March 24th, 2014

Fresh Starts: Sourdough and Spring


It is officially Spring, and I feel certain that most of you feel the same as I do—Bring It!

This winter has felt long. Despite the emergence of hyacinths, daffodils, and profuse blooms on my weeping cherry tree, it still threatens brief yet chilling returns. Nonetheless, I am pressing on. Days grow longer, and will grow warmer.


For me, Spring is a time for ambitious things: cleaning the house, clearing the yard, churning the earth, planting. This opens the way for all fresh starts.

To this (ever-growing) list I have added a baking challenge.


I have long been curious about sourdough starter: how it works, how it needs to be maintained, what its possibilities are with breads, rolls, cakes and such. However, I’ve resisted baking with it in the past. On numerous occasions, friends have offered me a scoop of their starter, but I’ve said, “No, thanks.” It felt like too much of a commitment–one that I didn’t think I could honor over the long haul. If properly fed, stored, and used, sourdough starters can last for years and years.


My friends at Bella Nashville make remarkable wood-fired sourdough breads and pizzas using a starter that can be traced back a millennium to Napoli Italy. This one, which I purchased from King Arthur Flour, is the descendant of one that began in pre-Revolutionary War New England.

A couple of thoughts: because the starter relies on your flour, your water, your environment—your bread will taste different than someone’s in New England or Santa Fe New Mexico. It’s personal.

There’s also mounting evidence that bread baked with starter has greatly reduced gluten. It is more digestible than bread quickly made with commercial yeast and flour.


Since its arrival in my home 3 weeks ago, I’ve baked breads and sweet rolls using the starter four different times. With each batch, I’ve learned something new. And each time, the results have been better than the time before. Practice, practice.

But the upshot is this: Using the sourdough starter is fun and easy. I want to encourage you to not be daunted by the idea of it, as I was for so many years. There is not much actual labor involved in baking the bread.

Time and Forethought: that’s what is really takes.


Check out the ingredient list for the basic recipe. It is beautifully simple: flour, starter, water, salt. No additional yeast! It makes 2 loaves, (or one loaf and a batch of sweet rolls) and can be readily augmented with different flours, grains, seeds, herbs, dried fruits and the like. Maggie tells me that adding a cup of rolled oats to the dough imparts wonderful flavor—I can’t wait to do this.


For the first two tries, I used only unbleached bread flour. The following two, I made it with a combination of unbleached and whole wheat flours, and a little bit of sugar. A tablespoon of sugar seemed to balance yet enhance the tangy sour taste. The whole wheat brings more texture, interest, and nutrition to the dough, without being dense. The bread has a nice crisp crust and soft, yet sturdy structured crumb. And the flavor–Incredible!

Let’s just say that I won’t be buying bread for a while. And should I have too much bread in the house, there’s always sourdough croutons to consider, or stratas, bread puddings, and stuffings, like this one from Cooking Light with pears and sausage.


I also made sweet rolls. I rolled out the dough for one “plain” sourdough loaf into a flat rectangle and spread it with a cup of blueberry preserves.



Even better was the whole wheat combo dough, rolled out and filled with the much loved mixture of cinnamon, brown sugar, pecans, and golden raisins.

Make a loaf of bread and a breakfast treat at the same time.



EXTRA TANGY SOURDOUGH BREAD adapted from King Arthur Flour
1 cup “fed” sourdough starter
1 1/2 cups lukewarm water
2 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon sugar (optional)
5 cups unbleached bread flour (or in variation of 3 cups unbleached bread and 2 cups whole wheat)

The day before you plan to bake:
Pour 1 cup starter into a large mixing bowl. Stir in the lukewarm water and 3 cups bread flour. Beat vigorously. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside to rest at cool (68-70 degrees F is best) room temperature for 4 hours. Then refrigerate overnight, or 12 hours.

The morning of the day you plan to bake:
Mix the remaining 2 cups flour (here is where I augment, depending on my desired result. 2 cups whole wheat flour yields luscious results!) in a bowl with the salt and sugar. Remove the spongy overnight-proofed dough from the refrigerator. Combine this with the mixed dry ingredients and knead into a smooth soft dough. If you are using a stand mixer with a dough hook, mix for about 10 minutes. Place into a large lightly buttered (or oiled) bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and let it rise for 5 hours. The dough will be almost doubled.

Divide the dough in half and shape into loaves. Place on a baking sheet, cover, and let rise for 2-3 hours. The loaves will double in size.

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Slash the tops of the loaves and bake for 30 minutes, or until golden brown. Remove and cool on a rack.



For the Cinnamon-Pecan-Raisin Filling
1 cup pecan pieces
1/2 cup raw or brown sugar (such as Demerara or Turbinado)
1/2 cup raisins (I used golden raisins)
1 tablespoon cinnamon
4 tablespoons melted butter

Place pecans, brown sugar, raisins, and cinnamon into a small mixing bowl. Pour in the melted butter and mix well.

Make the Sweet Rolls

Divide the dough (this is after it has had its 5 hour rise) into two pieces. You may want to use one piece for a loaf of bread–shape it into a loaf, cover, and set aside for its second rise.

I did not flour the work counter first–the dough was pliable not sticky. You are welcome to lightly flour your work surface, if you prefer.Roll out the remaining piece into a rectangle.

Spread the cinnamon-pecan mixture over the rectangle and roll it up into a cylinder, jelly-roll fashion. Cut into rings about 1 inch thick and place into a buttered baking pan or dish. I used a 10 inch tart pan.

Cover and allow the rolls to rise in a warm place for 2-3 hours.

Bake in a preheated 400 degree oven for 20-25 minutes, until golden brown. Cool on a baking rack. Drizzle with glaze (recipe below) and serve.


For the Blueberry Filling
1 cup blueberry preserves

Liberally spread the filling across the surface of the rolled-out dough. Roll up the dough into a long cylinder. Cut into rings, about 1 inch thick and place into a buttered baking dish. I used a 10 inch tart pan.

Cover with plastic and allow the rolls to rise for 2 hours in a warm place.

Bake in a preheated 400 degree oven until golden brown–about 20 minutes. Place on a rack to cool and glaze, if you like.
Makes 16-18 rolls

1 cup powdered sugar
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
a few tablespoons half-and-half

Place the powdered sugar, lemon juice and vanilla into a small mixing bowl. While stirring, add a few tablespoons of half-and-half until you reach a smooth pourable consistency.

Drizzle over the somewhat cooled rolls and serve.




Posted in Breads, Breakfast, Recipes | 20 Comments »

November 20th, 2013

Jessi’s Pretzels


Isn’t it wonderful, when you find out that something
you were convinced
would be terribly difficult,
involved, complicated,
down-right tricky


was, in fact,
a breeze, a lark,
a walk-in-the-park,

and fun?

That was my pretzel-making experience.


When Jessi brought her pretzels to potluck a few years ago, we all went crazy for them. Who makes pretzels? We rewarmed the soft salty twists in the oven. A dunk into a crock of spicy mustard, we greedily devoured them.

As I was compiling our recipes for the cookbook, I had no doubt.
The pretzels had to be represented.

Jessi readily accommodated, sending me her method, with tips.

Seeking to recreate the same distinctive taste that she and her husband had enjoyed in Bavaria, she had done extensive research and experimentation. The outcome–a straightforward, authentic, and easy-to-make recipe.

The dough is basic. It does not require lengthy rise time or punching down. If you have a stand mixer with a dough hook, you can whip it up in short order, let the machine do the 10 minute kneading process, while you do something else. Hand-rolling the dough into long strands and looping them into the pretzel shape is quite fun.




But there is one piece to the process that was news to me. What Jessi learned—call it the secret, or the trick to making perfect pretzels—-is that you dip the dough knot into a diluted lye solution before baking.

Lye? Isn’t that the stuff Paulie put into Bed-Bug Eddie’s coffee in The Pope of Greenwich Village?

The idea of working with this caustic substance, well, freaked me out, at first. But Jessi, our resident soap maker, and no stranger to the product, assured me that there was nothing to fear. “Just Be Prudent.” (I’ve listed her prudent tips below, with the recipe.)


Food-grade lye is an intrinsic component of curing olives, and making hominy, In the case of the pretzels, there is amazing science here–the interaction of sodium hydroxide with the oven heat produces that characteristic browning and taste before it vanishes.

And, it was not a problem to use. Really!



I made a batch of pretzels for one of the cookbook’s photo shoot days. I was so elated with how splendid they turned out that I made them again when visiting my bread-baking friend Maggie.

For sure, they are delicious right out of the oven. But you can rewarm them the next day with terrific results. That outer brown sheen only gets crunchier—but there is still that soft chewy pretzel interior.

Many recipes use a combination of baking soda–which is another alkali– and water. And I am happy to send you to Cooking Light for their recipe, if you are not comfortable using the food-grade lye dip. It will make a good pretzel—but not a great one.

Here’s the link to my homemade mustards, if you want to go all-out. The coarse-grain stout mustard is made for pretzel-dunking.


1 1/2 teaspoons dry active yeast
2 cups warm water, divided
5 cups bread flour
2 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 1/2 tablespoons butter, softened
1/2 cup food grade lye*
10 cups water
Coarse sea salt to taste

Dissolve the yeast in 1/4 cup warm water.

Place the bread flour into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the dough hook. Add the salt, softened butter, activated yeast, and remaining water. Mix until combined. Knead the ingredients until the dough is elastic, about 10 minutes.

Cover with a towel and let the dough rest for 5 minutes.
Cut into 12 equal pieces and form into balls. Let rest for 5 minutes.
Roll each ball into a thin rope (about 18 inches long). Make into an upside-down U, and twist the ends around each other to create the distinctive pretzel shape.
Place each one on parchment paper–lined baking sheet and refrigerate uncovered for a minimum of 2 hours up to overnight.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a stainless-steel bowl, dissolve the lye in the water. Dip each side of the pretzels into the lye mixture for 15 seconds and remove to the baking sheet.

Sprinkle each pretzel with coarse salt.
Bake for about 17 minutes. Immediately remove the pretzels from the parchment onto wire rack to cool.

• You can find food grade lye at a number of online sources. I ordered mine from
• Only use stainless-steel pots, bowls, and utensils when working with lye. No plastic. No wood. It is wise to wear gloves when dipping the pretzels into the diluted lye solution.
• Don’t be afraid of the lye mixture—just be prudent. It’s pretty diluted and really the key to making the outside of the pretzel firm and browned evenly.
• You can also make pretzel rolls. Snip or score the top of the rolled ball after dipping in the lye solution.

Posted in Appetizers/Hors D'oeuvres, Breads, Recipes | 12 Comments »

March 4th, 2013

The Girl Who Loved Maple Syrup

Easter Sunday, circa 1967, pre-Easter Brunch at The Loveless Cafe, Nashville TN

That’s me, the tall one with the goofy yellow hat and cat-eye glasses. To my right is my sister Carole, the stormy-eyed tough kid seething in her frou-frou dress (I hate puffed sleeves !) My hand rests on top of baby brother Jim’s head, The Boy, clutching his musical Peter Rabbit (here comes Peter Cottontail, hopping down the bunny trail….) To my far left is sweet sister Barbara, demurring, (See, I really like my Easter outfit.)

This Brownie camera shot, no doubt taken by my mom, never fails to make me laugh. And not just because of our dorky of-a-time dress, or the family dynamic the image so aptly captures. It reminds me that sometimes the roots of your vocation are not obvious, but they are there, if you know where to look.

In this case, you’d have to look in that long plastic basket purse I was carrying.


Because it held a bottle of maple syrup.

Well, not this particular bottle, but you get the idea.

So, why?

You see, I was the ultimate picky eater, and I knew we were going to the Loveless Cafe for brunch. The only thing I wanted to eat—correction, would eat—at the Loveless was a stack of pancakes.

The problem, which I gleaned with horror from a previous visit, was that they served Karo with those pancakes. Ugh. The little pitcher was filled with corn syrup. My stack was ruined.

I was not to be thwarted this time. I ferreted a bottle of the prized maple out of the pantry and tucked it (despite the stickiness risk) into that mammoth purse, which I lugged into church and then to the tables of Loveless. Easter brunch was saved.


Pretty crafty, eh?

And while I grew up hearing and thinking that I was a pain and a hopeless food-hater, someone who lacked a refined palate, or any palate at all, I came to realize that the bottle of maple syrup tucked in my purse told a different story.


It gave a hint that maybe this girl who loved maple syrup knew more about food than she realized. I mean, wouldn’t we all prefer maple syrup over corn on pancakes?

I write this today with those of you in mind who are picky, or have picky eaters in your family. Don’t despair. Inside that person there could be a great cook or chef or lover of good food. It can take time for that to emerge.

Often the things we seem to most reject, are the very things we end up embracing.

Pickiness is just another step along the path.


Today’s recipe makes a simple but delicious bread pudding—sweetened with maple syrup—-but not too sweet. You could spark it with some cinnamon or nutmeg, or add more dried fruit. I kept it basic–maple and vanilla bean, with a handful of sultanas. I wanted the maple flavor to shine through.

Like all bread puddings, it’s a terrific way to use up stale bread. To me, It’s more of a breakfast bread pudding than a dessert, although it could go either way.

I served it warm with some yogurt and bananas (two other things that the long ago picky eater wouldn’t touch!) and an extra drizzle of maple over the top.


3 cups half-and-half
1/2 vanilla bean, scraped
1 cup maple syrup
4 eggs
1 cup heavy cream
1 stale baguette, cut into cubes
1 cup sultanas
soft butter, to coat baking dish

Pour half-and-half into a large saucepan. Add vanilla bean. Heat until small bubbles form along the edges, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat and allow vanilla to infuse the half-and-half. Scrape the inside of the vanilla bean to get out all the vanilla paste. Stir in the maple syrup.

Place cubed bread into a large mixing bowl.
Pour vanilla-maple mixture over the cubes.
In a separate bowl, beat eggs and cream until well combined. Pour over the cubes.
Add the sultanas. Stir the mixture well.

Coat the bottom and sides of the baking dish with softened butter.
Spoon in bread pudding mixture. Allow it to rest and absorb for 30 minutes.

Bake in the center of a preheated 350 degree oven for 30 minutes. The bread pudding will become puffed and golden, and the custard will set.

Serve warm, with fresh fruit and yogurt, and, of course,

a pitcher of real maple syrup.


Posted in Breads, Breakfast, Casseroles, Desserts, Recipes | 26 Comments »

March 21st, 2012

Pecan-crusted Baked Ham, sweet potato biscuits


When I was experimenting with mustards last month, Barbara over at Moveable Feasts wisely pointed out the timeliness of my post: just weeks from baking those Easter hams.

And that’s when I realized that any of my zesty trio–but especially the Apricot Mostarda–could be a key ingredient in the glaze.


I had also been working on a story about Cane Syrup for Relish Magazine.

In Abbeville, Louisiana, the Steen family has been making this deep amber delicacy for over 100 years. Now they are the only producing mill in the country, garnering them recognition in Slow Food’s Ark of Taste, a catalog of over 200 foods in danger of extinction.

If you have the chance to cook with this syrup, I encourage you to do so. The taste is distinctive. Cooking-wise, it is interchangeable with other syrups, such as molasses, sorghum, or honey. Steen’s has a prompt, reliable mail order service, and an easy-to-navigate website.


Lighter than molasses, Steen’s lends a deep bittersweet caramel note to foods.

And, mixed with my fruity mustard, sparked with a bit of allspice, it made a simple, yet spectacular ham glaze, with a slightly sweet nod to the South.


I took that southerly turn just a tetch further, and dusted a top-coat of pecan pieces, which readily adhered to the sticky glaze.

What a wonderful combination!

The pecans toasted onto the ham as it baked, making a nice crunchy layer. Bolstered with piquant mustard, it sealed in the meat’s juices.


I baked this ham for our Third Thursday Community Potluck, and wanted to serve something alongside that fit this Southern-style theme.

Sweet potato biscuits seemed like a perfect accompaniment, and are no more difficult to make than regular biscuits–just a few more ingredients.


You can bake the sweet potatoes well ahead of time–the day before, if need be.

I used self-rising flour (still trying to use up that mispick that worked so well for this other biscuit recipe.)


For their slap-dash, hands-on method—the less you work the dough, the better—biscuits are fun to make. This batch makes three dozen, which isn’t too many, when you have a big group, and a ham to match. The recipe I’ve given can cut in half without any problem.


I love the color. And the smell!

As biscuits bake, your kitchen will fill with the aromas of ginger and clove.

Stuffed with slices of this ham, dabbed with fruity mustard, such a biscuit is a real springtime treat.



1/2 cup Apricot Mustard
1/2 cup Steen’s Cane Syrup
2 t. Allspice
1/2 cup Pecans finely chopped

Sugar Cured Ham—shank or butt portion

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Trim ham–removing tough outer hide pieces, and any excess fat. Do leave a thin layer of fat–important to sealing in the juices of the meat.

Score the ham in crisscross fashion, cutting into that thin layer of fat–but Not all the way through to the meat layer.

In a small mixing ball, whisk the mustard, syrup, and allspice together.
Liberally coat the entire ham–all surfaces—with this glaze.
Place ham in baking dish. Pour 1 cup of water into the bottom.
Coat the upper glazed surface with finely chopped pecans.

Bake, uncovered, allowing 15 minutes per pound. An 8 lb. ham will take 2 hours.
Check periodically, adding a little more liquid so that the sugars don’t burn.

Allow the meat to rest at least 15 minutes before carving. The ham can be baked in advance and kept warm. It is also great served room temperature.


2 cups cooked Sweet Potatoes
4 c. Self-Rising Flour
1/3 c. Turbinado Sugar
1 t. Ginger
1 t. Nutmeg
1/2 t. ground Cloves
1/2 c. Milk, “soured” with 1 T. Lemon Juice
10 T. cold Butter, cut into pieces

1/4 cup ground pecans and turbinado sugar blend (optional)

Ahead of Time: Bake Sweet Potatoes (2 medium sized) in 425 degree oven until done. Allow to cool, and scoop out filling.

In a large work bowl, add dry ingredients: self-rising flour, spices, sugar. Add sweet potatoes, lemon-soured milk (or buttermilk) and butter pieces.

Working with your hands, mix all the ingredients, rubbing the butter pieces into the flour. Work quickly; soon it will all come together in a mass. If it is too sticky, add a bit more flour. Beware of overworking the dough–it will toughen.

Dust the work surface with flour. Roll out dough about 1/2″ thick and cut into rounds. Place on parchment-lined baking sheet, close-set, (sides touching is fine).
Sprinkle the tops with ground pecan-brown sugar mixture.

Bake at 425 degrees for 10-12 minutes.

Makes 3 dozen 2″ round biscuits.


Posted in Appetizers/Hors D'oeuvres, Breads, Meats/Poultry, Recipes | 26 Comments »

February 28th, 2012

Five Allium Farro Soup, and Spoonbread


The Onion Family
garlic, scallions, onions, leeks, shallots, chives

I credit this humble tribe for waking me up, turning me around, and nudging me in the right culinary direction, oh-so many years ago. Once an affirmed picky eater, I had disliked ‘most everything. I had heaped onions and their ilk into my big pile of things never-ever to eat.

It wasn’t until I lived in Holland that I became enlightened to their beneficent ways.


I was an exchange student, just out of high school. Gert, my Dutch mother, was a kind and patient woman who allowed me to accompany her on her daily round of shopping for the meals. Together we’d choose vegetables, a bit of meat, potatoes–of course!–and a hearty loaf of bread. I would help her wash and cut carrots, peel the spuds, trim the white endive.

She understood that I was picky, and that I was trying to push past the barriers I’d long entrenched for myself. Working together on the meals not only helped me to better learn the language and culture, indeed it forged a loving bond, easing me into the fold of her family.

Maybe she sensed that, deep inside me, there was a burgeoning chef, the anti-picky eater.


In any case, it was her skillet thick with sliced onions, simmering in butter, softening, then gaining that rich caramel glaze that I recognize as my revelatory moment: what my writing teacher calls a “Shimmering Image.”

I had come home from a class late one afternoon, and Gert had already done most of the dinner preparations. I don’t remember what the skillet of caramelized onions was for–could have been a base for a soup or stew. It doesn’t–and didn’t– matter. What mattered was the smell. It filled the kitchen with a pungency that was heady and earthy and sweet and compelling. It touched on something–a memory? a desire?

I wasn’t sure. It was nothing I would ever have attributed to onions. I had to have a taste, pickyness be damned!

I grabbed a spoon and dug in. Mercy, what had I been missing?


It’s funny how change occurs. Often it is slow, almost imperceptible in its unfolding. And then there are those Great A-Ha’s! A dramatic turn, where nothing is the same as before. After my indulgent spoonful of sweet sauteed onions, I opened my senses to the world of food.

In no time, the disdained became the embraced.

This simple hearty soup is a celebration of that first skillet of Genus Allium. I’ve put in most of the family—I love ‘em all—each contributing a lush layer of savory-sweet bite. It’s vegetarian, although you could make it with chicken or beef stock, if you like. I prefer the straightforward vegetable. Delete the butter, and it becomes vegan.

Farro, that wonderful nutritious and nutlike grain, cooks up beautifully in the soup. It adds body, and a pleasant chewiness. Serve the soup with crusty bread—or try this easy, airy spoonbread. Essentially, it’s a cornmeal mush souffle—and it is divine.


2 medium Yellow Onions, sliced “pole to pole”
2 Leeks, cleaned, cut into 1/2″ pieces
2 large Green Onions or 1 bundle thin green onions, cut into 1/4″ pieces
1 large or 2 medium Shallots, diced
5-6 cloves Garlic, chopped
2-3 T. Olive Oil
1 T. Butter
Sea Salt
Black Pepper
Red Pepper Flakes (optional)
a few sprigs fresh Thyme (optional)
a few sprigs of Chives, finely chopped
1 quart Vegetable Stock
1 cup Farro, briefly soaked in water and drained

Heat a stockpot and add olive oil and butter. Add your cut onions, leeks, shallots, and garlic. Stir well to coat the pieces. Sprinkle with salt and black pepper. Cook on medium heat, stirring occasionally. After 15 minutes (or so), the onions will begin to release their natural sugars and caramelize.

Pour in vegetable stock and stir well, scraping any browned bits on the bottom and sides of the pot. Add the farro. Cover and simmer for 30-40 minutes.

If the soup get too thick, add water–2 cups–to thin. You will not sacrifice flavor. Check seasoning—add some red pepper flakes, and fresh thyme at the end of the cooking cycle, if you like.

Spoon into bowls. Garnish with chives and serve.

Serves 4


Have you ever eaten spoonbread?

It is a Southern delicacy, light–airy—so like a souffle.


Some recipes call for separating the eggs, beating the whites and yolks separately, and folding into the mix, just as you would for a souffle. This recipe, based on the famous one served at Boone Tavern in Berea, Kentucky, calls for whole eggs, beaten into the cornmeal mush for a long time.


It, too, results in a Grand Puff.

You’ll enjoy dipping your spoon into this special treat–a bit elegant, but rustic at its roots.



2 cups Lowfat MIlk
1 cup Yellow Corn Meal
1 t. Salt
3 T. Unsalted Butter, plus 1 T. for coating baking dish
3 lightly beaten Eggs
1 t. Baking Powder

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

In a saucepan, heat milk. Stir in cornmeal and salt. Cook on medium heat, stirring continuously, until mixture thickens, but becomes smooth—corn meal mush. Stir in butter until it is melted. Remove from heat.

Place eggs into a stand mixing bowl. Add baking powder. Begin beating. Gradually add cornmeal mush. Keep beating—up to 15 minutes total. This seems long—but it beats sufficient air into the batter, which will make a delectably light spoonbread.

Pour batter into buttered baking dish or casserole.

Bake for 25-30 minutes, until spoonbread has risen, with a browned top, and a toothpick, once insert, removes clean.

Serve immediately. Serves 3-4.


Posted in Breads, Gluten Free, Recipes, Soups/Stews, Vegetarian Dishes | 38 Comments »

November 9th, 2011

Maggie’s Fruit-n-Granola Bread



She’s at it again. Friend Maggie has become quite the baker, and during our visit last week, she showed me how to make her latest favorite: a delicious—and easy— granola bread.

Doesn’t it look tempting?

It’s chock full of dried fruits, almonds, and honeyed grains. The dough itself is barely sweetened; the abundance of jewel-like fruits provides bursts of sweetness throughout the loaf.

If she could, Maggie would have you over right now, for “a set” on her porch in the country. We’d savor the fall afternoon with a buttery slice and cup of coffee. Lining the front of her yard are the shrubs called burning bush–at this moment in their brilliant red blaze. We’d watch the flurry of chickadees, snatching and storing seeds for the coming winter. We’d talk about oddities we experienced gardening this year–how the tomatoes put more of their energy into vines than fruit, and did you know that groundhogs could climb a fence and eat green beans?

Instead, we’ll have to do the next best thing, and show you how it’s done…


What a fetching assembly of ingredients!

You could make this bread with just raisins and granola, if you prefer. And, if you’d rather put in pecans instead of almonds, you’d be well-pleased with the results.

Maggie had all kinds of dried fruits–apricots, blueberries, cherries, cranberries—in her pantry, so we took the “more is better” approach. For this bread, it proves to be the right one!


Yes, it’s a kneaded, yeasted bread, but don’t be dismayed. Remember, Bread=Time. And most of that time means leaving the dough alone. (after a vigorous kneading!)

This recipe calls for one major rising, followed by a brief one, once the loaves are formed.


The holidays are drawing near. Wrapped up in festive packaging, her fruit-n-granola bread would make a much appreciated gift.

Even better though, would be to have a loaf on hand to serve guests, sliced and smeared with soft butter. Served alongside a cup of hot coffee or tea—ah, I can’t think of a more pleasant way to share a chilly afternoon visiting with friends.



1/3 cup Rolled Oats (not the “quick” kind)
1 1/2 cups Dried Fruit (use a variety & dice if necessary)
1 tablespoon Unsalted Butter (substitute vegetable oil for vegan)
2 tablespoons Honey
1/2 teaspoon Salt
1/2 cup boiling Water
1 cup Granola (chop into coarse crumbs if necessary)
1 cup lukewarm Water
1 pkg. Active Dry Yeast
2 1/2 cups Unbleached All-purpose Flour
1/2 cup Almonds, roughly chopped

In a large bowl, combine oats, 1/2 cup of the dried fruits, butter, honey, and salt. Add boiling water, mix well. Stir in granola and set aside.

In a small bowl, combine yeast and lukewarm water. Cover bowl with a dish towel and set aside to ferment.

When granola mixture has cooled down to lukewarm, stir in yeast mixture.

Stir in flour, 1 cup at a time. Stir in the remaining dried fruit and almonds. The dough will be fairly sticky.

Turn the dough out onto a floured work surface. Flour your hands, and adding flour as needed. knead the dough for about 8 minutes, or until it’s smooth and no longer sticky.

Place dough into an oiled bowl, making sure to coat all over. Cover bowl with a dish towel and place in a warm area – the oven with light on is a great place. Let rise until it’s doubled in size – 1 to 1 1/2 hours.

Punch dough down. Cut in half and shape into two slightly oval balls. Place on an oiled sheet pan. Cover with a dish towel and let rise for 15 – 20 minutes.

Preheat oven to 375F. Bake for 35 – 40 minutes. It should have a golden brown crust and sound slightly hollow when tapped. Foolproof test is 190F on an instant read thermometer. Let cool on a wire rack.

Let cool for at least 10 minutes before slicing! (Gives you time to brew up that pot of coffee-)

Makes two small round loaves.


Posted in Breads, Recipes, Vegan | 33 Comments »

September 7th, 2011

Big Hot Biscuits: Just 2 Ingredients!


Shopping in haste I grabbed a bag of self-rising flour off the shelf instead of all-purpose. That error slipped unnoticed until I got home, and started unsacking the groceries. Argh. I don’t use self-rising flour. I have an attitude of disapproval towards it. Its ready-blend of salt and baking powder can get you into trouble.

I’m one of these control freaks–I prefer to put in my own quantities of leavening. As needed.

And, I’ve seen the tragi-comic results when self-rising is mistaken for all-purpose. I recall the layers of a certain multi-tiered wedding cake gone awry, at the hands of such an ingredient mispick.

Convinced that she was working with all-purpose, our baker Tonya added the baking powder and soda that her recipe called for. Super-leavened, the batter sputtered and foamed over the cake pans in rolling waves, forming strange baked stalagmites on the oven floor.


Nonetheless, it was not worth it to return the unwanted bag. I decided to see how I could use the nefarious flour. (Hint-Hint! If you have good recipes, tell me about ‘em!)

And then, I remembered some friends talking about Tammy Algood’s “Two Ingredient Biscuits.”

” It’s so simple and good, it’s crazy. Just 2 Cups of Self-Rising Flour and 1 Cup of Heavy Cream.”

“That’s it?”

“Yep, that’s it.”


Not counting, of course, the pat of cold butter and deep amber ribbon of sorghum you'll want to put on the biscuits, all hot-n-tenda from the oven.


Mixing up the dough should go quickly. Don’t overwork it. The trick to light biscuits is a light hand.


And, a wet sticky hand.


You could hand-form the shapes, or glob them, “drop biscuit” style, off the end of a spoon, right into the baking pan. I like to get out the rolling pin and give the dough a couple of turns to smooth and slightly flatten the surface, before I cut the rounds.

I don’t roll thin. Think Thick. Big Hot Biscuits is what its all about. As you cut the rounds, place them in a buttered cake pan, their sides touching. And, don’t worry about ‘em being perfectly round. I like a wonky-shaped biscuit. It seems honest.


A hot oven is key. Have it preheated to 450 degrees. If you like, (and I do!) slap a little sliver of butter on top of each biscuit before you put ‘em in the oven.

In less than 20 minutes, you’ll have fat, fluffy biscuits, ready for whatever fixin’s you like. Guess I’ll have to reconsider my anti-self-rising stance.


Biscuits connote The South, picnics, country ham, big breakfasts, sweet butter, sorghum. Have you tasted (or cooked with) sorghum? I’ve taken a fancy to this syrup only in recent years. Not to be confused with molasses,(a by-product of cane sugar) sorghum results from cooking down the cane of same-named plant. It’s flavor is distinctive: strong, but not overbearing; caramel sweet with a somewhat minerally edge.


And a gorgeous amber pour.



2 Cups Self-Rising Flour
1 Cup Heavy Cream

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Measure flour into a mixing bowl. Pour in cream and quicky mix together. This will form a mass. If it seems too dry, add a little slug of milk or cream—the wetness of the dough actually helps steam up the biscuits!

Pat dough ball onto a lightly floured surface, and with the gentle pressure, roll out the dough—but not thin–about 1/2″ thick. Cut into rounds–at least 2″ in diameter—and place each biscuit in a greased round cake pan.

Let the biscuits touch, as you place them side by side in the pan. Biscuits bake up taller and more tender when they touch, “shoulder-to-shoulder.”

Optional: place a sliver of cold butter on top of each biscuit before you put the pan in the oven.

Bake for about 15 minutes. Tops (and bottoms) will be browned, and the biscuit interior will be white and fluffy.

Serve immediately, with butter, sorghum, honey, blueberry preserves…
Makes 8-12 biscuits.


Posted in Breads, Breakfast, Recipes | 27 Comments »

August 2nd, 2011

Maggie’s Easy Focaccia, garden tomatoes, basil aioli


Since her acquisition of a mighty stand mixer with a dough hook, Maggie has become an avid baker. Oh, she was already accomplished, when it came to quick breads, cakes, skillet cornbread and such. Yeasted breads had her daunted–that dreaded yeast!

There seemed to be so many hurdles: how to successfully activate it (is this water too warm? not warm enough? did I just kill it?) and feed it (does it really like sugar?) and work it into a sponge (so sticky!) And then there was that all rising time, followed by punching down. And, another uprising!

Mercy. There seemed to be too many opportunities for things to go awry.

But when we talked a couple of weeks ago, she declared that she had conquered these fears. She was baking delicious ciabatta and focaccia breads with ease.

“I’ve got it down, Nance,” she said. “When you come out, we’ll make some. We’ll have it in the oven in under two hours. I’ve got the garlic and tomatoes, if you’ll bring the basil. It’ll be ready for lunch. Steve thinks its the best bread he’s ever eaten.”

I couldn’t wait! Off to the country…


Maggie had the modest ingredients assembled prior to my arrival, so we could get right to it. We decided to make a basic bread—just embellished with sea salt and olive oil. But it would be very easy to fleck the surface with fresh rosemary, or green onions, or sundried tomatoes.

We tested the water–very warm, almost hot (it should range between 105-115 degrees) and dissolved the yeast with the sugar. In less than 10 minutes, it had developed a foamy scum on top of the liquid. Proofed! Activated!


“What’s great about this recipe is that it only requires one rise,” she said.

Then she added the other ingredients. This is where the dough hook is so helpful—it churns up the flour mixture into a ropy sponge. When the dough comes together and climbs up the hook (it takes about 10 minutes) it is ready to form into a ball and knead by hand until smooth.


“So much of this is by feel,” Maggie said, hands busy shaping the dough. “What I learned is this: RELAX. It’s just bread. If you mess up, just throw it away, and try another time. I think that the reason I had failed in the past was because I was too uptight in the process. That kind of thing gets communicated into the bread.”

Meanwhile, the dough had achieved the right elasticity.
With that, she pressed the dough onto a baking sheet and set the focaccia aside for its one-time one hour rise.


Post-rise, we dimpled the surface to accept the fruity oil. We sprinkled the surface with a couple of fancy sea salts, gifts from one of her friends–Hawaiian pink and Fleur de Sel.


Once in the oven, we could turn our attention to lunch. A plummy Italian heirloom from her garden awaited.

I whipped up this intense aioli, using my garden basil, and Maggie’s garden garlic. Sometimes with these emulsions, I use the whole egg. This time, I wanted a smaller, more powerful amount, and in the Provencal manner, used just the yolk.

Place a swipe of this indulgence on your focaccia, still warm like ours, and slap a ripe tomato slice on top. A spritz of salt, another aioli dollop, and dive in. You’ll experience a summer treat that, as Maggie is wont to say, “is moanin’ good.”


5 Cups All Purpose Flour
1 2/3 cups Warm Water
1 packet (approx 2 t.) Rapid Rise Yeast
1 t. Sugar
2 1/1 t. Salt
Olive Oil – 1/4 cup plus 3 Tbsp for coating plus more for coating bottom of pan
Sea Salt/Kosher Salt – to taste

In the bowl of a stand mixer, stir together Warm Water, Yeast and Sugar. Cover and keep for 5-10 mins until foamy.

Add Salt, Olive Oil and 4 1/2 cups of All Purpose Flour (more can be added as needed).

Mix with the dough hook until dough starts to come together. Let the dough mix for another couple of minutes, adding more flour as needed. Once you have a fairly smooth ball of dough, turn out onto a floured board. With floured hands, knead dough for 1 minute or until a smooth ball forms.

Generously drizzle Olive Oil to coat the bottom of a 15×10 inch baking pan. Place dough ball in pan and press into the bottom into an even rectangle shape. Cover with kitchen towel and keep in a warm place for 1 to 1 1/2 hours to rise.

Preheat Oven to 425

With your finger, gently make indentations one inch apart all over the dough. Brush the remaining Olive Oil on the top of the risen dough. Sprinkle with salt. Bake Focaccia for 20 – 25 minutes (Keep an eye on it towards the end – all ovens are different).


1 clove Garlic
1 Yolk from a farm-fresh egg
Juice from 1 Lemon
3 T. Basil Leaves, coarsely chopped
Sea Salt
pinch of cracked Black Pepper
8 T. Extra Virgin Olive Oil
food processor fitted with a swivel blade

Process the garlic and egg yolk together for a couple of minutes. Add lemon juice and process another minute. Then
add the basil—pulse until it is coated with the mixture. Season with salt and pepper, and add the olive oil, while processing, just drops at a time. Scrape the sides of the food processor from time to time. Continue adding olive oil. The mixture will become very thick and creamy–like garlicky basil melting in your mouth. Cover and refrigerate.

This makes a small amount–use within one day (so good, it’s easily done.)


Posted in Breads, Recipes, Sauces | 22 Comments »

November 10th, 2010

Green Tomato Madness


I have told you all about my friend Maggie and her place out in the country, where I take carefree breaks from my city ways to hang in her kitchen, drink coffee, visit, and cook. On a given day, we might bake bread, or stir up a pot of gumbo, or can tomatoes, or fix a grand salad, using her garden’s finest. All, I should note, with splendid results.

This time was a little different. I know, everything looks pretty nice in the picture. But, things went a bit mad, green tomato mad.

It was unintentional, this madness. Our initial plan had been to cook with pears harvested from her craggy, fruit laden tree–perhaps we would make pear butter, or pear butter coffeecake.

But, this fall had odd weather, super warm in September and October, and Maggie’s tomato plants had an unexpected resurgence. They were covered, almost as much as they were in summer, with fruit. When her husband Steve learned that a hard freeze was coming, he hastened to the garden to gather what he could. He returned with a 10 gallon bucket, piled with all manner and size of green tomatoes.


So, outside of breading them in cornmeal and frying them crisp, what do you do with 10 gallons of green tomatoes?

Maggie and I decided to find out.


Some ‘net surfing turned up ideas for charred green tomato salsa, green tomato ketchup, and green tomato cake. A few recipes called for slicing, salting, and sweating the tomatoes to remove excess water. Other recipes called for tying the slices up in cheesecloth, and letting them drain overnight.

Needless to say, this notion was rejected.


We plunged headlong into green tomato projects, making things up as we proceeded. It would be some time later before certain aspects of a green tomato’s nature would be revealed.

We oven-roasted green tomatoes, jalapenos, garlic, and onions to a char for salsa.


While those cooled, we chopped more tomatoes for the bundt cake, and improvised a quickbread style recipe, not unlike ones that you use for, say, carrot cakes, or zucchini cakes.


Maggie had a small bundt pan. So, we used the excess batter for muffins. The muffins, we thought, would be our afternoon snack with coffee. Then, we turned our attention to the task of the green tomato ketchup.


Whoa. We quickly cleaned, cored, and quartered a mighty mound, and tossed them into a big pot. For spicing, we used the same ingredients–cinnamon stick, whole clove, and allspice– as I had for my Real Red Ketchup.

At one point, Maggie surveyed the counters, covered with cake pans and batter, vinegars and spices, food mill parts, canning jars, and then the cauldron of green gurgling on the stove and said, “I feel like we’re mad scientists and this is our laboratory.”


And, like any good mad scientists, we recognized that cooking in this manner was very experimental. And, our green tomato experiment yielded mixed results.

Our Assessments:
1. Charred Green Tomato Salsa: This had terrific heat and tangy flavor, not unlike tomatillo, which it resembled also in texture– that gelatinous mouth feel, the kind you notice, at times, with cooked eggplant. We decided that this would be better as a sauce baked over enchiladas.

2. There was likely a good reason to salt and drain the green tomatoes in advance. Our ketchup did not get as thick as we would have liked. The taste was surprisingly good, pretty ketchup-y, really. There was something visually jarring about the color. Close your eyes when you taste it.

3.Green tomatoes need to be chopped very very finely for the bundt cake. Or, pulse them in a food processor. When the muffins were warm, the larger pieces of green tomato were fine—they reminded me of apple, in a way–but as the muffins cooled, the pieces became weird, a little unpleasant–that same gelatinous texture thing. Otherwise, we gave this cake a thumbs-up. I’ve given you the recipe, with the appropriate remedies.

4. It’s always a good idea to find clever ways to use what you’ve got. (Think–there have been thousands and thousands of farm women who had bushels of green tomatoes and little else to work with.)

5. Mad or not, kitchen experiments are fun. And, we welcome any green tomato tips, tricks, or recipes! Suggestions?

2 1/2 cups All Purpose Flour
1 t. Salt
1 t. Baking Soda
1/2 t. Cinnamon
1/2 t. Allspice
1/4 t. Clove
1/4 t. Black Pepper
2 Eggs
1 c. Brown Sugar
3 c. Green Tomatoes, chopped very finely
1/2 c. Buttermilk
1/2 c. Canola Oil
1 c. chopped Walnuts

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Measure and sift dry ingredients together.
Whisk eggs and brown sugar together. Stir in buttermilk and oil, then tomatoes. Stir in dry ingredients and walnuts. Pour into greased and floured bundt pan.

Bake 50-60 minutes. Allow to cool, and remove. Dust with powdered sugar.


Beautiful collection! Maggie is ready for winter.

Posted in Breads, Recipes, Sauces | 28 Comments »

September 14th, 2010

Buckwheat Waffles for the Birthday Girl


When my daughter Madeleine was nine years old, she gave me an electric waffle iron for Christmas. This always makes me smile to think about, because, waffle lover that she is, the iron was really as much a gift for her as it was for me.

In those days, mornings were hectic. I would get Madeleine off to school, then race to the cafe, or the catering kitchen, so we reserved waffle making for Sundays or special occasions. I can remember numerous birthday slumber parties followed by big birthday breakfasts. I’d set up my work station, and the girls, a bit bleary-eyed from all-night Twister, giggly Truth or Dare, or a staged production of “Murder, She Wrote” would shuffle into the kitchen as I turned out waffle after waffle after waffle.


Waffle making diminished after Madeleine went off to college. The trusty iron, with drips of batter permanently annealed to its sides from overzealous pours, got relegated to the stove’s bottom drawer. Whenever she was home for the holidays, though, I’d rifle through the collection of cookie sheets and pot tops, and resurrect the maker.

Waffles had become part of a homecoming tradition.


Even in recent years. Bill would ask, “Why do we only have waffles when Madeleine is here?” I’d have to smile and shrug.

That waffle iron began showing its age, and got rather “tippy.” One of the feet had broken off in an accidental nudge off the counter. At some point, the hinge mechanism had sprung, so it was a balancing act, trying to level the iron, prop the lid, and pour the batter. Eventually, waffles would mercilessly stick, and after a twenty year run, we retired the iron.

But the tradition? No way! A new waffle iron appeared under our tree a couple of Christmases ago, courtesy of the waffle-loving girl. And, because today is that girl’s birthday, I’ve made some waffles—easy, healthy, delicious—for all of us.

Happy Birthday Madeleine!


These waffles are embellished with some butter, yogurt, and strawberries in syrup


1/2 cup Buckwheat Flour
1/2 cup Unbleached White Flour
1/2 t. Baking Powder
1/2 t. Salt
1/4 t. Baking Soda
1 large Egg
1 c. 2% Milk
2 T. Vegetable Oil (I used Olive Oil!)
1 T. Plain Yogurt (Greek Yogurt is extra nice!)
1 T. Honey

Regular Waffle Iron, heated

Maple Syrup, or
Strawberries in Syrup

Sift dry ingredients into a mixing bowl. In a separate bowl, beat the egg with milk, yogurt, and honey. Add this to the dry ingredients, stirring so until well combined. Do not overbeat.

Spoon onto heated waffle iron and cook.

Makes 6 luscious waffles.


Posted in Breads, Breakfast, Recipes | 22 Comments »