Archive for January, 2011

One New Year’s Eve, Vonnie and Linda decided to eat dinner together– they had no idea it would become a 30-year (and counting) tradition for them and their families.

Food traditions are often started on a whim or out of convenience, but these little decisions change the flavor of our lives by adding a richness and stability that we look forward to. Linda and Vonnie are close friends for lots of reasons, but one dinner one night created a bond, a ritual, that has lasted for most of their adult lives.

They’ve even created a blog to chronicle their New Year’s memories and recipes, check it out at http://www.thirtynewyears.blogspot.com/

Although they had a hard time picking one recipe, they ultimately choose Steak Diana. This beef tenderloin dish has been cooked more than any other  (3 times) and it’s from The Cook Book, published by the National Council of Jewish Women.

Steak Diane

Four 4- to 6-ounce beef tenderloin steaks

2 Tablespoons flour

1/2 teaspoons salt

1/8 teaspoon pepper

4 Tablespoons butter

1 1/2 Tablespoon Dijon mustard

2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce

2 cups sliced mushrooms

2 Tablespoons minced shallots

1/4 cup brandy

1/2 cup beef bouillon

Pound steaks between two pieces of waxed paper. Dredge in flour mixed with salt and pepper.  In a large skillet melt 1 Tablespoon butter. Add steaks. Brown one minute on each side. Remove to platter.  Spread both sides with mustard and sprinkle Worcestershire sauce & set aside.  In same skillet melt rest of butter, sauté minced shallots briefly, add mushrooms and sauté a minute or two. Add brandy and flame. Stir in bouillon and remaining Worcestershire. Cook and stir until hot. Return steaks to skillet, reheat 2 minutes. Sprinkle with parsley and serve.


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My friend Megan and I decided to watch Julie and Julia together, so why not make dinner too. We put on pearls and cooked up The Ghost of Julia Child Menu from one of my favorite cookbooks, The Veganomicon. How would Julia feel about vegan food? I know you may find this hard to believe, but I think she would love it. Why? Because it is fearless, challenging, and Julia loved a good adventure especially when it came to her taste buds.

The Ghost of Julia Child’s Dinner Menu:

Sautéed Seitan with Mushrooms and Spinach

Herb-Scalloped Potatoes


Homemade old world bread

Heart Shaped Apple Galettes

Herb-Scalloped Potatoes

Serves 4

2 lbs. white potatoes (3 average sized) scrubbed & sliced into 1/8″ thick disks
3/4 cup vegetable broth
1/2 cup unsweetened soy milk
1 tbsp. olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
3 tbsp. nutritional yeast or flour (I highly recommend nutritional yeast for this)
1/2 tsp. dried thyme
1/2 tsp. dried basil
1/4 tsp. dried rosemary
1/4 tsp. paprika
1/2 tsp. salt
Several pinches of freshly ground black pepper

1. Preheat the oven to 400*. Lightly grease a 9 X 13-inch glass baking dish or ceramic casserole pan

2. Layer the potatoes in the pan, allowing them to slightly overlap. Lay them across the short way first, overlapping a little less than a half of each potato slice. In each subsequent row, overlap the potatoes by about one-quarter of each potato slice. It should look something like this:

3. Pour most of the vegetable broth over the potatoes, reserving about 3 tbsp. (no need to be exact). Pour the soymilk and drizzle the olive oil over potatoes, making sure to coat each one. If you need to use a little more than 1 tbsp., that’s ok.

4. Scatter the minced garlic over everything, then sprinkle 2 tbsp. of the nutritional yeast over all the potatoes. Drizzle the remaining vegetable broth- try not to wash all the nutritional yeast off the potatoes; you just want to get it moist, so drizzle slowly. Then sprinkle with the last tbsp. of nutritional yeast, the herbs, and the salt.

5. Cover loosely with foil and bake for 35 minutes. Uncover and bake for an additional 15 minutes.

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Monic’s note said it better than I ever could…

“See, gumbo is a tradition in my family.  Every New Years Day, my mom would fix gumbo.  It was the same every year.  Chip and dip to hold us over until the gumbo was done.  And around noontime or after, she’d announce it was done and we would come running.”

“If the gumbo could talk, it would chronicle all the laughs and stories my family and friends have shared over the years.  It would tell you how many people’s noses ran while eating just one bowl.  It would recant the number of times my dad said “don’t pick out the shrimp from the pot!  Whatever comes up in the spoon is what goes in your bowl.”  And it would marvel at how a simple tradition has kept my family (and friends) connected for so many years.”

Monic’s Modified New Year’s Gumbo recipe:

Mom’s Seafood Gumbo

Time: about 3-1/2 hours

2 pounds raw shrimp, in shells

4 large green onions chopped, tops reserved

4 tablespoons bacon fat

3 tablespoons flour

1 large onion, chopped

2 cloves garlic, chopped

1 bell pepper, chopped

3 stalks celery, chopped

1-1/2 pounds hot Creole sausage sliced into 1-inch chunks

1 pound canned tomatoes

Tabasco, salt and pepper to taste

4 bay leaves

1/2 teaspoon thyme

1/3 teaspoon basil

1/2 cup chopped parsley

1 pound crabmeat

6 cups chicken stock

Dash file powder

Cooked rice

Peel and de-vein shrimp.  Cut all vegetables and meat.

Make a roux by melting in a heavy pot 4 tablespoons bacon fat.  Blend in 3 tablespoons flour.  Cook over low heat, stirring constantly until a very dark brown.

Add chopped onions, garlic, bell pepper, and celery.  Stir and brown slightly.  Add sausage and tomatoes and chicken stock.  Add Tabasco and up to 2 teaspoons cayenne pepper, salt and pepper to taste, bay leaf, thyme and basil.  Let simmer slowly for 1-1/2 to 2 hours.  (Check to add more salt, pepper and cayenne as necessary.)  During last half hour of cooking, add green onions, parsley, crab meat and shrimp.  (Start cooking rice.)  Sprinkle a pinch of file powder over each serving and serve with rice.

Makes at least a dozen servings.

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Every Wednesday is taco night at our house. Here are some of weeknight fiesta’s from the past few months.

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Oh, fruitcake! It gets such a bad rap. I was delighted when Anne asked me over for dinner and to talk about her husband’s grandmother’s fruitcake recipe. Even more fun, she made it right in front of me!

Yes, we started the evening with a lovely dinner of wine and chicken ravioli in a walnut sauce. It was very yummy indeed.

Then it was on to the fruitcake. This recipe was passed down to Anne and she is the only person in the family who makes it. It requires some specific ingredients. She traditional buys boxed Nonesuch mincemeat, but this year, the stores in her area stopped stocking it. Anne had to go for a different brand and a jar version.

First, we had to open the jar…

And Anne’s story…

Finally into the pan!

I left before the cake was finished, but it turned out well, jarred mincemeat and all.

So many of our food traditions just find us and sharing them with others keeps us connected to the people who took the time to write the recipe card in the first place. Food is a perishable way of keeping memories alive, which is both wonderful and fleeting at the same time. I was so happy on the day before Christmas Eve, Anne knocked on my front door with a slice for me. It was gone before I could take a picture of it.

Grandma Lewandowski’s Holiday Fruitcake

9-oz. pkg. Nonesuch mincemeat
½ c. water
½ c. sifted flour
t. baking soda
eggs, lightly beaten
14-oz. can condensed milk
c. (1-lb. jar) mixed candied fruit
c. walnuts, coarsely chopped
c. raisins
c. dates
Break mincemeat into pieces in a medium saucepan. Add water. Stir over medium heat until lumps are broken. Boil 1 minute. Cool.
Butter a 10-12″ springform pan, line with waxed paper, and butter again.
Sift flour and baking soda together. Combine eggs, mincemeat, condensed milk, fruit, and nuts. Fold in dry ingredients. Pour into prepared pan. Bake in 300 degree oven for 2 hours or until center springs back when touched.
Cool and turn out. Remove paper.

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Here are my comfort foods: noodles, fried chicken, wonton soup, hot coco with saltines  and mint chip ice cream.

Two of these foods are because of my grandma (can you guess which?)

Because I am an old school cook I wanted to learn how to cut up a whole chicken and the best reference for this is the only woman I know who’s actually killed chickens, my grandma.

No, I did not end this chicken’s life, the farmers at Campo Lindo did that for me, but I did spend a whole morning learning the country art of carving a chicken and my grandma’s special recipe for frying it up! Not only was this good food for the soul, grandma time is just good for my heart (the fried parts included).

Cutting up the chicken…

Soaking it in buttermilk. Not for too long, 15-20 minutes maybe.


Frying the chicken

I had totally forgotten about sorghum butter. It’s a thick molasses combined with butter that my grandma loves on her biscuits and perfect with fried chicken. I hadn’t tasted it since I was a kid.

Grandma gave our chicken a thumbs up…

…and so did my tummy!

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After interviewing Julie about her family’s Christmas ravioli extravaganza I was inspired. I love dough and pasta, then heck, I should make some ravioli’s too!

So it began.

For 2 weeks I made ravioli’s by myself. I made pumpkin which turned out a little too pumpkin-y and chicken sausage, which was good, but I was wearing out. Yes, as I should have learned from the interview, making lots of ravioli might require more hands. I called SOS and my trusty help came running. Thank you family.


Cheese filling.


Dad picked his own apron fyi.

Ravioli Exhaustion. I owe her yet again.



This was a BYOB party (Bring your own bowl). I did this partly to save on late night dishwashing and mostly because it was kind of fun to tell people. The party started at 5pm and lasted until 9pm. I wanted people to feel like they could drop by and weren’t committed to midnight.


Cheese Ravioli

Pumpkin Ravioli

Chicken Sausage Ravioli

Dad’s Spaghetti Sauce (with a little help from Paul Newman)

Dad’s meatballs

Garlic Butter Sauce


Garlic Butter

Plain Butter




Sparkling Cider

Diet Coke



Desserts: (another bowl friendly item)

Ice cream: Chocolate Fudge, Vanilla, Cookie Dough, and Peppermint

Toasts and celebrating every hour on the hour!

The party was a smash, at least I think so. The best thing about this experience was that I got to talk to almost everyone! This is usually not the case when I’m hosting. Since I decided to serve each person to order from the stove, I had the chance to chat with my guests. Yes, it was busy night boiling for me, but I wouldn’t want it any other way.

We had so much fun. The pumpkin ravioli’s turned out to be the big hit! Who knew? Certainly not this hearty eater.

And then there were the toasts. Every hour until all the guests left. I thought people might tire of the toasting, but no one did. In fact I think people liked it even more as the night went on.

Each guest took home one or two individually wrapped cinnamon rolls. I made 60 in total! I love the idea of celebrating the sweetness of a new year with something yummy. (I stole this idea from a children’s book author that I like). For the recipe see my blog about my grandmother’s cinnamon rolls.

With one guest left we invited her to participate in our New Year’s ritual.

That night we received a message that one of younger guests was still requesting dad’s meatballs when he was tucked into bed. People did scrape the bowl looking for more.

Here’s the recipe so you can enjoy them too!

Dad’s Meatballs:

1/2 pound of Italian sausage

1/2 pound hamburger

1/2 cup bread crumbs

1/2 cup parmesan cheese

garlic salt and pepper to taste

2 eggs

(dad also tossed in some black olives and chopped tomatoes in some of the meatballs)

Butter for frying (2 to 3 tablespoons)

How to:

Mix all ingredients together (except butter) in a large bowl.

Form golf ball sized meatballs and set aside on a plate.

Melt butter in a deep frying pan. Add meatballs.

Fry in pan until cooked through and brown on the outside.

Serves 10

What an excellent way to start the new year. All that work was so worth it!


Thank you Kendra for the use her pictures, Jennifer for helping out at the stove and Roger for answering the front door!

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