Easter Muffins

In Your Easter Bonnet

Growing up in a large family had its advantages around the holidays. We never did things small. We colored dozens of eggs at Easter, had Easter Egg hunts out in the back yard, Easter baskets filled with candy, new clothes, and a huge dinner - ham if we were at home, and roasted leg of lamb if we were at Aunt Phoebe's and Aunt Dolores' house.

Aunt Dolores made the absolute best leg of lamb. And the best lamb gravy - neither of which I've ever been able to replicate. It was always a bone-in leg as "boneless" didn't exist for anything back in those days. And what a difference in flavor it made.

The rose-colored glasses definitely come on when I think about those days. Reality was we were usually fighting with one another, getting each other in trouble if we could, and generally causing mayhem when-and-wherever we could. There was never a dull  moment around our house.

I have to admit I miss all that chaos now and again. For all the yelling and fighting, there was also a lot of fun and laughter - not to mention conspiracy as we tried to figure out how to get away with something without my mother finding out. We probably failed more times than we succeeded - but we did succeed now and again. And then there was watching Easter Parade and eating homemade fudge with mom on those nights we were actually behaving ourselves.  It was a great time to be a little kid.

Fast-forward 50 years or so and three of the six are heading to Sicily together for 2 weeks in May. I can only imagine the international incidents we could cause if we put our minds to it. We've gotten older. We haven't necessarily matured. Not to mention that our spouses are just as bad as we are. Who says opposites attract?!?

So missing those thrilling days of yesteryear, we also missed our annual Egg Dying and Pizza Party we've had every year on Saturday night before Easter since we moved east. Traditions end, but the memories linger on...

So... with a relatively-free evening, I made cupcakes. I saw a recipe in the Betty Crocker Cupcake Book that really looked fun and decided it would make a nice addition to whatever desserts are being planned for dinner today. One can never have too many desserts, says I.

The actual concept is a bit different than what I did, but the cupcakes, themselves, were pretty much as written.

Betty's Sunflower Bouquet


  • 2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 3/4 cup butter
  • 1 2/3 cups sugar
  • 5 egg whites
  • 2 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • 1 1/4 cups milk

Preheat oven to 350°.

Mix flour, salt, and baking powder. Set aside. Beat butter about 30 seconds to lighten. Add sugar, about 1/3 cup at a time, mixing well after each addition and scraping bowl, as necessary. Add egg whites 1 at a time and mix well after each addition. Add vanilla, and then add flour alternately with milk in three additions.

Fill mini muffin cups about 2/3 full and bake 12-16 minutes.


  • 3/4 cup butter
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • pinch salt
  • 4 cups powdered sugar
  • 2 tbsp milk

Cream butter. Add vanilla and salt.

Beat in powdered sugar, scraping bowl, as necessary. Add milk to thin to desired consistency.

To assemble:

Fit an open star tip (#18) on a pastry bag, and fill with frosting. On each cupcake, pipe 6 lines from the center of the cupcake, out to the edge, making an evenly spaced "spoke-like pattern" on each. With the same tip, start in the center and make a loop by going down one side of each spoke, turning at the edge of the cupcake and following the next spoke back into the center. Repeat ending with 6 loops. Place black gummy raspberry in center of each cupcake.

Place 2 sheets of tissue paper inside pail. Cut dry oasis to fit inside pail. Thread wooden skewer through green licorice. Thread spearmint leaf on skewer and then cupcake. Repeat to make 6 additional flowers. Arrange flowers in pail. Place remaining cupcakes on platter. Store loosely covered.

I couldn't find green licorice out here in 'burbia but did get a bright yellow and a bright pink. They definitely looked cute - like something out of a Dr Seuss book.

Corned Beef sans Cabbage


Ah... the day before St Paddy's Day... That Irish-American holiday serving a meat the Irish produced but were too poor to afford to eat back in Ireland. It took a famine and emigration - along with a proximity to Jewish immigrants and their corned brisket - to create that Irish-American dish known as Corned Beef and Cabbage.

As a kid growing up, we always had Corned Beef and Cabbage on St Paddy's Day. My father would always bring home either a huge brisket or a corned eye of the round. He'd pick them up right at the source. I think he used to get them at Roberts - but it was wherever they were getting them for the firehouse.

There's nothing quite like a simmering hunk of beef with the cabbage, potatoes, and carrots... the anticipation of thick slabs of fork-tender meat slathered with hot mustard. A childhood memory, indeed. Another childhood memory is singing Irish songs in a quartet at Fairlane Market the years I wasn't tap-dancing up Market Street in the St Patrick's Day Parade. Ah, yes. A singer and a dancer. A regular James Cagney, I was.

So fast-forward a few years and here I am living with the Italian contingent - who don't like cabbage! Sad, but true. My Corned Beef AND Cabbage days are numbered, I fear. I'm going to have to arrange a trip home one of these March 17ths and see what the siblings can do for me.

In the meantime, I'll just have to suffer through with celery substituting for the cabbage.

On another note, I made a variation of my whiskey brack.



It's a yeast bread, not a soda bread, and traditionally, a brack is more closely associated with Halloween than St Patrick. But... I like to play footloose and fancy-free with traditions... and recipes.

The recipe calls for 3 1/2 cups of dried fruit, but I really didn't want that much in the loaf, today, so I cut it to 1. It really came out good - and will be great toasted tomorrow morning with a slathering of Kerrygold Irish butter.

A good meal and a good day - with some fun memories of being a kid in San Francisco back in the '50s and '60s.

Kentucky Ham and Adluh Grits



This northern boy just made his first red-eye gravy. And it came out pretty darn good, if I do say so, m'self!

We're still working through the fantastic gift box Mike and Barbara sent us and tonight was country ham from Kentucky.

I have to admit I've only had real country ham a couple of times in my life. It's nothing like it's spiral-cut supermarket relative and more like it's distant cousin speck. Dry and salty with a really firm texture. And pretty awesome flavor. It needs to be soaked in water - or milk - for about 30 minutes prior to cooking. I opted for the water.

It was simplicity itself to cook. Trim the rind, place in a hot skillet and brown on both sides. The even easier part was the red-eye gravy. Add a cup of coffee to the skillet and scrape up the bits. Serve over ham.

I was a bit leery about the gravy. I have a vague memory of making it once and thinking it was the most gawdawful thing I had ever tasted. It must not have been the right ham, because this one came out just fine.

I served it with Adluh Grits from Columbia, SC because they're the best grits out there. You can buy them online.

The fun thing is we get to do it, again, because we only cooked up half of it!

I gave Nonna a reheated potato puff from last night because she won't do grits. Her loss, for sure, but the potato puff reheated really well.

Next is going to be the bacon.....


Thanksgiving 2013



We definitely put the double-ovens to use this year. Wall-to-wall food - and most of it came out of the oven at the same time. It was one of the easiest get-on-the-table meals I've had the pleasure to do.

My normal Thanksgiving routine is 20 minutes before dinner to tell everyone to get the hell out of the kitchen. I do not want your help or your company. It's not that I don't love everyone, it's I just don't want to kill someone or have anyone end up at the ER because they got nailed with a pot of boiling water while standing in the middle of the kitchen trying to be helpful.  It's a chaotic ballet honed from many years working in chaotic kitchens. Victor and I can dance extremely well in a kitchen together but well-meaning friends and relatives don't often share the same dance-steps. It's for your safety and my sanity.

This year, however, the menu fell into place a bit differently. At the crucial three minutes before sit-down, the only things on the stove were potatoes and gravy. Everything else came out of the oven and onto the table in its serving container. It was calm and totally civilized. Almost unnatural.


The downside of this, of course, is there are a lot of hot dishes on the table that can burn unsuspecting hands. Fortunately, the family is smart enough not to grab bubbling and steaming plates without a quick cursory touch. It was win-win because everything hit the table at once and it was all hot. And no one was injured.  You know your own family.  Maybe little red picks or something if they're not clever enough to keep from burning themselves...

The 2013 Menu


We started off with just a few appetizers this year. I really tried to cut back on the overall food production because we had a smaller group than usual. It was a success in that I only cooked for 20 instead of my normal 40. We had 12 at the table.

We had 2 Baked Brie in Puff Pastry. One with fig jam and walnuts the other with bacon jam.


The baked bries were actually quite simple. Cheese and filling wrapped around store-bought puff pastry and baked in the oven.

The one above was brie and bacon jam. OMG GOOD!

Katja's Bacon Jam

  • 1 lb smoked bacon
  • 4 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 medium yellow onion, sliced
  • 3 tbsp brown sugar
  • Tabasco sauce to taste
  • 1 cup coffee
  • 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1/4 cup real maple syrup
  • black pepper to taste
  • extra water, as needed

In a non-stick pan, fry bacon in batches until beginning to brown and get crispy. Once cool, cut into 1″ or so pieces and set aside. In SOME of the rendered bacon fat, sautee onions and garlic until translucent. Transfer all of the onions and bacon to a heavy based pot or cast iron pot and all the remaining ingredients. Stir to combine; simmer over med-low heat for 2 hours. Every 25-30 mins, stir pot and add water (as needed). “Jam” should be thick and void of liquid when finished. Let cool for about 20 minutes. Using a food processor, pulse to desired texture. Serve almost any way you can think with bacon: on a burger or chicken burger, on a BLT, on any sandwich, really, etc.


This particular brie had the fig jam and walnuts. It spilled over into my already-dirty oven and when I put all the dishes in the oven to heat before dinner, it caught fire. I scooped the burning cheese out of the oven using a long spatula and dropped pooling masses of flaming lava into the sink as the kitchen filled with smoke. Another reason why it's smart to stay out of the kitchen when I'm cooking - you could get seriously burned from a flaming oven.

Next was a Pork Pie with Mushroom Sauce.


I actually made this a couple of weeks ago and put it in the freezer. I made pork pies for dinner and had leftover filling and pie dough.   It froze great. This is a rustic tart with a single crust that is folded over the filling, leaving a center vent section.

Pork Pie

  • 1 lb ground pork
  • 1 onion, minced
  • 1 carrot, minced
  • 1 stalk celery, minced
  • 3 tbsp parsley, minced
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp pepper
  • 1 tsp sage
  • Pie dough

Preheat oven to 375°.

Butter 9" tart pan.

In a large bowl, combine all the ingredients.

Roll out the dough and center in tart pan fill and then fold the excess dough over the top, leaving a vent hole.

Bake until the crust is browned and puffed slightly, about 45 minutes.

Serve warm.

Next were Pumpkin Meatballs. It's a variation of a recipe I created at work many years ago.


I made my own meatballs. Feel free to use frozen. I also added about a cup of canned pumpkin to the mixture because I only used a half-can for the rolls. Waste not, want not.

Pumpkin Meatballs

  • 1 jar pumpkin butter
  • 1 cup pumpkin
  • 1 cup steak sauce

Mix ingredients and pour over cooked meatballs. Cook until heated through.

I did stove-top but these can easily be done in a crock pot. And as I sit here and type, I'm wishing we had some in the 'fridge right now. I'd eat them cold.

Our 4th hors d'oeuvre was a Bruschetta with Pesto, Chevre, and Roasted Red Pepper.


Victor makes pesto every year from the plethora of basil we grow. It goes into the freezer in small containers and we pull it out in winter when we need the tastes of summer. For this, he toasted thin baguette slices covered them with pesto, then herbed chevre, and finally a roasted red pepper strip.  Yummy simplicity!

Pesto alla Genovese

  • 6 cups loosely packed basil leaves
  • 1/3 cup pine nuts, preferably Italian
  • 1/3 small garlic clove
  • 1/2 cup fruity extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt (or to taste)
  • 2/3 cup pecorino romano cheese

Place blender jar in freezer to chill. Soak basil in a large bowl of cold water; let stand 5 minutes. Lift leaves from water. Repeat two more times using a rinsed bowl and fresh water each time. Rinse bowl again and fill with cold water. Soak the cleaned leaves in the water, 15 minutes or quickly blanch and immediately plunge into ice water.

Combine nuts and garlic in chilled blender jar and add the olive oil. Purée until nuts are very finely chopped and mixture is creamy. Add salt.

Lift a handful of basil from water, shaking off excess water from leaves and add to blender. In four additions, Use 3 or 4 short pulses and purée just to combine (do not over-blend). Add cheese, then, using 2 or 3 very short pulses, purée just to combine.

Place in bowl and cover with a thin film of oil.


The Main Event

The place to start is with the Turkey and Gravy.


I wrote this description elsewhere with some friends... When roasting the bird I first pour a bottle of red wine into the roasting pan. Yes, a full bottle. Of reasonably good wine.

I don't futz much with the bird, itself. I melt a cube of butter and pour it over and rub it into all the cracks and crevasses. Salt and pepper, maybe a pinch of sage.  Into the oven it goes. Stuffed.

Meanwhile, I have the neck, liver, gizzard, and heart simmering on the stove top with a few quarts of turkey broth. I boil it down and let it all concentrate...

When the bird come out, the roasting pan goes onto two burners.  ALL of the accumulated juiced are used for gravy. I add maybe a cup of flour - more if it's a juicy bird - and let it simmer and thicken. I mince the giblets - all of them - and add them to the mix. I add enough of the simmering broth to make it the perfect consistency, and then I strain the whole thing into a pot so I end up with the most silken and flavorful gravy on the planet.

It's definitely commercial kitchen gravy-making. I don't concern myself with lumps or stray bits of dressing or whatever in the pan because it's all going to be strained out in the end - but it all adds flavor. I rarely ever need to season.

I make a vat of gravy because I will NOT run out of gravy. Period. Any leftover gravy is used for hot turkey sandwiches, turkey pot pie, or added to the soup. It's the least-expensive part of the meal - and the best.

The turkey comes out of the oven at least an hour before dinner. It has plenty of time to reabsorb those juices and I have plenty of time to make the gravy in advance. It then just needs to be reheated while mashing the potatoes.

After the bird is Nonna's Stuffing.


I don't have a recipe for her stuffing although I've made a reasonable facsimile of it in the past. It's a bread dressing with ::drumroll:: chicken livers and Jimmy Dean sausage. Yeppers - chicken livers. You don't distinctly taste either but they add a richness that is really good. Pretty good stuff, indeed.

Colorful Carrots with Honey and Dill


Carrots simply blanched and then drizzled with a mixture of butter and honey, and topped with a bit of dill, salt, and pepper. Cover and into a hot oven.

Broccoli Casserole

This was okay, but not really worth the trouble. The nice thing is it can be made in advance. I think the recipe came from an old Woman's Day or some-such magazine.


Broccoli Casserole

  • 4-5 cups small broccoli florets
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 cube butter
  • 1½ cups panko bread crumbs
  • 2 tsp. dried sage
  • 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 small yellow onion, finely chopped
  • 3 tbsp flour
  • 2 cups milk
  • 2 tsp mustard
  • ¼ tsp nutmeg
  • 3 oz cream cheese, softened
  • 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
  • ½ cup mayonnaise
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add broccoli, and cook until just tender, about 2 minutes. Drain and transfer to a 9" x 13" baking dish and set aside. Heat oil and 2 tbsp. butter in a 10" skillet over medium-high heat. Add mushrooms, and cook, stirring, until browned, about 5 minutes; transfer to a bowl and set aside. Add 3 tbsp. butter to skillet and melt. Remove from heat add bread crumbs and sage; season with salt and pepper and set aside.

Heat remaining butter in a 2-qt. saucepan over medium-high heat. Add garlic and onion, and cook until soft, about 4 minutes. Add flour, and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes. Add milk, mustard, and nutmeg, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and cook, stirring often, until sauce is slightly thickened, about 3 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in cream cheese, 1 cup cheddar, mayonnaise, and eggs until smooth; season with salt and pepper and set sauce aside.

Pour sauce evenly over the top of the broccoli. Cover and bake about 20 minutes. Uncover, sprinkle bread crumbs on top and return to oven until crumbs are browned.

As I said, good - not stellar. I'll be making something else next year.

But here's something that was pretty good - a Wild Rice Pilaf!


I was looking for a vegetarian side because while not everything I make has meat in it, a lot of things have chicken broth. I adapted this one from Bon Appetit.

Wild Rice Pilaf

  • 1 stick butter
  • 1 cup chopped shallots
  • 1 cup chopped celery
  • 1 cup wild rice
  • 1 cup black barley
  • 1 cup whole grain brown rice medley
  • 5 cups vegetable broth
  • 1 tbsp dried thyme
  • 1/2 tsp coarse kosher salt
  • 1 1/2 cups red seedless grapes
  • 1 1/2 cups green seedless grapes
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
  • 1 1/2 cups walnuts, toasted, chopped
  • 1 tbsp finely grated orange peel

Melt butter in heavy large saucepan over medium heat. Add shallots and celery. Cook until soft, about 8 minutes. Add wild rice, black barley, brown rice, and a pinch of salt. Pour in about 5 cups broth and thyme and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer about 45 minutes - maybe a bit longer.

Meanwhile, preheat oven to 350°. Drizzle grapes with olive oil and roast until beginning to wrinkle, about 15 minutes. Transfer to bowl and drizzle with vinegar.

When rice is done, add grapes and any juices, walnuts, and orange peel and toss well. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

This came out pretty good. The downside of most vegetable broths is they lack the punch that a good chicken stock has.  Next time I make this I will boil down a couple quarts of vegetable broth to concentrate the flavor. But it worked quite well as it was - and there were leftovers to put in the turkey soup.

And then there is one of my most-favorite dishes - Marie's Sweet Potatoes.


I only get them at Thanksgiving because that's the only time she makes them. They're worth their yearly wait. I don't have a recipe but they're a mashed sweet potato with a caramely-brown-sugary-pecan topping that is heaven in a casserole dish. A definite hit. I used to make a second sweet potato dish but really see no reason to. Like her Jelly Strips, these are the gold standard.

No Thanksgiving would be complete without Pumpkin Rolls. I've been making these for 20 years, I think. They are the best.


It's a really simple recipe that can be made the morning of Thanksgiving without a lot of fuss. They make great turkey/stuffing/cranberry sauce sandwiches and are also great dipped into turkey soup.

Pumpkin Rolls

  • 1 package dry yeast
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 3/4 cup warm milk
  • 7 to 8 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup cold unsalted butter
  • 1 egg
  • 2 cups pumpkin
  • egg wash made by beating 1 large egg yolk with 1 tablespoon water

In a mixing bowl proof the yeast with 1 teaspoon of the sugar and the milk for 5 minutes.  Combine 7 cups of the flour, nutmeg, salt, and the remaining sugar and blend in the butter until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Add the egg, the pumpkin puree, and the yeast mixture and mix until it is combined well.

Using a dough hook, knead — adding as much of the remaining 1 cup flour as necessary — for about 10 minutes or until the dough is smooth and elastic.

Form the dough into a ball, transfer it to a well-buttered large bowl, and turn it to coat it with the butter. Let the dough rise, covered in a warm place for about 1 hour, or until it is doubled.

Turn the dough out onto your counter, divide it into 24 pieces, and form each piece into a ball. Place the balls onto a buttered sheet pan and let rise, covered with a kitchen towel, in a warm place for about 45 minutes or until they are almost double in size.

Brush the rolls with the egg wash and bake them in the middle of a preheated 350° oven for 35 to 45 minutes or until they are golden brown.

And finally, we have Cranberry Sauce. This year, I made the basic and also made a Cranberry Orange Relish that was really good.


The relish is in front with the sauce in back.  The relish recipe called for part of it to be pureed, but I didn't read the recipe very well and put all the cranberries in t once so I stopped at a coarse chunk. It came out great. Nice and tart.

Cranberry Sauce

  • 12 oz pkg cranberries
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup water

In a heavy saucepan combine the cranberries, sugar, and water. Simmer the mixture, stirring occasionally, for about 10 minutes, or until the cranberries have burst and the sauce is thickened. Cool and refrigerate.

Cranberry Relish

  • 1 1/4 lb cranberries
  • 1 large orange
  • 3/4 cup sugar

Place cut-up orange - with peel - and 2 cups cranberries in food processor with 3/4 cup sugar and process until pureed. Place in sauce pan and bring to a boil. Stir in remaining cranberries and cook until cranberries pop and sauce is thickened.

Serve warm or cold.



Now we're talkin'! This is my most-favorite part of the meal. I really had to pare down the offerings this year. Only 12 people. I could easily make 12 desserts and not bat an eye. I really wanted to make an Italian Sour Cream Cake that is in my mom's cook book, but Victor reminded me that we were only 12. Three desserts was excessive as it was. And we knew Marie would bring another. I did let him know, though, that he would have to eat half of the cake because there weren't going to be a lot of others to share it with...

First up is my mom's Walnut Pie.


I like this better than Pecan Pie - and I love Pecan Pie. Mom switched out corn syrup for maple syrup and created a total winning dessert.

Walnut Pie

  • 1 cup brown sugar (packed)
  • 3 tbsp flour
  • 1 1/4 cups maple syrup
  • 3 tbsp butter
  • 3 eggs
  • 2 tsp vanilla
  • 2 cups walnut halves and pieces
  • pinch salt
  • 1 unbaked 9" pie shell

Preheat oven to 375°

Mix flour, brown sugar, maple syrup, butter, and a pinch salt in saucepan. Stir and heat just until butter melts.

Beat eggs with vanilla. Add sugar mixture. Stir in walnuts.

Pour into 9" unbaked pie shell.

Bake in lower third of oven for 40 to 45 minutes or until center is set. Cool.

It doesn't even need whipped cream - and I love whipped cream.

Next up was the Sweet Potato Cheesecake. That I forgot to put the sweet potato in. What can I say?!? It was still an awesome cheesecake.


Yeah - Sweet Potato Cheesecake sans sweet potato.  This has a nice pecan crust. I usually use walnuts in my cheesecake crust but this came out really good.

Sweet Potato Cheesecake

Pecan crust

  • 1/4 cup coarsely chopped pecans
  • 1 pkg graham crackers
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 5 tablespoons melted butter

Mix pecans, graham crackers, and sugar in food processor until finely blended. Add melted butter and pulse until well-mixed. Press mixture evenly over bottom of pan. Bake at 375° until lightly browned all over – about 10-12 minutes. Reduce oven to 325°

Cheesecake filling

  • 1 cup sweet potato puree
  • 3 8 oz pkgs cream cheese
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1/4 cup whipping cream
  • 1/4 cup sour cream
  • 1/4 cup maple syrup
  • 2 tsp tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp allspice
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp ginger

With mixer, beat cream cheese until light and fluffy. Gradually beat in granulated and brown sugars until mixture is well blended and smooth. Beat in eggs, one at a time, until blended. Add sweet potato mixture, the whipping cream, sour cream, maple syrup, and spices. Mix on low speed until well blended.

Wrap bottom of cheesecake pan with heavy-duty foil, pressing it up the sides. Pour batter over crust. Put cheesecake pan in a  roasting pan at least 2 inches deep. Set pans in 325° oven and pour enough boiling water into roasting pan to come halfway up sides of cheesecake pan.

Bake until cake barely jiggles in the center when gently shaken, about 55 minutes. Remove from water bath and cool on a rack, about 1 hour, then chill until cold.

And, of course, there was Pumpkin Pie.


Deep-dish, tender, flaky crust. It was good. Victor had me make two of these because it's his favorite.

Pumpkin Pie

  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup maple syrup
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 can (15 oz.) pumpkin
  • 1 can (12 fl. oz.) evaporated milk
  • 1 unbaked 10″ pie shell
  • Whipped cream

Preheat oven to 425°. Beat eggs, sugar, maple syrup, and spices in large bowl. Add pumpkin amd mix well. Gradually stir in evaporated milk.

Pour into pie shell. Bake at 425° F. for 15 minutes. Reduce temperature to 350° F.; bake for 40 to 50 minutes or until knife inserted near center comes out clean. Top with whipped cream before serving.

And, last but certainly not least, Marie's Bundt Cake.


She got this really fun bundt pan with stars on top that - while fun to look at - does not always cooperate when trying to get the cake out of the pan. We had one years ago that we finally threw in the garbage we had so many problems with it.  But Marie was not going to let a pan get the better of her. This time the cake came out perfect - and tasted great.

So... another gastronomic holiday has come to a close. We had a great time, ate a lot of food, had fun conversations about a variety of topics, and just relaxed and had fun.

Just the way Thanksgiving should be.

And the Turkey Soup?!?


Stellar. Mom would have been proud.


July 4th Food Fenzy


Happy July 4th.  I find it pretty interesting living a mere 2 miles from Valley Forge and less than 20 miles from the building where the Declaration of Independence was written. It's fascinating history.

But history or no, I'm not sure those original signers would be all that happy to see the current state of the government they were fighting to create 237 years ago. The Lofty Ideals vs The Reality. It's kinda scary when you think about it.

But 237 years after the fact, the day means hamburgers and hot dogs more than anything else, so... I made hamburgers and hot dogs. Even my left-leaning liberal self has to take a day off, once in a while.

Burgers and dogs, corn on the cob, baked beans... All the traditional stuff. We ate well, today.

I even served some homemade chipotle mustard. Yum.


I made my sister, Phoebe's Baked Beans and Mom's Potato Salad, because there's just nothing better than the two of them together.


And burgers and and dogs and corn on the cob...  Nothing fancy - just the basics with the basic toppings...


Plus a great big mixed green salad with Victor's homemade goat cheese! The cheese rocks the casbah!


And, of course, we had some pretty good desserts - because we always have some pretty good desserts.

I started off with a Peach and Apricot Crostata. This really rocked. The crust is like a cookie. Really good!


Peach and Apricot Crostata


  • 1 3/4 sticks butter
  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 cup cake flour
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • pinch salt
  • 1 egg
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 2 tsp vanilla


  • 1/2 - 3/4 cup gooseberry jam
  • 1 peach, sliced
  • 1 apricot, sliced
  • 1/2 cup walnuts, chopped

Preheat oven to 350°.

Cut butter into chunks. Place flours, sugar, and salt. in a food processor and blend. Add butter and process until coarsely blended. Add egg, egg yolk, and vanilla. Process a moment and then turn out on a board and gently knead mixture just until it forms a dough.

Reserve one third of dough for lattice top. Crumble remainder into an 11-inch tart pan pat out dough to evenly cover bottom and up sides. Spread preserves over bottom. Place sliced peaches and apricots over preserves.

Roughly form remaining dough into strips and place on top of fruit. Don't worry about making them perfect - it's supposed to be rustic.

Scatter walnuts over the top and bake in the middle of the oven for about 45 minutes.

Cool and enjoy!

I used gooseberry jam but any flavor you have will work.

And then we had cookies that Marie brought. Totally fabulous.


Too bad those Founding Fathers weren't around today to share some of this - and to talk some politics.

Easter 2013


The Annual Easter Egg Coloring and Pizza Party just happened to fall on our niece Elizabeth's birthday this year... and what's an Easter Egg Coloring and Pizza Party without Peeps?!?

I thought Peeps atop cupcakes would be fun with "Happy Birthday Elizabeth" spelled out on top. I went downstairs to fetch the cupcake tins - and they weren't there! I searched high and low to no avail. I think I must have left them at work. But no problem - the mini pans were down there. Cupcake recipe makes 24, mini-cupcake pans make 48. Set.

I make the batter, fill the 48 pans - and haven't made a dent in the batter. They come out of the oven, I make another 48 - and still have batter. I stopped at 96 cupcakes. Really. That was enough.

Yellow Cupcakes

  • 4 cups cake flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 tsp vanilla
  • 4 large eggs
  • 2 cups buttermilk

Preheat oven to 350°. Line twenty-four muffin cups with paper liners.

Sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Beat together butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add vanilla. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Mix in buttermilk until just combined. Add flour mixture in 3 batches, beating until just combined after each addition.

Divide batter among muffin cup sand bake about 22 minutes, or until golden and a tester comes out clean.

I had so many cupcakes, I added the other two March birthday-babies and still had several dozen left over. Everyone got cupcakes.


And there was cake. And pizza that I didn't take pictures of.

And then the coloring began...


You will note there are not a lot of children at the table.


This is one of several trays of eggs. We did 4 dozen altogether. The perfect amount for stuffed eggs and a bit of egg salad.


The eggs were simply done: mayonnaise, salt, pepper, a bit of garlic powder, and a bit of dill. Paprika on top.

Victor found a recipe for a ricotta pastry in La Cucina Italiana magazine he had to make for today. They also call for a full-sized cupcake tin, but, the tins were still MIA - so he went with a mini, as well. I think the minis worked really well...


First, 24 little squares of pastry dough had to be made, cut, and placed in the tins...


Then they had to be filled...




And then plated on a lovely pink Easter tray...

Soffioni di Ricotta


  • 2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • Fine sea salt
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil


  • 1/2 pound whole milk ricotta cheese
  • 2 large eggs, separated
  • 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
  • Unsalted butter for greasing muffin tin
  • Confectioners sugar for dusting


For Dough: In a large bowl, whisk together flour, sugar and pinch salt. Mound flour mixture, then form a well in center. Add eggs and oil to the well. Using a fork, gently break up yolks and slowly incorporate flour from the inside rim of the well until liquid is absorbed (about half of the flour will be incorporated), then knead in bowl until dough forms a mostly complete mass.

Transfer dough and any flour in bowl to a clean work surface to knead together until smooth, about 5 minutes. Wrap dough tightly in plastic wrap and let rest at room temperature 30 minutes. Meanwhile, make filling.

For Filling: In a large bowl, whisk together cheese, egg yolks, granulated sugar and zest until smooth. In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat egg whites to stiff peaks. In two additions, fold whites into cheese mixture.

Heat oven to 375º with rack in the middle. Grease 8 muffin cups with butter.

Roll out dough to a 14-inch square, 2 millimeters thick. Using a fluted pastry 
wheel, cut out 8 (4-inch) squares from dough; discard excess dough. Fit squares into prepared muffin cups, pressing centers into cups and letting corners of pastry overlap edges of pan. Divide filling among dough-lined cups, then fold dough corners over filling.

Bake, rotating once, until pastries are puffed and golden, 25 to 30 minutes. Cool in pan on wire rack, 10 minutes. Gently twist pastries to release from cups. Serve warm or at room temperature, dusting with confectioners sugar just before serving.

They were really good - like a lemony-ricotta-cheesecake. I had more than two.

We loaded up the car and headed over to Steve & Marie's... I really can't believe I didn't take a single picture of the actual dinner. I got all the desserts, of course, and even a few appetizers. Nothing about the dinner. It was really, really good, too!

We had:

  • Ham with an apricot sauce
  • Grilled rack of lamb
  • Roasted asparagus
  • Pineapple bread pudding
  • A really fabulous Lentil salad
  • Pasta salad with smoked salmon
  • Red potato salad
  • Spinach salad with strawberries and balsamic
  • Kalamata olive bread

It was just stellar. The salads were all fantastic. My favorite was the lentil, but I had double helpings of all of them. The potato salad was simply dressed with olive oil and green onions... Everything was great. Really great.

Back to the appetizers...

Besides the stuffed eggs, I made the Polenta Bites I made last year. The recipe also comes from La Cucina Italiana.


I started off this year by baking them in the oven instead of trying to fry them. It worked perfectly.

“Canederli” di Polenta allo Speck


  • 2 cups water
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 14 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • Fine sea salt
  • 1 1/4 cups coarse polenta
  • 1/4 pound speck, finely chopped
  • 2 large egg yolks
  • 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano or Grana Padano cheese
  • 1 tablespoon roughly chopped flat-leaf parsley


In a large saucepan, combine water, milk, 3 tablespoons butter and ¾ teaspoons salt; bring to a boil over high heat. Slowly add polenta in a thin stream, whisking; reduce heat to medium and cook, whisking constantly, 2 minutes. Reduce heat to low and cook, stirring often with a wooden spoon, until polenta is thickened and tender, 40 to 45 minutes. (Because it uses less liquid, this polenta is thicker than usual.)

Remove polenta from heat; stir in speck, egg yolks, cheese and parsley. Let stand until cool enough to handle, about 15 minutes.

Line a large platter with parchment paper. With damp hands, form 1-tablespoon portions polenta into 40 (1-inch) balls and place on prepared platter.

In a small saucepan, heat 8 tablespoons butter over medium-low heat until butter becomes lightly browned, about 13 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a large non-stick skillet, melt remaining 3 tablespoons butter over medium heat. In two batches, cook dumplings until browned on all sides, about 8 minutes per batch.

Divide dumplings among 4 bowls, spoon brown butter over the top. Serve immediately.

These really are flavorful - and so easy to make.

Victor also made Uncle Rudy's Easter Pie. This is the second time he's made it in a tart pan instead of pie plate.  It is awesomely-good.


Uncle Rudy’s Easter Pie

Makes 2 pies

  • 3 Lb Ricotta
  • 8 eggs
  • 1/2 cup  grated cheese
  • 1/2 lb ham, diced
  • 1/4 lb prosciutto, diced
  • 1/4 lb pepperoni, diced
  • To Taste;
  • Garlic Powder
  • Pepper
  • Italian Seasoning
  • Parsley

Blend eggs and ricotta.  Add diced meats and seasonings.  Pour mixture into prepared pie crust and top with second crust.  Crimp edges.

Bake at 375° for 45 minutes to 1 hour – the crust should be nice and golden brown.


I thought this would be a good place to throw in a picture of Uncle Beep and Miles. What a cutie. And the baby ain't bad, either...

A couple of years ago, Victor's buddy Jenni sent him a recipe for a Lemon Tart. It is fabulously-tasty and really easy to make.


Creamy Lemon Pie

  • 3 egg yolks
  • 1 (14 ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
  • 1/2 cup lemon juice
  • 1 (8- or 9-inch) baked pie crust or graham cracker crumb crust
  • whipped cream. for added flavor, fold some lemon curd into the whipped cream just before serving
  • Lemon zest (optional)

Preheat oven to  325°.   Beat egg yolks, gradually beat in sweetened condensed milk and lemon juice.  Pour into crust.

Bake:  30-35 minutes, until set.  Cool for about 1 hour and then chill at least 3 hours before serving.

This year, I made the crust with the Coconut Cookies I made a few days ago. I made the whipped cream with just a pinch of sugar and lemon extract, and then added a dollop of lemon curd to each of the cream dollops. It was pretty stellar.

And there was more...

Joanna made her famous Wedding Rings...


Joanna's Wedding Rings

Cookie Dough

  • 6 eggs
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup shortening
  • 5 cups flour
  • 3 tbsp vanilla
  • 5 tsp baking powder


  • Powdered Sugar
  • Water
  • Vanilla

Beat together shortening, sugar, and eggs. Add flour about 2 cups at a time.  Roll pieces of dough into 4″ ropes, form into rings.  Bake at 450° for 10 minutes.  Cool and brush with glaze.

They are such a simple cookie but oh, so good!

And there were more...


Carrot Cake - half with almonds, because sometimes you feel like a nut, sometimes you don't...

And even more cookies...


And then... just because... Fresh fruit!


It was a great two days. We ate, laughed, played with the baby, ate, laughed, and played some more.

Just the way it's supposed to be.






Ravioli and Other Italian Dishes


It's been a while since I sat down and wrote a blog post. It's not that we stopped eating - perish the thought! It's just that life has a way of catching up once in a while.

Right after my last post, we decided it was time to ask Victor's mom to move in with us. She's pushing 87, and just not as quick on her feet as she used to be.

We brought her over for a few days to get used to the idea and see how she liked being pampered and waited on hand-and-foot.


We cooked her 'ronies and meat sauce, and chicken cutlets with a nice salad...


I started cooking and made several things that were portioned and frozen for quick lunches... Onion soup, breaded chicken strips, pasta sauce...  A big fruit salad. Things that Victor could quickly prepare even with his phone headset on.

She had her quarterly Dr appointment coming up, so she said she'd make a decision after seeing him. We went in to see  her primary care Dr, he decided she wasn't doing as well as she should, and he sent us over to the hospital for tests. That was a 4-day stay that pretty much determined she should come live with us. They released her to a rehab facility for some physical therapy to get her legs working better, and we went to work.

Our normally boring, quiet lives got really busy, really fast. Moving mom in with us entailed more than just putting her in the guest room. The guest room needed to be transformed into her room. We had to empty out our furniture to fit in hers. The basement I cleaned so well got really full, really fast. I'm going to have to get down there and organize, again. One of these days.


And closet space. Thank goodness we had just done a closet clean-out! We're still a little cramped, but we'll sort it all out.

There's a million-and-one details that need attending when you undertake something like this - and more things become apparent halfway through others. Fortunately, we have plenty of family support with Victor's brother and sister, and our neighbor is a geriatric social worker with one of the better services in town. We're getting the in-home visits set up as soon as we learn just what she's going to need. The paperwork has already been started.

So this past week, more meals have been taken standing up in the kitchen, than at any time since we moved here. Saturday - the day we were supposed to have dear friends arriving for a 4-day birthday bash - saw us with the first meal I had cooked in a week - Beef Braised in Guinness. I added potatoes to it this time to make it a one-pot meal.


And then it was early to bed and early to rise to move more furniture.

So meals are going to be changing a bit. I know mom's likes and dislikes pretty well, and will be catering towards some simpler menu items. The foods will be fresh, flavorful, and plentiful.

She deserves only the best.

Christmas Cookies

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas. A LOT like Christmas. The elves have been busy slicing, chopping, mixing, blending, and otherwise having fun in the kitchen.

We cut back this year - again. Somehow it doesn't seem like it - we have cookies, candy, fruitcake, breads... bins full of goodies that are getting plated up and given out. And there's an Italian Rum Cake that will be assembled tomorrow for our Christmas Eve dessert - along with all the rest of the goodies.

There are 4 different biscotti - orange macadamia, traditional anise, walnut, and chocolate peppermint - Aunt Dolores' Rum Balls, my mom's Spice Cookies, fruitcake, chocolate nutmeg logs, ricotta cookies, thumbprint cookies, almond butter cookies, chocolate caramel pecan cranberry candies, anise pizzelles, amaretto pizzelles... a lot of goodies.

And all of the recipes are here on the site.



This year's fruitcake came out stellar! I made this one with amaretto and kept it soaking in amaretto in the basement for a month. More mellow than a traditional brandy. I think next year may be time to bring back the apricot macadamia nut fruitcake - or come up with something completely new and different.

But that's next year. Right now I'm just going to enjoy all of this!

Merry Christmas!


Cranberry Tangerine Bread

 Tim Dineen

A take on a basic Cranberry Orange bread.

  • 4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 cubes butter, cut into pieces
  • 1 tbsp orange zest
  • 1 1/4 cups fresh tangerine juice
  • 1/4 cup Cointreau
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 cups coarsely chopped fresh cranberries
  • 1 cup chopped walnuts

Preheat oven to 350°.

In a food processor, mix together the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and butter until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Place in mixing bowl. In a measuring cup whisk together the zest, the juice, Cointreau, and the eggs. Add the mixture to the flour mixture and stir the batter until it is just combined – don’t overmix. Stir in the cranberries and walnuts and spread evenly into two well-buttered 9×5 standard loaf pans.

Bake the bread in the middle of the oven for 1 1/4 hours, or until a tester comes out clean. Cool the bread about 15 minutes in the pan and then remove and cool completely on racks.

Serve plain or top with powdered sugar or icing glaze.

The Last Hurrah


It's time to move on.

I have turkey, dressing, and gravy in the freezer, along with a few pumpkin rolls. I also have some cooked, shredded turkey in there for enchiladas or something. This was definitely the bird that kept on giving - and the meal that kept on giving. No complaints, because it was one fantastic dinner and Thanksgiving the next day can be even better for the cook. But after four days - including the soup - it's time for a burger.

My new favorite this year was the corn pudding. I had gotten the recipe from my friend Susan Poston when I sent out my holiday recipe requests and had planned on making it last year but never did. I'm glad I finally did. The stuff rocks!

Corn Pudding

  • 1/2 cup butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup (8 oz) sour cream
  • 1 package (8 1/2 oz) corn bread/muffin mix
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1 can (15 1/4 oz) whole kernel corn, drained
  • 1 can (14 3/4 oz) cream-style corn

In a large mixing bowl, cream butter and sugar.  Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.

Beat in sour cream.  Gradually add corn bread/muffin mix alternately with milk.

Fold in the corn.

Pour into greased 3 qt baking dish.

Bake, uncovered, at 325 for 45-50 minutes or until set and lightly browned.

I made my own mix because I'm a contrarian, but there's plenty of mixes out there.

The rest of the dinner - other than the ham steak - was leftovers, as well. Marie's sweet potatoes, my cornbread stuffing, potato pancakes from the leftover mashed potatoes, and Victor's Cranberry Orange Sauce.

I did not clean my plate tonight. The taste-buds were willing but it just wasn't gonna happen.

Another totally successful meal and another totally fun time.

On to next year!

2012 Fruitcake

It's never too early to bake a fruitcake.  The beauty of them is they get better as they age - and soak up the liquor that is poured onto them.

I must admit that I really do like fruitcake.  I even like the store-bought ones, although the odds of me ever eating one of them with their chemicals and artificial ingredients are between slim and none.  Low as they may be, I have my standards!

So...  I looked at my 2010 recipe and decided it would be easy to update for 2012.  And from the scents wafting through the house, it came out great!

I didn't use any candied fruit this year.  I thought about making some candied orange or lemon peel and then decided it really wasn't worth it.  I went for all dried fruit - soaked in amaretto!  As I said, it smells really good!

2012 Fruitcake

  • 8 cups assorted dried fruits (I used golden raisins, raisins, currants, apricots, blueberries, cherries, strawberries, dates, and figs.)
  • 3/4 cup amaretto
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup wholoe wheat flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg
  • 1 tsp ginger
  • 1/2 tsp cloves
  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 1 cup packed brown sugar
  • 5 large eggs
  • 1 cup almond meal
  • 1 1/2 cups chopped assorted nuts (I used walnuts and pistachios)
  • 1/4 cup orange marmalade mixed with 1 tbsp amaretto)

In a large bowl combine all of the fruits with the amaretto and let macerate overnight.

Line the bottom of a well-buttered 9 1/2-inch springform pan with a round of parchment paper and butter the paper. Into a small bowl sift together the flour, the baking powder, and the spices.

Cream together the butter and the brown sugar until the mixture is light and fluffy and beat in 4 of the eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition.

Drain the fruit mixture in a sieve set over the batter and beat the juices into the batter.

Stir the flour mixture into the batter, one fourth at a time, stir in the fruit mixture, the almond meal, and the nuts, stirring until the mixture is just combined, and turn the batter out into the prepared pan.

Put 2 loaf pans, each filled with hot water, in a preheated 300°F. oven and put the springform pan between them. Bake the cake for 1 hour, brush the top with the remaining egg, beaten lightly, and bake the cake for 1 hour more. While the cake is baking, in a saucepan melt the marmalade with the remaining 1 tablespoon amaretto over moderate heat, bring the mixture to a boil, and strain it through a fine sieve into a bowl, pressing hard on the solids.

Cool cake in the pan on a rack for 30 minutes.  Remove from pan. Brush the top of the cake with glaze.

The cake will keep, covered, for 6 months.

It will be going down to the basement where it will get a weekly dousing of amaretto until Christmas!

I'll be sure to let you know just how good it was!

Fairytale Pumpkin

In a few hours it will officially be Autumn.  Time for pumpkin!

I do have to admit that I like my pumpkin - in soups, stews, pies, breads, cakes - you name it, I like it!  So...  It actually makes sense to buy a pumpkin, roast it and puree it.  For seven bucks I can get pumpkin for most of the year.

Contrary to popular belief, these strange pumpkins you may see in the grocery store are very edible.  The two most popular varieties are Cinderella and Fairytale.  Both are French heirloom pumpkins and both have a deep orange flesh and slightly-sweet taste.

Those big orange pumpkins you see are raised to be jack-o-lanterns.  They are edible - but barely.  They're not going to make a decent pie or soup, so skip them for eating - they're for cutting up and decorating.

Speaking of cutting up...

Here's the inside of the pumpkin.  You need a big, sharp knife.

I cut it into wedges, scooped out the seeds, and placed them on sheet pans.  They went into a 350° oven for about an hour.  I didn't salt, oil, or otherwise do anything to the pumpkin at all.  I was just looking for puree at this point.  The flavorings will come from whatever I decide to make.

They really filled the house with the smell of Fall.

When they completely cooled, I scraped the flesh into the food processor and smooshed away.  It took about six batches to get it all.

It made a huge bowl of puree that I will freeze tomorrow in about 2-cup portions.  Unfortunately, canning pumpkin is not recommended at home, otherwise I'd be filling Mason jars right now instead of typing.

Let's see how long this lasts.....