FF_Pancakes for Fat Tuesday

Food Friday: Fattening You up for Fat Tuesday

Depending on your personal philosophies you might be getting ready for Lent; challenging yourself for forty days of penance and fasting. Or you could be girding your loins for more parties and parades New Orleans-style; tossing back handfuls of King Cake, reaching up to grab another fistful of Mardi Gras beads. You might not have time (or the inclination) on Tuesday to do your full prep for Shrove Tuesday, or Fat Tuesday, which is why we have weekends.

Weekends are a natural for pancakes. And if you are trying to remove temptations from your fridge in time for Lent, this is a good weekend to get that task done. Be a hero and make stacks of pancakes, using up the eggs, butter, milk, and fatty delicious Nutella, and chocolate chips. Go through the brown sugar, the ricotta cheese, the bacon and the maple syrup. You will feel so smug and austere come Lent, because there will be no temptations left in the house. (Warning: Do not beg with Alexa to deliver another bag of Ghiradelli 70% Cacao chocolate chips through Amazon Prime Pantry on Thursday. Be strong. It’s only forty days.)

The basic ingredients of pancakes are also Christian symbols: eggs for creation, flour is nourishment, milk is purity and salt is wholesomeness. And what is miraculous is all the different ways to combine these basics into myriad clouds of airy goodness. The popular British cook Jamie Oliver has reams of pancake recipes, which can be sweet or savory, thin and crepe-like, or study and filling. I find when I eat pancakes in restaurants I can never eat a whole stack. I like the idea of delicate crepes, oozing fresh, colorful fruit. They are practically health food.


I will trip along the nostalgia trail here, and am reminded of a great pancake breakfast on vacation in Maine one summer where we tumbled a couple of handfuls of fresh blueberries picked by our own little monkey fingers into the bubbling batter. The children became instant blueberry fans, having shunning them for their six or seven years on earth. This is a song that gets airtime when the family is whipping up batches of pancakes: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y1QL_Oi56jY

When the Tall One came home from college, where he was learning how to cook and fill his own food furnace when he wasn’t studying the intricacies of macroeconomics, we were introduced to his personal philosophy that everything is better with bacon. It is an excellent belief to hold. Bacon on pancakes. Bacon in pancakes. Bacon served on the side of a stack of pancakes. He even put bacon inside the hamburger he would grill, and then top with more bacon. Yumsters.

Another college skill he acquired was flipping pancakes. I do not recall having that much time on my hands when I was in college, but the times are a changin’. The Tall One would very casually take a smallish frying pan, into which he had poured pancake batter, and after the bubbles had stopped bubbling, and the surface of the pancake was no longer shiny, he would grab the handle of the pan, twirl the pancake a little bit, rotate his wrist, and hurl the pancake up toward the kitchen ceiling. And sometimes it came down into the pan. Mostly the dog was an enthusiastic observer, and with her big soulful eyes she encouraged many hours of practice. People who have more than my checkbook math have even found the mathematical equation for the foolproof pancake flip: L = 4×H /π– D / 2
(L = hand distance from inner edge of the pancake / H = height of flip / D = diameter of pancake)

Take a walk around the Garden District before Mardi Gras: http://www.thekitchn.com/a-neighborhood-walk-in-new-orleans-the-garden-district-240402

One of our household kitchen gods, Mark Bittman, has an excellent basic pancake recipe: http://markbittman.com/everyday-pancakes/ And he even has a cornmeal variation: http://www.thekitchn.com/whole-grain-goodness-mark-bitt-137322

Bacon Pancakes: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cUYSGojUuAU
Garden and Gun has a slightly more sophisticated bacon pancake that will be perfect for an Easter breakfast: http://gardenandgun.com/recipe/cast-iron-comfort-bacon-scallion-hoecakes/

And, of course, Bon Appétit has to do it bigger and better than everyone else – Chocolate Chip Pancakes Cooked in Bacon Fat! Apparently you will not die from immediate heart failure if you use whole wheat flour. I am sure that the Tall One would just audibly roll his eyes at that nonsense, and will reach for the Bisquick box instead: http://www.bonappetit.com/story/chocolate-chip-pancakes-bacon-fat

In case you are not trying to use up whole wheat flour, and Bisquick is what you have on hand, too: http://www.food.com/recipe/bisquick-pancakes-293817

Enjoy the moment.

“My life is always more delicious when I have whiskers on my face, but that might just be because those whiskers tend to accumulate bacon crumbs and scotch, rendering them literally delicious all day long.”
― Nick Offerman

Food Friday: Prepping for Spring

Ah, February. A short month, granted, but one riddled with vagaries and inconsistencies. It’s warm and sunny one day, snowy the next. Then it is sunny and cold, then warm and rainy. So many wags have commented on the weather that I can hardly hope to contribute to the compendium in an original (or amusing) way. February: some days are warm, some days are cold.

Several times this month I have been tempted to make a vat of chili, if only for the warming exercise of standing at the stove and stirring the red mixture around and around in the pot. Those are the days when we will do almost anything to stay close to the pilot light. Chili is such a wintery meal; it’s when we pull close together in the candlelight and shrug on another sweater. We hold the chili bowls in our chilly little hands, hoping the radiant heat will warm our little bird-like bones. Brr. It is dark and freezing on chili nights.

But what about the bright, sunny day, when Luke the wonder dog and I have been walking through the neighborhood, lurking and snooping and scoping out other peoples’ gardens? When the sight of the first crocus can buoy my spirit? That is no night for heavy, winter-y chili – it is a night to celebrate the first hint of spring! It is a night for Warm Chicken Salad, with a big nod to the smart folks at Food52.

We enjoy a summertime staple meal of a BLT chicken salad, with bacon, lettuce and tomato and cool lashings of mayonnaise, but in the winter we prefer something less gauzy and breezy. Our warm chicken salad has heft and crispy potatoes, which warm the gullet and speak to the primal essence of survival. Winter is still here, Jon Snow, but spring is not far away.


We have been tinkering with the basic Food52 recipe, which is very grownup and practical. It calls for leftover chicken, from the bird you roasted in a methodical way on Sunday afternoon. And while I would like to marshal my thoughts enough to cook for a few hours every Sunday, I still have other projects which demand my attention. Soon, though.

We played a little fast and loose with the basic recipe, which is only to be expected. Use it up, wear it out, make it do, do without. I wanted to be sure that the potatoes were particularly crisp, so I fried up a couple of pieces of bacon and used the bacon fat for frying the potatoes. (I had the perfect excuse for a nice BLT lunch then, too.) We also had some leftover Italian sausage, which I tossed into the mix a few minutes before taking the pan off the stove. The sausage had enough time to reheat and get crispy around the edges, too.

If you want to organize yourself and get prepped for spring I cannot recommend too highly the newest Food52 cookbook: Food52 A New Way to Dinner: A Playbook of Recipes and Strategies for the Week Ahead. It will whip you into top cooking shape, and you will feel so responsible and methodical that it is possible to enjoy some leisure time for guilt-free snooping into your neighbors’ gardens, too. Or reading another murder mystery. Because why else do we strive for efficiency? So we have some time to savor and delight in the mundane. Go find a crocus blooming, and see how uplifted you feel.

“The true harbinger of spring is not crocuses or swallows returning to Capistrano, but the sound of the bat on the ball.”
-Bill Veeck

Food Friday: Love is in the Air

Or it could be snow. This might be a good weekend to stay in and cook. A bubbling pot of chili always radiates a nice, homey feeling. But you should be thinking about next Tuesday – hint – Valentine’s Day.

You will need to step up your cooking game for Tuesday. Because, really, who wants to go out to a crowded restaurant for an expensive and indifferent meal, when one cooked at home can be imbued with ardor? According to the Wall Street Journal , Valentine’s Day is a day when romantic gestures can be costly. The cheapest Champagne they list is a Dom Perignon, Rosé, for $795. The least expensive restaurant dinner is $395.00 per person, with wine. Heavens to Betsy! Look at all the money we have just saved!

If you cannily start to hunt and gather your ingredients this weekend, you can have a titillating Valentine’s meal at home. Mr. Friday always feigns surprise when Valentine’s Day rolls around. He assumes that it (and Christmas) should only pop up on the calendar every four years – like Leap Year, or the Olympics. So I can’t expect him to be the one scouring the cookbooks looking for a way to woo and delight me. Instead I will buy a few candles, and will stock up on some deelish Prosecco ($15.99), and Nigella and I will use the kitchen to lavish upon him some earthly delights.

Nigella Lawson has some fabulous ideas for romantic meals. One that she suggests is a simple steak for wooing a new love – because you both are nervous and giddy and clumsy and can’t handle chop sticks or French sauces. Assuming you are not dating a vegetarian, her Tagliata Steak for Two is a bold and confident approach to a first Valentine’s Night meal. http://abc.go.com/shows/the-chew/recipes/tagliata-two-nigella-lawson

We usually have steak on the weekends, cooked to Mr. Friday’s exacting standards. So I will be springing another of Nigella’s sensual entrées on him – my personal favorite – Buttermilk Roast Chicken. https://cooking.nytimes.com/recipes/7264-buttermilk-roast-chicken

My favorite meal has always been chicken and rice (except when it was spaghetti and meatballs) and I find it a familiar, yet celebratory, dish. And while the chicken is marinating in the fridge, I can chuckle to myself that I am working so hard to prepare an appetizing and enticing dinner. And it took me at least twenty years to perfect this rice recipe – but I will share it with you, Gentle Readers: prepare rice according to package directions – except use chicken broth (homemade is best, but Swanson’s will do) instead of water.

1 cup rice
2 cups water (broth)

Bring water (broth) to a boil in a small saucepan
Stir in the rice
Cover the pan, and reduce the heat and let simmer for 20 minutes, or until all the water is absorbed.

Two servings. Perfection!

Buy a bag o’salad.

Nigella is the queen of desserts. You can wander through her books and website and gain weight just by looking at the images. You might prefer her Chocolate Raspberry Shortcakes. https://cooking.nytimes.com/recipes/11688-chocolate-raspberry-shortcakes

I am going for all the gusto – and will be stirring up a Chocolate Guinness Cake. Yumsters!

And after we have consumed our swoon-worthy meal we can curl up on the sofa and watch Monday’s Stephen Colbert, which we cleverly programmed on Tivo. Romance in the 21st century.

“Love doesn’t just sit there, like a stone, it has to be made, like bread; remade all the time, made new.”
― Ursula K. Le Guin

Food Friday: Downton Abbey’s Time Travel Nachos

Gentle readers: Food Friday is away, but has rummaged around in the Way Back Machine, looking for a gentler time. We will return to the craziness of 2017 next week. In the meantime, please remember your manners, and be kind to one another; play nicely.

Lady Mary Crawley is ever so sylph-like and elegant. She looks as if she has never eaten a sandwich in her entire gloriously privileged Downton Abbey life. She appears to have wafted on from the inconvenience of Mr. Pamuk’s nocturnal death, through the reluctant courtship, growing love and untimely tragedy with young Matthew Crawley. She is now managing the fatstock sales of 1925 without capitulating to the siren song of the lowest common denominator: food. Or so you might think.

Lady Mary, leaving behind no more than a trace of her eau de cologne and the distant click of her ropes of pearls, has been glimpsed will-o-the-wisping through the servants’ hall on the rare nights of televised sport, when Mrs. Patmore prepares her renowned Time Travel Nachos. These are the nights when Mr. Carson takes off his white tie, and Mrs. Hughes loosens her stays, and Mr. Molesley lets down his dyed hair. Quick as a flash, Lady Mary samples the nachos, and then disappears back upstairs.

Mr. Barrow smiles knowingly, as he and Miss Baxter share a glass of beer, and put their hard-working feet up, enjoying the blend of hot cheeses, bean dip and the thrilling burn of the exotic jalapeño peppers. The times they are a changin’ at Downtown Abbey, and Mrs. Patmore is going to bring everyone’s taste buds screaming into the twentieth century. Just wait for their heads to explode when they get to the guacamole! So long, bubble and squeak!

Perhaps we should not share any of these recipes with Robert, (spoiler alert!) in case his ulcer blows again, but we common folk are rather fond of almost any dish that serves hot melty cheese, crispy crunchy corn chips with a slew of ingredients that could mirror the cast of characters at Downton for sheer variety and eccentricity.

The onlookers at a fatback auction are nothing compared to a hungry crowd that has gathered at your humble crofter’s cottage for the quaint American activity known as the Super Bowl. Lord Grantham, be forewarned. The game is afoot.

We here at the Spy Test Kitchens abhor soggy nachos, so we recommend making several cookie sheets worth of nachos for your Super Bowl activities. It means more time hovering in the kitchen, and maybe missing some of the commercials, but that is why YouTube was invented. This way, everyone will be sure of having nice hot, crisp and cheesy nachos. We bake ours at about 450° degrees for about 7 or 8 minutes. Don’t wander off!

Use a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper or aluminum foil for an easy clean up. Daisy has enough to do already, and doesn’t need to play scullery maid to you rude Americans. This way you can keep a continuous conga line of nachos moving up from the Kitchens through to the Great Hall.

Hint: don’t overload the chips with toppings – you’ll avoid sogginess and it is so much easier to eat lightly dressed chips with your fingers. (Don’t forget to take off your evening gloves, first.)

Here are some toppings for your own Mrs. Patmore’s delicious game day nachos:

Corn chips:
Buy them, or be prepared to spend your day hunched over a frying pan.

shredded Cheddar
Monterey Jack
Colby cheese

pulled pork
shredded rotisserie chicken
crumbled Italian sausage
browned taco meat
grilled steak

avocado slices
chopped sweet or red onions
shredded lettuce (add after cooking)
refried beans
black beans
chopped tomatoes
sliced pitted black olives
diced green, red, and yellow sweet peppers
jalapeños (use fresh – don’t use icky, pickled peppers)
fresh cilantro

To add after the nachos have come out of the oven:
shredded lettuce
sour cream

Mrs. Patmore also suggests strongly that Maryland’s Eastern Shore folks might enjoy this variation – crab and corn nachos.

8 ounces crabmeat
3/4 cup corn
1/4 cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons minced chives
1 teaspoon mustard

Spoon into tortilla scoops;
top with shredded Monterey Jack, then bake.

Mrs. Patmore knows her business!

(The Dowager Countess has already had a platter delivered to the Dower House; Violet is always planning ahead.)





Violet: “First electricity, now telephones. Sometimes I feel as if I were living in an H.G. Wells novel.”

Food Friday: The Common Cold

The temperatures have been dancing up and down, although it hasn’t seemed too much like a grim winter yet. Oh, dear. I’ve gone and offended the winter weather gods, and we will have blizzards throughout February. My apologies.

But that’s OK. I can just rack up some more quality time spent in bed, with my box of tissues, my dry up pills, and my Kindle. It is thoroughly demoralizing to be felled by a cold. Are there special colds, or just the common denominator kind? I have lived through car accidents, broken bones and childbirth, and nothing has made be feel more puny and vulnerable than a cold.

There is none of the middle-of-the-night drama of appendicitis, or the heaving violence of intestinal flu, thank goodness. I just lie against the pillows, hoping that I look vaguely like Camille, and cough cough cough. So attractive. And even more so now that my nose has gone a positively incandescent rose madder red from all the blowing. Who needs mousse? My hair stands up in spikes, all by itself.

Sadly, Luke the wonder dog speaks cough cough cough. He scuttles over from his comfy cushion in the corner of the bedroom, to sitting worriedly by my side of the bed, staring sadly at me. I wonder what doggy expletive I am shouting out to him whenever I cough. He does not react well to swearing as it is.

I let out a stream of oaths the other day when I dropped a bottle of wine, and it smashed to smithereens on the kitchen tile. Luke was so worried about that blue streak of swear words that spewed unbidden from my otherwise lady-like (Camille, remember?) lips, that he scuttled over as if he had been to blame. (I might yell at myself for stupidly dropping a bottle of cheap white wine, but I would’t yell at him. The poor dog has a misplaced sense of guilt and responsibility.) That is the sad, sincere, guilt-ridden face I see staring up at me whenever I have a coughing jag.

Luke does not let his responsibility for my cough cough coughing interfere when his internal clock announces that it is time for a walk. He might just be mutt of a dog, but he has a great facility for telling time. He might be Swiss, because at 8:00 AM, 12:01 PM and 4:59 PM he makes a dramatic show of wagging and wriggling himself about with anticipatory pleasure, insinuating himself between me and the computer, or me and the drawing table. That is very charming behavior normally, but when I have to drag the sneezy snotty cough cough coughing self out from the warm embrace of my Black Watch Pendleton blanket nest, and take someone out for walkies, I am aware of the injustice in the universe. I can hardly wait for the weekend to come, when I will either feel better, or Mr. Friday can walk Luke the wonder dog.

In the meantime, when I am not whingeing about poor, poor pitiful me, here are some things you can use to tempt your patients to consume; things that will improve their outlook and their poor raw noses.

Tissues – be sure to stock up on boxes and boxes of the kind suffused with lotion.

Fluids – Ginger ale, orange juice, Gatorade, tea

Bendy straws

Beef broth – you too, can pretend to be on the Queen Mary, wrapped in a thick wooly cruise ship rug, reclining on a spindly teak deck chair, watching for icebergs while sipping the warm broth as supplied by the nameless (yet attentive) deck hand.

Chicken noodle soup – when Mr. Friday had the cold he went through a couple of gallons of this.

Kindle, Netflix enabled or with any recent bio of Queen Victoria; the book will outlive the cold. It took me a week of steadily plowing through one biography, and King George VI had just died, and Victoria had just turned 18. If my cold worsens and I come down with pneumonia, maybe I’ll get to the wedding to poor, dear, doomed Albert.

Snacks – forbidden childhood favorites. Utz cheese balls. Yumsters.

Ice cream – for your sore throat

Drugs – you name an OTC cold remedy that we haven’t tried. Our Go To drug seems to be NyQuil, for its reliable powers to knock you out. Thank heavens. Otherwise Luke wouldn’t get a wink of sleep at night.

Here is a recipe from our clever friends at Food52. But I think you can cheat and use a can of Campbell’s. Shhh. You didn’t hear it from me! https://food52.com/blog/1395-beef-stock

“The only way to treat the common cold is with contempt.”
William Osler

Food Friday: Biscuit Basics

Welcome to the bright and shiny 2017! We are almost two weeks into the new year, and I notice that I am still writing 2016. Sigh. Even so, I am trying to carry on with my very simple and basic resolutions. I am not giving up yet. I have realized that as the bullet train of time speeds from the station, I am unlikely to eliminate my many character flaws, but at least I can start now to hydrate and walk more every day. Let’s keep it simple, and basic, and reasonable.

2016 was good for walking, I averaged about 5 miles a day. (Not every day. I encourage Mr. Friday to pick up the dog patrol on the weekends.) Now I want to cover a little more ground every day, and maybe pick up the pace. Although I must whine that when Luke is sniffing every blessed blade of grass, it takes forever to cover even two miles.

So, smugly, Luke the wonder dog and I are drinking more water (less Diet Coke, for me; Luke has never cared for it, he smirks) and walking a little bit further on our daily rounds. We are also trying to learn some new kitchen skills: I’d like to successfully master and memorize a few essential recipes: biscuits, bread, spaghetti carbonara, last week’s macaroni and cheese, chocolate ganache. Luke has his essential role down pat – he is the designated observer. He starts off at the edge of the room, and magically inches his way closer, unnoticed, until he is practically handing me spatulas and potholders. I can always count on him to know exactly where I want to step next. His GPS skills are uncanny.

And Luke has his own opinions about food prep. He likes it best when meat is involved, because he has faith in the practical application of Newtonian law regarding the gravitational field: i.e. there is nothing that I can drop that he won’t eat. Friday nights are his favorite, because on Friday nights we make pizza. His pleasure is doubled with the arrival of both pepperoni and grated cheese tumbling off the cutting board, and at his feet, no less.

Luke is a patient dog. He’ll watch even when the pickings are slim. He isn’t too excited about my latest urge to become a practiced and intuitive baker of biscuits. (I want people to say admiringly, behind my back, of course, “She has such a deft hand at biscuits. Light and airy. Deelish!”)

Luke doesn’t appreciate the significance of baking a good biscuit – do we roll or drop? Do we knead? Buttermilk or self-rising flour? Flaky or crumbly? Squares or circles? Brush with butter or milk? Biscuick or scratch? Butter or lard? Luke does like the end result, though. Particularly if bacon or sausages are involved. Just give him a biscuit, damn it.

I tried this recipe last weekend, and for the first time I have baked biscuits with layers. Well, not counting those flaky Pillsbury biscuits in the can that we had been known to serve, on occasion, just once or twice, when we lived with the eating machine known as The Tall One. Now, with this basic biscuit recipe from the New York Times, I can home bake layered biscuits, that are rolled out, and that rise beautifully. I brushed the tops with some melted butter, and scattered a generous handful of Maldon salt over the tops, too. Crunchy. Yumsters. http://cooking.nytimes.com/recipes/5997-basic-biscuits

The Tall One likes this recipe for biscuits. He is a serious eater, so I would listen to him if I were you. It requires more scientific precision than I can muster on a Sunday morning, though. I prefer to think that eventually I will memorize the other recipe so I can whip up a batch of biscuits without needing to look at the recipe. Maybe in 2018.

Flaky Biscuits by Michael Ruhlman

9 ounces flour (a scant 2 cups)
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
3 ounces chilled butter, diced
6 ounces milk

Set a mixing bowl on a scale and pour out the flour. Add the baking powder (pressed through a strainer if it’s pebbly) and salt. Weigh out the butter. Rub and pinch the butter into the flour so that the butter is well distributed and in fragments and small chunks, the largest of which are not bigger than peas. Pour in 6 ounces of milk and combine just until a dough is formed (you will see distinct whole chunks of butter in the dough). Form into a 4-inch-by-6-inch rectangle, wrap in plastic, and refrigerate for at least an hour.

Unwrap the dough and dust it with flour. Roll out the dough to about three times its size on a floured counter, board, or plastic wrap, maintaining the rectangular shape. Fold it into thirds and roll it out again (it will be more resistant and springy now). Fold it in thirds again, press it down firmly, wrap it in the plastic wrap, and refrigerate it for at least an hour or until thoroughly chilled. Repeat the procedure again. The dough is now ready to be rolled out to 1/2 inch thick and cut, or it can be folded in thirds, refrigerated, and rolled out again one more time for a total of six folds, or turns.

Cut the dough into squares or, if you like, into rounds with a ring cutter or a glass. Bake at 350°F/177°C until done, 20 to 30 minutes.


The Pioneer Woman has a great Buttermilk Biscuit recipe, with self-rising flour and homemade buttermilk, and lots of butter. You need to admire her excesses! Fabulous. http://thepioneerwoman.com/cooking/self-rising-biscuits/

Luke and I are going out to cop another couple of miles to justify all that butter.

“Hope makes a good breakfast. Eat plenty of it.”
― Ian Fleming

Food Friday: Extra Cheesy

Yes, I know we should all still be attempting to better ourselves and brighten the corners where we lurk, but we are about to get some snow, and I am switching into feral animal mode. I want to be warm and cosy, and not venture out into the cold. The last thing we need is a trip to the grocery store on slippery roads, when we could be curled up with our new Christmas books, or binge watching The Crown. We need lots of hot, gooey, creamy cheese.

Mr. Friday and I do not normally believe in kismet, because, for one thing, why haven’t we won the lottery by now? And we don’t venture far from home often, but after Christmas we took a little road trip to Raleigh, North Carolina. We probably should have been following in the footsteps of the great eater and food writer Calvin Trillin, tracking down some obscure, yet magical, backwoods barbecue, known only to the discerning and deserving. Instead we stumbled into one of Ashley Christensen’s restaurants, and were converted.

We had just read a recipe in The Wall Street Journal for the Macaroni au Gratin which Christensen prepares in her restaurant Poole’s Diner in Raleigh. Sadly, Poole’s Diner isn’t open at lunch, when we were hungrily roaming the downtown streets. We found Beasley’s Chicken + Honey, another of Christensen’s food emporia, and managed to grab a couple of stools at the crowded bar. We then devoured some fantastic fried chicken. Mr. Friday ate a quarter of a fried chicken, with a side of creamed collard greens, and I had a fried chicken biscuit, drizzled with honey and mustard, and topped with slices of pickled tomato. And since I was not driving, I managed to enjoy a rather tasty IPA. The bartender was charming. The hand lettering on the chalkboard menu was stylish. The crowd was neatly hip. The tattoos were multitudinous. And we fit in. Kismet.

Later this summer Food Friday will attempt one of the Poole’s Diner Cookbook’s fried chicken recipes. Right now we are concerned with winter comforts. We made the Macaroni au Gratin last weekend for a main dinner dish, and had the leftovers for a side dish Tuesday night. Yumsters, both times. And with a winter storm approaching, I am going to stock up.

I think the key to this dish is the cream. When I first learned how to cook macaroni and cheese in junior high school (when I wore an embarrassingly un-hip, rick-racked apron that I had sewn in Home Ec the previous year) we started macaroni and cheese off with a Bechamel sauce. Nonsense. Lumpy, flour-y, anything but indulgent creamy goodness. Go for the gusto – go for the cream. And be sure to use the best cheese you can find. I had to look up the Grana Padano called for in the recipe, and wound up using a nicely aged, hard Parmigiano-Reggiano. (I shudder now to think of all the chemical-laden boxes of Velveeta Mac & Cheese I served to the Tall One and the Pouting Princess every Monday night for their entire childhoods…)

Thrill factor: There are an enjoyable couple of moments when the macaroni au gratin is positioned briefly under the broiler. Fire! Melting cheese! Danger! Browning cheese! Sizzle! Hiss! Such is our level of enjoyment that you can see why we think it is practically a wizarding triumph for us to walk through the doors of a restaurant recently mentioned in The Wall Street Journal. I think after the snow this weekend we will have to get out more.


We bought a copy of the Poole’s Diner Cookbook, and you should, too. It will keep you from going off the rails with nonsensical New Year’s resolutions.

It probably goes to show that kismet really isn’t about having any degree of cool, but being hungry in the right place and time. And if you find yourself in Raleigh, visit any of the Christensen restaurants, and I am sure you will fulfill your own personal destiny: Poole’s Diner, Beasley’s, Bridge Club, Chuck’s, Death & Taxes, Fox Liquor Bar, and Joule Coffee & Table.

Here are some other recipes from the New York Times for mac and cheese, but I think you should give the Christensen recipe a try. After all, they go through 10,000 pounds of cheese a year – they know what they are talking about. And she won the James Beard Award for Best Chef: Southeast in 2014.


“I hope that in this year to come, you make mistakes. Because if you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing your world. You’re doing things you’ve never done before, and more importantly, you’re doing something.”
-Neil Gaiman

Food Friday: Foolproof for the Holidays!

Are you ready for the weekend? Hanukkah, Christmas, parties, church, temple, relatives, nosy neighbors. They are all banding together to cause a seismic event that we haven’t seen for, oh, almost a year. Don’t take the easy route and guzzle the cheap white wine; I can assure you that you will regret that decision. Instead, plan ahead and arrive with armfuls of the simplest of treats. Just don’t tell anyone how easy they were to prepare. You are sworn to the Spy’s Test Kitchen’s Oath. Peace on earth, good food for all.

‘Tis the season! The famous test kitchens at Spy World Headquarters have been a veritable beehive of activity this week. There was a flash mob of publishers, editors and artists flinging flour, dropping cookie sheets, confusing baking soda with baking powder all in the name of research. We have been debating Christmas cookies and holiday treats of every variety – particularly those that we remember from childhood. We’ve gone through quite few glasses of milk testing these recipes, because we want to be sure you have only the very best to leave out for Santa this year. Don’t forget the carrots for the reindeer! Organic, please.

I am trying to simplify this year, as I say at the beginning of each Christmas season, and very shortly thereafter we are generally wading through my complications. My usual baking assistants have flown the coop, and editors and publishers are a mercurial lot. And writers? They just want to taste the results and protect their sources. After the initial taste testing, all of the support staff evaporated! I did not have any extra hands to set up an assembly line mixing dough, rolling the dough, cutting cookies, baking, cooling and decorating enough cookies for general distribution. The thought of doing it alone was just exhausting! So in the end, this year we will bake luscious bars, which are generally simple, satisfying and completely sinful. Even the cranky research chief will like these.

I always do fudge for the neighborhood, which I love it because it tastes deceptively dense and complicated, as if I had stood for hours over my warm Aga, with a fistful of exotic free-market cocoa beans, brandishing my trusty candy thermometer. I am sorry to disappoint, but this is the easiest recipe I know that requires more than peanut butter, a knife and a couple of slices of bread.

Foolproof Fudge
3 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 (14 ounce) can Sweetened Condensed Milk (DO NOT USE EVAPORATED MILK!!!)
Dash of salt
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
Line 9” x 9” pan with parchment paper

Melt the chocolate chips with the sweetened condensed milk and salt in heavy
saucepan. Remove from heat; stir in vanilla. Spread evenly in the pan.
Walk away. You can chill it for a couple of hours – I do not suggest cutting it until it is
quite cool and firm. Last year I jazzed it up with some rum-infused vanilla, and
our true blue letter carrier, Ron, mentioned especially how much he had enjoyed
this year’s batch. So you can probably experiment a little bit with other liqueur

Millionaire’s Shortbread
Our friends at food52 have a recipe for Millionaire’s Shortbread which sounds divine. Mr. Friday and the Tall One spent some time gamboling around the hiking trails of Scotland, and developed a predilection for genuine Scottish shortbread. Wait until they try some home-baked, with generous lashings of chocolate and caramel.


Secret Family Recipe Brownies

My mother never used cake mixes; they offended her New England sensibilities. She would never have considered Ghiradelli Double Chocolate Brownie Mix, although I can assure you, it is a very fine product; many a box has migrated through our kitchen. When I was growing up my mother baked brownies made from scratch, and they were equally delish. These were from my grandmother’s secret family recipe, written down on a faded and thumb-printed index card. It was a family treasure, kept in a little wooden box in the pantry. A secret family recipe? Ha! Like most family secrets this was life-altering in its cunning and simple deceit – our Secret Family Recipe was pretty much word for word the recipe on the back of the Baker’s Secret Chocolate box! Except that we left out the nuts.

Helen Foley’s Secret Family Brownie Recipe
4 squares Baker’s unsweetened chocolate
3/4 cup butter or margarine
2 cups sugar
3 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup flour
Heat oven to 350°F.
Line a 9” x 9 pan with parchment paper.
Bake 30 to 35 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out with fudge-y crumbs. (Do not over bake.) Cool completely.

Happy Holidays!

“Our hearts grow tender with childhood memories and love of kindred, and we are better throughout the year for having, in spirit, become a child again at Christmas-time.”
― Laura Ingalls Wilder

Food Friday: Bubbly Self Care

We are in the midst of the annual holiday frenzy. There was an ad in my print paper this morning advising potential advertisers that the newspaper office will be closing at 4:30 on Friday afternoon so all those wacky journalists could attend the company holiday party. At 4:30. Wowsers.

I don’t have high stakes holiday office parties like that. Before opening the Spy’s much lauded Test Kitchen, one of my office parties consisted of inviting a friend over to have a beer and watch Leslie Warren’s Cinderella on our new fangled VCR. This year I am going all out and practising a new buzz word – I am going to self care. This Friday I am going to kick back and pop open a bottle of bubbly and watch the original Upstairs, Downstairs for a couple of episodes. There is nothing that makes me feel like a grubby, indulgent, middle-class American faster than Upstairs, Downstairs.

Prosecco or Champagne? It’s a personal choice. I am hugely impressed by a stately bottle of Veuve Cliquot, and would probably serve it to Mr. Hudson, the butler from Upstairs, Downstairs, if he ever came to call. But I find a pretty orange label on a bottle of Mionetto just as appealing. Lady Marjorie, also from 165 Eaton Place, would never comment on the lower price point. She would be pleased just to loosen her corset stays and have a second glass. Relief is on its way! And then Lady Marjorie will tell me to relax, and to enjoy myself a little bit. “You never know when disaster will strike,” she confides. (Lady Marjorie went down on Titanic, so she has some experience with life changing moments.) Mr. Hudson would tell me to pull up my bootstraps.

The Christmas cookies will be baked next week. In the meantime, it is Friday night, and it has been a long week. It’s time to take care of ourselves for once. This is an unusual undertaking that could be shared with a couple of discreet elves. Instead pouring a glass of my usual cheap winter Malbec, I thought I should test some seasonal cocktail recipes to get into the holiday spirit. These are crowd pleasers, but they require a little planning.

French 75s

“Hits with remarkable precision.”
Harry Craddock, The Savoy Cocktail Book

2 ounces gin
1 ounce lemon juice
1 spoonful extra fine sugar

Shake the gin, lemon juice and sugar in a cocktail shaker filled with cracked ice until chilled and well-mixed and then pour into tall glass containing cracked ice and fill up the glass with Champagne. This clever cocktail was said to have been devised during WWI, the kick from the alcohol combo being described as powerful as the French 75mm howitzer gun.

“Remember gentlemen, it’s not just France we are fighting for, it’s Champagne!”
–Winston Churchill

Champagne Cocktail

In a Champagne glass add a teaspoon of sugar and enough Angostura bitters to melt the sugar. Add a tablespoon of Grand Marnier or cognac and mix in with the sugar, bitters mix. Add a “fine” quality Champagne and stir. Float a slice of thin orange on top. This is what Ilsa and Victor Laszlo sipped in Casablanca.

“A cause may be inconvenient, but it’s magnificent. It’s like Champagne or high heels, and one must be prepared to suffer for it.”
-Arnold Bennett

As always, our festive friends at Food52 have some delightful ideas for nibbles to help soak up some of the bubbly we are sure to be drinking on Christmas. http://www.food52.com/blog/2807

On a recent trip to food-forward-thinking-Charleston, friends ordered Aperol and Prosecco cocktails, because they are oh, so trendy. I did not realize that this is the most popular cocktail in Italy. And now it can be one of yours, too!

Aperol and Prosecco

3 parts chilled, dry Prosecco
2 parts Aperol
1 splash soda
Serve with on the rocks in wine glass or rocks glass
Garnish with a slice of orange (this makes it practically health food!)


This is very pretty, and so seasonal: pomegranate mimosas. Yumsters. http://www.delish.com/cooking/recipe-ideas/recipes/a46968/pomegranate-mimosas-recipe/

And the best of both worlds: a Black Velvet! Champagne and Guinness.This drink is simply equal parts stout and sparkling wine, and to be honest, there are some who will never understand its appeal. But to fans, this is a perfect special-occasion drink, particularly suited to mornings and late afternoons. I had my first on a chilly night in London. Divine.

Black Velvet

4 ounces (1/2 cup) chilled Champagne or Prosecco
4 ounces (1/2 cup) chilled Guinness Extra Stout
Pour the Champagne into a tall glass. We first had ours served in heavy pewter tankards, but at home we eschew the delicate flutes for a sturdy rocks glass. This is not an effete drink. It is robust, and fills your hand with determination. Be sure to pour the Guinness on top. (This is important: Guinness is heavier. If you pour the sparkling wine second, it won’t combine evenly, and will need to be stirred. I shudder at the thought!)

Enjoy yourself this weekend. Loosen the corset strings. And let the games begin, again, on Monday.

“Seize the moment. Remember all those women on the ‘Titanic’ who waved off the dessert cart.”
― Erma Bombeck

Food Friday: Office Party Strategies

The holiday office party can be an ordeal. Or it can be a balm to your relationships with people you spend too many hours a day. Don’t you want to be the fun one? Don’t you want to sail home at the end of the day with your empty platter, smug and satisfied that your dish was Hoovered up by all and sundry, and not left to languish like the kale salad, or the tofu meatballs made with grape jelly? And it is much better to be the one who made a creative effort to please, instead of the loser who stopped at Dunkin’ Donuts for donut holes because you forgot the day of the potluck. Shame. Shame. Shame.

You need to stratgize. The Seven Layer Dip is a party standard. And though it is a party staple, it gets ugly. Fast. And then there it’s boring presentation, everything glooped into a big bowl, which might work at a family barbecue, but is never going to survive the onslaught of the hungry guys from IT. Presentation, at least for the first few minutes, is an important consideration.

Consider the individual cup o’Seven Layer Dip. Petite. Colorful. So appealing! I would also suggest using either an assembly line (it’s time to rope those children into helping you!) or put each layer of ingredient in a piping bag, and make each cup beautiful. Remember, you want to be the cool kid. It will be worth it. Honest. VP Sherri will surely recognize your doggedness, now. And your creativity. And your joie de vivre!

Strategy A:here is your basic boring unimaginative, uninspired, might-as-well-just-buy-it-ready-made-from-the-grocery-store version. http://www.mccormick.com/recipes/appetizer/7-layer-fiesta-dip

Strategy B: and this is the magically delicious and oh-so-cute version: http://www.the-girl-who-ate-everything.com/2011/12/individual-seven-layer-dips.html If you have any germaphobes in your office (and don’t we all?) this is the way to go. No double-dipping. No excessive food handling by others! And the tiny cups are adorable. Be sure to have some extra chips on hand, because you know people will want to keep coming back to your marvelous party dish.

Strategy C: The same little serving cups can be used for all sorts of tastiness. Chex Mix! Brownies! Stuffed tomatoes! Parmesan spinach balls! White bean dip! Bite-sized Caprese appetizers!

I did this version of the Pioneer Woman’s Chex Mix for Thanksgiving. Using the fresh garlic and the hot sauce gave it a nice kick, which we really needed to sustain us as we set about preparing the enormous (and labor-intensive) Thanksgiving feast. You might think about the possibility that people will want to squirrel away a little stash to get them through that long, draggy, low-energy part of the afternoon.





Here are links to find the little cups:
basic: https://www.walmart.com/ip/Diamond-Multi-Purpose-Mini-Cups-With-Lids-2-oz-50ct/17056809
fancier: https://www.amazon.com/Appetizer-Catering-Supplies-Disposable-Shooters/dp/B01EQDTRFK/ref=sr_1_18?ie=UTF8&qid=1481226164&sr=8-18-spons&keywords=mini+plastic+serving+cups&psc=1
Little red Solo cups – probably not work appropriate: https://www.amazon.com/ALAZCO-Glasses-2-Ounce-Holiday-Tailgate/dp/B0152KLRU4/ref=sr_1_26?ie=UTF8&qid=1481226263&sr=8-26&keywords=mini+plastic+serving+cups

“Christmas time! That man must be a misanthrope indeed, in whose breast something like a jovial feeling is not roused— in whose mind some pleasant associations are not awakened— by the recurrence of Christmas.”
― Charles Dickens