Tuesday, December 23, 2008

those traditional thanksgiving clams

one great thing about the holidays (some years, the only great thing) is the wonderful foodstuffs, meals and treats that we indulge in. fruitcake aside (as far aside as possible) there's a literal cornucopia of great dishes we prepare and consume as part of the festivities.

but i'm using this space to consider the non-traditional fare that i've come across in the last few years. i'm reminded of one thanksgiving many years ago when mrs. skippy and i had neither the time nor energy nor the inclination to spend a day and a half preparing a huge turkey dinner w/all the trimmings. we decided that year to celebrate the bountiful harvest by having spaghetti w/clam sauce, one of our fav dishes in the non-holiday days.

our joke, from then on, was the "traditional holiday clams."

another great food we enjoy this time of year can only be found up beachwood canyon in los angeles. beachwood canyon is a lovely series of roads that snake into the hollywood hills (and in fact, is where the famous hollywood sign resides). a few blocks up the canyon on gower street is the convent of the angels, one of the last convents in america where the dominican nuns are cloistered.

and the hip foodies in los angeles know that this time of year is when the nuns offer their home-made ('convent-made'?) pumpkin bread for sale. better than fruitcake, more substantial than any holiday pie, but not as over-sweet as cakes, this great bread has the texture and quality of fresh-baked gingerbread, only with the taste of pumpkin.


the pumpkin bread makes great gifts, because not only is it delicious, the whole story of cloistered nuns making dessert from scratch is a rather christmas-y kind of tale to start with.

mrs. skippy and i always buy a few for presents to co-workers and friends, and are sure to keep a couple of extra loaves for our own holidays.

does anyone else have some non-traditional tradtions for holiday treats?

[cross-posted at skippy the bush kangaroo]

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Happy Hanukkah!


These delicate little cookies are a decadent, melt-in-your-mouth treat that I make once a year, for Hanukkah. They are such a wonderful indulgence that my Anglican-raised husband starts making filling requests for the Hanukkah rugelach as we sit down to the table for the Jew* and I to break the Yom Kipur fast.

Start with the dough - put the following in the mixing bowl of your food processor:

1 Cup flour
1/4 Cup confectioners sugar
1 stick butter, cut into pieces
4 ounces cream cheese, cut into pieces

Pulse the processor for ten seconds at a time until the ingredients form a ball. Turn out onto a floured board and work into a ball. Divide into four equal pieces, work into balls, and flatten into discs about 6 inches in diameter, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate until the dough is manageable. Do this three times to make 96 pieces. You want to end up with 12 disks of dough that will yield eight cookies each.

While the dough chills, make your fillings.

Cranberry Pecan Filling

1/2 Cup pecans
1/2 Cup dried cranberries
1/4 Cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

With the steel chopping blade in your food processor, add all the ingredients and pulse until the ingredients have a uniform texture. Set aside, and make the other fillings.

Date-Walnut filling

1/2 Cup walnuts
1/2 Cup chopped dates
1/4 Cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

Process to uniform texture, set aside.

Chocolate Pecan filling

1/2 Cup pecans
1/2 Cup mini chocolate chips
1/4 Cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

Process for a few seconds and set aside.

Flour a glass or marble surface and roll the dough out, one disc at a time, to between 8-10 inches diameter. The thinner you roll the dough, the more delicate the cookie - but the harder the dough is to work with - and you have to roll this delicate dough around chopped nuts, so don't go thinking you are the second coming of Marie-Antoine Carême. The first time you try this, go with a diameter that is closer to 8" than 10" and has a little thicker dough to work with.

Roll out the dough on a floured surface, use a pizza wheel to make eight equal wedges. Spread 1/4 of one of the filling mixtures over the dough.

Roll cookies into crescents and transfer to a glass baking dish and bake in a 325 degree oven for 15 minutes, then check them every couple of minutes until they look like this:



*The Jew - after several generations of agnostic, cultural, kitchen-table Judaism that makes your average Reform congregation look orthodox, God has delivered unto our family a real live, candle-lighting, face-the-wall-and pray Jew in the person of our youngest daughter.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Fresh, hot bread for breakfast

It's winter, and that means the kids don't want to get out of bed. Let me tell you how to get them up without any argument.

  1. Buy a bread machine
  2. Use it!

Seriously. That is all there is to it.

Not only will it get your kids out of bed, dressed and downstairs, it is just about the best breakfast you can feed them, and it takes five minutes prep time, total.

Think about it.

Before you go to bed, you put the ingredients in the machine, and you set the timer so it is done thirty minutes to an hour before they have to get up. The smell of fresh-baked bread will get them out of bed. You take a loaf of bread from the bread machine and put it on the table with the requisite fruit bowl (mine currently resides on the kitchen shelves, at a level Zoe can reach it and help herself to a piece of fruit any time she wants) and whatever spreads you and yours prefer.

Give everyone a hearty slice of warm bread, a cup of yogurt and a piece of fruit and you just gave your kids - and yourself - a head start on the day with a truly healthy breakfast.

Cranberry-Pecan Breakfast Bread

1 Tablespoon butter
1/3 Cup dried cranberries
2 Tablespoons sugar
1/2 Tablespoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 Cup water
1/2 teaspoon salt

1 1/3 Cup flour
1/3 Cup chopped pecans
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1 Tablespoon yeast

Put ingredients in bread machine in the order listed. Set the timer so the bread is finished about a half hour before you have to get up. Go to bed.

Wake up to the smell of baking bread, and you are virtually guaranteed to have a day that doesn't suck.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Best. Oyster. Chowder. Ever.

With about thirty minutes prep time, you can make a hot, thick, hearty soup from ingredients you probably have on hand.
3-4 cups butter gold potatoes, cut into 3/4" cubes
1 onion, coarsely chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced

Butter and Olive Oil to
caramelize the onion and garlic
1 pound fresh oysters, or two cans of oyster pieces

(Housewife Hint: When I see canned oysters on sale at the supermarket throughout the year, I grab them up in multiples of two. Besides, it is never a bad idea to have high-protein shelf staples on hand that need no refrigeration.)

Scrub and cube the potatoes, cover with cold water and put on a medium burner. Cook until just tender.

Caramelize the onion and garlic in a tablespoon of butter and two tablespoons of olive oil.

When the onions and garlic start to brown, toss in about a quarter to a third of a cup of flour to make a roux. Skim the just-tender potatoes out of their pot and toss with the roux.

Stir in enough chicken base to flavor about three cups of soup.

Add the oysters, including the juice they are packed in and keep stirring. Ladle in a cup or two of the water the potatoes were cooked in and keep stirring.

Slowly add about two cups of milk, stirring constantly. Season with white pepper and garlic salt, and add about a quarter cup of dried chives. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer for about ten minutes.

Serve with grated cheese and oyster crackers.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Chocolate Espresso Cake for two

I made this recipe up on the fly when I wanted a special dessert for my honey one evening after he had been especially thoughtful that day, but I didn't want to make a family sized cake for two people. Double the ingredients for a springform or a 9x13 cake pan.

Dry Ingredients
  • 1/2 C. Flour
  • 1/3 C. Powdered Baking Coooa
  • 1/4 t. Salt
  • 1/2 t. Baking Powder
  • 1/2 C. Sugar

Place dry ingredients in mixing bowl of food processor and pulse for 30-45 seconds, until thoroughly mixed. Transfer dry ingredients to a large mixing bowl and add the

Wet Ingredients:
  • 2 Shots Espresso
  • 1/3 C. Sour Cream
  • 1 Egg
  • 1 t. Vanilla
  • 1 t. White Vinegar

Mix thoroughly until batter is smooth and transfer to a buttered-and-floured small cake pan. The one pictured is a small bundt pan that I bought nearly three years ago at Prydes Old Westport, one of the absolute best kitchen stores I have ever set foot in. Bake at 350 for about 30 minutes, or until tests done. Cool on a baking rack, turn out onto a small cake serving platter and frost.


  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1/2 cup coconut
  • 1/2 (8 ounce) package cream cheese
  • 1/2 cup pecans, ground fine
  • 1 cup powdered sugar
Mix frosting ingredients thoroughly and spread on cooled cake.

I am posting while the cake is in the oven - If I can get a decent picture of the finished product with my phone, I'll post it - I still haven't retrieved my camera from OS (Only Son) after the birthday festivities.

Saturday, December 6, 2008


Yesterday around midday I got a text message from our son telling me that he was picking us up in the evening and I could "get fancy if I wanted to." He is good to his word, and he arrived about 5:30 and squired us to JJ's - my favorite restaurant in the whole city.

These three pictures were taken with my phone, so they aren't that good - I will have better ones later when I get my camera back from my son.

The bar at JJs - you know the bar tab will be hefty when the liquor you are drinking comes off the top shelf.

Glenmorangie aged in a Sautern cask, on the rocks, with a club soda back. I don't drink very often, but when I do, this is what I imbibe.

Once in a blue moon I eat a few bites of pork. Like when it's bacon, wrapped around a shrimp that has been stuffed with horseradish and deep fried. My god, this appetizer is to die for!

Friday, December 5, 2008

It's my birthday - I get breakfast in bed

After nearly 28 years of marriage, three kids and 72 cumulative years of parenting, we have come out the other side and remembered why we liked one another so damned much in the first place. We have also taken a vow to never eat another fish stick nor another serving of Kraft Macaroni & Cheese.

In honor of my 24th consecutive 23rd birthday, I got breakfast in bed. Let's just say that I am not the only person in this house who can cook.


Vanilla-pear pancakes and turkey sausage!

Dice a fresh pear into approximately 1/2" cubes
Make a bastardized version of a compote from the pear by tossing in a medium hot skillet with a tablespoon of butter and toss for a couple of minutes. Add a tablespoon of lemon juice, a tablespoon of vanilla and two tablespoons of brown sugar.
Cook down for a couple of minutes.
Remove from heat.

Mix up enough pancake mix to make 6-8 pancakes, stir in the pear mixture, and make pancakes per the usual way. Serve with butter and maple syrup, and sausage links. We don't do pork in this house, so turkey - or Morningstar Farms vegetarian links - it is.

Thursday, December 4, 2008


First of all, just let me say that a food processor is a must. I have worn out two of them in 27 years of housewifing, and when the second one died a few weeks ago, I had it replaced before sundown. I don't mess around where the kitchen is concerned. How the hell else can you cut frozen butter into flour for light, fluffy biscuits that are never tough?

Exactly! You can't!

So here is my late mother-in-law's recipe for delectable, melt-in-your-mouth biscuits, improved on ever so slightly by yours truly...

Preheat over to 400 degrees.

3 C. flour
3 T. baking powder
1 T. salt
1 stick butter, cold, cut into cubes.

Add the dry ingredients to the mixing bowl of the processor and pulse for 15-30 seconds to thoroughly mix the dry ingredients. Add the butter and turn on processor until the butter is thoroughly chopped up and the dry ingredients have the texture of oatmeal.

Transfer the flour and butter to a large mixing bowl and add buttermilk a little at a time until the dough forms a ball that can be patted out and cut. (Add more buttermilk if making drop biscuits, which require a wetter dough). Arrange biscuits on a baking sheet, and bake for 10-12 minutes.

No reason you can't have fun with 'em, either - When we made these biscuits for brunch yesterday, Zoe wanted to make them heart-shaped...so we did!

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Baked Sole with Baby Peas, Rice Pilaf & Lemon Cream Sauce

Dover Sole - one fillet per person, and a small lemon for each fillet
Near East Rice Pilaf - Why the hell would you mess with making it from scratch? This stuff rocks!
Bag of frozen peas
Lemon cream sauce

Arrange the sole in a glass baking dish, and squeeze lemons over the fillets
Sprinkle with garlic salt, lemon pepper and paprika
Bake at 350 for 12-15 minutes - fish will flake when done

Cream Sauce:
1 teaspoon butter
1/2 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon flour
1 teaspoon chicken base
1 cup milk
1 teaspoon lemon juice

Make a roux from the butter, olive oil and flour, then take up your whisk and add the milk and the chicken base. When the sauce is thickened, whisk in the lemon juice.

This is Zoe's favorite dinner - and by the way - teaching a kid how to eat dinner like a civilized human being, with a napkin and the proper fork - is it's own reward when you take said kid out in public!


What we have here is a cookbook, basically.

I have been threatening to write one for years, and I am pretty darned good in the kitchen, and the best advice I ever got came from a high school writing teacher who imparted the wisdom to "write what you know."

Well, I know cooking, so what the hell? Let's see where this thing goes...

Some of the places it will go will be the green grocer and the spice merchant in the city market. And the supermarket in Brookside. It will go to Aldi's, it will go to McGonigles, and it will go to Costco.

You will also get to know Kansas City - especially Gomer's Liquors, Gates B-B-Q, Roasterie Coffee, Wild Oats, the brewery at McCoy's Public House and Ambrosi Brothers Cutlery, the kitchen shop in my neighborhood that makes Williams Sonoma and Function Junction look like pikers and poseurs.

I'll offer tried-and-true recipes, served up with slices of life and the occasional hilarious anecdote, usually involving a kid who is now a grownup and who wishes I would get new material.