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Sunday, March 17, 2024

Hot or Cold -- You Choose


Start with leeks, sautéed in olive oil.

Next, add thinly sliced (peeled) potato.

Add chicken broth and let simmer for half an hour.

It is "getting good," as my grandma used to say.

Puree in blender or, for a rustic soup, simply mash.

Add cream and heat.

Almost ready!

Instead of chives, I chose freshly grated nutmeg for garnish.,

Hot today, cold tomorrow -- good either way.
I didn't measure anything and used only one leek, half an onion, and one potato in this soup inspired by a recipe for vichyssoise in Life Is Meals: A Food Lover's Book of Days, by James & Kay Salter.


Sunday, February 4, 2024

Vegan for a Day

When a gracious hostess who is also a vegan invites me to a potluck, I want to take something she will eat, even if she is making chicken for her guests, and fortunately, one of my cookbooks at home offered what I saw as a likely recipe for the event. It began with couscous, which I prepared with my old standby, Better Than Bouillon vegetable base. No saffron in my spice drawer. What to substitute? Turmeric – didn’t have that, either. (Why not? Must remedy the situation.) Curry? No, I love curry, but it wasn’t the direction I wanted to go. Luckily, I had a Moroccan spice mix on hand, Ras El Hanout, and decided that would be perfect.

My dried fruits were sliced apricots and then -- a variation from the recipe -- figs, which seemed perfectly appropriate to a North African dish. Sliced almonds and dried fruit were toasted and plumped in olive oil before being added.

I wanted a festive look for the topping and took a flyer on something I’d picked up on impulse at the store: “Salad Toppers.” The edamame and cashews gave a little crunch, while cranberries added color. A recipe that manages to be different while also being easy to prepare gets my vote, and people said they liked it, so I’ll probably do it again sometime. 

Tuesday, March 28, 2023

My New Favorite Recipe for Tzimmes


(Sorry I don’t have more pictures. And sorry this is my first post since Thanksgiving, too. I have cooked, I have baked, I simply haven't posted. No excuse.)


Above was the assembled dish before it went in the oven, and it’s the only photo I took. Big mistake. Because when dinnertime rolled around, I decided this was my most successful tzimmes ever. 


Most recipes for this dish call for large quantities of ingredients and feed a big crowd, but we would be only four at table – three guests and me – so I was happy to find a recipe online that began with half a pound of sweet potato rather than three pounds! Here is the ingredients list for the Traditional Rosh Hashanah Tzimmes recipe posted online at Chabad by Miriam Szokovski.

Miriam's original ingredients list:


1 large Spanish onion, cut in half or quarter rounds

¼ cup oil

1 lb. carrots, sliced

½ lb. sweet potato, cubed

10 prunes, diced

1-1/2 cups orange juice

½ cup honey

½ tsp. cinnamon

½ tsp. salt


Onion in tzimmes was a new ingredient to me, but the rest was familiar, so I decided to go for broke and sauté that onion to add to the mix.

My Changes

However, I pared the quantities down further and only used:


½ onion

½ sweet potato

2 carrots


I also added ¾ raw apple, sliced and diced, because I wanted that tender sweetness – and because I’ve always made tzimmes with apple. And maybe Miriam did this, too (I don’t know), but I squeezed the orange juice fresh from the orange.


Finally, the online recipe called for the dish to be simmered on the stovetop for an hour. Again, because I’ve always done it this way, I baked it in a casserole dish in a 350-degree oven. Since it is served warm, it’s something you can do ahead of your guests’ arrival, and I was glad I’d started early, because one hour wasn’t enough. An hour and a half was perfect. For the final half-hour I sprinkled just a bit of brown sugar over the top, a touch easily omitted if you don’t want the extra sweetness, but I highly recommend topping with sauteed sliced almonds right before serving. The crunch was a nice contrast to the rest of the soft, sweet vegetables and fruits. And I loved the onion! Thank you, Miriam!

Kitchen tip: Microwave oven makes a good overnight breadbox.

Saturday, November 26, 2022

When you had the turkey dinner five days earlier....


Stock in the making

Get up at 5 a.m. Peel and clean shrimp. Add shells and tails to chicken stock with garlic cloves, bay leaf, and a few slices of onion to boil for stock.


The roux is critical. If the recipe you're looking at says to heat oil first and then stir in flour, don't believe it. Brown the flour first in a dry skillet, or forget the whole thing.

Beautiful stock!

Now go walk the dog while your stock cools and then come back and clean your house. 

Holy Trinigy

The Holy Trinity of Cajun cooking is onion, bell pepper, and celery. Sauté in butter. Add sausage and cook some more. 

Add tomatoes, bay leaves, thyme, and oregano. Hot peppers or sauce if you are have the nerve. Now slow down and set the table, but do not open the wine before your guests arrive!


Before company come knocking at the door, add the stock and roux to Trinity, sausage, tomatoes and herbs. Adjust for consistency with additional chicken broth if necessary.

Now it's all together except for the shrimp. and those don't need long to cook, so wait until everyone has had a glass of wine. Finally, when the time is right, add shrimp and cook until opaque. Serve. Then forget to reach for your camera and neglect to photograph the bowls of rice and shrimp-and-sausage gumbo, because it's time to eat, after you take a moment to give thanks for food and friends.


When everyone has left, realize that your photo-essay is incomplete. Let it go. No one cares.


Photograph a bowl of leftovers the next day if the spirit moves you, remembering that -- really, no one cares. Give thanks again for friends who shared your table.

It's okay to depart from menu traditions. The important traditions are being together and being thankful.

Monday, August 1, 2022

NOT "Crackers over the Sink"

Inspired by red gooseberries

One of my friends had her 85th birthday recently, and I decided to make a special birthday dinner for the two of us. We enjoy meals on my front porch together, often remembering when there were four of us, not just two. (We share a lot of memories.) So why not an extra-special evening? And there were those gooseberries, after all, calling for something out of the ordinary.

So I put together a dinner plan starting with dessert, the most ambitious item on my menu:  gooseberry tart. Gooseberries have to be “topped and tailed” (stem and blossom ends removed), which is time-consuming but also a basically meditative task perfect for a summer afternoon. Instead of adding sugar to the berries, I mixed in about a third of a little jar of plum jam.

For the shell, I looked at half a dozen recipes and cobbled mine together from bits and pieces of all of them. I didn’t have almonds to grind for the pastry (that would be nice another time) but did have powdered sugar. And we might as well say here that this pastry is known as pâte sucrée. Chunks of butter worked with fingers into flour, sugar, and a pinch of salt, and I added a whole egg (though some people use only the yolk or no egg at all). While the sweet dough rested in the refrigerator, I worked outside in the yard for an hour, planting what will be a lovely daylily border, I’m sure, when the plants fill in. 

Later, while prebaking the tart shell I cooked a batch of rigatoni, and you could call what I made with it mac ‘n’ cheese, I suppose, at least a variation thereon: basic bechamel sauce but made with cream rather than milk and fresh nutmeg grated in; then, for the cheese, raclette. We are very fortunate to have fine raclette made right here on the peninsula at Leelanau Cheese, and I’d bought that at the farmers market on Friday, too. My cheesy pasta I baked in cute little ramekins, with extra raclette on top, but the cuteness was nothing compared to the taste. I warned my friend, “One bite, and you’ll feel a need to go to confession!” She laughed but agreed after she tasted.

We had the salad I invented a couple weeks ago and love for its cool, freshing summer tastes and textures: tomato (this one an heirloom variety from the farmers market), cucumber, blueberries, and pinenuts, with balsamic vinaigrette. We had poached (steamed, really) salmon and green beans with curried mayonnaise, with the rigatoni-raclette on the side. And for dessert we had gooseberry tart generously heaped with freshly whipped real cream.

(Cold, the next day)

Half-eaten serving!

Another friend told me the other day that someone had asked her, after her husband died, if she was fixing regular meals for herself or “eating crackers over the sink.” I certainly don’t fix meals like this when I’m alone (or even for company more than once a year, if that!), but once in a blue moon, for an old friend, it felt like the right time to pull out all the stops -- which meant I also did better than crackers over the sink the following day, when my next evening's dinner recapitulated everything but the whipped cream and so, finally, I got a few half-decent photos to illustrate this post. Because while I often photograph while I'm in the process of cooking and baking, I also often forget to photograph the finished dishes in all their glory. "Did you take a picture of that?" the Artist used to ask me. But now no one asks.


Friday, February 4, 2022

So Good, It Doesn't Need Meat


Getting Started

Curried cabbage soup, made with coconut milk, sounded good to me when the thermometer went down below freezing. As is true of so many wonderful winter dishes, the soup begins (on the left above) with onions, garlic, and fresh ginger. In a saucepan, sliced carrots simmered in chicken broth (I use Better Than Bouillon; see this post on cauliflower soup) until it was time to add a can of diced tomatoes and let those flavors simmer together. 

All together now!

Aromatics added to the broth-carrot-tomato mixture in the saucepan, it was time for spices -- curry and turmeric. More simmering.... Stir in the coconut milk. And then, at last --.

Chopped cabbage will steam and simmer, blending into the base.

With the addition of cabbage, our soup is complete. How long you simmer it depends on how soft you like your cabbage and how hungry you are. 

Some recipes for curried cabbage soup call for chicken, but frankly, I don't see the point. This is such a flavorful soup that chicken would get lost in the crowd. And you can always ladle cooked-down, leftover soup over rice and serve it next to chicken, if you like, the next day.

Perfect soup!

Monday, December 27, 2021

Save Those Cookies!


Hard to believe I haven't posted anything here since April. Okay, maybe not so hard to believe. There were last weeks in the ghost town, travel back to Michigan, months of bookselling and mowing grass, then packing up to come back to the high desert. I haven't been filled with ambition since we got here, either, not for cooking or baking or much of anything but reading and walking with dogs.

I did, however, get it together to mix up a couple batches of cookies before Christmas and want to share a tip that others might find helpful. The first batch of mincemeat cookies I pulled from the oven were not, as it turned out, quite done. I went ahead with the rest, then turned the oven off, and put the not-quite-done cookies back on a cookie pan and in the oven. Remaining heat took care of the problem. In fact (and this might be going further than necessary), I didn't pull them out of the oven until the next morning, when they were crispy and delicious and not at all overdone. 

Mincemeat cookies have a yummy taste but are an easy drop cookie to make and don't need decorating to be festive. Sorry I did not take enough photos to document the problem and solution, but as you can see by the nearly empty bowl, everything worked out fine. This solution just might work with any kind of drop cookie. Let me know if you run into the problem with another kind of cookie and solve it with my fix.