Friday, November 30, 2007

Must We Meat Again?

What is it about a gentleman’s palate that leads his brain to reach the unfortunate conclusion that where there is no meat, there is no meal?

For the better part of two decades I have lovingly prepared meals for a man who qualifies food as a complete meal only if, at some point in time, one or more of its ingredients walked or squawked.
Anything else is simply dismissed as an appetizer and serves the sole purpose of killing time and warding off hunger, until the real meal hits the table.

Admittedly, I am an omnivore, but I appreciate a well-prepared meatless meal as much, if not more, than its carnivore-pleasing counterpart.
There are times, especially when the weather begs for al fresco dining, that I crave nothing more than a medley of grilled vegetables with a crisp side salad. However, my husband would interpret this blatant defamation of Weber workmanship, as an inexcusable
waste of propane gas.

I recall a not-so-long-ago experiment during my short-lived obsession with a new kitchen gadget--a food dehydrator
(which sent me the clear message that our situation was hopeless). My inexpensive, yet impulsive purchase was fueled by my rebellion against overpriced dried fruit--a necessary addition to my favorite granola recipe.
On a not-so-busy Saturday before Father's Day, I decided to make the perfect man gift--beef jerky. I found an enticing recipe for a savory teriyaki version and purchased the necessary ingredients, which included two expensive pounds of custom-cut flank steak. After fourteen hours of beef preparation and monitoring, I presented my husband with what seemed to be a weightless bag of this delightfully tasty snack. Just a few baseball innings later, I realized that a once-hefty slab of flank steak was reduced to my husband's version of a quick, TV-room tidbit. He rationalized consumption by eating it with dried snap peas, claiming it was a healthy choice snack. I managed to confiscate the remaining jerky and spent the following week hiding it and rationing portions, all the while hoping to ward off a sodium-induced heart attack.

I have failed in my countless attempts to balance my husband’s consumption of meat with healthier protein alternatives. When I have least expected it, meat has invaded my bean soup (sausage), my scrambled eggs (steak), my macaroni and cheese (hot dogs), and even my salads have found themselves occasionally seduced by chunked pepperoni.
There are times when I feel so brainwashed by all-that-is-butchered, that I can hear my ojas crying out for a three-bean detox.

On those occasions when I am driven by hunger and the inability to prepare a meal that will satisfy both of us, I call upon my old friends—the take-out menus.
This lifts the burden of protein-preparation from my shoulders, while offering meals that satisfy our opposing palates.

While this may seem like a simple solution, it is not without complication. The fact is, I married a man who is an intimate companion to indecision. His inability to choose a restaurant is as hopeless as the dilemma which soon follows—choosing an entrée.
I have often thought of designing and printing my own menu to ease his burden of choice by limiting his options and translating them into his own carnivorous language; thus allowing me to choose from a myriad of multicultural eateries without the guilt of his displeasure.

The menu might appear something like this:

World Carni-teria
Man Menu

Our entrées from around the globe will please even the most discerning man-palates.

Receive a free side with the purchase of two entrées.

Italian Entrée: Meat in a Ball
Chinese Entrée: Meat on a Stick
German Entrée: Meat in a Tube
Mexican Entrée: Meat in a Crispy Shell
Greek Entrée: Meat in a Pocket
Thai Entrée: Spicy Meat in Clay Pot
American Entrée: Meat Pancake on a Bun

Potatoes: Mashed
Potatoes: Fried
Potatoes: Roasted
*Potato Salad

(*Denotes healthy option—It’s salad)

And until the day comes when he can enjoy my roasted vegetable frittata without reaching for the nearest salami, I will call upon reliable resources to support my efforts when my culinary creativity is lacking.

While I don’t believe I would make for a very good vegetarian, I envy the few with whom I am acquainted. I suspect it is their unwavering determination that allows them to endure the foraging so often necessary in our carnivorous culture, to find healthful, delicious, meatless meals.
Perhaps they sleep a bit more soundly than we omnivores, for the two simple facts that they will never contract Mad Cow Disease,
and my husband is off the market.

And speaking of Mad Cow, I am inclined to believe that one
Clara Peller, of 1980’s Wendy’s fame, was indeed affected as she skidded recklessly through town, demanding an answer to
“Where’s the Beef?”
I don’t doubt that her cantankerous husband guilted her into
big-beef acquisition, while he stayed home, cracked open a cold beer and reluctantly, grilled her vegetables.

Until Next Time,
Make Life Delicious
Share Your Food


I am happy to share with you two of my favorite meatless recipes.
One is for a bean salad whose ingredients change as often as I make it.
When fresh string beans are not available, I turn first to high-quality frozen cut beans, and lastly to canned string beans.
For the smaller canned beans, I use whatever I have on hand (Cannellini, Kidney, Black Beans or Pintos) and I adjust the dressing to my taste for the day. Depending on my entree, some days I prefer a sweeter salad so I will add a bit of sugar to the dressing.
The other is for a quick version of falafel. When I am pressed for time, I simply dress the falafel with a dollop of sour cream and a must-have addition—thinly sliced onions (red being my onion of choice).

Three Bean Salad with Vinaigrette
From Everyday Food—Martha Stewart Living Publication

8 oz. Green Beans, stem ends removed and cut in half diagonally
4 oz. Yellow Wax Beans, stem ends removed and cut in half diagonally
2 TBS Dijon Mustard
2 TBS Red Wine Vinegar
2 TBS Olive Oil
1 Can (15 oz.) Cannellini Beans, rinsed and drained
** I usually add a tablespoon of sugar to my dressing because I am a fan of the traditional jarred-picnic variety of bean salad.

Fill a large bowl with ice water, set aside. Steam green beans in steamer basket (or alternatively, you may use microwave steamer to cook beans until crisp tender). Repeat steaming with wax beans. On stove top beans take about 6 to 8 minutes to cook until crisp tender. With a slotted spoon, transfer beans to ice water to cool. Drain and pat dry. In a medium bowl, whisk together mustard, vinegar, and oil (and sugar if using). Season with salt and pepper. Add green beans and wax beans to mixture. Add cannellini beans. Toss well to coat. Use immediately or cover and refrigerate up to one day. Allow to come to room temperature before serving.

Falafel-Stuffed Pitas
From All New Complete Cooking Light Cookbook

1/4 Cup Dry Breadcrumbs
1/4 Cup Chopped Cilantro or Parsley
1 1/2 tsp. Ground Cumin
1/2 tsp. Salt
1/4 tsp. Ground Red pepper
2 Garlic Cloves Crushed
1 Large Egg
1 15 oz. Can Chick Peas (Garbanzo Beans) rinsed and drained
1 TBS. Olive Oil

1/2 Cup Plain Low Fat Yogurt (Greek Yogurt works well here)
2 TBS Fresh Lemon Juice
2 TBS Tahini (Sesame Seed Paste available in market near Peanut Butter)
1 Garlic Clove minced

4 (6 inch) Whole Wheat Pitas , cut in half and warmed
8 Curly Lettuce Leaves
Thickly Sliced Tomato

To Prepare falafel, place first 8 ingredients in a food processor, process mixture until smooth. Divide mixture into 16 equal portions, and shape each portion into a 1/4 inch thick patty. Heat olive oil in a large non-stick skillet over medium high heat. Add patties and cook 5 minutes on each side until patties are browned.
To prepare sauce: combine yogurt, lemon juice, tahini, and garlic, stirring mixture with a whisk. Spread about 1 1/2 TBS sauce into each warmed pita half. Fill each pita half with 1 lettuce leaf, sliced tomato and 2 falafel patties.
Yields 4 servings.


Tuesday, November 27, 2007


The tide is high, but we’re holdin’ on.

I was born a true blonde and remained as such until the trauma of adolescence reared its ugly, mousy brown head.
To look at me, au natural, one would likely not suspect that I was ever a blonde but thankfully, I have the pictures to prove it.
These days, blonde hair is something I equate with quality home improvements; an activity I usually invest time
and money in—right before company arrives.

Recently, my not-so-blonde sister presented my siblings and me with a lovely restored photo of four generations of our family members.
In it, I am about three years old with pale golden locks
and a cheeky smile. It took some coaxing for my own children to believe it was me, and not my other thinner, blonder sister in the photo.
As we reminisced about the hairstyles of that era, the handmade clothing we never fully appreciated, and the ridiculously bushy eyebrows we sported as children (completely oblivious to the wonders of waxing), I got to thinking about my current life as
a not so blonde woman.

I recalled a recent episode of Oprah on which a guest designer remarked that all women should remember the critical importance of gold highlights, and how the simple salon procedure will take years off ones appearance and might literally, change a life.
I can tell you from personal experience that a salon visit for said gold highlights is indeed life changing.
After some cryptic communication about color, my stylist determined that I was leaning more towards a spaghetti blonde than a crème brulee (both of which confused me and made me very hungry).
By the time the two-hour neck-knotting process was complete, my hair was more like fried butterscotch and I was flat broke
(and not nearly blonde enough for it to be profitable).
Life changing indeed.

Admittedly, I am intrigued by my own occasional desire for blondeness.
The unfortunate consequences that accompany aging force us to relinquish so many of our youthful indulgences.
Societal norms demanded long ago that I give up the wardrobe, behavior, and diet of those joyful, restless years spent burning the candle at both ends, with nary a concern for cellulite or
cholesterol levels.

Perhaps a bit of blonde on my forty-something locks would indicate that although my candle burns a bit more efficiently these days, the fire isn’t completely extinguished.
And although I’ve managed to keep my wardrobe and behavior in check, my diet takes its occasional walk on the wild side.

Which brings me back to the subject of youthful indulgence.

I recall in my last days of middle-school blondeness, a cafeteria confection so sweet and chewy, I still sentimentally salivate.
If I was penny-wise enough to save weekend allowance and fortunate enough to lead the lunch line, I would find my favorite shrink-wrapped snack neatly stacked at the end of the long, sliver counter.
There it would sit, a small, rectangular bar of sweet, buttery
bliss, known as a Butterscotch Blondie, awaiting my
impatient grasp.

Over the years I have tried to recreate this indulgence almost as many times as I have argued over its origin. I believed it to be an original product of the Linden’s Company but former fellow classmates, now old and cranky (and some artificially blonde ), disagree.
We do agree however, that it is currently unavailable and sorely missed.

Ironically, that infamous day in the salon really did turn out to be life changing, but with no credit to expensive blonde highlights.

As I sat reading, under a heated dome, with my hair neatly
sectioned and aluminum foiled in classic crown-roast fashion,
I happened upon yet another recipe for blondies promising to
be the best. I was intrigued by the recipe for two reasons;
First, it appeared in a popular culinary publication which most often, features low calorie cuisine. And secondly, my familiarity with blondie recipes told me that this one called for an exceptional amount of brown sugar; Causes for suspicion on both counts.

As the back room radio blared, I hummed along with Deborah Harry to a high-tide hit song from the 80’s, and jotted down the recipe on a left-behind Starbucks napkin.
When my timer finally rang (indicating that my crown
was indeed roasted
), I slipped the recipe into my sweatshirt pocket where it remained, forgotten, for weeks.

On one unseasonably warm November day, I found that recipe, mistaking it for my grocery list, while navigating the baking aisle of my local supermarket.
As I reached for a bag of semi-sweet chips, I experienced a
not-so-blonde moment of intuition, and added a bag of
toffee chips to my cart.
With uncertainty of my brown sugar inventory, I tossed a few boxes into the cart and enthusiastically headed for the dairy aisle.
As recipes often do, a new blondie recipe was taking shape beneath my butterscotch locks and I was eager to get home to fulfill my blondie ambition.

That same evening, my husband and son were once again, the unfortunate victims of leftovers, appeased only by the promise of one bombshell dessert.
After a quick kitchen cleanup, I retrieved the pocketed recipe and rewrote my own version with a few substitutions and modifications. And in just moments, my kitchen performance was well under way.

I knew from the moment I inhaled the nutty aroma of browning butter that this recipe was different from the others. A winning combination of simple ingredients produced a blondie as close to my childhood favorite as I have ever achieved.
Like famous blondes throughout history, this sweet number would not soon be forgotten.

Once they were cooled and sliced, I presented them to my favorite TV room rock stars (of Guitar Hero fame). I bowed my
butterscotch crown as they applauded my achievement. In appreciation of my sweet sentiment, they played my favorite song.
As I listened and watched in amusement, a thought occurred to me.

As the tide of responsibility rises for those of us who conform to the demands of adulthood, we hold fast to the comforting notion
that the light of our natural-blonde and rock-starred, restless youth
still flickers.
Yet now, we live vicariously through that notion, armed with the knowledge and life experience that allow us to appreciate the simple joys of sharing a cherished family photo, or a favorite childhood confection.

And I am inclined to believe that perhaps it is the mature,
crown-roasted variety of blondes
who really have more fun.

Until Next Time,
Make Life Delicious
Share Your Food


Get your blonde on with my new favorite recipe for
Butterscotch Blondies.
This recipe is one I adapted from Cooking Light’s version.
Mine is less light—but more fun.

Butterscotch Blondies

2 Cups All Purpose Flour
2 ½ Cups Firmly Packed Light Brown Sugar
2 tsp. Baking Powder
½ tsp. Salt (I used a generous half teaspoon of Kosher salt)
10 TBS Unsalted Butter
2 XL Eggs plus 1 Large Egg
**(I realize this is an odd combination of eggs but the original recipe called for ¾ cup of egg substitute which I did not have on hand. The combination I listed measured slightly under ¾ cup but offered great results. If you prefer to use egg substitute, I’m sure it will work but might not yield the same rich results).

¾ Cup Toffee Bits such as Skor Brand or Heath Brand (do not use the chocolate variety of toffee bits)
1 TBS Vanilla Bean Paste (or the seeds from one split vanilla bean)
1/2 Cup Chopped Pecans (Optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place oven rack in middle position. Lightly grease a 13 x 9 baking pan, or line with parchment.

Lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups, level with a knife.
Combine flour, firmly packed brown sugar, baking powder and salt in a large bowl. Stir with whisk to combine.
Place butter in a small skillet over medium-low heat. Cook for about 6 minutes, stirring often (and watching carefully) until butter is lightly browned with a nutty aroma. Butter burns easily so pay close attention during this process. Pour browned butter into a small bowl and allow it to cool for 10 minutes. Add cooled butter to eggs and whisk to combine. Add vanilla bean paste (or seeds) to egg mixture. Pour butter mixture over flour and mix until just moistened and combined. Fold in toffee chips.
(Add pecans if you are using them).
Spoon batter into prepared pan, smoothing top with spatula.
Bake for about 30 minutes until top is firm and toothpick comes out clean (to be quite honest, I prefer to underbake these slightly. I remove them from the oven when the toothpick still has a few sticky crumbs—to allow for a chewier blondie).
Cool in pan on wire rack. Cut into squares when cool. Wrap individually in plastic wrap and place in airtight container to preserve moisture.

**Makes 24 servings for skinny blondes,
and about 12 servings for the rest of us


Sunday, November 25, 2007

The Infinity of Pi(e)

My daughter was home from college for Thanksgiving weekend. Hubby safely transported her back from her freshman dorm with a twenty pound bag of dirty laundry.
When she arrived home, I was already elbow-deep in flour, butter and molasses, preparing assorted cookies for Thursday’s feast at Grandma’s. I offered her a long, sticky-fingered hug and the last surviving bowl of drunken black bean soup, both of which she graciously accepted.
Although my rugelach batter was at the perfect temperature for rolling, I placed it aside to prepare a quick grilled cheese sandwich to play second-spoon.
As she slurped and dunked (the only proper way to eat a bowl of soup around here), I chopped, sprinkled and rolled, and we discussed the events of her first semester away from home.

My home was once again filled with the sounds of
a noisy holiday; the oven timer was buzzing, my collection of traditional (albeit premature) carols was competing with an overconfident Guitar Hero jam session, and as always,
the dog was barking.

Ignoring the chaos, we chatted about student life, missed episodes of Grey’s Anatomy and as she turned pages while I rolled cookie dough, we perused the newest catalog from J. Crew.
In the midst of so many distractions however, I was strangely aware of the ticking coming from the wall clock behind me.
While I negotiated baking pans and cooling racks, my daughter responded to countless text messages and then excused herself from the kitchen to reunite with her old friend TiVo.

As I dissected a circle of dough with my pizza wheel, the ticking seemed to grow louder. I focused more intently on the smudged recipe that sat before me. As I mentally checked off the ingredients, I realized that a miscalculation at the grocery store days earlier would leave me without enough pecans for the pecan pie I had intended to bake.
An overwhelming feeling of panic set in because this was the one and only dessert requested by my daughter for Thanksgiving. I was already committed to three batches of dough currently chilling in our basement refrigerator, not to mention the deconstructed rugelach that had already invaded my counter space.
Clearly, time was at a premium and a shopping trip for pecans was absolutely out of the question.
But how could I not make her pecan pie?
As the ticking grew louder, I called upon my alter-ego,
one apron-wearing kitchen robot, to quickly and efficiently glide through recipes as though their printed index cards were penned in disappearing ink.
By the time I got through two flavors of rugelach and
two dozen flat bottoms and holey tops for linzer tarts,
a crazy-but maybe not so crazy- thought occurred to me;
One winter-coatless daughter in need of a pecan pie was, for the moment, available to her recently daughter-at-home-less mother, who was in need of being needed.
With a bit of trepidation at the thought of stealing time that was simply unavailable, I called upstairs and spontaneously offered to break from my baking chaos for the purpose of winter coat and
pecan pie acquisition.
I should mention that my daughter and I are cut from very different cloth, save for the fact that we both move like cheetahs at the very mention of free food, or an impromptu trip to TJ Maxx.
Although she was comfortably nestled in hubby’s recliner
(a chair we affectionately call “THE CHAIR,” because it possesses hypnotic qualities that renders its seated victims helpless beyond entire TiVoed episodes), this double-bonus opportunity was enough to break its spell.
She quickly pulled on (sock-less) suede boots and a
too-thin-for-November jacket, and off we went.

En route to our favorite haven of haberdashery, we discussed spring semester registration, the politics of roommate relationships and the quality of campus sushi. I was crafty in my attempt to uncover the possibility of an on-campus romance but she ignored the question with the same nonchalance she offered the laundry bag still sitting by our front door.
When we arrived, we made a bee-line for the coat department as though it might run out of coats, had we not presented ourselves on pre-Thanksgiving Wednesday at exactly two fifty-three pm.
We promptly participated in our typical mother-daughter banter as she gravitated towards coats well out of my price range, and I suggested she try on practical jackets I knew she would never wear.
We finally agreed on two lovely coats with opposing purposes
(one for dress up and one for inclement weather), and although time did not allow, we headed for the shoe department anyway.
Time flew as we tried on everything from slippers to stilettos.
I urged her to pick up the pace, knowing full well that I still had a refrigerator full of dough ahead of me.
It wasn’t until she found her sweaty, sock-less left foot
stuck in a too-expensive leather boot that she finally agreed to exit the shoe department.
We laughed as I wrenched the trendy-meets-equestrian
calf-hugger from her reluctant foot.
As she limped towards the cash register, a quick detour of the junior department nullified any prior covenant set to limit price, quantity or necessity.
Two coats, one vest, two sweaters and one pair of jeans later, we headed home in November’s early darkness.

We unanimously agreed that I would be of no use to chilling dough or the kitchen tools committed to my holiday project, without proper sustenance.
We found an empty table at our local loaf-themed eatery and literally broke bread together, all the while discussing the rich new color of her hair, the upcoming Spice Girls concert and the convenience of clutch purses.
It was time unplanned, yet time well spent.

As we headed home in pre-holiday traffic, her cell phone chimed relentlessly. She dexterously replied to incoming texts as I reviewed my mental to-do list, with a bit of uncertainty in my ability to complete the tasks ahead of me.
Irritated by countless promotions for Black Friday sales events, I switched my car radio to its CD function. She was surprised to hear her left-behind copy of one Christina Aguilera CD booming from my front speakers. It had become my go-to music when my commute to work lacked enthusiasm and energy.
As I sang along to my favorite track, she paused mid-cell-phone-dialogue, and almost whacked her forehead into the glove box, as she cackled uncontrollably in total disbelief at the notion that
I ever had, or might actually still have, "that freak in me."

We belly-laughed together for the short remainder of our ride home.
As we negotiated too many packages into the front door, we came to the stunning realization that both of us had completely forgotten about one pecan pie—the very catalyst for our frivolous shopping trip.

After pulling a kitchen all-nighter, my assorted-cookie project was a great success, and as usual, Thanksgiving at Grandma’s turned out to be wonderful—
albeit pecan-pieless.

As I sit, typing this post, she is packing for her return to campus.
The weekend that seemed to take forever to arrive, has so abruptly become just a pleasant memory.

When I look back upon the events of my hectic week, I am reminded of the value of our time spent together.
It seems that on the subjects of life and holidays, things don’t always turn out the way we planned. But sometimes we will find ourselves just lucky enough to reap unexpected rewards from our own
foolish miscalculations.

Time has a way of sneaking past, stealing precious moments and the luxury of togetherness. But, when the clock ticks loudly enough to be heard over the chaos of everyday life, I will rest well, knowing that I have the option to choose what is most important over
what is most obvious.
Because the fact remains that those bonding moments between mothers and daughters which allow opportunity for girl talk and belly laughs, are fleeting, at best.

But there will always be pie.

Until Next Time,
Make Life Delicious
Share Your Food


Although I have yet to try it, I am told that the recipe for
Pecan Date Pie from Cooking Light's Complete Cookbook is one worth repeating. It remains at the top of my to-do list and will perhaps, find its way to our Christmas table.

I am happy to share with you one of the many tried and true recipes I have found successful for making Linzer Tarts. Although not a favorite cookie for all family members, my daughter and I love these and enjoy them with a cup of strong, hot coffee.
Raspberry jam is our filling of choice and I prefer to make a smaller cookie to avoid the avalanche of powdered sugar that so often occurs with the larger variety. I use a fluted cookie cutter to shape cookie base and top, and I use the large, round end of a metal piping tip to create the peek-a-boo cut out for the purpose of jam identification.
The recipe printed below is from the
International Cookie Cookbook by Nancy Baggett.
She calls these Jam Filled Almond Shorties.

Jam Filled Cookies

1 ½ Cups (3 sticks) Unsalted Butter slightly softened
1 Cup Confectioners Sugar
½ tsp. Salt
½ tsp. Almond Extract
Finely Grated Zest of 1 small lemon
(occasionally, I will omit the lemon zest and replace with the seeds from one split vanilla bean)
1/3 Cup Finely Ground Blanched Almonds
3 Cups Unbleached All Purpose Flour
2/3 Cup Good Quality Raspberry Jam (we like seeds but seedless is fine)

Place the butter in a large mixing bowl, sift in powdered sugar, and beat with an electric mixer on medium speed for 2 minutes or until very light and fluffy. Add salt, almond extract, lemon zest and almonds and beat for about 30 seconds. Using a large wooden spoon, gradually add flour and stir until completely incorporated and the mixture begins to hold together (for the most tender cookies, mix dough just until incorporated—don’t over mix).
Divide dough in half. Lay each half between sheets of waxed paper and roll out into ¼ inch thickness (if you prefer chewier, thicker cookies, roll to scant ½ inch thickness). Place rolled dough, with waxed paper on a baking tray and refrigerate for at least 15 minutes to chill and firm. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 350 degrees. Set rack in middle position in oven.
To make tops, remove one dough portion from refrigerator, remove top waxed paper, and using a fluted round cutter (about 2 ½ inches in diameter) cut out circles (dip cutter in powdered sugar to prevent sticking if necessary). Immediately place rounds on a sheet of parchment or waxed paper. Repeat with second portion of dough. Cut out the same number of rounds and using a piping tip or very small circular cutter, cut out center circle of dough round. Place tops and bottoms on parchment lined baking pans and bake in preheated oven (one sheet at a time) for 10 to 12 minutes, or until edges are just tinged with brown—be careful not to over bake.
Remove baking sheets from oven and place on wire rack to cool for 5 minutes. Transfer cookies to rack to cool completely.
Repeat this process until all dough has been used. You may re-roll scraps once or twice but I caution you that scraps which have been over worked will create tough, unpleasant cookies. I usually re-roll once and then discard the rest—this is why it so important to use as much of original dough as possible when cutting out.
Heat preserves/jam in small sauce pan over low heat until just warm and soft. Allow to cool a bit before filling cookies. If you prefer a snappier cookie, fill just before eating. If you like a softer cookie which absorbs a bit of the jam (as we do), you may fill cookies several hours before serving.
We prefer to dust our cookies with powdered sugar before filling so that we don’t cover the jam-hole with sugar. If you won’t be serving these for a while, it’s best to powder them with sugar just before serving.
To fill cookies, use small spoon or ½ tsp. measure to dollop jam in center of cookie bottom and spread out almost to end of cookie round. Top with peek-a-boo round.
Makes about 20 sandwich cookies.


Thursday, November 22, 2007

In Consideration of Flipping the Bird

I can’t seem to stop talking about food.
On any given day, clueless victims will fall prey to the innocence of my tactics. A simple comment or perhaps a question will often result in a lengthy conversation about anything, as long as it’s edible.

While at work, on a Tuesday as slow and painful as
biting cement (and just days shy of Thanksgiving), I conducted my own survey of sorts, in an attempt to uncover the most desirable method for preparing turkey. That is not to say that ‘most desirable’ refers to the easiest (or safest) method of preparation, but rather the method which produces the most flavorful results.
My customers were few and far between and covered a wide range of ages (from about seven to seventy-seven). Some shared their distaste for the bird altogether and fixated only on the fixins. Others, so disgruntled by a long wait and our staff's inability to meet their needs, simply refused to engage in turkey-talk, and likely considered sharing a centrally-digited bird of a different feather at me, and not with me.
The majority however, agreed that once a turkey has been fried (and take note of that spelling—not to be confused with ‘fired,’ as in burning down the whole bloody deck as a result of improper use of that chamber of hot-oil-hell, known as a turkey Fry-Daddy), there is simply no alternative from that day forward. I’m told that the taste and texture of fried turkey is sublime, and the experience is nothing short of religious—a pilgrimage for the palate.
And quite frankly, no one is boasting about roasting.
Well, save for one customer who so cleverly recommended that if I liked the skin crispy but suffered fear-of-frying issues, then why didn’t I just flip over the turkey to crisp the bird in its entirety?
I considered this almost-brilliant suggestion for a moment, and had she not made such a quick exit, I would have asked her two questions; first, how she would suggest I flip a hot, thirty pound turkey in a kitchen devoid of forceps and helpful, strong men
(who would likely be grunting from the man-cave, focused on The Cowboys and Thanksgiving guacamole—don’t’ ask; just know that it’s not the life I planned)? And secondly, I would inquire how one keeps the top-crispness of a slow-roasted, breast-up turkey, once it’s flipped over and subsequently sitting in turkey juices?
Thankfully, Columbus didn’t stick with his flat-earth theory any longer than I was buying into the flip-it-don’t-fry-it method of perfect poultry preparation.

And so, as a result of my informal survey, I would add turkey-frying to my Thanksgiving to-do list, along with attending the Macy’s Parade and visiting a local movie theatre with the rest of the population; something I have never done, due in part to my usual tryptophan-induced coma, and my undying loyalty to late-day leftovers.

For now, I am satisfied knowing that the turkey, however crisp-less it may turn out, will be surrounded by much-loved fixins, family and friends.
I hope for all of us that while the meal may be heavy,
our hearts will be light.
I look forward to sitting at our large, family table where food and blessings are abundant, and wine and conversation flow freely.

And if I have anything to do with it, that conversation will ultimately turn to the subject of food.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Until Next Time,
Make Life Delicious
Share Your Food


Monday, November 19, 2007

How to Enjoy a Broken Leg at a Yard Sale

Sometimes in all that trash, there really is treasure.

I am not a fan of yard sales. In fact, I dislike yard sales almost as much as I dislike going food shopping on Sundays.
It’s not so much the visiting of yard sales that I loathe, but rather the hosting of such an event that will call upon the mother of all migraines to set up camp behind my eye sockets.

I had my first yard sale many moons ago in the patchy front yard of my first home. It was an experience I vowed never to repeat. The exhausting preparation necessary to execute such a public affair provided fair warning of the nightmare that would follow, which
I so foolishly ignored.
My second-hand-sale-abration lasted forty-eight hours and mysteriously ended with more goods on my front lawn than I had dragged out of my own home. Some of the items were ones I had never owned or borrowed, and to this day, I have no idea how they found their way onto my card-table-turned-household-bric-a-brac-display. That yard sale cost me two hundred seventy-five dollars, the exact fee for the dumpster it required to haul away fifteen years worth of I-can’t-throw-it-out-I-might-use-it-someday items. It was then I decided that a yard sale is really nothing more than
a pre-trash day, open-air, gallery-showing of a lifetime of items we are too embarrassed to use or display inside our homes —
yet for one weekend only folks, the freak show is ON.
Why, pray tell, do we volunteer for such humiliation?

But the experiences of labor, delivery, and yard sales have a funny way of morphing over time into events we might
actually consider repeating

And so, years later, while living in a different community; one still blind to the bacchanalia of useless items in my basement, I agreed to have a yard sale with my friend and neighbor whose home is directly across the street from mine.
To my surprise, she turned out to be a master at yard sale preparation and execution. Customers actually showed up
and spent money.
Although that yard sale cost me a toenail—and that’s already more information than you need, so I’ll spare you the late August details of nine hours spent sock-less in too-tight, sweaty sneakers—
I actually made a few bucks.

I was most impressed however, at her ability to remain cool and calm throughout the whole process. I watched in awe as she batted nary an eyelash during the most intense price negotiations. Her casual demeanor and I-don’t-care-whether-you-buy-it-or-not attitude is ultimately what sold most of her unwanted merchandise. She was my yard sale hero. Not surprisingly, she is also the neighbor who is always ready for a party and always willing to offer her home as the site for impromptu festivities.
She is clearly not me.

Fully aware of the limitations my own neuroses afford me, I finally and officially declared my yard sale tubes tied, and graciously declined her offer to participate in her most recent,
late November sale.
I did however, offer to provide warm, spicy libation to ward off a bone-chilling November day that would be spent haggling with hoarders who might possibly need her wooden, block-a-day
wall-calendar less than she did.

The recipe for this spicy apple concoction came from my days as a ski shop employee. I was introduced to this drink, known as a “Broken Leg” by a seasoned skier turned lodge-rat.
Its name was likely the result of an unfortunate day on the slopes and the need to soothe chilly and bruised bones (and ego).
I had originally intended for this drink to be my Halloween tradition of sorts, but New York Octobers being unexpectedly warm, and my children being unexpectedly old, I had to find a new excuse to mix this elixir.

I awoke Sunday morning with the intent to do a weeks worth of grocery shopping, during which time I would purchase cinnamon sticks-- a must-have item for said libation (and which were mysteriously missing from my pantry).
Did I mention how much I hate going food shopping on Sundays?

I practiced all of the avoidance techniques in my Sunday arsenal, whipped up a batch of jumbo oatmeal muffins (which would likely be disguised as our Sunday dinner since the cupboards were bare—save for two cans of black beans) and decided that my shopping trip could wait one more day.
My only dilemma was the necessary acquisition of cinnamon sticks to get that broken leg moving.
I headed over to the neatly organized, driveway gallery of
make-me-an-offer items and intently focused on my basket of donation muffins, hoping to return with a bag of borrowed cinnamon sticks.
I forced myself to look away from the temptations of nick-nackery, when one sister of the yard sale hostess arrived by truck to deposit a furniture item so ridiculously interesting that I immediately felt vulnerable to the evils of better-buy-it-before-it-gets-away brainwashing. It was an oddly triangular, marbled-mica coffee table in swirly shades of tan. And it had a drawer—which immediately classifies it as functional furniture in my opinion. I’m told it belongs to the Modern/Contemporary (1970's) family
of furniture but I quickly recognized it as George-Jetson-Utilitarian.
As the husband-of-yard-sale-hostess efficiently installed the drawer which had been removed for transport, the voices in my head convinced me that I could somehow incorporate
this alien lifeless form into my traditional
don’t-bother-to-take-your-shoes-off-sit-down-and-have-a-cookie home.
Clearly, I needed this coffee table.

I hurried home with borrowed cinnamon sticks in hand and was immediately greeted by my understandably worried husband.
I forced him to peer through our plantation shutters to observe the coffee table that would transform our predictable home into a showplace of contemporary amusement.
A coffee table worthy of parties thrown in its honor.
I announced to him, in my most self-assured tone, that purchasing this coffee table would change our lives for the better.

Needless to say, he wasn’t buying my story any more than we were buying that table. My fifteen minute love triangle was reduced to nothing more than a what-could-have-been memory.
The timing couldn’t have been more perfect for a cup of self-soothing spiked cider.

I gathered the necessary spices, cut cheesecloth squares for my bouquet garni (or in this case, bouquet spicy), and wandered aimlessly about the house in search of one opened bottle of
Laird’s Blended Apple Jack. As I did so, I came across a bottle of Cream Sherry and immediately recalled my mothers delightfully intoxicating version of Black Bean Soup. My dinner crisis was solved, thanks to those two lonely cans in my pantry.

I snapped cinnamon sticks, counted allspice berries and cloves and prepared a mixture of spices that smelled like all of my favorite holidays tied up into one lumpy, cheesecloth pillow.
In a matter of minutes, my magical mixture was brewing and it would soon be time to toast a new holiday season and the exciting possibilities a new year would offer. The enticing aroma of apples and cinnamon permeated every nook and cranny of my home.
Once I added the Apple Jack, the intriguing fragrance
of naughty meets nice was enough to wrench my husband from his Sunday football recliner to investigate the source.

I filled a metal pitcher with the mahogany liquid and together, with cups, whipped cream, cinnamon-sugar and piping hot libation in hand, we headed over to a once bustling, now vacant driveway.
We shared a cup of cheer with good neighbors and raised glasses to health and prosperity.

As our friends cleared their driveway, and as we headed home, I felt a warm, fuzzy feeling inside that was due, in part, to my spicy concoction.
But as we passed the unsold coffee table, I was surprised by my own admission that I really didn’t need it.
We would return home with empty hands, but full hearts.

And I decided that yard sales weren’t so bad after all.

Until Next Time,
Make Life Delicious
Share Your Food


I am posting the recipes for both
Broken Leg and Drunken Black Bean Soup.
The recipe for Broken Leg is my own variation which omits the traditional use of citrus. If you prefer, you may add orange or lemon slices to cider mixture (I prefer mine to taste like hot apple pie in a glass—without the flavor of uninvited citrus).
The soup recipe is one committed to memory that seems to have more sherry added each time I make it. If you will be serving children, use considerably less sherry. Make it to suit your own taste. Personally, I no longer purchase commercially made black bean soup because I miss the distinct flavor of sherry.
These are best saved for a chilly night when the fire is crackling and the car keys will remain on the key hook until morning.


1 Half-Gallon Natural Apple Cider
(the murky kind, not the clear variety)

Cheesecloth or Food-grade spice sack (alternatively you may place all of the spices into the cider but you will have to strain hot mixture before drinking)

8 Whole Allspice Berries
10 Whole Cloves
6 Cinnamon Sticks broken in half
½ tsp. Ground Ginger
1 tsp. Ground Cinnamon
½ tsp. (food grade) Cinnamon Oil
½ tsp. Maple Flavoring
3 TBS Pure Maple Syrup
1 TBS Honey
3 TBS Lyle’s Golden Syrup (if you don’t have this on hand, you can omit and substitute with additional maple syrup)

1 Cup 80 proof Laird’s Blended Apple Jack (available where most wine and spirits are sold).

Whipped Cream and Cinnamon Sugar for Garnish

Take several layers of cheesecloth and cut into approximately 10 inch square. Place spices, berries, cloves and cinnamon sticks into center of squares. Gather opposite ends and tie closed. Repeat with opposing ends. You should have a “hobo sack” of spices (don’t worry if a bit of the cinnamon and ginger fall through the cheesecloth). Set aside.

In a 4 quart saucepan, pour entire contents of natural apple cider. Heat cider over medium heat until warm and almost simmering. Add cinnamon oil and maple flavoring and stir to combine. Add maple syrup, honey and Lyle's Golden Syrup and stir until syrup is totally dissolved. Do not allow mixture to boil rapidly. Adjust heat so it simmers slowly. Add spice sack to cider mixture and allow it to simmer on low for about ten minutes, making sure spice sack is immersed and intact. Stir occasionally.
Remove spice sack after ten minutes and pour in one cup of Laird’s Apple Jack. Stir well and continue to simmer on low for one minute.
(At this point, you should taste mixture. If you prefer it stronger, add more Apple Jack to suit your taste—but I caution you—this is one of those drinks whose effects come late to the party).
Ladle hot cider into cups and garnish with a dollop of whipped cream and sprinkle cinnamon sugar over top.


3 Cans Black Beans rinsed and drained
6 Cups Beef Stock
1 Can Vegetable Stock
1 large Onion diced
3 Stalks Celery washed, peeled and chopped
4 Cloves Garlic crushed
3 Large Carrots washed, peeled and chopped
1 pkg. (approx 1 lb.) Sweet Italian Sausage
2 TBS Olive Oil
Salt and Pepper to taste
1 Cup Sweet Cream Sherry divided.

In a large soup pot or dutch oven (with heavy bottom), heat olive oil over medium heat. Brown sausages on all sides and transfer sausages to oven safe plate. Cover plate with foil and bake in 375 degree oven for 20-25 minutes, until no longer pink in center. Set aside to cool.

Drain all but 2 TBS. of oil from pot, leaving any bits from sausage in pot.
Add chopped onions to oil and sauté over medium heat for about 5 minutes, until soft. Add celery and carrots and sauté for additional 6 minutes or so, until tender. Add garlic and sauté for 2 more minutes.
Add rinsed black beans to pot and sauté until warmed through, about two minutes. Add one half cup of sherry and using a wooden spoon, scrape up any bits from bottom to deglaze pan. Allow to heat through for about 2 minutes. Slowly add beef stock and vegetable stock. Raise heat and bring up to a boil. Immediately lower heat to simmer and simmer partially covered for 30 minutes (check frequently to avoid boiling). Add a pinch of salt and pepper, stir to combine and taste for seasoning. Once soup has simmered for at least 30 minutes, cover pot, turn off heat and allow to sit for 15 minutes.
Uncover and using an immersion blender, blend soup to desired thickness (I prefer a creamier soup so I blend until only a few whole beans remain. If you prefer more broth, you may blend to suit your preference). Alternatively, soup may be blended using a standard blender. Be careful when blending hot liquids. Always blend in smaller batches and keep a cloth over cover to avoid hot splashes.
Once soup has been blended (return to pot if using blender) add remaining half cup of sherry. Turn heat on again to low and allow soup to warm through while stirring to combine sherry. Slice sausages into rings and then half rings. Add to soup pot.
Serve warm with crusty bread.

**Truth be told, I used more than a cup of sherry in my last pot of this soup. I would recommend starting with one cup total and add more only if you think it lacks enough flavor.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

On Visions and Sugarplums

Martha, Martha, Martha.

Every year, right around this time, I am haunted by a vision.

The scene is set: A large mantle is adorned with cascading boughs of pine and holly. Hand-embroidered stockings are neatly hung beneath the snow-capped greenery. The pleasant aroma of wood smoke wafts as the fire snaps crackles and pops along with carefully chosen carols (delivered by an inconspicuous sound system). Nearby, under a lavishly decorated tree are color-coordinated gift packages embellished with handmade satin bows and monogrammed, handwritten gift tags. A table is set with fine china, silver candlesticks and hand-penned, holiday-themed place cards. Happy family members, donning their Christmas best, are patiently awaiting a showcase meal prepared by one stress-free, well coiffed hostess
(with a very narrow waistline—it’s my vision so I call the shots).
I invite you to share this vision with me. A vision not of
Christmas Past or Christmas Present, but a vision
I have come to know as my
Christmas Ain’t Never Gonna Happen.

For years I have fallen prey to the commercial ideals of holiday entertaining.
Each year as the dark days of January roll in, I am left to sort through a pile of bills and the entanglements of holiday lights, decorations and emergency gifts I never used or needed in the first place. This cycle is ridiculous, if not obscene, and last year, as the 2007
ball of lights descended upon Times Square, I promised myself
(and a glass of very sassy eggnog), that I would stop the madness.

So, here I sit, just days shy of ‘Black Friday’ wondering how I might satisfy the call to all things Christmas without being Bob-Cratchited by reckless holiday spending and an over-committed schedule.

The fact is Christmas, from its very first Christian celebration, was made famous because of modesty and not in spite of it.
Sadly, one would sooner find reindeer on the roof than one would find modesty and humility in our current holiday trends.
When I look back and consider the holiday stories and songs of my youth, I am curious to know how the sleigh got so far off course.

Surely, if the children of yesteryear could be satisfied with sugarplums, it seems only fair that my own children would find joy in such small, uncomplicated delights (and on the subject of sugarplums; my online resources agree that these are simply
small, sweet confections).
But the blame of overindulgence mustn’t be unfairly placed on those most vulnerable to the infamous Big Book whose punctual arrival signals shorter days and longer wish lists.
Surely, we adults are as much to blame.
If Mama in her kerchief was enough for Papa in his cap (and vice versa), then when, pray tell, did the need for holiday bling arise?

Instead of playing keep up with the Cratchits (a family who
really did have it
all), we choose instead to compete with
the Joneses (who likely share more bills and fewer meals).
We get a warm fuzzy feeling at the notion of modest brown paper packages tied with simple string-- just as long as they’re under
the Von Trapp’s tree and not ours.

I am fortunate that my children are now old enough to realize that Santa has bills to pay. But that only solves half of my
decadence-be-damned dilemma.
In my attempt to build new holiday traditions with less naughty and more nice, I must be willing to compromise some of the vision.
The new vision includes a me who isn’t quite so hung up on the details.
In the spirit of giving, I’m taking back some precious time;
time to spend with people who matter, whether or not the beds are made.

And speaking of unmade beds; So many moons and one bright star ago, a happy couple on a rather long journey during the pre-holiday season, found that they were short on time and in need of accommodations. They envisioned a comfortable room with a warm bed and perhaps, a fine meal. An overcrowded inn forced them to compromise that vision, thus landing them in less than adequate surroundings. There were no lavishly decorated trees or hand-embroidered stockings, nor were there silver candlesticks or fine china.
Their meal wasn't gourmet by today's standards,
and was meager at best.
They graciously accepted the modest offerings presented by their kind hosts. And although the details of their day were not as they had originally planned, they celebrated the joy of togetherness.
And gratefully reciprocated by presenting their humbled hosts
with the perfect Gift.

There's a lesson in there, somewhere.

Until Next Time,
Make Life Delicious
Share Your Food


And in the spirit of saving time, I call upon an
old friend—The Muffin Man.
Or in this case, the Muffin Lady, also known as Esther Brody.
Her book 500 Best Muffin Recipes is my go-to book for a quick, easy treat when I feel the need for cozy food.
Muffins are one of those low-commitment/high yield indulgences that I love—especially during a busy holiday season. You can make these in under an hour from start to finish.
The recipe (as posted below) is a variation
of her Favorite Raspberry Muffins.
I have tweaked some of the ingredients to suit my own taste.
Make this one your own by substituting your favorite berry or flavoring.

Almond Oatmeal Raspberry Muffins

1 ½ Cup All Purpose Flour
½ Cup Oats ( I use Bobs Red Mill thick cut oats and I process these in my mini food processor until they resemble small flakes—not quite oat flour)

¾ Cup Packed Light Brown Sugar
½ tsp. Kosher Salt
2 tsp. Baking Powder
1 tsp. Baking Soda
1 Cup Frozen Raspberries NOT THAWED
2 Large Eggs
½ tsp. Pure Almond Extract
½ Cup Buttermilk
5 TBS Melted Butter (unsalted)
3 TBS Almond Oil (or flavorless oil like Canola if you don’t have almond oil)

For Topping:
¼ Cup Softened Unsalted Butter
¼ Cup Light Brown Sugar
¼ Cup Oats (I pulse these in the food processor just a bit to reduce size)
¼ Cup All Purpose Flour
2 oz. Almond Paste (about ¼ cup—it doesn’t have to be exact), crumbled into small pieces

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place rack in middle of oven.
Lightly grease a 12-muffin tin or use paper liners.

In a small bowl, place topping ingredients and use a pastry blender or two forks to break up and mix until it forms a crumbly mixture (like crumbs on the top of crumb cake. Do not over mix. Set aside.

In a bowl, combine flour, oats, brown sugar, salt, baking powder and baking soda. Add frozen raspberries and toss to coat with flour mixture.
In another bowl, whisk together eggs, buttermilk, melted butter, almond oil and almond extract. Mixture will look curdled—that’s okay.

Add egg mixture to flour mixture (not topping mixture) and combine until all of the flour is moistened, being careful not to over mix but making sure all flour is incorporated. This should take just a few turns with a large fork or spatula. It’s really important not to over mix.

Using a large ice cream scoop or ladle, scoop batter into prepared muffin tin, filling two thirds full. Sprinkle topping mixture evenly over each muffin. Use your clean hand to press down on topping slightly so it adheres to batter.
Bake in preheated oven for 15-20 minutes, checking after 10 minutes to avoid burning muffin bottoms. Move to top rack if necessary for last few minutes of baking.

Remove from oven and let cool on wire rack. Once cooled completely, wrap muffins individually in plastic wrap and store in airtight container. They may be frozen, individually wrapped and then placed in freezer safe Ziploc bags.

***My Notes:
If you are not a fan of almonds, you can omit almond paste, almond extract and substitute almond oil with Canola oil. If you do this, I recommend you add vanilla extract in place of almond extract and when you prepare topping ingredients, add one teaspoon of cinnamon to flavor topping.

You may be wondering why I bother to put the oats through my food processor. Well, this is for two reasons. For starters, I want all of the health benefits oats have to offer but I am not a fan of lumpy, “oaty” baked goods. I have found that if I grind the oats, it allows them to cook more quickly and also allows for a smoother muffin or cookie. Secondly, I don’t see the need to buy several different kinds of oats, so I buy the good stuff—Bob’s Red Mill, Organic, Thick Cut Rolled Oats—and then I grind to suit my taste and for whatever baking application is required.

Blueberries are a great substitute for raspberries.

I have made this recipe several times with great success. If I have slivered almonds on hand, I will add about ¼ cup of those to the dry mixture and then add crushed slivered almonds to topping mixture (we like our nuts around here).

For my oven, I always have to watch muffins during the last minutes of baking because the bottoms darken too quickly. While experts might not recommend this, I often drop the temp to 375 once the muffins have puffed up and seem to need only a few more minutes of baking time. If you lower the temp too early in the baking cycle, your muffins will deflate, so I caution you, should you decide to try my unorthodox method.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

A Shiksa and Her Mixer

What's in a name, really?

I am unable to answer a question so often asked when I am in the company of like-minded, kitchen-educated bakers;
“What is your favorite cookie?”
It is not for the sake of diplomacy that I do not respond, but simply because I cannot pronounce the name of my favorite cookie
(if I dare call it a cookie at all). When pressured to answer by a brazen few, I have retorted with the names of second and third favorites. At times, I am overwhelmed by the guilt of my betrayal, forced to recall the very incident that rendered me silent in the presence of one delightful, little pastry.

Not so long ago I was employed by a pleasant bagel shop owner who was also a formidable home baker. Often, while fastening my spotted blue apron, in preparation for a days worth of schmearing butter and cream cheese, I would engage in idle chit-chat with her. We would discuss topics such as current weather patterns, the New York Mets, the knee pain so often inflicted by elliptical training equipment, and not surprisingly, baking.
Fully aware of conversational boundaries between boss and employee, I resisted the urge to request the recipe for her famous Black and Whites (also known as “half-moon” cookies). Hers were the size of luncheon plates and could almost hold a candle to the ones from Brooklyn, N.Y, I so fondly remember.
From time to time, I would transport my own baked goods from home to the bagel shop to share with fellow employees.

On one chilly Friday during a pre-holiday-shopping rush (it seems the whole world wants a hot buttered bagel to cushion the impending shock of retail prices), I hurriedly placed a red tin with a silver bow on the back counter where she kept her payroll books, time cards, and a bagel slicer. With no time to affix a card or label, I quickly headed to the front counter and called my first customer.
Hours later, when the last customer had gone and the bagel baskets contained only two pathetic, hole-less cinnamon raisins, she called me aside, thanked me for the tin and inquired about its contents.
“They’re Rugelach,” I told her.
She looked first at the tin and then at me. There was an awkward pause.
“Oh, how lovely.”
She smiled a genuine smile, but I knew there was more.
She hesitated.
“What did you call them?” She asked.
“Rooogle-ock,” I responded.
She laughed.
It was probably no more than a chuckle but what I heard (over and over again in my mind for the entire winter and until the first crocus bloomed) was a laugh not unlike Cruella DeVille’s.
She caught herself mid-chuckle and said
“I think you mean, Ruggle-ah.”
I processed this exchange for a moment.
I had given great consideration to the pronunciation of this name, based on my own limited knowledge of Rugelach, and the strange pronunciation my mother offered in an attempt to Italianize it
(which as a result came out sounding like my favorite bitter
green vegetable known to Americans as Broccoli Rabe,
or to my mother as “Roook-a-lee-Rob.”
Hence, my mother’s pronunciation for this pastry: “Roo-kaa-Laa.”).

My boss tried to ease my self-inflicted discomfort by explaining that she grew up eating this delightful pastry, and she had never personally tried to bake her own because she thought it impossible to recreate her grandmother’s specialty (ouch).
It was at this point that I proudly, but foolishly divulged my secret ingredient, believing that we—like minded women who enjoy baking but need to maintain a waistline—would be better served by a recipe which substituted whole grain flour for white flour, thus creating a more nutritional, albeit oddly-textured pastry.

“You made whole wheat Rugelach?” She asked in amusement and then laughed.
This time it really was the Cruella De Ville laugh.
I nodded.
In a state of giddy disbelief, she opened the tin and politely tasted one.
“Interesting,” she said (the kiss of death). “They’re good.”

The reality struck me like a cheap plastic guillotine splits a pumpernickel bagel.
I made whole wheat Rugelach for a woman who owns a bagel shop.
Oy. The absurdity.
I forced a smile and went back to work.
In the days that followed, out of total humiliation, I did a bit of my own half-baked research on the topic of Rugelach. I reviewed definitions, recipes and even stories dedicated to this delicious subject of mispronunciation.

One online resource offers this definition:
Rugelach (other spellings: Rugulach, Rugalach, Rogelach, Rugalah, Rugala) is a Jewish pastry of Ashkenazic origin.
It can be made with a cream cheese dough, but the dough is more typically pareve (no dairy ingredients), so that it can be eaten with or after a meat meal. The different fillings can include raisins, walnuts, cinnamon, chocolate, marzipan, or apricot preserves which are rolled up inside

Judging from the number of spellings associated with the name of this pastry, it’s no wonder that it is often the victim
of moniker-massacre.
What haunts me most about my dialogue on that ill-fated day at the bagel shop, is the feeling of inadequacy I experienced as I presented that infamous red tin.
Putting aside my whole-wheat flour faux-pas, I felt as though any Rugelach I may have presented would have been less than adequate, for the simple fact that I did not share a tradition with this pastry.
I suppose the reaction from my boss to my tin full of rugelach is no different than the reaction she might have received, had she presented my own grandmother with a bowl full of homemade meatballs.
Perhaps, if I hadn’t surrendered my maiden name (so often mispronounced as “Landau”) for the sake of marital bliss, I might have seemed more credible as a baker of Rugelach.

But this Shiksa and her mixer were ready to set the record straight.

After several attempts with only mediocre results, I stumbled upon a recipe that has become my gold-star standard for Rugelach.
It appears in Dorie Greenspan’s book,
Baking from My Home to Yours.
The recipe stands on its own merits but I must also give credit to the methods by which the author creates this light, flaky pastry. Her efficient use of the food processor and one clever tool she refers to as a dough rolling “slipcover,” is pure genius.
My first batch came out as perfectly as my tenth (and yes, I’ve made them that many times with as many filling variations).

Ironically, I never did present the new, improved variety to that bagel shop owner because I left that position to pursue my current one as CEO of Cookies at a rather drab but welcoming establishment.
Someday however, my current coworkers will have the pleasure of noshing on these delightful little pastries.
And when they ask me what they are called, I will simply remain silent and let the Rugleach speak for themselves.

Until Next Time,
Make Life Delicious
Share Your Food


From Dorie Greenspan’s
Baking From My Home to Yours

For The Dough:
4 oz. Cold Cream Cheese, cut into 4 pieces
1 Stick Cold Unsalted Butter, cut into 4 pieces
1 Cup All Purpose Flour
¼ tsp. Salt
(please note: I prefer a sweeter dough so I usually add 3 TBS sugar to flour)

For The Filling:
2/3 Cup Raspberry Jam or Apricot Jam or Marmalade
2 TBS Sugar
½ tsp Ground Cinnamon
¼ Cup Chopped Nuts—Pecans Preferred
¼ Cup Moist, Dried Currants (I’ve had success using raisins and dried cherries-chopped)

Optional: 4 oz. Bittersweet Chocolate finely chopped or 2/3 Cup Store-bought mini chocolate chips

For the Glaze:
1 Large Egg
1 tsp. Cold Water
2 TBS Coarse Sugar (Decorating Sugar, Sugar in the Raw)

To make the dough; let the cream cheese and butter rest on the counter for 10 minutes—you want them to be slightly softened but still cool.
Put the flour, salt (and sugar if using) in a food processor, scatter over the chunks of cream cheese and butter and pulse the machine 6 to 10 times. Then process scraping down the sides of the bowl often, just until the dough forms large curds—don’t work it so long that it forms a ball on the blade.
Turn the dough out, gather it into a ball and divide it in half. Shape each half into a disk, wrap the disks in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least two hours or up to one day (wrapped airtight, the dough can be frozen for up to two months).
To make the filling:
Heat the jam in a sauce pan over low heat, or do this in a microwave until it liquefies. Mix the cinnamon and sugar together.
Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

To Shape The Cookies:
Pull one packet of dough from the refrigerator. If it is too firm to roll easily, leave it on the counter for 10 minutes. If using dough slipcover, place unwrapped disk into slipcover and zip shut and roll as follows; Or, alternatively, on a lightly floured surface roll dough into an 11 inch circle (approximately). Brush a thin layer of jam over the surface of the dough and sprinkle over half of the cinnamon sugar. Scatter over half of the nuts and currants (or other dried fruit). If you are using chocolate, sprinkle half of chopped chocolate, or chips over dough. Cover the filling with a piece of wax paper and gently press the filling into the dough and then remove the wax paper. With a pizza wheel or sharp knife, cut the dough into 16 wedges or slices (as if you were cutting a pizza). The easiest way to do this is to cut the dough into quarters and then cut each quarter into four triangles. Starting at the base of each triangle, roll the dough up so that each cookie becomes a little crescent. Arrange the roll ups on one baking sheet, making sure the points are tucked under the cookies, and refrigerate. Repeat process with second disk of dough and remaining ingredients for filling. Refrigerate crescents for at least 30 minutes.
Position rack in center of oven and preheat oven to 350 degrees.

For Glaze:
Stir egg and water together. Brush a bit of glaze over each crescent. Sprinkle with coarse sugar.

Bake for 20 to 25 minutes until puffed and golden (rotate rack if necessary halfway through baking time). Transfer to cooling rack to cool. Serve just warm or at room temp.
These can be kept covered at room temperature for up to 3 days or wrapped airtight and frozen for up to 2 months.


***My Notes:
Dorie says you can bake two sheets at once if you rotate racks and watch carefully. Personally, I only bake one sheet at a time.
I prefer to omit the chocolate from my recipe. Dorie swears by this addition, so if you are a chocoholic like many, go for it.
My favorite filling is raspberry jam with a dash of extra cinnamon in the sugar mixture.

For those of you who aren’t purists and welcome an opportunity to make a healthier (and quite edible version), the Bob’s Red Mill Baking Book offers a recipe for Whole Wheat Rugelach.

As for the dough slipcover; I can’t imagine how I ever lived without it. I purchased my first one from an online resource (and paid way too much). I soon discovered that most kitchen stores carry these in their baking departments. They are often listed as “Pie Crust Makers” and look like round, zippered garment bags for pie crust. They come in a few sizes but I have found that the larger ones are always easier to use as they leave more room for rolling. They cost just dollars a piece and I recommend you buy more than one because they will eventually tear, split and lose zippability. Toss a pinch of flour into the slipcover before you place your dough in for rolling.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

The Bun Rises in the Yeast

A tale of rock stars
And pirates
And cowboys
Oh my.

My son is thirteen. If you have teenagers (or if you know any) then in all likelihood, you are familiar with the evils of instant messaging, Guitar Hero and mall food.
Not surprisingly, I am most bothered by the latter.
I can rationalize instant messaging because although more technologically advanced, it is not unlike my own adolescent obsession with one totally cool, purple, push-button phone.
And I am not one to argue with timeless teenage rites of passage, which always include aspirations to achieve rock stardom.
From my own parental perspective, virtual guitar gaming seems harmless compared to alternative game options targeted at today’s teen market.
But, mall food?
This is the fly in my frosting.
In my home, where meals are prepared daily, it pains me to think that if the opportunity came knocking, my son would sooner choose the boxed or bagged variety from the nearest food court, over quality home cooking.
I have tried to recreate some of his commercial favorites using healthier ingredients but this, although an admirable ambition, is as easy a task as nailing Jell-o to a tree.
For those of you who don’t know this, fast food tastes so good because it’s so bad. Through the eyes of my teenager (the hater), poor quality ingredients are what make for a
happy meal (ignore the pun).
On occasion, I will accept defeat, drive to his favorite haunt and deliver a hot box of free-radical-chaos to his snack tray.
If only for a day, I will have achieved rock star status in his eyes.

As each day passes in my challenging role as mother-of-a-teenager, I struggle to grasp the very last ounce of coolness I once thought eternal.
If not for a recent weekend kitchen experiment, I might have prematurely crossed over the threshold to becoming the mom who misuses nouns like crib, hood and thong.

On a cold, cloudy Sunday, not so long ago, I was desperate for distraction from the Jekyll and Hyde performance that was about to begin in my once-welcoming TV room. This was an event that would occur weekly and last for four months of Sundays. Each week, it began right around the time the Dallas Cowboys took the field and ended with a final whistle. What occurred between the beginning and the end was nothing short of classic, late night TV psycho-drama.
A husband and a son, who were once friendly fellows, morphed into
ill-mannered creatures whose language and behavior were nothing short of primitive and barbaric.
Experience has taught me to fear the deafening sounds of defeat.

And so, when the going got tough, I made my escape from
the man-cave and headed for the kitchen.
I sifted through a pile of recipes I affectionately refer to as
my “Try-it, Don’t Buy-it” recipes.
These are recipes which offer bootleg versions of popular commercial products. I hesitate to use the term “pirated,” because unlike the controversy surrounding pirated music, these are not the actual recipes used by fast food chains and commercial bakeries. These are instead, recipes which have been created by
food-science-geeks turned food-detectives (turned rock stars in my eyes), who taste and dissect the product and then create recipes which include hypothetical ingredients with best-guess directions.
I have no factual knowledge to support the claim I am about to make but, based on personal experience, I would guess that at least seventy percent of these recipes are complete failures--when compared to their commercial originals. That is not to say however, that none of these deserve their own index card in the recipe file. Some are simply good recipes but unfortunately, bear little resemblance to their commercial counterparts.

As I leafed through the pile, I happened upon a recipe that had notations in red pen in my own handwriting. It was a recipe for Cinnamon Rolls that I had apparently, intended to make for my son’s birthday (which came and went since the original notations were made). My motivation for choosing this recipe was likely for reasons both selfish and economical. If I could recreate his favorite
food-court dessert, I would not only be his rock-star mom (again), but I would save the six bucks I more-than-occasionally spend on such cinnamony indulgences. It was a win-win opportunity (and judging from the primal sounds coming from the TV room, we needed a win for the home-team).
As I reviewed the recipe in its entirety, it became painfully clear to me why I hadn’t made it sooner; it was a yeast-based recipe. Yeast and I share a rather tumultuous past. Any good bread maker will tell you that a yeast-dough requires the baker to be both attentive and patient.
I am not patient.
To date, my only success worth repeating is a loaf of buttermilk bread that requires few ingredients and only a modicum of patience. The too-flat focaccias and brick-hard boules of my past send me running to the nearest market with nary a complaint about the high price of Ecce Panis.

But here I stood, ready to fight the good fight for the sake of the home team (and the right to trade my apron for a leather jacket, if only for a day).
I followed the recipe to the letter and when I read the sentence directing me to “cover and let rise until doubled,” I could feel beads of perspiration gather upon my forehead.
Surely, I was doomed for failure.
The directions that followed however, allowed me to sympathize with the same dough I once feared.
Punch down and let rise again.”
What a cruel twist of fate. Was it not enough that this energetic, elastic mass fought once to reach the top of its Pyrex coliseum? Need I be the one to administer the crushing blow that would deflate its rollier-than-thou ego?
Surely, if this dough could rise above defeat, so would I.
I clenched my buttery fist and punched it down.
And I waited.
Together we would rise again.

After what seemed like an eternity, I reached the rolling-out stage of the recipe. This offered a challenge greater than I had expected, simply because dough never seems to take the shape or measurement that a recipe directs it to. Nevertheless, my oddly shaped rectangle, spread with cinnamony, creamy, sweetness, sliced up into what clearly resembled cinnamon rolls.
After a third and final rising, they were baked into pale golden buns, spiraled with cinnamon sugar filling and then crowned with a rich, creamy frosting.
I marveled at their beauty and stood speechless for a moment.

The sound of cheering broke my peaceful silence and two happy Jekylls, tempted by the wafting aroma of spicy sweetness, left the man-cave for a half-time snack break.
They stopped short at the counter where a baking pan filled with frosted golden pillows of cinnamon goodness, was perched upon a not-so-steady cooling rack.
We shared an impromptu moment of silence and my son, as most teenagers do, held back any enthusiasm he might have felt at the sight of a familiar favorite.
It made no difference however, because four cinnamon rolls and a half-gallon of milk later, I knew victory was mine.
Score one for the home team.

With only a few minutes of half-time remaining, I was personally invited by my son to be the sole audience member for a father-son Guitar Hero competition. As I listened and watched, amused by their ambitious (and sometimes even recognizable) renditions of rock classics, a thought occurred to me.
I wouldn't be needing that leather jacket after all.

Until Next Time,
Make Life Delicious
Share Your Food


I encourage you to try this recipe which was sent via email by a friend of a friend. I do not recall his name and I never did get the opportunity to thank him. Nonetheless, he has earned rock star status around these parts, because the recipe is that good.
It is a bit labor-intensive so, it’s best saved for a weekend when you need a delicious distraction.

Rockin’ Cinnamon Rolls
(makes 16 -20 large rolls)

For Rolls:
½ Cup Warm Water
2 Pkgs. Dry Yeast
2 TBS Sugar
3.5 oz Box Vanilla Pudding Mix-- plus ingredients on box necessary to complete
½ Cup Margarine –melted
2 Large Eggs
1 tsp. Salt
6 Cups All Purpose Unbleached Flour

For Filling:
1 Cup Soft Butter
2 Cups Light Brown Sugar
4 tsp. Cinnamon

For Frosting:
8 oz. Philly Cream Cheese
½ Cup Margarine
1 tsp. Pure Vanilla Extract
3 Cups Confectioners Sugar
1 TBS Milk

In a bowl, combine warm water, yeast and sugar. Stir until dissolved and set aside (after a few minutes, you should notice yeast foaming, which indicates it is active. If yeast does not “bloom” at all, you may need to start again with new yeast).
In large bowl, take pudding mix and prepare according to package directions. Add margarine, eggs and salt. Mix well. Then add yeast mixture to pudding mixture. Blend well.
Gradually add flour to mixture. Mix until flour is incorporated. Knead mixture until smooth (on a very lightly floured surface. It is important not to over-flour the dough, you want a soft, moist dough that is smooth and elastic). Place in a large greased bowl. Cover with plastic wrap or a clean dish towel and let rise until doubled. Punch down dough and let rise again.

Roll dough out onto a lightly floured board to a rectangle approximately
34” x 21” in size. Mix brown sugar and cinnamon together. Spread soft butter over surface of dough evenly, sprinkle with cinnamon sugar mixture. Roll up rectangle starting at the wide end closest to you. Roll away from you and be sure to roll tightly. With a sharp knife, put a small notch every 2 inches. Cut slices with floss or sharp knife (unflavored dental floss works great for this). Place rolls on parchment lined baking sheet about 2 inches apart. With a clean hand, use your palm to press down on each roll to flatten slightly. Cover again and let rise until doubled in size.

Bake at 350 degrees for 15 to 20 minutes. Remove from oven when rolls start to turn golden—DO NOT OVER BAKE.

Mix all frosting ingredients together until smooth. Frost warm rolls with Cream Cheese Frosting.

Thank the heavens for clever food scientists turned rock stars.


Sunday, November 11, 2007

The Yen is Mightier Than the Gourd

When insatiable desire presents itself, sometimes need
trumps the importance of breed.
Get your mind out of the gutter, I’m talking about dessert.

The pumpkin patch is a happy place. It is for this reason that brooding teens are best left in the rear seats of mini-vans, to sulk in their zippered hoodies, ears corked by foam buds
blaring the timeless messages that
(1) they are misunderstood, and
(2) parents are stupid people.
I offer no further explanation for why my front porch is devoid of my favorite, edible representation of fall’s abundant harvest.
We are pumpkin-less.

More than a decade ago, when I first ascended my
culinary-high-horse, I adopted a strict set of policies and procedures by which I intended to create my self-proclaimed masterpieces of gastronomic perfection (and as a side note, I was just as ambitious during the first week of my South Beach Diet days). Some of these self-imposed standards included the following:
(1) The use of only pure vanilla extract and never the imitation variety (I still stand firmly by this rule).
(2) The use of real butter (unsalted) and never margarine or shortening (I waver on this rule). And,
(3) Never substituting fresh fruit or produce with the likes of frozen, dehydrated or dare I say, canned variety (this rule flew out the same proverbial pie that those notorious blackbirds inhabited).

Longer than two decades ago, I was introduced to my first pumpkin pie by the grandmother of a dear friend.
I had never tasted pumpkin pie in my own home because my mother never fed her children anything she personally disliked. Her distaste for all things pumpkin led five children to believe that it was food
fit only for backyard squirrels.
I credit her with sparing me a childhood full of lima beans and I blame her for the missed opportunities to delight in the sweet, iconic symbol of Thanksgiving deliciousness (after all, I have to blame her for something).

I remember that first forkful of pumpkin pie as if it were yesterday. The silky creaminess of spicy pumpkin filling combined with dollops of fresh, whipped cream (sans sugar), nestled upon a flaky, buttery crust was nothing short of a religious experience. It was pure heaven (and truth be told, if I found out that Heaven was in fact, a pumpkin patch, I would be totally okay with that).
In the years that followed, my mother would add a commercially baked pumpkin pie to her Thanksgiving table as a kind gesture to those who were, in her opinion, crazy enough to eat squirrel food.
Not one of those pies however, offered the same taste experience as that very first pie.
My need to recreate that pie haunted me until I surrendered.
After some rotary-dialed, sugar-coated dialogue, I was the proud recipient of Grandma Teresa’s original recipe for Pumpkin Pie.
A short time later, on a not-so-busy Saturday, I set out for the
farm stand (Teresa’s recipe specifically noted that fresh pumpkin be used to make the pie) and then the market, believing I was only a few hours away from pure pumpkin perfection.

I will not burden you with all of the unpleasant details of what transpired in the hours that followed. I will however, share the worst of those details, because misery does in fact, love company.

The experience of hacking my own pumpkin for the purpose of pie and not to illuminate the face of a squash named Jack, was not as rewarding as I had hoped. The task of removing every last morsel of pulpy, orange flesh from a once happy, yet now humpty-dumptied gourd, was daunting if not disturbing.
But the next step of pumpkin-pulp-preparation necessary to recreate Teresa’s award winning pie, forced me to rethink my aforementioned policies and procedures.
Following the instructions which appeared in my own
chicken-scratch on a leafy-patterned dessert napkin, I set out to separate the pumpkin seeds from the pumpkin flesh. The first cluster of seeds was easily dislodged and required little effort. When I reached the slimier, stringier pulp however, I was immediately reminded of an awful day in my long ago past that I thought I had blocked from my challenged, middle-aged memory.
It was a day that that involved one third-grader with an ear ache (me), in an elementary school nurses office, during a mandatory
lice-inspection of two, extremely unhappy, long-haired twin sisters.
I wanted no more to wrestle seeds from pulp with my kitchen-fork, than I would have wanted to take hold of that metal comb and offer assistance to the school nurse.
It was at this moment that I was knocked from my high-horse and sent running with open arms to a pantry shelf full of Libby’s.

I am no quitter however, and I made that pie from
labor-intensive start to somewhat-disappointing finish. It was a success in both appearance and taste but it paled in comparison to that first pie of my formerly pumpkin-pieless youth.
Perhaps that pie is best left to the grandmothers who don’t flinch at the sight of sacrificial squash. I would imagine these might be the same folk who, back in the day, not-so-innocently named their fowl friends before hacking their heads off. Their resilience and bravery in the kitchen rewards them tenfold in the flavor and quality of the meals they prepare.

But I belong to a different generation of culinary
un-professionals. It is with my head held high that I have decided to accept a pie of slightly compromised texture, for the sake of instant gratification and fear-less preparation.
These days, when I have a yen for pumpkin pie (or anything pumpkiny and sweet), I turn to my reliable resource—canned pumpkin. It offers consistent quality and flavor
and requires no power tools or remorse.

And in these chaotic times, when porches are without pumpkins, pantries are without pies, and when misunderstood teens need new opportunities to connect with stupid parents, it seems obvious that the yen is indeed mightier than the gourd.

Until Next Time,
Make Life Delicious
Share Your Food


It is my pleasure to share with you a favorite family recipe for Pumpkin Cheesecake. This was my mother-in-law, Joan’s Thanksgiving specialty and it never fails to please. I’ve even known the occasional pumpkin-hater to enjoy it (long after she has fed her own pumpkin to the squirrels).

Joan’s Pumpkin Cheesecake

1 Cup Graham Cracker Crumbs
1Cup + 2 TBS Sugar divided
2 8oz. Pkgs. Philly Cream Cheese
6 TBS Unsalted Butter melted
1 16 oz Can Pumpkin (not pumpkin pie filling)
1 tsp. Cinnamon
¼ tsp. Ginger
¼ tsp. Nutmeg
½ tsp. salt
2 Large Eggs
1 Pint Sour Cream
1 tsp. Pure Vanilla Extract

Mix cracker crumbs with 2 TBS sugar and melted butter, place in buttered spring form pan making sure to cover bottom of pan and slightly up the sides of the pan. Pack down slightly with your fingers. Bake at 350 degrees for about 8 minutes. Remove from oven and set aside.
Beat cream cheese and ¾ cup sugar until smooth. Add canned pumpkin, spices and salt. Add eggs one at a time and beat until well incorporated. Pour mixture into spring form pan over crust and place pan on sturdy baking sheet. Bake at 350 degrees for 50 minutes (don’t worry if top is cracked). Remove from oven and raise oven temperature to 400 degrees. Mix sour cream with vanilla and ¼ cup sugar. Spread sour cream mixture on top of cake. Place back in to oven and bake for 8 to 10 minutes more. Let cool completely on wire rack. When cool, run a knife around spring form and remove from sides of pan (leaving spring form base intact). Chill cake completely before serving.
**For serving—I recommend whipping a pint of cold, heavy cream until soft peaks form and dolloping onto cake just before serving. If you prefer a sweet cream, you may place cool whip or sweetened whipped cream (stiff peaks are necessary for this) into a piping bag and decorate cake accordingly.
Sprinkle cake with chopped or slivered nuts (we like chopped, candied pecans).

**For a delightful, easy pumpkin pie recipe—find your can of Libby’s and have at it (the recipe is on the label).

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Remember to Say Cheese and Thank You

Cheese. My drug of choice.

Just as I am turning the page from October’s over-saturated grid to a November full of time and possibility, I am reminded that I owe the month of November a healthy dose of gratitude.
Like many, I am encouraged to recall my blessings as an American in celebration of Thanksgiving Day.
Unlike most (and no one else I know personally), I am encouraged to recall my blessings as a wife, in celebration of my wedding anniversary. A joyous day full of fuzzy details that occurred almost decades ago on a cold, rainy Friday immediately following one huge turkey dinner.
As I sit in quiet reflection, I offer praise for all the goodness life has shown me thus far. I am reminded of that happy day, the celebration of our union as husband and wife, and I am left with a burning question;
Why wasn’t there cheese at our wedding?

Few things in life (and take note, I said things), make me happier than cheese. It is for this very reason that I am plagued with regret over a missed opportunity so many years ago.

Some brides wish for horse drawn carriages, while others might demand world travel to satisfy honeymoon tradition. I ask only that we turn back the clock and sneak in a cheese course.

Wedding tradition in my almost-long-ago past, did not routinely include the services of a wedding planner. Hubby and I, with the help of our parents, did the “planning.”
Based on my knowledge today, we were ahead of the game for the simple facts that he wore matching socks and I managed to shave both legs in the same day.
But the knowledge of those sometimes painful truths that accompany married life was not available to us on that feted day. Instead, we were jaded by the promise of a perfect life together and blinded by an all-inclusive package-deal that included everything.
Everything, but a cheese course.

I sometimes wonder though if a higher power had a hand in the omission of this course from our menu, knowing full well that I would be forever challenged by my incurable addiction.
It all began so innocently…

I was raised in a home where Mozzarella was a staple item, as familiar to our refrigerator as butter and eggs.
One of my fondest childhood memories recalls a precise orchestration of ingredients including toasted Thomas’ English muffins, mother’s Marinara sauce and glorious, gooey Mozzarella. It was love at first bite and like most addicts-to-be, I wanted too much of a good thing.
At a painful point in my adolescence, my muffin supply was cut off and I was forced to find a replacement (sans nooks and crannies).
I turned to the evils of white bread and soon discovered a device (lurking in my mother's pantry) that, when placed over an open flame, would seal the ingredients forming a pocket of melty deliciousness. Bite after oozy bite would result in unnaturally giddy behavior. This unusual cast-iron contraption was known to my family as a ‘Toas-Tite,’ and it wasn’t until I had experimented with the likes of Swiss, Muenster, Havarti, Gruyere, and even some of the hard stuff like Pecorino, that it was finally removed from my mother’s kitchen, in an effort to stop the madness (rumor has it that it currently resides with a more disciplined sister in North Carolina).

By the time I was in my late teens, I had ignored all of the warning signs and instead headed down a darker path.
On a cold, December day at a ski shop by which I was employed, I passed the point of no return when I agreed to experience Fondue. This was the pinnacle moment when I realized that a life without cheese isn’t a life worth living at all. The symphonic blend of three cheeses and fine wine was pure magic to my palate. I could only hope to master such wizardry.
I would soon come to depend on the cheap conveniences of Sterno and Laughing Cow.

At one of my lowest points (or more likely, my highest), I would suffer from occasional hallucinations. At times I would imagine myself elbow-deep in curds and whey, surrounded by all forms of cheese paraphanalia. Other times I would imagine being in the company of master cheese-makers in some top-secret location, being taught how to smoke a Gouda.

As a young adult, and once I started dating, I mastered the art of deception. I would often cheese-binge on weekdays and come date night, my companions were none the wiser. If I really needed a fix, I might order a low-key Swiss omelet or perhaps a cheeseburger deluxe at the local diner, allowing little cause for suspicion or interrogation (every addict knows that the hard stuff is best left for home consumption).

I would like to say that my addiction came to a crashing halt once I met my husband, but as most enablers do, he married me and my dirty little secret, and we spoke not a word of it.

But as children so often have the uncanny ability to unlock closets we once thought secure, and acquaint themselves with unfriendly skeletons, my secret was exposed on one sunny, Sunday morning.
I awoke rather late, to what seemed like an ambush of questioning. They grew alarmed at my inability to recall key details from my cousin’s wedding the night before. Which, I am told was, for me, a wild night of binging on the likes of rice balls, eggplant rollatini and chicken Cordon Bleu (it turns out that I am most vulnerable to methods which include rolling and heating).

And so, that was the day my out-in-the-open battle began. At first, I was angry. But now I realize that I am a better person for having my addiction. I am a more compassionate person, especially to others who fight this same demon (Chicago Lefty, are you out there?). And because this addiction shows no bias, I have crossed paths with those I might have never met, if not for cheese. We are everywhere, from quiet corners of PTA luncheons, to deserted sample-stations at markets and wholesale clubs, and even behind the mahogany desks of fifth-floor corporations.

Now, almost two decades later, I am faced with the daunting responsibility of scheduling yearly physicals whose results often challenge my daily choices. With the support of my physician I am putting forth the effort to manage my addiction. But I make no promises. For me, cheese is pure joy.
I will deal with the urges one tray at a time.

And getting back to the subject of blessings; personally, there are many for which I owe gratitude. It is only in jest that I suggest we turn back the clock. The fact is, even if the opportunity presented itself, I wouldn’t rewrite my own history or change the details of our happy wedding day.
Life has its potholes (Wait, stop there. Sorry, but, as a result of my addiction, as I type the word “potholes,” I immediately envision a road made of Swiss cheese); so, let’s move away from the pothole metaphor…

Life presents us with the good, the bad and the ugly. It is we who determine what matters most.
For the month of November and especially on Thanksgiving Day, I am determined to recall and reflect upon my blessings. When I am asked for whom I am most thankful, my list will include my loving family, friends and neighbors. But if the opportunity presents itself to recall some thing that has made a significant impact on my life,
I will remember to say Cheese, and Thank You.

Until Next Time,
Make Life Delicious
Share Your Food


At the risk of enabling others, I have decided not to post a recipe.
I will offer only this advice:
Where scrambled eggs are concerned, I think Swiss is king. It has flavor and meltability bar none.
For a quick, delightful burger, my favorite combination includes a toasted bagel in your flavor of choice—I prefer onion, poppy or everything (and in this case the frozen-in-the-bag market brand works best because there is a balanced bagel-to-beef ratio), with an all beef burger, topped with melted Muenster cheese and grilled onions—if you’re not a fan of onions, a healthy portion of sprouts offers a close second (alfalfa is my choice). Finally, top it off with your favorite condiments (mine include ketchup, a smattering of mayo and those bread ‘n butter pickle slices).
As for the hole in the bagel, not surprisingly it requires melted cheese on both sides to avoid juicy drips.

And there are so many more…but, I’d better stop there.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Don't Judge a Cook by its Mother

Sometimes, it isn’t so much a shortcut as it is the right path to take.

My mother is a wonderful cook. I’m not sure how she arrived at this post because my loving grandmother, admittedly, disliked all manners of cooking and baking. That is not to say she wasn’t capable (and I’ve had the meatballs to prove it), she just avoided the task whenever possible.

In the decades I have known my mother, I have few recollections if any, of her consulting a cookbook or recipe card. She worked off a cache of tried and true recipes whose ingredients lists and directions were safely imbedded in her brain. This is a gift indeed, but not uncommon to those who have been cooking for the better part of a lifetime.
My mother is gifted however, by the simple fact that she always engages in stress-free cooking. And I mean always. Whether she is hosting an impromptu Saturday breakfast for a hoard of hungry grandchildren, or providing a five course spread for a daughter’s wedding rehearsal dinner, her feathers remain unruffled. And while we’re on the subject of feathers, she is the only woman I know who goes to the market the day before Thanksgiving to purchase everything but Tom Turkey (who is already comfortably defrosting). One would never know that her menu wasn’t planned weeks in advance by the ease and consistent temperature at which it is delivered.

Enter neurotic daughter.
My mother is amused by me. I know this because I have the uncanny ability to interpret her thoughts simply by observing her eyebrows. I’m not kidding.
I think she was most amused during a period of my chocolate madness which involved the exhausting production of truffles. Not just any truffles mind you; the kind of truffles that involve east-end vacationing sisters to lug eleven-pound blocks of Callebaut chocolate to my doorstep. A doorstep obstructed by UPS packaging which contained the likes of one four-hundred-dollar Chocovision tempering machine and four books dedicated to the methods and practices of home candymaking. A period from which I am still recovering, financially, emotionally and spiritually. (Yes, spiritually; if you’ve had the religious experience so commonly associated with the consumption of one of my homemade truffles, you would not question me).
My mother is also a woman of prayer. She has been since I’ve known her. What concerns me however is that she started praying a whole lot harder when I started cooking. I would like to believe this is merely a coincidence, but I have traced the advent of her attendance at daily mass to right around the time I attempted to broil a whole roast.
It was on the very day my new, electric oven was installed. I phoned her for motherly advice and called her several times more, in panic mode, because said roast remained undercooked (and oddly grey), and hubby was headed home from work with visions of a gourmet meal dancing in his head. She walked me back through the paces of roast preparation and once she was out of solutions, determined that my new oven might in fact, be defective.
If only this were true.
I reluctantly referred to my unopened owner’s manual, only to discover that I had in fact, placed a nineteen dollar roast in my oven’s utility drawer. A drawer intended for the likes of pots, pans and the occasional culinary gadget.
It was from this very day forward that my love affair with the written word (in the form of cookbooks and manuals) began.
I live in a different home now and not surprisingly, I own a gas oven whose broiler function resides within the main oven compartment (there is no drawer to speak of).

Getting back to the subject of my mother’s amusement; if I had to sum it up, I would say that she is most entertained (and I would guess, perplexed) by the fact that I often take the longest, most difficult and costly road to arrive at a destination which offers a much simpler path.
I recall in my seemingly-long-ago childhood, that my mother bestowed holiday gifts of homemade confections upon aunts, uncles, friends and neighbors. One of these confections in particular stands out in my mind (like a flashing neon sign) simply because of its ridiculous, if not unfair moniker. It was called Garbage.
It was a delightfully sweet combination of chocolate, nuts, raisins and probably more ingredients I am too old to recall, but reminiscent of a long ago favorite—the Chunky Bar.
It proudly wore its title because the easy concoction offered the kitchen-sink concept of cooking—that is to throw everything but the kitchen sink into the mix hoping it will taste good.

And my friends, this is where the apple does fall far from the apple tree. So much so, that I am determined to believe that I am in fact, an orange and not an apple at all.

Only a confident woman (and by confidence, I am referring not only to culinary ability but to confidence of self as well), would present a gift by this name without so much as furrowing one single brow (and where my mother’s brows are concerned, this single, furrowed expression would suggest that she is unsure of how to interpret the reaction of the recipient).
Clearly I am not this confident woman.
Despite the fact that her garbage was quite tasty (and we all
licked enough fingers to support this claim), if it were I who crafted such confections (and come to think of it, I have), my first orders of business would include (and not necessarily in this order): changing the name to one that offers a visual interpretation free of debris, replacing the pedestrian variety of chocolate called for with an expensive European brand (thus rendering this economical form of gift giving, not so economical after all), and purchasing the holiday-appropriate, color-coordinated, commercially inspired packaging that speaks nothing of home kitchen production, for these newly-named confections (Martha be damned).
And one wonders why the holiday season is so stressful for some of us.

The fact may be that we are just different.
But my mother’s who-cares-what-it’s-called-as-long-as-it-tastes-good philosophy is one I can only aspire to live by.
I long for the day when I will sit with my holiday guests, free of the did-I-buy-the-right-gift-is-my-house-clean-enough-is-the-turkey-too-dry worries.
I know that I won’t be putting away the cookbooks any time soon. This is not only because of my love for and obsession with culinary format, but also because I haven’t yet gained enough of my own kitchen wisdom to call upon in a time of need.

Perhaps my road is indeed, the road less traveled. What I have discovered in my recent past is that there are signs along the way. Signs pointing us in the direction of an easier, more scenic path. One that allows us the luxury of time and the sweet sensation of calm. And one that inevitably points us in the direction of home, where the apple tree stands.

Until Next Time,
Make Life Delicious
Share Your Food


In the spirit of easy-yet-delicious recipes, my intention was to offer my mother’s recipe for GARBAGE. However, I was unable to reach her by phone to obtain said recipe, because she was at church.

So, I am instead posting a delightful little recipe for the worlds easiest truffles. I sampled these at a holiday cookie swap and I was shocked to find out just how easy they are to prepare. Although I am unsure of the origin of this recipe, these were presented by my friend Lisa, to whom I am also thankful for showing me an easier, less-complicated path.
These are a kid-favorite and just might allow you enough time this holiday season to crack open that bottle of Peppermint Schnapps you've been meaning to get to.

Easy OREO Truffles
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 1 hr. 30 minutes
Yields 3 ½ Dozen or 42 servings

1 Pkg. (1lb. 2 oz) OREO Chocolate Sandwich Cookies
1 Pkg. (8 oz.) Philadelphia Brand Cream Cheese, softened
2 Pkg. (8 oz. each) Baker’s Semi-Sweet Baking Chocolate

Crush 9 of the cookies to fine crumbs in a food processor; reserve for later use (cookies can also be crushed in a Ziploc bag using a rolling pin). Crush remaining 36 cookies to fine crumbs; place in a medium sized bowl. Add cream cheese, mix until well blended. Roll cookie mixture into 42 balls, about 1 inch in diameter.
Melt Bakers chocolate in a heat proof bowl over a pot of shallow, simmering water (or use the top of a double boiler.—alternatively you may melt the chocolate in the microwave). When chocolate is melted, allow it to sit for about a minute to cool only slightly. Dip balls in chocolate to coat completely; place on a baking sheet covered with waxed paper. Sprinkle dipped confections with reserved crumbs while still warm. Refrigerate until firm—about one hour. Store leftover truffles, covered, in refrigerator (trust me, there won’t be any left over).

***And for those of you who have the time and would like to try your hand at making elegant confections, I can’t say enough good things about my favorite author on the subject of candymaking; Carole Bloom--who wrote a book called Truffles, Candies & Confections in 1992 which in my opinion, offers the standard by which all homemade candy should be made.
Her directions are user-friendly and her methods offer consistent results, time after time. If you are lucky enough to get your hands on a copy of this book, I urge you to try her recipe for Espresso Caramels.