Giving Dad the Fingers

Gentle Readers of the female persuasion with children, I’ve got two questions for you.fa's dayI spent the last couple of weeks prodding The Kid to purchase a Father’s Day gift for paterfamilias Petey.

How about you?mo's dayIn the entire twenty-seven years that our offspring’s been on the planet, I’m guessing my spouse has spent a grand total of three to five minutes doing the same for Mother’s Day

How about you?

Ladies, you probably know where I’m going here.celebrationGuys are lucky.  They’re lucky we make a fuss for them, and they’re lucky that we, sadly, expect and accept much less fuss in return.

But I digress.  My point here was gifts for Father’s Day.  The Kid and I both got Petey gifts to fancy up his jeep.  He loved them.  To be honest, he never buys anything for himself, while I shower myself with unnecessaries quite often.  But, I’d still enjoy the occasional minor fuss.

Mobile family

I always thought my dad (in the yellow shirt), looks like Rock Hudson.  Big brother Homer’s on the far left, my mom is the blond va-va-voom, little brother Bud in green, and me.  

Like my husband, my dad is a man of simple wants and needs, so is very difficult to buy for.  This year, in addition to a visit from the entire Matthews family band (sans dog), The Kid got Grampa a special new shirt, and I made him a batch of homemade shortbread.

brown pecans

The pecans should be as deep and dark as these.

But this was very special shortbread, made with flavors that my dad especially likes.  I used brown butter and deeply toasted vanilla-tossed pecans.  On top I drizzled a novel take on white chocolate—I caramelized it.  Sounds weird, but it’s less sweet, nutty tasting, and makes the whole house smell like caramel-scented heaven.

Toasted Pecan Shortbread Fingerspecan shortbread1 cup toasted pecan halves with ½ teaspoon vanilla extract stirred in while still warm from toasting

1 cup all-purpose flour

3/4 cup confectioners’ sugar

½ cup cold butter, browned, re-hardened in the fridge overnight, and cut into pieces


Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line 8-inch square baking pan with aluminum foil, leaving an overhang on all sides.

In food processor, pulse pecans until finely chopped. Transfer to bowl; set aside. In processor, blend flour, sugar, and butter just until moist clumps form. Add reserved pecans; pulse just to incorporate.  Don’t overwork dough.pecan shortbread doughPress it evenly into bottom of prepared pan. With straight edge cut down into dough for eight lines in one direction, and three on the other, making 24 shortbread bars. With floured fork, prick each finger length-wise down the center of each bar. Bake until lightly golden, 30-35 minutes.freshly baked pecan shortbreadCool 5 minutes in pan. Use foil to lift shortbread from pan onto cutting board. With serrated knife, carefully separate warm shortbread into the 24 pieces. Remove from foil; cool bars completely before drizzling.

Caramelized White Chocolatecaramelized white chocolate4 ounces white chocolate with at least 31% cocoa butter

1-2 teaspoons vegetable oil

Flaky sea salt (optional)creamy caramelized white chocolatePreheat oven to 250.  Place white chocolate in small, shallow oven-proof dish.  Cook 10 minutes, then remove and stir.  Continue cooking, stirring every ten minutes, until chocolate has turned the color of peanut butter (50-60 minutes).  If it gets stiff as it roasts, pour in a little oil, then stir some more.  Keep adding oil, a few drops at a time and stirring until it becomes silky smooth.  When chocolate is browned and smooth drizzle over the shortbread and let set before serving.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIf desired, sprinkle a tiny pinch of the sea salt right after drizzling.  Keep covered in a cool place for up to one week or freeze for up to a month.

So, yes, guys can be frustrating.  But I’m keeping mine—he lets me warm my feet on his, and he’s really good at opening stuck jars.jar openerThanks for your time.

Cooking for who?

“If you are a bride, a business girl, career wife, or a mother whose children are away from home—this book is for you.”

So The Kid and I went to the final book sale at the Main Library a couple weeks ago.  We only bought 17 books, which required a Herculean amount of will power on our parts.  I picked up mainly fiction but I also unearthed and purchased two cookbooks.One was a Puerto Rican cookbook and the other tome was ‘Betty Crocker’s New Dinner for Two Cook Book” published by Golden Press.  They’re also the publisher of Little Golden Books, and those books are half the reason both The Kid and I are unapologetic book worms.

It was printed in 1964.

I think that explains the above quote; which are the very first words in the book.

The ideal 1964 woman; perfect figure, never grows old, never talks back.

But really, Business girl?  And that career better not be anything less feminine than retail sales or typing.  And only until said girl can find a nice man to save her with an engagement ring.

Career wife?  I don’t even know what that is.  I googled it and got bupkis

I got nothing.

Heaven forbid a man steps foot in a kitchen—unless of course, it’s as a chef in a gourmet restaurant.

And the cooking advice and many recipes in the book explain why heart disease, hypertension, and ulcers were epidemic back then.  I think life expectancy must’ve been about 32.

How did you want your steak cooked?

The recommended meat cooking times were truly appalling.

For beef, according to 1964’s Betty, rare is 145.  That’s 20 degrees above today’s temp of 125.  Medium is 160, compared to the current 145.  Well-done is ten degrees above the already leathery 160.

And pork is even worse.

You may know someone who cooks pork not only until is the meat completely dry, it draws all moisture from the diner, leaving them as arid as Steven Wright wearing a sponge suit.The reason for this manic level of caution is a parasitic party crasher named trichinella, which causes trichinosis.  This roundworm can make you the kind of sick wherein you pray for the sweet release of death.


Modern husbandry has virtually eliminated trichinosis in pigs.  But even if it is present in the meat, the parasite is instantly killed by reaching 145 degrees. (145-150 is my goal when cooking pork).  Nowadays the disease is pretty much only contracted by eating bear, dog, or wild felines (I guess domesticated cats are safe eating…).  When was the last time you ate grizzly and grits?  Or poodle pizza?  Fancy a little mountain lion moussaka?

We only serve the freshest, forest-to-table bear.

Yeah…so that.

Unfortunately, in 1964 Betty hadn’t gotten the memo, so recommends cooking all pork to 185 degrees.  At that temp, don’t waste your money on the chops—just gnaw on tumbleweed while watching Porky Pig cartoons.

The only exception to this rule is when cooking a big, slow-cooking piece of meat.  In that case, it has to reach 210 degrees, which is when all the connective tissue; ie, collagen, ie, flavor melts and produces that unctuous, lip-smacking goodness.Many of the recipes were needlessly heavy and rich.  In future columns, I plan to convert some of these recipes to something less processed, tastier, and healthier.

But some things are timeless.  And enjoying a sweet bite is welcome in any decade.  The book had one dessert that to me was as different as it was delicious.  With very few changes from me, here it is.

Betty Crocker’s Praline Squares


¼ cup butter, melted and cooled to barely lukewarm

1 cup light brown sugar

1 egg

¾ cup all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

½ teaspoon salt

The innards of one vanilla bean or 1 tablespoon vanilla extract

½ cup pecans, coarsely chopped and toasted

Large flake sea salt (optional)

Heat oven to 350.  Grease and flour an 8X8 inch baking pan.  In a large bowl, whisk together brown sugar, butter, vanilla, and egg.  Set aside.

Mix together flour, baking powder, and salt.  Mix into brown sugar mixture.  Stir in pecans.  Spread into pan.  Bake 15 minutes, then spin pan 180 degrees and sprinkle top with flaky salt.Bake 8-10 more minutes, or until barely set and browned around the edges.  Let sit 15 minutes then cut into 16 pieces.  Remove from pan after cooling completely.

You know, in my daily life, I rarely run into this kind of antiquated gender pigeonholing.  But then I read a book like this.  And sadly, I have to acknowledge that for some people, those were the good old days.

But there are also folks who think Elvis is alive and kicking, that carob tastes exactly like chocolate, and Connery was the best Bond.

You always remember your first…

Poor, deluded fools.

Thanks for your time.

To Brussels, with love

Any sane person would never touch them again.When I was pregnant with The Kid I walked around for nine months feeling like a sorority girl who’s drunk way too much and knows it’s only a matter of time before their body rejects the alcohol in the loudest, messiest, and most violent means possible.

Not the drunk part, mind you, but the queasy part.  And it didn’t take much to get there—sometimes just brushing my teeth would push me over that particular cliff.

So, pregnancy brain (It’s a real thing. I’ve got stories I could tell you that would make you an avid proponent for cloning as a means of procreation), must be the reason I indulged in this obviously Hindenburg-level dangerous craving.

If you can’t tell what kind of vegetable is under all that sauce, just eat a PBJ.

I was about six or seven months along and for days all I could think about was Brussel sprouts drenched in lashings of Hollandaise sauce.

Yeah, I know, in the cool light of non-pregnancy that dish is unquestionably toxic which regardless of one’s gestational status should be avoided at all costs.

But again, cravings and pregnancy brain.

I hauled my bloated carcass to the grocery store and procured the supplies for this volatile dish.  Frozen sprouts and an envelope of Knorr’s Hollandaise sauce—just add milk, butter, and stir until it comes to a boil.I’ve had many different strains of the flu and a couple bouts of food poisoning, but I was never so sick in my entire life; before or since.  I think I revisited things that I ate in kindergarten.  At one point I’m pretty sure I saw a kitten and a Matchbox car come up.

But I still love those dainty little cabbages.  Like I said any sane person…

These days, fresh are pretty easy to find either bagged or if you get lucky, on the stalk.  The sprout-laden stalk looks like a bell stick made for Paul Bunyan.  For most recipes, I prepare them by rinsing and cutting them off the stalk if necessary.

I then cut them in half, top to bottom.  I remove a couple outer leaves, then blanch in very salty water for about four or five minutes.  I drain them and put them in icy salt water to stop the cooking and set the color.

New World Brussels sproutssprouts-wild-rice2 pounds Brussels sprouts cleaned and blanched

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

2 tablespoons butter, divided

1 cup pecan pieces, toasted

1 cup brown and wild rice blend, uncooked

½ yellow onion, chopped

1/3 cup dried cranberries

2 ½ cups water or chicken stock

Salt & pepper

Pea shoots or kale microgreens

Make rice: place one tablespoon butter into a large saucepan with a lid.  Melt on medium, and add onions and season.  Cook until the onions start to brown.  Stir in cranberries.  Put rice in pan and the 2 ½ cups liquid.  Cover and cook until rice is tender and liquid has completely absorbed (apporx 45-55 minutes).

While the rice is cooking, heat a skillet on medium.  Drop in vegetable oil and 1 tablespoon butter and when it’s melted, place seasoned sprouts, cut side down into pan.  Let them cook until they’re caramelized.  Cover to keep warm and set aside.When the rice is done,  let it sit, covered and undisturbed for 20 minutes.Uncover rice, and pour into a large bowl.  Add pecans and sprouts.  Gently mix together.  When plating, add a handful of shoots or greens on top.  Serves 6.

Brussel sprouts are also really good in hash, or caramelized and topped with crispy bacon.  You can also shred them and use them in place of regular cabbage in cole slaw.  Another idea is to tumble cleaned and halved sprouts into a roasting pan.  Place a hunk of meat on top, pour in some wine and cook.  The veggies will raise the meat up from the liquid, absorb flavor, and come out golden, tender, and delicious.

So buy a bag and give it some thought.  There’s an infinite number of ways to serve Brussel sprouts.

But please, I’m begging you; keep them away from the Hollandaise.Thanks for your time.

Totally Nuts

I’ve got a riddle for you.When is a pound cake not a pound cake?

When it’s a pound cake (I’ll explain later, I promise).

A few days ago I had my third and final session as one of the judges for the specialty cooking contests of the 2016 state fair.  I was really looking forward to it, because the category was pecans.

Uh oh; here comes the educational portion of the program…

The pecan, or Carya illinoinensis, is actually a variety of the hickory.  The trees, which can grow up to 144 feet tall, are native to Mexico, and from the Gulf coast of Texas up to Illinois.  It is one of the most recently domesticated crops.  Until the 1880’s it was solely harvested from the wild.

A pecan orchard.

And although they have been enjoyed since well before the Europeans showed up, people can still not agree on whether they are “pee-cans”, or “pick-kahns”.

But regardless the pronunciation, these nuts are absolutely delicious, and work well with both savory foods and sweets .  As much as I love pie and pralines, my favorite preparation is salt & pepper pecans; merely generously seasoned pecans sautéed in butter.

I have to ruthlessly limit my exposure though, because I can devour a pound of them while in a pecan-induced fugue state.  Then I regain consciousness into a pecan-induced shame spiral.

The contest last week, in addition to being a heck of a lot of fun, included a notable first in my role of cooking judge.  Heck, it was a first in my entire existence as a human.


This is literally porn to me…

It was cake that was too sweet.  I’ve never even understood the term “too sweet” before. I’m the girl who considers frosting a food group.  I always thought it was a phrase made-up by light weights that couldn’t hold their sugar.

But the phenomenon exists.  It felt like biting into tin foil with a mouth full of fillings.  My mouth recoiled from the sensation.  It coated my tongue and made my teeth hurt.

Happily, there was another cake which wasn’t too sweet, but just right.  It took third place; a pound cake from Chapel Hill’s Cherie Michaud.

Nana and Roux’s Butter Pecan Pound Cake

Cakepecan-cake½ lb. or 2 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature

1 ½ cups granulated sugar

1 ½ tsp. vanilla extract

1 ½ Tbsp. whole milk

½ tsp. baking powder

½ tsp. salt

1 cup pecans

½ cup vegetable oil

4 eggs

2 cups flour

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine 2 eggs, vanilla, milk, oil and butter in mixer. Begin mixing on low to medium speed. Once blended together, add the last 2 eggs.

In another bowl, combine sugar, flour, baking powder and salt. Sift the dry ingredients into the egg/milk mixture. Mix until combined, about 30 seconds.

Place pecans into a food processor and pulse for 30 seconds. Add pecans into the cake mixture and combine for 1 minute or until everything is well blended.

Spray a Bundt pan with cooking spray and sprinkle with sugar to coat. Pour cake batter into pan and tap on counter to remove air bubbles. Bake for 50 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from oven and let cool in pan 30 minutes. Remove from pan and let cool completely.

Frostingpecan-frosting3 cups powdered sugar

½ cup unsalted butter

½ tsp. cinnamon

1 ½ tsp. vanilla extract

2 Tbsp. plus 2 tsp. whole milk

½ tsp. nutmeg

½ tsp. salt

½ cup pecans, chopped

Combine butter, milk and vanilla with a mixer. Once combined, add the powdered sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt. Mix on low-medium speed for 1-2 minutes. Spread frosting over cake and top with pecans.So, about the pound cake riddle.  Traditional cakes have one pound each of flour, sugar, butter, and eggs, with no leavening (baking powder or baking soda).  It gets it rise from air whipped into the batter, and starting in a cold oven.

A modern pound cake uses leavening.  This reduces the possibility of failure, but purists feel it’s the cheater’s way, and an affront to all decent pound cakes.  Imagine Martin Luther with a Bundt pan and a manifesto.  A confectionary Luddite, if you will.                                                                              Thanks for your time.

Please don’t judge me before you judge the salad

I had an awful time deciding on this week’s topic.I knew what I wanted to write about, but I was hesitant to do it.  It’s not that the recipe isn’t tasty because  It’s not that the preparation is difficult, because literally a child (with a little adult supervision) could make this dish.   And it’s not that it requires a lot of expensive ingredients, because chances are you have everything on hand right now.

No, the problem is that on the face of it, this recipe not only seems heavy, it also seems very plain—even boring.  How could these few ingredients combine to make something tasty?

I’m here now to tell you I have no idea how it does, either.  I think it’s some kind of gestalt thing; you know, ‘the whole is greater than the sum of its parts’.

But every time I make a bowl of this stuff I think that I really need to give you, Gentle Reader, this recipe.  I love it so much that I’ve felt guilty not spilling the beans to you.  Petey loves it, and The Kid, who wasn’t crazy about an earlier version, can’t get enough of it.

There we are…we rent the other two kids to round out the table.

So, The Kid’s coming for dinner tomorrow night and I’m serving it, along with some herbed potatoes and a new preparation of pork cubed steak.  It was the first time I’ve used cornmeal to crust meat.

But enough with the beating around the bush.  The dish I’ve been rhapsodizing about is broccoli salad.  See? I told you it didn’t sound very exciting.  But gosh it is good.

A few tips about making it, though.

Cut the broccoli into very small florets.  Small as in three florets would be bite-size.  And when you add the hot water to thin the dressing, make it as hot as your faucet gets, and whisk it in very well.  You are basically making an emulsion, and you don’t want it to separate after you’ve mixed it into the salad; that’s not appetizing.

Broccoli/Bacon Salad


8 cups broccoli cut into very small florets

4 slices bacon, cooked until crispy, reserving ¼ cup bacon grease

1 cup mayonnaise

2/3 cups finely shredded Parmesan. Divided

Very hot water, aprox. ½ cup

Salt and pepper

Cut broccoli into small pieces and place into a large bowl.  Add half the cheese, and gently toss.

Make dressing.  Mix mayo, bacon grease, and half the cheese.  Whisk together.  Add enough hot water to make it the consistency of thick pancake batter.  Season, taste, and re-season if necessary. 

Pour dressing over broccoli and mix until veg is coated.  Crumble bacon into salad and stir in.  Cover and refrigerate.  It’s better after twelve hours or so, and lasts 4 days in fridge.Makes 8 servings.

I haven’t found anything that doesn’t go well with this salad.  It packs up great for picnics, as long as you can keep a chill on it.  It’s terrific as a potluck too, because it doesn’t look very exciting, then you taste it.  It’s the sleeper cell of side dishes.

Tomorrow we’re having it with that cornmeal crusted pork cubed steak I talked about.  It’s really easy, with a big flavor payoff.

Cornmeal crusted cubed pork: Four to six hours before cooking make a three-part dredge of seasoned flour, non-fat buttermilk, and self-rising cornmeal.  Crust the pork in that order.  Place on parchment paper covered plate, cover with another piece of parchment (so there is no stickage), seal with plastic wrap and refrigerate until cooking time.When you’re ready to cook, heat a heavy skillet on medium-high.  Add about 1 inch of vegetable oil.  When the oil is nice and hot, cook pork until browned and crispy on one side then flip and cook the other side.

Petey likes his with a piece of provolone melted on top.  The Kid and I like a spritz of lemon juice.  They also make a great filling for hearty sandwiches.

And while the salad is definitely not spa food, there is only about 300 calories per one cup serving.  My trouble comes in limiting it to that one cup.  I promise you, this stuff is amazing (and so tempting).

Thanks for your time.

I’ll get you, my praline


kateys walk 2

The view near The Kid’s house in Woodstock.


After The Kid finished freshman year of college up in Vermont, an internship was landed in Woodstock, NY.  Petey and I flew up, and would rent a car to lug child and possessions to a Craigslist-rented apartment in the Empire state.

*Here’s a piece of interesting trivia that I learned up there: the famous “Summer of Love” festival was not actually in Woodstock NY, but 60 miles southwest, in Bethel NY.  And if every baby boomer that claims to have been there really was, no human under the age of thirty would have been present anywhere else on the planet that weekend.  (Actually, I did go to school with a girl who was one of those naked toddlers in attendance, but she has no memory of it; coincidentally neither do many of the adult concert-goers.)

Anyway, back to the airport…Petey uses a walking stick, and I was concerned that it would be confiscated by the TSA.  I’d done bounteous research, but the rules as written were vague, and open to wide interpretation.  I was a little nervous that a grouchy agent with a toothache or one who’d gotten a call from the IRS would nix the cane, and my husband would be physically penalized for the duration.

I’d planned to make some treats to take up for The Kid to share with friends.  So, I decided to put together goody bags full of my homemade cheese wafers and my creamy, delicious pecan pralines to hand out at security. I was hoping this good will gesture would facilitate smooth sailing through the line.

It worked.

By the time Petey, his cane, and I got through security, we were on a first-name basis with the agents.  We’d reduced one sweet woman to tears because the pralines reminded her so much of the ones her dearly departed granny used to make for holidays and special occasions.

Vanilla Bean Pecan Pralines

pralines3 cups broken pecans

2 cups light brown sugar, packed

1 cup granulated sugar

 1 1/2 cups heavy cream

 1/3 cup whole milk

 6 tablespoons butter, salted

 1 1/2 teaspoons salt

1 vanilla bean, scraped

Toast pecans:

Place pecan pieces in a dry skillet on medium.  Stirring constantly, cook until color deepens and they’re aromatic.  Remove from heat, and let cool.

In medium saucepan, combine brown sugar, granulated sugar, cream, milk, butter, empty vanilla pod, and salt. Cook over medium, stirring constantly, until mixture reaches 230°. Discard pod, lower heat slightly, add toasted pecans and continue cooking, stirring constantly, until it gets to 236°. Remove from heat; let stand for 5 minutes. Add vanilla bean scrapings and stir with wooden spoon until mixture is thickened and slightly creamy, about 1-2 minutes. Using a small cookie scoop, spoon the pralines onto a sheet of parchment paper or waxed paper. If the mixture becomes stiff or grainy, return to burner and stir over medium heat until it can be easily scooped and dropped.

Makes 4 dozen.They were a hit in Montpelier, too.

Our first night in Vermont we were in a hotel, but The Kid was staying at the dorm to finish packing.  A school friend, Chase (Northerner and praline neophyte), came over to hang out with our child.  Despite dire warnings of the richness of the candy, and to his everlasting regret, he polished off the remaining 30 pralines in the time it took to watch Hot Tub Tome Machine.

You ever seen a praline hangover?

It ain’t pretty.

Representation–not The Kid’s school friend.

Thanks for your time.

That’s all pork, folks

I feel like I wasted thirty years of my life.

I have a headache.

All those days I drove myself crazy trying to figure out, for one more meal, what protein to cook.  Beef, chicken, fish, eggs, and pork; they’re my usual guest stars.

With pork it was chops, Boston butt, ham, and happily, bacon.

A couple of years ago, I was in the supermarket, checking out the meat that had been marked down, like I always do.  You never know what you’ll find.  That day they had pork tenderloins for about three bucks, down from their usual 6-7 dollars.Pork tenderloin comes from the full loin.  It’s about eight inches long and a couple inches across.  It weighs between 12 and 24 ounces.  The meat is very tender, if it’s cooked correctly.  It’s very easy to overcook and end up with jerky.  But it’s also very easy to cook right—you just need one simple tool (more on that later).

The flavor is extremely mild, so it’s easy for it to come out bland and flavorless.  But again, that’s easy to remedy.  It also gives you an opportunity for lots of fun.

I usually impart flavor in a three-step process.

1.)Dry marinade-I freeze the tenderloin solid.  Then I choose an herb/spice blend, and liberally rub it over the entire surface.  For one piece of meat I’ll use at least a tablespoon.  I then put it into a zip-top bag and let it thaw in the fridge overnight.

2.)Paint-After searing the meat in a smoking-hot pan, I choose a some type of spread and brush it all over.

3.)Crust-Once the tenderloin is covered in something wet, I roll it in something chunky or crusty.  Then I finish it in the oven.

The most difficult, but also the most exciting part of the process is choosing the components for your pork.

The other night I tried a new combination for Petey and me.  It came out beautiful and delicious.  The spice comes from the Middle East, the dressing and pecans from the Southern US.

 Globetrotting tenderloin

pecan pork loin

One pork tenderloin (approximately 1 pound)

1 tablespoon za’atar; a spice mixture containing thyme, sumac, sesame seeds and other herbs, depending on who makes it.  I purchase mine pre-mixed from Spice Bazaar at 4125 Durham-Chapel Hill Blvd, in Durham.

1 teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon cracked black pepper

2 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided

2 tablespoons Anne’s “The One Sauce”; this is a rich honey mustard dressing.  If you can’t find it, use your favorite honey mustard, or make your own.

¾ cup raw pecans, finely chopped

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

In a small bowl, mix za’atar, salt and pepper.  Rub the seasoning all over the frozen pork.  Place in bag, refrigerate, and allow to thaw fully.

Put a large frying pan on the stove, and heat until it’s almost smoking.  Pour in 1 tablespoon oil.  Add tenderloin and turning with tongs, sear all over.  Remove from pan, and place on a plate.

Brush a layer of dressing all over the pork.  Roll the meat into the pecans, completely coating it.

Pour the second tablespoon of oil into a baking dish.  Add pork.  Either using a probe thermometer or an instant-read, cook until the internal temp is 145 degrees (for medium).  If you overcook this, it will be dry and tough.  A thermometer is the best tool to easily prevent that.

Once it comes up to temp (about 15-20 minutes), remove from oven and let rest, lightly covered for five minutes or so.

Slice and serve.  Serves 2-3.

There are less than 250 calories in a large serving of tenderloin.  It’s also a lean protein, chockfull of vitamin B6, thiamin, niacin, and riboflavin.  There are healthy amounts of omega (3 & 6) fatty acids, too.

We had ours with scalloped potatoes and some peas and carrots.  It would also be nice served with buttered mushroom rice, and roasted asparagus.  I think it could make a very tasty sandwich on ciabatta, with crispy greens, and another schmear of honey mustard.

I’m glad I finally discovered the wondrousness of pork tenderloin.  It just breaks my heart to think of all the delicious meals I’ve missed out on.

Thanks for your time.

A rye smile

After inhabiting this planet for more than half a century, I have ceased to be embarrassed by the fact that I have the type of sweet tooth that if I let myself, would make it perfectly feasible for me to eat an entire box of Dolly Madison vanilla zingers.Honestly, I’m not exaggerating.  One of my very favorite foods is birthday cake.  And when I say cake, I mean cake only in the sense that it is the scaffolding for mounds of delicious, delicious frosting.

But I am also a bit of a paradox inside a contradiction stuffed in a jelly donut.

I can’t abide a grain of sugar in my iced tea, I order my lattes half sweet, and I like my soft drinks lots more fizzy than syrupy.

Did you notice she has monkeys on her dress?

So, I guess those bi-polar taste buds are the reason why I really enjoy this new treat I discovered last week.

The Kid and I spent the day in Raleigh.  We visited the NC Museum of Art to check out the Da Vinci and Escher shows, and headed over to our favorite capitol city bakery, Boulted (614 W South St, Raleigh).  My child was Jonesing for some of their seeded levain; a crusty, sour loaf perfect for lashings of cultured European butter.  I snagged a bagel-like bialy for breakfast, then spied something called rye shortbread.

We added it to our order.

As soon as we got back to the car, I took a bite of my shortbread.  I was totally expecting a salty, rye/caraway-flavored buttery cracker.  What I got was something entirely different.  It was a lightly sweetened, pecan-studded cookie with the acidic kick of rye.

Once I got over the surprise, I took another bite.  And found that I really enjoyed it.  It would be the perfect thing to accompany a really thick, rich cup of hot chocolate.

I did a little research, and a little experimenting, and came up with this recipe.

Rye-Pecan shortbread

rye shortbread

1½ cups rye flour

½ cup finely chopped toasted pecans

½ teaspoon kosher salt

¼ teaspoon baking powder

1 cup butter (softened)

¼ cup Granulated Sugar

3 tablespoons honey

Whisk together flour, pecans, salt and baking powder.  Set aside.

Cream the butter, sugar and honey until just incorporated.

Add the sifted dry ingredients to the butter mixture. Mix on low until it all comes together, but no longer (there’s gluten in rye flour, and you don’t want it to develop).

Roll the dough to ½-inch thick (if the dough is too soft to roll, shape into a disk or rectangle, wrap in plastic and chill until firm). After rolling, cut into bars, circles or desired shape. Cover and chill until hard; 2 hours or overnight.

Preheat oven to 350°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Place cookies on prepared pan and sprinkle with sugar and more pecans, if desired. Dock the center of each cookie with a fork.  Bake until edges are lightly browned, about 20 minutes.

Cool and store, wrapped, at room temperature for up to 1 week.

This recipe makes approximately 20 cookies.

I’m not saying I would regularly pick this cookie over a heavily decorated cupcake, or a Krispy Kreme donut fresh from its honey glazed shower, but this shortbread gets my full confectionary seal of approval.  This new treat definitely has a spot in my rotation.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I suddenly feel the urgent need to see if there is a flashing “Hot” sign anywhere in the vicinity.

Thanks for your time.

Warm and Gooey

So last week Petey and I had a couple of errands to run.  It was one of those really cold, windy, raw days.  It was the kind of day where you’d happily stay bundled up in bed sipping hot chocolate if you could.  But of course you can’t (or at least I can’t).

As we were coming home, we noticed that the convenience store on the corner wasn’t selling gas, and it looked kind of dark inside.  I started to get a wee nervous.

Inside our house my fears were realized.  The power was out.  It was dim and chilly.  We had some more running to do, so we locked up and left, hoping that the electricity would be back when we came home.

C’mon guys…

Once we finished everything, it was dark outside, and even colder than it had been, but the power was finally back on.  Of course it took the rest of the night to reheat the house, but at least we had the electricity with which to do it.  For the rest of the evening, we felt pretty chilly and quite sorry for ourselves.

That night would have been perfect for a warm, moist gooey piece of my special banana bread.

bb bread

Brown butter banana bread.

Brown butter country banana bread

The day before:

Toast ½ cup pecan pieces in dry pan until the color deepens and you can smell the toasted aroma.  Store them in airtight container.

Make brown butter:

Put 5 ½ tablespoons butter into saucepan.  Melt on medium.  Turn down heat, and continue to simmer until the milk solids turn amber and the aroma is warm and nutty.  Cool, stirring frequently to keep the brown bits suspended in the butter.  Once cool, refrigerate.  The next day, take butter out of fridge a couple hours before making bread, so it can soften.

Banana bread:

1 cup light brown sugar

Brown butter, softened

2 eggs

1 ½ cups ripe bananas, mashed smooth

1/3 cup water

1 2/3 cup all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon baking powder

½ cup toasted pecans

1-8 ounce bag Heath Bits’O Brickle Toffee Bits

1 tablespoon vanilla

¼ teaspoon grated nutmeg

Preheat oven to 350.  Grease bottom of 8 ½ or 9 inch loaf pan.

Cream butter and sugar in large bowl of stand mixer or with hand mixer.  Mix in eggs one at a time until blended.  Add bananas, water, vanilla, and nutmeg; beat 30 seconds.  Stir in rest of ingredients, except for nuts and toffee until it just comes together.  Gently stir in nuts and toffee chips.

Pour into loaf pan.  Bake until toothpick comes out clean, 60-75 minutes.  Cool five minutes and turn out onto cooling rack.  Makes about 24 slices.

There are two ways to eat this; for breakfast, or as a dessert.

For AM banana bread, spread slices with softened butter.  Place in a 300 degree oven for 15-20 minutes until browned and crisped.

Even better with a schmear of peanut butter.

For an indulgent after dinner treat you’ll need dulce de leche, a cooked caramel from Latin America.  But luckily, it’s crazy easy to make.

Take one can of sweetened condensed milk (unopened), and place it in a large heavy pot.  Cover it with water, and bring to slow simmer.  Continue simmering for 4 hours, making sure it is always completely submerged.   Remove from water and let it totally cool (I mean it.  For safety’s sake, make sure it’s cool) before opening.  Or cook completely submerged on low in a slow cooker for 8-10 hours (Please, please be careful—hot sugar is so dangerous it can badly burn your unborn descendants).

Presto change-o! It’s like magic.

Drizzle a little onto warm slices of banana bread and add a scoop of ice cream if desired.  If the loaf is to be exclusively for dessert, after removing from pan onto cooling rack, poke it all over with a toothpick, and pour warm dulce all over the top and let it soak in and cool before slicing.

This would be perfectly yummy if eaten in the summer.  But there’s something about eating it warm, when it’s cold outside that feels like a hug from Grandma, without that pesky eau de Bengay.

Yeah, she wasn’t feeling the Bengay line.

Thanks for your time.

Nuts to you

The long awaited successful batch of roasted garbanzo beans.

The long awaited successful batch of roasted garbanzo beans.

First, let me start by saying that I am cognizant of the fact that neither peanuts nor chick peas are nuts.

Both are legumes, but they possess a certain nutty quality.  And not just because they think Jaws 2 was the better than the original and sandals with socks are a good look.

Yeah…not so much.

The chickpeas were the toughest, taking the most tinkering.  I’d made them (badly) in the past and was not impressed.  I thought they were just another healthy food that folks had convinced themselves were tasty, so they would munch on them, and not the potato chips.

But when I finally got a batch in which most were correctly roasted, I understood.  They are uber-crunchy (Petey has never actually tried them, because to him, they sound “too” crunchy—not even sure what that is), and flavored with lots of lemon, garlic, and Puerto Rican spices.

The goal when cooking is to roast them until all the moisture is gone, but they aren’t burned.  Which isn’t as easy as you’d think.  I tried lots of different combinations of heat and time, re-baked ones that weren’t done, and tossed many that were blackened nuggets of despair.

Last week, I finally cracked the code.  They take two hours in the oven, but when they’re finished the entire batch is cooked to uniform doneness.

My recipe produces a citrusy, garlic-y result.  But please, flavor them any way you like.  Go Chinese with toasted sesame oil and five spice powder.  Do a spicy Southwest version with cayenne, paprika, and chili powder.  Or make them Jamaican with some jerk spice.  That’s why making your own is so darn satisfying; you’re the boss of your own chick peas.

Trial and error roasted garbanzos

1 15 ½ ounce can chick peas

1 tablespoon garlic oil

Juice of ½ lemon

2 teaspoons Goya bitter orange adobo

Preheat oven to 325.  Drain and rinse beans.  Put into sturdy, dark, 9 inch round, or square metal pan.  Drizzle on oil and juice, sprinkle on spice.  Roll around to evenly coat and put in single layer.  Bake 30 minutes, then remove from oven and roll around and toss.  Do this every 30 minutes for a total of 1 ½ hours.  Then give them one last jiggle, turn off oven and let sit inside, undisturbed, for 30 more minutes.  Makes 1 ½-2 cups.

When I worked for Bosco, we had a customer who was a caterer and each year at Christmas would bring us homemade Buckeyes.  For the uninitiated, they are delicious little peanut butter balls coated with chocolate.  They are to Reese’s cups what steak is to a Mickey D’s quarter pounder–they both come from a cow, but that’s where the similarity ends.

I often give these as gifts.  I make up the balls, and then freeze.  When I need some, I just coat them with the chocolate, without even thawing them.  Use a toothpick to dunk them, then smooth out the little hole you’ve made.  The wax keeps the chocolate glossy, but you won’t taste it.


5 ½ cups confectioner’s sugar, sifted

1 c. peanut butter

1/2 lb. (2 sticks) butter, softened

1 teaspoon salt

Caviar from 1 vanilla bean

½ bag semi-sweet chocolate chips

½ bag milk chocolate chips

About 1/3 cup canning paraffin wax, finely chopped

Blend butter, peanut butter and vanilla. Add sugar and beat to dough-like consistency. Form into balls with small scoop and chill or freeze. Melt chocolates and wax in microwave on 20 second intervals, stirring after each, until almost fully melted.  Then stir until completely smooth. Double-dip balls in chocolate, leaving circle of peanut butter showing.  Makes about 6 dozen.

My last recipe is crazy-simple.  But you won’t be able to keep your hands out of these pecans.

Obsessive-compulsive Pecans

Melt 2 tablespoons of butter in skillet on medium.  Add 2 cups whole, shelled pecans.  Salt and pepper to taste.  Stir constantly until they’re lightly browned and smell nutty.  Drain on paper towels.

So here you have it.  Three recipes that are perfect to put out for visitors, or give as gifts.

And, if somebody tells you to go nuts, you can say, “Don’t mind if I do.”

Thanks for your time.