Saturday, November 20, 2010

Thanksgiving Mania Begins

My family loves cranberries of all kinds at Thanksgiving. We always had to have both the whole berry kind and the kind that comes out shaped like a can. Actually, we have to have 2 cans of the jellied kind every year because once, in the 40 year history of my Thanksgivings, my mother forgot to get the jellied kind and ever since then, someone always brings an emergency, back-up can.

One year I decided to get all fancy and make the whole berry sauce from scratch, which is when I discovered that making cranberry sauce from scratch is idiot simple. So after the first year when I just used the recipe on the bag, I started playing with the recipe and this is what I make now.


  • 2 tangerines    
  • ¾ cup sugar    
  • 1-12 oz. package of fresh cranberries    
  • 1 tbsp crystallized ginger


Slice the crystallized ginger into thin strips. Zest the oranges and juice them. Add enough water to the orange juice to make 1 cup total. Add sugar, zest, ginger, and orange juice to a saucepan and bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. Cook it until it is the consistency you like. If you prefer your berries almost fresh, take it off the heat as soon as they pop (about 5 minutes.) if you like a much more jelly-like sauce, cook it down for 15. Pour the sauce into a bowl, let it cool down to room temperature and then refrigerate until Thanksgiving.


The first year I made this, I got out my fancy zester and made the long, pretty orange zest curls. The flavor was great but a few members of my family mentioned that they didn't taste so great. So now I use my vegetable peeler and cut off big sheets at a time that are much easier to avoid biting into. If you are putting this sauce on a Thanksgiving table that strives to look like it came from the pages of Gourmet Magazine, go for the fancy curls. If your family is more into power eating than appearance, go for the big sheets of zest.

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Sunday, August 1, 2010

A Lovely Bunch of… Cucumbers

It's summer in Baltimore which means an abundance of cucumbers. And when I have cucumbers, I think Greek food.

Chicken Souvlaki

Note: this recipe works just as well for pork or beef.


  • 2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • 1/2 cup plain yogurt
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 tsp course black pepper
  • 1 tbsp fresh oregano, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, smashed
  • 1 lemon, zested and juiced


Mix the yogurt, olive oil, lemon juice, lemon zest, garlic, salt, and pepper. Reserve 1/4 cup of the yogurt mixture in a separate bowl. Cut the chicken into 1" cubes and add to yogurt mixture. Refrigerate for at least 3 hours. Skewer chicken and brush with olive oil. Cook on a hot grill for 3 or 4 minutes per side. Brush the reserved marinade on the chicken after you flip them. Serve on grilled pita or naan with tzatziki sauce and feta cheese.

One thing I am not especially fond of is runny tzatziki so while I am draining the excess moisture from the cucumbers, I put my yogurt in a coffee filter in another strainer to drain out the excess whey.

Tzatziki Sauce

Note: Spring for the Greek yogurt. You can really taste the difference in this recipe.


  • 1 cup (or 1 container) plain Greek yogurt
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 tsp course black pepper
  • 1 tbsp fresh oregano, chopped
  • 1 cloves garlic, pressed or minced very finely
  • 1 medium to large cucumber


On the largest side of a box grater, grate the cucumber. Sprinkle with salt and place in a colander or strainer for at least half an hour to drain the excess water. Mix the yogurt, olive oil, salt, pepper, and garlic. Add shredded cucumber and refrigerate for at least half an hour.

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Saturday, July 31, 2010

Howard County Shopping Odyssey

I set out this afternoon to fill a prescription and ended up with a bag of empanadas, and that's why I love Howard County. I walked into the Target at Long Gate and was immediately greeted with good news.

The idea of being able to get my Target shopping and grocery shopping done all at once is something I have been looking forward to for a very long time. While I was waiting for my prescription, I was wandering the aisles (always dangerous) and remembered that I needed a new 12" frying pan. But I was disappointed in what I found at Target, nothing seemed to be decent enough quality to justify the price. So after I finished at the pharmacy, I headed down Route 1 to see what I could find at Sysco, the restaurant supply store.

Too bad I forgot they close early on Saturday and it was almost 4pm. But since I was there, I decided to wander through the flea market and maybe grab something to eat. Sadly, the flea market was closing up too with most of the stalls already covered in tarps and the food court in the process of shutting down, watched over by My Little Militia Melanie.

Since we were already on Route 1 and had run out of coffee this morning, we headed over to MOM's to grab a bag of Zeke's but when we got

there, we realized we were far too hungry to go inside a grocery store so we headed around the corner to Pollo Fuego to eat our body weight in plantains and some chicken too. Stuffed full of Peruvian poultry goodness, we were able to get out of MOM's with just the bare necessities; coffee, half and half, and garlic powder.

As I was pulling out of the parking lot, I remembered reading on HowChow that the Latin market across the street sold frozen empanadas. I haven't had a decent empanada since Produce Galore went out of business so I have been eager to get over there. I wandered around, looking through all the freezer cases but no empanadas. I resigned myself to the terrible fate of buying fresh-baked empanadas and having to eat them immediately and ordered a bunch from the really friendly employee at the counter. I asked her about the frozen ones and she explained they keep them in the back, you just have to ask. Good to know for next time. I got the chicken, beef, ham and cheese, and spinach flavor so I will know which ones to stock the freezer with.

Bonus: they had a flavor of Goya soda I had never seen before.It smells like Worchester sauce but it really does taste like carbonated sangria, which is to say it tastes really good.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Remembrance of Restaurants Past

I finally made it to Bon Fresco and while enjoying an excellent Italian sandwich I couldn't help but think of my favorite sandwich of all time, The Giacomo, from the now closed Italian grocery and deli Giacomo's that used to be back by T-Bonz in Ellicott City. I've tried to reproduce this sandwich at home but somehow I never get it right. It's a combination of Italian deli meats (prosciutto and salami and something else), a layer of ricotta, and sliced green olives on focaccia. The first time I went there, I made the mistake of commenting out loud how odd that sandwich sounded and the owner convinced me to give it a try, promising if it wasn't the best sandwich I ever ate, he would give me any other sandwich on the menu for free the next time I came in. I never got to take him up on that because I never ordered any other sandwich.

That got me to thinking about other dishes I loved at restaurants that are now history. Back in the late 80s, there was a restaurant downtown called Café Park Plaza. They had a dish on the menu called Shrimp Angel that was basically a bowl of garlic and wine sauce with big shrimps in it. It may have been an appetizer and that was all to it. It might have been an entrée and come with pasta. I really don't remember because I always ate it the same way; scooped up with big hunks of fresh bread. I couldn't name one other thing they had on the menu and we ate there at least once a month for over a year.

Right down the street from Café Park Plaza was another icon in the Baltimore restaurant scene in the 80s, Gampy's. Now you can get a Monte Cristo sandwich at just about any diner but I have never found one that compares to my memory of theirs. Ham, cheese, fried, jam on the side; perfection. I think they put crack in it. There's no other explanation for what made it so good.

Then there were the kosher dogs and western fries at the Homewood Deli in Charles Village. Royal Farm Stores western fries come close but always seem to fall just a little short of my memory. There was a bakery that shared space with the deli that made the most amazing pinwheel cookies. I think I have tried at least a dozen pinwheel cookie recipes and none taste like those did. I can't seem to get them as flat and dense. Mine always puff up too much.

Of all the food you've eaten that is now gone forever, what do you miss the most?

NOTE: Recipes will return when Baltimore is no longer hotter than the surface of the sun and it's cool enough to cook again in my little house without air conditioning.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

I love it when a plan comes together

It is finally grilling weather again and I had some fabulous skirt steaks from Treuth's waiting for accompaniments. Poking through the fridge, I found some Anaheim peppers, some jalapenos, and some leftover rice and a plan started to come together. I knew I wanted to stuff the Anaheim's with cheese grits but I wanted to use the jalapenos too and that rice was nearing the end of its shelf life. A quick check through the pantry revealed a can of black-eyed peas and I knew what I had.

Hoppin' Juan


  • 1 can of Black-eyed Peas
  • 1 cup cooked rice
  • 2 jalapenos
  • 1 tsp chopped garlic
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tsp chili powder
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tbsp lime juice


Drain and rinse the black-eyed peas and let them continue to drain in a colander while you heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium high heat. Mince the jalapenos. When the oil is hot, sauté the jalapenos until they have some char. Add the garlic, chili powder, and a pinch of salt. Once the garlic is warmed through, add the black-eyed peas and rice. Mix thoroughly and add salt to taste. Just before serving, add the lime juice and toss again.

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Sunday, March 14, 2010

My best friend's dip

Tomorrow is the first annual QA Chili Cook-Off at ZeniMax Online Studios. While I am confident my chili will take first prize, I'm not above stacking the deck a little and bringing along my friend Roz's famous salsa dip. She makes this dip every time we come over to watch the Ravens play. We have an unspoken agreement that we won't come over unless there's dip.

This recipe is an approximation of her recipe. I've seen her make it countless times but for some reason, hers is always better.

Roz's Salsa Dip


  • 8 oz. package of cream cheese
  • 1 tbsp chopped pickled jalapenos
  • 1 tsp pickled jalapeno juice
  • 3 tbsp salsa
  • 1 tsp chili powder
  • 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese


Soften the cream cheese on the counter for 10 minutes. Dump all the ingredients except for the shredded cheese in a bowl and mix thoroughly. Add the cheese and stir together. Chill for half an hour before serving.

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Sunday, February 14, 2010

I fail as a Baltimore foodie!

After I heard the sad news that venerable Baltimore Sun food critic Elizabeth Large is retiring, I realized it has been a while since I read her blog. I stumbled across a post where she asked her readers to come up with a list of 100 Things every Baltimore Foodie Must Do. Having lived my entire life here, I figured I would ace it. I have a lot of work to do.

  1. Have a jumbo lump crab cake from Faidley's on a Saltine.
  2. Pick steamed hard shells at Mr. Bill's Terrace Inn in Essex.
    1. I give myself credit for Whitey and Dot's
  3. Eat Bertha's mussels.
  4. Drink a Natty Boh.
  5. Snack on a Berger's cookie.
  6. Put marshmallow on your snowball.
    1. This really should be an Egg Custard snowball with marshmallow to count. Either way, I'm good.
  7. Split Maryland beaten biscuits and put some thin slices of ham in them.
  8. Serve sauerkraut with your turkey.
  9. Get a chicken box (fried wings, western fries, dinner roll) from a Baltimore City public market.
    1. or Royal Farm Store
  10. Maybe the chicken box should be from Tyrone's?
  11. Lake trout. And for those of us who watched "The Wire," have a grape soda with it.
  12. Breakfast at Blue Moon Cafe down in Fells Point.
    1. Personally, I think breakfast at the Paper Moon in Remington should count.
  13. Corned beef on rye at Attman's.
    1. I am giving myself credit for roast beef because corned beef violates my rule of never eating anything that was intentionally rotted before I ate it.
  14. Chiapparelli's house salad.
    1. I think that's all I ate my junior year of high school.
  15. Knock back a goblet of Resurrection Ale at Brewer's Art.
  16. Take a Sunday morning stroll through the JFX Farmer's Market.
  17. Thrasher's french fries from the boardwalk in Ocean City.
  18. Have a Black Eyed Susan at the Preakness.
    1. I have issues with horse racing so I will never go to Preakness but I have had a Black Eyed Susan at a bar while the Preakness is on TV
    2. I also give myself credit for this because I can't hear "Black Eyed Susan" without thinking of Kirk McEwen asking for a Black Guy, Susan
  19. Chow down on a pit beef sandwich at Boog's during an O's game.
  20. Shop for shoes and chocolate at Ma Petit Shoe in Hampden.
    1. I assume any store called Petite Show doesn't carry shoes to fir my size 11W gunboats so I have never gone in
  21. Have a soft crab sandwich on white bread.
    1. I am a lifelong hometown girl and soft shell crabs still creep me out
  22. Eat a box of Rheb's buttercreams. Not at one sitting, of course ... on the other hand, why not?
    1. Why would I eat a box of Rheb's butter creams when I could eat a box of Rheb's assorted caramels?
  23. Order a Tio Pepe sangria (red). It contains fruit, so it counts as food!
  24. Polish sausage from one of the two Ostrowski shops.
    1. Does buying Ostrowski sausage regularly from Mars Supermarket count?
  25. German sausage from Binkert's
  26. Fisher's popcorn downy ocean, hon!
    1. I am deeply insulted by this one because we are a Dolle's family but I am giving myself credit anyway
  27. Sunday brunch on the terrace at Ambassador Dining Room, an atypical setting for an Indian restaurant.
    1. I should get double credit for this one because I used to eat Sunday Dinner at the Ambassador Dining Room when it still WAS the Ambassador Dining Room. It's a much better restaurant now.
  28. Get peach cake from Woodlea Bakery.
  29. Eat the pumpkin appetizer at the Helmand.
  30. Eat a Wockenfuss caramel apple! Mmmmm.
  31. Thin crust pizza! Iggies and Joe Squared.
  32. Savory muffins at Red Canoe in Lauraville.
  33. Try some of the special flavors from Taharka Bros. (formerly Sylvan Beach) ice cream and Pitango Gelato.
  34. Make fun of the hipsters at Golden West and Rocket to Venus in Hampden.
  35. Have a special occasion dinner at Charleston. Ask Chef Cindy Wolf to fix what she thinks is best that night.
  36. Change your mind about vegan/vegetarian food at Liquid Earth.
    1. I have no idea where Liquid Earth is but I had the same revelation at Great Sage in Clarksville. It counts.
  37. Try the charcuterie at Clementine.
  38. Macaroni and cheese with bittersweet chocolate from Jack's Bistro.
  39. Throw in a shrimp salad from Kibby's and/or Mary Mervis.
  40. Smith Island Cake, but only from Sugarbakers.
  41. Gorge yourself on the Monday night all-you-can-eat at Vaccaro's.
  42. Discuss a bottle of wine with Tony Foreman at Cinghiale.
  43. Eat roasted vegetables at Donna's ... wearing black.
  44. Veal Chop at Da Mimmo.
  45. Bookmaker salad at Sabatino's.
  46. Get a crab cake and a lemon/peppermint stick at the Flower Mart. Isn't a fabulous crab cake, but even an average crab cake in Baltimore is better than anywhere else!
  47. Order any sandwich at Trinacria. But no calling ahead to order like I do. You must wait in line for the full effect.
  48. Order the popcorn and deviled eggs at Woodberry Kitchen. Before your appetizers, not in lieu of.
  49. Have lunch on the patio at Sanders Corner overlooking the Loch Raven Reservoir.
  50. Head to Carroll County for the best cream of crab soup at Smokey's BBQ on Liberty Road.
  51. Stop at DiPasquale's in Highlandtown for their Italian and meatball subs.
  52. Fried chicken livers from the Lexington Market.
    1. Ewww. I watched my mother eat these for years. Not on a bet.
  53. Bagel with lox and cream cheese or apricot spread from Greg's.
  54. Sit at the bar at Cinghiale and order anything. Talk to Rob about wine when Tony isn't in town.
  55. Tamales from the food truck on Broadway.
  56. Coddies on a cracker from a rowhouse bar.
  57. Wander aisles of exotic produce - lychees! jackfruit! Indian eggplant! - at H Mart or Lotte Plaza in Catonsville. Eat some yummy bi bim bap or udon soup at the food court and then pick up a beautiful fresh whole fish for dinner before you head home.
  58. Go to a bull/oyster roast or crab/shrimp feast at any number of Baltimore venues as long as you go to at least one at a V.F.W. hall, American Legion, Steelworkers Hall, fire hall, state park, etc.
  59. Prime rib at the Prime Rib.
  60. Greenberg Potato Skins from Prime Rib.
  61. How about the fried green pepper rings at Gunnings!
  62. You have to get a Popular Mozzarella Pie from Matthew's Pizza!
  63. A baloney-wrapped hot dog from Attman's.
  64. Pit beef from anywhere without a door.
  65. Late night dinner at the Bel-Loc Diner.
  66. Eat a "Tour of Samos" at Samos in Greektown (Greek salad, tzatziki and pita, kalamari, spinach pie, chicken souvlaki, dolmades, lamb chops, garlic shrimp, gyro, roasted potatoes).
    1. I've eaten all of that many times over at Ikaros.
  67. Krispy Kreme Bread Pudding at Ale Mary's
  68. Eat anything on the menu at Andy Nelson's.
  69. Gravy fries.
  70. Chicken salad from Graul's Market!
  71. Old-fashioned Maryland stuffed ham.
  72. OTTERBEIN'S COOKIES!!!!!!!!!!!
  73. Raw beef and onion sandwich with raw yellow onion and salt and pepper on fresh rye bread (or pumpernickel).
    1. This also falls in the "I can't believe my mother eats that" category.
  74. Buy a crepe at Sofi's and enjoy it while watching a movie at the Charles.
  75. Naron candy.
  76. Polish dog with "the works" at Polock Johnny's.
    1. Not quite "the works"…
  77. Italian cold cut sub at Pastore's in Towson.
  78. WOCKENFUSS CANDIES!!!!!!!!!!
  79. Order the chocolate-chili bread pudding at the Blue Agave.
  80. Have a picnic at Fort McHenry.
  81. Any sandwich from Eddie's in Roland Park.
  82. String bean rolls at Cafe Zen.
  83. Garlic fries at Brewer's Art.
  84. Oysters and beer at Cross Street Market!
  85. Coffee from Zeke's.
  86. Smoked platter from Neopol at Belvedere.
  87. Go to the Wine Market on a Monday night and enjoy a neighborhood discount (extended to all diners).
  88. Have an ice cream that contains vegetables at Dominion Ice Cream. [Ed.'s note: Now relocated to Hampden.]
  89. Have Old Bay on things other than seafood. For instance, corn on the cob, potato salad, coleslaw.
    1. I rolled goat cheese in Old Bay last night. I wouldn't make chicken salad without it.
  90. Margarita in a hubcap from Nacho Mama's.
  91. Take the Clipper City brewery tour.
  92. Have a Black Eyed Susan cupcake at Charm City Cupcakes. It's one of my favorite things about Baltimore!
  93. Get fruit and veggies from an a-rab.
  94. Sip 'n Bite.
  95. Sip a Bloody Mary with an Old Bay rimmer. I only see this done at Baltimore restaurants.
  96. Enjoy a meal at Salt.
  97. Eat the Berger cookie pie at Dangerously Delicious Pies in Federal Hill. A new tradition built on the old.
    1. I can't believe I never had this pie. I feel sad.
  98. Mary Sue Easter Eggs.
  99. Eat sushi in Towson.
  100. Wiener schnitzel, red cabbage, and more at Eichenkranz in Highlandtown. The last traditional German food in the city.

Baconny Bacon!

I love bacon. I am eternally grateful that I was born and raised in a religion that doesn't forbid the eating of pork because I am fairly certain I would feel a gaping hole in my life where it's salty, greasy goodness should be. When the weather people started predicting apocalyptic amounts of snow recently, the first thing I did was open the freezer and check my bacon supply. I counted 6 different kinds so I figured I just might survive. OK, I confess, it's not so much 6 kinds of bacon as bacon from 6 different sources but each has its own distinct personality.

Double Smoked Bacon from Smokehouse of the Catskills in Saugerties, NY

If I could have only one bacon for the rest of my life, this would be it. Their bacon is so meaty and delicious; it's like eating a piece of pork. It is also an excellent base for any recipe that starts with bacon. My oldest and dearest friend lives in Saugerties. I claim to go visit her a couple of times a year but in reality, I sleep at her house when I go up to get bacon. Luckily, she knows this and understands completely. When she came down for Christmas, she gave me 2 lbs of bacon. I gave her 2 packages of Berger's Cookies. There is a reason we have been friends for 30 years.

Farmer's Market/Butcher Bacon

Unfortunately, the best farmer's market in my neighborhood is n Wednesday afternoon. My boss is unsympathetic to my requests to take the afternoon off to see if there's anything good at the market this week. Fortunately, I work right down the street from a Pennsylvania Dutch Market so every Thursday or Friday, I can pop by and pick up some Amish country bacon.

Thanks to Baltimore Magazine's "2009 Best of" edition, I finally have a butcher. It's no Smokehouse of the Catskills but J. W. Treuth & Sons in Oella comes pretty close. The upside to picking up bacon at a butcher is you can also grab some real ground beef while you are there. Treuth's is so full service they even have an excellent cheddar most days. If only they had hamburger buns and fries, it would be a one-stop shopping experience for one of my favorite dinners.

I have been addicted to Top Chef on Bravo since the first season so when I found myself in the Quarry Lake shopping center with a Fresh Market, I had to check it out. I'm not sure I would want to try and find the ingredients to cater an entire wedding that night in there but they do have Nueske's Applewood Smoked Bacon. Charles Kimball and his merry band of taste testers in America's Test Kitchen rated Nueske's really poorly but can you really trust a guy who cooks in a bowtie? Personally, I love Nueske's.

Supermarket Bacon

Let's face it, sometimes you can't get to the farmer's market, the butcher, or Upstate NY and you have to buy bacon at the grocery store. I keep an eye out for sales on the premium, center cut stuff and stock up the freezer. There are also certain recipes that just work better with grocery store bacon, especially ones that require crumbled bacon like Cheese and Bacon Crackers. The meaty quality of really good bacon actually works against you in that case.

So you see, having 6 kinds of bacon makes perfect sense.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

My Very First Chicken and Dumplings

I am lucky enough to work in an office with a cafeteria on site. Even luckier, we have a real chef in the kitchen. Besides the salads and sandwiches, we get three hot entrees every day that are always good but sometimes are outstanding. Case in point, one day Becca made Chicken and Dumplings. My experience with dumplings in the past has been dough lumps roughly the density of a hockey puck floating in industrial gravy. The last time I had them was at IKEA and the sign did not lie. Not these here we had light, fluffy clouds of dough floating in a clear chicken broth. I was in love.

I told Becca how great they were and she claimed they were really easy to make. I did not believe her but she swore up and down. She gave me her recipe and I decided to give it a shot. True to her word, they were really easy! Unfortunately, her recipe also made enough for an army and I only feed two people at a time. After a couple of tries, I got it down to a reasonable portion for the two of us and made some other alterations to arrive at my very own dumpling recipe.

This recipe is an excellent way to use up a rotisserie chicken. Strip off the meat to put in the soup and use the carcass to make the stock. Leftover vegetables also work really well in the soup.


  • 2-3 cups chicken stock
  • ½ cup flour
  • ¾ tsp baking powder
  • 2 ½ tbsp cornmeal
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ¼ tsp dried thyme
  • ¼ tsp dried sage
  • ½ cup milk or cream
  • Cut up chicken
  • Soup vegetables, to taste


Make a pot of home-made stock and get it simmering on the stove in the widest pot you have. Cut up some cooked chicken and throw in whatever soup vegetables you like. If you aren't using leftover vegetables, you might want to throw them in a sauté pan with a little olive oil just to soften them up before you add them to the soup.

Mix the dry ingredients together well. Add the milk or cream and mix just until the dry ingredients are incorporated.

If you have never made dumplings before, this is the point when you will think you have misread the recipe because you have a loose, gloppy mess. If that's what you have, you made it right.

With 2 large spoons, drop spoonfuls into the simmering broth, leaving a little space between each one. Put the lid on and leave it on for 12 minutes. No peeking!

Scoop the dumplings, chicken, and vegetables into bowls and cover with broth to serve.

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Saturday, February 6, 2010

Lazy Tamales

After the bacon and scones were done, I needed an excuse to keep the oven going to keep the house warm during SNOWPOCALYPSE X! so I rummaged around the fridge to see what I could braise. I came across a half a chuck steak I bought during last weekend's paltry 3" snow event and never got around to cooking so I figured it was time for some lazy tamales.

When I was growing up, my grandparents lived in San Antonio, TX. Way back in medieval times (the late 70s and early 80s) there was no Mexican food in Baltimore. The closest Mexican restaurant was in Rockville and we happily drove an hour to get there whenever we could, which was not often enough. Whenever we visited them, we ate Mexican food nonstop the entire trip. Now, I won't claim that I had the most adventurous palate as a 6-year old but I did appreciate the original Mexican Kid's Meal, the tamale.

But when we got home, it was back to reality. We had to make do with the Mexican food we could cook at home with the ingredients we lugged home in an extra suitcase that arrived in Texas empty and we filled to bursting after a couple of trips to the Piggly Wiggly and the H.E.B. Sure, we always brought home a couple of jars of Derby Tamales (made right there in San Antonio) but they never lasted long and soon I was left with just the memory of shredded meat inside a protective, steamed corn coating.

To this day, tamales make me happy. They are my #1 go to choice in any Mexican restaurant. I prefer fresh ones but I have been known to stoop so low as to eat the nasty canned ones with the paper wrappers out of total desperation. Mexican food may be available in every strip mall, but a good Texas tamale, even frozen, is not easy to find.

So why not make your own? you ask, quite reasonably. The answer is simple. I am lazy. I hate making fussy things that require me to make endless, individual portions. I like one pot dishes. One of these days I will gather my family to me and make the Christmas Eve tamale feast but until that time, I make do.

This recipe is very flexible. I've only done it with chuck steak but I am guessing any crappy, tough cut of beef would work. I actually paid attention to the amounts of spices I used today because I wanted to finally write this recipe down but in all honesty, I never measure. I just chuck a bunch of spices in the pot until it smells right.

When you get done with this, you will have a ton of leftover sauce. This is a Good Thing™. It is perfect for enchiladas. Head over to Lily's Market and get yourself some fresh corn tortillas, shred some cheddar, roll them up, and you've got another of my favorite childhood memories, Cheese Enchiladas (no onions, please).

Mmmmmm. If I close my eyes, I can almost imagine I am back at La Fonda on Broadway.

Lazy Tamales


  • 3-5 lb chuck steak
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 medium or ½ large onion
  • Half head of garlic
  • 4 dried chili peppers (your preference)
  • 3 Tbsp chili powder
  • 3 Tbsp ground cumin
  • 1 Tsp salt
  • Water
  • Grits (instant, quick, or slow – whatever you prefer)


Preheat the oven to 325°. Heat the olive oil in a 3 or 4 quart oven-safe dutch oven. Sear the chuck steak in the olive oil. Peel and quarter the onion and peel the garlic. Cut open the dried chili peppers and remove the seeds. Add the onion, garlic, chili peppers, chili powder, cumin, and salt to the pot and add enough water to cover everything. Bring to a simmer. Put a lid on the pot and put it in the oven for 3 hours.

When the meat is tender enough to fork apart, remove the meat from the pot. Strain the solids from the liquids and return the liquid to the pot. Carefully pick the chili peppers out of the solids you strained out and return them to the pot. Using a hand blender, puree the chili peppers in the sauce. (I assume you could do this with a regular blender or a food processor but mine are never handy when I need them.) Put the pot back on the stove and reduce the sauce until it has thickened significantly (at least half an hour). Add more salt to the sauce to taste but only after it has reduced.

Meanwhile, make some grits according to the directions on the package. I like to make cheese grits for this dish but any old grits will do.

Shred the beef using 2 forks. Put 3 or 4 tablespoons of sauce in a small sauté pan and add the shredded beef, just to warm it through. Serve beef over grits with sauce spooned over it.

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Friday, February 5, 2010

What are your snow day essentials?

Now that SNOWPOCALYPSE '10! has officially started, I got to thinking about snow day food. As a life-long Maryland resident, I am required by law to run to the nearest grocery store to stock up on the snow essentials (milk, bread, and toilet paper for the uninitiated) as soon as the S word appears in the forecast but I try not to imagine the scenario that requires surplus amounts of those three items. When snow comes, I have my own list of essentials.

Snow days require cinnamon rolls. Not fancy bakery ones, the kind that come in a tube in the refrigerator section of the grocery store with a can of white, oozy stuff substance in the end. Yes, I can make yeast bread from scratch now but not before coffee. This storm I am trying something new, refrigerator scones from The Immaculate Baking Company. I like scones and I had a coupon so I am hopeful they will be an adequate substitute. I have plenty of powdered sugar in the house (I've got milk of course) so I will be making my own white oozy stuff.

Snow days also require bacon. In all honesty, days of the week that end in Y call for bacon in my book but a snow day especially needs that porky, salty manna. Aside from its life-sustaining properties, bacon also helps warm up the house on chilly mornings ever since I discovered the wonders of making bacon in the oven. I used to slave over a hot, sputtering pan of bacon, making batch after batch because I didn't have a pan or a burner big enough to make more than 5 or 6 strips at a time. No more!

The key to great oven bacon is the combination of a half sheet pan with a rim and an oven-proof baking rack. I got my first half sheet pan from K-Mart from the Martha Stewart line but then my K-Mart closed and now I get them from Sysco, the restaurant supply store on Rt. 1 in Elkridge. The oven-proof racks were a lot harder to find. All the ones I got as wedding presents were lovely with little rubber feet to keep them from slipping on the counter. Unfortunately, they also kept me from putting them in the oven. I searched kitchen supply stores and catalogs. Then when I was just about ready to give up and order something really expensive on the internet, I spotted these at Target. They fit in a half sheet pan perfectly.

The other great thing about oven bacon is that it's very flexible about temperature. You can throw it in at whatever temperature the cinnamon rolls, apple oven pancake (recipe coming soon), or frittata is already in there. The hotter the oven, the faster it will cook but the final product won't suffer from being in there longer at a lower temperature.

Oven-baked Bacon


  • Bacon
  • Non-stick spray (Pam)


Preheat oven to 350-450°. Put the oven-safe rack in the half sheet pan. Coat the rack liberally with non-stick spray. Lay the bacon out so it covers the whole rack. It can overlap a little but it won't shrink nearly as much as bacon cooked on the stovetop. Depending on the oven temperature and how well done you like your bacon, bake for 15-25 minutes.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Taking Stock

Before I start talking about homemade stock, let me first say that I have store-bought stock in my pantry. A lot of it. Mostly, it's the little juice box-sized containers of stock. Not only do they taste better than the canned stuff but they are also the perfect size for most weeknight recipes. I am not a stock snob.

That said, the stock in my pantry is just back up. Most of the time, I cook with the homemade chicken stock in the fridge. Making stock shouldn't be production. Once you get into the habit, it can become just another part of your cooking routine. Here's what you need:

  • Chicken bones
  • Water

Everything else is a bonus. Aromatics – garlic, onions, carrots, and celery all help but in a pinch you can live without any or all of them. Thanks to my deck garden, I always have fresh herbs in the summer. In the dead of winter, I have dried. They work just fine.

I buy a rotisserie chicken pretty much every week. It's a staple in my "Oh crap, what am I making for dinner tonight" repertoire. As I eat it, I throw the bones in a bag in the freezer. And as I cook, I save all the ends from the onions, carrots, and celery (save the leafy parts, they taste great) that I cut off and throw them in another bag in the freezer. If I use fresh herbs like thyme, I save the stems. See a pattern here? Then on Sunday afternoon, I pull out the bags and see what I have got.

The curse of the cloudy stock

I have a stack of cookbooks with dire predictions like, "you have to skim off the scum every 15 minutes or it will be cloudy" and "never let stock come to a full boil or it will be cloudy." Whatever. I suppose if I were making a soup for a fancy dinner party, I would care more about the relative transparency of my stock but most of the time I am using it to make gravy or grits or something else opaque that really won't suffer from dreaded cloudiness. Screw the rules. Throw everything in the pot and walk away.

NOTE: I have tried making stock in my crock pot. I did achieve perfectly clear stock that tasted good but it was totally liquid. Yes, I realize by nature, stock is a liquid but this is what separates the homemade stuff from the stuff in the pantry. When you boil bones, the collagen comes out. The longer you boil it, the more collagen you get. Let it go long enough, you get chicken jell-o. It sounds disgusting but when you use it to make gravy or sauce, you have a built in thickening booster. But if your goal is perfect clear stock, chuck everything in your crock pot, set it to high, and walk away for six hours.

Chicken Stock


  • Chicken carcass – skin and edible meat removed
  • 1-2 carrots (depending on how many ends you have)
  • 1 medium onion (plus ends/skins)
  • 1-2 stalks of celery
  • 3-4 cloves of garlic
  • Herbs – I like thyme and sage, but use what you like
  • A handful of peppercorns (~12)
  • Dash of salt
  • Water


Break or cut the main part of the chicken into a couple of pieces. Put the chicken bones in a 3-4 quart pot on the stove and crank the heat up to medium high. I like to brown the bones up a little but this step is totally unnecessary. Cut up the carrots, onions, and celery so they fit in the pot. Smash the garlic cloves. Throw them in the hot pot. Throw in the herbs, salt, and pepper. Pour in enough water to cover everything. Let it come up to a simmer and then turn the heat down low. Now walk away and let it go, for a couple of hours if you can. The longer you let it go, the better it will taste. Strain out all the bones and veggies and peppercorns. Cool and store in the fridge. It's easier to scrape the fat off once it's been in the fridge for a couple of hours.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Tastes just like chicken

Since the economy tanked and our income halved itself, our insane habit of eating 2 or 3 meals out a day, every day, has come to an end but I am still completely unmotivated to actually "cook" anything during the week. What's a girl to do? Buy a rotisserie chicken, of course! It is amazing what you can do with a whole chicken. I thought about buying one of those "101 things to do with a rotisserie chicken" cookbooks but I still haven't run out of ideas. Here are just a few of the things I have made lately:

  1. Pulled BBQ Chicken Sandwiches
    1. Strip all the meat off the chicken and throw it in a pan with some BBQ sauce. Heat it up and slap it on hamburger buns. Or hot dog buns. Or leftover naan…
    2. This is an excellent way to disguise dark meat from people who claim they don't like it.
  2. Chicken Tetrazzini
    1. Sauté some mushrooms, make a béchamel, boil whatever pasta you have, mix it all together in a baking dish with whatever chicken you picked off the carcass, slap some breadcrumbs on the top and you've got casserole heaven.
  3. Chicken Chana Masala
    1. An international "can of this, can of that" recipe. Rinse a can of chickpeas and chuck it in a pan. Throw in a can of diced or stewed tomatoes. Add a bunch of your favorite Indian spices (I love Penzey's Rogan Josh Seasoning) and a bunch of cut up chicken. Let it sauté until the tomatoes break down a little.
    2. I once found myself completely out of chickpeas and made this with a can of black-eyed peas instead. Still terrific.
  4. Greek Cous Cous Pilaf
    1. This one is based on having some leftover grilled veggies in the fridge also. It originated with some excellent grilled zucchini I made when it was at its peak one summer. Make a pot of cous cous (I like whole wheat cous cous because I can pretend it is healthy) with chicken stock and a little lemon juice. Let the cous cous cool a little and throw in the grilled veggies, cut up chicken, and some chunks of feta cheese.
    2. I make boatloads of this in the summer and eat it right out of the Gladware every night until it is gone.
  5. Quinoa Pilaf
    1. This is a variation on the cous cous recipe I had to invent because my husband hates cous cous. Last time I made it, I had half a bag of spinach that was on its last legs so I chopped that up and threw it in the hot quinoa as soon as I pulled it off the stove, along with the feta cheese and chicken. Quinoa's good but nothing beats cous cous for its 5-minute prep time.
  6. Chicken Pot Pies
    1. My tiny kit house has no central AC. The oven goes off as of Mother's Day and does not come back on until Halloween. The official Halloween meal is idiot chicken pot pies.
    2. Unroll a sheet of pie crust and cut it in quarters. Shove each quarter into a muffin tin, leaving the excess hanging out. Add some cut up chicken and some frozen veggies. Pour in chicken gravy (the kind in a jar will work) and then fold over the excess. It so doesn't have to be anything close to perfect. Bake then until they are done.
  7. Quiche
    1. My quiche recipe is as follows:
      1. 4 eggs
      2. 1.5 cups of some combination of milk and half and half
      3. 1 cup or so of the cheese that needs to be eaten most urgently
      4. Whatever leftover vegetable matter is in the fridge and is about to go bad
      5. Whatever leftover protein is in the fridge and is about to go bad
    2. This week we are having Chicken and Mushroom quiche with a combination of smoked mozzarella, fontina, and something else I didn't remember buying but was pretty tasty
  8. The most holy sacrament in chickentarianism is not to waste any part of the chicken. Every Sunday night, no matter what I make, The bones get broken up and thrown in a pot with whatever aromatics I happen to have and some salt and pepper to make a fresh batch of stock. Of all the great things you can make with a rotisserie chicken, great stock is one of the best. Don't forget to scrape in the chicken jelly from the bottom of the container!

Total Pot Roast Domination

I basically used the same recipe I use to make my beef stew adapted to pot roast. Here's what I did.

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Take the meat out of the package and season it well with salt and pepper on both sides. Let rest while you prep everything else.
  3. In a big dutch oven, cook up 3 slices of bacon, sliced into small pieces.
  4. Once the bacon is crisped up, take it out and throw the meat in. leave it alone until it has developed a nice sear, then flip it and do the same on the other side.
  5. Once it is good and browned all over, take the meat out and throw in some big chunks of onion (I actually used shallot b/c that's what I had), carrot, celery, a whole head of garlic (peeled in individual cloves), some more salt, a handful of whole black peppercorns, some dried thyme and some fresh sage leftover from Thanksgiving that really needed to be used up.
  6. Give the veggies a few minutes to get going, then toss in whatever leftover red wine you happen to have. In this case, I had about a cup and a half of some nice Greek Demestica red.
  7. Let the wine work on all the stuff on the bottom of the pan and scrape up what doesn't come up on its own.
  8. Put the meat back in (with all the juices that have accumulated on the plate).
  9. Pour on one carton of good, low sodium beef stock and enough water to cover the meat.
  10. Bring it to a full boil on the stove then cover it and chuck it in the oven for 2.5 hours.
  11. After 2.5 hours goes by, take the pot out and put the meat on a plate so you can decant the liquid to a bowl and strain out all the solids.
  12. Put the strained liquid back on the stove and put the meat back in. I threw some sliced mushrooms in for flavor at that point.
  13. Leave it on a low simmer while you make the potatoes/carrots/whatever you want to go with the meat.
  14. I had some of those tiny Yukon golds, which I either cut in thirds or halves, and some sliced cremini mushrooms. I cranked the oven up to 350 degrees and threw them in a roasting pan with some olive oil and a few good spoonfuls of the strained jus. I guess it took about 15-20 minutes for them to brown.
  15. Serve the meat and veg in bowls with plenty of the reduced jus to moisten it up.

That was it. It really couldn't have been simpler.

Take that "Light Dinners"!

Chili Rellenos Stuffed with Grits

The inspiration for this recipe was an article about "Light Mexican Dinners". I went ahead and screwed that up by adding the bacon and cheese. You are welcome.


  • 2 to 4 Mild Peppers (poblano, pasilla, Anaheim)
  • Olive Oil
  • 2 slices Bacon
  • ½ cup Frozen Corn
  • 1 cup Chicken Stock
  • 1 tsp Garlic Powder
  • 2 dashes Hot Sauce
  • ¼ tsp Salt
  • 1 tsp Fresh Ground Pepper
  • ½ cup Quick Grits
  • 1 cup Shredded Cheddar Cheese


  1. SLICE peppers in half and remove seeds and internal ribs.
  2. BROIL peppers on HI on a lightly greased baking sheet for 2-3 minutes on each side until they start to blister.
  3. SET peppers aside to cool.
  4. CHOP bacon into small pieces and put in saucepan to RENDER.
  5. When bacon pieces are crispy, REMOVE bacon with slotted spoon and SET aside.
  6. ROAST frozen corn in hot bacon grease.
  7. When corn is browned on one side, REMOVE from oil and SET aside with bacon.
  8. ADD the chicken stock to the hot pan.
  9. ADD garlic powder, salt, pepper, and hot sauce (adjusting for your personal taste but remembering that plain grits are really boring).
  10. When the stock comes to a boil, ADD the grits.
  11. STIR constantly until the grits start to set up (a minute or so).
  12. If your grits are too loose (you want them thick enough to hold their shape when you stuff the peppers), ADD more grits. If the grits are too stiff, ADD some water.
  13. Once they are the proper consistency, TAKE the grits off the heat and ADD ¾ of a cup of the cheese.
  14. STIR vigorously to combine.
  15. FILL each pepper half with grits. (see note below about leftover grits)
  16. SPRINKLE filled peppers with the remaining shredded cheese.
  17. BROIL on HI just until the cheese is bubbly.

Depending on the size of the peppers you use, you will undoubtedly have left over grits. This is not a problem. Spread the leftovers into a flat container and stick them in the fridge. Come the next weekend morning, cut them into hash brown-sized rectangles, dust with flour, and fry them up in hot oil. Perfect for mopping up runny yolks (according to my husband who actually eats his eggs with runny yolks).

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Cure for anything that ails you

Avgolemono Soup

When we lived on the East side of Baltimore, our favorite late dinner was the thick, bottom of the pot Avgolemono soup at the legendary Ikaros restaurant on Eastern Avenue. Since moving to the suburbs, we don't get there as often as we'd like so I turned to the cookbook I got one year at the Greek Festival at the Greek Orthodox cathedral. But being me, the laborious stock making, egg separating process was no match for my laziness and this recipe was born.
  • 2 Lemons
  • 4 Eggs
  • 3 cups Chicken stock (canned or home-made)
  • 1 Carrot
  • 1-2 cups Cooked rice
  • 1-2 cups Cooked chicken (e.g., leftover rotisserie chicken)
  • Salt & pepper (to taste)
  • Put chicken stock on to BOIL and then REDUCE to a simmer.
  • GRATE the carrot and CUBE the chicken.
  • ZEST both lemons and then JUICE them.
  • BEAT the eggs in a large bowl until they are foamy.
  • ADD the lemon juice and half the lemon zest and beat to combine.
  • ADD ~½ cup of the hot stock to the eggs SLOWLY and BEAT as you ADD it.
  • REPEAT with another ½ cup of stock.
  • ADD the egg/lemon/stock mixture to the simmering stock.
  • ADD chicken, rice, and carrot to the soup and simmer for 15-20 minutes.
  • After the soup has simmered for a while, taste the soup (Waiter! Taste my soup!) and add salt, pepper, and additional lemon zest as needed.
This soup must be served with hot, crusty bread or rolls and plenty of butter.
This recipe is very forgiving. The critical part is the beaten eggs with lemon juice, tempered with the hot stock. Once you get that part done, the rest is up for interpretation. The original Ikaros soup doesn't actually have the carrot but our next favorite Greek restaurant (Dmitri's on Frederick Road in Catonsville) makes it that way and we like it. Many places use orzo instead of rice. In an attempt to make us appear "healthy" I stopped buying white rice and I always seem to have leftover brown rice pilaf in the fridge, which works really well. The first time I made this it was a desperation dinner made with canned stock, leftover Thanksgiving turkey, wild rice pilaf, and RealLemon bottled lemon juice. It was delicious.

NOTE: If you are lucky enough to have some leftover, you probably want to add some more stock before you put it in the fridge. Otherwise it will seize up and assume the consistency of wallpaper paste.

UPDATE: I have started making this soup in the slow cooker. It is much easier to control the temp to keep it from simmering too hard and breaking the eggs after you add them. Set the slow cooker to high and get the stock hot (or boil it on the stove and add it to the slow cooker already hot). 

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I suppose this would work with chicken too…

Tandoori Turkey Wings

I made these using spices from the Penzeys Spices catalog. Their Rogan Josh blend can make just about anything taste really good.


  • ~3 pounds Turkey Wings
  • 1 TBSP Rogan Josh seasoning
  • 1 TBSP Tandoori seasoning
  • 1 TSP Smoked sweet paprika
  • 1 TBSP Kosher salt
  • ¼ cup Olive oil
  • 1 TBSP Greek yogurt


  1. Remove the wing tips from the chicken wings
  2. Mix the seasonings, paprika, salt, oil, and yogurt thoroughly
  3. Add to a resealable plastic bag with turkey wings
  4. Marinate for at least an hour
  5. Build a HOT fire, preferably charcoal
  6. Raise the coals as close to the grill as you can let the grill heat for 3-5 minutes
  7. Put the wings directly over the fire, skin side down for 3 or 4 minutes or until they are charred
  8. Flip the wings over and char the other side
  9. Once both sides are charred, move the wings off the heat and lower the coals
  10. If possible, cover and cook for 15-20 minutes until their internal temperature hits 170°
  11. Remove from heat and allow to sit for a couple of minutes before serving

These are delicious served with a cucumber sauce for dipping. Store bought naan is a great addition to the meal.

Cucumber Yogurt Dipping Sauce


  • 8 oz. Greek yogurt
  • 1 Cucumber
  • ½ TSP Finely chopped mint
  • ½ TSP Ground cumin
  • ½ TSP Kosher salt


  1. Peel the cucumber and unless it is seedless, remove the seeds
  2. Use the coarse side of a box grater to grate the cucumber
  3. Salt the cucumber
  4. Put the cucumber in a colander over a bowl and let it sit for a couple of minutes
  5. Press the excess liquid out of the cucumber
  6. Add the yogurt, cumin, and mint
  7. Add more salt as needed
  8. Store in refrigerator for at least 4 hours before serving

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What doesn't go with bacon?

Apple Oven Pancake

As the weather turns colder, it is time to turn the oven on to warm up the house in the morning. I like to throw a pan of oven bacon in before I start this recipe.


  • 2 Tbsp Butter
  • 1-2 Apples
  • 1 Tsp Cinnamon
  • 1 Tsp Lemon Juice
  • ¼ Cup Sugar
  • 2 Lg Eggs
  • ½ Cup Milk
  • 1 Tbps Vanilla
  • ¼ Cup Cornmeal
  • ¼ Cup Flour
  • ¼ Tsp Salt


  1. Preheat oven to 400°
  2. Put butter in oven-proof skillet (~10") over med heat
  3. Chop apples roughly. You want enough to cover the bottom of the pan completely.
  4. Toss the apples with a tablespoon of sugar, lemon juice, and cinnamon.
  5. When the butter is nice and bubbly, add the apples to the pan.
  6. Whisk the eggs well and add the milk and vanilla.
  7. Add the flour, cornmeal, and salt and whisk well again.
  8. Pour the batter over the apples.
  9. Put the skillet in the oven and bake for 30 minutes or until it is set but still a little jiggly.

The pancake is nice with maple syrup but I prefer it with a little caramel sauce. I suppose I could make it myself but the stuff they sell in the grocery store with the ice cream toppings works just as well for me.

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Mandatory Appetizer

Cheese and Bacon Crackers

This recipe is a bastardazation of Cheese Cookies from the 1931 edition of The Joy of Cooking. I made them once for Thanksgiving and now I am not allowed in the door without them.


  • 2 cups Flour
  • 1 tsp Salt
  • ½ tsp Pepper
  • 1 tsp Garlic Powder
  • 1 tsp Thyme
  • 6 strips Bacon, cooked crisp
  • ½ cup Butter
  • 2 cups Grated Cheddar
  • 2-4 tbsp Ice Water


  1. Chop the bacon finely
  2. Mix bacon with flour, salt, and spices
  3. Cut in butter
  4. Add cheese
  5. Add just enough ice water for the dough to start to come together
  6. Divide the dough roughly into thirds
  7. One at a time, put each third of the dough on a floured surface and bring it together into a roll, roughly 1 ½" in diameter and 6-8" long
  8. Wrap each dough log in wax paper, freezer paper, parchment paper or whatever
  9. Refrigerate them for at least 2 hours, preferably longer
  10. Preheat oven to 400°
  11. Unwrap one dough log at a time and slice thinly (thinner than a sugar cookie but don't go crazy trying to get them too thin because they will burn)
  12. Bake for 8-10 minutes until they are starting to brown on the edges and the middles are cooked through (if you flip them, you want the bottoms to be browned too)

Notes: Use good cheddar. I like a mix of medium and sharp. You cannot go wrong with Cabot. I make this in my Kitchen Aid but it is basically glorified pastry dough so use whatever method you prefer for that.

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All your cookies are belong to us

I made the first two recipes for a Cookie Exchange party this Christmas. Here's a little tip if you are going to a Cookie Exchange. When the invite says, "Bring a couple dozen cookies." do not make 9 dozen cookies. You will come home with a couple dozen new cookies and at least 5 dozen of the ones you took…

Spiced Cocoa Snowballs

This is based on a recipe from the December 2009 Penzeys Spices catalog. I added some cinnamon and chili in an attempt to make Aztec snowballs but they ended up being warm and spicy without the flavor of the cinnamon and chili being at all noticeable.


  • 2/3 cup Butter
  • 1/3 cup Cream cheese
  • 2/3 cup Powdered hot chocolate mix
  • 1/3 cup Powdered sugar
  • 1/4 tsp Cinnamon
  • 1/8 tsp Cayenne pepper
  • 1 tbsp Vanilla
  • 1 3/4 cup All-purpose flour
  • 1/4 tsp Salt
  • 1/2 cup Powdered sugar


  1. Cream the butter, cream cheese, hot chocolate mix, powdered sugar, cinnamon, cayenne, and vanilla.
  2. Add flour and salt and mix thoroughly.
  3. Cover and refrigerate for at least an hour.
  4. Preheat oven to 350°.
  5. Roll the dough into 1" balls.
  6. Place them 1" apart on an ungreased cookie sheet.
  7. Bake for 15-18 minutes until firm.
  8. Let cool on the baking sheet for 1-2 minutes then roll in powdered sugar and cool on wire rack.

NOTE about powdering: This was the first cookie I've made that required a powdered sugar coating since making hundreds of Russian Tea Cakes for the bake sale table at the film festival in high school and I had lost my touch completely. The first batch came out a grimy, brownish white with spots where my fingers had been holding them and I knew I needed a better technique. I thought, WWCKD (What Would Christopher Kimball Do?) and realized it needed a 2 –step process that did not involve my fingers. After the initial 1-2 minute cooling period, I put 6-8 cookies in a large, round bowl with half a cup of powdered sugar. I took them out and let them cool. They were still only vaguely powdered and had finger splotches. After they had cooled for at least 15 minutes, I put them back in the bowl and swirled them around again. The second coat of powdered sugar covered up my finger marks and turned them a lovely white. CK would be proud.

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Amaretto Pecan Tassies

This was one of my favorite cookies to make as a little girl. When we lived in San Antonio we had a bunch of pecan trees in the yard so any recipe that used pecans was a favorite.


  • ½ cup butter
  • 3 oz. cream cheese
  • cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 egg
  • tbsp amaretto
  • ¾ cup packed brown sugar
  • tsp vanilla
  • dash salt
  • ¼ cup chopped pecans


  1. Preheat oven to 325°.
  2. Beat butter and cream cheese until combined.
  3. Stir in flour.
  4. Chill for 1 hour.
  5. Divide dough into 24 balls.
  6. Press balls into mini muffin pans and press dough evenly up the sides of each muffin cup.
  7. Beat the egg well.
  8. Add brown sugar, amaretto, vanilla, salt and mix just until smooth.
  9. Add pecans.
  10. Spoon filling into the pastry cups.
  11. Bake for 30-35 minutes until pastry is golden brown.
  12. Cool in pans on wire racks.
  13. Loosen pastry from cups by running a knife around the edges.

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Peanut Butter Oatmeal Cookies


  • 3/4 cup butter
  • 1 cup brown sugar, packed
  • 3/4 cup white sugar
  • 1 1/4 cup peanut butter, chunky
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 1/2 cup all purpose flour
  • 1 cup quick cooking oatmeal
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon


  1. PREHEAT the oven to 350°.
  2. CREAM the butter, sugars, and peanut butter together until smooth.
  3. ADD the vanilla and then the eggs, one at a time until well incorporated.
  4. MIX the flour, baking powder, salt, oats, and cinnamon together.
  5. ADD dry ingredients to wet slowly, until mixed well.
  6. SPOON by rounded teaspoons onto ungreased baking sheet.
  7. MARK tops of cookies with standard, peanut butter cookie fork cross.
  8. BAKE for 12-17 minutes until bottoms just start to turn golden brown.

Yields: ~3 Dozen

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Peanut Brittle Cookies

On Christmas I found myself with a bounty of peanut brittle (work gifts I think) and came up with this recipe to dispose of it. Now I am always hunting for Peanut Brittle to make them.


  • 2 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened
  • 1/3 cup cooking oil
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1 tbsp vanilla extract
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 cups (16 oz.) coarsely chopped peanut brittle


  1. PREHEAT oven to 375° F.
  2. COMBINE flour, baking soda and salt in small bowl.
  3. BEAT butter, granulated sugar, brown sugar and vanilla extract in large mixer bowl until creamy.
  4. ADD eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.
  5. Gradually BEAT in flour mixture. Stir in peanut brittle chunks.
  6. DROP by rounded tablespoon onto greased baking sheets (cookie sheets do not need to be greased after first batch).
  7. BAKE for 10 to 12 minutes or until edges turn golden brown. Cool on baking sheets for 2 minutes; remove to wire racks to cool completely.

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Why Perfection Salad?

One of my many obsessions is collecting old cookbooks, especially the ones with scary, Technicolor pictures of dishes made with scary combinations of ingredients. I would never go all Julie and Julia and attempt to make them, I just love reading them. Something about them conjures up the notion of a time when Mom spent all day trying to come up with new and exciting things to feed her adoring family. This was not my home. My Mom worked all day, went to school at night and expected us to feed ourselves from an early age. This was actually a good thing because my mother, with all of her many gifts, is a terrible cook. She is the anti-McGuyver of the kitchen, taking recognizable foods and combining them in such a way that they form nonfood-like structures.

But I digress…

Another unfulfilled dream I have is to actually decorate my house. The plan for the kitchen was to comb through my cookbook collection to find pictures we could color copy and frame to hang on the walls. I got about 10 minutes into this project before I got totally distracted reading. In Better Homes and Gardens, Jiffy Cooking, c. 1967 I discovered something called Perfection Salad, a revolting concoction involving lemon jell-o and a can of sauerkraut, garnished prettily in the picture with a carrot curl and black olive floret.

I wondered if this recipe was unique to this cookbook or if other homemakers had been asked to inflict this torture on their unsuspecting families so I combed through some other cookbooks. Sure enough, there was Perfection Salad. The recipe varied, sometimes calling for unflavored gelatin and lemon juice, sometimes shredded cabbage instead of sauerkraut, occasionally calling for the cook to put the mayonnaise directly in the salad instead of on the side but always… perfection.

Another treasure from my trip though Post War Boom American Cuisine was a chapter of "Tips for the Homemaker" with a cheery picture of a housewife using all five of her arms to offer up delicious treats. Who knew there was a Hindu Goddess of Housework?

The look on her face was so utterly gratified and fulfilled, it occurred to me she must have achieved Perfection Salad. Forty-some years later, we're all adult grandnieces of codependent rageaholics, totally possessed with the pursuit of but completely unable to achieve such a gelatin nirvana. But I keep trying. The fruits of my efforts will be archived here, mostly recipes, but I predict some rantings about food and restaurants and all things gastronomic will show up from time to time.