Looking for Something?

Borderland Corn Bread

Tomorrow the New Year will be here. I’m ready. I have a resolution in mind – to simplify. I have Lucky Black Eyed Peas ready to go on the stove in the morning. I have the bone from my Christmas ham to season it with and the few other ingredients it takes to make those peas palatable. Besides the beans all that is needed for my simple New Year’s supper is some greens and a good square of cornbread.

It has been a long time since I’ve made good cornbread. Somewhere, over the years, I lost my favorite recipe. It was made with beaten egg whites and I remember it as being on the “healthy” side with some extra steps involved.

I have already been digging through the excess at my house and taking carloads of old or seldom used items to Goodwill. I have included a number of unfinished projects in the hope of paring things down and, better yet, being able to find the things I need without time lost looking through things I seldom or never use. Instead of digging through my file drawer for that old cornbread recipe I decided to try something new.

Actually, my new recipe is an old one too. It comes from The Courier~Journal Kentucky Cookbook. It is printed with a note from local celebrity food writer Cissy Gregg and dated 1955. The note suggests this is no true southern cornbread but still tastes good enough to print. I’d have to agree.

I did change it slightly, simplifying the quantities by combining it with another recipe for Simple Simon Corn Bread, which is printed on the following page of the same cookbook. Something about the name appealed to me…

Borderland Corn Bread
Slightly adapted from The Courier~Journal Kentucky Cookbook

1 cup cornmeal
1 cup flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
2/3 cup milk
1/3 cup maple syrup
¼ cup bacon drippings
2 eggs

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Using a whisk, stir together the flour, corn meal, baking powder and salt.

In another bowl whisk together the milk, maple syrup, bacon drippings and eggs.

Add the wet ingredients to the dry, mixing until smooth, but no longer.

Pour the batter into a well-greased 9-inch square pan.

Bake at 375 degrees for 25 – 30 minutes.

Cut into squares and serve hot with butter.

Note: Melted butter or margarine can be substituted for the bacon drippings. You can also substitute a maple-flavored syrup, or brown or white sugar, for the maple syrup.


Peppermint Meringues with Chocolate Ganache

It’s Christmas week and things are looking festive. Winter is officially here and the short days end in darkness punctuated by festive displays of light. My sense of taste has stopped craving a palette of corn and pumpkin and turned to peppermint and chocolate.

I saw these little cookies near the back of the December issue of Martha Stewart Living. They were so pretty I had to take a second look. Reading through I was smitten with the thought of crunchy crisp chocolate filled meringues fragrant with the fresh scent of peppermint. I had to give them a try.

These are perfect for Christmas dreaming. The process is not complicated but it involves a good bit of waiting. Take it slow and relaxed. Put on a classic like White Christmas, It’s a Wonderful Life or Miracle on 34th Street. Gently warm the egg whites and sugar over a pan of barely simmering water. Whip the warmed whites until patterns and stiff peaks form like dreamy snow-scapes in your bowl.

Pipe the meringue into small swirling baskets and let them rest in a low oven until crisp and dry. Then fill them with a dark creamy ganache and dust the tops with sparkling bits of crushed candy cane. I think you’ll find that they are worth the wait!

Peppermint Meringues with Chocolate Ganache
from Martha Stewart Living, December 2010

vegetable oil cooking spray
3 egg whites, at room temperature
¾ cup sugar
¼ teaspoon pure peppermint extract
red gel-paste food coloring

6 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1 cup heavy cream

1 large candy cane, chopped or crushed

Preheat oven to 175 degrees.

Prepare Cookie Sheets - Trace 1½ - 2 inch circles approximately 2 inches apart on two pieces of parchment paper.

Lightly spray two cookie sheets with cooking spray. Lay the parchment paper, traced side down, on the cookie sheets.

Make the Meringues – In a heatproof mixing bowl, combine the egg whites and sugar. Warm the mixture over a pan of barely simmering water, stirring gently with a whisk, until the mixture is warm to the touch and the sugar begins to dissolve, about 3 minutes.

Remove the egg white mixture from the heat and beat with an electric mixer at medium to high speed until stiff peaks form. Stir in the pure peppermint extract.

With a small food safe paint brush, paint three streaks of red food coloring paste up the inside of a pastry bag fitted with a ¼-inch plain round tip. (I used Wilton tip #6)

Transfer the egg white mixture to the pastry bag. Fill each traced circle on the parchment paper with a coil of the meringue then pipe around the edge, coiling the meringue upward, until the sides of the meringue cups are approximately ½ - 1 inch high.

Bake at 175 degrees for approximately 1 hour 30 minutes or until meringue cups are stiff, dry and easily transferred from the parchment paper to a wire rack. Allow the meringues to cool completely.

Make the Ganache - Place the chopped chocolate (or chocolate chips) in a heatproof bowl.

Warm the cream in a small saucepan over low heat until it comes to a gentle simmer. Pour the cream over the chocolate and allow it to sit for two minutes. Stir until smooth.

Cover the ganache loosely and refrigerate for approximately an hour to an hour and a half, until firm. Stir the ganache again and transfer it to a pastry bag fitted with a ¼-inch star tip. (I used Wilton tip #21.)

Pipe ganache into the meringue cups with a swirling motion.

Garnish with crushed candy cane bits.

Make Ahead Tip: I suggest eating these soon after assembling. That probably won’t be a problem. They are light and festive and appealing. If you do want to save some for later, store the meringues in an airtight container and store the ganache in the refrigerator. Shortly before serving whip the ganache briefly, until it is creamy. Then transfer to a pastry bag and pipe the ganache into the meringue cups. Sprinkle with candy cane bits.

Serve and enjoy!

Pecan Praline Cookies with Brown Sugar Frosting

One of the best things about being a home cook is finding others who share that same interest. It is a delight to meet someone whose eyes sparkle at the mention of recipes and who can tell a story about the dishes they serve. Even better is meeting someone who shares (or at least understands) your taste preferences and food quirks.

I met one of my dearest food friends when we moved into our first house in Texas. It so happened that she lived right next door. Over the years Anne and I have shared many dinners and special events together. We have also swapped many recipes. The recipes she shares are often versatile and always dependable. Even better they almost invariably appeal to my particular sense of taste and style. These cookies, rich with brown sugar and pecans, are no exception.

I first tasted these at a Christmas Cookie Swap several decades ago. I have made them almost every Christmas since. They are not difficult to prepare but do require an extra step for the frosting. That extra step makes them pretty and doubly tasty, therefore perfect for the holiday season.

Pecan Praline Cookies

1 cup butter, softened
½ cup firmly packed brown sugar
½ cup white sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups flour
½ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
½ cup finely chopped pecans
Brown Sugar Frosting (see below)
Pecan halves for garnish

In a large mixing bowl, beat butter at medium speed with an electric mixer. Gradually add sugars, mixing well. Add egg and vanilla; beat well.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, soda and salt. Gradually add the dry mixture to the creamed mixture, stirring after each addition. Stir in the chopped pecans.

Chill dough for 30 minutes.

When chilled, remove from the refrigerator. Shape dough into 1-inch balls. Place the balls of dough on ungreased cookie sheets.

Bake at 350 degrees for 10 - 12 minutes. Cool on wire racks.

When cool, spread Brown Sugar Frosting over the tops of the cookies. Top each with a pecan half before the icing sets.

Makes about 5 dozen cookies.

Brown Sugar Frosting

1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
½ cup half & half
1 Tablespoon butter
1½ cups sifted powdered sugar (plus a little more if needed)

Combine brown sugar and half & half in a saucepan.

Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until mixture comes to a boil. Boil 4 minutes.

Remove from heat. Stir in butter. Add 1½ cups powdered sugar. Beat at medium speed with an electric mixer until smooth. Add a little more powdered sugar, if needed, to achieve a desired spreading consistency.


Chocolate Chip Cookies

Christmas is just a few weeks away and the baking has begun.  I love holiday baking and to me that means cookies, usually the fancy festive kind. All the same, last weekend I found myself baking what may be the most common variety of cookie in the world... Chocolate Chip Cookies.

And why not? These universal pleasers are quick and easy to put together from ingredients many people have on hand.  While on the homely side, these cookies are well loved and bring a smile to almost every face.

Hot from the oven they satisfied my family and a room full of guests who come with a variety of food preferences.  They may not be the prettiest cookies that ever graced a holiday buffet but more often than not they will be gone so fast that no one will notice.

Chocolate Chip Cookies
From the back of the Ghiradelli bag

2¼ cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
¾ cup brown sugar, packed
¾ cup white sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 eggs
2 cups chocolate chips
1 cup chopped walnuts or pecans, toasted (optional)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda and salt. Set aside.

In a large bowl, beat together butter, brown sugar and white sugar until creamy. Add vanilla and eggs beating them into the butter mixture one at a time until incorporated.

Gradually add dry mixture into creamed mixture.Stir in chocolate chips and nuts (if desired).

Drop by tablespoons onto ungreased cookie sheets. Bake for 9-11 minutes or until golden brown.

Serve warm, if possible.


Chocolate Orange Olive Oil Cookies

The holiday season calls for extra special baking. This festive time of year brings out a longing for flavors and textures that draw on our memories and light our imagination. It asks us to search out recipes that are at once both comforting and inspiring.

As we celebrate we hope to offer a taste of something that reflects the best of who we are. We also want to honor those qualities that make the recipient special to us. What better way to do that than to bake with quality ingredients that are wholesome and nutritious as well as rich and delicious?

These cookies meet this lofty ideal. They are not low in fat but the fat content comes from sources that are recommended for their healthful benefits. In fact almost every ingredient in these cookies, with the exception of the sugar, flour and leavening, is on one list of superfoods or another. Eggs, walnuts, almonds, extra virgin olive oil, oranges and even chocolate are now recommended as smart additions to a healthy diet. These cookies taste rich and fresh and incredibly delectable.

Based on a recipe for Blood Orange Olive Oil Brownies that I tried last Valentine's Day these cookies deliver a similarly rich impact in a two-bite sized gem. They make a worthy holiday indulgence.

Chocolate Orange Olive Oil Cookies

2 cups flour
¾ ground almonds
½ t baking soda
¼ t salt
1 T finely grated orange zest
1¼ cups sugar
2/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil (I used blood orange EVOO from Navidi's)
3 eggs
1½ cups chocolate chips, melted and cooled
1 cup toasted walnuts

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, soda, salt. Set aside.

Stir the olive oil into the melted chocolate. Set aside.

In a large bowl mixing bowl rub the orange zest into the sugar until fragrant. Stir in the ground almonds. With an electric mixer on medium beat in the eggs and beating until well combined. Add the chocolate mixture and continue beating until smooth.

Add the flour mixture and then the walnuts blending just until combined. Do not overmix.

Drop dough by Tablespoonfuls onto an ungreased cookie sheet, 1½ inches apart. Bake at 350 degrees for 12-15 minutes. (Rounded teaspoonful sized cookies bake for 8 minutes.) Immediately transfer to a rack to cool.


A Gift for the Family - Alvine's Bread Pudding

An Old Fashioned Portrait

Cousin Alvine, also known as "Sister", played the organ at church every Sunday.  I can't remember a single Sunday from my childhood that she wasn't there, sitting behind the pulpit and to the left of the choir loft in the alcove under a copy of The Last Supper. She had a serious look about her when she played. She would tilt her head back and to the side and her lips would part slightly as if she were faintly mouthing the words of the tune she was playing.

She had a thin frame that made her look tall in my memory. She wore glasses and her hair was pulled purposefully to the back of her head in a bun. The style did not vary that I ever noticed though her hair grew streaked with silver over the years. Aside from those silver streaks she never seemed to age. She looked the same to me and my brother the last time we saw her as she had looked when we were children and my brother walked down the lane to take piano lessons from her some forty years before.

From a distance, with her glasses, her bun and her quiet inclination, Alvine had the look of an earnest librarian. Up close, however, when you talked to her, that illusion melted away. In conversation she lit up and at the slightest encouragement the warmth of her spirit transformed her demeanor from shy and bookish to eager and friendly. She always had a smile and a kind or complimentary word for us children when we greeted her. If we asked her a question her eyes would sparkle.

Sharing the Past

When asked about growing up next door to my Dad’s family her eyes would even harbor a hint of delight. Once she told me:
I remember your grandparents. We kids loved to go back there. Uncle George would play with us out in the yard. Aunt Kate would let Bet and me help her set the big table and do little clean up jobs. She was always laughing and telling us stories. 
Your Daddy and his family had to be up early in the morning. They had to put on some old clothes and shoes to feed the cows and milk them, before they could get ready and go to school.  I can see them now: hurrying to undress and pitching their old shoes in a closet near the kitchen. Then we had fun walking to school.  
A Gift for the Family

The year I left the neighborhood where my grandparents and Alvine had lived the women in the little church I grew up in prepared a wonderful gift for the church family. At Christmas time they put together a simple little book with a line drawing on the front cover and thirty typed and photocopied pages roughly stapled together at the binding. It was titled “Family Memories Cookbook” and included a recipe and a few descriptive paragraphs about a favorite memory for each contributor from the congregation.

Since I had moved away from home earlier that year I didn’t get a copy of this simple cookbook when it was distributed. It was years later, when I was going through the books at my aunt’s house, after she became too sick to go back home for them, that I found this small collection of recipes among her stacks and stacks of cookbooks. Something about it caught my eye and I put it with the books I saved to look through later.

Every time I look through it I am touched by the sweet memories of these dear ladies I grew up seeing every week and yet scarcely knowing. They were familiar faces, friends of my family. Many, I learned later, are even related to me in one way or another. Their pages look fondly on the past, recalling hard times but sweet memories, times spent surrounded by family and tradition and recipes passed from one generation to the next.

Alvine's Contribution

In this little book I treasure is a recipe from my cousin, Alvine. She wrote of her mother, my great aunt Lene:
One of my treasured memories is of coming home from school and finding Mother cooking something good for our supper. She knew how hungry we children were and she was happy when she was preparing a good meal for us. This dessert is one I especially remember.
I took the liberty of making a few adjustments to her quantities and wording to make the recipe work out in my kitchen. I also chose to add chocolate chips instead of currant jelly between the pudding and meringue. The result was nothing short of wonderful.

Bread Pudding
A recipe remembered by my cousin, Alvine

2 cups milk
¾ cup sugar
4 egg yolks, beaten
¼ t salt
1 t vanilla
4 cups bread crumbs, (I used pieces of Uncle Hal's Biscuits)
½ cup chocolate chips

4 egg whites, at room temperature
¼ cup sugar

Scald milk. Stir in sugar, egg yolks, salt and vanilla. Fold in bread crumbs (Alvine preferred biscuits broken into small pieces).

Melt butter in the bottom of a 2 quart casserole dish.

Pour the bread mixture over the butter in the prepared casserole dish. Place this dish in a pan of hot water. Bake at 350 degrees for 50 minutes, or until firm.

Remove from oven. Scatter ½ cup chocolate chips across the top of the hot pudding.

In a medium mixing bowl beat the egg whites at high speed until soft peaks form. Add sugar, a Tablespoon at a time, until stiff peaks form.

Spread meringue across the bread pudding until it completely covers the top and touches the sides of the pan.

Bake at 350 degrees for another 12 minutes or until browned on the top.

Remove from oven to a wire rack.

Serve warm or cold.


Taking Stock - After the Big Meal

Making Turkey Stock

The table is cleared. The mashed potatoes and cranberry sauce is stored away for later. Uncle Bob is on the couch nodding off while your favorite sports teams are battling it out on the field. Everyone is happy and satisfied with the feast.

Your beautiful Thanksgiving turkey is but a shadow of its former self, no longer browned and beautiful but bare and skeletal. Even so it has a lot to give. As you peel off most of the remaining bits of meat for turkey sandwiches and leftover favorites don’t be too particular. When you get tired simply transfer the remains to a large stockpot and let your perfect turkey dinner keep on giving.
Throw in an onion and a couple of ribs of leftover celery from the stuffing. Add a couple of carrots, some fresh herbs, salt and pepper. You can even throw in any bits that came inside the turkey that you didn’t use in the gravy, especially the neck, and pan drippings from the roaster that didn't go into the gravy. Then cover it all with water, bring to a boil, turn down to low and allow the pot to simmer.

A Job Well Done

My friend Alanna, at Kitchen Parade, browns hers first beneath the broiler. Sounds intriguing! Try it if you like; I might this year. Simply spread the turkey bits and vegetables on a foil lined pan, and broil some six inches below the element. As the turkey bits sizzle and some get dark brown and begin to char, turn the pieces and let them brown again.

That done, add the contents of the pan to the pot. Again, cover with water. Let the pot simmer while you finish cleaning up, then sit down to some nice conversation with your family. Check it occasionally. Stir; adjust seasoning; skim; leave cooking.

When the bones begin to fall apart and the broth gets rich, anywhere from a couple of hours to all afternoon or evening, turn off the heat. When it has cooled enough to work with strain it through a mesh strainer into a new pan, pushing hard to get all the liquid from the vegetables. Then discard the remains and put the liquid in the refrigerator overnight.

The next day skim away the congealed fat on top and heat the remaining broth to use for a soup base or as broth for Turkey and Dumplings. Or, if you have no wish to use it right away, pour it into freezer containers and freeze for later use.

Now sit back and smile at a job well done.


Sweet Potato Thyme

Working through some potential holiday recipes I stumbled across this simple approach to serving sweet potatoes. It features thyme and draws out the sweet potatoes colorful root vegetable's simple earthy appeal. From someone who used to not like sweet potatoes that's saying a lot.

While sweet potatoes have not always been a personal favorite I, like most everyone else I've ever known, have loved roasted white potatoes since I first tried them.  Crusty on the outside and soft on the inside, roasted potatoes are a welcome addition to almost any meal.

Now I am finding that the same amazingly simple and forgiving cooking technique works its magic on sweet potatoes too.  This delicious recipe is both sweet and satisfying without added sugar.  The savory herbs and spices keep things interesting as the sweet potatoes begin to crisp on the baking sheet.  The result is a side dish that is simple to prepare and quite interesting to the palate, as appropriate for a Thanksgiving dinner  menu as for any ordinary weeknight meal.

So, why not find the thyme to try them?

Thyme Roasted Sweet Potatoes
adapted from a recipe at Epicuious.com

2.5 pounds sweet potatoes, roughly peeled and cut into chunks
3 Tablespoons olive oil
4 cloves garlic, minced
2-4 Tablespoons fresh thyme leaves
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

In a large mixing bowl, combine all ingredients.  Toss ingredients together until the sweet potato chunks are evenly coated with oil.

Arrange in a single layer on a heavy rimmed baking sheet.

Place in oven and roast, turning potatoes several times until they are browned and tender when pierced with a fork, approximately 40 minutes.

Serve warm, garnished with thyme sprigs if desired.


Carrots - A Question of Thanksgiving Guilt

Life's Necessities

Since reading a column last week titled "Give thanks for guiltless carrot dish" I have been stewing. The article begins, "Face it, carrots are the Thanksgiving side dish you force yourself to eat so you don't feel quite so guilty indulging in the rest of the meal." Really?

Personally, I am happy to eat carrots in a stir-fry, lightly glazed, roasted, even raw and unadorned. I have been since I was a child. I love their crunch, their earthy sometimes sweetness, their bright cheerful color. Even so, I am willing to allow that I may be in the minority in that fond regard.
If I am, I still wonder, do people really force themselves to eat carrots to assuage a sense of guilt about eating Thanksgiving dinner? Guilty thanks? Isn't that an oxymoron?

And suppose it were all true; would a carrot dish made with three pounds of carrots slathered in 2/3 cup of honey and 1/4 cup of butter really qualify as a "guiltless" dish in the column's suggested equation of justification? What then would constitute a "guilty" dish? I'm not sure I understand the math.

Of course this isn't the only recipe column to use food guilt as an angle to draw attention to a recipe. Food story after food story bids us to consider low calorie foods as angelic, no matter the artifice involved, while dishes rich in fat and calories are described as sinful or decadent even if they are quite nutritious.

Good Planning and Stewardship

So, what's with the food guilt? Eating is neither a vice nor a virtue: it is a necessity. It’s the quantity we eat that is the issue. The news regularly tells us that gluttony, or at least habitual overeating, is at a near epidemic level in this country. I think it is safe to say that most of us could choose to eat more responsibly.  Still I doubt that guilt is an effective encouragement to that end.

In my view, not only is eating a necessity, but feasting and celebration too, in their own season. They are part of a pattern that reaches back through time. Our calendars account for celebration, our history is told through celebration, even our laws set aside time for celebration. Celebration adds zest to life, binds us as a people and gives us something to look forward to. Rich delicious foods are an integral part of most celebrations offering seasonal delicacies that add to the story passed down through the generations. Of course overindulgence in those rich seasonal foods is not required but neither is it a crime, especially when tempered by leaner seasons of simpler less elaborate fare.

Giving Thanks

Actually though, the title of that food column does suggest something that is essential to our celebrations. We do need to give thanks as we find a way to lay down the guilt and commemorate the season. This may involve a pre-celebration period of contrition and moderation as in the traditional Christian seasons of Advent and Lent. It may also involve planning sound meals around more moderate portions of dishes higher in quality nutrition. But let's look at that for what it is, good planning and stewardship, not a self-indulgent guilt fest.

By these recipe standards I have a host of "guiltless" side dishes to share, several of which will grace my Thanksgiving table this year. How about Roasted Delicata Squash garnished with Curry Spiced Seeds, Moroccan Spiced Carrots, Sweet Potatoes with Bacon and Pecans and even Southern Style Green Beans. Or how about this interesting recipe for carrots that I found in a recent issue of Martha Stewart Living.

Still, whatever you do, don't design your Thanksgiving menu based on guilt. Lay that aside for one day at least to focus on the abundance of God's good gifts. Eat with intention and consideration. Slowly savor each bite and…..leave the guilt at the door. Let us all give thanks with joyful hearts!

Roasted Carrots with Feta and Parsley
adapted from the March 2010 issue of Martha Stewart Living

3 pounds medium carrots, sliced in 1/2 inch pieces on the bias
2 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
salt and freshly ground pepper
¼ cup crumbled feta cheese (low-fat or fat-free if you like)
2 Tablespoons chopped fresh Italian parsley

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Toss carrots with olive oil and scatter in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet. Season with salt and pepper.

Roast for 25 minutes or until tender and caramelized.

Transfer carrots to a serving bowl. Toss with feta cheese and chopped parsley.

Serve and enjoy!

Pumpkin Pancakes

All Things Pumpkin

In this season of everything pumpkin I find myself cutting out recipe after recipe: pumpkin bread, pumpkin cake, pumpkin soup, pumpkin cookies, even pumpkin fudge. They all tempt me with their list of ingredients as I imagine their spicy fragrance and rich fall color.

At least half of them I will never get around to trying. Another fraction will not turn out half as well as I hoped. But then there are those real winners; recipes I turn back to year after year.

Holiday Inspiration

Pumpkin Pancakes is a recipe I cut out of a magazine long ago and have looked to for a number of repeat performances. They add a special touch to a family breakfast without a lot of extra fuss. They give me a reason to open up those spice jars and let the scents of the season take me back to fond memories. They also inspire me with new enthusiasm to create something special for this holiday season.

This year I may be tempted to add a sprinkling of toasted pecans to the batter or to the topping. Or, considering my fondness for combining chocolate with pumpkin, I might add a handful of chocolate mini-morsels to the batter for a holiday morning treat.

And why limit pancakes to the breakfast table? These would make a delicious entree for a Thanksgiving Eve dinner. They would also be an interesting change of pace served for a casual dinner on Thanksgiving weekend.

Pumpkin Pancakes
Adapted from “Good Morning Pumpkin Pancakes” found on an old clipping of a Libby’s magazine ad

2 cups flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
2 T brown sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon ginger
1 teaspoon allspice
1 12-ounce can evaporated skimmed milk
½ cup pumpkin
3 Tablespoons vegetable oil
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla

Combine the flour, baking powder, salt, sugar, cinnamon, ginger and allspice in a large mixing bowl. Add the evaporated milk, pumpkin, vegetable oil, eggs and vanilla, mixing until smooth.

Heat griddle or skillet over medium heat. When hot add a little oil to the pan. Pour pancake batter by 1/3 – ½ cup full onto hot griddle. Cook until bubbles form and begin to pop and the edge is dry. (The bottom of the pancake should be golden brown.)

Flip the pancake and cook the other side until golden.

Serve with maple syrup, pancake syrup or honey.


Pomegranate and Roasted Corn Salsa

Seasonal Treasure

The tiny jewel-like arils of a pomegranate are nutty little seeds wrapped in a beautiful and deliciously succulent cloak of exotic flavor. I think it is the texture, the snappy crunch cushioned in soft sweet nectar, that makes pomegranate arils a tempting addition to savory snacks, especially those that thrive on harmonizing flavor notes and palatable contrasts of texture.
Salsa for instance. Fruity salsas are a fun way to serve tempting new flavor combinations. At their best they offer guests a surprising and nutritious contrast of herbs and spices, heat and cool, soft and crunchy, sweet and savory that invites them to explore the ingredients while taking the edge off those between-meal cravings.
This salsa is no exception. It blends some delicious seasonal favorites into a delightfully pretty appetizer that is replete with succulent contrast. Harvest flavors of roasted sweet corn, buttery pine nuts and earthy jicama balance the beauty and sharp piquancy of the pomegranate arils, tart notes of lime and spicy cilantro. It is a great way to wake up the palate in preparation for a satisfying meal to come.

Pomegranate Salsa

½ cup pomegranate arils
Zest of 1 small lime (1 teaspoon)
1 Tablespoon lime juice
1 Tablespoon pomegranate juice
2 Tablespoons honey
½ cup jicama, cut in small cubes or matchsticks
½ cup roasted corn, thawed
1 jalapeno minced
2 Tablespoons chopped cilantro
½ teaspoon fresh ginger, grated
¼ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1/8 teaspoon salt
¼ cup pine nuts, toasted

To make this salsa first open a pomegranate:

  • Slice ½ to 1 inch from the crown of the fruit.
  • Score the outer skin of the pomegranate with a sharp knife, cutting from the top to the base along the sectional lines where the white webbing attaches to the outer rind.
  • Pull these sections apart and separate the ruby toned arils from the white pulp using a spoon or fork. (You can use your fingers but remember that pomegranate juice stains and will likely leave a brownish discoloration on the skin of your fingertips if that is your method of choice.)

Place ½ cup of the pomegranate arils in a small bowl, storing the remaining seeds in the refrigerator for another use.

Add the remaining ingredients. Stir until well combined.

Allow to rest for thirty minutes or so to allow flavors to blend.

Serve with plantain chips, or Sweet Potato Chips, or Home Baked Tortilla Chips.


Squash and Hominy Stew

Friends in the Kitchen

This recipe is adapted from one I found a couple of years ago on my friend Alanna's blog,  A Veggie Venture. Reading it just before Thanksgiving it made me smile.  Having shared a number of holidays with Alanna I knew I could trust her take on the recipe: that her Quick Green Chile Stew would be the perfect no-fuss pre-holiday warm-up.
The smile came from her advice to add something creamy to the bowl.  Anytime you have more than one cook in the kitchen you are bound to have a few points of friendly disagreement and this was one I remembered from way back when: I would always make a face when Alanna added cottage cheese to a soup. My aversion to things white and creamy has been documented. While I understood her suggestion in theory, in my mind cottage cheese is meant to be eaten on it's own with a few grinds of black pepper and a cracker. Enough said.
But the creamy cottage cheese was just the garnish for this recipe.  The basic recipe sounded wonderful to me, especially with the addition of salsa verde.  Right away I looked around the kitchen for the ingredients to make a pre-Thanksgiving pot of my own.


I didn't have an exact match for every ingredient. Good thing it's one of those recipes that seems open to interpretation.  I skipped the pumpkin as recommended and the poblano chiles since I didn't have any on hand.  Instead I roasted some squash to add to the stew in more substantial form than the skipped pumpkin puree. That left me in need of more liquid so I added broth.
Then, while digging around in the cabinet, I found a can of hominy. That hominy reminded me of grits, a food that I had always enjoyed eating but would cause Alanna to shake her head. Again I smiled. I added the hominy to the stew along with the beans.


Isn't that the way we all cook?  Every time I read comments following a recipe on, say, Epicurious, I am struck by the way it seems that almost everyone who tries the recipe actually tries a different recipe, adapted to their own habits and preferences as well as what they have available.  And really, that's okay, isn't it? As long as you don't blame the author for the way your adaptation turns out.
In this case, I found the adaptation every bit as appealing as Alanna did the original.  Mine turned out a little too spicy for some of my guests but I liked it that way.  I also enjoyed remembering the times Alanna and I once spent together in the kitchen, learning from each other's kitchen traditions and preferences, before we were separated by several thousand miles and more years than I care to admit to.
I've made this stew several times since then.  It really is delicious and easy to put together especially if you have leftover squash on hand.  Try my version or Alanna's or change it up to make it your own.

Squash and Hominy Stew
adapted from Quick Green Chile Stew at A Veggie Venture

1 Tablespoon olive oil
1 onion, diced
2–4 cups squash (delicata, butternut or other winter squash), roasted and diced 
15 ounce can diced tomatoes
15 ounce can black beans
15 ounce can blackeye peas
15 ounce can garbanzo beans
15 ounce can hominy
10 ounce can diced tomatoes and green chilies (I used Ro-tel)
1½ cups vegetable broth (or chicken broth, if you prefer)
1-2 cans water
12 ounce jar salsa verde (I used Trader Joe’s)

Chopped cilantro and/or Curry Roasted Squash Seeds for garnish.

Heat oil in a 6 quart pot. When hot, add onion. Saute until soft and browned. Add remaining ingredients. Bring to a boil then reduce heat and summer for 30 minutes to allow flavors to blend.

Scoop into bowls. Garnish with cilantro and/or  squash seeds.

Serve with corn bread or Pumpkin Braids and seedless mandarin oranges for dessert.

Note:  To make squash bowls, cut a turban squash in half, at the line of separation between the rounded base and top section. Place face down on a baking sheet and roast in a hot oven until the center is soft when pierced with a fork.

Remove the squash from the oven and allow to cool until easy to handle.  When cool scoop the soft flesh from each half leaving a shell of about half an inch along the skin side of the squash. (The removed squash can be used for the squash in the recipe, if desired.) Fill with Squash and Hominy Stew and serve.

Serve with cornbread and a salad, if you like.


Uncle Hal's Biscuits

Historic Dividends

My great great uncle Hal was a wonderful storyteller. Though his formal education was sparse he was well read and wrote with a broad vocabulary in a neat cursive hand. His handwritten 162 page memoir beautifully recounts his experiences in the early 20th century.

Uncle Hal was not only a fine writer but a cook of some merit, when the need arose. One story he shared in his memoir described his duties as cook on the farm he rented with a friend as a young man in Minnesota around 1916:
It was agreed beforehand that I was to be cook and housekeeper and Mrs. Clark taught me how to make biscuits the quick and easy way - I already knew how to boil beans and potatoes. Mrs. Clark rolled her dough and used a biscuit cutter, but my method was much simpler and more direct. When my dough was thoroughly mixed I dumped it into a bread pan, leveled it off a bit and put it in the oven to bake. And since it is never good to cut hot bread with a knife I would put it on the table just as it came from the pan and we could break off any size piece we needed. I baked a pan of the stuff every evening for supper and there was always enough left for the next two meals. 
In addition to my homemade loaf we lived mostly on beans, potatoes, oatmeal, eggs and milk. Meat was hard to handle since we had no refrigeration and went to town only on Saturday night. For dessert we poured out a plate full of Karo syrup and mopped it up with bread or biscuit, whatever it was. If the Karo company paid extra dividends in 1916 and 1917 it was due largely to our patronage. I love biscuit and syrup to this day...

A Few Years Later

I remember eating Karo pancake syrup as a child. My aunt always bought Mrs. Butterworth's but my Dad was a thrifty shopper and not swayed by branding. Karo was inexpensive and tasted good, as winning a combination for a family watching their food budget as it was for a young man living in lean times fifty or more years before.

So, here's to Uncle Hal, some delicious homemade biscuits, cut in rounds, squares or baked as a loaf, a smear of good butter and a plate of Karo syrup. Or, if you prefer to forgo the Karo, try smothering them in maple syrup, honey or fruit jam. Whatever they're served with, homemade biscuits are delightfully plain fare; a tasty, filling and well appreciated comfort food that is a joy to share with family and friends.

Uncle Hal's Biscuits
adapted from "Get-A-Jump-On-The-Day Biscuits" in The Courier-Journal Kentucky Cookbook

3 cups flour
1 Tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup butter (1 stick)
1 cup milk

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt.

Cut in the butter until the mixture resembles coarse meal.

Add the milk and mix until the dough holds together.

Turn dough onto a floured board and knead lightly.

Roll dough into a rectangle. Fold it in half and roll to a 1/2-inch thickness.

Cut into two to three-inch rounds or squares with the top of a glass or other cutter.

Place with sides touching on a baking sheet.

Bake at 425 degrees for 12 - 15 minutes, or until golden brown.

Makes approximately 1 dozen 3-inch biscuits.

Serve warm with butter, jam, honey or syrup.

Uncle Hal's version: Increase amount of milk by 1/3 cup. When milk is stirred in and dough holds together turn the dough into a greased loaf pan and bake at 425 degrees until golden brown, approximately 30 minutes.

"Break off any size piece you need."


Home Baked Tortilla Chips with Ghost Pepper Relish

Stopping by Whole Foods a few weeks ago I noticed an interesting product from the Pacific Northwest being introduced on the front aisle. As it was close to lunch time the samples were tempting so I stopped by for a taste test.

When I saw the brand name, Plum Crazy Orchard, I was intrigued. I had been working with fresh sweet plums, trying to develop some recipes with them this summer. Ghost peppers, on the other hand, were new to me, and they were on the ingredient list along with apples and bell peppers.

The product representative raised my curiosity when he claimed that ghost peppers are the hottest of all pepper varieties. Not only are they hot but they offer a slow burn, initially blending into and mellowing the sweetness of the plums and apples but gradually warming in back-of-the-mouth heat intensity after they are swallowed.

Tasting them I had to admit the taste and feel were unique and interesting. This relish is spicy but in an unusual way. In fact I found it difficult to rate its heat intensity since it develops slowly. I like spicy food and I didn’t think it was particularly hot but the level of heat it imparts does linger.

I found the flavor particularly appealing as an early fall appetizer. Each bite begins with the flavors of late summer plum and apple and then warms into fall overtones. Served with tortilla chips it offers an interesting conversation starter.

For Halloween it is even more fun served with ghost and bat shaped Home Baked Tortilla Chips lightly spiced with Northwest Alder Smoked Sea Salt from Navidi’s Olive Oils and Vinegars.

Home Baked Tortilla Chips

Corn Tortillas
Non-stick cooking spray or misted olive oil
Seasoned sea salt

On a cutting board, cut corn tortillas into wedges using a pizza cutter or into seasonal shapes using cookie cutters. (I cut out two inch ghosts and vampire bats using small plastic Wilton cookie cutters but any shape could be used.)

Place cut pieces in a single layer on a baking sheet.

Spray lightly with non-stick cooking spray or misted olive oil.

Sprinkle lightly with seasoned sea salt.

Bake at 350 degrees for 12-15 minutes or until lightly browned and crisp. Remove from oven and serve with Plum Crazy Orchard Chili Relish or other salsa.


French Apple Pie

Seasonal Variety

In Washington State fall is a multi-course feast of apples. There are so many varieties, even at the local produce market there are nearly a dozen or so different types of apples. Many are locally grown and some are organic. They come in colors from pink to green to yellow and bright red. Many have new and interesting names: Honey Crisp, Aurora, Sweetie, Ambrosia.

The development of original apple varieties is not a new thing, nor is it unique to this area. Farmers and others have long tried their hand at coming up with the perfect apple. While discussing family food traditions my Father-in-law told us a little about his childhood in Yonkers, New York, during the Great Depression:

Grandfather used to always graft branches onto apple trees trying to come up with new varieties of apples.  He would get an apple tree growing really well and then graft different branches onto it.  He had one tree in the back he grafted seven or eight different branches onto, so every branch grew a different kind of apple.

I remember one apple he came up with that was the size of a cucumber.  It was all pulp and had no flavor.  We called those pig apples.  Nobody really wanted to eat them but they fed them to the pigs.

Back then people were always trying something and if it worked out they would share it with others.

Trying Something New

I love apple pies. I make them every fall. They are quite possibly my family’s favorite pie. For the most part I make them the same way every time: a two crust pie with a simple filling. The greatest improvement in the last few years has been the addition of homemade pie crust to the equation. Even though I am not that good at making pie crust my crusts are still appreciably better than store bought, though I’m not above using store bought when time is short.

This year my first apple pie of the season took a slightly different turn. I gathered the apples and made the dough for the crust. When the filling was ready there was enough for more than one pie so I split the crust between them and looked up a recipe with a different topping. I found this one for French Apple Pie. It has a cinnamon streusal topping that crisps a little while baking to give it a scrumptious crunch.

French Apple Pie
from "Betty Crocker's Cookbook"

Single crust for a 9-inch pie

1 cup flour
½ cup firm butter
½ cup brown sugar

¾ cup sugar
¼ cup flour
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
pinch of salt
6 cups tart apples, peeled and thinly sliced

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Line a 9-inch pie plate with pastry for a single crust pie, using the recipe for (Nearly) Foolproof Pie Dough, your own favorite recipe or a purchased pie crust of your choice.

Prepare the topping by combining 1 cup flour with the butter and brown sugar. Mix thoroughly until crumbly. Set aside.

Prepare the filling by combining the sugar, ¼ cup flour, nutmeg, cinnamon and salt in a large bowl. Stir in the sliced apples until coated.

Turn the filling into the prepared pie crust. Scatter the topping over the pie filling.

Bake for 50 minutes at 425 degrees. Cover the pie loosely with aluminum foil during the last 10 minutes of baking.

Serve warm with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream if desired.


Haunted Halloween Forest Cake

Decorating the Years

I love looking through my old Wilton Cake Decorating Yearbooks. They are full of cakes dressed for every occasion, from elaborately tiered wedding cakes to fun and simple cupcakes with an occasional gingerbread house or sugar castle thrown in for good measure.

I have a collection of six or eight Wilton Yearbooks dating back to the 1970's.  Aunt Hen started buying them when I was a girl and we would take turns looking through them and marking our favorite pages. Together we made out orders for a decorating kit and, now and then, a shaped baking pan or two. We practiced using decorator tips and making sugar molds.

A Rose By....

Though we read through the how-to sections and practiced, neither of us ever managed to make an icing rose as beautiful as the ones we remembered my mother making. She would gracefully twirl a flower nail under a #104 decorator tip until the icing looked just like a rose in full bloom. Then she would carefully transfer the blossom to a cake top arrangement. Aunt Hen and I had a good time trying but our talents drew us in other directions.

Any novelty cake would make my father’s eyes twinkle with delight. He understood the effort, the fun and the magic on display no matter how unrefined the result. That twinkle reminded me of the times I had seen him help my mother in the kitchen as she put the finishing touches on a Humpty Dumpty birthday cake or tiled a gingerbread house roof with Necco Wafers.

Decorating cakes was something that brought the generations together in my family. We planned and ordered, baked and decorated together and the adults smiled over the results with as much enthusiasm as the children.

Sweet Expressions

I still enjoy decorating cakes, even though the older generation is no longer with us and my children are now grown. There is a certain magic to dressing a moist delicious cake in a costume of sweet creamy frosting.  With just a few items from my kitchen pantry and an idea gleaned from a book or magazine I can express a creative inspiration in a way that is both fun and economical.  All finished, I take a photo or two and then share a slice, savoring the sweetness of life’s simple blessings: fond memories, inspiration, wholesome ingredients, friends and family to help and encourage.

In the end I am left with a clean plate and another fond memory ready to inspire and inform the next kitchen adventure.

So here’s another try at the Ghost Cake. This one is a bit more involved than my earlier version though not too complicated. Again, this cake requires no specialty pans or decorator tips. If you don’t have a 6 inch springform pan try using 8 inch layer cake pans or other oven safe vessels from your kitchen. Improvise a little. Mostly have fun. It’s the journey you will remember every bit as much as the outcome. Make it a good one!

Haunted Halloween Forest Cake

Decadent Fudge Cake Batter
Double recipe of Buttercream Frosting
8 small gumdrops

Decadent Fudge Cake
From: Southern Living Five Star Recipe Collection

1 cup butter or margarine, softened
1½ cups sugar
4 eggs
½ teaspoon baking soda
1 cup buttermilk
2½ cups all-purpose flour
1 cups semisweet chocolate mini-morsels
2 (4-oz) bars sweet baking chocolate, melted and cooled
1/3 cup chocolate syrup
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Grease and lightly flour (or spray with non-stick cooking spray) a 6-inch springform pan and 4 1-cup glass prep bowls or custard cups, as well as additional prep bowls or cupcake tins. Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, cream the butter until soft and smooth. Gradually add the sugar, beating well at medium speed of an electric mixer until fully incorporated. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.

Stir the baking soda into the buttermilk until dissolved.

Add the flour to the creamed mixture in four portions, alternating with the buttermilk, beginning and ending with the flour.

Add the mini-morsels, melted chocolate, chocolate syrup, and vanilla, stirring just until blended. (Do not overbeat.)

Spoon butter into prepared pans as follows:

3 cups batter in 6 inch springform pan.
¾ cup batter in 4 1-cup prep bowls or custard cups.
Enough batter was left over for 4-6 cupcakes.

(If you are using different pans fill about 3/4 full and watch baking time carefully.)

Bake at 300 degrees until done. (When done the cake will spring back when touched lightly near the center and a toothpick inserted near the center will come out clean.) In my oven the cupcakes took 30 minutes, the prep bowl cakes took 45 minutes and the 6-in springform pan took approx 90 minutes.

When done remove cakes to wire rack to cool. After cooling approximately 15 minutes, carefully invert the cakes baked in the 1 cup prep bowls onto the wire rack and remove the bowls. Remove the sides of the springform pan and invert the cake onto the wire rack removing the bottom of the pan. Allow the cakes to cool completely.

While cakes are cooling, prepare Buttercream Frosting.

Double Recipe of 
Buttercream Frosting
adapted from Wilton.com

1 cup butter (at room temperature)
1 cup shortening
2 lbs powdered sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla (preferable clear)
2-4 Tablespoons Milk

½ cup cocoa powder

In a large mixing bowl use an electric mixer to combine the butter, shortening and vanilla until smooth.

Gradually add the powdered sugar until fully combined.

Add the milk, one Tablespoon at a time, until a good spreading consistency is achieved.

Continue beating until light and fluffy, approximately five minutes.

After beating, set aside 2/3 of the white frosting and cover with a damp towel.

Beat the cocoa powder into the remaining 1/3 of the frosting until thoroughly combined adding another Tablespoon or two of milk if needed to achieve a spreading consistency that is slightly on the dry side.


Tree Stump:
Place the 6-inch cake near the center back of a serving platter or make a cake board to fit your cake (15" x 11" works for the size pans I used.)

Using the Chocolate Buttercream Icing, frost the round layer, extending icing out in four directions and mounding it to resemble tree roots. When you are satisfied with the general shape, drag a fork along the top of the icing in a circular pattern on top of the cake, and from top to bottom on the sides and along the roots. This will give the surface of the icing a bark-like appearance.

With the tip of a spoon (or a clean fingertip) make indentations for eyes and a long frowning mouth on the front side of the tree stump, mounding the icing a little in between the eyes to hint at a nose. Snip 2 gumdrops in half cross-wise and position the tops in the eye indentations. The tree stump is complete.

Invert each of the small cakes baked in the 1 cup prep bowls on the back of a small flat saucer or pan (I put mine of the back of mini pizza pans).

(These are decorated just like the Ghost Cake I posted last week, but in miniature.) Frost the sides and top of the cakes with the White Buttercream icing, being careful not to get crumbs from the cake into the icing. Start at the bottom and ice upward smoothing as you go leaving a sufficient amount of icing around the bottom to flow and puddle in a ghostly way.

Once the cake is covered with icing, smooth the icing again with a large flat-bladed butter knife or offset decorating knife. To achieve a very smooth look I sometimes use a knife dipped in near boiling water and wiped off with a paper towel to smooth the icing, re-dipping after every pass, working from bottom to top.

Repeat for each small cake.

Fill a quart sized Ziplock baggie with a little of the White Buttercream, zip it shut removing as much air as possible and snip ¾-inch from a lower corner of the bag. Using the baggie as a piping bag, slowly pipe an arm in a semi-spiral shape on either side of each ghost's torso.

With kitchen scissors or a sharp knife, snip the bottom ¼-inch from the gumdrops. Position these, sticky side out, on the ghost's faces for eyes.

Fill another quart sized Ziplock baggie with a little of the Chocolate Buttercream, zip it shut removing as much air as possible and snip ¾-inch from a lower corner of that bag. Using the baggie as a piping bag, dot pupils onto the gumdrop eyes, pipe eyebrows and mouths.

Completing the Haunted Halloween Forest Cake:
Using your decorating knife or a small spatula carefully scoop underneath the small ghost cakes and gently lift or push them into position on the Tree Stump Cake, placing one on the top and two or more around the base of the stump. Touch up the icing as needed using the remaining White Buttercream and your decorating knife.

Serve and enjoy!!

My Own Sweet Ghost Cake

Are you scared?

It's that time of year again. As the days grow shorter we are suddenly faced with the fact that it is no longer months but simply weeks until the holidays are here.

The first sign that it's that time of year again is the outbreak of Halloween treats and decor at every shopping venue. It seems they have been out for months already. I am finally getting the message.

There are lots of cute Halloween decorations available but, aside from my bright-eyed and persistently animated "door spider", I prefer for most of my decorations to be edible. At this time of year, before the seasonal rush gets the better of me, I can enjoy spending a little extra time in the kitchen shaping cookies, carving radish eyeballs or decorating a Halloween cake.

This year I decided to recreate two cakes first inspired by the 20th Anniversary Issue of Wilton's Cake Decorating Yearbook. I made these back in the day, when my kids were small. Back then my children were quite enthusiastic about helping out and eating up my cake decorating projects. This time I couldn't be sure they would be around to help eat the cakes but I wanted to make them anyway, and pass on the directions.

Along the way I made a couple of discoveries. Since I seem to have gotten rid of or misplaced most of my specialty shaped baking pans, this time I had to bake the cakes in bowls or pans I have on hand for other uses. That worked out just fine.

The second discovery was more a matter of serendipity. I finished the cakes on the weekend shortly before my daughter stopped by to join us for dinner. While we waited for my son to finish his homework so we could be on our way she asked several times if we could go ahead and cut the cake so she could have a piece. After promising we would cut it when we got back from the restaurant she relented, stealing only a taste or two of frosting from the edge before we left.

It seems children don't necessarily outgrow their appreciation for decorated cakes, even when they are quite grown up and living on their own.

Ghost Cake

Basic Box Mix Pound Cake

(As you might imagine many flavor variations are possible here. This time I used a spice cake mix and vanilla pudding, adding a teaspoon of cinnamon to the batter for extra punch. I have seen variations for a very chocolatey cake, a butterscotch cake and a lemon cake. Combine cake mix and pudding flavors to come up with your own favorite variation as you enjoy the durable consistency and good flavor of this practical cake recipe. It works very well when baking cakes in novelty shapes, though other pound cake recipes work well too.)

1 package two-layer yellow cake mix (or flavor of your choice)
1 package 4-serving instant vanilla pudding mix (or other complementary flavor)
¾ cup water
¼ cup vegetable oil
4 eggs

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Grease and lightly flour (or spray with non-stick cooking spray) a 2-quart glass batter bowl and a 1-cup glass prep bowl or custard cup. Set aside.

To prepare batter:

In a large mixer bowl combine the ingredients. Beat on low speed with electric mixer until the batter is formed. Scrape the sides of the bowl with a spatula, then beat for 2 minutes at medium speed.

Pour ¾ cup batter into the prepared custard cup.

Pour remaining batter into the prepared batter bowl.

Bake at 350 degrees checking the smaller cake at 20 minutes. (It is done when a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean.) Start checking the larger cake at 50 minutes. (It will probably take approximately 60 minutes to complete baking.)

When done remove cakes to wire rack to cool. After cooling approximately 15 minutes, carefully invert the cakes onto the wire rack and remove the bowls. Allow the cakes to cool completely.

While cakes are cooling, prepare Buttercream Frosting.

Buttercream Frosting

(This frosting is wicked sweet but stays put and is a dream to work with when crafting novelty cakes.)

12 Tablespoons butter (1½ sticks)
12 Tablespoons white vegetable shortening (¾ cup)
1 or 2 teaspoons vanilla (preferably clear vanilla flavoring)
1.5 pounds powdered sugar (6 cups)
2 or 3 Tablespoons milk

1 Tablespoon cocoa powder
2 gum drops

In a large mixing bowl with an electric mixer combine the butter, shortening and vanilla until smooth.

Gradually add the powdered sugar until fully combined.

Add the milk, one Tablespoon at a time, until a good spreading consistency is achieved.

Continue beating until light and fluffy, approximately five minutes.

Remove ¼ cup of icing to a small bowl. Stir in 1 Tablespoon cocoa powder until smooth. If this icing seems dry add a few drops of milk, one at a time, stirring after each addition until a good piping consistency is achieved.

Scoop the Chocolate Buttercream into a quart size Ziploc baggie. Seal and set aside.

Place ½ cup of the White Buttercream in another quart size Ziploc baggie. Seal and set aside.

Cover remaining White Buttercream with a damp kitchen towel until ready to use.


When completely cool trim any rounding on the bottom of the larger cake until it will sit evenly on a round serving platter. Position this cake, cut side down, on the platter.

Frost the very top of the cake with a moderate layer of frosting and position the smaller cake on top, flat side down, again trimming if necessary.

Frost the sides and top of the cake mound with the White Buttercream icing, being careful not to get crumbs from the cake into the icing. Start at the bottom and ice upward smoothing as you go leaving a sufficient amount of icing around the bottom to flow and puddle in a ghostly way.

Once the cake is covered with icing, smooth the icing again with a large flat-bladed butter knife or offset decorating knife. To achieve a very smooth look I sometimes use a knife dipped in near boiling water and wiped off with a paper towel to smooth the icing, re-dipping after every pass, working from bottom to top.

When the icing is smoothed and looks ghostly, take a damp paper towel and wipe any extra icing or smudges from around the bottom of the ghost, scalloping the edge slightly as you go.

Take the Ziplock baggie containing White Buttercream and snip ½ - ¾ inch from a lower corner of the bag. Using the baggie as a piping bag, slowly pipe an arm in a semi-spiral shape on either side of the ghost's torso.

With kitchen scissors or a sharp knife, snip the bottom ¼ inch from the gumdrops. Position these, sticky side out, on the ghost's face for eyes.

Take the Ziplock baggie containing Chocolate Buttercream and snip ¼ inch from a lower corner of that bag. Using the baggie as a piping bag, dot pupils onto the gumdrop eyes, pipe eyebrows and a mouth.

Your ghost is ready to serve.


Gram's Galumpki

Signs of Autumn

What is it that tells you most convincingly that autumn has arrived? Is it that the air turns cool as scarlet and orange begin to blush in the treetops and drift to the ground? Is it the abundance and variety of apples and squash that crowd the produce aisles in the supermarket? Or maybe the bright hue of mums in purple, gold and crimson in the garden section or on the neighbors' front porches?

At my house as our schedules tighten up, sports kick into gear and the light begins to turn a more golden blue I begin to hear particular requests for dinner that seldom come in other seasons. Chicken and Dumplings is one of my youngest son’s all time favorite dinners. It’s savory warmth and stick-to-your-ribs flavor begins to beckon in early fall. Likewise I hear requests for old-fashioned Meatloaf and Galumpki.

Hearing these requests gladdens my heart. These recipes differ from other seasonal favorites. These recipes are family favorites that have been handed down over the generations. My grandmother made Chicken and Dumplings much like I make nearly a century ago. Her chickens likely came from the back yard rather than the supermarket but the savory dish that resulted was much the same. I learned to make it from my aunt who was taught by my grandmother and likely learned it from her mother before her who brought her simple dishes and hearty German fare with her to America in the late 1800’s.

A Turn Toward Tradition

Galumpki has the same appeal but comes from my husband’s side of the family. It is a dish my husband remembers eating as a child. His mother was of Polish descent and she made it much as her mother had made it before her. Likely it goes farther back with a slight variation here and there, to even earlier generations. Everyone in the family seemed to enjoy this traditional main dish and it had the added benefit of being a great way to stretch ground meat into a hearty meal for a family of eight.

I have made Galumpki though I would have simply called it Cabbage Rolls. Last year my husband decided to dig for the particular details of the authentic recipe for the Galumpki he remembered so fondly. He contacted his mother’s younger sisters who still live near the place they grew up in New York. He asked them about Galumpki. They didn’t have a real recipe written out but they discussed it with interest and shared some tips.

One offered that the meat to rice ratio should be about one to one. She said that she always used ground beef in her Galumpki. She said that Gram never used pork though others would. To the ground beef she added a finely chopped onion, some garlic salt, salt and pepper. Mixed together well, like a meat loaf, that would make a good basic filling.

The Way Gram Made It

Together my husband’s aunts shared tips about preparing the cabbage to roll the filling in. The trick they said was finding good cabbage with big flat leaves. The cabbage leaves need to be separated carefully and then the vein or central rib needs to be trimmed with a sharp knife to make the leaves flatter and easier to roll.

For the sauce they offered a choice. Some used tomato sauce they said, but they agreed that Gram had preferred Campbell’s Tomato Soup. They put a little sauce or soup on the bottom of the baking dish then layer the cabbage rolls on top. They suggested using several cans but added that they, like Gram, make a lot at one time.

They concluded their tips by suggesting the Galumpki should bake at 350 degrees for about an hour. As an alternate you can slow cook them in an oven turned down low for 4 or 5 hours, especially if you are cooking a large quantity.

Sharing Memories

It was a lot of information and seeded some great family discussion. My father-in-law remembered eating Galumpki, at his Russian grandmother's house.  They called it Halupsi and they ate it often.  Then he began to talk about growing up in Yonkers. You could hear the boyish wonder in his lively voice. He had known hard times; growing up during the depression, joining the army and going to Europe during WW2, still there were extraordinary things he had seen and experienced, from bright innovations to a warm ethnic meal and they left an indelible print on his memory he was glad to share. When he focused on that memory it could take him back to another time and to an appreciation for all that was right with the world and the American dream.

This year it is my oldest son who has been asking for Galumpki. He has recently identified in a new way with the Polish line of his heritage. Since I had yet to post the recipe in our family cookbook he asked me to make Galumpki with him. He wanted to learn how it was done and then share this family recipe with his friends.

We had a good time working together as a family that day. As we worked through the recipe, along with the notes and the tips from my husband’s aunts, I was warmed by the traditions born out in our Galumpki and the thread of simple practical cooking that fills a family’s soul as well as their stomachs. Having the generations gather in the kitchen through a recipe and the fond memories of taste and smell we find ourselves fed in new ways and, more than full, richly satisfied. That is a lovely feeling, one of the exquisite joys of fall cooking.

Gram's Galumpki

1 or 2 heads of cabbage ( you will need 12-16 large leaves)

1 lb ground beef (80% lean or so)
2 cups cooked rice (cooked five minutes short of specified time)
1 cup onion, finely chopped
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt

tomato soup (1 or 2 small cans)
1 15-ounce can tomato sauce
1/2 teaspoon lemon juice
1 clove garlic, minced

fresh thyme leaves (several sprigs, 1 - 2 teaspoons)

Cut the core from the head of cabbage and wash well. Fill a large saucepan or pot (I use a 4 quart saucepot) with about 2 inches of water. Bring the water to a boil over medium heat. Add ½ teaspoon salt and the head of cabbage, core side down. Cover and cook for approximately 10 minutes or until the outer cabbage leaves are tender and flexible but not mushy.

Carefully remove the head of cabbage from the pot. Run under cold water until it can comfortably be handled. Gently separate the leaves. If you get to the point where the leaves are still crisp return the remaining portion to the boiling water to cook a little longer. Repeat until you have enough cooked leaves for the number of cabbage rolls you want to make (12 -16 large leaves). Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the ground beef, cooked rice, onion, egg, garlic powder, black pepper and salt. Mix thoroughly. (I reach in and use clean hands to squish the mixture together.)

If using the tomato sauce mixture instead of canned tomato soup, stir together the tomato sauce, lemon juice and minced garlic in a small bowl.

Prepare a baking dish by spraying it with nonstick cooking spray. (I use a 7 x 11 inch rectangular baking dish but this does not usually hold all of the rolls. Any baking dish can be used but cooking time may vary depending on how the rolls are arranged.) Cover the bottom of the dish with half of the tomato soup or tomato sauce mixture. Set the rest of the soup or sauce aside for the topping.

Place cabbage leaves on a cutting board one by one and, with a sharp knife, trim much of the thickness from the central ridge of the cabbage leaf starting at the core end and cutting toward the outer edge. This will flatten the ridge making it flush with the leaf and easier to roll.

Place ¼ cup of the meat mixture near the lower core edge of the cabbage leaf. Fold the lower edge up over the meat mixture. Then fold in each side of the leaf toward the middle. Roll the leaf tucking in the sides as you go. Squeeze the rolled cabbage leaf in your fist to shape the bundle and place it seam side down in a rectangular baking dish. Repeat until all of the meat mixture has been used.

Cover the cabbage rolls with the remaining tomato soup or sauce. Scatter thyme leaves over all. Cover the pan with a lid or aluminum foil.

Bake at 350 degrees, covered, for 30 minutes. Uncover. Bake another 15 minutes or until ground beef is done through.

Serve and enjoy!