus, pickled beets that you mix in at the very end.
My recipe also relies—as the NYTimes version does—on careful, even dicing. Trimming and cutting the ingredients to uniform size makes for good balance, mouth feel and presentation. P.S.—Don’t hold back on your own variations! Let me know what you come up with—I’d love to see. Continue Reading…