Wednesday, December 28, 2011

New Year's Day queso compuesto


A year or so ago, I was visiting Texas in August and stopped by my grandma’s farm to say howdy. She asked if I was hungry, as she’d just cooked up a pot of black-eyed peas. How could I refuse? We sat down at the table and ate big bowls of the freshly picked peas along with Swiss chard cooked with bacon and warm cornbread slathered in butter. It was a fine late-summer feast using up the bounty of her garden.

Now, this time of year people start thinking more about black-eyed peas, greens and pork as they’re required eating for good fortune in the New Year. A meal such as the one I shared with my grandma would not be out of place on New Year’s Day. But these foods for us are an essential part of life and we eat them all year long, not just on January 1.

This isn’t to say, however, that I won’t be having black-eyed peas, greens and pork on Sunday. But I like to take a little license with these ingredients and take them on a journey to a new place.

new-year-queso_compuesto black-eyed peas, jalapeno

And that’s how I arrived at my New Year’s Day queso compuesto.

The last time I was dipping into a queso compuesto, I asked myself, “What would this taste like with Mexican chorizo, black-eyed peas and collard greens?” Was it kind of crazy or kind of good? I decided to find out.

For those of you wondering what the heck is queso compuesto, let me explain. Queso the dish is melted cheese mixed with chiles—hence it’s official name, chile con queso. (The word "queso in Spanish means cheese.) In Texas, this melted cheese is usually of the yellow processed variety, though sometimes we make queso with non-processed cheese instead. Queso compuesto then takes this bowl of queso and makes it better by adding stuff such as taco meat, refried beans, guacamole and pico de gallo. It’s one outrageous dip.

Now, melted cheese goes with just about anything savory. And earthy black-eyed peas, smoky collard greens and spicy Mexican chorizo are good friends, too. But for some reason I worried that combining these three with melted cheese would be a bit much. I shouldn’t have—this dip lasted about a minute and even people who think they don’t like black-eyed peas couldn’t get enough.

Of course, if you’re not a fan of black-eyed peas, chorizo or collards, you can make endless substitutions—though I have to say that it is fun combining Southern comfort with Tex-Mex, plus I guarantee that your guests will be very impressed with this twist on a classic.


This queso compuesto might just be my new favorite way to begin a new year, especially if you’re gathering with friends and family and want something to keep them occupied while you work on the main meal. And sure, it may be a little decadent and go against those resolutions, but don’t worry—salads and soups will still be around on January 2.

Happy New Year! May your 2012 be filled with lots of love and joy.

New Year’s Day queso compuesto
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1/2 pound Mexican chorizo, removed from any casing
1/4 medium onion, diced
6 roasted jalapeños, seeds and stems removed, diced
2 cups cooked collard greens, drained and finely chopped
2 cups cooked black-eyed peas, drained or one 15-ounce can of black-eyed peas, drained
8 ounces cream cheese, cubed
4 cups shredded Muenster (16 ounces)
1/2 cup half-and-half
1 teaspoon lime juice (optional)
1/2 cup chopped cilantro
Salt to taste
Tortilla chips

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. In a large oven-proof skillet, such as a cast iron skillet, heat the oil on medium low and add the Mexican chorizo and onion. While stirring occasionally to break up any large chunks of chorizo, cook until the chorizo and onions are cooked through, about 5-8 minutes. Remove the skillet from the heat and if you like, drain off any excess grease.

Stir into the skillet the diced jalapeños, black-eyed peas and collard greens. Evenly distribute on top the cubed cream cheese and shredded Muenster then pour in the half-and-half. Bake uncovered until the cheese is bubbling, about 15-20 minutes. Remove from the oven and gently stir to combine everything. If you’d like a little tang, you can squeeze in some lime juice. Garnish with chopped cilantro and add salt to taste. Serve with tortilla chips

Yield: 8 servings

Note: To roast the jalapeños, place under the broiler for 10 minutes until blackened, turning once. To keep the dip warm, you can place on a chafing dish, in a slow cooker or in a fondue pot.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Complexion candy, a date, fig and pecan confection

complexion candy, date and fig candy

The other day I found myself in a cookie coma. After eating nothing but cookies and homemade candy for several hours straight, my belly hurt and I could barely keep my eyes open. It was a sugar, butter and white flour overload.

Now, I’m not one to pass up a sweet treat, especially this time of year. But sometimes it might be wise for me to cut back just a little so I won’t find myself shopping for a whole new wardrobe in the new year.

Enter complexion candy. “What kind of candy?” you may be asking. I said the same thing when I came across this old Texan recipe. Though upon closer inspection I realized that complexion candy is simply an old-fashioned dried fruit and nut confection under a more colorful name.

dates and figs

I love dates. They’re sticky, crunchy and sweet with such a rich caramelized flavor that it’s hard to believe that they’re a fruit. Yep, dates are nature’s candy. And that’s what’s at the heart of complexion candy, along with figs, raisins, orange zest and pecans.

It's a snap to make this, as you simply throw all the ingredients into a food processor and whirl away until a smooth paste forms. Then you can either roll it into balls and dip it in coconut or chopped pecans, or you can press it into a pan and cut it into squares after chilling.

The original recipe called for sprinkling the complexion candy with powdered sugar, but I didn't think it added much, so I skipped that step. You, however, may disagree. But one thing that we can agree on is that complexion candy is a guilt-free sweet. It’s also extremely versatile. For instance, you can sub in other dried fruits if you like, add a bit of ginger and cinnamon for a little spice, use walnuts if you prefer, or if you’re feeling really decadent throw in some chocolate chips or chopped bacon.

complexion candy, date and fig candy

If you’re a fan of fig bars or Lara Bars, then this is for you. Now, I would never advocate getting rid of the pralines, the brittlesfestive cookie tray and other holiday treats that always makes the season bright, but you might consider giving complexion candy a try. And you know what? You might just be surprised.

Complexion candy
2 cups dates
2 cups dried figs
1/2 cup raisins
1/4 cup roasted pecans
1 tablespoon orange zest
1/2 cup shredded coconut
1/4 cup chopped nuts, such as pecans, walnuts or pistachios

Place the dates, dried figs, raisins, pecans and orange zest in a food processor and blend until a paste forms. Form into 1-tablespoon-sized balls and dip in shredded coconut and/or chopped nuts. Alternatively, you can press the paste into a pan, chill for an hour and then cut into squares.

Variations: You can replace the pecans with walnuts or almonds. You can also dip the balls into chopped nuts. For more flavor, try adding a pinch of ginger, cinnamon and clove. To make them even more decadent, you can add chocolate chips or chopped bacon.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Bacon-jalapeño cheese ball

bacon jalapeno cheese ball

While I was home for Thanksgiving, I found in my grandma’s cabinet a North Texas community cookbook from the 1970s. It was a fairly typical cookbook, with chapters on appetizers, soups, main courses and desserts in the traditional order that you’d eat them. But attached to the end was a final chapter that focused on only one thing: cheese.

The placement struck me as strange. Why was it the last chapter of the book? Sure, Europeans are known for having a cheese course at the end of a meal, but Texans not so much. Then I turned the page. It wasn’t just any old cheese chapter—it was a chapter on nothing but cheese balls.

Now, I’ve written before about my love of this decadent and delicious appetizer fashioned from cheese, nuts and herbs. When I was growing up, it was the mark of a very grown-up party if there was a pecan-covered cheese ball on the table. While the kids would get their cheese fix by dipping chips into the pot of chile con queso, the adults would nibble on wheat crackers topped with the nutty, creamy spread.

Then, cheese balls went out of style. Whenever you’d mention them there would inevitably be giggling and eye rolling. Heck, even the term “cheese ball” began to connote an over-the-top, slightly out-of-touch buffoon. For example, take that friend who serenaded all the girls with Lionel Ritchie’s “Hello,” when he first met them. “Oh, he’s such a cheese ball,” people would say. It wasn’t exactly an insult, but you could all agree that your friend was more goofy than cool.

But all things retro eventually come back in style. And in the past few years, cheese balls have been making their way back into polite company. This is very happy news for me, as I never stopped liking them—even when presenting them at a party meant you might not be considered the most sophisticated hostess. Though what’s not to love about a cheese ball as it looks festive and tastes terrific.

Of course, good looks and flavor aside, the best thing about a cheese ball is its infinite variety. Most cheese balls start with a base of cream cheese, but from there you can add just about anything you want—goat cheese, blue cheese, herbs, spices dried fruit and nuts. With a cheese ball, the only limit is your imagination.

As for me, I’ve been enjoying a healthy handful of jalapeño and bacon in my cheese balls of late, which makes for a smoky, savory cheese ball punched up with just a bit of tang and heat. I round it out with some roasted pecans because I like a little crunch, though I do admit it’s almost as good without. It’s been a big crowd pleaser this holiday season, though you certainly don’t need a gathering to make it as cheese balls take little effort to make.

bacon jalapeno cheese ball

I’m still not sure why the cheese ball chapter was at the end of that community cookbook, but I’m not going to ponder it too much. And who knows, maybe it was simply an editorial decision to save the best for last.

Bacon-jalapeño cheese ball

8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese (4 ounces)
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
Pinch of cayenne
1 teaspoon lime juice
1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
2 jalapeños, stems and seeds removed, diced, divided
6 pieces cooked bacon, crumbled, divided (about 6 ounces)
Salt to taste
1/4 cup chopped pecans, roasted
Crackers for serving

Mix together the cream cheese, cheddar cheese, cilantro, garlic, cumin, cayenne, lime juice, Worcestershire sauce, half of the diced jalapeños and half of the crumbled cooked bacon. Taste and adjust seasonings and add salt.

Place the roasted pecans and remaining diced jalapeños and bacon on a plate. Stir together so well mixed. With your hands, roll the cheese mixture into a ball, then place on the plate and roll in the jalapeños, bacon and pecans until covered.

Chill covered for at least an hour before serving. Serve with crackers.

Yield: 12 servings

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Chilaquiles with ancho tomatillo salsa

chilaquiles rojos and verde ancho tomatillo salsa

When I first moved to New York, one of the dishes that was lacking was migas. That Texan breakfast staple of eggs scrambled with fried tortillas, along with a host of other good things such as cheese and chiles, was nowhere to be found.

Then one day a friend called and said, “I’ve found migas! This Mexican restaurant is calling them chilaquiles, but if you close your eyes you won’t tell the difference.”

Desperate for a migas fix, the next morning I hopped on the train and met him for breakfast at his local Mexican joint. We ordered the chilaquiles and were presented with scrambled eggs tossed with fried tortillas coated in a bright salsa verde. My friend was correct—they were very similar to our beloved migas and we ate them with gusto and joy.

fried tortilla wedges

Chilaquiles (pronounced chee-la-kee-lays), to those who’ve never had them, are fried tortilla strips or wedges that have been simmered in salsa. As the fried tortillas cook, they absorb the salsa and impart it with its toasted corn flavor until the two become meshed into one. You know when you get to the bottom of the cereal bowl and the cereal has absorbed some of the milk and the milk tastes like cereal? Yep, chilaquiles are kind of wonderful like that—though hopefully not as soggy.

Now, sometimes other things can join the party, such as sliced chicken, shredded beef or even scrambled eggs, the latter of which causes people to think that migas and chilaquiles are the same.

But they’re not.

tomatillos and ancho chile

Here’s the deal. In Texas, Migas are always fried tortilla pieces with scrambled eggs. (The term migas in Spanish means "little crumbs," which is why in Spain there is a dish called migas that is made with bread crumbs. But we're talking Tex-Mex here!) It’s the tortillas and eggs that define migas and without the two you just don’t have that dish.

On the other hand, chilaquiles are nothing without fried tortilla pieces and salsa—it’s the tortillas simmering and soaking in the salsa that defines this dish. The word itself derives from a Nahuatl term that means "in a sauce of chile peppers."

One of the salsas I like to use is an ancho-tomatillo salsa, which I love for its earthy and tangy tones. Of course, you can use any salsa for chilaquiles—red or green. And if you’re feeling especially festive this time of year, you can make two batches of chilaquiles—one with a red salsa and one with a salsa verde and put them on the same plate.

Chilaquiles are intended to get rid of your day-old tortillas, so you’ll want to use stale tortillas, as they’ll absorb more of the salsa. Though if you don’t want to mess with frying tortillas, in a pinch I’ve known people to throw in some stale tortilla chips instead. I also find chilaquiles are a perfect vehicle for leftover chicken, which I often add to make a heartier dish.

chilaquiles rojos and verde ancho tomatillo salsa

People tell me they are starting to see migas on New York breakfast menus, which is a good thing. Though this would never stop me from eating chilaquiles, as the two are completely different and equally wonderful. And if you're a fan of migas and have never tried chilaquiles, I know you'll love them, too.

Chilaquiles with ancho-tomatillo salsa

For the ancho-tomatillo salsa:
1 ancho chile, stem and seeds removed
1/2 pound tomatillos, husks removed or one 11-ounce can, drained
2 cloves garlic
1 cup water
Salt to taste

For the chilaquiles:
2 cups ancho-tomatillo salsa or the salsa of your choice
Vegetable oil or lard for frying
8 stale corn tortillas, cut into quarters or 32 tortilla chips
2 cups diced cooked chicken (optional)
Salt to taste

For serving:
Cotija cheese
Sour cream
Lime wedges

To make the ancho-tomatillo salsa, in a dry skillet heated on high, toast the ancho chile on each side for about 10 seconds or until it starts to puff. Fill the skillet with enough water to cover the chile. Leave the heat on until water begins to boil and then turn off the heat and let the chile soak until soft, about 30 minutes. Once hydrated, discard the soaking water and rinse the chile.

Meanwhile, place the tomatillos under the broiler and turning once, cook for 10-12 minutes or until blackened. (If using canned tomatillos, skip this step.)

Place the ancho chile, blackened tomatillos, garlic and 1 cup of water in a blender and blend until smooth, about a minute. Add salt to taste. You should have about 2 cups of salsa. If you have less, add a bit more water.

To make the chilaquiles, in a large skillet heat about 3/4 inch of oil on medium high until it’s 325 degrees. Line a baking sheet with paper towels. In batches, place the quartered tortillas into the hot oil and fry about one minute per side or until light brown and crisp. Remove fried tortillas with a slotted spatula and place on the paper-towel-lined sheet. Repeat until all the quartered tortillas have been fried.

Remove the skillet from the heat and pour out all but one tablespoon of oil, discarding the rest. Place the skillet back on the burner and heat to medium-low. Pour in the salsa, and cook the salsa for 2 minutes or until warm. Add the chicken (if using) and the chips and gently stir to coat the chips in the salsa. Cover the skillet, turn down the heat to low, and cook for 2 more minutes.

Serve with cilantro, Cotija cheese, sour cream and lime wedge.

To make chilaquiles rojos and verdes, use one cup of the ancho-tomatillo salsa (or any other red salsa of choice) and one cup of salsa verde. Divide the fried tortillas and chicken in half, and cook them separately in each salsa. To serve, place on each plate some of the chilaquiles rojos and the chilaquiles verdes.

Note: If you prefer, you can use any salsa that you like to make chilaquiles. Likewise, I add chicken to mine for a heartier meal, but you can serve them without the chicken, or with beef, beans, sautéed vegetables or scrambled eggs instead.

Yield: 4 servings

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Homesick Texan gift guide 2011

Doing things for others is said to be a path to happiness and that may be why this time of year is filled with so much joy. While I’ve been searching for gifts for my family and friends, I’ve come across a few items that would be perfect for that Texan in your life. So without further ado, here is my 2011 Homesick Texan gift guide.

Texas gift towels, glasses, plates and more
My mom does this great thing where she wraps gifts in dishtowels, which means that I haven’t had to buy one in years due to a ready supply. That said, when I came across some mighty fine Texas dishtowels made by Catstudio, I knew I had to add one or two to my collection. Catstudio has also applied its design prowess to creating themed dishtowels for the cities Austin, Dallas, Houston and Fort Worth, along with fabulous glasses, plates and throw pillows. Cute, fun and practical!

Texas pecans
Last week when I was home for Thanksgiving, I probably ate over a pound of local pecans. Sure, pecans grow in other places, but those from Texas are definitely the sweetest, most flavorful pecans around. In New York City, it’s difficult to find Texas pecans but I’ve found a few places that do mail order, such as these organic pecans grown by Caddo Valley Pecans , which come from a grove near the North Texas town of Bonham. And if you’re looking for some pecan candy to go along with your nuts, there’s Oliver Pecan Co., which is based in San Saba, the pecan capital of the world.

Dublin Dr Pepper
Dublin Dr Pepper, everyone’s favorite Dr Pepper made with cane sugar instead of high fructose corn syrup, has been accused by Dr Pepper parent company Cadbury Schwepps of not sticking to its agreement to sell only within a 44-miles radius from its Central Texas bottling plant. While the two are in litigation you can't order it online but if you call, I hear you can place an order for the highly prized beverage. Likewise, if you want to show your support for Dublin Dr Pepper, you can contribute to their legal defense fund and get a T-Shirt that proclaims, “Save Dublin.” But even though Dublin Dr Pepper is no longer offered online, they do offer other soft drinks in bulk syrup form (if you want to mix your own soda), such as a five-gallon bag of Big Red syrup made with cane sugar.

Friday Night Lights, The Complete Series
It’s Texas high school football playoff season, an occasion on proud display in many of the small towns I drove through while I was home for Thanksgiving. Seeing the numerous signs showing support for all the hometown teams made me nostalgic, not only for my own high school days but for the show “Friday Night Lights,” which ended this year. While I’ll never be 17 again, thanks to thiss DVD collection of all five season I can at least revisit this quintessential show about Texas small-town life.

Texas Waffle Maker
When I mentioned Texas-shaped baking pans last year, many of you told me about your Texas waffle makers. “Waffles shaped like Texas are the best,” you insisted. And indeed, I had the opportunity to try many Texas-shaped waffles myself this year as I traveled around the state staying at various motels that had them on offer at their breakfast buffets. And if you're wondering, yes it’s true—waffles shaped like Texas do taste better!

Signed copies of The Homesick Texan Cookbook
Okay, I realize I'm a bit biased in listing my book but I’ve been told by my mom that The Homesick Texan Cookbook makes a superb gift. (Though apparently others such as The New York Times, Epicurious and Amazon agree.) You can buy it wherever books are sold but if you’d like a signed copy, just call my local bookshop Posman Books (212-627-0304), tell them the inscription you'd like, I'll sign it and they'll ship it.

While you're book shopping, you should also check out two other Texas cookbooks that came out this year: Lou Lambert's and June Naylor’s Big Ranch, Big City Cookbook, a beautiful survey of Lou’s delicious West Texas-inspired cooking, and a reissue of Cheryl and Bill Jamison’s Texas Home Cooking, a classic that has recipes for just about everything.

Texas relief
This year has been a tough one for Texas. The ongoing drought has brought on a series of disasters, such as the loss of crops and livestock, not to mention the horrible wildfires that devastated parts of the state. In light of all this, a charitable donation to a disaster relief organization working to help Texas is an excellent way to give back to the place you love. There are many, but here are a few to get you started: Central Texas Red Cross or one of the other Red Cross chapters across Texas; Texas Episcopal Disaster Relief and Development, and the state government’s own fund, The Texas Disaster Fund.

Of course, there are many other terrific gifts for homesick Texans. For instance, if you're looking for grapefruits, barbecue, tamales or more, then check out this gift guide, this gift guide and this gift guide from previous years.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Tamale cornbread dressing

tamale cornbread dressing

The first time I heard of tamales used as a stuffing was in Mary Faulk Koock’s The Texas Cookbook, where she tells a story about a friend of hers in Amarillo who packs his turkey with dozens of tamales before throwing it on a grill and slathering it with barbecue sauce.

“Brilliant!” I said to myself. “I must try that!”

Of course, with no outdoor space I knew that my opportunities to grill a turkey were limited. But using tamales as a stuffing (or dressing, as we say down South), was very intriguing.

In my family, my uncle is on dressing duty every year so it’s not a dish I’ve spent much time making or refining. But I couldn’t stop thinking about incorporating tamales into the dressing, especially since tamales embrace some of the finer qualities of a dressing with their soft, steamed dough wrapped around a piquant, flavorful filling. And when you throw in some crumbled cornbread and roasted jalapeños, you’ve taken something traditional and elevated it to something unique.

tamale cornbread dressing

Even though I'll be celebrating Thanksgiving with my family at my grandma’s farm, I’m a firm believer that feasting well and showing gratitude shouldn’t just be limited to one day. It’s for this reason my friends and I often get together and throw an early Thanksgiving dinner before we travel for the holiday. And when I learned I was on side-dish duty, I knew just what I would make.

A little poking around led me to a few recipes for tamale cornbread dressing. Interestingly, most of them hailed from Austin though I did find one from the Rio Grande Valley. After much thought, I decided to adapt an Austin Chronicle recipe that appealed to me because it had lots of cheese and corn. I also threw in some cilantro, cumin and garlic for more flavor, and in a nod to my uncle’s dressing I swapped out the poblano chiles for jalapeños, which added more fire and pop to each bite.

While I made mine with beef tamales, it would be just as good with pork, chicken, turkey or any other type of tamale that you prefer. This recipe makes enough to serve eight hungry people, though it can easily be doubled if you have a larger crowd.

If you love cornbread and tamales, this dressing is for you. Sure, it’s special enough for the big feast, but I have a feeling it will be making more appearances in my kitchen during the colder months, especially if I have leftover cornbread I want to use. After all, as my uncle says, dressing is one of the ultimate comfort foods.


Looking for additional Thanksgiving recipes? Here you go: pecan pie, giblet gravy, sweet potato biscuits and more Thanksgiving menu ideas.


Tamale cornbread dressing (adapted from the Austin Chronicle)

2 tablespoons butter, divided
1/2 medium yellow onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
4 cups crumbled cornbread, (1/2 of a baked 10-inch skillet)
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon dried sage
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
3 jalapeños, seeds and stems removed, diced
1 cup frozen corn kernels
4 ounces pepper Jack, shredded (1 cup)
6 beef, pork or chicken tamales, chopped
2 cups turkey or chicken broth
Salt and black pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

In a large cast-iron skillet, melt the butter on medium-low heat. Add the onions to the skillet and cook until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 30 more seconds.

Once cooked, remove the skillet from the heat and transfer the cooked onions and garlic to a large bowl. Add to the large bowl the crumbled cornbread, cumin, sage, cilantro, corn kernels, diced jalapeños and pepper Jack cheese. Stir until well combined. Gently stir in the chopped tamales, and return the dressing to the skillet. (Alternatively, you can place the dressing in a greased 9x9 baking dish.)

Pour over the dressing the chicken broth and gently stir to combine. Adjust seasonings and add salt and pepper to taste. Cover the skillet with foil and bake for 45 minutes. Remove the foil and bake for 15 more minutes or until top is lightly browned and the edges are crisp.

Yield: 8 servings

Friday, November 11, 2011

Sweet potato salad with cranberries and pecans

sweet potato salad cranberries pecans

“What are you cooking this week?” asked my grandma. I told her I was making sweet potatoes. “They’re good for your eyes!” she said.

My grandma loves her sweet potatoes, as does most of my family. I, however, only eat them when they’re mashed or pureed as in soups or pies. Other preparations—such as sweet potatoes with marshmallows or sweet potato fries—are just a bit too much for me. I can’t explain it.

But at my cousin’s wedding in August I had a revelation. My cousin Lisa, like everyone in my family, loves to cook. And when her daughter Sarah announced her wedding, Lisa said, “I’m catering it.” It was a huge party and preparing a dinner for so many folks was a herculean task, but Lisa gathered up her friends and with their help she pulled it off with grace and elegance.

sweet potatoes

It was a fine feast made all the better because it was prepared with love. Everything was delicious, but there was one salad that stood out on a table overflowing with goodness. The salad was nutty, creamy, earthy yet sweet and was the sort of dish that made you pause because you weren’t quite sure what you’d eaten, but you quickly took another bite because you knew you wanted more. I couldn’t figure out exactly what it was, but I loved it anyway.

Then it hit me.

“Wait. Are these sweet potatoes?” I asked the people sitting at my table. My mom said that they were. “But it tastes so good and I don’t like sweet potatoes!” I said. She agreed that it was one incredible dish. In fact the whole table was chatting about this simple salad comprised of sweet potatoes, crunchy pecans and tart dried cranberries tossed in a curry-laced dressing. It was quite the surprise.

The next day, I insisted that Lisa give me the recipe. It turned out to be one of her friend’s recipes and she promised to send it to me. “This would be perfect for Thanksgiving!” I said.

Now, while this is a cold salad, sweet potatoes, pecans and cranberries are in season and this dish still says autumn to me. Even if you’re the kind of person that often finds sweet potatoes a bit cloying I know you’ll enjoy this.

sweet potato salad cranberries pecans

Plus, as my grandma says, sweet potatoes are good for your eyes!

Sweet potato salad with cranberries and pecans

4 pounds sweet potatoes (about 2 or 3 large), peeled and cut into 3/4-inch cubes
1/2 cup mayonnaise
2 teaspoons curry powder
1 teaspoon coarse-ground mustard
2 green onions, sliced
1 cup dried cranberries
½ cup roughly chopped pecans, lightly toasted
Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and lightly grease a baking sheet. Place the cubed sweet potatoes on the sheet and bake until cooked but firm, about 35-40 minutes.

In a large bowl, whisk together the mayonnaise, curry powder and mustard. Stir in the green onions, cranberries, pecans and cooked sweet potatoes. Adjust seasonings and add salt and pepper to taste. Chill for at least three hours before serving.

Yield: 4 servings

Note: My cousin adds 1 tablespoon of brown sugar when she makes this, but I find it’s plenty sweet with the sweet potatoes and cranberries. If you want it to be sweeter, you might try it that way.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Stuffed pumpkin with cheese, bacon and chipotle chiles

The day before I left for my Texas tour, I made an incredible dish. It was a baked pumpkin stuffed with bread, Gruyere, sharp white cheddar, bacon, chipotle chiles, cream and garlic. After spending some time in the oven, it emerged filled with a rich, savory and spicy filling that was perfect for spooning onto a plate as an autumnal side dish. I was smitten.

After taking photos and writing down my changes to the two recipes I adapted (one from Dorie Greenspan and another from Ian Knauer), I packed my suitcases and focused on signing books instead of blogging. My goal had been to share this with you from the road, but between events I was simply too busy to write. Any mention of it would have to wait.

In my mind, pumpkins are most associated with Halloween and when October ended, I thought I’d missed my opportunity. But when I told my mom about the stuffed pumpkin she said, “We should serve that at Thanksgiving!” And she’s right—it’s not too late and indeed we do!

Before we continue talking about this pumpkin, however, please allow me to say a few words about my time in Texas. I can’t tell you how incredible it was meeting so many of you! When you write for a living, you spend much of your time alone in front of a computer, so being able to go out and hear your stories and match faces to familiar names was extremely edifying. What a friendly, smart and generous bunch y’all are!

A big thank you to all who made it out to the events—seeing you definitely made my day! (If you weren’t able to attend and you’d like a signed copy of my book, head on over to my book page for information on how to order one.)

Now back to that pumpkin. They are still in season and if you’re looking for something dramatic to share at the table, then this cheese-stuffed pumpkin with bacon and chipotle chiles will definitely bring both smiles and sighs. Mom had suggested we serve it at Thanksgiving as an appetizer, which will work. But I think it could make for an unusual take on dressing, too.

If you’re a fan of nutty melted cheese, crisp bacon and smoky chipotle chiles, then there’s no need to wait until Thanksgiving to enjoy this pumpkin. Sure, it takes some time to bake, but the preparation is a snap. And with just a little planning you can have a festive dish that will bring light and warmth to the table as the days grow shorter and darker.

Stuffed pumpkin with cheese, bacon and chipotle chiles (adapted from recipes by Dorie Greenspan and Ian Knauer)

One 3-to-4 pound pumpkin
Salt and black pepper to taste
4 ounces French bread, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1/4 pound Gruyere, shredded (1 cup)
1/4 pound white cheddar, shredded (1 cup)
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 or 2 chipotle chiles en adobo, diced (depending on how fiery you want it)
1/4 pound cooked bacon, crumbled
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
Small pinch of nutmeg
1/2 cup heavy cream or half-and-half

Arrange a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a 9x13 casserole pan or baking pan with foil or parchment paper.

With a sharp knife, cut a circle around the pumpkin stem about 1 inch away from the stem. Remove the top and clean out the seeds and stringy bits from inside the pumpkin. (You can save the seeds for roasting, if you like.) Lightly salt and pepper the inside of the pumpkin.

Toss together the bread cubes, shredded Gruyere, shredded cheddar, garlic, diced chipotle chiles and cooked bacon, and stuff into the pumpkin. Stir the cumin and nutmeg into the cream, adding a bit of salt and black pepper to taste. Pour cream mixture into pumpkin over bread and cheese.

Place the top back on the pumpkin, and place the pumpkin into the baking pan. Bake for 1 1/2 hour to 2 hours or until filling is brown and bubbling. To serve, remove the top and spoon out portions of the filling along with bits of the cooked pumpkin. You can either leave it in the pan, or by using the foil or parchment paper, you can carefully lift it out of the pan and place it on a platter. Serve warm.

Yield: 4 servings

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Texas Ranger cookies

When I was eight, my dad drove us from Carrollton to Arlington to see the Texas Rangers. It was my first baseball game. While my previous sporting experience had only been football, I soon fell in love with a sport that allowed you to sit outside on a breezy summer evening, served hot dogs and peanuts at your seat, and played organ music every time a player approached the plate.

(I also developed a huge crush on Jim Sundberg, which completely dates me, I know!)

We moved to Houston soon after that, and the professional baseball games there were not quite the same. First, instead of being outside you sat inside the air-conditioned Astrodome, where you lost all sense of time. And while an organ still played, there was also an impressive light show that exploded across the board whenever a player did well. It was completely different from what I’d seen in Arlington, but I still had a ton of fun.

Because I spent most of my childhood in Houston, I’ll admit that I consider myself an Astros fan. But since the Rangers were my first baseball love I will always have warm feelings for them. And yes, I am over the moon to see a Texas team in the World Series, especially after the difficult time the state had this summer; it’s refreshing to hear happy things about Texas in the news.

This past week I’ve been in Texas signing books and meeting so many of you—it’s been a blast. But it's also been a thrill to see large groups cheering on the home team.

Before I left New York—when we were still watching to see if the Rangers would cinch the American League title—I made a few batches of ranger cookies, though in honor of the team I took to calling them Texas Ranger cookies instead.

Now, if you’re not familiar with ranger cookies, they are very similar to cowboy cookies in that they’re chock full of good things such as nuts, oats and chocolate chips. A little research, however, revealed that ranger cookies differ slightly from cowboy cookies in that they also have cereal such as corn flakes, wheat flakes or puffed rice added to the dough. There is also dried fruit, which you don’t see as often in cowboy cookies.

To mine, instead of the usual raisins I’ve added dried cherries and blueberries, as an homage to the Rangers' team colors, of course. I also baked them as a bar cookie instead of a drop cookie, which is not only faster but if you have a Texas-shaped pan it also makes for a fine presentation. (Though any baking pan will do.)

While they’re a delicious dessert, ranger cookies were originally created to provide non-perishable, portable energy to outdoorsy types such as hikers, campers and yes, rangers. And as we make our way through this nail-biter of a World Series, trust me, we’ll need all the energy we can get!

Texas Ranger cookies
1 cup butter (2 sticks), room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup brown sugar
2 large eggs, beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup corn flakes
1 cup rolled oats
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup shredded coconut
1/2 cup dried blueberries
1/2 cup dried cherries
1 cup chopped pecans

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees; grease a 9x13 baking pan or a baking sheet.

Cream together the butter, the granulated sugar and the brown sugar. Stir in the eggs and vanilla. Stir in the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon and salt, and mix until well combined. Stir in the corn flakes, the oats, the chocolate chips, the coconut, the blueberries, the cherries and the pecans.

If making bar cookies, spread evenly the cookie dough in the baking pan and bake for 25 minutes or until edges are set and dough is lightly browned. Allow to cool for 15 minutes before slicing.

If making drop cookies, roll dough into walnut-sized balls, place on baking sheet and bake one pan at a time for 15-17 minutes. Allow to cool on a rack for 15 minutes.

Yield: About 36 bars or cookies

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Tex-Mex fried pies

tex-mex fried pies

“I have four words for you,” said a friend. “Tex-Mex fried pie!”

“Isn’t that three words?” I said.

“Whatever,” he said. “But have you had one?” I replied that I had not. “You should,” he said. He then went on to explain that a Tex-Mex fried pie was like a regular fried pie, but was filled with meat and beans instead of fruit. I asked if the crust was made with masa and he said, nope—it was a regular piecrust. “If you love bean and cheese tacos, you’ll love this,” he said.

And that was that—I was intrigued.

Now, I’m no stranger to making fried pies but I was still curious to see what sort of recipes existed for this savory delicacy. So imagine my surprise when the first one I found appeared in Yankee Magazine. Yes, I said Yankee. And it was strange.

The filling was a mix of ground beef, bell peppers and crushed potato chips. Now, I could understand, maybe, crushed tortilla chips. But potato chips just seemed odd in a recipe described as “Tex-Mex.”

tex-mex fried pies crust

What was even more odd was that further research revealed that the genesis of that recipe was actually Texan, as it had come from someone at the State Fair—the center of the universe for all things fried. That said, despite its provenance, without much spice or any jalapeños it still seemed bland so I decided to just make up my own.

One thing I did like about the recipe was there was some cheese added to the crust. I kept that idea, but I completely changed the filling. For mine, I went with spicy Mexican chorizo instead of ground beef, and of course I added refried beans. And for heat, I threw in some diced jalapeños and then finished it with cheddar cheese.

The filling was rich and addictive, the sort of thing that goes well with a handful of tortilla chips, a fluffy flour tortilla or yes, a fried piecrust. And once I fried up a batch and took my first bite, I knew just what my friend had been talking about—these Tex-Mex fried pies were indeed very good. (Some of you may be asking, what’s the difference between these and an empanada? Not much, I admit, as both are pastries stuffed with a filling. Though for my empanadas, I use a different crust and I always bake them.)

tex-mex fried pies

You can eat them on their own, but they’re also terrific dipped into salsa and sour cream. They make for a fine appetizer, a light lunch or an afternoon snack. And because they’re portable, when I head to Texas next week for my book tour, I’ll pack some with me for the plane trip, too.

Tex-Mex fried pies
For the crust:
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup grated cheddar cheese (4 ounces)
1/2 cup lard, chilled
1/4 cup cold water

For the filling:
1 tablespoon bacon grease or vegetable oil
1/4 medium yellow onion, diced
1/2 pound Mexican chorizo sausage
2 cups refried beans or 1 15-ounce can
2 jalapeños, seeds and stems removed, diced
3/4 cup shredded cheddar cheese (6 ounces)

For the pies:
Vegetable oil for frying
Salsa and sour cream for serving

To make the crust, mix together the flour, salt and cheddar cheese. Add the lard, either with a fork, your hands or a pastry cutter. When the flour is clumped together, slowly add the cold water, a tablespoon at a time, until the dough is moist enough to come together. Form the dough into a ball, then wrap and place the dough in the refrigerator to chill for at least an hour.

To make the filling, heat up the oil in a large skillet on medium-low. Add the onions and cook until soft, about five minutes. Remove the Mexican chorizo from the casing (if homemade and already loose, you can skip this step) and add to the skillet along with the diced jalapeños. Cook until chorizo is lightly browned, about five minutes. Stir in the refried beans and cook until heated. Turn off the heat and stir in the cheese.

To make the fried pies, roll out the chilled curst until it’s no more than 1/8 of an inch thick. Cut out 4-inch diameter circles. Roll out any leftover scraps and continue to cut out 3-inch circles until all the dough has been used. You should have about 12.

Place 2 tablespoons of filling in the center of each crust. Moisten the edges and fold the edge over, sealing the edges with your fingers and then press down on the edges with a fork. (If there's any filling left over, save it for tacos or use as a dip.)

In a cast-iron skillet, heat 1 inch of oil to 350 degrees. With a spatula, gently place 2 or 3 pies into the hot oil, cooking for about a minute on each side or until lightly browned. Drain cooked pies on a rack or a paper-towel-lined plate. Repeat for the remaining pies.

Serve warm with salsa, sour cream or just by themselves.

Yield: 12 pies

Monday, October 3, 2011

Entomatadas recipe


It’s that time of year when tomatoes are about to say farewell, and I’ve been eating them as often as I can. One of my favorite meals with said tomatoes is a batch of entomatadas.

If you’re not familiar with entomatadas, they’re like enchiladas—rolled tortillas filled with cheese, chicken or beef, and covered in a savory sauce. But as the term enchiladas refers to the chile sauce that covers the tortillas in that dish, the term entomatada refers to the tomato-based sauce that covers the tortillas in this dish.

The last time I had entomatadas in Texas was at a Mexican cafe in downtown Victoria called Mi Familia. There was a chalkboard outside that listed the specials, and in big letters was the announcement they were on offer that day. While I’d never eaten at that restaurant, when I walked inside it was bright, cheerful and smelled heavenly. I knew it would be good.


When the waitress came to my table, I asked her about the entomatadas. She said they were an old family recipe and that if I ate them it would be like eating in their home. How appropriate, I said, considering the restaurant’s name. She agreed and said I should definitely order them. I’m glad that I did. They were made with love and soul, and definitely made this stranger feel warm and welcome.

Now, entomatadas aren’t the most common dish in Texas and you’ll usually see them only in the southern part o the state. But that’s okay because the mild yet flavorful entomatadas are perfect for home cooking. They’re the Tex-Mex equivalent of tomato soup and a grilled cheese sandwich.

Making the sauce doesn’t take much, as it’s one of those recipes where you just throw everything into the blender. I add a step by roasting my tomatoes and aromatics under the broiler before pureeing, but this extra effort is worth it as it adds flavor. Then you just fill the warmed corn tortillas with cheese, smother them in sauce, and bake until the cheese melts. To serve, I top them with slices of avocado and like all things Tex-Mex, they’re best nestled between Mexican rice and refried beans.


Sure, entomatadas may not boast the most heat or sizzle. But if you're craving something simple and flavorful, it's hard to go wrong with this simple yet soulful dish.

Now then, in a couple of weeks I’ll get my fix of Texan home cooking as I travel across the state for book events. Here’s a list of where I’ll be and I look forward to meeting you!

Entomatadas with cheese

For the sauce:
2 pounds tomatoes, cored and cut in half, lengthwise or 2 15-ounce cans of diced tomatoes, preferably fire roasted
1 jalapeño, seeds and stem removed, cut in half lengthwise
3 garlic cloves
1/3 medium yellow onion
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1 cup chicken broth
1 teaspoon vegetable oil or lard
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
Salt to taste

For the entomatadas:
1 tablespoon vegetable oil or lard
12 corn tortillas
4 cups grated Monterrey Jack or Muenster cheese (16 ounces)
Avocado slices for serving

Heat up the broiler and line a baking sheet with foil. Place the tomatoes seed side down on the sheet, along with the jalapeño, garlic, and onion. Place under the broiler and after 4 minutes, take out the jalapeño, onion and garlic and place in a blender.

Continue to cook the tomatoes for 5 more minutes or until the skin blackens. Take out the tomatoes, and when you’re able to handle them, remove the skin and seeds. Place the tomatoes in the blender. (If using canned tomatoes, skip the broiling step and just add them to the blender.) Add the cumin, allspice and puree until smooth. Heat the oil in a pot on medium low, pour the sauce into the pot, add the chicken broth and turn down the heat and simmer for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in the cilantro, adjust seasonings and add salt to taste. (Note, if your tomatoes are especially juicy, you may forgo adding the chicken broth if you prefer, or add less than one cup.)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and grease a large baking dish. In a skillet, heat up the oil or lard on medium-low heat. One at a time, heat up the tortillas in the hot oil until soft. Keep them wrapped in a cloth or tortilla warmer until all the tortillas are heated.

Take each tortilla and place 1/4 cup of the cheese in the center. Roll the tortilla and place in the baking dish seam side down. Repeat for all the tortillas. Cover the tortillas with the sauce and the remaining cheese. Bake for 10 minutes or until the cheese on top is brown and bubbling.

Yield: 4 servings

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Chopped beef sandwich with a spicy barbecue sauce

chopped beef sandwich and spicy barbecue sauce

Last month, when I driving down 290 on my way to my cousin’s wedding weekend in Bryan, I passed my alma mater—Cy-Fair High School. School wasn’t set to begin until the following week, but I saw lights shining on the football field and the stands filled with people decked out in our school’s colors—maroon and white. It took me a second and then I remembered it was Friday night. I quickly exited the highway, turned around my car and headed back to campus to see what was happening.

When I pulled up to the field, I saw a sign announcing a pre-season scrimmage between Cy-Fair and Tomball. There were no cheerleaders, and the marching band was practicing its songs and routines in the parking lot, not in the stands. But it was Friday night and the lights were lit. And even if this game didn’t count—the level of energy and excitement was electric. It was a feeling I hadn’t experienced since the last time I was at a Bobcat game my senior year in high school.

“Welcome home!” I said to myself.

chopped beef sandwich spicy barbecue sauce

Now, as passionate as my friends and I were about our 5A team back in the day, the true highlight of any game—besides the socializing—was the eating. Frito pies, chili dogs, roasted peanuts, dill pickles and popcorn were standard fare sold by the boosters at every game, a common menu found at high school stadium concession stands across the state. But some nights, the boosters would also offer their famous chopped beef sandwiches. And you know what? That night was one of those nights.

Chopped beef sandwiches are not only found at football games, but they're also found at most Texan barbecue joints, rodeos and local fairs, too. It’s a simple sandwich, as it’s just finely chopped brisket tossed in sauce and then stacked tall on a soft bun with pickles, onions and jalapeños. But when done well, a chopped beef sandwich is just as satisfying as a stack of sliced brisket and ribs on a sheet of butcher paper. Plus a sandwich is more portable, which makes it perfect for eating while watching a game.

Smoked brisket is the traditional meat of choice for a chopped beef sandwich. The sandwich I had at the scrimmage was no different, as before I even entered the stands I could smell the post oak smoke wafting from the portable smoker manned by the boosters. But I have a confession to make. Because this is a sauced sandwich, I can make them at home without a smoker and feel equally satisfied. This may get me in trouble with some purists, but when you have moist brisket, a spicy barbecue sauce, plenty of onions, pickled jalapeños and a tender bun, I believe you won’t miss the smoke.

For the brisket, I just slow roast it in the oven until it’s tender. While there’s plenty of flavor in the meat, I think the sauce is also important; I serve mine with a fiery, tomato-based sauce that was inspired from a recipe purported to be from Rudy’s. While I was intrigued that the recipe used both ketchup and tomato sauce, I ended up changing the rest of the ingredients to make it less sweet and more fiery. A spoonful of molasses, dashes of cayenne and cumin do their part. A generous helping of black pepper also gives this sauce plenty of power and life.

chopped beef sandwich and spicy barbecue sauce

Of course, you certainly don’t need a football game as an excuse to serve these chopped beef sandwiches, they are excellent at any time. But if you have a hankering for some rousing songs, a roaring crowd and the drama that can only be found on the field on a Friday night—eating these sandwiches might just take you back to that place, even if you haven’t visited in a long time.

Chopped beef sandwiches with spicy barbecue sauce

For the brisket:
1/2 tablespoon salt
1/2 tablespoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
1 3- or 4 -pound brisket, the flat cut, with some fat still on it
1 large yellow onion, quartered
4 cloves garlic, cut in half

For the spicy barbecue sauce:
1 cup canned tomato sauce
1 cup ketchup
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
1 teaspoon molasses
1 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Pinch of ground cloves
Salt to taste

For serving:
8 warm buns
Sliced onions
Pickled jalapeño slices
Dill pickle slices

To prepare the brisket, preheat the oven to 275 degrees. Mix together the salt, black pepper and cayenne, and sprinkle on both sides of the brisket. In a roasting pan, place quartered onions at the four corners and lay the brisket, fat side up, on top of the onions, so it’s slightly elevated. Place the garlic on top of the brisket, and add 1/4 cup of water to the pan. Cover the pan tightly with foil and cook in the oven for five hours or until fork tender.

While the brisket is cooking, make the sauce. Mix together in a saucepan the tomato sauce, ketchup, apple cider vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, lemon juice, garlic, molasses, black pepper, cumin, cayenne and pinch of cloves. Bring to a boil and then simmer for 30 minutes. Adjust seasonings and add salt to taste.

Once you take the brisket out of the oven (you might first check that it’s tender enough), let it sit covered for 30 minutes. Lift the brisket out of the pan and finely chop, adding some of the pan juices. Toss the brisket with some of the sauce until desired sauciness is achieved, and serve on warm buns with onions, pickled jalapeños and dill pickle slices, with additional sauce on the side.

Yield: 6-8 sandwiches

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Store Food in Aluminum Foil?

Is it harmful to cook or store food in aluminum foil?
We do not recommend cooking or storing food in aluminum foil-even though there is no strong scientific evidence showing these practices to be harmful to your health. We have three reasons for making this recommendation. First, even though research studies don't show the food use of aluminum foil to be harmful, they clearly show migration of small amounts of aluminum from the foil into the food. For example, in one study conducted in Italy about 2-6 milligrams of aluminum was found to move over into food from aluminum foils, cookware, and utensils. Even if this amount has not been show to pose health harm, we don't like our food containing a potentially problematic metal that wasn't naturally supposed to be there.

Second, we believe that the jury is still out on aluminum with respect to chronic long-term health problems. (We're talking here about exposure to aluminum from all sources, including the environment, certain workplace settings, personal care products, etc.) Potential connections have been found between certain cancers and aluminum exposure, and also between aluminum exposure and Alzheimer's disease. Infertility connections have also been found. We don't see any reason to add potential exposure through the use of aluminum foil with food.

Finally, we don't like the consequences of aluminum foil manufacturing for our planet. Aluminum remains on the federal government's list of priority toxins for the United States, and its mining, manufacture, and post-use disposal pose significant problems for our environment. From our perspective, while aluminum foil is definitely lightweight, flexible, and convenient, these upsides don't come close to outweighing the downsides here.

  •     Gramiccioni L, Ingrao G, Milana MR, et al. Aluminium levels in Italian diets and in selected foods from aluminium utensils. Food Additives and Contaminants. 1996; 13(7):767-774. 1996.
  •     Lopez FE, Cabrera C, Lorenzo ML, et al. Aluminum levels in convenience and fast foods: in vitro study of the absorbable fraction. Sci Total Environ 2002;300(1-3):69-79. 2002.
  •     Nayak P. Aluminum: impacts and disease. Environ Res 2002;89(2):101-15. 2002.
  •     Pratico D, Uryu K, Sung S, et al. Aluminum modulates brain amyloidosis through oxidative stress in APP transgenic mice. FASEB J 2002;16(9):1138-40. 2002.
  •     Rondeau V. A review of epidemiologic studies on aluminum and silica in relation to Alzheimer's disease and associated disorders. Rev Environ Health 2002;17(2):107-21. 2002.
  •     Soni MG, White SM, Flamm WG, et al. Safety evaluation of dietary aluminum. Regul Toxicol Pharmacol 2001;33(1):66-79. 2001.
  •     Sugita T, Ishiwata H, Yoshihira K. [Migration of heavy metals into food-simulating solvents from aluminum pans]. Eisei Shikenjo Hokoku 1988;(106):124-6. 1988.

Florists Muffins

This muffin has a little bit of everything - carrots, raisins, apple butter, wheat germ, nuts. A perfect start for your day!

  •  1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  •  1/2 cup whole wheat flour
  •  1 1/4 cups white sugar
  •  1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
  •  2 teaspoons baking powder
  •  1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  •  1/2 teaspoon salt
  •  2 cups grated carrots
  •  1 apple - peeled, cored, and chopped
  •  1 cup raisins
  •  1 egg
  •  2 egg whites
  •  1/2 cup apple butter
  •  1/4 cup vegetable oil
  •  1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  •  2 tablespoons chopped walnuts
  •  2 tablespoons toasted wheat germ

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C). Lightly oil 18 muffin cups, or coat with nonstick cooking spray.
  2. In a medium bowl, whisk together eggs, egg whites, apple butter, oil and vanilla.
  3. In a large bowl, stir together flours, sugar, cinnamon, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Stir in carrots, apples and raisins. Stir in apple butter mixture until just moistened. Spoon the batter into the prepared muffin cups, filling them about 3/4 full.
  4. In a small bowl, combine walnuts and wheat germ; sprinkle over the muffin tops.
  5. Bake at 375 degrees F (190 degrees C) for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the tops are golden and spring back when lightly pressed.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Apple Banana Cupcakes

 Apple Banana Cupcakes
"This is a cupcake that smells as good as it tastes. It's an old Polish recipe from some of the best bakers in Milwaukee!"

  •  2 cups all-purpose flour
  •  1 teaspoon baking soda
  •  1 teaspoon salt
  •  1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  •  1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  •  2/3 cup shortening
  •  1 1/4 cups white sugar
  •  2 eggs
  •  1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  •  1/4 cup buttermilk
  •  1 cup ripe bananas, mashed
  •  2 apples - peeled, cored and shredded

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C). Grease and flour 24 muffin cups, or use paper liners. Sift together the flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Set aside.
  2. In a large bowl, cream together the shortening and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs one at a time, then stir in the vanilla and buttermilk. Beat in the flour mixture, mixing just until incorporated. Fold in the mashed bananas and shredded apples. Fill each muffin cup half full.
  3. Bake in the preheated oven for 20 to 25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Allow to cool.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Park Coffee Ice Cream

This recipe is an attempt to emulate 'ParkCoffee Ice Cream' made by an ice cream maker in Santa Barbara, California. It comes very close. If you like coffee-flavored ice cream, you'll like this.

  •  1 1/2 cups water
  •  2 cups white sugar
  •  1 1/2 cups heavy cream
  •  1 1/2 cups milk
  •  6 egg yolks
  •  3 tablespoons instant coffee granules
  •  2 tablespoons finely ground coffee (optional)


  1. Bring the water and sugar to a boil in a saucepan over high heat until the sugar dissolves and the syrup turns clear. Pour into a double boiler along with the cream and milk. Whisk until the syrup has dissolved into the milk, then whisk in the egg yolks and instant coffee until completely incorporated.
  2. Set the double boiler insert over (but not touching) a pan of gently simmering water. Cook, stirring constantly until the custard has thickened and will stick to the back of a spoon, about 10 minutes. Pour through a mesh strainer into a bowl and stir in the coffee grounds. Refrigerate several hours until cold.
  3. Pour into an ice cream maker and freeze according to manufacturer's directions.

Monday, June 13, 2011

San Antonio Pasta

A pasta salad is only as good as the noodles that hold it all together. Have fun with different pasta shapes-short or long, narrow or wide, solid or hollow, big or small, flat or stuffed ... you can put a brand new face on the same salad simply by varying the pasta. Pasta is made from many different types of flour, and colored beautifully with many different vegetables, so be adventurous and try something out of the ordinary-from rainbow radiatore, spinach ravioli, and whole wheat fettuccine, to corn macaroni, buckwheat soba noodles, and rice vermicelli. There's no way to get bored with pasta when the choices are so deliciously endless.

It's even more important with pasta salad than with hot pasta dishes that you avoid overcooking the pasta. Overcooked pasta will fall apart when you try to toss it with dressing. Not only that, but if you allow your salad to "marinate" for several hours to let the flavors mingle, the pasta will soak up the moisture from the dressing and the other ingredients, turning slightly overcooked pasta to absolute mush. Cook the pasta just until it becomes tender, pour it into a colander in the sink, then run cold water over it to stop the cooking and cool it down quickly. As soon as the pasta feels cool to the touch, shake the colander to drain off as much water as possible. Now dump the pasta into a bowl and toss it with some oil to keep it from sticking together.
A Little of This, a Little of That
Because pasta itself is so versatile and mild in flavor, just about everything tastes good with it. Use ingredients that will give your pasta salad lots of varied taste and texture: cook vegetables just until tender, then plunge them into ice water to stop the cooking before they get mushy (this is called "refreshing" or "shocking" your vegetables), or just leave the vegetables crisp and raw. Other things to add gusto are toasted nuts, dried fruit, fresh herbs, crumbled cheese, and tidbits of your favorite meat.

Dress for the Occasion
To save a little time, you can always use bottled salad dressing to toss with your pasta salad, but if you're in a "from scratch" kind of mood, the possibilities are positively tantalizing. A mixture of oil and vinegar is arguably the most popular way to dress a pasta salad, but you can also make creamy dressing with mayonnaise, sour cream, or yogurt.

For sautéing, it's fine to use vegetable oil, but for salad dressing, use high-quality, flavorful oils. Extra-virgin olive oil, toasted sesame oil, hazelnut oil, and walnut oil are all power-players in the world of taste, and you can get by with using much less oil while still adding superior flavor if you choose a bold one. To add that all-important zing to the dressing, try cider vinegar, balsamic vinegar, white wine vinegar, red wine vinegar, raspberry vinegar, or even lime or lemon juice. Whatever you use as the basis of your dressing, be sure to round it out with salt and pepper, and perhaps a dash of red pepper flakes, a little bit of crushed garlic, a dab of mustard, or anything else you think will make your pasta salad distinctly divine.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Flag Day Cake Recipe

Flag Day Cake

  • 18 tablespoons (2 1/4 sticks) unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 3 cups sugar
  • 6 extra-large eggs at room temperature
  • 1 cup sour cream at room temperature
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 3 cups flour
  • 1/3 cup cornstarch
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda

For the icing:
  •  1 pound (4 sticks) unsalted butter at room temperature
  •  1 1/2 pounds cream cheese at room temperature
  •  1 pound confectioners' sugar, sifted
  •  1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

To assemble:
    * 2 half-pints blueberries
    * 3 half-pints raspberries


  1. Heat the oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Butter and flour an 18 by 13 by 1 1/2-inch sheet pan.
  3. Cream the butter and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment on high speed, until light and fluffy. On medium speed, add the eggs, 2 at a time, then add the sour cream and vanilla. Scrape down the sides and stir until smooth.
  4. Sift together the flour, cornstarch, salt, and baking soda in a bowl. With the mixer on low speed, add the flour mixture to the butter mixture until just combined. Pour into the prepared pan. Smooth the top with a spatula. Bake in the center of the oven for 20 to 30 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool to room temperature.
  5. For the icing, combine the butter, cream cheese, sugar, and vanilla in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, mixing just until smooth.
  6. Spread three-fourths of the icing on the top of the cooled sheet cake. Outline the flag on the top of the cake with a toothpick. Fill the upper left corner with blueberries. Place 2 rows of raspberries across the top of the cake like a red stripe. Put the remaining icing in a pastry bag fitted with a star tip and pipe two rows of white stripes below the raspberries. Alternate rows of raspberries and icing until the flag is completed. Pipe stars on top of the blueberries.
  7. Serve this cake right in the pan. If you want to turn it out onto a board before frosting, use parchment paper when you grease and flour the pan.

Coffee Cookies

  • 1/2 cup shortening
  • 1 egg
  • 2 tablespoons instant coffee powder
  • 2/3 cup white sugar
  • 1/2 cup chopped walnuts
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Grease cookie sheets.
  2. In a medium bowl, cream together the shortening, sugar and coffee. Beat in the egg, flour, vanilla and chopped nuts. Mix until well blended. Drop by teaspoonfuls onto cookie sheets
  3. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes in the preheated oven, or until edges are golden. Let cool on wire racks.

Panama Chicken With Sesame Noodles

Sesame Noodles
  • 1 lb spaghettini (get the thinnest spaghetti you can find)
  • 1/2 cup soy sauce
  • 1/4 cup sesame oil (some reviewers have said that 1/2 cup of oil is too much and have halved the amount, so use your own)
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  •  3 scallions, thinly sliced
  •  1/4 cup sesame seed (or more)

Panama Chicken
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 1/4 cup teriyaki sauce
  •  2 garlic cloves, minced
  •  1/4 cup brown sugar
  •  1 teaspoon fresh ginger, chopped (or 1/4 teaspoon dried)
  •   4 boneless skinless chicken breasts
  •   sesame oil, for sauteing
Prep Time: 3 hrs
Total Time: 3 1/2 hrs

  1. First make the sesame noodles: Cook the spaghetti according to package directions.
  2. Drain (I also rinse).
  3. In a jar, add the soy sauce, sesame oil and the sugar.
  4. Shake until well blended and the sugar has dissolved.
  5. Pour this over the pasta.
  6. Toss with scallions and sprinkle with the sesame seeds.
  7. Set aside while you marinate and then cook the chicken.
  8. Funkying the chicken: In a bowl mix the soy sauce, teriyaki sauce, garlic, brown sugar and the ginger.
  9. Make sure the sugar has pretty much dissolved.
  10. Add the chicken, making sure it's all coated with the sauce.
  11. Cover and stick in the fridge for 2-3 hours.
  12. Remove the chicken from the marinade, and toss out the marinade left at the bottom of the bowl.
  13. Heat the sesame oil in a large non-stick pan.
  14. Add the chicken in batches and saute for about 10 minutes, or until done, adding more sesame oil as needed.
  15. Remove the chicken from the pan and let cool slightly.
  16. Slice the chicken diagonally into thin strips.
  17. Serve the chicken over the sesame noodles.
  18. Stand back and watch your guests/children/loved ones inhale this dish.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Chicken Paprika

"My grandmother made this hearty chicken dish whenever we visited her. It was the only thing I'd eat until I was ready to bust! It's wonderful."
Prep Time:
30 Min
Cook Time:
30 Min
Ready In:
1 Hr

  •  3 eggs, beaten
  •  1/2 cup water
  •  2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  •  2 teaspoons salt
  •  1/4 cup butter
  •  1 1/2 pounds bone-in chicken pieces, with skin
  •  1 medium onion, chopped
  •  1 1/2 cups water
  •  1 tablespoon paprika
  •  1/2 teaspoon salt
  •  1 teaspoon ground black pepper
  •  2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  •  1 cup sour cream

  1. Fill a large pot with water and bring to a boil over high heat. In a large bowl, mix together the eggs, 2 teaspoons of salt, and 1/2 cup of water. Gradually stir in 2 1/2 cups of flour to make a stiff batter. Using two spoons, scoop out some batter with one spoon and use the second to scrap off the spoonful of batter into the boiling water. Repeat until several dumplings are cooking. Cook dumplings for 10 minutes or until they float to the top; then lift from the water and drain in a colander or sieve. Rinse with warm water.
  2. In a large skillet over medium-high heat, melt butter and add chicken; cook until lightly browned, turning once. Add onion to skillet and cook 5 to 8 minutes more. Pour in 1 1/2 cups of water, and season with paprika, salt, and pepper; cook 10 minutes more, or until chicken is cooked through and juices run clear. Remove chicken from skillet and keep warm.
  3. Stir 2 tablespoons of flour into sour cream; then slowly stir into the onion mixture remaining in the skillet. Bring the mixture to a boil, stirring constantly, and cook until thickened.
  4. To serve, add dumplings to the sour cream/onion mixture, then spoon onto dinner plates adding a piece of chicken.

Earth Day Bars

Celebrate the planet's natural delights by baking a batch of these sweet snacks filled with a harvest of ingredients from all around the world. Here's some background info on the tasty add-ins:
Raisins: California, the only place in the United States that harvests the grapes used to make raisins, is the world's No. 1 supplier.
Pineapple: Thailand produces approximately 20 percent of the world's pineapple crop, surpassing the Hawaiian Islands.
Brazil nuts: The complex growing environment this tree crop requires prevents it from being grown on farms. Instead, it's harvested directly from the rain forests of Brazil, Peru, and other South American countries.
Chocolate: Africa's Ivory Coast is the largest producer of cocoa beans, the ingredient that gives chocolate its unique, irresistible flavor.
Coconut: The Philippines and Indonesia are the world's leading producers of copra, or coconut meat.


  • 1 1/2 cups baking mix (we used Bisquick)
  • 1 1/2 cups instant oats
  • 1 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup softened butter
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

        * Coconut flakes
        * Chocolate chips
        * Chopped dried pineapple
        * Raisins
        * Chopped Brazil nuts


  1. Heat the oven to 350 degrees. In a large mixing bowl, combine the baking mix, oats, brown sugar, butter, egg, and cinnamon.
  2. Stir the mix with a wooden spoon until you have a crumbly dough. Next, customize your international treats by folding in 1 cup total of the add-ins of your choice.
  3. Press the dough into an ungreased 9- by 13-inch pan and bake for 17 minutes or until the center is set and the bars are slightly brown. Allow them to cool for 10 minutes before cutting. Makes 1-1/2 dozen 2- by 3-inch bars.