Tag Archives: dessert

Citrus Walnut Sticky Rolls

I freely confess that I am a big fan of the Pillsbury orange sticky rolls that come in the cardboard tube at the grocery store.  As a kid we were not allowed junk food except a box of any cereal we wanted around our birthdays, Hostess ding dongs when we went sailing, and these orange sticky rolls around the holidays.


Ohh, naughty!

As an adult, naturally, I felt the wild rush of freedom and indulged myself frequently in these rolls and then felt quite guilty for consuming a product full of trans fats and who knows what else.

This weekend I deliberately did not book anything for Saturday so that I could have a rest day at home. I planned to knit and recreate my childhood favorite holiday treat but in a healthier fashion.  It worked for the most part but I learned an important lesson.

The recipe I concocted for the sweet roll dough was quite healthy, it is a yeast risen dough similar to that used for cinnamon rolls but instead of egg yolks and lashings of butter I used fruity olive oil from Lodi.

The dough rose in my giant Wovo salad bowl for 90 minutes while I watched scifi shows on Netflix, knitted a shawl and sipped lungo shots of espresso.

Olive oil dough rising
This is a 10 quart salad bowl, almost brimming over with yeast dough

For the filling I zested some citrus – oranges and a grapefruit – with a microplane grater and mixed this into sugar, then added some juice to make a slurry to spread over the dough.

Getting busy with a citrus sweet roll filling
my apartment smelled wonderful at this point

I used a few tablespoons of the fruit juice to make a paste, then sprinkled over walnuts from Sonoma County that I toasted in a skillet.

This filling was inspired by some random food show I saw where a diner chef made enormous sweet rolls well sanded with sugar and butter.  In trying to make these healthier I omitted the butter entirely.

I rolled out the dough to a large rectangle, applied the filling and then rolled up the dough on the long edge to form a log about 16″ long.   I cut the log into about 12 even pieces and filled up a buttered pyrex baker.

Citrus walnut sweet rolls rising
About halfway risen

You can see how generous the citrus-sugar filling was and there were plenty of walnuts to go around.  I think perhaps I should have put fewer rolls in the pan though.

I had too many to fit so I made up an extra pan in a tin pie plate.  Lagniappe for the chef!

Bonus pan of sweet rolls
Ready to rise before baking

My apartment was nice and warm on this very foggy, dark day, and after about 45 minutes the rolls were puffed and yeasty and looking pleasantly plump – ready for the oven.

After baking I made up a quick frosting with more of the citrus juice and powdered sugar.  Despite using almost a full box of confectioners sugar there was barely enough icing to cover the rolls in both pans.

There is never enough icing
browned to a toasty golden

The aroma from the oven was mouth-watering.  A whiff of orange with a hint of grapefruit, the sweet sugar icing melting in between the rolls, citrus sugar caramelizing the walnuts, the yeasty baked rolls with a tang of rich, fruity olive oil, they smelled just like Christmas in my childhood home.

The citrus sticky rolls were best eaten warm out right out of the oven, but truthfully I think they would be much improved with some melted butter in the filling.  The icing wasn’t quite what I wanted either, I need to tinker with that a bit I think.

Citrus walnut sweet rolls

So luscious

I won’t admit how quickly this pan of rolls disappeared and will firmly disavow any knowledge of my actions.  They needed to be reheated if you don’t eat them right away.  Despite the liberal buttering of the baking pan they were hard to remove because of the caramelized sugar on the bottom.  They were not as tender the next day either and this is where I think the butter is essential.

The recipe includes the addition of butter but you can omit as your conscience dictates.  They were really wonderful and toothsome as is, but next time I make them I will use butter.

Citrus Walnut Sticky Rolls recipe 


Weekend Fun and This Includes Brunch

This weekend we had warm weather. This time of year in San Francisco is like the rest of the world’s summer, one can go to work without a warm jacket and suddenly ladies wearing skirts with bare legs looks like a good idea instead of scoffing at all their goosebumps. I dusted off my linen skirt, said hello to my pasty legs and took them out for a spin.

My dear friend C___ invited me to join him to a trek to the Livermore Valley. He had been gifted a wonderful bottle of wine from Murrieta’s Well Winery and wanted more. The winery is built on the site of the spring where Joachin Murrieta, the famed outlaw and bandit, used to water his horses. There is a nice little fountain built using the spring water and no more wild horses. The wine, however, was fantastic and well worth the drive.

At the vineyard
(me standing on actual dirt! It feels as if I haven’t been outside in years. Oh wait!)

Chris at the vineyard
(my dear friend C___ whom I’ve known since I was a sweet young thang of 18.)

Murietta's Well is where he camped, fascinating
(If there is a historical plaque I am compelled to read it, thanks to parental training.)

Chris at Murietta's Well
(THE spring, please note the horses and Senor Murietta depicted on the tile)

It is a beautiful spot, very hot and arid and this seems to suit the vines. Surprisingly to a few folks wine grapes, like good tomatoes, like to be stressed.

(detail of the steps leading up to the wine tasting room)

(peeking out the window to the vines and patio)

Their winemaker is Chilean and has been planting Portuguese grape varietals but making them in a Rhone style. I learned a lot about varietals I had never heard of previously. The tasting room was busy but we got the full treatment and ended up having a glass of wine on the balcony overlooking the vines while they pulled our wine from the “library” since we were allowed to buy some things not usually available. I like my wine friends and their superpowers!

Not enough of a recommendation for me.
(one of their award-winning whites, but who knew Houston had a wine competition / rodeo?)

View from the balcony
(a fine view with a glass of wine)

Me and Chris at Murietta's Well
(happy happy)

We ran into some traffic in Livermore, some of the side streets were really cute but overall the place is reminiscent of Los Angeles sprawl with housing tracts popping up on the hills. Some vines were being planted too, I would rather see the wineries expand myself.

Traffic in Livermore

I came home from winetasting and made myself some of my homemade bacon! Wow! Then I took a nap! Then, I had more wine.

Delicious! Murietta's Well 2010 Cabernet Franc
(a post-wine-tasting glass of wine)

Sunday morning I went to brunch. Please note this is the most social weekend I have had where I just did things for fun and it felt great to be “normal” and to make plans with friends and be able to actually attend them. Brunch was a popup for a local bakery, Marla Bakery, at the State Bird Provisions restaurant. If you are going to be in SF this Sunday I would recommend having their brunch, email them for a reservation or go early at sit at the counter like we did.

Marla cherry tart
(cherry and frangipane tart)

Anticipation is building for @marlabakery brunch

Marla’s pastries are incredibly beautiful. This the Marla bun which is like a palmier but made into a larger roll.

Lovely cherry & tarragon scones @marlabakery

I had dried cherry and tarragon scones with a little jar of marscapone and rhubarb compote piped in. All of these years searching for decent clotted cream in the city and I realize, stupidly, that I should have been using marscapone. It was truly brilliant. I didn’t get much of the tarragon but it is allergy season after all and my nose proved shamefully incapable of detecting aromas this weekend.  These sold out before Noon and I am very glad I had the foresight to order one to go.

Keep thinking about this lamb & fattoush @marlabakery brunch

For the brunch “entree” I had roasted rare lamb that took three days to prepare. It was rubbed in yogurt and barahat and was roasted perfectly.  Tender, thin slides were drizzled with harissa spiced yogurt. The flatbread had been brushed with spices too and was enormous and warm like a hug. The fattoush salad was herby and tart and included pickled onions and crispy flatbread crackers.

Darling coffee service @marlabakery brunch

I washed this down with a glass of cava and coffee service by Wrecking Ball. Ethopian coffee in a tiny carafe really hit the spot. The little biscotti were a nice touch too, I gifted them to my friend as they contain almonds and I can’t eat them right now.

I wish I could go back this Sunday but I will be off on another adventure!

Where to Go

Murrieta’s Well
3005 Mines Road
Livermore, CA 94550

Marla’s Bakery
Every Thursday between 4:00 pm – 8:00 pm at the Mission Community Market at 22nd & Bartlett in San Francisco
Watch their Facebook page for pop up brunch locations

State Bird Provisions
1529 Fillmore Street
San Francisco, CA 94115

Victory Blackberry Pie

I made a victory pie, a blackberry pie to enjoy on Superbowl Sunday. Sadly the 49ers lost (even though they shouldn’t have but I don’t want to get into *that*) the pie was still a win because it was my own victory.

I have long had an irrational fear of pie crust, any kind of rolled dough just doesn’t work for me. I never get the consistency of the dough right, it sticks, it rips and tears, it bakes up wrong, it tastes wrong or pasty, it’s just stupid and scary. For years I have struggled with my hot, not made for pastry, hands and have grumpily given up to buying premade pie crusts and hated them.

Meanwhile my mOm bangs out perfect pie crusts with her elegant, cool hands like she’s making a bed, smoothing out the pastry with effortless strokes. I have watched her and helped her year after year and I’m still a failure.

Then a great lady in town started her handheld pie business. Natalie Galatzer of Bike Basket Pies delivered her mini sweet and savory pies using her cute bicycle and the pie crust was the bomb. I met her when I was doing culinary tours during The Great Unemployment. I couldn’t really afford them but loved the samples she gave during the tour.

When I got a job I would order her pies for myself and then I started ordering them for the office and we all scarfed them up marveling at her great crust and divine fillings. How on earth did she make her pies so well and make so many of them? Practice obviously, and a great recipe.

When she stopped her business due to exhaustion and burnout I was glad for her for taking a rest and selfishly a tiny bit sad because how could I possibly live without her Shaker lemon pies? But then, a fabulous email arrived! Natalie had written a recipe booklet!  It is probably the most adorable recipe book I have ever seen, the illustrations are so adorable and really capture the joy of Bike Basket Pies.  The instructions and recipes are well written and explained and are a joy to use.


But I was still afraid. Then the Great Allergy/Intolerance arrived and fruit was banned from my life, along with many things I loved, nuts, potatoes, eggs, who all knew what else. The doctor still doesn’t know why but one day I could eat raspberry jam, then cherry, then walnuts, then fresh berries (but not strawberries) and the occasional potato chip. This summer I ate about six pies, mostly blackberry, and life was good again.

Last year Natalie announced she was teaching a pie crust making class. I had to go! With a very gimpy ankle I got to the darling Pot and Pantry for her class and made pie crust. It was great, we all had to make a batch and it felt good. I froze the pie crusts from the class since I had yet to go grocery shopping alone.

In early February, after a month of heinous flu and secondary sinus and ear infections, I made it to the farmer’s market with D___ and bought great vegetables and $15 of blackberries and Buddha’s Hand citrus. It was fantastic to shop without a cane and not feel so petrified of being knocked over. I was weak as a jellied eel after a long fever but the sunshine felt great. The moment I got home I went hope to bed and slept for 3 hours. I sugared down the berries though before going to bed for the evening and resolved to bake a pie for the Superbowl.


On Superbowl Sunday I made breakfast and had a nap and tried to knit but that didn’t work, too tired still, but I did get up to make soup from all my vegetables, a minestrone of sorts, and to roll out the pie crust.

I was nervous but just did it, using a Silpat on my kitchen table. It rolled out pretty nicely, cracking here and there but it went okay! I made a rustic pie/tart using a tiny tin, just enfolding the giant berries inside the dough.

I brushed the crust with milk and a generous sprinkling of coarse sugar, and just remembered to add a pat of butter on the fruit. Into the oven it went.


The juices were thick and bubbling, the crust was nicely browned, it smelled good. I was excited.

The game was sad but I thought consolation by pie would be nice. It was better than nice, it was perfect. The 49ers should have won that game but it cut as keenly because the pie was my victory.

The crust was crunchy and yet flakey, it held together, the fruit was delicious and not too soggy or sweet, it was just perfect. I still have one crust left to make a savory pie this week, greens and goat cheese I think or perhaps a winter squash. I can make pie now!

My pie.

My victory.

Natalie’s pie recipe booklet for Bike Basket Pies is available here, I have given away several copies as gifts so I would recommend you buy several.

Eggless Baking: Luscious Chocolate Wacky Cake with Ganache

This Thanksgiving my family decided not to make our traditional pumpkin chiffon pie because of my current food intolerances. Sadly for me this year this amazing pie that was carefully crafted and perfected over 50 years by my maternal grandmother contains eggs, so it’s off my menu for a while.  How very thoughtful of my family to make this sacrifice on my behalf though, I was truly touched.

Before I could get too caught up in the guilt associated with voluntarily or involuntarily imposing my food limitations upon others my mom announced she would be making Wacky cake. This substitution for our holiday sweet was nothing short of stellar and we were all quite excited.

(one bite left!)

You may have heard of the iconic Wacky cake, it has been around before the World War II. It is an eggless and butterless cake because eggs and butter were rationed during wartime and often the average family never saw these common staples. The necessity for cake, however,  did not diminish for those on the homefront and a delicious and suitable substitute stepped in to fill the gap and sweet tooth of the Nation. In today’s parlance wacky cake is vegan. It is also tremendously delicious!

I have fond memories of scarfing down still warm slabs of dense, chocolately Wacky cake in the cafeteria of my elementary school. Our highly gifted school cook, Frances, made Wacky cake at least once a month and served it heavily dusted with powdered sugar.

My sister taught me how to make Wacky cake  and I recall that she did this so that I could make it when I got home from school so that she could have it but she hotly disputes this! Mom recalls that she first received the recipe from her high school and college friend, Susie Jones.

Whatever the source, Wacky cake is a wonderful recipe. The cake has a very rich chocolate flavor from cocoa powder, like a devil’s food cake, and has a fine crumb.

Instead of getting its leavening from eggs the recipe uses baking soda and vinegar which produces a quick but short rising period. The lack of eggs and butter in the recipe results in the cake being less flexible than a egg-based cake so care must be taken if you plan to unmold it from the baking pan. The cake uses oil instead of butter and therefore one could conceivably say that this is a “heart-healthy” cake if a light olive oil or grapeseed oil is used, due to the oil’s antioxidant properties.

Traditionally the cake is mixed right in the baking pan, dusted with powdered sugar when cooled and served straight from the pan. This spared the cook additional dishes to wash up, saving money on soap powder.   My mom’s piece de resistance was to instead top the cake with a thick, rich, bittersweet ganache.

It was heavenly.


Look how thick the ganache is on this slice of cake, how it glistens and shimmers. I do love chocolate.

Wacky Cake
1 1/2 c flour or cake flour
1 c sugar
3 T unsweetened cocoa (we used to use Hershey’s but mOm used Valhrona)
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. good vanilla
1 T vinegar (white or cider)
5 T vegetable oil (grapeseed, light olive oil or canola)
1 C cold water

Preheat the oven to 350 F.

If you wish to unmold the cake, butter the bottom and sides of a cake tin and line the bottom with parchment or waxed paper, and then butter that paper too. In a mixing bowl sift together the flour, sugar, baking soda and salt. Add on one side of the bowl the vinegar, on another the vanilla and on another the oil. Add all of the water and whisk together swiftly and quickly pour into the cake pan and bang it into the oven.

If you are going to serve it out of the pan, sift together the dry ingredients as above directly into your baking pan (an 8″ x 8″ square Pyrex), then make three holes in the dry ingredients. In one hold put the oil, the vinegar in the second and the vanilla in the third. Pour over the cold water and mix well with a fork and bake.

Bake for 20-30 minutes until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out with a few crumbs. A bit of care must be taken when baking wacky cake to not over-bake it or it will be perilously dry.

Unmold after cool, if desired (using the wax paper lined pan) and cover with ganache, or sift over a blizzard of powdered sugar.

Great Ganache

Once you add ganache to this cake there is no going back. In fact, after making this ganache I feel like putting it on everything.

1/2 c + 2T heavy cream
1 tsp. vanilla
1 tsp. butter
5 oz finely chopped bittersweet chocolate
1 T good bourbon (optional)

Place the chopped chocolate into a bowl. Heat up the cream until it is very hot but not boiling, and pour it over the chocolate and stir until the chocolate is smooth. Add the butter at this point and the vanilla and the bourbon, if using. If you are not using the bourbon in the ganache, shame on you and just drink that tablespoon.

Keep stirring the ganache with a spoon, not a whisk, until it begins to thicken. When it is thicker than gravy, pour/spread it over the cooled cake. If you want those attractive dribbles down the side of the cake pour it on when the ganache is a little bit thinner, slightly thicker than chocolate syrup or caramel sauce. I prefer it on the stiffer side so that I can spread it over just the top of the cake.

If you like, you can make a double batch of ganache, and spread half of it over the top, and then let the remaining ganache thicken a bit more so that you can spread the sides of the cake.

Be sure to do what we did and carefully clean the mixing bowl with our greedy fingers and tongues.


The finished Wacky cake with ganache was utterly delicious and was perfect with the last bit of red wine from our Thanksgiving dinner.

The best part of Wacky cake is that it is so simple to make, you can bake it up right before dinner or as an after school treat like I used to.

The Simplicity of Pears

This time of year the pears are coming in from the orchards, beautiful green Comice pears and red shouldered Bartletts, they are so lovely. It’s pear custard tart season!


Did you know that pears do not ripen on the tree? They are one of the few odd fruits that are unripe when picked, then they need a few days of rest on your counter to ripen and transform from rock hard to sweet, tender lusciousness – like avocados!

They can also go from perfect ripeness to a mealy nasty thing if you don’t keep an eye on them, so don’t forget to keep checking them.

At the office we receive a nice fruit CSA every week and all the staff get excited for Fruit Wednesday. I also receive my fruit and veggie box every other week and last week there was an abundance of pears, slowly ripening everywhere.

I mentioned to my colleague that I have an excellent pear tart recipe and perhaps I should make something from the office pears to bring in to work. I also had three perfectly ripened ones from my personal box so my date in the kitchen was set.

I managed to bring home the ripe work pears on the bus without them getting mauled. It was quite the feat, involving bubble wrap and many reprimands to rude bus people who were determined to rest their backpacks on my lap. City life!

Safe in my apartment the pears lounged on the counter while I preheated the oven and assembled the pantry items for a fast and delicious pear custard tart.

Years ago when Martha Stewart’s star was still in the heavens and not yet sullied by federal investigations and various shenanigans her staff published a cute recipe booklet for the grocery store called Everyday Food. My sister gifted a home subscription to mom and me and it had some great little gems like this recipe. They published quite a nice cookbook too, and this recipe is also in that book. My late beau loved this tart so much he would eat at least half of it in one sitting.

The prep for the tart is simple. A tart pan or pie plate gets well buttered and more butter is melted for the filling. For each tart you need three ripe pears, peeled, halved and cored, then sliced thinly and fanned out in the tart pan. I cut up the pears while the butter was melting in the microwave.

For the filling I like to use my immersion blender and my silicon 4-cup measuring cup, but a regular blender is fine or if you have a normal working shoulder you can use a whisk and a bowl. But for me, the immersion blender is the way to go while my stupid shoulder finishes healing.

In the measuring cup I broke open pretty pullet eggs with yolks the color of marigolds, gorgeous! The rest of the filling ingredients went in the container in no particular order: sugar, salt, vanilla, melted butter, flour, milk. A quick blitz with the blender until smooth and voila! Done!

I poured the filling over the pears and slid the tart pans in the oven for 40 minutes. In no time my pad started to smell really good, heady scents on vanilla and sugar and the sweet fragrance of pears, ahh, I could hardly stand it.

When the timer went off I peeked in the oven and the tarts were gorgeous, puffed and golden on top and the center was set. While they cooled I had an aromatherapy moment, inhaling deeply.

(one for me, one for the office)

After the pear custard tarts had cooled I showered them with powdered sugar, a blizzard of sugar to mimic the monsoon pounding against the window. Rain! In early October? Seattle, are you missing some weather?

I wrapped one up to take to the office, tucked away in my silly butterfly-patterend farmers market bag to keep it dry, and again braved the bus.

My colleague and I had a slice of the pear custard tart with our morning coffee while the storm whirled by outside. Suddenly the sun broke through lightening up our workspace to match the pleasure of eating such a lovely tart for breakfast.

Pear Custard Tart

3 ripe pears
3 eggs
1/2 stick of melted unsalted butter (1/4 cup)
2 tsp vanilla
1/4 tsp salt
1/3 c sugar
1/3 c flour
3/4 c whole milk
more butter for buttering the tart pan
powdered sugar

Preheat the oven to 350 F. Butter a  tart pan or pie plate.  Peel and core the pears, and slice thinly vertically (top to bottom) and fan out the slices in the tart pan.  (note: you can also use canned pears!)

In a blender add everything else (except the powdered sugar) and blend until smooth.

Bake 40-45 minutes until the top is golden brown and the center is set.  It will be puffed but will deflate slightly as it cools.

Dust with powdered sugar and serve warm, room temperature or chilled.

Makes 4 slices.  Realistically it could serve up to 8 but I have never met anyone who did not want their full quarter!

This is also a great item for brunch!

Source:  Everyday Foods Fast

(printer-friendly recipe)

Mac’n Cheese Blowout

Plate #1

Last year sometime over a haze of bourbon on ice and pimento cheese G___ and I were extolling the joys of mac’n cheese and the conversation grew to jovial boasting.

“My mother’s mac’n cheese is the best ever, you know.”

“Oh really, *my* mac’n cheese is the best I have ever had, and you know I’m picky.”

“Well, I don’t like to say, but *my* mac’n cheese is even better than my mother’s!”

The gauntlet was down and we toasted each other merrily.

For months we discussed that we needed to have a mac’n cheese throwdown, or at the very least a dinner where we made excessive amounts of mac’n cheese and had lots of people over to consume it.

A year plus later we finally scheduled the date and last weekend that date was upon us.

G___ very kindly offered to do all of the shopping and our guests were confirmed to arrive at 4:00 pm.  I arrived around Noonish, apron in hand along with a few special secret ingredients, and by 1:00 pm the kitchen was steamy and redolent with cheese.

We had a “grate” time, or, I should say, we grated and grated mounds and mounds of cheese:

  • Tillamook sharp cheddar
  • Smoked fontina
  • Gouda
  • Amish blue cheese
  • Cabot sharp white cheddar
  • Longhorn cheddar
  • Laura Chenel goat
  • Gruyere
  • Extra sharp aged cheddar

I prepared my mother’s béchamel.  This béchamel is quite special and I wrote about it previously.  One essential step necessary to its successful preparation is to sing to the sauce while it is being stirred.

“Bechamel, béchamel mucho….”, I crooned and gave the wooden spoon a spin, “each time you cling to my spoon I taste cheese divine…”
(My apologies to Consuelo Velasquez.)
My béchamel

G___ made two versions of mac’n cheese, and I also made two versions:

In addition, and to be fair to our childhood memories, we also made Kraft’s Macaroni & Cheese and Annie’s Natural Mac & Cheese, purely as a control group.

Our menu was rounded out by a lovely sliced tomato salad with goat cheese crumbles and balsamic vinaigrette, and an abundant green salad with spiced walnuts and feta.
Picnik collage

So back to the kitchen…

The buffet table was laden with casseroles and the dry pasta so that we knew the destination for each batch.

My béchamel finally had simmered and was sung to enough and the mounds of delicious cheese were folded in, pots of boiling water and melting butter bubbled on stove.
Pots bubbling away

Panko breadcrumbs were tossed with various concoctions and the parsley was chopped.  A pot of custard was prepared and more bowls were filled with grated cheese.  I burned my hand and my first aid was ice (externally) and bourbon (internally); such good friends.  Serving spoons, cutlery and glassware were arranged.  Shirts changed, hair combed and lipstick applied, we were ready!

Picnik collage

It was quite the feast of mac’n cheese.  The aromas emanating from the kitchen were intoxicating as was the variety of roses and reds being poured.  As we called our friends to the buffet table I recited the history of macaroni and cheese from the internet.  Did you know it was probably originated by the Romans, and the French in pre-Revolution times?  Also our beloved Benjamin Franklin introduced macaroni to the new USA, as most of us know, but no one in our group sang “Yankee Doodle Dandy”.

Our guests lined up and dug in.

Picnik collage

Each plate was a work of art.
We chose not to disclose which dish was which and asked for a ranking.  The favorites were:

  1. G___’s experiment, which was roughly a mound of various cheeses melted into half and half with some delicious seasonings, stirred into the cooked pasta and then topped with bread crumbs and smoked paprika and broiled until golden.
  2. My mushroomy mac’n cheese with my regular cheese sauce, the pasta tossed in truffle oil and then sautéed mushrooms mixed in with the cheese sauce, truffle salt mixed in the breadcrumb mixture.
  3. G___’s mother’s mac’n cheese, because of the thick cheesy crust.  It’s cooked pasta with all of the longhorn cheddar piled on top, then the custard poured over and baked until bubbly and golden.
  4. My regular mac’n cheese topped with heirloom tomato slices then breadcrumbs on top. If I had the extra sharp white cheddar that I normally use I think this batch would have had the usual zing but this batch was milder in taste.

For those of you who were curious, the Kraft won out between the commercial brands because it was creamier.  The Annie’s seemed really dry, despite using whole milk and butter.  The Kraft, however, was frightening to make, once the powdered sauce mix was mixed with the milk it expanded and thickened as it sat, like some strange orange blob-like creature!

The spread

Despite all of the richness from our dinner, we still felt the need for a little dessert, homemade ginger cake with caramel sauce and two ice creams.
The ginger cake

We all agreed we must try this mac’n cheese blowout again, perhaps sooner than once a year, and continue our experiments with cheeses, toppings and methods. What are your favorites?

Rainy Day Waffles

There’s nothing finer than waking up on a Saturday morning hearing the rain pitter-patter on the roof, the faint tinkling of wind chimes from the front porch and the smell of coffee. Burrowing under the covers I savor the quiet moment then remember mOm is making waffles. Out of bed I leap!

It’s so dark out from the rain that the Christmas lights are still on. After some reviving coffee mOm starts the waffles.

“It’s a new recipe, and it has weird things in them, like seltzer water and dried buttermilk. They get crispy outside but stay nice inside.”

Okay, Mom, I am sold!

Our family waffle iron is a treasure. You may recall that I’ve mentioned we are inordinately fond of our kitchen appliances? This old waffle iron with real Bakelite handles was at a friend’s cabin in Brooktrails. A visit there always meant bucolic views, lazing on the deck in summer or in front of the Benjamin Franklin stove in winter and waffles for breakfast. When our friends sold the cabin we asked if we could have the waffle iron. I also received a sprig from the giant Christmas cactus, which had the most gorgeous blooms. It is still thriving in my kitchen but has never bloomed, despite all the many moves I have had. I think it needs higher elevations. My Mom’s cuttings have also thrived but they bloom for her, but we are at 1,300 feet here.

Behold, the waffle iron:

It’s the Cadillac of waffle irons, or perhaps a Lamborghini…. Covet, covet…

On Thanksgiving eve I roasted quince that I picked up from the McEvoy Ranch booth at the Ferry Building along with a gigantic Lisbon lemon. I sliced the quince with cranberries and grapes, which we used for our T-Day salad, and the leftovers were transformed into a warm compote for our waffles this morning.

Prepare yourself, waffle porn…

Melty with butter…

Boysenberry syrup, mmm.

I slathered mine with butter and then spooned the rosy quince on top and added extra buttery syrup on top, and promptly ate it. Fortunately my stepdad’s waffle was ready for her closeup.

They sure don’t last long though… Sadness…

We slowly consumed the local paper and dozed in front of the college football games playing in the snow. I am about to get going on finishing a pretty sweater in kid mohair yarn in the palest lavender hue, only 2/3 left to go for the last piece! And more potato butter buns are rising in the kitchen. What else can a gal do on a rainy day?

Roasted Quince

1# quince, I had 2 huge ones, peeled, cored and sliced into wedges
1 c whole grapes, or 1/2 c raisins
1/2 c dried cranberries
1/2 c sugar – or I used 1 c ginger syrup left over from making candied ginger
1 tsp minced ginger (omit if using ginger syrup)
Pinch salt
1 lemon, zested and juiced
A pat of butter

Preheat oven to 400 F.

Place fruit in a casserole large enough to hold everything in one layer. Sprinkle over sugar, lemon zest and juice, syrup (if using) and water to come up halfway up the sides of the fruit. Top with the butter. Bake for an hour and watch the magic happen. The quince will turn from apple-colored to a rosy, light salmon color. Bake until the quince is tender when forked and the syrup is thickened.

When I took my fruit out, the syrup wasn’t as thick as I like so I used a slotted spoon to pull out the fruit and I cooked down the syrup in a small pan until it was reduced until a thicker syrup.

For the salad, I used the whole slices.

For the compote, I chopped the quince, added a 1/4 tsp of Ceylon cinnamon and a few squirts of agave (or honey). I heated it up in the micro for three minutes (or in a 300 F oven for 20 minutes – just for you Laura S).

I will ask mOm if I can post her waffle recipe, fingers crossed!

Naughty but Nice

There is nothing more decadent than a bowl of homemade ice cream, especially chocolate ice cream.

Chocolate ice cream

A few months ago then a major online retailer offered a Cuisinart ice cream machine for $30 out the door, despite being very cash-poor at that time I pounced on it, and a brand new fire engine red machine was all mine! We have had possibly one of the coldest summers since 1938 and so my pretty machine has been slumbering away under a corner of my dining room.

Finally, a bit of warm weather arrived coinciding with a visit from my dear sister. She has been making the most amazing sounding ice creams for the past few years and has frequently tortured me with tales of Mexican chocolate, chile and chocolate, lemon custard and bing cherry ice creams.

After a chummy pajama day together I dusted off the pristine Cuisinart box and put the insert into my freezer. I was delighted (shocked) that it actually fit in there, given that I have probably the city’s cruddiest appliances in the current location of The Roost.

Under my sister’s expert tutelage I prepared a chocolate custard ice cream using our Mom’s vanilla custard base recipe.

As kids, mom would make fantastic ice creams in the old fashioned ice cream maker. She would fill the tall metal cylinder with luscious bases and our dad would layer the barrel of the maker with crushed ice and rock salt. Then, my sis and I and our friends would take over turning the crank handle round and round until we couldn’t turn it any more. We were always incredulous when dad would take over and like a hot knife through butter he would turn the handle a dozen times swiftly. Mom would check the consistency of the ice cream and then swaddle the maker, freshly filled with ice and salt, in our beach towels and newspaper to harden off the batch. The combination of the rock salt to ice creates a lower temperature which helps the ice cream freeze. Water with a higher salinity remains liquid under colder temperatures so as the ice melts in the ice cream churn it is colder than regular ice slush thus creating ideal ice cream making conditions.

In what seemed like an eternity, the ice cream maker would be unveiled and the frosted cylinder heaved out of the salty slush, gently toweled off, and the clear plastic lid would be pried off. Out came the metal paddle into our waiting paws, ready to slurp off the ice cream that adhered to the edges. Ah, heaven!!! It was always, without fail, the best ice cream ever on the planet.

My sis and I revised all of these memories, including the time mom made mint chocolate chip ice cream with large chocolate chips which were frozen like rocks in the ice cream. We all had bowls littered with chips at the bottom, then when they came to temperature we devoured them with our fingers.

With my sis’s supervision and encouragement, and some great advice from Neal Gottlieb of Three Twins fame (thanks Neal!), I scalded the cream and then melted 100% cacao mass into the cream with some vanilla paste, then dribbled in the beaten egg yolks, sugar and a tiny bit of flour and whisked it well. I cooked the custard slowly until it was extremely thick and rich, and then let it chill off in the fridge while we took yet another nap. I love pajama days!

It was getting close to dinner time and I preheated the oven for our roast loin of lamb marinated with rosemary and black garlic. While the lamb was coming to room temperature and the oven warmed up, I pulled out the ice cream base and began the final preparations.

The custard had set up into the best, thickest pudding you could ever imagine. Just dipping out a spoonful left a distinct hole, and it was impossible to shake it off the spoon. Yum!ice cream base collage

I added a dash of espresso from our morning caffeine jolt and a good slosh of creme de cacao, a liqueur that had been languishing in the liquor closet for years, which made me wonder why on earth hadn’t I been using it more all of this time? Then, I added a full cup of Strauss heavy whipping cream, and we had a taste. Wow. Just like when preparing a cold soup, you must “over season” ice cream bases as the cold dampens the flavors. I added a touch more liqueur and pulled out the ice cream cylinder from the freezer and set things in motion.

The directions say the ice cream maker takes up to 30 minutes to finish churning the ice cream, which comes out the consistency of a soft serve. If the cylinder is properly frozen, per my expert sister, you can freeze two batches of ice cream in the cylinder. For my first attempt however, I just make 3 cups of base and it did take almost exactly 30 minutes.

ice cream churning collage

When the ice cream begins to mound up on the beater and leave a hump of ice cream on the side it is finished churning. True enough, 30 minutes later my first batch of ice cream was done.

I pulled out the beater and almost all of the ice cream came out with it.
finished ice cream collage

I scraped it into a freezer proof bowl and then with a wooden spatula scooped out the rest of the ice cream frozen to the sides and bottom of the cylinder. Then, just like when we were kids, we cleaned off the churn with greedy slurping sounds and then repaired to the sink to wash off the chocolate smears from our hands and faces.

The ice cream went into the freezer to harden and we turned our attentions to dinner. The lamb loin was quickly roasted in a hot oven while I made a fast salad of lemon tarragon vinaigrette, local greens and a lemon cucumber. Earlier in the day I made some ratatouille with yellow squash, slow roasted tomatoes and lots of garlic, added goat cheese and baked some feta and artichoke ravioli in the sauce (recipes to be shared another day).

Perfectly sated, we watched silly scifi movies with snarky commentary and then bolted upright from our perches on the couch and chair and said, “Hey, we can have ice cream now!”

I pulled the ice cream out of the freezer to soften a bit before scooping. It was a beautiful sight. It scooped out just like the best premium grocery store ice cream and the first taste was divine. Rich, chocolately, enough butterfat on the roof of the mouth, the espresso accentuated the chocolate and the slight boozey component of the liqueur really came through. This is not your average ice chocolate ice cream! And, the best part was that we made it together, and it was a snap to do.

ice cream done collage

Funny thing though, some folks on Twitter asked me if I thought it was worth the effort to make ice cream at home. After a face-palm I tried to elucidate why I bother making *anything* at home. Sure, you can go to Costco and buy a great roasted chicken for $10, or buy Three Twins ice cream at their shop (or for a few lucky people, in the grocery store) and you know the product will be fantastic. I think this “why bother” attitude is what is pervasively destroying people’s will to learn to cook or do anything by hand. The sense of pride and accomplishment knowing you have successfully roasted a chicken or made your own ice cream *is totally* worth the effort. And, that effort really isn’t all that much work either. It is simple to scald some cream and take five minutes to make a custard base. It took no work at all to plug in the machine and let it do its thing for thirty minutes. How hard is it to rub a chicken with herbs and butter and toss it in the oven for an hour or so? Michael Ruhlman wrote a great post about this a few months ago. Why do so many people think this is hard? I think it is more of an issue of laziness and lack of confidence. Because I had a mom who cooked meals at home, who was not afraid to try new things, and a sister who leveraged this and took her cooking experiments above and beyond this gave me the confidence in the kitchen. My sister used to make eclairs with pastry cream filling after school, how many teens do that now?

It made me a bit sad but this feeling passed as I sucked the last of the ice cream off my spoon then surreptitiously licked the bowl clean. Like people who feel the need to summit mountains or ride a 300 mile bike race, I am my own iron man in the kitchen. I will make my own food and have fun in the process. The best part is that I get to enjoy and savor the outcome, like my first batch of chocolate ice cream.

Mouthwash Cake

When I was a child I was always underfoot in the kitchen, at first playing with the Tupperware cupboard or hiding under the cutting board, then later asking mOm question after question or helping stir or peel carrots and potatoes.

By age 7, mOm gave me samples of sugar and salt to examine under my microscope and explained the scientific mechanics of how cooking worked.

We baked together, turning out cakes, cupcakes and muffins, and my favorite – brownies. I learned how to measure, mix and fold, how to pour, scrape and spread. When mOm took an advanced cake decorating class her baking took an incredible turn. We would spend hours with cookie sheets, boxes of tips, frosting nails and a big pot of buttercream frosting and practiced swirls, whorls, scalloped edging, roses, vines and basketweaves. We made royal icing flowers to be added to future cakes and decorated individual sugar cubes for an elegant accompaniment to a lady’s coffee service. We molded sugar and egg whites into massive hollow Easter dioramas filled with grass made from dyed coconut, Easter candy and flowers. And bunnies.

I was the envy of every kid on the block with my gorgeous, better-than-a-bakery decorated birthday cakes. Valentines Day and Christmas cookies were edible works of art, and the Halloween cupcakes were things of legend: arching black cats, grinning Jack O’Lanterns, scary witches with warty noses and ghosts that you could almost hear wailing, “Wooooo!!!”

The culmination of our baking was the Bicentennial block party. Instead of everyone celebrating with fireworks and sparklers in our own backyards as per usual, the block got permission from the city to close the street and we had an all day/all night (almost) celebration of our great country’s 200th birthday.

There were sack races, water balloon tosses, a parade of all of us kiddies on our bikes or trikes, rollerskates and strollers. All the moms contributed gorgeous dishes for a potluck and the dads rolled out the grills to the sidewalk and fired up the coals. We had a costume contest and I won 3rd place! When it was finally dark enough everyone lit off their fireworks in the *front* yard! The culmination of the party for us kids, besides the sparklers and piccolo Petes and growing cinder worms, was dessert.

Mom made a huge flag cake. It was so large she borrowed a commercial oven at a bakery to bake the cake. It seemed as big as a standard flag to me, acres and acres of rippling red and white stripes, and sparking white stars against that perfect blue field. It fed absolutely everybody and more and it was delicious!

Watching and helping my mom gave me loads of confidence in the kitchen. Seeing her look at a picture in a Wilton book and then reproduce it was a revelation. I would point to a picture and ask, “Can you do this?”, and then watch, wide-eyed, as she made it come to life with her cool hands and deft manipulations with the pastry bag.

With my best bud, Margo, one Saint Patrick’s Day I decided I would just go ahead and make my first cake. I pulled out the Old Redoubtable – Joy of Cooking.

I set to work while Margo perched on the kitchen stool. The KitchenAid, tons of measuring cups, mounds of spoons and mixing bowls were pressed into action. There was flour and batter and frosting everywhere, I remember having to use half a bottle of Mop N Glow on the floor to get the stickiness up.

If only I had a picture of this creation… Please imagine a white layer cake with white buttercream frosting and green shamrocks and borders. Naturally, I flavored the frosting with lots of mint extract, because to my little baker’s brain, mint tasted green. It was lumpy and childishly piped, but I was 8 and thought it was simply gorgeous.

How perfectly dreadful it must have been, tasting like mouthwash! But my family never let on and ate it with gusto, if I recall correctly. I was so proud. And now, in hindsight, I feel so grateful to my family for their kindness and encouragement.

My next attempt at cooking for my family was much more successful, and edible. Stay tuned next Monday!

A World of My Imagination

One of my enduring happy childhood memories is watching Gene Wilder sing “Pure imagination” in the dark, sticky, dome-like movie theater south of here. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was a pivotal movie in my littlehood, and the memory of watching Gene’s crinkly blue eyes and wild hair and groovy clothes while he strolled around his garden of confections clings hard to my subconscious. Hearing him sing this song during a current television commercial brought all those memories flooding back.

My wish then was that such a place was real, where red licorice ropes dripped from trees like Spanish moss, where daffy down dillies were actually tea cups of nectar and where the murky Delta water was a river of chocolate.

Seeing that scene in the movie made me feel safe and comfortable, deep down inside somewhere, with a sense that nothing could get at me or scare me or disrupt my innocence – just me and a giant meringue and jelly-filled mushroom and a suspension of time. The movie was just like the book, only better, and I wanted to crawl through the screen and nestle inside.

After-wards, my world seemed somehow lacking. The colors were murkier, not Technicolor, and the honeysuckle flower I sipped was sweet but not what I imagined. I wanted Gene Wilder’s twinkly eyes to look down on me forever, to take me away from “all this”‘. I had forgotten this feeling, this intense longing, my wish for a safe, happy place, until I heard that song on the television. Every time I hear it now, my heart lightens and for a moment I forget reality and feel uplifted.

I had the great pleasure of meeting and talking to Gene Wilder at a screening of Young Frankenstein. I brought my beloved copy of his novel, “My French Whore” and we chatted a bit. He looked just the same, just a bit grayer and more tired, but then so are we all. It is such an odd phenomenon to feel an emotional connection to an actor who was portraying a fictional character, to a man who won’t ever remember me but whose face is burned into my synapses.

Thinking of Gene and that lovely song brought back another memory I had forgotten. My maternal grandmother didn’t do much in the kitchen, but when I came to visit her and Grandpa as a young child she would always make a point to make me a special Angels food cake. She was not much of a cook. When my mOm was a little girl she had to do most of the cooking or do without, and when Grandpa was home from the Navy he loved to cook. Grandpa taught me quite a few handy things, which I will share with you sometime. But Grandma would cook once in a while and she would make candy occasionally too. She made the most marvelous divinity for my sister, and occasionally, very occasionally, my sis would share a piece. What heaven that little bite of candy was, airy and yet chewy, filled with nuts and so sweet. I think that Grandma’s divinity is why I love Sees Candy’s nougats so much.

I well remember her bread and butter pickles and watermelon rind pickles, and how silly I thought it was that she wanted me to save her the watermelon rinds, until I had a jar of what she had put up.

When I was a little older, I apparently was asking Grandma (and everybody) how to cook things even then, and she shared a few of her recipes with me. She would send me Hallmark cards with recipe cards tucked inside, her cramped, spiky handwritten, closely covered recipe cards with things I have yet to try – peppermint sticks, Swedish fried twists, fruitcake. These recipes, a gold cross pendant and a 70’s color scheme crocheted afghan are all I have to remember Grandma by. Sadly, the secret of her divinity and pickles are lost forever but my sister and I will always have it in our memories.

I haven’t seen anything like Grandma’s Chocolate Mint Sticks any where else, and here it is, just as she wrote it, on both sides of two recipe cards.

Chocolate Mint Sticks


2 oz (2 squares) unsweetened chocolate (Grandma used Baker’s chocolate)
1/4 lb (1 stick) unsalted butter
pinch of salt
1 c granulated sugar
2 oz (generous 1/2 c) walnuts, cut or broken into medium size pieces
1/2 tsp vanilla
2 eggs
1/2 c all purpose flour
fine breadcrumbs

Adjust a rack one-third up from the bottom of the oven. Preheat to 350 F. Butter a 9″ square cake-pan, dust it with fine breadcrumbs. Invert pan to shake out excess. This has a tendency to stick to pan; using crumbs prevents this)

Melt chocolate and butter in top of a small double-boiler over hot H2O on med-heat. Stir until smooth. Remove to of dbl boiler – set aside to cool slightly.

In small bowl of electric mixer beat eggs until foamy. Beat in salt, vanilla and sugar. Add chocolate mixture (may still be be warm) and beat to mix. On low speed, add flour, scraping bowl with rubber spatula and beating only until mixed. Stir in the nuts.

Pour mixture into prepared pan and spread it to make smooth layer. Bake for 25 minutes or until toothpick inserted comes out.

Remove from oven. Cool in pan.

Prepare Mint Icing as follows:


2 T butter, room temp (unsalted)
1 T (or few drops or more) heavy cream
1/2 tsp peppermint extract
1 c sifted confectioners sugar

Place all ingredients in small bowl of electric mixer; beat until smooth. It should be thick mixture, not runny. Spread evently over cake in pan. Will be a thin layer.

Place in refrigerator for 5 minutes – no longer.

Prepare glaze as follows:


1 oz (1 square) unsweetened chocolate (Grandma used Baker’s chocolate)
1 T butter (unsalted)

Melt chocolate and butter in top of a small double boiler over hot H2O on medium heat – stir until smooth. Pour hot glaze onto chilled icing and quickly tilt pan in all directions to cover icing completely with glaze – very thin layer, just barely enough to cover. Don’t worry if icing shows through in small spots.

Refrigerate 1/2 hour until glaze looks dull. Cut around cake to loosen edges from pan. Cut in half and then in bars.

May freeze and then serve from freezer.

Makes 32 small bars

I will be thinking of Grandma and Gene as I nibble these, and wish I was sitting on a candy lawn with my cup of tea and the soft splashing of the chocolate waterfall nearby.