Family is not an important thing, it's everything.
~Michael J. Fox
Six years ago today, my beloved momala passed away. The best way we have honored her life and kept her memory alive is to embrace our little family and celebrate each other as often as possible. She used to say, "If you don't have something to celebrate, celebrate anyway." [Ed. note: Spinal Tap keyboardist Viv Savage also said it well, "Have a good time. All the time." youtu.be/WrhzX3dRRiI]
Our family recently got a little bigger. My little sister Julie brought the new man in her life, Frank, by for a whirlwind visit, our first time meeting him. Seems there couldn't be a more perfect person for Julie than Frank; they share a love of nature, geology, animals and family. Bonus, he has an encyclopedic knowledge of sports and wine (we were excited to try riesling and pinot noir from his own vineyard), which endears him even more to the BF. [Ed. note: We even coexist with his love for the St. Louis Cardinals and ours for the San Francisco Giants.] We feel like he's been here all along.
Unfortunately I ran out of time and could not make cookies for them to take home, but had I been able, these would have been the choice.
My momala would have adored them as well. Chocolate and orange coupled and a hint of fresh ginger and brownie texture. It would have sent her over the edge.
Dorie Greenspan (this is originally adapted from her book Dorie's Cookies) is an excellent source for all things baking. She mentions that this cookie is best on the day it is made, but I have found it stays fresh, moist and chewy for at least 3 days. So it works well for shipping or gift giving.
Number of servings: about 20 cookies
Adapted from: Saveur (Dec/Jan 2017) and Dorie's Cookies
Yotam Ottolenghi says of this eggplant dish, "I can't think of a more rustically elegant (is that a contradiction in terms?) starter." Contradiction? Hardly.
Ottolenghi is an Israeli-Italian chef residing in London, with a flavor palette that's out of this world. This recipe is adapted from his 2010 cookbook Plenty, and I selected it for today's post because of its gloriously gorgeous colorful presentation, not to mention it's delicious and a perfect easy-to-make dish for your holiday table (or anytime). I prepared it for an anniversary dinner party, not as a starter, but as a side dish with grilled lamb chops and naan--it was heavenly.
Another advantage for a dinner party: it can be served at room temperature, meaning it's easier to make ahead of time.
Adapted from: Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi
Number of servings: 4 as a starter or side dish
Writer Julian Barnes said of mourning, "The thing is—nature is so exact, it hurts exactly as much as it is worth, so in a way, one relishes the pain, I think. If it didn't matter, it wouldn't matter."
A friend sent this line in a condolence letter when my momala passed away, and it has resonated ever since. The grieving is commensurate with the loving, a testament to what’s missing.
This has been a particularly difficult year for my boyfriend (the blog's man behind the curtain, the one behind the editorial notes), who is grieving the passing of his mom, and today is actually the one-year anniversary.
Kathryn Bailey was an accomplished jazz pianist based in the San Francisco bay area, who accompanied everyone from Billie Holiday to the Buddy Morrow Orchestra, Berkeley's Straw Hat Theatre, and Ronnie Cass.
We miss you everyday, Kathy.
Patience is not my virtue. [Ed. note: I want to comment, but appreciate my life.] Rolling out cookie dough and cutting out cookies with cookie cutters? No patience for it. Hell-o slice-and-bake simplicity!
These cookies are tender, lightly sweetened with honey, and swirled with cinnamon and spice–a perfect holiday cookie that travels and keeps well, perfect for gracing your Hanukkah dessert table, a cookie exchange, or to leave as a nice treat for Santa and his helpers. I have been known to have them for breakfast with coffee, or late afternoon pick-me-up with tea.
Winter is coming: let the holiday cookie season begin!
NOTE: Although the glaze is delicious, I opted not to use it as I prefer it much better plain (plenty sweet for this household), and if you are going to ship it as a gift it's probably more practical to go glazeless. That said, if you're serving at a party or leaving for Santa, by all means glaze it up.
Adapted from: Marbled, Swirled, and Layered, by Irvin Lin
Number of servings: 48 cookies
Cinnamon Filling and Baking
Make sure the butter for cinnamon filling is truly at room temperature or even slightly warmer than that. It makes spreading the filling easier.
You can make and freeze this cookie dough for future baking. Once frozen for an hour, place the log in a labeled zip-top plastic bag. Slice and bake cookies at your convenience. Frozen dough should keep for up to 2 months.
There is no gray area with brussels sprouts. People love them or hate them. Luckily, I live in a house were brussels sprouts rule. The BF actually requests this cruciferous vegetable any chance he gets.
The many health benefits of brussels sprouts are well documented. They're loaded with vitamin K (great for bone health), promote weight loss and lower cholesterol levels, are a great source of protein, and can even reduce cancer risk.
When cooking with them, can't stress this enough: buy good sprouts. They should feel firm and have tight, shiny-edged leaves. I like to buy medium-to-small ones, because I find the larger ones have a more bitter flavor (especially those gigantic, loose-leafed monstrosities). Never buy those.
Several thousand acres of sprouts are planted in coastal areas of San Mateo, Santa Cruz, and Monterey counties of California (lucky to have this level of quality available locally), which offer an ideal combination of coastal fog year-round.
Roasting brussels sprouts (in the oven) was my way of winning over skeptics (like the BF), but this recipe works whether you steam them on a stove top or use the microwave. Those of you with one oven, like me, will appreciate not having to use it for multiple dishes, especially on Thanksgiving or other holidays.
This dish is delicious alongside any meat that typically graces the holiday table: beef, turkey, ham, lamb, pork, duck or sausage (second pic).
NOTE: I make these in the microwave for convenience, but feel free to steam the sprouts on the stove top.
Number of servings: 4 (depending on how many other side dishes you offer)
Latkes are not just for Hannukah.
Everyone has their own Thanksgiving traditions. Growing up in our family, the turkey was not the star of the show. We were all about appetizers. Once, I asked Mamala how this all started and she couldn't remember, but at some point two appetizers turned into 20 and it took on a life of its own. We used to stay up all night before Thanksgiving and make: chopped liver, herring in sour cream, herring in tomatoes, herring in vinegar, clam poppers, rumaki, stuffed mushrooms, deviled eggs, vegetable trays, three kinds of rye bread, Japanese pickled radish, olives, cornichons, stuffed celery, liptauer (an Austrian favorite), Boston brown bread, and a pistachio pudding-green jello-cottage cheese-fruit cocktail-mayo-7-UP mold (it was the '70s, believe it was called Watergate Salad). Of course, little-girl me disliked all the appetizers we made, except black olives. Thank goodness I was allowed to stick them on my fingers.
So much time. energy and stomach space was spent on appetizers that we rarely ate our turkey and sides on Thanksgiving. If we did, it was at 10:00pm or the next day.
We've had many memorable Thanksgivings. My brother Mike had an epic Thanksgiving-Hannukah reunion in 2004. My Chicago family has hosted many extraordinary Thanksgiving reunions. We also had a beautiful yet bittersweet Thanksgiving with family and friends two weeks before my Mamala passed away in 2011.
There is always that one Thanksgiving that my family always laughs at: 1979. My father passed away that September and it was the first holiday without him. I had recently started college and my older brother Mike, a sophomore at Oregon State, thought it would be a nice idea to invite a married foreign-exchange couple from Korea to a traditional American Thanksgiving.
Mamala and I decided that we would forgo the appetizers and focus on the traditional turkey dinner. We worked feverishly all week cleaning the house, shopping, cooking, and decorating. Thanksgiving morning I put a 25-pound turkey in the oven and got to work on the rest of the feast. Did I mention we had a dog (part wolf, unbeknownest to us at the time), at the time. His name was Blitz.
[Ed. Note: Good lord I do not like where this is going.]
Mike arrived with the Korean couple around noon, and they arrived in the most gorgeous traditional Korean attire, a hanbok en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hanbok. They looked spectacular, were polite and gracious beyond words, just downright lovely people. We spoke no Korean and they spoke no English, but we managed just fine.
Our holiday table was beautifully set with my Mamala's customary Thanksgiving cornucopia, complete with seasonal fruit, plus pilgrim and Native-American candles that she bought 16 years prior when my younger sister Julie was born.
The turkey was baking away. Intoxicating aroma. I might have even cut a little piece of crispy skin off the tail end and snacked on it. [Ed. Note: I'ma tell.] The kitchen and dining room were closed off. Guests were in the living room.
4:00pm, countdown to dinner. The turkey needs to rest for 20 minutes before carving, so that 25-pound bird was carefully placed on the counter, covered with foil, and I finally joined everyone else in the living room.
Suddenly, THUNK. Growling. Snarling. Chomping.
[Ed. Note: The horror. Slowly she turned, inch by inch, step by...]
My heart dropped. I raced into the kitchen with Mamala close behind. There was Blitz with the turkey on the floor, devouring a leg and starting on the precious white meat. He hissed, growled, and bared teeth as I tried to reach for the bird. I grabbed a broom handle and tried to grab what was left of the turkey. His jaw dripped with coveted turkey juices. It was a scene out of Cujo.
[Ed. Note: Getting Stephen King's agent on the phone.]
By the time I could grab the turkey, it was mostly carcass with a little meat dangling on bone. What was once a meal for eight was soup stock. Mamala and I stared at the carcass, a beautiful turkey five minutes ago. We stared at the dog, who was beaming. Once our shock subsided we had no idea what to serve for dinner.
Meanwhile in the living room...Mike has said he never forgot the look on our guests' faces as they heard these psychotic masticating sounds emanating from the adjacent room. Like the proper Midwesterner my Mamala was raised to be, we of course never said a word to them about what transpired in the kitchen, and pretended like nothing happened.
Long story short, we ended up having all vegetarian side dishes for Thanksgiving that year. The Korean couple could not have been more gracious. They enjoyed the meal and we all had a blast. It was an unforgettable holiday and brings a smile to my face every time I think of it.
This Thanksgiving, consider making latkes for your vegetarian guests so they will not have to sustain their hunger on side dishes alone.
Adapted from: Food and Wine, November 2012
Number of servings: 4 dozen mini latkes
Birthday cakes. Everyone from 1-100 (and up!) should get a homemade one on their special day, and my BF is no exception. I always try to top the previous year's dessert, and for him it usually involves apples and/or caramel of some kind.
This year is no different, and oy this is a delicious cake. Adapted from my favorite baker boys of Baked Explorations, this is pure fall: moist, dense, lightly spiced, covered in caramel buttercream, and then drizzled with more caramel.
Oh, did I mention that the BF is a Batman fan? [Ed. note: You ever dance with the devil in the pale moonlight?]
The recipe below is for an 8-inch 3-layer cake, but for my small family I make the smallest amount possible (in that case a 6-inch 3-layer cake, which is exactly one half of the recipe). I use Williams Sonoma salted caramel that was on hand, and made my own applesauce from my own recipe (I prefer the addition of boiled apple cider for an intense cider flavor), but feel free to save time and use store bought applesauce and/or caramel. No shame in that.
The list of ingredients may seem daunting, and yes there are many steps, but fear not, it is actually not as daunting as it seems. It's a cake you'll want in your fall rotation, perfect for a loved one whose birthday falls in the October-November time frame.
Adapted from: Baked Explorations by Matt Lewis & Renato Poliafito
Number of servings: makes one 8-inch, 3-layer cake
I'm writing this post on Halloween morning and it's the first cool day of fall (always pleased when it's sweater weather). Know you're seeing this the day after, and hope you had a fun evening with the trick or treaters.
Roasted yam wedges are common fare in our house, usually lightly slicked with extra virgin olive oil, sprinkled with salt, Aleppo pepper and coriander powder, and roasted until crispy like fries. Makes for a terrific side dish. Even "Supergirl" Marlowe (see pictures below) loves them.
However, this satisfying entree fits the bill for a meatless meal while having enough flavor, heft and protein to satisfy our carnivore tastes. It's also perfect for the cooler weather we have coming.
Crispy Tandoori Chickpeas
Tahini Lime Sauce
How fun are these? I make mini whoopie pies every Halloween.
Every year I try a different flavor for the filling: cinnamon, maple, eggnog, butterscotch, bourbon [Ed. Note: HELLO.] and this year, apple cider. This may be my favorite yet.
The secret ingredient to this filling is boiled apple cider. If you haven't heard of bottled boiled apple cider, don't worry, I didn't either until last year. It's a good product to have in your arsenal.
Ordered it online from King Arthur Flour www.kingarthurflour.com/shop/items/boiled-cider-1-pint and I've used it for muffins, cookies, cakes, pie, and it makes a great glaze for meats when mixed with whole grain mustard.
King Arthur Flour describes their boiled cider as "magically capturing the intense, robust flavor of just-picked apples, preserving it in liquid form." Couldn't agree more.
Kids love them, and adults do too (have passed them around on trays of finger foods and they were the hit of the night).
These little mounds of goodness hold well in the fridge for up to three days. Great for make-ahead parties.
Know there are many who despise the word "moist," but I will use it here, because the cookie part is, well, moist...and flavorful. All the autumn flavors packed into one tiny little mouthful of goodness: pumpkin, cinnamon, nutmeg, clove, and apple cider.
Adapted from: Every Day with Rachel Ray (Whoopie Pies); Marbled, Swirled, and Layered by Irvin Lin (Apple Cider Cream Cheese Filling).
Number of servings: makes approximately 12-14 whoopie pies (with tablespoon scoop) and 20 whoopie pies (with teaspoon scoop).
Sometimes my BF and I like a little heat. Not scorch-your-tongue-off heat, but enough to have a little pop. Not sure why Halloween brings cravings for spicy food, perhaps I'm equating spicy-heat with devils and vampires.
This chicken is a one-pan meal with a side dish to boot, very simple to make, and packed with flavor. (Did you know you can stuff practically anything under the chicken skin for extra flavor? I've stuffed a mixture of spinach, mushroom, and Manchego cheese under the skin as well as several kinds of compound butters–truffle, garlic, lemon, herb–and it's out of this world.)
I found this jalapeño chicken recipe in the delightful cookbook Casa Marcela, by Marcela Valladolid. As she says, "For this one, you'd think there's so much heat from the raw jalapeño, but during the roasting it mellows out ... It also serves as a barrier between the flesh of the chicken and the direct heat in the oven, so the breast stays nice and moist."
I varied the peppers a bit because many jalapeños I find in local groceries are so mild they taste like green bell peppers. You can stick with just jalapeño (like Valladolid's recipe), or spice it up and use a mixture of serrano, fresno, jalapeño and/or even poblano. It's spicy, but not too spicy.
The chicken is roasted with baby potatoes so you have a side dish ready when the chicken is. In my house, we also serve this with black beans and/or rice for a South-of-the-Border-style meal. You can even shred the chicken for tostadas, enchiladas, or tortilla soup.
NOTE: Use latex gloves when handling chilies!
Adapted from: Casa Marcela, by Marcela Valladolid
Number of servings: makes 1 roast chicken
Top to bottom: jalapeño, fresno (red) and serrano peppers
November, 1995. It was my BF's birthday (he was not the BF at that time), and I remember making this first-ever attempt at baking a cheesecake. [Ed. note: To quote Private Hudson from Aliens, "Game over, man. Game over."]
Yes. This is the one. Try not to stick your fork through the screen–I dare you.
This delicious caramel bomb made repeat appearances that Thanksgiving, Chanukah and Christmas, and at different times every year after that. My mamala begged me to make it every year for the holidays, and this year I'm making it for a client's Halloween party.
The body of the cheesecake is incredibly creamy (not dense), with a touch of orange juice and a good amount of sour cream. There is a perfect crust-to-filling ratio, and the caramel apple topping is to die for (the caramel stays soft and does not stick to your teeth and harden).
Keep in mind, this makes a large cheesecake (10 inches diameter). Perfect for any get together, my favorite is to offer this at Thanksgiving.
Funny story/cautionary tale: two years ago I made this for my BF again and cut the ingredients in half to make an smaller 8-inch cake (was also going to give half to a neighbor). Just as I was presenting the entire cake to him on a platter, I dropped it. The platter broke, little shards of glass flaked all over and into the cheesecake–unsalvageable.
We stared at the floor for the longest time. Curse words seethed through clenched teeth. Tears were shed. I will not lie, this is not a 30-minute dessert. There is preparation and time involved. (Really, you have to start making this the day before you plan on serving it.) However, the process is very straightforward and the end result is so worth the effort.
Just be careful with those glass platters!
Adapted from: Bon Appetit (September 1995)
Number of servings: 16
I'm Jacquie, personal chef & recipe developer in the bay area. Living life with my wildly funny boyfriend and dog Marlowe. Lover of books, bourbon, chocolate and movies.