Archive for the ‘1’ Category

Summer Squash Cakes

August 5, 2015

summer squashcakes photo-18Hiricas lived in a shabby wooden farmhouse on a couple of acres next to our place. All their linoleum-floored rooms were dark—a dim porch with a ceiling swing and stacks of rumpled Czech newspapers, a black heavy table and buffet in a dining room that was never used, and a low ceilinged grease-stained kitchen with a coal range and smells of old world garlic. For eight-year-old me, this was Gothic. I was drawn almost hypnotically to cross the east orchard and rap at their back screen door. I didn’t venture into the dirt cellar basement, but I’d climb the creaky stairs to the kitchen always hoping there’d be something good to eat—something I’d never find at home.

Now many decades later, there are only a few tastes I remember. In autumn there were sweet, doughnut-like fried rolls filled with the freshly ground poppy seeds harvested from the opium poppies grown alongside the gravel driveway. That creamy, soft, nut flavor can’t be duplicated from the usually stale poppy seeds sitting on grocery shelves. Those rolls and the walnut potica remain a memory.

But back to the subject: In the heavy afternoon heat of late summer, I might find a plate of fried summer squash left on the oilcloth-covered kitchen table. Mrs. Hirica, always eager to offer something to her curious neighbor, helped me buy my first cookbook about European food—a collection of Czech recipes.

Last Sunday I found an almost too large, lumpy skinned yellow summer squash in my garden. It was about seven inches long and too mature to grill or stir-fry. It was from my own carefully tended vine, too precious to toss on the compost heap. I remembered Hiricas’ decadent and delicious squash cakes. My mind whipped back to a memory of something I hadn’t put on a plate in almost forever. As a treat for a meatless Monday supper, my lumpy skinned squash became creamy-centered, crisp cakes served with a pool of basil scented yogurt sauce. Tucked next to a corn and kale pilaf alongside beans stewed with tomatoes and zucchini, a crookneck squash took me home again.

Summer Squash Cakes

1 yellow summer squash no more than 3 inches in diameter



1 egg

1 cup fine, dry bread crumbs

olive, canola or grape seed oil

Remove stem and blossom ends from squash. Cut into ½ inch slices. Sprinkle both sides of slices lightly with salt and allow to stand on a wire rack for 15-30 minutes. Blot away excess moisture with paper towel.

Prepare a plate of flour, a bowl of beaten egg and a plate of breadcrumbs. Dust each slice of squash with flour, dip in egg and then coat with breadcrumbs. Place the crumb covered slices back on the wire rack to dry a few minutes.

Heat a heavy cast iron skillet filmed with oil, and add the squash slices to the hot oil making sure they aren’t crowded. Keep the heat moderate. The squash will need to cook 10-15 minutes per side or until the coating is nicely browned and the center is tender (when pierced with a toothpick). Serve the squash cakes immediately, hold in a low oven or cool to room temperature and leave on the kitchen table for your little neighbor who might knock looking for a snack.

Mary Jo's Cookbook available on Amazon

Mary Jo’s Cookbook available on Amazon






Date and Walnut Cake

April 22, 2010

There’s that time when nothing will do except a piece of good cake. I try my best to refrain from sweets and snacks, but when I sit quietly with my afternoon cup of coffee, even the tiniest bit of cake will suffice. We’re limiting butter and sugar intake, so I look to dried fruit. There’s nothing closer to fudge than sticky dates and when paired with nuts, we have a satisfying confection. To bring the cake part into the picture, I bind dried fruit with just enough light batter to hold it together. Since there’ll be a bit of sugar involved, I choose an unrefined sugar with substantive flavor like Indian Jaggery or Mexican pilloncillo, raw sugars that taste like melted toffee and when rubbed between your fingers almost melt into fondant.  Piloncillo comes in small brown cones usually found in cellophane bags displayed along with chilis in the Mexican products section of a supermarket, and you’ll find Jaggery in large or small lumps in Indian markets. Both of these sugars must be grated using the small holes of a box grater before mixing. It’s a little extra effort, but the result brings a wealth of flavor and a great respect for the sugar.

This cake contains no butter or any fat beyond egg yolk and nuts. It has a small amount of flour and can easily take in the added benefit of ground flaxseed. It keeps well wrapped and stored in a tin and is a welcome find several days or weeks later when the flavors have blended and the cake remains soft.

Date and Walnut Cake

14 ½ oz. mixed dried fruit (2 ½ cups) such as 8 oz. seedless dates plus 6 ½ oz. combined pitted prunes and raisins or any dried fruits of choice (pineapple, cranberries, figs, apricots, etc.) all cut in large  pieces

5 oz. walnut halves and pieces (1 ½ cups)

3 ½ oz. (½ cup) packed brown sugar (recommend grated piloncillo or  jaggery)

2 large eggs beaten

1 teaspoon vanilla

¼ teaspoon salt

2 ½ oz. (½  cup) unbleached all purpose flour

scant ¼ teaspoon baking soda

¼ teaspoon baking powder

1 tablespoon ground flax seed (optional)

Line two small loaf pans (3 by 6 inches) with parchment or butter and flour the tins. Preheat oven to 300º.

Place the soft (grated) sugar in a large mixing bowl. Gradually work in the egg one teaspoon at a time until the sugar creams into a soft even mass. (If egg is added too fast, the grated sugar will clump; in that case dump the whole lot into a blender of food processor and whiz to dissolve the sugar lumps. Return to mixing bowl.)

Stir in vanilla and salt. Sift over the flour, soda, baking powder and fold in. Add flax seed if desired. Evenly mix in the dried fruit and nuts.

Spoon, scrape and press the cake mixture into the two prepared loaf pans, dividing equally. Bake in the preheated 300º oven for one hour or until golden and tests done.

Remove cakes from pans leaving parchment intact. Cool thoroughly and store in a tin or plastic box at least 24 hours before slicing, if you can stand to wait.

Mary Jo’s cookbook is available at