Wednesday, December 31, 2008


I was searching for a peanut butter muffin recipe, and found one by Lauren Groveman, a food writer for the Larchmont Gazzette, which I think is in NY. At first, I wanted to follow Lauren's original recipe; but the more I studied it, the more I wanted to change it. So I hesitate to title these Lauren Groveman's because of all the changes I've made.

I really like these muffins. The banana and chocolate chips complement the peanut butter. The
cocoa-cinnamon-ginger-sugar sprinkled on top of the muffins give
them a spicy sweet crunch, and the muffins are moist and delicious. I halved the recipe, not knowing how they would turn out; but if I make them again, I'll make a full batch. These are best with milk chocolate chips -- I used Hershey's.

Peanut Butter Muffins
Adapted Half Batch from Lauren Groveman's Kitchen
Rating: 8.5 out of 10


1 cup peanut butter
2 Tbsp. vegetable oil
1 large egg
1/2 cup lite sour cream
1/4 cup milk
1/2 cup applesauce
1/4 cup honey
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1 tsp. coffee syrup, coffee brandy or strong coffee
1-3/4 cups white whole wheat flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. sea salt
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 cup milk chocolate chips
1/2 cup diced ripe banana
1 tsp. lemon juice

Topping: 1 tsp. cocoa; 2 tsp. sugar; 1/2 tsp. cinnamon; 1/4 tsp. ginger
Preheat oven to 375F. Spray a 6-cup standard muffin tin and a 12-cup mini-muffin tin with non-stick cooking spray.
In large mixing bowl, combine peanut butter, oil and egg, by hand or electric mixer, till very smooth. (I prefer making cookies and muffins by hand for best results. The peanut butter will need to be soft, at room temperature for easy mixing.) Add sour cream, milk, applesauce, honey and brown sugar and beat well, scraping sides and bottom as needed. Stir in vanilla and coffee flavorings. In small bowl, combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon, stirring or whisking till well mixed. Stir in chocolate chips. Toss banana pieces with lemon juice. Add the flour mixture to the wet ingredients all at once, stirring just till barely combined. Stir in banana.
Divide batter among muffin cups -- you should have enough batter to fill cups to top, doming the batter slightly above the top. Sprinkle each with the topping. Bake in center of oven, 14-16 minutes for the minis, 18-22 minutes for the standard. Transfer muffins to a wire rack to cool. These freeze very well.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008


I'm not a big fan of carrot cake, but this recipe, from,
beckoned to me. It just looked and sounded good. Except for the coconut. I decided to sub crushed drained pineapple for the coconut. I also added some salt, vanilla and ginger, and upped the raisins and nuts. These muffins don't puff up and get huge, but they are just really good. And, since they contain fruit, nuts and veggies, I think you can safely say they are a good choice for breakfast.
I made a half recipe, which yielded 6 standard-size muffins and 7 mini muffins. It's not a bad idea to reduce a recipe when trying a new one. If the recipe doesn't work out, you haven't lost a lot. If I make this one again, I'll make a full batch. These won't put a guilt trip on you since they have some healthful ingredients. Pineapple cream cheese might go well with them.
Morning Muffins
Adapted Half Recipe from
Rating: 9 out of 10
INGREDIENTS: 2 Tbsp. Smart Balance buttery spread
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 egg
1/2 cup lite sour cream
1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup shredded carrots
1/4 cup crushed pineapple, drained well
1/3 cup raisins
1/4 tsp. sea salt
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. powdered ginger
3/4 cup white whole wheat flour (or all-purpose, if preffered)
1/4 cup chopped crystallized ginger
1/3 cup toasted chopped pecans or walnuts
Preheat oven to 375F. Spray muffin tin with non-stick cooking spray or line with paper cups. In a small mixing bowl, beat Smart Balance and brown sugar with spoon or spatula till creamy. Add egg, sour cream and vanilla and beat well. Stir in carrots, pineapple, and raisins. Sprinkle salt, baking soda, cinnamon and ginger over egg mixture; mix well. Add flour, crystallized ginger and nuts and stir till combined, but do not overmix.
Fill muffin tins about 3/4 full. Bake about 12 minutes for mini-muffins; 16 minutes for standard muffins, or till a toothpick comes out almost clean. Cool for 5 minutes before removing from pan to a wire rack. Serve warm or room temperature. Yield: 6 standard muffins; 7 mini-muffins

Monday, December 29, 2008


In New Bern, there is a local bakery that has the absolute best cranberry orange scones. They're loaded with cranberries and have a nice orange flavor; you can have them with or w/o the orange frosting drizzle; and the scone, itself, is rich, buttery and dense. In short, they taste like a scone and not like a biscuit.

When I saw Ina Garten make scones, I thought, if anyone would come close to that recipe, it would be she. So I decided to try her scones. I used some coconut flour for part of the flour, to add some fiber; a bit of orange juice concentrate for more orange flavor and some toasted pecans. Ina used her KitchenAid mixer; I used my Cuisinart.

These scones are even better than our local bakery's -- they're lighter and richer. But I will never make them again. They are just too good -- and too overloaded with fat. I'm reprinting the adapted recipe, as I made it. Thankfully, I cut the recipe to 1/4, but still managed to do some serious hip damage with these bad boys. If you're feeling like you need some comfort in the morning -- or any time of the day -- this is where you can get it.

Ina Garten's Cranberry Orange Scones, adapted 1/4 recipe
Rating: 10 out of 10
1 cup all-purpose flour, scooped (I put 2 Tbsp. coconut flour in the bottom of the cup, then added the all-purpose flour.)
2 Tbsp. sugar
1-1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
3/4 tsp. finely grated orange zest
6 Tbsp. (3/4 stick) frozen unsalted butter, diced
1 large egg
1/4 cup heavy cream
1-1/2 tsp. frozen orange juice concentrate
1/4 cup dried sweetened cranberries + 1 Tbsp. AP flour
1/4 cup toasted broken pecans

Preheat oven to 400F. In work bowl of a food processor, combine flour, sugar, baking powder, salt and orange zest. Pulse to mix. Add the diced butter and pulse with quick, short motions, till butter is the size of small peas. Stir egg, heavy cream and OJ concentrate together in a small dish or bowl and add to the flour/butter mixture with short, quick pulses, till mixture forms a dough. Combine cranberries, 1 Tbsp. flour and pecans and add to work bowl. Pulse briefly to combine into dough.

Dump the dough onto a well-floured surface and knead it lightly into a ball, being sure you work to distribute the nuts and cranberries evenly throughout. Flour your hands and a rolling pin and roll the dough 3/4" thick. You should still see small bits of butter in the dough. Keep moving the dough on the floured board so it doesn't stick. Flour a 2-1/4" round plain or fluted cutter and cut circles of dough. Place the scones on a baking pan lined with parchment paper. Collect the scraps neatly, roll them out, and cut more circles. (Instead of re-rolling, as I cut circles, I realigned the pieces by pushing them up and into the dough.)

Brush the tops of the scones with egg wash or cream; sprinkle with sugar, and bake for 20-25 minutes, until the tops are browned and the insides are fully baked. The scones will be firm to the touch. (I used a toothpick inserted in center to check doneness, as you would for a cake.) Cool scones for 15 minutes on a wire rack. If you want a drizzled frosting, whisk together 2 Tbsp. 10X sugar with 1 tsp. orange juice and drizzle it over the partly cooled scones.

Yield: will vary according to the size of the cutter and the thickness of the dough. I got 8 scones from this recipe.

Friday, December 26, 2008


I was halfway through this yummy dessert when I remembered the camera sitting on the counter.
Crostada is a nice dessert for a casual dinner. It's less fussy than a pie but tastes just as good. You can make it with regular old pie crust, or you can use a basic sweet dough recipe. It'll be good either way.
Who doesn't like apple pie? And for this recipe, the apples are cooked twice. Uh oh -- too much work, you say? It's worth it, I say -- it keeps the
filling from getting too runny, and it intensifies the flavor of the apples. Try it once and you'll be convinced it's the best way to make an apple pie -- or an apple crostada.
Apple Cobbler Crostada with Warm Caramel Sauce
Source: Adapted from
Rating: 8 out of 10
1. Dough: Your favorite pastry dough for a one-crust pie
2. Filling: 4-1/2 cups tart apples (I used a mixture of Rome and Winesap)
1 tsp. lemon juice
2 Tbsp. frozen apple juice concentrate
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 Tbsp. white sugar
pinch sea salt
2 Tbsp. Smart Balance 50/50 Butter Blend
In a large bowl, combine the apples, lemon juice, apple juice concentrate, cinnamon, sugars and salt, mixing well. In a heavy-bottomed pan, melt the SB over high heat. Add the apple mixture and cook till apples are tender and juices are cooked down, stirring constantly. This only takes a few minutes. Remove from heat and cool thoroughly. (I usually take the apples out of the pan and put them in another cooler baking pan to stop the cooking process.)
3. Cobbler Topping:
INGREDIENTS: 1/4 cup whole wheat flour
2 Tbsp. quick oats
pinch sea salt
2 Tbsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. molasses
1 Tbsp. SB 50/50 Butter Blend
Combine all ingredients in bowl of food processor; pulse till mixture is like pebbles. Refrigerate till ready to use.
4. Caramel Sauce: I took the easy way out and used Smucker's Butterscotch-Caramel Sauce.
5. Assembly: Preheat oven to 375F. Roll the dough out into a 12-13" circle. Place the apple mixture in center, leaving about 3" of dough on the outsides. Sprinkle with the cobbler topping. Fold the sides of the dough up, allowing dough to fold over onto itself on the sides (see photo above), creating a pinwheel appearance. Press the package tight and refrigerate until chilled. Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until nicely golden brown and filling bubbles. Serve with a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream and a drizzle of warm caramel sauce. Yield: 6-8 servings

Wednesday, December 24, 2008


The potato you are viewing is actually frozen for future use. I simply forgot to take a photo of the finished potato, which looked so appetizing after the top got browned and crusty and the butter was melted into the potato. This is one of my favorite ways to eat a baked potato, since it's both baked and mashed. They're lower fat than the typical mashed potatoes that are loaded with butter and cream, but are satisfying and rich tasting. These are also great for company, since you can make them the day before, then just heat them up before dinner time. And everyone loves them. I usually make up a big batch of 8-10 or more potatoes and freeze the ones I'm not immediately using. This works well when you see Idahos or Russets on sale and need to use them up fast. And, since I never waste anything, when I scoop off the tops, I save them and put some of the mashed potatoes on them and freeze them. Just thaw them, add paprika and grated cheddar cheese and broil them for a tasty snack.
Stuffed Baked Potatoes
Source: Judy's Kitchen
Rating: 10 out of 10
INGREDIENTS: 4 Idaho or Russet potatoes
3 Tbsp. Smart Balance 50/50 Butter Blend
1/4 tsp. MCormick California Style Onion Powder
1/4 tsp. McCormick California Style Garlic Powder
3/4 tsp. sea salt (or to taste)
1/8 tsp. black pepper
1/2 cup fat-free half and half (or more if needed)
Smoked Paprika (or regular paprika) for tops
4 pats of SB for tops
Scrub potatoes. Pierce each 3 times with the sharp point of a knife. Bake in a 400F oven for about 1 hour, or till potatoes are very tender. Remove from oven, and cool for 5 minutes. Put the SB in the bottom of a medium-sized bowl. Slice the tops of the potatoes to create an oval top and remove the tops. Scoop out potatoes with a spoon and add to the SB in the bowl. Don't forget to scoop the potatoes out of the tops. Mash the potatoes with an electric mixer or by hand. Add onion and garlic powders, salt, and pepper and stir to blend. Slowly add the H&H, using just enough to make a mashed-potato consistency. Taste to adjust seasonings, adding more salt and pepper if needed. Whip the potatoes to a creamy consistency. (I use a wire whip attachment to my mixer for this.) Using a spoon, pile the mashed potatoes into the shells. Use leftover potatoes for tops. When ready to bake, preheat oven to 400F. Lay potatoes on a baking dish; sprinkle with paprika; push pats of SB into tops. Bake for 20-25 minutes or till tops are browned and crusty and butter is melted.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008


Taking photos of food is not difficult when it's just Guy and me. But when company is present, I look right past the camera sitting on the counter as a reminder. Luckily, there were some leftovers from our recent company dinner. And I took them out of the fridge, cold, and photographed them. The potato was unembellished since it was frozen for future use. The meat was cold with congealed fat; and even the mushroom sauce was cold and thick instead of warm and flowing. But at least you can get the idea.

I don't know why men obsess over standing rib roast. As far as I'm concerned, it's a heart attack on a plate. How can you not see all the fat in the meat? But this is what they want. Sara and I loaded up on veggies and soup and nibbled on the beef, while the men chowed down with smiles on their faces that just wouldn't go away. Our menu consisted of Escarole Bean Soup; Standing Rib Roast with Mushroom Sauce; Stuffed Baked Potatoes; Roasted Broccoli, Pea Pods, Carrots and Brussels Sprouts; and Crescent Rolls. For dessert, we had apple crostada and ice cream with Butterscotch Caramel Sauce. Wouldn't this make a wonderful Christmas dinner? Mmmmm.

Standing rib roast is one of the easiest entrees to prepare, yet everyone I know is terrified of it. And, contrary to some opinions, you don't have to shy away from a small 2-rib roast. That's exactly what I had. The roast weighed 3.73 lbs.; and some would say to just cut it into steaks. But the meat roasted into a beautifully rare piece of heaven. Just follow my instructions and you, too, can enjoy this dinner that's fit for a king. And, BTW, 3.73 lbs. would have fed 4 of us comfortably. Instead, Sara and I ate light, the men over-indulged, and there was enough leftover for Guy to have a sandwich for lunch the next day and the remaining piece of meat with the leftover mushroom sauce for dinner.

Herbed Standing Rib Roast with Mushroom Sauce
Source: Judy's Kitchen
Rating: 10 out of 10
1 standing rib roast, choice grade
2 Tbsp. fresh oregano (or 2 tsp. dried)
1 Tbsp. fresh marjoram (or 1 tsp. dried)
2 Tbsp. fresh thyme (or 2 tsp. dried)
2 Tbsp. fresh Basil (or 2 tsp. dried)
1/2 tsp. garlic powder (I used McCormick California Style)
1/2 tsp. onion powder (I used McCormick California Style)
1 tsp. Kosher salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1 Tbsp. softened Smart Balance buttery spread

Take roast out of fridge 2 hours before you cook it, so that it will be at room temperature when it goes into the oven. This is very important. If using fresh herbs, chop them as finely as you can, using no stems, just leaves. In small bowl, mix herbs, garlic and onion powders, salt, pepper and SB till it's like a paste. Spread the paste over the roast with your hands, covering it well.

For a 3-rib roast, preheat oven to 475F. Place roast in a pan with sides 2" - 3" high and roast for 30 minutes. Reduce heat to 375F. Cook for 1 to 1-1/4 hours, or till instant meat thermometer registers 115F. (If you don't have an instant meat thermometer, consider buying one to make this roast.) Take the roast out of the oven and place it right on your carving board. Cover it with aluminum foil and let it rest for 25-30 minutes. You can also throw a towel over it if you want. Now you can place all your side dishes in the oven and heat up your mushroom sauce while the roast is resting. And when you're ready to slice the roast, it will be perfectly rare, about 125-130 degrees. (NOTE: For a 2-rib roast, follow directions above, except after roasting at 475F for 1/2 hour, reduce the oven temp to 350F, and cooked for an additional 40-50 minutes.)

Cooking times are guidelines. Oven temperatures vary; use a meat thermometer to determine doneness and begin checking BEFORE stated end time.

Yield guidelines: 3-rib roast will serve 6; 2-rib roast will serve 4. Generally, figure 1 rib will serve 2 people.

Mushroom Sauce
INGREDIENTS: 2 tsp. Smart Balance buttery spread
8 oz. sliced mushrooms
3 Tbsp. minced shallots
1 tsp. minced garlic
1/2 tsp. sea salt
2 pinches black pepper
1 cup chicken or beef broth
2 tsp. Balsamic vinegar
1/2 Tbsp. Smart Balance or butter

In large heavy skillet, melt the Smart Balance over medium-high heat. When it is sizzling, add
the mushrooms. Saute them till they start to brown, about 3 minutes, turning down heat if necessary. Add the shallots and garlic and cook a few more minutes, stirring to prevent burning. Stir in broth and vinegar and simmer for about 5 minutes. Add 1/2 Tbsp. Smart Balance; cover; remove from heat; set aside. When roast is resting, reheat the mushroom sauce and serve with the roast.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008


Are you looking for Christmas cookie recipes? And just what is your idea of a Christmas cookie tray anyway? Some people make a tray of rolled sugar cookies with frosting and sprinkles. For me, I like to have an assortment of flavors, textures and shapes on a Christmas cookie tray. So I carefully select my recipes with the goal of not having too much of one thing. I never have chocolate chip cookies on a Christmas cookie tray. Not that I don't like them, it's just that I don't think they're "Christmas special." Note the exception below: Chocolate Gingerbread Drops. They are worth putting on a Christmas cookie tray because they're holiday-ish and taste really good.

Though I don't have my whole repertoire of cookie recipes posted, I have made a list for you of some possible candidates for your cookie tray this year. I do hope you'll try some and let me know if you do. As always, I look forward to your comments.

1.Caramel Shortbread Sticks --These are super yummy and super easy.
2.Apricot-Orange Shortbread bars
3.Chocolate Hazelnut Bars
4.Lemon-Orange Curd Bars--fast & easy curd recipe
5.Pecan-Pumpkin Butter Cheesecake Squares--uses pumpkin butter instead of pumpkin
6.Pumpkin Streusel Cheesecake Bars--this is my prize-winning recipe. It's easy and good.
7.Blue Ribbon Rocky Road Caramel Bars--super super yummy

1.King Arthur's Copykat Berger Cookies--These are better than what you think and the first to go on a cookie tray.
2.Chocolate Gingerbread Drops--Glorified chocolate chippers, but oh, so good, and they have the holiday spirit.
3.Judy's Cranberry-Ginger Chai Latte Cookies--great Chai taste
4.Alison's Chewy Chai Meringue Cookies--These are the bomb!

1.Dee's Chess Pies--An oldie but goodie; they look great on a cookie tray.
2.Peanut Blossoms--Look great on a tray, but not one of my faves because I don't like biting into a big hard piece of chocolate.
3.Cousin Helen Heavenrich's Lemon Ginger Cookies--no great beauties, but, boy, are these good.
4.Checkered Cookies in the Style of Piemonte--This is a Mario Batali recipe, and it's very, very good.
5.Chocolate Cherry Cookies--These are yummy.
6.Kisses--One of my all-time faves -- don't make them with anything except Lekvar, even if you have to make it yourself.
7.Amaretto Butter Balls--these are the best butter balls, IMHO.

1.Rugelach--An all-time fave; a lot of work, but worth it because they're so very good, and this is the best recipe for them.
2.Little Lemon Hearts--Look cute on a tray.
3.Frosted Lemon Cookies--You can decorate these any which way -- red and green sprinkles, nuts, colored icing. They look cute and taste good.

Friday, December 12, 2008


I haven't made this 5-star Southern Living recipe for more than a year, but it was once my favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe. No wonder. A crisp outside, soft middle, just enough chocolate and combo of nuts make this one remarkable cookie. It took first prize in the chocolate chip cookie category in a previous festival and remains a favorite treat in many Eureka Springs kitchens. Maggie McCarthy, Dallas, Texas, came up with this recipe, and it was first published in the February 2006 issue of Southern Living. When I made this half batch, and then ate them, I remembered why I liked them so much. These are really top-notch cookies that could easily be made into "super cookies" with 1/4 cup or more of dough. The texture is similar to the Levain Bakery chocolate chip cookies, only with more chew from the oats. But be sure to use quick-cooking (1-minute) oats and not the instant or 5-minute for best results. I didn't change much on this recipe, because it's so good to start with. I did sub some Stevia for sugar, Smart Balance 50/50 Butter Blend for butter, added coffee flavor and increased the chocolate chips slightly. If you make these, they'll become one of your favorite chocolate chip cookies, too.
Oatmeal-Chocolate Chip Cookies
Adapted Half Batch from Southern Living
Rating: 10 out of 10

10 Tbsp. Smart Balance 50/50 Butter Blend, or butter
1/4 cup sugar (or 1-1/2 tsp. Stevia)
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/2 egg (2 Tbsp.)
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
2 tsp. strong coffee or coffee brandy
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. sea salt
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1-1/2 cups quick, 1-minute, rolled oats (not instant)
3/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips (I used Hershey's Special Dark)
1/4 cup toasted chopped walnuts
1/4 cup toasted chopped pecans

Preheat oven to 375F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. In large bowl, by hand, beat butter till smooth; gradually add sugars, beating again till smooth. Add egg, vanilla, coffee, baking powder and sea salt, beating till smooth and well combined. Stir in flour till it's absorbed, then stir in oats, chips and nuts till ingredients are well distributed. Drop by rounded tablespoonfuls onto prepared baking sheets. Bake 10-12 minutes, or till just barely done. Cool on wire racks. Yield: 19 2-1/4" cookies.

Thursday, December 11, 2008


A time-honored favorite for generations, the simple ginger snap cookie is a crowd pleaser. Serve them with ice cream, crumble them for parfaits, add them to sauerbraten gravy, or just eat them as is. Their spicy sweetness is a delight, especially around holiday time when everyone thinks about gingerbread and spice any way. Here is an easy recipe from Alice Waters' cookbook, "The Art of Simple Food." I've adapted the recipe to make a small quarter batch -- nineteen 2" cookies -- but you can double the amounts to get roughly 3 dozen, or quadruple to get roughly 6 dozen . If you follow the directions, you'll get a cookie that snaps and is quite delicious.
Ginger Snaps
Adapted Quarter Batch from "The Art of Simple Food", Alice Waters
Rating: 9 out of 10

1/2 cup all-purpose flour
scant 1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/8 tsp. sea salt
3/4 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. powdered ginger
1/8 tsp. black pepper
2 Tbsp. butter
scant 1/4 cup sugar
1 Tbsp. egg
1/8 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1 Tbsp. molasses

Combine first seven ingredients in a small bowl. In a medium bowl, by hand, beat the butter, sugar, egg, vanilla and molasses till smooth. Add the dry ingredients to the wet, stirring with a spatula till smooth and well mixed. Form dough into a 2" diameter log and roll on a lightly floured surface. Wrap in plastic wrap; roll on countertop till smooth. Refrigerate or freeze till firm.
When ready to bake cookies, preheat oven to 350F; line baking sheets with parchment. Slice dough into 1/4" rounds with sharp knife. Dip 1 side in sugar (course or regular) and place sugar side up on baking sheet, evenly spaced apart. Leave about 2" between cookies. Bake 7-8 minutes, till completely done for snappy cookies. Or underbake them for softer cookies. Cool 2 minutes before transferring to wire rack to finish cooling. Best eaten the day they are baked.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008


I would never have made these cookies, had I not first made those amazing Gingerbread Pear Muffins. When I tasted the bittersweet chocolate with the gingerbread muffin, I knew I had been translated to heaven. So when I saw this recipe, combining gingerbread with the bittersweet chocolate once again, I knew I would like them. And I do. They're not as heavenly as the gingerbread pear muffins that will probably be my lifelong top fave of everything. But these are very good. Do be careful not to overbake them, or you'll have dry gingerbread. For the holidays, the size is perfect: small (2") cookies, with crispy edges and soft middles. Cherries and chocolate are perfect complements for sweet gingerbread.
I halved the recipe to get seventeen 2" cookies. If you want to make the full recipe, you can find it at the Better Homes & Gardens website. Following is my slightly adapted version of this great holiday cookie recipe.

Chocolate Gingerbread Drops
Adapted from Better Homes & Gardens
Rating: 9 out of 10
1/4 cup Smart Balance 50/50 Butter Blend (or butter or shortening)
1/4 + 1/8 cup brown sugar
1/2 tsp. powdered ginger
1/2 tsp. allspice
1/8 tsp. salt
2 Tbsp. molasses
1/2 egg (2 tsp.)
1/4 + 1/8 tsp. baking soda
1 cup all-purpose flour, lightly spooned
1/4 cup dried cherries
1-1/2 oz. bittersweet chocolate, chopped
2 Tbsp. crystallized ginger
Preheat oven to 375F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. In large mixing bowl, by hand, beat Smart Balance till smooth. Add brown sugar, spices, salt and molasses and continue to beat till again smooth. Beat in egg and baking soda till smooth. Stir in flour, cherries, chocolate and crystallized ginger. Drop dough by rounded teaspoons onto prepared cookie sheets. Bake about 6-8 minutes, or till just barely done. (Test cookies with a toothpick inserted in cookie -- not into chocolate -- when it returns with just a few crumbs, cookies should be removed from oven.) Transfer cookies to a wire rack to cool. Yield: 17 two-inch cookies
Store in airtight container at room temperature up to 3 days. Freeze up to 3 months.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008


Here's something you can make with leftover cooked chicken, especially leftover rotisserie chicken. It doesn't take long, and you can vary the veggies according to what you have on hand. Mushrooms, broccoli, cauliflower and sweet potatoes work well with pot pies; but this time, I just used baby carrots, green beans, peas, and mashed potatoes. When it's cold outside, this is a comforting meal. You can have a salad with it, or just have it alone. It's a balanced meal, so you don't have to feel guilty if that's all you serve.

The phyllo crust doesn't have to be full of fat. You can spray non-stick cooking spray between layers and just brush a little butter or Smart Balance on the top layer. It'll taste just as good, and no one will miss the calories. As I've said before, I'm not really a fan of phyllo dough, but for pot pie, it's a good choice, especially when you make it low-fat.

Chicken Pot Pie
Source: Judy's Kitchen
Rating: 8 out of 10
Pot Pie: 1 Tbsp. Smart Balance buttery spread
1/2 cup chopped onions
1 garlic clove, minced or grated
1 Tbsp. fresh marjoram, oregano or thyme, chopped fine without stems
1/4 cup baby carrots
1/4 cup green beans, cut in 1/2" pieces
1/2 tsp. sea salt, or to taste
1/8 tsp. black pepper
1/2 cup leftover mashed potatoes
1 cup chicken broth
1 cup cooked, shredded or cut-up chicken (or turkey)
3/4 cup frozen peas
3 Tbsp. heavy cream (or lite sour cream, if desired)

Phyllo Crust: 4 sheets phyllo dough
non-stick cooking spray
1-1/2 tsp. Smart Balance buttery spread, melted

Preheat oven to 375F. In heavy 12" skillet, saute onions in Smart Balance over medium heat till transparent, about 4 minutes. Add garlic and herbs and saute for another minute, stirring. Add carrots, green beans and mashed potatoes and continue to stir till just heated, about 2 minutes. Stir in chicken broth, raise heat, and bring to boil. Reduce heat to a low simmering boil, and cook, uncovered, about 15 minutes, or till sauce reduces and thickens slightly. Add remaining ingredients and stir till heated through, but do not boil. Taste to adjust seasonings, adding more salt if needed.

In the meantime, lay a sheet of phyllo dough on top of a sheet of plastic wrap. Spray with non-stick cooking spray and add another sheet of phyllo on top; repeat until all 4 sheets are together. Do not spray top sheet of phyllo. Cut the phyllo stack in half vertically, then into thirds, giving you 6 stacks.

Spoon pot pie filling into two 2-cup baking dishes and top each with 3 stacks of phyllo. Brush each top with melted Smart Balance. Place baking dishes on a rimmed cookie sheet and place in oven. Bake about 20 minutes, or till filling is bubbling and crust is golden. Let cool 10 minutes before serving. Yield: 2 servings

Monday, December 8, 2008


A while back, I challenged Anna of Cookie Madness to a throwdown for peanut butter cookies. Anna has a peanut butter cookie recipe that she thinks is the best, and I have a recipe that I think is the best. Anna quickly pointed out that the cookies were different kinds and shouldn't be faced off; and in hindsight, I have to agree. But she did bake up a batch of my faves and said she liked them. In fact, she named them into her mid-autumn top 10 list. So the least I could do was to bake up a batch of her fave.
Actually, I had her recipe in my peanut butter cookie recipe file waiting to be made. Anna had the same recipe from Teri's Kitchen and just added peanut butter chips to them. Teri's Kitchen calls these Old-Fashioned Peanut Butter Cookies, and Anna calls them One-Bowl Criss Cross Peanut Butter Cookies. So here's the chronology of my kitchen experiments with Anna's One-Bowl Criss Cross Peanut Butter Cookies:
1. Made a half batch of Anna's recipe
making no substitutions or changes. I baked some small and some larger.
The cookies tasted dry to me. Did I put in too much flour? Did I overbake them? (Top photo is first batch.)
2. Emailed Anna to discuss cookies. Maybe I just don't like a sandy-textured cookie. That's how they're supposed to be.
3. Decided to make cookies again, measuring very carefully this time. As long as I was making the cookies again, I decided to add some flavors I like with peanut butter: coffee and cinnamon. Used Smart Balance buttery spread instead of butter this time, and baked some of the cookies using 1/4 cup of dough and some using 2 Tbsp. of dough. I slightly underbaked this batch. The flavor of the cookies was improved, but the texture stayed the same -- it didn't matter whether the cookie was large or small. Anna's right: I'm not fond of sandy-textured cookies.
The thing that's decidely different about these cookies is that they don't change when you put them in the oven. They don't puff up or spread. They stay pretty much the way they are when you put them in the oven. The texture is sandy and on the dry side. I'm going to assume that, if they're Anna's fave, there are a lot of others out there who will also like them a lot. So following is the recipe the way I made them the second time. You may think it's crazy to add coffee and cinnamon, but trust me, you won't taste either of those flavors: the cookie just kind of mellows out. Or, you can do what Anna did: add chipotle chile powder!
Just in case you're not sure whether you'll like this cookie, just remember that the half batch doesn't make that many -- only about 10. So you don't have a lot to lose by trying. Who knows, you might find the peanut butter cookie of your dreams.
One-Bowl Criss Cross Peanut Butter Cookies
Adapted Half Batch from Teri's Kitchen + Cookie Madness
Rating: 8 out of 10
INGREDIENTS: 1/2 stick (4 Tbsp.) of Smart Balance buttery spread
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup sugar (I used 1-1/2 tsp. Stevia)
1/2 cup peanut butter (I used Smucker's Natural)
1/2 egg (about 2 Tbsp.) (Use the other half egg to make a half batch of something else!)
1/4 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1/4 tsp. coffee syrup*
1/4 tsp. sea salt
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1/8 tsp. cinnamon
3/4 cup all-purpose flour (3 oz. by weight)
1/2 cup peanut butter chips
Preheat oven to 350F. By hand, cream butter and sugars; add peanut butter, egg, vanilla and coffee syrup; mix well, scraping down sides. Add salt, baking soda and cinnamon, mixing well. Add flour and chips and stir till blended.
Using 2 Tbsp. of dough**, shape into 1" balls and place on cookie sheets about 2" apart. Flatten balls with a fork, making crisscross patterns. Bake about 10 minutes, or till just barely done. (Use a toothpick to test for doneness, just like you do for a cake.) Cookies will not be browned and will be soft. Transfer carefully to a wire rack to cool. These cookies break easily, so be gentle. (**Or use 1/4 cup dough and bake about 12 minutes.)

*Coffee Syrup: In a small jar, measure 1/4 cup coffee brandy and 2-3 Tbsp. instant coffee. Refrigerate and use as needed. This is a wonderful flavoring for chocolate recipes, such as brownies, cupcakes, etc.; for peanut butter recipes and for chocolate chip cookies. Use like you would vanilla but add it to vanilla instead of substituting it. If you don't care to bake with alcoholic beverages, you can sub very very strong coffee for the syrup.)

Friday, December 5, 2008

A YUMMY SHRIMP-PASTA TOSS had a recipe for Fresh Tomato Shrimp Pasta, which I adapted for the ingredients I had on hand. The shrimp were in the freezer, but we caught them ourselves a few months ago. Instead of fettucini, I used thin spaghetti: you can use whatever pasta suits you. The thin spaghetti worked very well with this recipe, especially with the additions of Smart Balance, cream and parsley. For the sauce, I added mushrooms, white wine and some heavy cream. Luckily, my oregano has survived the freezes we've had, so I was able to harvest enough for this recipe, and IMHO, it made the dish superb. Of course, you can use dried oregano, but be sure it's a fresh jar of good-quality oregano, and only use about 1/4 of the amount listed, since dried herbs are more concentrated.
This dish was exquisite -- one that I'll definitely make again. We both liked it. And here's a real bonus for small eaters like us: this recipe made enough for 2 meals. So we had two dinners out of it. It was every bit as good when reheated, two nights later. How's that for efficiency?
Since there is a bit of chopping to do, you can prep all the veggies in the AM, then when you're ready to start dinner, it's a breeze to finish.
Pasta with Shrimp Sauce
Adapted from
Rating: 10 out of 10
Pasta: 8 oz. dry thin spaghetti, or other pasta of choice
1 Tbsp. Smart Balance buttery spread or butter
1 Tbsp. heavy cream
1 Tbsp. chopped fresh parsley
Shrimp Sauce: 3 Tbsp. olive oil, divided use
1 lb. raw shrimp, peeled and deveined, patted dry with paper towels
1/2 cup chopped sweet onion
1 cup sliced mushrooms
4 tsp. chopped fresh garlic
2 Tbsp. chopped fresh oregano leaves (or 1 tsp. dried crushed oregano)
1/2 tsp. crushed dried basil
1/4 cup drinking-quality dry white wine
salt and pepper to taste (taste before using -- I used about 3/4 tsp. salt, 1/2 tsp. pepper)
3/4 cup canned, diced tomatoes in juice
1 cup chicken broth
2-3 cups chopped fresh spinach (I used 2 cups baby spinach)
2 Tbsp. heavy cream
1/4 cup grated fresh Parmesan cheese
In a large, heavy skillet, heat 2 Tbsp. oil till very hot. Add shrimp and quickly par-cook on both sides, but don't cook through. Remove shrimp to a dish and keep warm.
Add remaining 1 Tbsp. oil to pan with onions and mushrooms and saute over medium heat till soft, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic, oregano and basil and cook for another minute, stirring as needed. Pour the wine over the veggies and let it bubble for about 30 seconds while scraping up the bits on the bottom of the pan. Add salt and pepper, tomatoes and broth and bring mixture to a boil, then lower heat and simmer for about 15 minutes, uncovered, till mixture reduces. Cover pan and continue to cook sauce on low heat.
Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook per package directions, until tender.
When pasta is almost done cooking,
stir in the spinach, par-cooked shrimp, and cream, cooking just till heated through.

Drain the pasta and toss with Smart Balance, cream and parsley.

Place in serving bowls and spoon shrimp sauce over the pasta. Sprinkle Parmesan cheese over top of shrimp sauce. Enjoy! Yield: 2-4 servings

Thursday, December 4, 2008


Lauren Groveman is a food writer for the Larchmont Gazette, as well as a cookbook author and TV personality. So I figured her recipe for
"Loaded with Blueberries" Muffins
would have to be good. I was disappointed, to say the least. Lauren uses cinnamon and nutmeg to flavor the muffin, and IMHO, those flavors don't work well here. Call me a traditionalist, but I still like lemon and orange zests the best for flavoring anything made with berries. The muffins also come up a little short on sugar, and you know I tend to go light on sugar. But these need a little more. In the rare event you might like to make these, I've adjusted the ingredient amounts below to make these a little sweeter. I added some broken pecans on the tops of the muffins, and I do like the texture and taste of the pecans on the muffin tops. But I won't make this recipe again.
Blueberry-Cranberry Muffins
Rating: 5 out of 10
1/2 cup mixed blueberries/cranberries
1 Tbsp. sugar
3 Tbsp. broken pecans
1-3/4 cups all-purpose or white whole wheat flour
1-1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. sea salt
3/4 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
1 large egg
1 Tbsp. oil
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup white sugar + 2 Tbsp. for tops
1/2 cup low-fat buttermilk
1/2 cup applesauce
1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1-1/2 cups mixed blueberries and cranberries, frozen & unthawed
Preheat oven to 400F. Spray 8 muffin cups with non-stick cooking spray. (Or use a 6-cup standard muffin tin and a 12-cup mini-muffin tin.)
In a small bowl, mix all topping ingredients together. Set aside.
In a large bowl, combine first 6 ingredients. In a medium bowl, combine egg, oil, brown sugar and 1/2 cup of white sugar, whisking till well combined and smooth. Whisk in applesauce and vanilla. Fold berries into dry ingredients, coating them thoroughly with flour mixture. Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients, stirring with a spatula just till barely combined. Spoon lightly into prepared muffin cups, allowing about 1/4 cup batter for each. Sprinkle topping mix evenly over muffins, then sprinkle tops with remaining 2 Tbsp. sugar. Bake the minis for about 13 minutes; the standard muffins for about 19 minutes. Check for doneness by inserting a toothpick near center of muffin; when it returns with just a few crumbs, the muffins are done. Cool in pans about 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to finish cooling.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008


It's been a long time since I made an apple strudel. I used to make them all the time, with frozen puff pastry. They're easy and fast and perfect for just two people -- not a lot of leftovers. I've been thinking about strudel lately, and I decided to make a recipe I saw on, by Robert Bleifer. Instead of brushing melted butter on the layers of Phyllo dough, Robert uses a mixture of beaten egg whites and just a touch of olive oil. Instead of the olive oil, I used melted Smart Balance buttery spread, which I think has a better flavor for a pastry. I made other changes as well, most notably I subbed toasted broken walnuts for the plumped rum-soaked raisins. I served this the other night, when we had a friend for dinner. The dessert got two thumbs up -- way up -- from our friend and from picky Guy. So I guess it's a winner. I'm not a big fan of Phyllo dough, and I've gotten away from strudels, but this was a nice dessert. One last word of warning: Don't serve it with ice cream, or anything for that matter. Let the strudel stand alone so you can appreciate its flavors. Any accompaniment will mask the apple flavors that want to shine on their own. It's a nice, light dessert -- perfect for 4 people. There was one slice left over, and I ate it the next day cold after lunch. It was still good.

Low-Fat Apple Strudel
Adapted from Robert Bleifer's Apple Strudel, Food Network
Rating: 8 out of 10

1 Granny Smith apple
1 Delicious apple Total weight of apples, about 10 oz. (2-1/2 cups)
1 Tbsp. lemon juice
1/4 tsp. lemon zest
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. cornstarch
1 Tbsp. apricot preserves or apple jelly
1 egg white, room temperature
1 Tbsp. Smart Balance buttery spread, melted or butter
2 Tbsp. Panko breadcrumbs
2 Tbsp. finely chopped almonds
2 Tbsp. sugar + 1 tsp. to sprinkle over top of strudel
5 sheets of phyllo
2 Tbsp. toasted broken walnuts

Preheat oven to 350F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Peel and core the apples and grate them on a box grater or slice them thinly. Measure out about 2-1/2 cups and put them in a bowl with the lemon juice, zest, sugar, cinnamon, cornstarch, and preserves. Toss to distribute ingredients.

In a medium microwaveable bowl, melt the Smart Balance and let it cool slightly. Add the egg white and whisk it till it's smooth.

In a small bowl or dish combine breadcrumbs, almonds and 2 Tbsp. sugar, stirring to distribute ingredients. Place one sheet of phyllo on a large piece of plastic wrap on a work surface and lightly brush with egg white mixture. Sprinkle about 1 Tbsp. crumb mixture over dough. Top with another layer of phyllo and repeat the process four times. When you get to the last sheet of phyllo, just brush it with the egg white mixture; don't use any crumb mixture on top.

Place the apple mixture on the lower 1/3 of the phyllo tack, being sure to leave a 2" border. Gently lift the bottom edge of the phyllo stack to cover the filling, then fold the side edges over, making an envelope. Continue to roll the stack away from you, until the filling is completely sealed in and the seam is on the bottom.

Transfer to the lined baking sheet, brush the top with the remaining egg white mixture and sprinkle with the remaining 1 tsp. of sugar. Place in oven and bake 30 minutes. Let cool before serving. (I think the phyllo knew I didn't like it. One side looked perfect: see above photo. But the filling leaked out the other side. It's ok, it tasted fine. Puff pastry never did that. I think phyllo is just too thin. Haven't changed my mind; I still don't care for it.)

Tuesday, December 2, 2008


In November 2008, CI updated its pumpkin pie recipe. They found, through trial and error, that adding some sweet potatoes and maple syrup to the filling and cooking it with the spices and sugar before baking it in the pie crust gave the pie more depth of taste. They also liked fresh ginger as opposed to dry ginger. And where they came up with whole eggs + yolks is a mystery. (If I make this pie again, I will just use two eggs.) Usually, CI is a dependable source for good recipes. Their
vodka pie crust
is absolutely phenomenal and one that will now be a standard in my house. But I had to add spices and flavoring to the pumpkin pie filling. I tasted the filling before it went into the Cuisinart, after cooking it for a while, and it was very good. But after I added the cream and milk, it seemed bland. So I added more ginger and cinnamon, then I added cloves and allspice, then I added rum, and finally it was tasting like a pumpkin pie should. The texture of the pie is great, and it's just sweet enough. But IMHO, CI did not flavor the pie correctly; and it needed just a touch of cloves and allspice to wake it up but not overpower it. (I know this is very subjective; everyone has his own idea of what a pumpkin pie should taste like. While I don't care for a pie that is overwhelmed with spices, I do like to taste some spice in the filling.) The rum just completes the flavor. (If you don't cook with alcohol, I don't have a substitute for you. Just leave the rum out and have a little less flavor.)

Cook's Illustrated 2008 Pumpkin Pie, Adapted
Rating: 8 out of 10

1 cup pumpkin puree (canned or fresh roasted) (I used fresh-roasted pumpkin)
1/2 cup drained canned yams, or 1/2 cup fresh-roasted sweet potatoes (I used the latter)
1/4 cup + 2 Tbsp. sugar
2 Tbsp. pure maple syrup
1-1/4 tsp. grated fresh ginger
2 tsp. cinnamon
1/8 tsp. fresh grated nutmeg
Big pinch powdered cloves
Big pinch powdered allspice
1/2 tsp. sea salt
1/2 cup milk, divided use
1-1/2 large eggs + 1 large egg yolk (Or just use 2 large eggs.)
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
2 Tbsp. Barbados rum (or any other good rum that you have)

Preheat oven to 400F. Prebake pie crust and transfer to a wire rack. While crust is baking, start the pumpkin filling: In a 2-quart heavy pot, cook first 10 ingredients (pumpkin, potatoes, sugar, maple syrup, spices and salt) over medium heat. Bring to a sputtering simmer and cook 5-7 minutes. Continue to cook, stirring constantly, until thick and shiny, 10-15 minutes, while mashing any lumps against side of pot. Transfer mixture to work bowl of a food processor and puree with 1/2 cup of milk. Add eggs, one at a time and pulse to combine each. Transfer mixture back to pot, add remaining ingredients (1/2 cup milk, heavy cream, vanilla, & rum) and stir to combine. (I did this on the cooktop, with stove turned to medium.) Pour hot mixture into warm crust and place on baking sheet on bottom rack of oven, at the lowest setting. Bake for 10 minutes; reduce heat to 325F and bake about 25-35 minutes longer, or till pie is just barely set. (I watch the pie puff up, starting at the edges and working towards the center. When everything but 2" or so of the center is puffed up, and the pie just jiggles slightly, take it out.) Cool at room temperature 2-3 hours, then refrigerate. Serve with rum whipped cream, if desired. Yield: one 9" pie, about 8 servings

Monday, December 1, 2008


Leave it to Cook's Illustrated to come up with a pie crust recipe that uses vodka to get a flaky, tender crust. Naturally, there's a scientific reason for it: 80 Proof vodka is 60% water, 40% alcohol. The alcohol burns off, leaving a tender, flaky crust. The alcohol also does not add to gluten formation, another factor in the incredible flakiness of this crust. So I tried it for my pumpkin pie this year. But we didn't have an 80 Proof vodka -- we had Smirnoff 70 Proof; and it worked just fine, even though it was citrus flavored. You cannot taste the vodka, nor the citrus. Since part of the secret of this recipe is chilling the crust, even after rolling, I decided to use an aluminum pie pan, instead of the usual glass one. CI recommends placing the pie on a cookie sheet and baking it on the bottom oven grate , so I did away with my pizza stone and followed their instructions.

What can I say? CI came through again. This pie crust ranks right up there with my fave, and I thought I had the best recipe for pie crust. I've rated both recipes 10 out of 10; both pie doughs are tender and flaky and flavorful, though I think my old fave has slightly more flavor, given it contains an egg and vinegar; but the CI vodka crust is definitely flakier. With my first attempt at making CI's pie crust, I was amazed at how easy it was to roll out. But if I follow the CI instructions on chilling to make my fave, maybe it will also be easy to roll out. I will have to work with both doughs a number of times before I can truly make a comparison. For now, I have two favorite pie crust recipes; and either one will be okay by me.
Here's the rub. As I read a lot of the comments from people who have made this crust, I found that the dough is supposed to be very moist, more moist than usual. So It requires as much as a 1/4 cup of flour to roll it out. Well, my crust didn't need much flour at all to roll it out. What did I do wrong? I followed their recipe, that's what. They said 2-1/2 cups of flour, or 12-1/2 oz. I guess 2-1/2 cups is supposed to equal 12-1/2 oz., but my 2-1/2 cups came up short, so I had to add more flour to get the weight. The dough was not exceptionally moist. It went together, but it was tight, not exactly dry, but actually perfect for rolling, not requiring much flour at all. (In hindsight, I think what happened is that the relative humidity in my home is very low right now [about 34%]; and the flour weighed less. I did some quick research online and found that humidity levels can and do affect flour. I also had trouble with a cookie recipe same day for the same reason.) So whether you measure by weight or volume, remember to check the humidity levels in your home -- but the real key is to assess what kind of a dough you have and make an educated guess on the amount of flour you need to roll it out. (I've got another interesting story of a pie crust disaster in my early years because I used too much flour to roll out the crust -- I'll save it for another time, but please only add as much flour as you absolutely need or you may wind up with a stiff-as-a-board pie crust.) If the dough is very moist, don't be afraid to use as much as 1/4 cup flour to get it to roll out. And be sure you work with a well-chilled dough before you roll.

According to CI, this recipe yields two crusts. I used one for the pumpkin pie and froze the other for later use. Once I rolled out the dough for the pie, I still had some left over. I rerolled the dough and was able to fill a small disposable pot-pie tin (see top photo). I froze it for later use, also. Next time, I'll separate the dough into 3 crusts, instead of 2. (Note that I like a thin crust. If you roll yours thicker, you should keep to 2 crusts.)

One more note: CI recommends using pie weights when pre-baking a crust. Since I didn't have pie weights, I subbed a 1-lb. bag of dried chick peas (garbanzo beans), and they worked perfectly. They can be reused many times -- I just put mine in a plastic bag for next time.

Cook's Illustrated Vodka Pie Crust
Rating: 10 out of 10
12 Tbsp. (1-1/2 sticks) cold unsalted butter
1/2 cup cold vegetable shortening, cut into 4 pieces
1/4 cup vodka (I used Smirnoff Citrus, 70 Proof)
1/4 cup water
2-1/2 cups (12-1/2 oz.) unbleached all-purpose flour, divided use
1 tsp. table salt (I used sea salt)
2 Tbsp. sugar
Cut the butter into 1/4 " slices, then into quarters. Measure the shortening and cut it into small pieces. Lay it all out on a sheet of wax paper and put them in the freezer for about 15 minutes.

Measure the vodka and water in a measuring cup so that it equals 1/2 cup, and place it in the freezer also.

Process 1-1/2 cups flour with the salt and sugar in the work bowl of a food processor until combined, about 2 one-second pulses. Add the butter and shortening and process in short, quick pulses, until dough comes together in uneven clumps. (Don't use a continuous pulse, as this incorporates the fat too quickly.) All the flour should be coated, and the dough should kind of look like cottage cheese curds. Scrape down dough and add remaining cup of flour; pulse again, with short, quick pulses, until mixture is evenly distributed around bowl, about 4-6 quick pulses. Using feeding tube, pour vodka/water mixture into bowl and again use short, quick pulses to incorporate into dough. Pulse till dough is mixed and comes together. You should be able to see tiny pieces of butter in the dough. Remove dough from work bowl and divide into two or three equal pieces (two if you like a thicker crust; three if you like your crust thinner). Flatten each into a 4" disk and wrap each in plastic wrap. Refrigerate at least 45 minutes, or up to 2 days, or freeze for later use.

When ready to bake, preheat oven to 400F. Place oven rack in lowest position and place a rimmed baking sheet on bottom rack. Roll out chilled dough into a circle, about 13" diameter, using two sheets of wax paper. Use the amount of flour that is right for the consistency of your dough. Place the rolled-out dough on the wax paper in the fridge for 15 minutes, then transfer to a pie plate; trim and crimp edges. Line dough with tinfoil and weight with pie weights, beans, rice or coins. (Note: a 1-lb. bag of dried chick peas works great!) Bake 15 minutes; remove foil and weights (just lift all 4 corners of the tinfoil up and out of the pie crust); bake 5-10 more minutes, or till crust is golden brown and crisp. Cool slightly. If filling with pumpkin pie filling, place hot filling in warm crust.

Saturday, November 29, 2008


This Thanksgiving Guy and I are thankful for friends. Our sons and other family members all live too far away to have Thanksgiving dinner with us, but for the past two years, our friends, Dale and Ed, have invited us to share their Thanksgiving dinner at their beachfront home on Topsail Island, NC, about 1-1/2 hours from our home in New Bern. The weather, which had been unseasonably cold, decided to bless us with a glorious day filled with sunshine and balmy temperatures, a little above 60 degrees. Who could ask for anything more?
Dale's daughter, Pam and friend, Robert, and son, Curt, and wife, Dee, were also with us. Pam's friend, Carol, stopped in for a while, too. As usual, we goofed by not taking enough photos, especially of the group. But at least we have some. Pam has a 4-month old Min-Pin (miniature Dobermann Pinscher), "Mr. Big." I said he's part kangaroo (because he hops), part Chihuahua (because of his big ears) and part pinscher because of his body lines. A real cutie, he's loaded with energy and he reminded me of why I no longer want to commit to a pet.
Dale only asked me to bring a pumpkin pie, as she was loaded with
food. Pam and Robert both hail from Washington, DC; and Curt and Dee live in Ohio, so everyone was staying at the beach house, except us, of course. Since it's Dale and Ed's second home, this was a casual get-together, my favorite kind. No fuss, no muss.
Dale cooked most of the meal, and she is a seasoned, experienced cook. Since Robert is a sous chef (in addition to his regular full-time job which requires him to travel constantly), he decided to make biscuits which were to die for. I didn't want to know what was in them -- they were too good. Dale's turkey was cooked to perfection, moist, tender and very flavorful. Dressing, gravy, roasted veggies, sweet potatoes with cranberries and pecans, marinated asparagus, onion-cheese casserole and cranberry sauce rounded out the meal. But that wasn't enough. Dale also made plum pudding -- a tradition in her family. I had never tasted plum pudding and was anxious to try it. She made hard sauce and warm lemon sauce to go with the pudding; and I tried both. Two thumbs up, way up for plum pudding. By the time we got to the pumpkin pie, no one had any room, but we stuffed down a sliver. I'll post my recipe asap. It's Cook's Illustrated, and the crust is amazing. The filling was just ok for me, I was disappointed, actually.
Robert's sister makes specialty marmalades and jams, and he gave everyone a jar to take home and try. I picked the Tangerine Marmalade, and can't wait to try it. Robert opened a jar of Blood Orange Marmalade and served it with his yummy biscuits. It was delicious -- we all raved over it.
Thanks, Curt, for carving the turkey -- good job.
Thanks, Dale for a great meal and good company.
Thanks, Robert for the marmalade and those great biscuits.
Thanks, Ed and Dee, just for being there and sharing the holiday with us.
Thanks, Pam, for bringing Mr. Big to entertain us.
We had a great Thanksgiving, and didn't feel so "orphaned," thanks to great friends and their wonderful family.