Food Friday: In Praise of Leftovers


This is a repeat of an earlier Food Friday Thanksgiving column, because we are still trying to recover from yesterday’s holiday feast. We hope you enjoyed your Thanksgiving as much as you are going to enjoy the leftovers!

And here we are, the day after Thanksgiving. Post-parade, post-football, post-feast. Also post-washing up. Heavens to Betsy, what a lot of cleaning up there was. And the fridge is packed with mysterious little bundles of leftovers. We continue to give thanks that our visiting college student is an incessant omnivore. He will plow systematically through Baggies of baked goods, tin foiled turkey bits, Saran wrapped-celery, Tupperwared tomatoes and wax papered-walnuts.
It was not until the Tall One was in high school that these abilities were honed and refined with ambitious ardor. His healthy personal philosophy is “Waste not, want not.” A sentiment I hope comes from generations of hardy New Englanders as they plowed their rocky fields, dreaming of candlelit feasts and the iPhones of the future.

I have watched towering constructions of food rise from the plate as he constructs interesting arrangements of sweet, sour, crunchy and umami items with the same deliberation and concentration once directed toward Lego projects. And I am thankful that few of these will fall to the floor and get walked over in the dark. Of course, now there is the dog, Luke, so nothing much makes it to the floor.

I have read that there may have been swan at the first Thanksgiving. How very sad. I have no emotional commitment to turkeys, and I firmly belief that as beautiful as they are, swans are mean and would probably peck my eyes out if I didn’t feed them every scrap of bread in the house. Which means The Tall One would go hungry. It is a veritable conundrum.

The Pilgrim Sandwich is the Tall One’s magnum opus. It is his turducken without the histrionics. It is a smörgåsbordwithout the Swedish chef. It is truly why we celebrate Thanksgiving. Please keep in mind that the dark ooze in the illustration of the sandwich above this story is not my rich, homemade gravy, made after many hours of precise turkey basting. It is barbecue sauce, from a bottle, without which, no decent, self-respecting Pilgrim Sandwich (in our house) is devoured. And pray note the unique side dishes: corn bread and a spare pig-in-blanket. Round One of Leftovers vs. The Tall One.

This is way too fancy and cloying with fussy elements – olive oil for a turkey sandwich? Hardly. You have to use what is on hand from the most recent Thanksgiving meal – to go out to buy extra rolls is to break the unwritten rules of the universe. There are plenty of Parker House rolls in your bread box right this minute – go use them up!

This is a recipe for simpletons. Honestly. And was there Muenster cheese on the dining room table yesterday? I think not.

And if you are grown up and sophisticated, here is the answer for you. Fancy Thanksgiving leftovers for a grown up brunch:http://www.saveur.com/article/Menu/A-Brunch-For-The-Day-After-Thanksgiving

Here are The Tall One’s ingredients for his signature Pilgrim Sandwich:
Toast (2 slices)
Turkey (2 slices)
Cranberry Sauce (2 teaspoons)
Gravy (2 tablespoons)
Mashed Potatoes (2 tablespoons)
Stuffing (2 tablespoons)
Barbecue Sauce (you can never have too much)
Bacon (if there is some hanging around)
Mayonnaise (if you must)
Lettuce (iceberg, for the crunch)
Celery stalk (more crunch)
Salt, pepper
And now I am taking the dog for a run before I consider making my own sandwich.

“The most remarkable thing about my mother is that for thirty years she served the family nothing but leftovers. The original meal has never been found. “
-Calvin Trillin

Food Friday: A Fabulist Friendsgiving


On Thanksgiving some folks enjoy football as well as the food and festivities. I am entertaining a fantasy gathering of my own devising – some writers and cooks who would bring an element of élan, as well as elegance, to any meal. I wasn’t alive for the Algonquin Roundtable. I was too young for Warhol’s Factory. I didn’t go to Harvard, so no Lampoon for me. And now, aging and terminally uncool, I live oh so far, far away from hipster Brooklyn to even qualify for a walk-on bit on Girls. I am sadly suburban. At least I can cast my own fabulist get together. Here is how Friendsgiving could be at my house.

“Food is an important part of a balanced diet,” announces Fran Lebowitz as she swings open the front door. The next one on the doorstep is John Cheever. “I’ve always had a great many cocktails before Thanksgiving dinner, and I have no intention of changing my habits until I have to.” He moves swiftly to the improvised bar in the corner of the living room. I hear ice clinking in his Delmonico glass.

A John Cheever Whiskey Sour
3 ounces whiskey
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon superfine sugar
3 ice cubes
1 orange peel
1 Maraschino cherry

Our wise and level-headed friend Amanda Hesser, from Food52, has this sage advice for a Friendsgiving meal: “Plan for your turkey to finish roasting 2 hours before dinner so you can carve it, arrange it on a platter, dampen it with some gravy, and simply rewarm it in the oven 15 minutes before you serve it. See how it lowers your blood pressure and frees up your oven! Sit down and have a cocktail with everyone!” Cozily, she and John Cheever have their stocking feet up on the ottoman, laughing heartily.

Hovering in the kitchen, and peering disappointedly into the oven at the roasting turkey is Calvin Trillin, “I have been campaigning to have the national Thanksgiving dish changed from turkey to spaghetti carbonara,” he says to an attractive dark-haired woman. “Everything you see I owe to spaghetti,” Sophia Loren confides. They clink their John Cheevers.


Calvin and Sophia engage Nora Ephron in a lively discussion about the mashed potatoes. She confesses in a conspiratorially fashion, “I have made a lot of mistakes falling in love, and regretted most of them, but never the potatoes that went with them.” A.A. Milne and Piglet are sitting at the kitchen counter, earnestly nodding in agreement. “If a man really likes potatoes, he must be a pretty decent sort of fellow,” they chime in. Giggling. Oh, my.


Martha, that showoff, has brought two kinds of stuffing. Which is a good thing, because I won’t eat the one with oysters. http://www.marthastewart.com/1038818/oyster-and-cracker-dressing Give me cornbread and sausage stuffing any day! http://www.marthastewart.com/337095/cornbread-and-sausage-stuffing Her apron matches her potholders and the curtains she has just installed in the kitchen. Jonathan Swift is trailing Martha rather closely. I hope he hasn’t knocked back too many John Cheevers!
“He was a bold man that first ate an oyster,” he murmurs knowingly into her shell-like ear…

In charge of the dinner rolls is James Beard, who pronounces over the hum of the cocktail enthusiasts: “Good bread is the most fundamentally satisfying of all foods; good bread with fresh butter, the greatest of feasts!” He deposits a large breadbasket on the sideboard, and adds a dish of the best butter, too. He samples a roll, and nods approvingly, before gliding over to the bar.

Carl Sagan is holding court near the sideboard, slyly eyeing the desserts.“If you wish to make an apple pie truly from scratch, you must first invent the universe,” he announces to Neil Degrasse Tyson. Robert Krulwich and Jad Abumrad eavesdrop wildly. Too many John Cheevers in this corner of the room!

Apple pie, by Sam Sifton: http://cooking.nytimes.com/recipes/12320-apple-pie

Erma Bombeck and Julia Child stand by a bookcase, assessing our collection. “What we’re really talking about is a wonderful day set aside on the fourth Thursday of November when no one diets. I mean, why else would they call it Thanksgiving?” asks Erma. Julia, enthuses, “People who love to eat are always the best people.” Garrison Keillor, who is never a man to tolerate a moment of deadening silence adds, “Sex is good, but not as good as fresh, sweet corn.” He is smug when they assent.

As we walk in to dinner I heard Cesar Chavez opine to Woody Guthrie, “If you really want to make a friend, go to someone’s house and eat with him… the people who give you their food give you their heart.”

Have a wonderful Friendsgiving!

“After a good dinner one can forgive anybody, even one’s own relatives
–Oscar Wilde

It’s Friday the 13th – Kitchen Disasters Ahead!


With Thanksgiving and Christmas and other major food fests coming swiftly at us, not to mention ritual workplace cookie-exchange season, our lives are about to get more kitchen-centric than usual. And more time spent in the kitchen means the odds of cooking disasters are greatly increased. There must be an insurance actuary who can give us the real statistics, but I would say that for every dozen batches of sugar cookies, at least 17% will scorch. For every ten turkeys roasted, 2.75 will be overdone. For every 144 dinner rolls baked, someone will forget 22% of the time that the recipe called for baking powder, not baking soda.

Life is about to get messy, and here are a few helpful household hints to get you through this Kitchen Season. Martha may have some fancier solutions, so be sure to look them up on her website. But I think more practical advice comes from my wise and sagacious friend Chris, who advises that you should always keep a Stouffer’s family-sized lasagna in the freezer in case of a major disaster. A word from the wise!

Too much salt in the soup:
Toss in a boiled potato, which should act like a sponge and soak up extra salt. If you don’t keep spare boiled potatoes hanging about, use a bag of instant rice – keeping the rice in the bag. Or you can cook the rice, purée it, and add it to your soup a tablespoon at a time.

Overbeaten egg whites:
Always add a few drops of lemon juice to prevent over-beating your egg whites. Note to self – keep lemons on hand.

Lumpy gravy:
Pour the cumbersome gravy into a food processor or blender and purée until smooth (you may need to add some warm broth). Be sure the lid of the blender is on tight – you do not want to wipe gravy splatters off your cabinets on Thanksgiving. Alternatively, try using a whisk. The beating should eliminate lumps and frustration. A spa treatment for the harried cook!

Burnt pie crust:
Cut off the burnt bits, or file them down with a nutmeg or cheese grater. They do things like that on The Great British Bake Off all the time! And if it is a sweet pie, you can never go wrong with the judicious application of artistic whipped cream. If it is a meat pie, try masking with some scrumptious bacon. Keep copious amount of heavy cream and bacon on hand.

Forgot to buy buttermilk?
Use regular milk, but add a couple of tablespoons of lemon juice or vinegar to sour the milk.

Too spicy?
Dairy is always the answer. Cut the spiciness in a sauce, chili, or soup by stirring in plain yogurt, sour cream, buttermilk or cream. Add some dark chocolate to chili. Note to self: stock up on dark chocolate.

Sticky rice?
If it is only a little bit sticky you can toss it in a colander and rinse it under some warm water, and use your fingers to separate the grains. Remember that Julia Child believed that you can work miracles in the privacy of your own kitchen.

Overcooked meat?
The best way to fix overcooked beef or chicken is to add some liquid. Place the meat in a casserole dish and pour in a few cups of hot chicken or beef broth, cover it, and let it sit. This might not work at Thanksgiving (or Christmas) when people have rather stereotypical notions of how Norman Rockwell would serve the meat, but you are creative! Keep lots of broth on hand, just in case.

Too much salad dressing?
Put the salad in a clean bowl. Add more salad. Or you can run it in a salad spinner. Better yet, keep the salad dressing in a cruet on the table, and let folks dress their own salads. All the skinny minis will prefer it that way.

Broken Cakes or Cookies?
When the cake crumbles as it you take it from the pan, or the dog knocks over the platter where the cookies are cooling, snatch up as many as you can before the dog gets them, and layer the broken bits in parfait glasses, alternating with swathes of whipped cream and all that fresh fruit you are keeping for just such an emergency.

You can cover for almost any natural cooking disaster with a good story, wine and whipped cream. But don’t serve undercooked meats or anything that smells odd. Use a meat thermometer. And get the Stouffer’s lasagna out of the freezer, and place it lovingly in the oven. It will be a memorable event, and it might well get you out of having to entertain all the relatives for a few years.

• Read the recipe before you begin cooking.
• Make sure you have all the ingredients or substitutions on hand. Check for lasagna.
• Set a timer.
• Don’t measure ingredients over the cooking pot or the mixing bowl. Gravity is a natural ally of cooking disasters.
• Always know where the dog is. Luke the wonder dog managed to snatch a slice of pizza from a china plate on the kitchen counter the other day. Without moving the plate! I didn’t even hear his doggy chortles of delight as he scarfed the slice down, and I was just in the next room!What an amazing skill set that dog has! Imagine what he could do to a plate of cookies, or a resting, recently roasted turkey!

“Maybe the cat has fallen into the stew, or the lettuce has frozen, or the cake has collapsed. Eh bien, tant pis. Usually one’s cooking is better than one thinks it is. And if the food is truly vile, then the cook must simply grit her teeth and bear it with a smile, and learn from her mistakes.”
― Julia Child

Food Friday: Cocktails from Beyond


At first I was going to put together a compendium of disgusting Halloween-themed cocktails that involved pumpkin flavored vodka, and chocolate martinis, olive and lychee eyeballs, and a lot of dry ice for special effects. Nonsense. I finally came to my senses when I wandered down the garden path of idle curiosity, which as you know, has a deleterious effect on cats. Instead I wondered about what we could offer to our favorite dead writers, should they come a-calling this Saturday night, when the adults will reclaim Halloween as their own. While not exactly the Proustian query posed by Vanity Fair every month, this is a broad survey of some writers I think would be amusing at a ghostly Halloween cocktail party.

Noel Coward said that the perfect martini could be made by “filling a glass with gin then waving it in the general direction of Italy”. Fill your glasses and join me on our ghoulish visit to a moonlight cocktail party. No enchanted cocktail hour would be complete without Ernest Hemingway, who tops every dead-writer-cocktail-survey I encountered. His poor mother. I have been to his house in Key West and skritched some of his cats with their polydactyl toes. The house has some admirable verandahs, which shriek out for a séance and Coward’s Madame Arcati inviting our favorite roués and decorous dead to join us once more for some ocean breezes and Bloody Marys. http://www.hemingwayhome.com/

“To make a pitcher of Blood Marys (any smaller amount is worthless) take a good sized pitcher and put in it as big a lump of ice as it will hold. (This to prevent too rapid melting and watering of our product.) Mix a pint of good Russian vodka and an equal amount of chilled tomato juice.
Add a tablespoon full of Worcestershire Sauce. Lea and Perrins is usual but you can use AI or any good beef-steak sauce. Stir. (with two rs) Then add a jigger of fresh squeezed lime juice. Stir. Then add small amounts of celery salt, cayenne pepper, black pepper. Keep on stirring and taste to see how it is doing. If you get it too powerful weaken with more tomato juice. If it lacks authority add more vodka.” https://www.thrillist.com/vice/ernest-hemingway-s-favorite-drinks-with-quotes-whiskey-wine-absinthe-bloody-marys

Bob your hair, rouge your knees, and get out your ropes of pearls. Scott and Zelda have arrived in Key West. The Fitzgeralds were very, very fond of Gin Rickeys. We can swoop around the porches, imagining our own jazzy music, swaying with the palm tress, drinking these sweet concoctions: http://on.aol.com/video/f–scott-fitzgeralds-gin-rickey-recipe-and-bukowskis-boilermaker-517940317 Whatever gin they have not reserved for their infant daughter’s night time bottle, we can spirit away to make Gin Rickey cocktails.

John Cheever’s specter conjures up a solemn progression of cocktails. Avoid him, because he will want to go swimming. Instead, let’s look for Evelyn Waugh, who is merrily mixing some of his favorite stingers at the bar. I can summon up the image of the angelic Cary Grant, ordering a round of them for the flock of church ladies, crowding his tête-à-tête luncheon with Loretta Young in The Bishop’s Wife. Stingers are deadly. Trust me. I have been stung.

Evelyn Waugh’s Stinger

2 ounces brandy
¾ ounce crème de menthe
½ ounce dry vermouth or bourbon

Directions: Shake with ice. Pour into a chilled martini glass or Old Fashioned glass.

Sad ethereal wraith Carson McCullers has been hard at it since breakfast. Her tea packs a deadly punch:

Long Island Iced Tea Recipe

1⁄2 ounce gin
1⁄2 ounce vodka
1⁄2 ounce tequila
1⁄2 ounce. light rum
1⁄2 ounce Cointreau
3⁄4 ounce lemon juice
Top with cola
Lemon wedge

Pour all ingredients except cola and garnish into a cocktail shaker filled with ice cubes. Shake, and then strain into a Collins glass filled with ice cubes. Add cola until color of tea. Garnish with lemon wedge. Serve with two straws.

Edna St. Vincent Millay was very fond of the Between the Sheets cocktail. This party could be getting interesting.

3/4 ounce brandy
3/4 ounce light rum
3/4 ounce triple sec
1/2 ounce lemon juice
Lemon twist for garnish


Dorothy Parker and the Algonquin set are cackling over a hot Ouija board in the corner. Their Whiskey Sours have been evaporating by the pitcher-ful. “I wish I could drink like a lady. I can take one or two at the most. Three and I’m under the table. Four and I’m under the host.” http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/ina-garten/fresh-whiskey-sours-recipe.html

Rushing out from the eternal New Yorker magazine offices in the sky, Mr. E.B. White shares his favorite Martini recipe: “Equal parts lime juice, apricot brandy, honey, and dry vermouth. Stir this all together (you only need a tiny amount of the whole business), then add 4 times the amount of gin. Plenty of ice, stir, and serve.” Wowser. Three martini lunches, indeed! http://paperandsalt.org/2012/03/08/the-cocktail-hour-e-b-white/

There is a whole lot of gin going on at this imaginary party. Since Halloween falls on a Saturday this year, Mr. Friday and I will chill a charming bottle of Prosecco, and sit on the balcony and watch the little hobgoblins and ghosts bob about in their Halloween euphoria. The ghostly writers and folks from my imagination are having a little shindig at the cemetery if you’d like to go out and meet them. They are just dying to see you.

“I began to think vodka was my drink at last. It didn’t taste like anything, but it went straight down into my stomach like a sword swallowers’ sword and made me feel powerful and godlike.”
― Sylvia Plath

Food Friday: Time Travel is All in Your Head


There are as many schools of thought about macaroni and cheese as there are pasta shapes. I am famously fond of Kraft Macaroni and cheese because, like Proust’s petite madeleine, it immediately transports me back to a Washington College dorm in the 1970s and I am cooking with Shirl. Cue Steely Dan! We don’t need a flux capacitor or a DeLorean to engage in a little slick time travel. We have cheesy special effects in our very own home kitchens.

But feed me a lumpy béchamel sauce and I am flung backward in time and am struggling in the Home Economics kitchen in Dolan Junior High, where I could not sew an apron, and they wouldn’t let me take print shop because I was a girl. I can still seethe with righteous adolescent resentment! http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/white-sauce-or-bechamel-sauce-40046

First, as I was taught in that nightmarish home ec class, you must add salt the macaroni water. And do not even think about adding oil to the water! I stopped Mr. Friday from making this egregious mistake last week. (Shop class must have addled his brain!) The salt flavors the macaroni (or the pasta if you are playing sophisticated grown up cook), and while he misguidedly believed that adding the oil to the water would keep the macaroni pieces from sticking together. What he didn’t realize is that it would be like slathering on a Teflon coating, and none of the precious cheesiness would be able to penetrate the tender, suggestible, easily transmuted macaroni.

In my youth I also entertained a fondness for Stouffer’s macaroni and cheese, found in the freezer section. I liked it best with a thick coating of black, carbonized cheese, scorched over the surface of the rectangular individual pan. I attribute this to cooking in a toaster oven, which could also make frozen pizzas taste hellishly good. I like some things burnt and crispy, and mac and cheese is a dish redolent with crunchy memories. Which is why Amanda Hesser’s Baking Sheet Macaroni and Cheese is brilliant! https://food52.com/recipes/2534-baking-sheet-macaroni-and-cheese Everyone gets a generous serving of crunchy cheesy goodness without the carbon build up.

Monday nights were mac and cheese nights when the Pouting Princess and the Tall One were still living under our roof. Sadly, they have flown the coop, and we are left to figure out something for dinner that won’t be too tempting – those 10,000 steps daily won’t get any easier if we keep scarfing down the kazillion calorie Velveeta mac and cheese from our childrens’ childhoods. Rachel Ray shows us the slimming way: http://www.rachaelraymag.com/recipe/skinny-fettuccine-alfredo/

Here is a recipe I pull up when we are throwing caution to the wind, and want a carb-laden dinner after having a rather too-vigorous Monday:

3 tablespoons melted butter
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
3 cups uncooked pasta (penne, elbow, ziti)
3 cups scalded milk
2 cups grated cheese (Cheddar, Monterey Jack, Munster)
1 cup grated Velveeta (we use Gruyère now)
½ teaspoon chicken bouillon (paste from a jar or that new Knorr Homestyle Stock)
A pinch of salt
A pinch of cayenne

Melt butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Sprinkle the flour over the butter. Cook, stirring constantly, for about 2 minutes. In a large saucepan, cook the roux for about two minutes, add scalded milk and chicken bouillon, stir constantly bringing it to a boil – just. Add grated cheese and Velveeta (or the Gruyère), lower the heat and cook until the cheese has melted and the sauce is smooth and creamy. Set aside. Boil the pasta in salted water, stirring occasionally, until done. Drain the pasta, and pour it into the saucepan with the cheese mixture. Let stand for about 5 minutes, stirring every once in a while. The cheese mixture will thicken as it blends with the pasta. We like to serve it with a little cloud of fresh shaved Parmesan cheese on top. And some black pepper, too.

I have always been a little leery of the Southern breadcrumb variations and other add-on ingredients. (I can be an obnoxious purist for the most inconsequential of windmills.) I also have doubts about the addition of truffles, lobster, pimento, crabmeat, Andouille sausage or jalapenos. But what can you expect from someone who would happily eat leftover Thanksgiving turkey on Pepperidge Farm white bread with Hellman’s mayonnaise three hundred and sixty-five days a year? Luckily the folks at About Food are a little more epicurean and open-minded: http://southernfood.about.com/od/macaroniandcheeserecipes/r/classic-macaroni-and-cheese.htm

We are linked to the past through some of our earliest recollections of meals and smells and people we love and unfolding events. Go rustle up a nice warm sheet of crunchy mac and cheese, invite someone over to dinner and make another happy memory. Cue Steely Dan.

“Part of the secret of a success in life is to eat what you like and let the food fight it out inside.”
–Mark Twain

Food Friday: Pie Alert!


News flash! Run out this very minute and get your pumpkin for Thanksgiving! I have just read that there will be a national pumpkin shortage soon because of a very wet spring growing season. (I have also read that this is practically an annual event…) Libby’s will be running short, and will not ship any more cans of pumpkin goo after the early part of November, until next year’s harvest.

Stock up now or start making other plans for Thanksgiving.

We haven’t had pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving in a very long time, because Mr. Friday isn’t fond of it. But the Pouting Princess chimed in recently to say that she likes pumpkin pie. I guess I can thank college cafeteria experiences for opening up vast avenues of food possibilities for the young. So we will have a pumpkin pie this year, as well as the traditional and festive Key Lime pie and chocolate pudding pie.

Pies are eminently versatile and are suitable for many occasions. They are perfect one-dish meals, or they can be dessert. We once knew people who did not like cake, so they would have pies to celebrate family birthdays. Very odd, indeed. How can you not like cake?

We had chicken potpie last night. It was warm and comforting after a long day in the art salt mines, banging my head against the computer screen, and walking the indefatigable dog for five and a half miles. When Mr. Friday came home there was the homey scent of baking in the air, that wasn’t redolent of wet dog and leaves and artistic angst. Putting the pie together was relaxing and enjoyable, unlike some of the nights when I can barely flip a hamburger. There is nothing quite so satisfying as crimping a little piecrust to give one a sense of purpose and accomplishment. It is not quite nirvana, but I did feel a little smug when I took the gleaming, honey-colored pie out of the oven.


In my youth my mother would bake lemon meringue pies and Key Lime pies from powdered Jell-o mixes. I was pretty sure that Key Lime pie was supposed to be Day Glo chartreuse. Travel is wonderfully educational. The Tall One was a camp counselor in the Florida Keys one summer, and we were introduced to real Key Lime pie. Which is not chartreuse, and is not covered with a fussy many-peaked meringue as prepared by my sainted mother. Key Lime pie, made with real Key Lime Juice, is sort of pale yellow (in a glaucous way), and is dressed with a smackeral of whipped cream. And it has a graham cracker crust – not flour and butter rolled out to circular perfection and crimped with a fork. What an amazing and varied world of pie experiences there is! And how tasty is nostalgia?

As there are precious little cupcakeries, there are places that specialize in pies. I fell into the Little Pie Company website yesterday. http://www.littlepiecompany.com/
While watching their charming little infomercial I suddenly wanted to hand toss cinnamon coated apple slices in a huge stainless steel bowl, and bake half a dozen pies. Maybe I will surprise Mr. Friday with an apple pie on Friday night, and not the customary weekly pizza pie!

Bon Appetit has suggestions for baking many savory pies, which will be my next seasonal culinary obsession. Had I not shopped already for my boring old chicken pie, I would have lingered a while longer in the produce department and picked up some leeks to bake Cock-a-Leekie Pie. Yumsters! And since I was in kitchen denial for the entire summer I had forgotten about Shepherd’s Pie! The cooler weather is going to bring out plumper people in this family, even if we are walking the dog more diligently.

Our friends at Food52 also have quite a few autumn pie ideas up their sleeves. https://food52.com/contests/173-your-best-autumn-pie I think the Brown Butter and Cheddar Apple Pie has more promise than the high falutin Himalayan Blackberry pie, but call me pedestrian. There certainly are enough pies to keep your enthusiasm stroked for a long autumn of pie baking. (And you can see the fancy recipe I entered in the Best Autumn Pie Contest! https://food52.com/recipes/6751-caramelized-pear-pie-with-streusel-topping-by-ntr)

One of my favorite episodes of the X-Files is Jose Chung from Outer Space, wherein Special Agent Mulder sits at the counter of a diner and peppers the server with questions, while ordering slice after slice of sweet potato pie, until he has eaten a whole pie. Skills.

“Cut my pie into four pieces, I don’t think I could eat eight.”
― Yogi Berra

Food Friday: Pumpkin Spice Latte Season


It is the beginning of the false holiday cheer imposed upon coffee drinkers by the folks at Starbucks. They have rolled out their annual Pumpkin Spice Latte season, and this year they have added actual pumpkin to the lattes! In addition to the corn syrup and cinnamon and nutmeg and milk, now you can have actual pumpkin imbued in your over-priced, warmish morning beverage.

It is also National Dessert Month! Yesterday, at the grocery store I saw Pumpkin Spice Crème Oreos! Is nothing sacred, or holy?
Heavens to Betsy!

However shall we deal with two such odd food products? We can retaliate on a small scale, and retreat to our own kitchens and bake. The Great British Baking Show on PBS has been so delightful, even though they haven’t dealt with pumpkins, as far as I have seen. So you can wander away from the bake your own creation burgeoning with Cream Pat and short crust. I am going celebrate the season with some pumpkin cupcakes.

The folks at the Slate Culture Gabfest had Dan Pashman on their podcast this week. He has a very amusing food and eating podcast called The Sporkful. He says there is no shame in buying cans of pumpkin purée. It is easier than homemade, and just as tasty. Though he is no pumpkin pie purist. He prefers to stir his mashed up pie bits into a bowl of partially melted vanilla ice cream, with an extra dusting of cinnamon. So decide to which school you belong – the hard-working and industrious, with a soupçon of dreamy traditionalist, or just a lazy damn git like the rest of us who wants a nice, warm spicy cupcake sooner rather than later?


The pure of heart read on, the rest of us can skip down.

Pumpkin Purée
3 pounds sliced pumpkin
½ cup water

Preheat the oven to 375°F and put the pumpkin chunks on a cookie sheet with sides or a big sheet cake pan – skin-side down or up – it doesn’t matter.

Pour the water in the pan. Roast for 45 minutes until fork tender.

Remove the pumpkin from skin when it is still warm. Purée in a food processor or blender until it is smooth. Store it in a container in the fridge for about a week or freeze some of it for a later use.

I am a big fan of cupcakes. They are small, sweet and finite. We don’t live in a big hipster city, so I haven’t experienced many artisanal bakeries that specialize solely in cupcakes. Cupcakes are a temptation you don’t have to resist; they are a perfect form of portion control. Plus you can enjoy delicately peeling away the fluted paper cup, and remember that it is a lifelong skill you mastered in first grade, perhaps.

Here is a family-sized recipe for pumpkin cupcakes.

Pumpkin Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting
Makes 18
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon coarse salt (we like crunchy Maldon salt)
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
4 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 can (15 ounces) pumpkin purée (but you have yours safely tucked up in the fridge!)

Preheat oven to 350°F. Line cupcake pans with paper liners; set aside. In a medium sized bowl, whisk flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and allspice together and set aside.

In a big bowl, whisk the sugars, butter, and eggs. Add dry ingredients, and whisk until smooth. Stir in the pumpkin purée.
Divide batter evenly among liners, I use a plastic measuring cup, either the quarter cup or the third of a cup, depending on the size of the cupcake. (Too much math for me to figure out mini cupcake measurements, though. You will need to eyeball those.) Fill them each about halfway. Bake until tops spring back when touched, or if the toothpick comes out clean, 20 to 25 minutes. Let the pan cool on a rack.

It is the taste of pumpkin pie without the holiday trappings or in-law trauma!

Cream Cheese Frosting
1/2 cup of butter (1 stick, 4 ounces), room temperature
8 ounces of Philadelphia cream cheese (1 package), room temperature
2 to 3 cups of confectioners’ sugar
1 teaspoon of vanilla – pure extract – no imitation!

Use an electric mixer and beat the cream cheese and butter together until completely smooth, about 3 minutes on medium speed. Then use a rubber spatula to scrape down the sides of the mixing bowl to be sure that the mixture is evenly mixed.

Beat in the vanilla. With the mixer running, slowly add in the powdered sugar. Confectioners’ sugar has cornstarch that will help thicken the frosting, as well as making it sweet. Keeping adding confectioners’ sugar until the frosting is thick enough to schmear in a satisfyingly artistic fashion across the tops of the cupcakes.

Decorate with abandon. Candy corn or sprinkles are encouraged, or the edible dragées, the silver ball bearings that Doctor Who so adores. http://www.fiction-food.com/2013/08/rose-cupcakes-w-edible-ball-bearings.html

“We fancy men are individuals; so are pumpkins; but every pumpkin in the field goes through every point of pumpkin history”
Ralph Waldo Emerson

Food Friday: Smoke Alarm Chicken


We have recently moved into a small apartment building in the downtown of a very small town. We have abandoned our formerly louche suburban ways and are resolutely seeking to become urban animals. While happy to be rid of some tasks – mowing the lawn and calling the calling the plumber ourselves, we are still experiencing a little settling in period.

Living in an apartment building is kind of like dorm living again. We cannot grill on the balcony. On the other hand, there is no gang bathroom. But there is staircase etiquette, and learning how loudly we can play music.

It is vaguely surreal, mostly because we have obviously woken up in a badly written sitcom. Just like on The Big Bang Theory, the elevator is perpetually out of order. Our wacky, busy body next-door neighbor tells me there are 21 steps. I haven’t counted, yet. So all the groceries need to be hauled upstairs in re-useable shopping bags – now I have to weigh the logistical benefits of buying heavy one-get-one-free cantaloupes.

The wacky, busy body neighbor has super-power hearing; she springs out of her apartment door when we are tippy toeing past. She also button holes us by the front door, in the lobby, and out by the car. She invited us to dinner once because she had bought 25 pounds of shrimp. Luckily, we had other plans. I can only imagine how one person can possibly consume 25 pounds of shrimp.

The other folks in the building are an interesting assortment. Across the hall is the plucky young single mother, with a vocal two year-old. We can keep track of their comings and goings by the Doppler effect of Emily’s protests. The other apartment is empty, though realtors stomp through a few times a week. We live above a dress shop where everyone seems to have a hilarious time, all day long. They clear out at 5. And the winsome tyke and her mother live over a fudge shop – whose door I have only darkened once, just to be polite. The temptation is fierce!

Some people collect shoes. Some people amass handbags. Some people hoard sterling silver. Here, on our small scale cooking program, I like roast chicken recipes. There is nothing I like better than chicken and rice and a little salad, adding my requisite cheap plonk and some candles. Perfection! So I will risk boring you again with my latest find from Mark Bittman.

Simplest Roast Chicken
Yield 4 servings
Time 50 to 60 minutes

• 1 whole chicken, 3 to 4 pounds, trimmed of excess fat
• 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
• Salt and freshly ground black pepper
• 1. Put a cast-iron skillet on a low rack in the oven and heat the oven to 500 degrees. Rub the chicken all over with the oil and sprinkle it generously with salt and pepper.
• 2. When the oven and skillet are hot, carefully put the chicken in the skillet, breast side up. Roast for 15 minutes, then turn the oven temperature down to 350 degrees. Continue to roast until the bird is golden brown and an instant-read thermometer inserted into the meaty part of the thigh reads 155 to 165 degrees.
• 3. Tip the pan to let the juices flow from the chicken’s cavity into the pan. Transfer the chicken to a platter and let it rest for at least 5 minutes. Carve and serve.

(I left the chicken in the 350°F oven for about 45 minutes. But I like my chicken a little dry. The same way I enjoy a really carbonized hockey puck of a grilled hamburger. Cue the studio canned applause!)



The moment we came to endear ourselves to our new neighbors was about 10 minutes into the 500°F part of the cooking, when the air in the kitchen was beginning to get a little bit hazy. I opened the oven door to check on our incendiary dinner device. A billowing cloud of olive oil smoke poured out of the oven and instantly set off the bright new sparkly smoke alarm. Whoops! Luckily Rob Petrie was quickly roused from his easy chair, neatly avoided the ottoman, and disarmed the alarm. I didn’t hear any laugh track erupting from next door. I hope Mrs. Kravitz wasn’t taking a nap.

And I hope she is ready to put up with a winter of our smoke alarm chicken content, because it was a damn fine roast chicken, and it has found a place on our list of our favorite easy peasy recipes.

We even have the requisite cute sitcom pet. Since we cannot let Luke the wonder dog out the back door for a quick break any more – we have to trot him off to a stand of weeds in the parking lot or don raincoats and wellies and do the full circuit in the pouring rain. I am hoping to bump into someone soon and gain a likeable, yet flawed, kooky best friend. And if I see any Martian uncles or talking horses along the way I will be sure to tell you about it.

“I think every woman should have a blowtorch.”
― Julia Child

Food Friday: Pesto Panache



I fear my my dramatic farewell to the carefree summer days (and nights) of avoiding kitchen tasks which involved actual cooking was a tad premature. The weather has not changed dramatically in a week. Oh, yes, there have been thunderstorms, but it is still rather warm out there, as you may have noticed. So I might be extending my kitchen boycott until the leaves change and the temperatures cool. Autumn does not officially begin until September 23, so let’s take advantage of this loophole and hang out on the back porch, chatting and sipping our cheap white wine for just a little while longer. Maybe we can procrastinate and gossip until the first snowflake wafts down from lofty nimbostratus clouds. Let the summer linger.

There are three pots of basil sitting on our kitchen windowsill. A sniff of a crumpled basil leaf can transport you to your own private Italian daydream. In winter it can be as heady an aroma as freshly cut grass on a warm day. You can have summer at your beck and call. A handful of basil leaves can liven up any bland bag salad with alacrity. Or you could make a nice, fresh, easy peasy homemade pesto. Do not buy the overpriced and over-processed dreck in plastic tubs at the grocery store! Harvest your own basil, or buy a nice bunch of it from the farmers’ market! Get cracking!

Pesto is the perfect distillation of basil, cheese, nuts, olive oil, and garlic. A pesto sauce makes for a quick and easy pasta dinner. We have spread a pesto concoction on bland chicken boneless breasts that cook quickly in the oven. We have slathered it on sandwiches, stirred it into eggs, dipped our fries into it, and swirled it into muffins and drizzled it on pizza. Pesto is our friend.

And if you don’t have your own herbaceous windowsill, do not despair. If you have a handful of fresh parsley in the fridge you can still construct a deelish pesto. You can even try arugula, spinach or cilantro. Green is good. Quite often I don’t bother with pine nuts which can be expensive and hard to find, and use walnuts, or nothing at all. Shhh. Plus you can make pesto ahead of time and keep some in the fridge for a few days so you have a little insurance when you drag in after a long day communing with your computer screen. Add some pasta, a little chicken, some ripe tomatoes, olive oil, bread and some Bobby Mondavi, and you are a blinking kitchen genius. You can even freeze pesto: http://www.theyummylife.com/How_to_make_Pesto

Back in the old days we used a mortar and pestle for preparing the basil. I still don’t have a food processor, but I use a tiny ancient 1-speed immersible hand mixer, which also has an attachment with a chopping bowl. It is quite tiny, but it makes a lot of pesto. But if you have a food processor you have no excuses for not making gallons of fresh pesto!

Here are some pesto basics:

Pesto Crusted Chicken:

Here is a veritable compendium of fantastic thing to do with pesto: http://www.buzzfeed.com/lincolnthompson/28-of-the-most-delicious-things-you-can-do-with-pesto#.pfxgaNvb2

And if you have leftover pesto, don’t waste it. Use it up! http://www.bbcgoodfood.com/howto/guide/top-10-ways-use-pesto

And if you would like to plan ahead here are some tips for freezing fresh basil: http://www.thekitchn.com/3-tips-for-preserving-fresh-basil-all-year-long-tips-from-the-kitchn-207032

“Tomatoes and oregano make it Italian; wine and tarragon make it French. Sour cream makes it Russian; lemon and cinnamon make it Greek. Soy sauce makes it Chinese; garlic makes it good.”
Alice May Brock

Food Friday: What’s in Your Lunchbox?


When I was in high school, Meg LeGros sat behind me in Latin class. She had a short, dark pixie do, and she was spritely and funny and smart. She introduced me to the lifelong joys of using a Rapidograph drawing pen, and inspired yearning for her plaid, tin lunchbox, which was retro even in the Seventies. Her cute lunchbox sat on top of her pile of books as we swotted along, droning declensions and memorizing key Latin phrases that would help us sail through the SATs.

I carried an ordinary brown paper bag for my lunch. There was never anything inspired in it, I am afraid. A cheese sandwich, an orange, some squashed potato chips. Meg, who was a junior and in a much loftier social position, and a more fashionable lunch period, probably had duck sandwiches slathered with nectar, and lavish metaphors of ambrosia and rose hips tucked into waxed paper bags. I think she ended up going to Brown.

Later on, I tried to be a little more inspired with our children, who had super cute (though never retro cute) lunch boxes, with ziplock Baggies filled with sandwiches, broccoli florets, orange slices, strawberries, and Fritos. When the Tall One was in elementary school his signature sandwich was bologna on Pepperidge Farm White Bread, with his portrait squirted out in bright yellow mustard on the watermelon pink disk of processed meat: a happy face with a tangle of yellow curls. The Pouting Princess carted an endless supply of peanut butter sandwiches with disgusting tubes of squirtable pink yogurt and shimmery packs of Capri Sun juices. Bottled water didn’t become fashionable until middle school.

We tried to be healthy and of the moment, packing vegetables along with the chocolate chip cookies. We were encouraged by the schools to bring homemade cupcakes for birthday celebrations – although the store-bought variety seemed more popular among the young. And now we would not be allowed to bring peanut butter sandwiches from home. We were just ahead of the frightening peanut curve.We have a friend who is deathly allergic to peanuts, so the peanut ban makes perfect sense. These can be scary times!

Which is not to say that your lunches, and your children’s lunches, can’t be a spritely and groovy as Meg LeGros’s! Have you seen Bento boxes? Totally adorable. Meg probably has a collection of vintage ones. Even Rubbermaid is making colorful, healthy plastic (no dangerous BPA, and they can be recycled) Bento-ish boxes. They are a nightmare to keep sorted in the cabinet I must say, but their whimsical color-coding seems to cancel the annoyance.

If you have to prepare lunches for someone, say someone in kindergarten, deposit said short person in the car seat and buzz over to the grocery story. Better yet, do it on a Saturday when the farmers’ market is open, so the child meets the farmers.

Do you want an apple picked in Galena or some peaches from Sharpsburg? You choose, tiny student. Perhaps some local strawberries? Excellent idea! Shall we try some squash? Let’s put it in the little green box! Shall we make pita pizzas or ham pinwheels? What will fit in this box? Oooh, let’s try some salsa and some artisan ground corn tortilla chips (no high fructose corn syrup, please). And a few cracker nibbles spread with some of Eve’s Cheddar cheese? How delightful! Flavored water, or tap?

And you, too, Tall Reader, you can treat yourself to all these earthly pleasures. They are not only for the young. A nice packed lunch of tasty and local treats will perk up your day considerably. You can wander away from your computer, pick up your book, sit outside in the sunlight (which will be fading soon, and you need to store some up for the winter) and enjoy yourself for once. Don’t forget to pack a cupcake – homemade buttercream is the best.

Take a little time out to plan. I know. It is difficult, but the results will be beautiful and worthwhile. There is always something to see at a farmers’ market. Buy some flowers, too. We need to brighten all the corners that we can.




For you wrangling the young ‘uns:






And for the adults:


“They held their hard-boiled eggs in one hand and a piece of bread and butter in the other, munching happily. There was a dish of salt for everyone to dip their eggs into.
‘I don’t know why, but the meals we have on picnics always taste so much nicer than the ones we have indoors,’ said George.”
― Enid Blyton,