Posts Tagged ‘Vintage recipes’

Grandmother in my briefcase

Executive Pinstripe Cinnamon Coffee Cake

Executive Pinstripe Cinnamon Coffee Cake

My Mom has always spoken about her Grandmother’s baking in rapturous tones. This was once used for the forces of delightful evil against one of her sisters-in-law. As happens in many families, my Mother had a somewhat competitive relationship with her sisters-in-law. I’d like to say it was all in good fun, but if I did my pants may burst into flames.

So, please travel back with me to the early or mid nineteen-seventies, just outside of Boston. Nixon (or was it Ford?) was in The White House and…well, you don’t need that much detail, do you?

The sister-in-law who is the star of this cautionary tale made strudel for a family celebration and placed it upon a table fairly groaning with goodies. I don’t remember my Mother’s contribution to this horn of plenty, but it was likely one of the many Bundt Cakes she used to bake. (Pistachio Pudding Cake, a close relative of the legendary Harvey Wallbanger Cake, rings a bell, its green tinged mellowness a properly coordinated accessory to the avocado-colored appliances that were the order of the day.)

Sorry. Back to the strudel…as an instrument of torture, my Mother praised her sister-in-law’s strudel on high for all to hear. It was a trap, and her sister-in-law fell for it, hook, line, and phyllo dough.

The sister-in-law made the mistake of asking, “Is it as good as your Grandmother’s?”

If she had just left well enough alone, no one would have been hurt.

The answer to that ill-advised question? Therein lay the sharpened tip of the instrument of torture: “Hmmm, not quite like my Grandmother’s. Well how could it be? Her’s was…oh, but it’s wonderful though.”

The ability to explain the specific qualities of her Grandmother’s Strudel that made it so extraordinary seemed to elude my Mother that afternoon, a deficiency that tortured her sister-in-law with its every twist and turn.

The real irony is that the sister-in-law in question was not your typical mid-twentieth century homemaker. In fact, she was an entrepreneur who, with her husband, ran a popular retail business. That she threw herself into her kitchen with the same intensity she threw herself into her business is to me, in retrospect, both admirable, and perhaps typical of her generation.

Sister-in-law is long gone, but interestingly, my Mom still hangs out with the same friends she’s had since she was a young suburban Mother. Like some modern-day extension of the Diaspora, they have all migrated from chilly New England to the same warmer location down south and after more years than I am allowed to report, they have remained close.

Their “get-togethers” then as now are marked by one inevitable characteristic: noise. Time—and hearing loss—have only heightened this ear-shattering cacophony. Where the “get togethers” used to be centered around a game of mah-jongg or cards, they now take place in a restaurant—and pity the poor waiter who has to split all those salads with dressing on the side. A couple of Extra-Strength Tylenols would not be out of place on the tip tray.

Of course the card and mah-jongg games were just an excuse to host the group at home, something that required endless reciprocation. The food was usually little deli sandwiches for don’t forget, this was long before the now well-trod path of platters of Costco Wrap sandwiches. Desserts usually met two important criteria: nothing sticky so that the cards or mah-jongg tiles would stay clean, and they had to be coffee-friendly. If one or two of the items were homemade you were assured a victory. (Fortunately this was not a tough crowd as long as you followed the rules…and left some for fat l’il Mikey when he got home from school.)

My Mom had one standby that fit these occasions perfectly. Family lore is vague on where the recipe came from—my Mother’s Grandmother? A cherished Aunt? We may never know, but what is clearly important is that at some point I had the foresight to write down the recipe. I carried the recipe around for years and never made it…I was put off by the large infusion of Crisco, an ingredient that has not stood the test of time.

After ignoring the recipe for many years, I happened to re-read it and was struck by its simplicity, its potential, and its retro style. It is the perfect Cinnamon  Coffee Cake. Why perfect? Moist. Fluffy. Delicious. Easy. Fast. (In no particular order.)

Well, it became the perfect Cinnamon Coffee Cake after I made one vital change: I use canola oil instead of Crisco. (I knew you’d approve.) The temptation remained to make other changes: brown sugar instead of white sugar? No. A touch of chocolate? Not necessary. It is one of those recipes that could go precariously off the rails if fiddled with too much.

It goes without saying that I rarely have occasion to have a group in for cards or mah-jongg, so just when do I use this cake? There are times when I meet with folks over coffee in a business setting. People who know I bake and write about it have certain expectations about me, one of which is that I won’t show up empty-handed. The perfect Cinnamon Coffee Cake fits the corporate meeting room like a pin-striped suit.

I wonder: what’s the cake version of the “power tie”?


The recipe for my Executive Pinstripe Coffee Cake. Enjoy! Get a raise. Or a promotion.


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Just like Grandma used to Tweet?

Summer Morning Mourning

Upside Down Muffins

Upside Down Muffins

It has happened. The yearly rite of passage. The arrival of the first Christmas catalogue. This year Harry & David were the first to show their collective faces.  How restrained of them to wait until after Labor Day! (I’m sad to report that Oprah’s favorite Chicken Pie is no longer available.) Running alongside this arrival was the first cool weather of the fall. (Or is it the last cool weather of summer?) Every year when this happens I breathe a small sigh of relief: I survived the summer. I know there are people mourning the end of summer just now, so I’ll be quiet and respectful in my celebrations.

Somehow the heat and humidity of summer dampen my breakfast yearnings. I’m not sure if it is the cool mornings or that I have been watching too many episodes of Barefoot Contessa, but lately my mind has been on breakfast. Actually, some vague concept of “country breakfast.” I have no idea that means other than there is foliage in the background.

I should explain that while I love breakfast and consider it my favorite meal, my breakfast habits are a bit peculiar. Monday through Friday breakfast is broken into two acts. I wake up early and have a protein shake. That holds me until about 10:00 AM when I have breakfast #2: Two slices of seven grain toast (dry), coffee (black), Rice Krispies (no milk, and I wish they’d take out the High Fructose Corn Syrup too. Kellogg’s are you listening?). There may be a prune or two(!), or a banana thrown in there every now and then. My menu appears a bit ascetic, but what I lack in inspiration I make up for in consistency. (The latter is thanks to the prunes, and yes, I know what you’re thinking: cereal without milk? Started as a kid. I always thought the milk was intrusive.)

I only mention my normal breakfast habits to give you some context; it’s not all pancakes and waffles every day for me either, bub. But when I make a fuss over breakfast, I really make a fuss. I should also explain that in spite of having what can best be described as a Roaring Sweet Tooth, my breakfast yearnings don’t generally lean towards the icky sweet. I’ll take a pass on the Sticky Danish in favor of something more restrained with a little cinnamon, maybe some walnuts, and a little brown sugar. Catch my drift?

My avoidance of icky sweet in the morning includes muffins which tend to be dense, and either too dry or too moist, and too big. But I think this preference is related to my love for pancakes and waffles. They tend to be not-so-sweet, and even when I find myself surrounded by diner Formica at dinner time I forgo the Souvlaki in favor of a short stack.

Muffins, of course, are big business now. Muffin baskets are the coin of the realm at the moment for Hollywood “thank-yous”. Last year I wrote about the Jordan Marsh Blueberry muffin—legendary in New England. They were known for their sugar-crusted top, but truth be told these jumbos weren’t all that sweet on the inside. I don’t think I am alone in the belief that muffins are too sweet, and the popularity of muffin tops—the edible kind, not the kind that happens because of tight denim—bears this out.

This made me wonder: Were muffins always the blobs they are now?

I went to my bible of mid-twentieth century cooking, The New York Times Cookbook by the late Craig Claiborne, published in 1961. Old but still relevant, this book remains one of my touchstones in the kitchen. As I scanned the index in search of muffins my eye fell on the words, “Upside Down Muffins” which triggered the immediate response from the voice in my head, “What’s that?”

Yes, they are exactly what their name implies. You put something in the bottom of the muffin cup, then fill the rest of the muffin cup with batter and bake. Whatever is put in the bottom of the cup caramelizes as the muffins bake.

The other great find was the book’s basic muffin recipe. More like a simple quick bread, it is presented plain with a list of suggested add-ins, and seemed like the answer to my not-icky-sweet breakfast prayers. I have exchanged canola oil for the butter called for in the original recipe, and increased the sugar a bit just for these muffins. I took even greater liberties with the mixture that would be placed in the bottom of each cup. The book says to add butter and brown sugar to each cup. I made a mixture of brown sugar, butter substitute, cinnamon, cocoa powder, quick cooking oats, and walnuts and placed that in each cup. While the book doesn’t mention it, I lined the muffin tin with paper muffin cups, imagining the frustration I’d have if my mixture cooked to the pan.

The result is exactly what I wanted. The basic batter puffed up into little brown Everests, and my magic mixture was crumbly and sweet without being icky. Folks who enjoy dunking in their coffee will be very happy. (I was right about the paper liners too, as the upside down mixture sticks a bit. You’d likely need a crow bar to pry them out of an unlined tin.)

Now I just have to sit back and wait for the leaves to change color.


Click here for my Upside Down Muffins.


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Don’t fill up on Tweets, dinner’s almost ready.

From the desk of…

Roasted Onion Tart

An Open Letter to Martha Stewart

Dear Martha

You are such a doll. I appreciate your supportive comments; just that fact that you take the time to read my blog on your iPad each week during your morning yoga, and that you’ve assigned it its own button on your home screen has me thrilled to kittens. To answer your question: yes, my blog is free for everyone, and for the time being I have no plans to charge a subscription fee. Let’s just say that my overhead is a bit lower than yours.

Just loving your magazine of late—it absolutely comes alive on the iPad. I’ve taken the liberty of making a few notes that I have forwarded via DM. Just think of them as a few idle thoughts that I know will help you to improve your magazine. (You’re welcome!)

Anyhoodle, it seems that you and I are about to butt heads (again!) I hope this won’t be as contentious as The Great Caesar Salad Battle of 2008, but I make no promises. I know that you are a bit of an absolutist, but please keep an open mind: even Julia Child tried McDonald’s once.

The lovely sampler you cross-stitched for me is framed and hanging in my kitchen. It serves as a constant reminder about pie crust and similar pastry, exhorting me to “make it cold and bake it hot.” Here’s the thing, though: I happened to come across an old cookbook that General Foods published in 1955 for their Spry brand vegetable shortening, a product that fell out of sight many years ago.

(You have no one to blame but yourself for this bit of kitchen archeology; you’re the one who encouraged me to get into collectables.)

I recognize that the ages-old technique for making pie crust has been to “cut” chunks of fat (lard, shortening, butter) into flour. Even for me that remains the ideal way to go. And as you so often remind us, the reason for working with cold ingredients and baking them in a hot oven is pure science: as the pastry bakes, the fat and liquid steam away, leaving a delicate, flaky pastry.

Ah, but some unknown home economist at General Foods had an idea to streamline the process. The “Water-Whip” pastry recipe was devised to take most of the guess work out of pastry. Harried housewives could whip some shortening with a bit of boiling water, and then add the flour, and they were done. No waiting for the dough to “rest.” No guessing if they’d added just the right amount of water.

Yes, the resulting dough was a little sticky, but the instructions were clear: roll the dough between two pieces of waxed paper. (To me, the most startling thing about the 1955 cook book is that there is not an electric mixer in sight. Every recipe is stirred by hand with a wooden spoon or fork. Can you imagine? Pioneering days: all that is missing are the covered wagons.)

In the past you and I have chuckled about my aversion to the old-fashioned vegetable shortenings, of which the late, lamented Spry was one. Was it you or Alexis who kept calling me “Fat-O-Phobe”? Well, no matter. They are loaded with hydrogenated fats and preservatives, so I won’t use them, I don’t care what you call me. (Sticks and stones…).

To be fair, vegetable shortening wasn’t really invented to be health food, was it? It was invented to be a convenient alternative to lard, and to have a longer shelf life. It was only in the past twenty or so years that we realized the hydrogenated oils and the trans-fats they contain are so bad.

Thankfully there are now some really good non-hydrogenated alternatives—I think even Crisco makes one. (Modern living! Yay!) I’m a fan of Earth Balance. I’m perhaps a bit more forgiving of whatever a product’s flaws may be. I remember reading an article a few years back where some woman said if she tasted a cookie made with margarine she would spit it out. I know! Tacky, right?

A few days ago I thought it would be fun to experiment with the old “Water-Whip” recipe with an eye toward adapting it to the twenty-first century. As mentioned, my choice of shortening is healthier. I also used my Kitchen-Aid stand mixer. Yes, it makes a somewhat sticky dough, but I knew ahead of time that I would not have patience for rolling it out between two pieces of waxed paper. I’ve tried that before with unhappy results. If I couldn’t roll it on a floured board then all bets would be off.

I’m happy to report that I enjoyed the results. The dough wasn’t that difficult to use with a dusting of enough flour to keep the dough from sticking to the board and the rolling pin, if you work fast, and roll only as much dough as you have room for: small counter or small kitchen = small crust. (Hey, I could put that on a sampler for you!)

Yes, yes, I know. It’s not really pie crust. It’s more of a savory shortbread. But baked into a Roasted Onion Tart it had the appropriate toasty, crumbly, tenderness. Rough and rustic? Yes. Polished and complete? Perhaps not. Delicious? Mmmm-hmmm.

Roasting the onions gave them a sugary sweetness that the slight saltiness of the “Water-Whip” crust showed off with aplomb. It would make a wonderful side dish with a green salad or as a selection in a summer breakfast buffet. (Can’t wait to visit you in Maine this summer. Remind me again when “black fly” season is?)

Hope you’ll try the crust. Ring me if you have questions.




Click here for my recipe for “Roasted Onion Tart.”


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Go ahead: tweet this posting. You social media whiz, you…

White (Bread) Christmas

Pull Apart Bread

Pull Apart Bread: Christmas potluck chic

The little kid in me resents it when Christmas falls on a weekend. There’s no logic to my resentment, after all, like most folks I will take just as much time off as I would have if the holiday fell on a Wednesday.  Most of my big holiday obligations have already been met: the tree is up, my cards are in the mail, and the majority of my holiday party baking is done. That can only mean one thing: it’s Holiday Movie Time. Bing Crosby is rehearsing, Rosie Clooney is getting into her costume, and Jimmy Stewart is getting ready to lasso the moon.

The splashy grand finale of this year’s holiday party baking was a friend’s annual holiday party. I don’t want to say he’s been giving this party for a long time but I think the guests at his first holiday party arrived bearing frankincense and myrrh. (Rim shot, please.)

ANYWAY, the party has always served as a laboratory for me to try out the big show off-y baking that you can only get away with around the holidays.  Over the years there have been Yule logs, cookie Christmas trees, and cookie tributes.

Cookie tributes you ask? Not to worry: there were no cookies in the shape of Elvis. But a few years back all of my holiday cookies were citrus flavored in tribute to the big cartons of Florida citrus fruit we would find sitting on our snowy doorstep each Christmas courtesy of my dad’s best childhood buddy. (Frosted orange-spice cookies were my favorite that year.) Ah, restraint…

This year I somehow had it in my mind to celebrate a slightly more humble aesthetic. I didn’t have a specific game plan in mind when the season started, but following the path of holiday basics from salted caramel-dipped chocolate drop cookies to Snickerdoodles to chocolate gingerbread revealed my destination the same way as when you pick your way through the trees and suddenly find yourself on the beach.

Two things come to mind here: the first is my fear that I may have been turning my nose up at this humble aesthetic—indulging in the sort of food snobbery that I outwardly confess to abhor. The second is that while I consider my experiences cooking and eating to be as much about educating myself as they are about eating well, I sometimes need to be reminded that I can learn as much from a really great brownie as I can from a really great Éclair. It’s up to me to keep my eyes open, yes?

I wanted to bake something for the party that had a relaxed, family / sharing / party feeling; flipping through a few copies of Life Magazine from December 1960 helped me to focus on the kind of friendly, frilly, holiday food I thought would still work at Christmas Dinner fifty years hence: a sort of Potluck Chic.

Please don’t confuse this with the smirking wink at “White Trash” cooking that came and went a few years back. This isn’t Bologna Macaroni and Cheese; It is Nancy Reagan serving Monkey Bread at The White House.

With all that in mind I settled on a simple Cheddar Pull-Apart Bread that had intrigued me some time ago while flipping through a cheap cookbook. A more savory, perhaps more sober relative of Monkey Bread, it also owes some of its DNA to the flaky, buttery Parker House roll. And the way my mind works, when I bake bread I especially prize yeasty concoctions that are as good—or better—toasted the next morning. A slice of this bread with a fried egg on top is my holiday breakfast of choice this year. (Thankfully there are two holidays so I can still have my yummy Yeast Waffles.)

The concept is easy: divide unbaked bread dough into ten even pieces, spread with the savory filling of choice, stack the pieces, then squeeze into a loaf pan and bake. Served warm, friends and loved ones can then “pull apart” the loaf. The recipe attached is very basic, but I’m anxious to try it with Challah dough. Add a bit of cinnamon and sugar and you’ve got an enviable sweet breakfast loaf.

Folks who fear working with yeast dough should feel free to try this concept with store-bought pizza dough. It crusty chewiness will pair beautifully with olive oil and a bit of chopped garlic as the filling. I may have to bring this to a big “five fishes” Christmas Eve dinner.

Have a wonderful holiday—the best of the season to you. Don’t forget to leave some cookies for Santa, and carrots for the reindeer.


Click here for the recipe for Cheddar Herb Pull Apart Bread.

If you’re feeling ambitious but need a bit of cookie baking technique and guidance, read the Butter Flour Eggs Cookie Primer 101 for some basic cookie-baking tips.


Are you still trying to finish Santa’s List? Check out Laura Loving’s incredible, affordable range of holiday gifts. Each piece of art features her iconic designs and will be cherished for years to come.


The Ronald McDonald House of New York is an amazing facility which provides a temporary “home-away-from-home” for pediatric cancer patients and their families. The Ronald McDonald House is supported entirely by private donations. Please read about this amazing place, and keep them in mind when considering your year-end charity donation.


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Back From the Beach

Jordan Marsh Blueberry Cake

This is one of THOSE years: the Labor Day weekend is late and the Jewish holidays are early; in fact, they commence just a couple of days after the weekend. I’m no sooner rinsing the beach sand from my feet when I have to start thinking about dessert for the family Rosh Hashanah dinner — my yearly assignment. Luckily I have had a little something stored in the back of my mind for a few weeks.

When I wrote about blueberries a few weeks ago I mentioned — almost in passing — the famous blueberry muffins from Boston’s beloved but now dearly departed Jordan Marsh department store. I haven’t been able to get those off my mind. When you have an itch you’re not supposed to scratch it, but I’m only human: I can’t resist.

On paper the Jordan Marsh blueberry muffin is an unlikely star: oversized, sugar-crusted, less muffin than cake, and perhaps even a bit on the dry side, although the better for dunking because of it.

(Does anyone still dunk? Never my cup of tea — pardon the pun — dunking was best demonstrated by Clark Gable in the movie “It Happened One Night.” Yeah, they still call them “Dunkin’ Donuts” but I don’t think anyone still does. Please correct me if I am wrong.)

Ask any Bostonian, current or former, about the Jordan Marsh muffin and you will likely get some kind of fond memories recalled about Aunties or Grandmothers bringing them on visits, not to mention quick side trips to “Jawdin’s” bakery counter whilst in the store on other business. While muffins are usually reserved for breakfast or Hollywood gift giving (muffin baskets are big business out there), we were never shy about occasionally eating the Jordan Marsh muffins for dessert.

Like dunking, the Jordan Marsh blueberry muffin is no doubt the product of a different age. For a big chunk of the mid-twentieth century, the big department stores always had in-house bakeries. Granted many, including Macy’s (which absorbed the Jordan Marsh chain some years ago), still do. But with rare exceptions the fare is trucked in from a vendor. The stuff they sell is hit or miss. The old time department store bakery was likely a bit more modest in scope, with muffins, cakes, cookies, and brownies (the Jordan Marsh nostalgia silver medalist) being the focus. I have a fond memory of my Mom returning home with a B. Altman’s Chocolate Cake from a trip accompanying my Dad to New York City. That was a few years ago — B. Altman’s is a library now — but I remember that big swirly-frosted cake as if it was last week. The latter will likely produce a phone call from my Mom remarking on my elephantine memory.

But I mention that cake as an illustration of the aesthetic I am trying to highlight. I can’t say for sure that everything those bakeries sold was golden, but it was good dependable stuff that didn’t try too hard.

This brings us back to blueberry muffins and an early Rosh Hashanah. I thought it might be nice to let summer influence the choice of desserts this year. They usually are tinged with the rustier flavors and colors of the fall season, like my pumpkin cake from last year. This year they’ll be bright and summery, and the aforementioned idea of serving blueberry muffins for dessert seems apt.

Two problems, or shall I say, minor roadblocks, require equally minor detours: The first is that “Jawdin’s” is gone and so are their muffins. The second is that I can’t serve muffins at a holiday dinner. Serving muffins as dessert is a cute trick best saved for another time.

Luckily, I can easily swerve around both roadblocks. Jordan Marsh may be gone, but with a bit of internet digging the real, real, recipe (as opposed to the real recipe) is not hard to find. And if I don’t want to serve muffins for dessert I can just pour the batter into a cake pan or two and serve it as a cake.

I did just that, using two five inch cake pans which gave them great height. But feel free to use one standard eight or nine inch pan.

My only real problem was my own nagging desire to bring my own twist to this recipe. Luckily a little experimentation quickly made me retreat from that idea. I thought it might be nice to serve this as a real cake, including frosting. Bad idea. I tried a simple white frosting which had the double whammy of making the whole thing too sweet while completely obliterating the blueberry flavor. Ditto a really nice lemon frosting: triple whammy. Too sweet, no blueberry, all lemon.

So, going back to basics, I decided to let the cake shine as is, in all its basic mid-century home-spun glory, kind of like an edible version of thumbing through an old copy of Life Magazine. For the holiday dinner, if I decide to gild the lily at all it will be by dabbing a bit of barely sweetened whipped cream on the plate, as much for looks as for the blueberries and cream simulation.

Bear in mind that the highlights of these muffins, the crunchy sugar crown, the thick brown crust, and the abundance of blueberries are the things that require just the slightest extra attention while mixing the batter: be sure to carefully fold in the blueberries with a rubber spatula using caution to break the berries as little as possible. And the sugary, crusty crown? Just use a heavy hand with the sugar. As with any muffin, mix this relatively heavy batter as little as possible.

And if you’ve just got to make muffins, I say, “Go for it,” but be sure to fill the muffin tins almost to the top so they develop a big crunchy “crown,” Don’t use paper liners or you won’t get the trademark brown crust.

Everybody out of the water! Fall is here!


Click here for the recipe for “Jordan Marsh Blueberry Cake.”


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No Suffering


Succotash with Cheddar Cracker Crust

One of the truly iconic images of late summer is fields of corn, to quote a song lyric, “…as high as an elephant’s eye.” True, it is not late summer yet, but, while shopping this past weekend I had a choice of fresh peaches or early fresh corn, and almost compulsively chose the corn.

(Peaches or corn? Why not both? Hmmmm. I’m not sure.)

Anyway, why my “almost compulsive” choice of corn? I think it has something to do with happy memories of summers gone by. It should come as no surprise to anyone that someone who writes a blog measures nostalgia in meals partaken.

Granted us urban folk don’t glimpse fields of corn from the windows of the subway, but I grew up in suburbia, and in an era before every available square inch had been developed, so there were frequent views of open fields as we drove by in the station wagon.

I also have a Mom who is a daughter of the depression. Like many folks who grew up in the depression she celebrates her removal from that era by practicing a certain kind of food snobbery. When I was a kid she flat out refused to serve anything from a can. Chef Boyardee? Horror. This extended to other food as well: Supermarket bread? Are you kidding? (Except of course for Pepperidge Farm, back in the day when it was a little regional bakery.) (Not that she baked her own, but that’s what the neighborhood bakery was for.) Then there were also certain table manners: the ketchup bottle was never allowed on the table. You poured a bit of ketchup into a dish and that’s what was placed on the table.

The only canned vegetables that were allowed in our house were Le Seur Baby Peas – which were so fancy that Sex And The City fans may remember the Samantha character trying to seduce a Monk by donating a can of the peas to his food drive.

My Mother was a regular at what used to be known as a “greengrocer” which was the storefront version of a farm stand. Later on when my parents moved to a slightly deeper slice of suburbia she found and frequently haunted a real farm stand.

I’d hate to think that this all sounds as though I grew up in a stuffy home with a frilly Mother who tinkled a little bell when dinner was served. That was not the case.

On occasions when she would return from the farm stand with a big bag filled with ears of corn, we would all dig in and help shuck the ears. As I was shucking corn this past weekend in my own kitchen I was struck by how easy the task is, the surprise stemming from memories of childhood when – for little seven or eight year old me – shucking corn was hard work. I also remembered all the different ways there are to cook corn on the cob. My favorite was actually learned in adulthood: shucked, smeared lightly with butter, wrapped in foil, and roasted directly on the barbecue coals.

This brings up an important point: corn is hard to ruin, its dirty little secret being that it is actually perfectly edible uncooked. True, you can over-boil it. But in the sauté pan or roasting in the barbecue coals even if you overcook it slightly it is still good, if perhaps a bit toasty.

Now, you don’t need me to tell you how to make corn on the cob. Besides that, I eat my corn “de-cobbed.” (Long story: let’s just say this is due to adventures in orthodontia that would fill a whole other blog.) Anyway, fresh corn off the cob is my ticket to a bit of culinary play time.

Succotash isn’t necessarily as summer dish, but its key player is our summery buddy, corn. Besides, if you cook Succotash, you get to tell people that you cooked Succotash. Say it. Out loud. See what I mean? And if you bring a big casserole of Succotash to a barbecue announcing, “Hey everyone! I brought Succotash!” you may garner a laugh or two. (Past performance is no guarantee of future results.)

The definition of Succotash is really wide open, the only constants being corn and lima beans. I scoured the web and found as many variations as there are kitchens. My favorite finds indicated that a cracker crumb topping was a particularly popular finishing touch. Fresh corn topped with buttered cracker crumbs? I’m at a loss for a worthy adjective. Use a really sturdy unsalted cracker like oyster crackers or Neva Betta crackers for best results. (In a pinch unsalted Saltines will do, although the results may be slightly soggy.)

You’ll see from my “recipe” that there really isn’t a recipe, more like a “how-to” guide, so feel free to adjust this to your own tastes.

Actually I added a little “zetz” to this by changing the buttered cracker crumbs to a Cheddar Cracker Streusel crust by adding a healthy handful of the sharpest English cheddar I could find. This transformed a side dish that is almost an afterthought into a really great summer meal.  Be warned: this cracker crumb crust may find its way—cheddar cheese included – this coming fall on top of apples for a really amazing Apple Brown Betty.

Stay tuned!


Click here for the recipe for Succotash.


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Bar Mitzvah Bounty

Chicken Walnut Knishes

Chicken Walnut Knishes

I haven’t always been a world famous food blogger. I used to read blogs and food websites during my lunch hour or in the middle of the night just like you. Now that I have literally tens of readers I feel I owe it to them (you) to stay ahead of the curve. So, I’m still cruising the internet as I used to, and one of my old standbys, the “Dining and Wine” section of the New York Times remains a favorite read.

Last week Julia Moskin wrote in the New York Times about a dedicated band of new deli owners who have set out to update what has become a rather dusty fare. I have to make an admission here: as I read the article, I was salivating over the various descriptions of how these folks are changing kosher-style deli into something fresh and new without straying too far from the familiar. Factory produced meat is out, artisanal deli is in. This can only be good news.

Make no mistake: no one is trying to take away your Pastrami. Rather, they are bringing the same “fresh, local, slow-food” sensibility to deli food that chefs in other venues have exercised for a long time. Kosher-style deli food is comfort food – soul food— and it is important that no matter how anyone updates it that the ring of familiarity remains. Just ask anyone (including me) how they feel about Pastrami on Rye (extra mustard) and that sentiment will be confirmed.

I will now proudly age myself by announcing that I grew up in the days before McDonald’s and Burger King became ubiquitous. Yes, they were there, but you had to hunt them down, usually planted like hedgerows near a strip mall, their flashing, spinning signs launched high up in the air, beckoning you from miles away.

Mickey D’s equivalent in my childhood neighborhood was Bernie and Ruby’s Langley Food Shop, which we simply referred to as “The Langley Deli.” My Mom would steal us away to its noisy, air-conditioned, Formica tables ostensibly to treat us to something at the time thought of as good wholesome food (although I assume the treat was really hers.) The Langley was a clangy, hectic, neighborhood place where you could count on running into someone you knew. Facebook with half-sour pickles.

If you have never eaten at a real kosher-style deli, then my best description would be the smell: equal parts air conditioning, mustard, pickle, beef, and black pepper. Throw in a touch of fried potato for good measure and you‘ve got the idea.

The other question, of course, is, “Do you still eat Pastrami?” For me the answer is no. Knowing what I know now about food and health, I won’t touch the stuff. Too much fat and too much salt, the unfortunate cornerstones of any good soul food, no matter what ethnicity. I could eat oatmeal every morning for a thousand years, but I doubt it would clear the childhood Pastrami fat from my veins. I keep praying that scientists will announce some heretofore-undiscovered cholesterol dissolving properties of the Diet Coke that inevitably sat next to my Langley sandwich.

On the other hand, if you tell me that you are hand-roasting Pastrami from organic grass-raised beef, and serving it between slices of artisan rye bread I could be easily tempted. That, it seems, is just what the pioneers of the “new deli” are doing. I just may be taking a field trip to the Mile High Deli in Brooklyn to sample the goods.

In the meantime I was inspired to try my own hand at artisanal deli food. A quick survey of my kitchen revealed that it is, alas, not suited for Pastrami roasting. I decided to try something a bit more humble (read: easy.) How about knishes?

Knishes were traditional party food when I was a kid. The sad thing about them was that no matter where you went, no matter how fancy the party, the same slightly over baked, mystery meat-filled cocktail knishes were passed around. Again, that magic alchemy of fat and salt. Fat little Mikey (that’s me) could toss those back by the dozens.

An Asian friend of mine often makes Chicken Walnut Spring Rolls. I thought the combination would lend itself beautifully to the world of kosher deli, albeit with a touch of complexity provided by the earthy meatiness of Cremini mushrooms, and the caramel sweetness of onions. A kiss of soy sauce would reflect the origin of my inspiration.

The pastry is a classic Pâte Brisée, usually the wrapper for tarts and quiche. Here, sliced into strips and rolled, “pigs-in-a-blanket style” around the filling, it serves up nostalgic flakiness while keeping the knish filling in line and ready for the next Bar Mitzvah. The old cocktail knishes hid their mystery meat under the blanket; this style, open at both ends, is a bit of an exhibitionist.

And best yet, this riff on nouveau kosher-style deli is relatively healthy and guilt free.

Meanwhile, do you think there’s any chance of that cola cholesterol cure coming true?


Click here for the recipes for Chicken Walnut Knishes.


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How I Roll

Jelly Roll with Rhubarb Jam

Jelly Roll with Rhubarb Jam

There it sat. Right where I left it, give or take the few inches I had slid it in either direction to get to something else. A visible reminder of my own over-reaching ambition. Would I ever actually use it?

Lest you think I am talking about a piece of exercise equipment, rest assured that I am not. I’m talking about the jar of Rhubarb Jelly I made last week. In my ambition to cook with ingredients that are fresh and local, I bought what I thought was “a little” rhubarb, and ended up with an exercise in, “Okay Smarty-Pants, now what?” a/k/a one quart of homemade jelly. Last week I baked my Mom’s jam-filled Thumbprint cookies, but they made only the tiniest of dents in my tank o’jelly.

I knew that I needed to put it to good use; indeed its fiery, ketchupy, redness practically demanded a return in front of my camera, like some botanical Norma Desmond ready for its close up.

If you read my blog last week, I can almost hear the “sssshhhh” of your pants /skirt / pajamas as you slide down in your chair thinking, “Aw jeez, again with the Rhubarb Jelly?” Fear not. This is less about the jelly and more about the use.

Let me make the briefest of detours now to correct myself. Even though I refer to it as jelly, what I made is actually jam, the difference being that jelly uses only the juice of the fruit; jam uses the entire fruit, seeds and all. By nature, it would seem to me that there could not be such a thing as Rhubarb Jelly: ever tried to juice a rhubarb?

The recent unseasonably summery weather got me to thinking of all the great things we eat during the warm weather. I was practically ready for a kitchen clambake and Strawberry Shortcake when the sixty-degree temperature returned. It’s a good thing I like the cool weather. I’ll put away my lobster bib until later.

All of this musing about hot weather food also brought to mind Jelly Roll. I can remember more than one warm Sunday afternoon meal that ended with a sticky slice of Jelly Roll. Aesthetically I doubt that there is a more humble dessert, but its humility belies a sophisticated heart. Yes, it looks humble, but there is a little technique required.

Jelly roll is known to bakers as Biscuit à Roulade, and shares a chunk of baking DNA with Ladyfingers. Ladyfingers are piped through a pastry bag. Jelly roll is made in a sheet pan and rolled unfilled just out of the oven.  This is a lesson in technique that is at once technical and chemical. If you wait until the cake cools to roll it, the sugar will have crystallized, and the cake will crack. (This same technique – and science – is used to make the little rolled “cigar” cookies.)

The cake gets it airiness because the only leavening in the batter is the air you whip into the eggs (the Kitchen Aid mixer proves to be your best mate here.) The only other technique-related task that may throw some aspiring Jelly Roll bakers is the need to separate the eggs. If you can handle that, you’re golden (and so is the cake.)

Savvy readers of Butter Flour Eggs may remember the Yule Log cake I made at Christmas. It was also a Jelly Roll, although filled with Coffee Buttercream instead of jelly, frosted to resemble a log, and decorated with Meringue Mushrooms.

I have a better reason for mentioning the Yule Log beyond just hyper linking to past glories. I realized as I was eating my slice of Jelly Roll that I was playing with my food. (I think the population of Earth is likely divided into two groups: those who play with their food and those who do not. I’m not talking about throwing my food at others, or other subversive activities. I’m talking about ritualistic eating.)

Okay, this needs explaining. I eat certain foods a certain way, all the time. Perhaps it is a mild form of O.C.D., but mild enough that if I can’t eat that food the prescribed way every time I do not feel that the world will come to an end. Examples: Bagels? I eat around the hole. Ditto donuts (on the rare occasions I eat them.) Pie? I eat the filling first, then the crust as a chaser. Soup? Crackers last—and never in the actual soup. You get the picture and probably have your own list of habits.

Jelly Roll? I was absentmindedly eating the Jelly Roll and realized that I was uncoiling it, scraping off the jelly, and eating the cake, exactly as I had done as a child. Noticing this made me think, “Maybe I’m just not that into jelly.” I mentioned this to a hungry friend whose attention skipped past my aberrant eating habits and right to making Jelly Roll. He asked, “Can you fill the Jelly Roll with Whipped Cream?”

I quickly topped that suggestion by proposing to flavor the whipped cream with my Rhubarb Jelly. Or even better: Chambord. How about a really perverse Strawberry Shortcake comprised of sliced strawberries sandwiched by two slices of the Chambord-laced whipped cream Jelly Roll? (Note that Jelly Roll’s name changes when you replace the jelly, becoming Swiss Roll.)

So if I’m just not into jelly, there’s a whole cast of characters waiting to take its place.

And, not that far off,  a whole summer to enjoy them. 


Click here for the recipes for Rhubarb Jelly and Jelly Roll.


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In A Rhubarb

Rhubarb Thumbprint Cookies

Rhubarb Thumbprint Cookies

So, this past weekend I made Rhubarb Jelly. Yes, I know: I lead an exciting life, and you’re living vicariously through me.

I’ll get to the specifics in a moment, but for now I need to explain that I ended up with a quart of jelly. I was wondering what to do with that much jelly – even several slices of toast every morning, and many cups of yogurt won’t make a dent in it. A friend recommended that I pour it into little jelly jars and give it to away at a friend’s upcoming birthday party.

Now, putting myself into my friends’ various forms of footwear for a moment, I can’t help but worry about my poor friend Mikey who is taking this whole food blogging “thing” too seriously. Did he really give everyone little jars of jelly? And what kind was it? Rhubarb??

(Okay, now I’m “me” again.) So, no little jars of jelly. I‘ll explain why I am awash in Rhubarb Jelly. I was walking through the market and saw Rhubarb. It is the first of the season, and its bright blushing glow drew my attention. I have this strange fear of the stuff. After all, it looks like celery over which a Wicked Witch has cast a spell. To top it off, you really can’t eat the stuff unless it is cooked, and to make matters worse, its leaves are poisonous.

Angry celery?

Angry celery?

All of which begs the question (in my mind, anyway): who was the first person who saw this stuff growing and decided, “Mmmmm, looks good. I think I’ll make a Strawberry and “What-Ever-That-Stuff-Is” Crisp?” I see all sorts of questionable greens growing, but my mind doesn’t make the leap to eating them. (This also makes me worry about the first person who saw Poison Ivy growing and decided to use it in a salad. This itchy scene was never documented, but I figure the same trial and error that landed me with a quart of Rhubarb Jelly also taught us to steer clear of the shiny green leaves.)

I had never made Rhubarb Jelly, but jelly is pretty simple to make. When I was a kid I remember an Aunt making jelly, but that was just the beginning. There was also the whole canning process for “putting the jelly up.” This involved boiling the mason jars, their lids and seals, and topping the filled jars with paraffin wax before closing.

I had a much smaller-scale project in mind, figuring I’d buy a few stalks of rhubarb and make enough jelly to last a few days. Lesson learned: a little rhubarb goes a long way. And the stuff isn’t cheap: at $6.99 per pound its blushing red color brought to mind precious gems like rubies.

Why jelly? Because I’ve made Rhubarb Crisps and wanted to expand my repertoire. I was also curious to see if I could answer one simple question: “What does rhubarb taste like?”

My answer: a little grassy. A hint of soapy bitterness. Very tart.  Kind of herbal in a clean kind of way. Add enough sugar and it is very sweet.

If you’ve never made jelly it’s not an understatement to declare that if you can boil water you can make jelly.

This brings us back to my original question: what should I do with all that jelly? My technique to force an answer was to stand in my kitchen and stare at the pan of cooling jelly for several minutes as if divining from a steaming ruby-tinted crystal ball.

SpryCookbookWebMaybe it was the steam or perhaps the concentrated sugar vapors, but most certainly it was the hot, jammy, fruity, smell. The latter brought me back to the days when my Mom would bake what she called “Spry Cookies.” Spry doesn’t refer to how you’ll feel when you eat the cookies; rather it refers to a long-ago departed brand of vegetable shortening. Mom’s cookies were basically a thumbprint cookie made with Spry instead of butter, and filled with the jam or jelly of her choice. (Actually I remember my Mom using Crisco, which used to confuse little me.)

The tough part is that Mom’s recipe was somehow lost in the march of time. But you and I both know that you can find anything on the internet. Sure enough a search for Spry on eBay yielded the little 1955 promotional cookbook pictured here. (It would have been a little scary to find someone selling cans of Spry, which Lever Brothers stopped making back in the 1960’s. Scary, yes. Surprising, no.)

The cookies I made, lovingly dotted with my home-made Rhubarb jelly, are not quite like my Mom’s. These are a bit cakeier, but otherwise their home-made, rather simple quality speak Grandma and picnics, and summer barbecues. They are correct in spirit if not in accuracy.

My Mom shuddered a bit when I mentioned Spry, reflecting that back in the day no one knew about trans-fats, and that people even thought it was a healthy alternative to the lard that was used before.

The good news is that nowadays we really do have healthier shortening. The brand I use (Earth Balance) is made with non-hydrogenated oils, and contains no trans-fats. (I’m not saying it is health food.)

In the meantime, dive in: the jelly’s fine.


Click here for my recipes for Rhubarb Jelly and “Spry” Cookies.


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Just Like Mother Used To Eat

Three martini lunch?

Three martini lunch?

Here at Butter Flour Eggs, my mother is Executive Vice President of Food Nostalgia. Full disclosure: before she could be lured out of retirement to take the job, I was forced to sign a contract approximately the thickness of the Manhattan phonebook that contained a waiver forbidding me from referring to her age in any way. (So read on, and you do the math.)

Mom reminded me recently of a happy food memory she has carried with her for many years. Before my parents got married she worked for one of the high mucky mucks at the State House in Boston. On the days when she felt she could slip away without any risk that the wheels of state government would grind to a halt in her absence, she’d pop over to Schrafft’s for lunch.

Schrafft’s was before my time, but a couple of years ago I read a fun little book called When Everybody Ate at Schrafft’s by Joan Kanel Slomanson. More a reminiscence than a deep dive into the sociology behind the famous chain restaurant, I learned that in spite of Schrafft’s fame as a New York chain (they were almost as ubiquitous as Starbucks are now,) the company actually had deep New England roots. In fact, the Schrafft’s sign still hangs prominently on the Charlestown, Mass. landmark building that once served as the company’s candy factory.

My mom uses the same reverent tones when mentioning Schrafft’s Cottage Pudding that she uses when talking about some of the far-flung trips she and my Dad took.

I had no idea what Cottage Pudding was, and assumed it must have been something amazing. I grilled my mom: was it like bread pudding? No. Was it like those molten chocolate cakes that I just read have been declared old hat? No. Well, what was it then?

As she explained it, Cottage Pudding was a piece of plain white loaf cake served on a plate with warm chocolate sauce.

A piece of plain cake with chocolate sauce inspires a lifetime of reverent memories in a woman who is intelligent, cultured, and well travelled? Go figure, right? But that’s food: you never know what will grab you. And who knows what kind of emotions are tied up in the food we eat. With the weight of running the Commonwealth of Massachusetts practically resting on my Mom’s shoulders, maybe Cottage Pudding was some kind of soothing comfort food. Food is a primal urge. We can’t explain it.

Actually, a nice piece of cake with some warm chocolate sauce doesn’t sound too bad, does it?

But why is it called “pudding?”

I started with a little detective work. Cottage Pudding seems to have been around for a long time before my mother found it. There is a recipe for Cottage Pudding in the early Fannie Farmer cookbooks. A lot of people remember the name Fannie (or Fanny) Farmer from the chain of candy shops that disappeared a few years back, but actually she was a prominent New England cook and teacher, and wrote one of the first cookbooks that used standard measures (i.e., cups and teaspoons) in the recipes. The recipe for Cottage Pudding in the 1918 edition of her The Boston Cooking-School Cook Book (now available on line here) is clearly for a cake.

The umbrella word that the British use for most desserts is “pudding.” If you take this somewhat wider definition of the word “pudding” into consideration, and keep in mind that Farmer was a product of the late 19th century when there was still a British colonial influence on American food you’ll see that it isn’t much of a stretch for this dessert to be called “pudding.”

I hear you: you don’t want a history lesson, you want cake and you want it NOW! Fine: class dismissed. I’m off to the kitchen. The Schrafft’s chain is long gone but Cottage Pudding lives. I’m performing CPR on it.

I have two tasks at hand. The first is to create a modern version of a “homely” old dessert. The second is to try to provide my mom with a little reunion with a consoling old friend.

The Schrafft’s book I mentioned above was a good source for the Hot Fudge Sauce recipe. It is a basic cream, butter, sugar, chocolate sauce. True to its Schrafft’s roots, the sugary sauce is very “candy-shoppe” in its influence and easy to prepare. But the book doesn’t mention Cottage Pudding, so for the cake I first considered Fannie Farmer’s recipe. It is also very basic, and is likely very simple to make. But it also seems plain to the point of being austere. I think a better challenge would be to bring a little vitality to this party while still staying within the confines of Schrafft’s reputation for plain, home-style cooking.

So I went to my old fallback recipe: Ina Garten’s Lemon Yogurt Pound Cake, which I mentioned in this space a few weeks ago. With a few changes, and perhaps a bit of cosmetic surgery, this would give me a foundation on which to build, and a chance to bring Cottage Pudding into the 21st century.

I started by scrubbing all of the lemon out of the recipe (Lemon and chocolate never seem to go well together.) But I thought the cake needed some kind of quiet counterpoint to the sticky ooze of the chocolate sauce. Vanilla seemed like the obvious choice, but not just the perfume of vanilla extract: I thought adding vanilla bean would give the cake its own vibrant personality to stand up to its overbearing saucy sister.

But how much vanilla bean? The normal rule in cooking is to start with less, because you can always add more of something but you can’t remove it. But this seemed like one time when breaking that rule was appropriate. I wanted to see what too much vanilla would taste like, so I added the contents of a whole vanilla bean.  This gave the dough an intense vanilla scent and a picturesque speckle of the little black dots from the bean.

In a nod to the current obsession with cupcakes I thought it would be fun to leave the loaf pan on its shelf for now, and try baking the dough in a muffin tin. That would accomplish portion control, yes, but also awaken the primal childhood instinct of having your very own cake (and yes, eating it too.)

My first hint that I was on the right track was the heady vanilla cloud that enveloped me and my kitchen when I opened the oven door to remove the cakes. Don’t be afraid to serve this dessert warm from the oven! The combination of warm sauce and warm cake throwing off its breathy vanilla-ness is intense. The combination of warm sauce and cool cake is equally gratifying—when the warm sauce hits the cool cake you get a slightly less aggressive vanilla hit, more like a poke on the shoulder reminding you, “I’m here too!”

By the way, Fannie Farmer recommended that the cake be served with Vanilla or Hard Sauce. Somehow it ended up at Schrafft’s served with their famous chocolate sauce. I wonder if that was Schrafft’s twist or my Mom’s? She’s been known to ask for a dollop of hot fudge sauce on everything but french fries.

Either way, my first thought on my first bite was, “Ohhhh! Ice Cream Shop!” Eat this and you are taken back in time to the cool air of a marble-lined neighborhood confectionary. I get it now, Mom. You just earned your cushy corner office.

By the way: if you’re into fondue, bake the cake in a loaf pan, cut it into cubes and serve with the hot sauce. I know fondue normally has some alcohol added: might I recommend the merest tipple of Cointreau?

And Mom? Please get back to work. That reminds me: I asked Mom what she had for lunch besides the Cottage Pudding. The famous Schrafft’s Chicken Sandwich? No. Their celebrated Lobster Newburgh? No.

Just the Cottage Pudding. That’s my Mom.

Click here for the Cottage Pudding recipe.

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