Wednesday, December 30, 2009


Deep down, I believe New Year's Eve celebrations are for the young, the wistful, the unmarried. Each year I proclaim that--but on the years we're invited somewhere, we easily ditch Jim Svejda's broadcast and eagerly show up on our host's doorstep. With bubbly, of course.

On the nights to ourselves, we plan an upscale menu: oysters or blini with salmon roe (and vodka, clearly an homage to my nonexistent Russian roots), and a bottle of bubbly big enough to last the night (Cost Plus--a magnum of Segura Viudas cava is $9.99!! Time to stock up!). And something extravagant for the main course.

Here's beef stroganoff from the City Cuisine cookbook, Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger. It's a bit of a last minute affair, but this is what I cooked for Christmas Eve, a luscious addition to a menu when you're pulling out all the stops.

Have a pot of water boiling, ready for a pound of fettucine or broad noodles. Start boiling before you cook the meat.

Slice a trimmed 2 pound beef tenderloin in 1 inch slices. Lightly salt and pepper the slices. Allow to come to room temperature. Saute 2 1/2 cups sliced mushroom caps in 1 tbls butter. Add 1 1/2 cups julienned dill pickles (Bubbies are what you want here) and 2 tbls pickle juice. Cook until slightly reduced, (two minutes). Begin cooking noodles. Add 2 cups heavy cream. Cook until reduced by half.

While sauce is reducing, heat in a skillet 2 tblsp oil, until almost smoking. For medium rare sear meat two minutes each side. Serve on a bed of noodles, with the sauce ladled over.

A blissful way to say farewell to the old year, and welcome to the new.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Between gigs

The strange week between Christmas and New Year's is filled with hopes and regrets. Is it a fallow time, a recharging week for you? Or is it filled with projects and prospects? It's a restless week for me, looking at the lights and ornaments that we took so much trouble and time to hang; now they represent a significant amount of time to unhang and carefully store. I have silenced the Christmas carols, at least until KOST 103.5 starts broadcasting them again, next November. And I am looking far ahead to next year's calendar, at the winter break dates for the university which has accepted my daughter. All that hope, fear and anticipation of going away to school. I feel like a cocktail shaker, being shaken and stirred.

So I shall distract myself with lists and plans. What new foods to cook in the coming year? Years ago I tasted quenelles--it's time to try a recipe or two. A fish soup with croutons and garlic mayonnaise is something else I have a hankering for, along with Margaret's biscuits. Hmmm, just thinking about those biscuits makes me feel light headed and light hearted--

Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas!

Now, starving readers, grab a cookie or a restorative glass of something, and put your feet up!

The Restless Dez

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Cookies Lessons Learned

Bake cookies, even if they're out of the freezer.
eat all the dough before you pop them in the oven.
Share with your friends.
ask your Alzheimer-addled neighbor how they were.
Put on the Christmas Carols.
Substitute the salt for the sugar.

Here's another one of my all-time favorites:

Pecan Bars

Combine 2 cups of flour with 1/2 cup powdered sugar. Add two sticks butter, mix until crumbly. Pat dough into the bottom of a 13 x 9 baking pan. Bake at 400 degrees for 20 minutes until light brown. Remove from oven and sprinkle with 2 1/2 cups pecans.

While the shortbread bakes, mix one egg, one cup brown sugar, 2 tbls melted butter, 1/2 tsp vanilla and 1/2 cup corn syrup. Pour topping in thin stream to cover the surface and pecans. Bake for another 25 -30 minutes at 350 degrees. Cool and remove from pan. Reserve for those you love best of all.

Monday, December 21, 2009

A Christmas Tale

Is it because of Catherine Deneuve or that it's set in France that has given this movie such great reviews? In search of seasonal films I rented this one. How French was it? Arty family, check. Lots of food, drink, sex and cigarettes, check, check, check and check. Dysfunctional family? Yup. Incomprehensible plot? Ah, yes, in a nutshell. If it's obscure, that means it must be deep, right?
Rife with family drama (a sister banishes her brother from their family, why the other members of the family go along with this, is never quite explained) schizophrenia, twice, antisemitism, did I mention terminal disease and bone marrow donors? You'd think with all of this going on there might even be some dramatic tension. You'd be wrong.

It was so bad I had to go right out and rent my all time favorite seasonal flick: Die Hard. (Bruce Willis, Alan Rickman, and a Christmas tree).

The only thing that got me through this art film was a batch of these cookies, which a neighbor introduced me to years ago at a cookie exchange. They are for people who love almonds and sugar. They're flourless and flawless.

Angel Cookies

Finely grind unblanched almonds until you have 1 3/4 cup.
Combine with 1 1/2 cups sugar and 3 large egg whites. Set your hand mixer to medium and beat until thick, about 3 minutes. Beat in 1 tsp almond extract and 1 tsp vanilla extract.

Drop onto parchment paper and press a few sliced almonds on top. Bake at 375 degrees until just brown on top, about 10 minutes. Cool on wire rack for 5-10 minutes, then remove from parchment paper and onto rack. Cool.

Heavenly. Simply divine.

Wait, don't go yet! Need a wine and movie pairing list for the holidays? Check out this link!

Friday, December 18, 2009

Hannukah Shout Out

Hey, y'all, in honor of the last night of Hannukah, here's a clip of mine published in the Los Angeles Times a few years back--

This year Hanukkah overlaps with Christmas. On my kitchen counter the challah sits next to the tortillas. In the pantry the masa harina is somewhere behind the matzo meal. In the refrigerator I store rendered chicken fat, or schmaltz, next to the manteca, or lard.

Let the culture wars begin – and like everything else in my life, they begin at home. My husband and I were quite smug about being ahead of the curve on the Latinas-marrying-Jews trend, which hadn’t yet been documented when we wed 14 years ago.

He arrived as a teenager from England; my family has been here for generations. In his home, the language in which to keep secrets from the children was Yiddish; in mine, Spanish. My favorite joke is that I married the immigrant.

We were married by a rabbi and a Baptist minister – my grandfather.

The first bris I attended was my son’s.

Today, in my household, we celebrate holidays different from those celebrated by my mother and sister. Although my daughter understands Spanish, she would prefer to be taught Hebrew by her father.

The religious education of our children is something I thought we had settled years ago. Now, as the time for bat and bar mitzvahs draws near, it is taking an unexpected turn, an unanticipated urgency. It is not at all settled. The menorah, the Christmas tree. The Sabbath candles, chicken soup with a lime squeezed into it.

Cultural fusion or cultural confusion? It depends on whom you ask.

What we tend to forget as we talk about “culture” or other cultures is that culture and traditions are things we create, maintain or brush aside every day. Culture is in continual flux, and those touch points or traditions that somehow remain constant do so because we make the effort.

A cozy culinary juxtaposition doesn’t brush away the pain of a family member storming out of our house because our children sang in a Christian choir. Neither does it diminish my own ambivalence about going to temple.

As much as I love the thought that we all are more similar than we are different, even with the best of intentions and motives, even with love and tenderness, we chafe against each other. Our expectations are not met. In the worst moments, our differences, our disagreements, all loom large and insurmountable.

How then, does this play out in the classroom, in larger society?

I think it depends on which definition of ourselves, our families, our society we want to cling to. I believe that American culture, like all others, is fluid, not fixed.

In my own case, I look forward to baby-sitting my grandchildren and peering into the kitchens of my children, where I will find the seminal ingredients of their own new traditions.

Hmmm, perhaps starving readers need a recipe to make this go down more easily?
Here's something that I hope every one can agree on:

Hello Dollies, or Magic Cookie Bars

Melt one stick of butter and pour into a 13 x 9 baking pan. Grind 1 1/2 cups of graham cracker crumbs, sprinkle evenly on top of melted butter. Pour 1 wonderful can of condensed milk (gawd, I could eat that on its own, all by myself) evenly over crumbs. Now layer 6 oz of chocolate chips, one cup chopped walnuts or pecans, 1 1/3 cups coconut. Press down firmly before baking at 350 degrees for 25 minutes, and call a truce long enough to enjoy these with a glass of milk or a cup of coffee.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Scottish Shortbread

This is the easiest and the best. Dense but light, with a perfect, not overpowering, sweetness. This recipe is lifted from Irena Chalmer's Christmas Cookies & Candies, with its nostalgic cover of a snow-frosted village. Voted favorite Christmas cookie by both my mother and son.

Beat 1 cup soft butter until creamy. Beat in 1/2 cup sugar. Sift in 2 cups flour, 1/4 tsp salt, 1/4 tsp baking powder. On a cookie sheet flatten the dough into a rectangle, around half an inch thick. Lightly mark to creat 1" x 2" bars. Sprinkle with two tblsp more of sugar or sprinkles. Bake 15 minutes in 350 degree oven until lightly browned, cool completely to store in an airtight container, provided you can keep friends and family members away from them long enough.

Monday, December 14, 2009

I want it all!

Start here, here or here.
Yes, it's Christmastime, that greedy time of year, and along with sugar plum fairies I dream of cookies. Flat ones, frosted ones, puffy ones, crisp ones, chewy ones. I want them all!

Starving readers already know I love oatmeal chocolate chip cookies and lemon bars. From biscotti to polvorones I bake and devour them all. So I wanted to share some of my favorites in a few of my upcoming posts.

Here's one, again drawn from not only a woman's magazine, but an ad in the mag. Something about Land O' Lakes' wholesome maiden assured me that I would love these Orange Butter Cookies. The first time I baked and frosted them, I ran over to my neighbor and shared them with her, or else I was going to eat them all!

Beat 1/2 cup sugar into 2 soft sticks of unsalted butter (1 cup). Grate and add 1 tsp orange peel, 1 egg, 1 tsp vanilla. Gradually mix in 3 cups of flour. Chill the dough. Roll dough to 1/8 ". Cut out (I like circles, around 1 1/2 inches). Bake at 350 degrees until pale gold, with lightly browned edges.

While cookies bake, mix 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar with 3 tbls orange juice and 1 tsp orange peel. Blend until smooth. Brush glaze over just baked cookies.

Five dozen helpings of yum.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Cookbook Corner

I've had this little book for years; I love the recipes and the photographs. So for this morning when a brood of writers show up at my doorstep my part of the potluck will be its moist and crumbly Sour Cream and Pecan coffee cake:

Sift 2 cups flour with 1 cup whole wheat flour, 1 tbls baking powder, 1 tsp baking soda, 1/2 tsp salt.

In a separate large mixing bowl cream 1 1/2 cups sugar into 2 sticks soft butter. Add 1 1/2 cups sour cream (or plain yogurt). Beat in, one at a time, 3 eggs. Add 1/2 tsp lemon zest.

Mix in dry ingredients until smooth.

Butter and flour a bundt or tube pan. Pour in half of the batter, shake the pan a bit to even it out.

Mix 1 1/2 cup chopped pecans with 3/4 cup brown sugar and 1 tbls cinnamon. Sprinkle that mixture more or less evenly over the batter. Now fill the tube pan with the remaining half of batter.

Bake 350 degrees 40-55 minutes until cooked through, cool in pan 10 minutes before turning out and sprinkling with powdered sugar, like a light snowfall---and just like a light snowfall, watch it disappear.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Half Baked or Twice Baked?

Once a year dear friends of ours invite us over to celebrate Christmas with a celebratory Saturday night dinner. It has proven so successful that even the menu has become part of their entertaining tradition. I don't want to appear ungrateful, I think it's lovely that they serve filet mignon, and end with chocolate cake. But what I really crave, what really fills me with warmth, love, and gratitude, are the twice-baked potatoes. I wait for them all year long. And I even ask for seconds, to get me through the coming year.

Believe it or not, it only recently occurred to me that I didn't have to wait a year, I could make them on my own. O the thrill of cold weather! The excuse to light the oven and keep it burning!

Here is what you'll need:

Fat russet baking potatoes. Heat your oven to 425 degrees, rinse your potatoes, dry them, then using a stick of butter smear a bit of butter all over their exteriors. Place in oven for 30 minutes. Remove--prick all over with a fork (a tip from the Joy of Cooking) and bake another 20-30 minutes, depending on the size.

Remove from oven, slit them in half length wise. Scoop out potato flesh, drop into a mixing bowl.
Per potato add to the bowl: a tablespoon butter, a tablespoon or so of sour cream and milk, salt, pepper, 2 tablespoons sharp cheddar cheese (and bacon! and chives!) Mash your potatoes, coarsely. Place the filling back into their skins (or jackets). Taste the mixture. Missing something? If it doesn't taste good now, it's not gonna taste good later. Add it now. Grate a bit more cheddar cheese on top as a garnish, and return to oven to bake 5 minutes.

Now there's no reason to wait a year between your twice-baked potatoes.

Novice chefs may wonder: will they need oven mitts? Yes. Yes. Yes.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Drinks to Decorate by--

For many years getting the Christmas tree up and lit in one day was my obsession and expectation. You can fill in the timetable yourselves, but inevitably it all ended in tears. A year or so back it occurred to me that I could stretch this activity out over the weekend! One day to find the tree, the tree stand, and its illuminated better bits, the other day to hang the decorations and hide the storage containers. Two days. And instead of tears it now ends with one of the following:

Mexican hot chocolate
or a
Tom and Jerry
The mixture of rum, brandy, frothy milk and sugar, is now a warm, sweet way to end the evening. A couple of those easily explain the gaps in the tree lighting. I found the Tom and Jerry recipe in Saveur magazine, where everything is luxe, calme and volupte.

News flash: not quite ready for Christmas? Still pining for the angst of autumn? Check out my latest story here.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009


I love watching Giada de Laurentiis as she cooks or travels. All right, all right, maybe she is a bit too perfect. But she traveled to Los Olivos and sampled some marvelous looking stuff: involtini di melanzane, or eggplant rolls, eggplant wrapped around mozzarella, slathered in a mouth watering tomato sauce at Trattoria Grappola, and I just had to have some. So the next time we were wine tasting at my favorite spot, we dropped by the restaurant and ordered it for dinner.

Giada was right, it was heaven.

Lately I've had such a craving! So I've tinkered and modified, and think I've come up with a winner. Particularly because I'm not frying the eggplant, I'm baking it.

Slice the eggplant lengthwise, 1/2 inch slices or so. Place on your tinfoil lined cookie sheet-brush each side with olive oil. Bake 13 minutes at 350 degrees, flip the eggplant, bake another 10 minutes or so until you feel they're cooked through. Remove and cool.

While the eggplant is baking, make your nifty tomato sauce:

Coat the bottom of a saute pan with a thin slick of olive oil. Mince a clove or two of garlic, toss in. Turn heat to medium. Dice and salt three or four tomatoes--or use two cups canned tomatoes. Add to sauce pan. When the tomatoes start to cook down, lower heat and simmer till done. Add some basil leaves for the heck of it. (Oh, color and flavor, too). Ladle half a cup or so to cover the bottom of a small baking dish.

Slice a log of mozzarella, an ounce or so per eggplant. Lay the mozzarella on the center of the eggplant slice, fold over the edged of the eggplant. Place seam side down in the baking dish. Do the same for the rest of your slices. Ladle the rest of the sauce over the eggplant, grate a tablespoon of parmesan cheese on top. Bake in 350 degree oven until heated, and the cheese is happily melting.

Just writing this down makes me want to rush out to Super King and pick up a couple of more eggplants--where are my car keys?