Archive for December, 2010

Salmon Chowder

December 22, 2010

Cookies are boxed and stacked in the cold garage. The fruitcake sits soused in bourbon, and the beef roast waits in the fridge. After days of baking, planning and shopping, the menu is ready for Christmas dinner, but we still need a quick supper before heading out for midnight carols.

A well-stocked pantry provides the ingredients for a quick salmon chowder. This simple soup, adapted from a bisque recipe first found in the 1953 printing of The Joy of Cooking, did not make the cut for later editions, though it’s been a welcome part of our winter holidays.

Tins of wild Alaskan salmon offer nutritious, sustainable and inexpensive fish; canned tomatoes should always be on hand.With a few staples from the vegetable bin and a pint of milk, you’re ready to go.

Salmon Chowder

1 14 oz. can Alaskan salmon (pink or red)

1 tablespoon butter

l medium onion

1 or 2 branches celery

½ red or green pepper (optional)

2 cloves garlic minced

½ teaspoon paprika

½ teaspoon dry thyme or dill (or more fresh)

Pinch crushed red pepper (optional)

1 ½ cups chopped canned tomatoes plus juice or 1 14 oz. can         diced tomatoes

1 tablespoon olive oil

2 tablespoons flour

1 ½ –2 cups whole milk

few drops lemon juice, freshly ground pepper

Drain the broth from the salmon and save. Remove skin and bones from salmon and break fish into small pieces (the bones are fully edible and calcium rich if you choose to use them).

Chop the onion, celery and pepper. The total amount should be 2 cups or so of chopped mixed vegetables. Melt the butter in a large saucepan, add the chopped mixture and sauté gently until wilted. Add garlic, paprika, thyme, red pepper and cook until fragrant. Add tomatoes, reserved fish broth; cover and simmer 10 minutes.

Mix olive oil and flour together to form a paste. Whisk the flour paste into the simmering soup and continue to cook 5 minutes. Add milk (use larger amount for thinner soup) and bring almost to a boil. Add the salmon and continue to cook until very hot. Taste for seasonings, adding salt, pepper and lemon juice. Serve with hot toast or steamed white rice. Enough for 3–4.

Mary Jo’s cookbook is available at


Cranberry Almond Tart

December 17, 2010


There’s nothing in food magazines anymore. A glossy cover photo is tempting, but inside it’s all quick-mix stuff. If one’s not a cook-on-the-run willing to begin with prepared food items, the magazines are a waste of time. Many of my treasured holiday recipes came from the old Gourmet magazine, but this year’s December Bon Appetit didn’t tempt me with one.


I still bake the same three-day Dresden Stollen from Gourmet that I discovered 30 years ago, and my canon of Christmas cookies reflects Cuisine, Saveur and Cooks’ Illustrated. These classic holiday recipes need no updates.


Food magazines used to invite readers to travel abroad and go behind the scenes in great restaurants. Through their pages I sampled holiday breads from Vienna, chocolates from Paris and steamed puddings from London. I saved some of these magazines for years, poring over the holiday issues each winter.


Now the mags are all about young professionals throwing parties on rooftops or in trendy lofts. Like beautiful handwritten letters replaced by Twitter, vintage food magazines have become rags for foodie gossip and celebrity gawking. I leaf through colorful pages over a cup of tea and then recycle them.


In memory of good recipes from decades past, here’s a colorful cranberry tart that always pleases during winter holidays. It can be made ahead, cut into tiny pieces for finger food and it freezes well. It’s from the early years of Bon Appetit.


Cranberry Almond Tart


1 ½ oz. powdered sugar (6 tablespoons)


1/8 teaspoon salt


5 oz. all-purpose flour (1 scooped cup)

2 ½ oz. unsalted butter (1/2 stick + l tablespoon)

1 egg yolk

2 oz. all-purpose flour

4 ½ oz. sugar (2/3 cup)

pinch salt

2 oz. cold, unsalted butter (1/2 stick)

2 oz. blanched, slivered almonds (1/3 cup)

12 oz. bag fresh cranberries

3 tablespoons sugar

Make the pastry by creaming butter,sugar and egg yolk. Add salt, flour and work into a cookie-dough type dough. (May use mixer or food processor.) Shape into a flattened disc, wrap in plastic and set aside for an hour.

Prepare the streusel topping by combining the 2 oz. flour, 4 ½ oz. sugar and pinch of salt. Rub in the sliced cold butter to form a crumble. (May use food processor.) Mix in the slivered almonds. Set aside.

Roll the pastry to a thin circle between two sheets of plastic wrap. Peel off the top sheet, lift the pastry from underneath and gently slap it into the center of a 9-inch shallow tart tin with removable bottom or a 9-inch glass pie plate. Use the top sheet of plastic wrap to help press the pastry evenly up the sides. Remove wrap.  Trim pastry edges. Strew the cranberries in the bottom of the shell, removing any bad berries. Sprinkle over 3 tablespoons sugar. Dump the crumble topping in the center and carefully feather it out over the top.

Bake in a preheated 350º oven for 50 minutes or a 375º oven for 40 minutes. Cool thoroughly before cutting. Serves 6–8.

Mary Jo’s cookbook is available at

Heavenly Hash

December 6, 2010


Two doors east of the green stuccoed Mexican bar with the lighted Coors sign in the window stood my aunt’s corner house. Empty rabbit hutches edged a packed dirt back yard, soot stained the siding and porch screens sagged. Worn linoleum lined the floors and piled magazines covered tabletops. Two of my grandparents, somewhat down and out after they sold the coal mine up Piceance Creek, lived there as well. In spite of the dust, clutter and my fear of the neighborhood, they were my folks, and I had obligations.

I waited for moments to explore the pantry, a small room off the kitchen with its own door and a window at the back. There were shelves for canned goods and bowls, tubs for onions and potatoes, a swing-out bin for flour that held the contents of a 25-pound cotton sack and a built-in sifter. On the wooden work shelf above the flour and sugar bins there was almost always a tasty morsel left on a pie tin.

Grandpa roasted the holiday turkey with onion and sage dressing, steamed a plum duff big enough to fill a pillowcase for Christmas, and throughout December boiled up batches of caramel and heavenly hash. The hash was no quick mix of chocolate chips and marshmallows, but a slowly cooked cream candy filled with walnuts, dates and white raisins. Its flavor was Victorian-rich.

George’s Heavenly Hash

½ cup light corn syrup (5 ½ oz.)

½ cup heavy cream (4 fl. oz.)

1 ½ cups sugar (10 oz.)

pinch of salt

½ teaspoon vanilla

½ cup sliced sticky dates (3 oz.)

½ cup golden raisins (3 oz.)

½ cup chopped walnuts (2 oz.)

In a heavy saucepan swirl the syrup and cream to combine and bring to a boil. Add the sugar and pinch of salt. Stir with wooden spoon to dissolve sugar (wash sugar from spoon.) Cover and bring to a boil steaming any sugar from the sides of the saucepan. Do not stir.

Uncover and boil over moderate heat until the mixture reaches the firmish soft-ball stage, almost 240º. Use a sugar thermometer and/ or test a few drops of syrup in a cup of ice water. Do not be dismayed if the mixture turns light beige; this seems to happen with ultra pasturized heavy cream.

Cool 10-15 minutes and begin to stir with a wooden spoon. The cooked mass should thicken and turn opaque. If it becomes too hard to stir, scrape the candy out onto a lightly oiled marble or granite surface and knead with a dough scraper or palate knife. (If the candy remains shiny and seems to refuse to fall into the creamy fondant state, cover it with a piece of plastic wrap and walk away from it for an hour.) When the sugar mass stiffens into a smooth fondant, blend in ½ teaspoon vanilla and knead in the dates, raisins and nuts. Divide in half, roll into 12-inch logs and wrap in waxed paper or plastic wrap.

Store in a cool place and serve in slices with strong coffee or tea.

Makes 1½ pounds.

Mary Jo’s cookbook is available at