Spring Asparagus with Eggs and Linguine

May 2, 2017

Poached Eggs with Asparagus and Pasta

Last Saturday of April: local Farmers’ Market opens. Rain, bitter cold, fierce wind. . . Nevertheless, I’ve been waiting weeks for fresh eggs and hoping for first asparagus, so I’m early in line. With freezing fingers I fork over cash for precious pullet eggs, and tender purple asparagus. “What do you do with pullet eggs,” asks my friend who opted for the large instead. In actual fact, pullet eggs may be the best eggs a hen will ever lay, and I buy as many as I can early in the season. The yolks are usually larger in comparison to the white; they are richer and very tasty. Pullet eggs are perfect for small batches where you might need half an egg. Children love them for their cuteness and they make perfect companions for an egg added here or there as a garnish.

With my treasures in tow, I set about an asparagus and egg supper. Cooking for one the pullet egg yolk will be perfect for a couple dollops of Hollandaise sauce, and two poached pullet eggs atop a swirl of linguine with fresh asparagus will be gorgeous. I’ll add a sprinkle of shaved Parmesan or some diced smoked ham and send a drift of garden chives over the top. The rain continued to beat down as darkness fell, but I found Spring on my plate.

A little note on Hollandaise Sauce: remember this is an emulsion of egg yolk and butter. The yolk is whisked with a little water in a heatproof glass bowl and warmed over a simmering bath. Once the egg yolk is warm and still liquid (take care not to let it get so hot it scrambles) whisk in butter a slice at a time. The butter will melt and thicken with the egg yolk. Once the thick sauce comes together, season with a few drops of lemon juice, a pinch of salt, and thin with a little hot water if needed. There it is in just a few minutes, elegant sauce.

Asparagus with Linguine, Poached Eggs and Hollandaise

8 oz. fresh asparagus, purple recommended

2 oz. linguine or spaghetti

3 pullet eggs

1 teaspoon water

1 ½ tablespoons good butter

½ teaspoon fresh lemon juice

salt to taste

2 tablespoons diced smoked ham and/or shaved Parmesan

olive oil

Fresh chives or parsley

Trim asparagus and diagonally slice into bite-sized lengths. Set large pot of water on to boil.

Make Hollandaise: Choose a small saucepan half filled with water that will hold a heatproof glass bowl on top. The bowl base should not touch the water underneath. Bring the water to a simmer. Slice butter onto a saucer. In the glass bowl whisk (a tiny whisk is good here) the pullet yolk with teaspoon water and place over the simmering saucepan. (Save the white for meringues.)   Stir the egg mixture as it heats. When it feels warm to your pinkie, begin to whisk in the butter a slice at a time. As the butter melts and is absorbed, the sauce will thicken. Remove the bowl from the water bath; season the sauce with lemon and salt. Set aside in a warm spot.

Generously add salt to the larger pot of boiling water. (The boiling water should taste as salty as seawater.) Add prepared asparagus to the rapidly boiling water and cook for 2-4 minutes depending on the size of the stalks. Once the asparagus is tender, fish it out with a Chinese spider or a slotted spoon. Hold in a warm bowl. Add linguine to the boiling water and cook according to package directions.

Meanwhile break each of the remaining two pullet eggs into small cups, and warm the diced ham in a little butter or oil in a small skillet. Once the pasta is cooked fish it out with the spider, a strainer or slotted spoon, add to the warm bowl of asparagus. Drain any excess water and toss with a little olive oil. Swirl the boiling water with a spoon and drop in the eggs. Reduce the boil to a simmer and poach the small eggs about 2 minutes. As the eggs cook, mound the asparagus and linguine on a warm plate. Sprinkle with ham and/or Parmesan. Lift the cooked eggs from the water with a slotted spoon and drain on a paper towel before setting atop the asparagus and pasta. Lighten the Hollandaise with a teaspoon of the boiling cooking water and spoon the luscious sauce over the eggs and pasta. Sprinkle with chopped chives.   The best Spring Supper for One.




Chicken Pie

March 2, 2017
Chicken Pie Filling

Chicken Pie Filling

Still almost a month of winter and the morning wind blows across the park with a bitter chill. When at midweek it seems like a good idea to invite friends for Sunday lunch, I think a rich chicken pie for my new English pie dish will warm us all. Tender morsels of poached chicken robed in rich gravy with seasoning vegetables and all tucked up under flakey pastry will fill the air with appetizing aroma. Cooking a couple of days ahead makes chicken pie a simple task. One day poach the chicken in a fragrant broth; chill the broth to remove fat. The next day prepare the gravy; make the pastry. Bundle all into a lipped pie dish and chill the pie overnight. Forty minutes in the oven the following afternoon, and a princely feast awaits your guests.

Chicken Pie Ready to Bake

Chicken Pie Ready to Bake

Pot pies once a household staple for using up leftovers became the babysitter’s supper after Swanson popped them in everyone’s freezer. Those pasty, tasteless pies with faked out chemical seasonings need now to be forgotten. It’s time to resurrect the real McCoy from the archives of traditional cooking. Your run of the mill pot pie had two problems: too much soggy pastry and tasteless gravy. We’ll solve the pastry problem with a deep dish pie and a crisp, buttery top crust. A superb gravy needs an excellent stock base. If you have a lipped deep pie dish, that would be the best container, but a standard glass pie plate or baker will work equally well. Give yourself time to prepare the pie in stages. Each step will take only minutes, and the Sunday lunch rewards will keep the hounds of late winter far from your warm table.

Chicken Pie Served

Chicken Pie Served

This recipe makes a small pie that will serve 2-4, and it can easily be doubled for a family meal. Before you begin be sure you have good chicken stock, preferably homemade, and high quality, organic if possible, fresh chicken. I recommend thighs for tenderness and flavor.

Chicken Pie

1 lb, (3 large) bone in skin on chicken thighs

Sliced onion, carrot and celery

2 cups chicken stock

2 tablespoons butter

2 oz. each chopped onion, celery, carrot (total 1 ½ cups)

1 clove garlic, chopped

pinch dry thyme or teaspoon chopped fresh thyme

2 tablespoons flour

1 ½ cups reduced chicken stock from above

Salt and pepper to taste

Squeeze fresh lemon juice

2 tablespoons cream (optional)

chopped parsley

6 oz. unsweetened pie pastry*

cream or milk for glazing

Choose a heavy saucepan that will hold the chicken snugly. Line the bottom of the pan with sliced onion, carrot and celery. Top with the chicken, skin side up; sprinkle with salt and add chicken stock to cover. Top with lid and bring slowly to a simmer. Poach the chicken for 45 minutes or until tender. Turn off the heat and allow the chicken to rest in the stock 15 minutes. Remove chicken to a plate. As soon as the chicken is cool enough to handle, remove the skin, bones and any fatty bits, returning them to the stock. Pull the chicken into neat bite sized pieces. Simmer the stock another 15 minutes. Cool and strain. Chill the chicken and the stock separately allowing excess fat to rise to the stock surface and harden.

In a heavy saucepan, melt 2 tablespoons of butter and gently sauté the 2 oz. each onion, carrot and celery until softened. Add chopped garlic, thyme and sauté a few minutes. Add flour to the softened vegetables, stir to combine and cook for a few minutes. In a separate saucepan, bring the degreased stock to a boil and reduce to 1 ½ cups. Whisk the boiling stock into the flour-coated vegetables and stir all into a rich, simmering gravy. Boil gravy up a few minutes it seems too thin. Season with cream, salt, pepper, lemon juice and add a handful of chopped parsley. Once the gravy is nicely thickened, stir in the chicken, and pour the mixture into the selected pie dish, chill.

Roll the pastry into a 1/8th inch thick circle or oval as needed. Cut several ½ inch wide strips of pastry. Moisten the lip of the pie dish and stick on the pastry strips to give a base for the top pastry.. Cut steam vents in the remaining pastry. Brush the pastry strips with water and roll over the top pastry, trim excess. Flute the edges and bandage with damp strips of clean cotton (torn from an old sheet or T-shirt.) This bandage will prevent the edges from burning. Chill the pie.

An hour before serving, brush the top crust with cream or milk and bake the pie at 400° for 30-40 minutes or until golden brown. Turn off the heat and allow the pie to rest in the oven a few more minutes for further crisping. Peel off bandage. Allow the pie to settle a few minutes before serving. Add a green salad and serve 3-4.

*For a basic pastry recipe see Pie Crust, November 2016 and omit the powdered sugar for unsweetened pastry.https://mjcuisine.wordpress.com/2016/11/14/pie-crust/




Happy 100th Birthday Mom

February 28, 2017

imom-photomg_1678-4                                          Cleo Lapp McMillin

She was born in the little house across the road from Lapp’s blacksmith shop, February 28, 1917. The eldest of three daughters, Cleo Lapp grew up in the rural Dunker Brethren community of Appleton, Colorado where her family blacksmithed, farmed, tended a dairy herd, made cottage cheese, and went to church. It was a hard-scrabble life on edge of the Western high dessert, but the family carried on through the depression and the coddling moth infestation that took the apples away from Appleton.

Cleo left home to study nursing in Chicago in the late 30’s and worked as a nurse for 40 years. She married Joe McMillin from Palisade, Colorado in 1940. They lived in the Bay Area during the war years and returned to Western Colorado where they raised their four children.

Cleo traveled through her children’s lives, trips in a family RV and occasional ventures with her two sisters. She always sought new schemes to help the family along. There were herds of turkeys to feast on the plague of grasshoppers in the peach orchard, Nubian goats which gave precious sweet milk, capons to butcher, geese to produce down, and Suffolk sheep for prized meat and notorious fence jumping.

Through thick and thin, her creative mind kept her alert until she lost her sight and succumbed to Parkinson’s just before her 92nd birthday. She always reminded me that the Lords Prayer tells us we are forgiven AS we forgive those who hurt us. The truest giving person I’ve ever known, a humble saint, my guiding light; I miss her each day.

Happy One Hundredth Birthday, Mom



January 1, 2017


As I sat down to New Year’s Day lunch, I thought nothing could be better than this bowl of Laksa, a traditional Malaysian soup. It was brothy, light and spicy, packed with vegetables and thin noodles. Jim would have loved this; soup was one of his favorite things. Now I need soup that will nourish, warm and comfort me. With the joys and sorrows of 2016 still raw, we look for ways to go on. Perhaps it’s time for some lighter eating and living.

Creamy or brothy, thick or thin, hot or cool, every culture and tradition has soup. Farm folks still put up Mason jars of vegetable soup from the summer garden bounty. Commercial factories fill grocery shelves with canned, dried and frozen soups. Delicious soup can be made even with a few vegetables and water. Fresh, preservative free soup will always be better. Why not make soup at home, even if you are in a hurry.

The following recipe, a 15-minute wonder, is an adaption from Rosemary Kearney. It’s accessible to anyone who has a few vegetables plus some chilies in the fridge and a can of coconut milk in the pantry.


3 oz. thin rice noodles or vermicelli

1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil + 1 tablespoon vegetable oil (or 2 tablespoons vegetable oil)

2 tablespoons chopped, peeled fresh ginger

4 plump garlic cloves, peeled and sliced

½ Serrano chili, sliced

3 cups stock (bone broth, chicken, vegetable or fish stock)

½ – 1 14 oz. can unsweetened coconut milk

1 tablespoon Asian fish sauce

2 cups blanched green vegetables (I chose green beans, broccoli and cabbage; use what you have)

¼ cup grated carrot or slivered red pepper.

Cooked shrimp or pulled chicken or pork (optional)

Juice from 1-2 limes or to taste

Sliced green onion for garnish

Place rice noodles in wide bowl; cover generously with boiling water; soak until soft. Drain and rinse. Or cook broken vermicelli according to directions, rinse and cool.

Bash ginger, garlic and chili in a mortar with pinch of coarse salt to form an even mash. Or use a mini food processor or finely chop chili and grate ginger, garlic.

Warm oils in soup pot. Add ginger paste stirring constantly a few seconds until the mixture smells, cooked. Add stock and simmer covered 5 minutes. Add coconut milk (less or more as preferred) and simmer 5 minutes. Season with fish sauce, salt if needed.

When ready to serve, add vegetables, optional meats, noodles and heat. Add lime juice and immediately divide soup into bowls. Sprinkle with sliced green onions, plus cilantro if you have it. Serves 2 or 3.

Mary Jo's Cookbook available on Amazon

Mary Jo’s Cookbook available on Amazon

Pie Crust

November 14, 2016




Thanksgiving comes with a cloud of pie crust angst. Everyone seems to struggle with this age-old basic pastry. Fillings are easy, but the crust sets off alarms. Having rolled hundreds if not thousands of pie shells over the decades, I really can’t understand what all the fuss is about.

We’ve forgotten that time was when everyone made pie. It was one of America’s most basic meals: a chicken pie for supper, cherry pie in summer and George Washington was known to have apple pie and cheddar cheese almost every day for breakfast. Grandmothers took a few fistfuls of flour, a pinch of salt, a dollop of fresh lard, and without batting an eye brought a dough together with a sprinkle of water. “Easy as pie. . .” And it’s still easy; it just takes some practice. There’s not a magic formula. No need to add vodka, vinegar, eggs, extra quantities of butter. It’s basically flour, fat and water. Stay cool, and keep your ingredients cool.

finished dough

finished dough

A couple of weeks now set the stage for you to give pie crust a chance. Let’s stay away from pre made shells that use lower quality ingredients than you will at home. Commercial pie shells often include preservatives that interfere with the taste. Remember, “easy as pie,” you can make it better yourself.

A few pointers to keep in mind: if possible use a scale to weigh the flour and the fat. A small digital scale is inexpensive and will change your cooking life. It’s faster, more accurate and you’ll soon use it for all baking and cooking. Secondly keep your butter, shortening or lard COLD. Don’t hesitate to use enough cold liquid to bring your dry ingredients together. And finally let your dough rest. Let it rest when adding the water in hand made dough, and let the finished pastry rest several hours before using. Resting allows the flour to absorb moisture and to relax the gluten. Cool, relaxed pie pastry should roll out as easily as a smooth piece of fabric.

If you need practice, divide the recipe below in half and work with smaller amounts. To use the same pastry for savory pies or quiches, omit the sugar.

rolled pastry

rolled pastry

Keep calm, make pie, bring back a forgotten skill this Thanksgiving.

Basic Pastry For Fruit Pies

1 lb. all-purpose flour (3 ½ cups)

½ oz. powdered sugar (2 tablespoons)

1 ¼ teaspoon salt

8 oz. cold unsalted butter (2 sticks)

1 oz. cold lard*, white shortening or butter (2 tablespoons)

5 fl. oz. ice water (10 full tablespoons)

*Buy kettle-rendered white lard from a meat market; avoid shelf-stable lard modified with preservatives. Good lard makes tender, flaky crust and is worth seeking out.

To make pastry in a processor, place flour, sugar and salt in work bowl. Process just to combine. Slice over the cold butter and lard; process on and off three or four times until the butter is flaked into small pea-sized pieces. With the processor running, steadily pour the ice water in through the feed tube and continue to process until pastry rolls into a ball. Remove from work bowl, rock into a thick log. Wrap and chill at least an hour or two.

To make pastry by hand, whisk the flour, sugar and salt in a large shallow bowl. Slice in the cold butter and lard and rub the fat into the flour using floured fingertips or a pastry blender. When the butter is in floury flakes, drizzle over the ice water a little at a time, forking it evenly into the crumbly mix. Bring the dough together into a ball with both hands and shape into a log. Wrap and chill.

Makes enough for two 9–10-inch two-crust pies. (Make ½ recipe for one pie.)

For fruit fillings see:




Mary Jo's Cookbook available on Amazon

Mary Jo’s Cookbook available on Amazon

Peanut Butter Balls

October 13, 2016


peanut butter balls

peanut butter balls

My aunt Margie was just 12 when she left the family coal miner’s cottage. No nearby school meant traveling to the dusty farming town of Fruita, Colorado where the hotelier’s family gave her room and board. Margie worked as a hotel maid, baby sitter and waitress to earn her keep until she graduated from high school. A friend landed her a job at the Jerome Hotel just as Aspen began to lift itself from the mining ghost town it has become.

After beauty school she coiffed the locks of women in both Glenwood Springs and Aspen then married a WWII medic pharmacist. The couple later studied gemology and opened Glenwood’s Bo-Mar jewelry. As a young widow Margie operated the exquisite shop alone for years.

My first watch, my first pearls and Jantzen sweaters for high school were her gifts. She didn’t cook much, but always relished peanut butter. She enjoyed the peanut butter cream pies I made when I lived with her one summer. And now I think of her with these tasty peanut butter balls.

On September 20th family gathered at the Rosebud Cemetery in Glenwood Springs to lay a stone for Margie McMillin Peffer Beck 1920-2016.

Leave those Reese’s cups in the Halloween candy aisle and roll some peanut butter balls instead. Good for breakfast or lunch with an apple and a great after school snack for kids.

Peanut Butter Balls

½ cup granola (2 oz.)

¼ cup powdered milk (1 oz.)

2 tablespoons brown sugar or evaporated sugar cane juice

¼ cup raisins (1 ½ oz.)

1 cup chunky, salted peanut butter (9 oz.)

¼ cup roasted natural sesame seeds

Place granola, powdered milk, sugar and raisins in food processer and whiz to pulverize. Add peanut butter and process to form a soft paste. (If peanut butter seems a bit dry add 1 tablespoon vegetable or olive oil).

Turn the peanut butter dough out onto a clean counter top and knead together to form a shiny log and pat into a rectangle. Cut in half lengthwise; turn each half cut side down and cut in half again making 4 equal portions. Roll each quarter into a sausage shape and cut into 8 pieces. Squish each piece into the cupped palm of one hand to form a rough ball and gently roll into a shiny ball. (If the paste tends to crumble, squeeze together and roll gently.)

Place sesame seeds in a shallow bowl; roll each ball in the seeds and again roll between your palms to make sure the seeds adhere.

Store at room temperature for a day or in the fridge longer.

Makes 32 ½ oz. balls.

Mary Jo's Cookbook available on Amazon

Mary Jo’s Cookbook available on Amazon


Golden Fish Curry

September 11, 2016
Golden Fish Curry

Golden Fish Curry

New York Herald Tribune journalist Henry Morton Stanley finally found his rock star explorer in the village market of Ujiji on the eastern shore of Lake Tanganyika on November 10, 1871. It would have been the onset of a hot, humid summer in the southern hemisphere, and after his gentlemanly “Dr. Livingston, I presume,” the two men surely didn’t sit down for glasses of iced lemonade. Most likely a porter boiled a kettle over a small charcoal brazier, and the strangers acquainted themselves in tropical fashion over cups of hot tea. In our current Western world of ice cubes and air conditioning, we have missed the knowledge gained from hot climates where warm beverages and spicy foods cool the body. Whether Mexico, India or Africa, people living in the hottest places eat the spiciest food. Why? When you ingest warming spices or beverages, the body is cooled by perspiration, the natural way to chill. Chiles and spices cool in summer and warm in winter.

Beautifully composed Indian curries often begin with the hallowed trinity of mashed garlic, ginger and green chili. The fragrance of these seasonings gently sautéing in coconut oil or ghee will transport you straight to the Taj. These are called the “green” or fresh spices, and the dry spices of turmeric, cumin and coriander follow. Once you add a few tomatoes, a pour of luxurious coconut milk and simmer away, you have flavor from the Malabar Coast. Add some boneless, skinless white fish, a handful of cilantro and a few minutes later sip a magically spiced stew. Add a squeeze of lime juice, a side of fluffy Basmati rice and sample a sublimely exotic tradition. This perfect combination takes only minutes to prepare, once you give onions time to soften, sauté and simmer. It’s pure, unadulterated, inexpensive and a million times better and healthier than something out of a box or a frozen packet.

Coconut oil, coconut milk and turmeric are current wellness darlings, while garlic, ginger and chilies have long been known to have antibacterial properties and digestive benefits. Chili peppers contain more active Vitamin C than almost any other fruit. Every time I serve one of these curries, I feel the need to spread the word. So here’s a recipe to begin:

ingredients for fish curry

ingredients for fish curry

Golden Fish Curry

1 large onion (10 oz., two cups sliced)

2 generous tablespoons coconut oil or vegetable oil

4-5 cloves garlic

½ -1 green Serrano chili (remove seeds for less heat)

1 ¼ inches fresh ginger root

1 teaspoon ground turmeric

¼ teaspoon garam masala

1/8 teaspoon Indian chili powder or hot paprika (optional)

1 teaspoon curry powder (optional)

2 large tomatoes (2 cups peeled, seeded and diced) or 14 oz. can tomatoes

2/3 cup coconut milk (5.6 oz.) (Chaokoh brand recommended)

12-14 oz. skinless white fish such as cod

Salt, cilantro, lime

Peel and quarter the onion; slice thinly. Gently sweat the onion in coconut oil, covering with waxed butter wrappers or parchment until tender. Remove paper and continue to sauté until onion is golden (8-10 minutes). Meanwhile bash peeled, sliced garlic, ginger and chili with a generous pinch of coarse salt in a mortar until reduced to a paste (about 3 tablespoons). In lieu of a stone mortar, grate the ginger on a microplane and finely chop garlic and chili. Combine turmeric, garam masala, optional chili powder and curry powder in a small cup.

Once the onion is golden and sizzling, add the ginger paste and sauté a few minutes until it smells “cooked”. Tip in the turmeric mixture and sauté stirring until the dry spices release fragrance. Add the tomatoes plus a little water and simmer until the tomatoes have pulped. Add the coconut milk and continue to simmer 5 minutes. Taste for seasonings; add salt if needed and a pinch of sugar if the mixture is too spicy. Add the chunked fish and cook 5 minutes or until the fish flakes. Stir in a generous handful of chopped cilantro just before serving. Add lime juice to taste.

Serves 3-4

Mary Jo's Cookbook available on Amazon

Mary Jo’s Cookbook available on Amazon






Blueberry Muffins

July 29, 2016

blueberry muffinsMG_1380Baskets of blueberries are rolling in from Michigan, one of the top producers of America’s favorite summer berry. Now touted as a superfood, everybody loves blueberries. They’re sometimes a bit bland, but they are good for us and we prize them. The blueberries shipped in from Chili and beyond that we find in the supermarkets in winter have little flavor, but those fresh off the bush that we see in our summer farmers markets are now at their tastiest peak. Just picked ripe blueberries bursting with juice are perfect for eating out of hand, sprinkling on cereal, adding to a salad or baking into a pie. Their tender gentle sweetness charms us all.

Before I ever had a slice of blueberry pie, I’d enjoyed blueberry muffins. Somehow back decades ago in the Southwest we found them frozen and were treated to my dad’s freshly baked (from scratch, of course) blueberry muffins on Easter morning after the sunrise service up on the Colorado National Monument. Although I enjoy the berries raw. I think they are at their peak of flavor when cooked. Blueberries in a pie, a cobbler, a sauce or in muffins take on a richer dimension of deliciousness.

Muffins have almost become cupcakes. The traditional stir and bake breakfast muffins in my mother’s 1942 Inglenook Cookbook have 1 tablespoon sugar for each cup of flour while our current standard muffin recipes average 6 tablespoons of sugar per cup of flour. The following easy recipe at least bumps up the nutrition quota with wholewheat pastry flour and plenty of berries, but admittedly it’s a cupcake. My granddaughters like them for breakfast, but I prefer them for a teacake. These muffins keep well for a couple of days in a tin or may be frozen for a few weeks.

Blueberry Muffins

2 oz. unsalted butter (1/2 stick)

6 ½ oz. unbleached all purpose flour (or half wholewheat) 1 1/3 cups

¼ teaspoon baking soda

1 ½ teaspoons baking powder

scant ½ teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon

3 ½ oz. sugar** (1/2 cup)

1 large egg

4 fl. oz. milk* (1/2 cup)

4 fl. oz. plain yogurt* (1/2 cup)

1 teaspoon vanilla

6 oz. fresh blueberries (1 cup)

*whole milk recommended but not necessary

**reduce sugar to 2 1/2 oz. (1/3 cup) for more breakfast-friendly muffins

Preheat oven to 400°. Line 8 large or 10 smaller muffin cups with cupcake paper. Or grease and flour muffin cups.

Melt butter, cool to warm.

Sift flour(s), baking soda, baking powder, salt and sugar into a deep mixing bowl.

In a large measuring cup whisk together the egg, milk, yogurt, vanilla and cooled melted butter.

Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and stir in the egg mixture in a few quick strokes. Mix in the dry blueberries with the last traces of flour.

Spoon the batter into the muffin cups, sprinkle the tops with pinches of sugar for a glaze and pop into the preheated oven. Immediately reduce the heat to 375° and bake for 20-25 minutes depending on size or until muffins are golden and test done. Remove from oven and cool on wire rack. Makes 8-10 muffin.

Mary Jo's Cookbook available on Amazon

Mary Jo’s Cookbook available on Amazon



Everyday Raita

July 14, 2016
 cucumber raita

cucumber raita

Each spring I spade my garden plot, sink in promising tomato plants and wish for baskets of ripe red fruit. I’m ready to cook through fantasies of the Italian table. Along the way I tuck a few cucumber seeds into the ground near the obligatory summer squash. One year there’s a blight, then a drought, then critters, and I’m usually left in August with scarcely enough tomatoes to garnish a few salads. Meanwhile the cucumbers thrive. We have green gazpacho, salads, quick pickles, wilted cucumbers and cucumbers to give away. Cucumbers grow profusely, and the one tiny plant near my garden fence has now crested its 8-foot stake with fresh vines tumbling over the patio. An abundance of the vegetable allows me to pick them young and fresh each day. I still long for tomatoes, but we’ll enjoy the cukes .

Early in my foray into spicy foods, I learned the balance of tangy yogurt. Yogurt with its naturally fermented sour is the perfect foil to anything peppery or bland. Its tartness lifts and deepens flavor with a dimension often lacking in the standard American diet. We haven’t learned to value the sour, while we add sugar to everything. The glory of yogurt is almost destroyed by sweetening it with jam and fruit until most people think of it as dessert. The tradition of yogurt like buttermilk, sour cream, labneh, etc, was not to be sweet but to refresh. Think of the lift a squeeze of lime brings to a taco or a drop of lemon to a cup of tea.

I learned to make raita (rye ta) from Indian friends who called yogurt “curd.When I first tasted it alongside a dish of chana masala, I though I’d found a perfect match. It’s so good with almost everything that a simple raita makes its way to our table alongside grilled chicken or fish, roasted vegetables, baked potatoes, vegetarian bean stews and sometimes just to jazz up a plate of leftovers.

I usually prepare the simple cucumber raita in a small mortar and pestle. First I crush a clove of garlic and a couple slices of green chili with a pinch of coarse salt. I mix in some finely chopped green or red onion, cucumber cut in tiny dice, some shredded mint, cilantro or parsley then stir in enough homemade whole milk yogurt to make a nice sauce. I test it for salt, sprinkle over a little ground cumin and there it is. It’s ready right away or easily waits for a few hours. Many other vegetables such as grated carrots or radishes, chopped cooked spinach or potato may be used in place of cucumber, but the garlic, onion and optional chili remain consistent.

Last night I thought of simplifying this preparation for someone who doesn’t have a mortar, who doesn’t like to chop into fine dice but needs a sauce in a hurry. The following recipe encourages you to use a microplane and a grater to create the same lovely mixture in fewer minutes. Cucumber Raita is a hot weather remedy for any slump in your summer cooking. It’s health giving, satisfying and tempers the appetite.

Cucumber Raita

1 clove garlic

2-3 slices Serrano chili with seeds (optional)


half a young seedless cucumber (or regular cucumber, seeds removed)

1-3 green onions chopped, or 1 tablespoon chopped red onion

1 tablespoon finely chopped parsley, mint, cilantro

½-¾ cup plain whole milk yogurt, preferably homemade   (https://mjcuisine.wordpress.com/2014/09/06/how-to-make-yogurt/)

ground cumin or freshly ground pepper

Peel garlic, hold by root end and grate on microplane into small bowl. Grate in a small amount of green chili (or chop the chili). Add pinch of salt and dissolve salt in grated garlic and chili. Using the large holes of a box grater or the julienne blade of a Japanese mandoline grate in the cucumber. Stir in the chopped onion. (At this point you should have almost a cup of vegetables). Gently stir in whole milk yogurt. Taste for salt. Scrape into a serving bowl and sprinkle with cumin. Serves 2-4.

Mary Jo's Cookbook available on Amazon

Mary Jo’s Cookbook available on Amazon



Fragrant Rice

June 11, 2016
Fragrant Rice

Fragrant Rice

It seems natural to strike up a conversation with taxi drivers when I trip from home to the airport or from the train station to my daughter’s place in the city. In Chicagoland most taxi drivers are from Nigeria, Mexico, India/Pakistan and sometimes from Mongolia, Assyria, or Ukraine. They are always interesting with vivid backgrounds and opinions. We’ve talked politics, religion, but the best common ground is talk about food. Everyone likes to recall his culinary heritage, and showing an interest in different foods brings a feeling of goodwill.

I remember asking a young Nigerian driver if he had any news about the kidnapped schoolgirls. This subject led us his telling me about his early years, and he followed with a most profound statement: “I’m Christian because I grew up in a Christian home, but my wife is Muslim because she grew up in a Muslim home.” Our foundational years shape our future lives. . . As equally profound did we grow up in a rice eating culture or one based on wheat? Outside of our current food fads, the world is divided along lines of rice vs wheat; butter vs olive oil; spices vs bland. I’ve dipped into many mini travels in my taxi rides as I’ve heard about the place of horse meat in Mongolia, buckwheat in Ukraine, fufu in Nigeria or biryani in Pakistan.

Everywhere there’s the magic seduction of rice. The great pilafs and pulaos of Persia, the congees and sushi of Asia, risottos, paellas of Europe and the simple comfort of a rice pudding at home. When I was younger, I only knew rice as Uncle Ben’s, but travel has encouraged me to add numerous rice varieties to my pantry. Basmati is consistently the favorite and each time I dip a cup into the bag of rice I’m led into a routine that takes me on a journey and reminds me of interesting stories I’ve encountered along the way.

I sat beside Mrs. Singh as she swirled rice in cool water, rinsed it and set it to soak. I breathed in the fragrance of steamed rice, cooling to fluff. I waited patiently to pull a tuft of sticky rice into a ball to dip into a spicy goat stew. Even now rice cooking always follows a pattern. One of our most ancient grains, rice, like wheat, grew wild for millennia before it was first cultivated in Asia. Still with us today, let’s not forget how good it is.

I’ve developed the following recipe over years. It uses a traditional Indian rice ritual and can be multiplied for large groups or used for a small family dinner. It holds well, reheats easily and is even good at room temperature as part of a salad. It’s just a bit more than plain steamed rice and so delicious, it’s tempting to eat a bowlful.

Fragrant Rice

1 cup (7 oz.) Basmati rice

1 tablespoon butter

1 tablespoon olive or vegetable oil

1 shard cinnamon stick

pinch coriander seeds (optional)

½ bay leaf (optional)

1 cup (4 oz.) chopped onion

½ tablespoon finely chopped fresh ginger (optional)

1/8 teaspoon turmeric

1/8 teaspoon garam masala (optional)

generous ¼ teaspoon salt

1 1/3 cups soaking water

Place rice in a deep bowl; cover with cool water and swirl gently with fingertips until water grows cloudy. Pour off water and repeat rinsing process twice more. Cover rinsed rice with cool water and soak while preparing base.

Melt butter and oil in a heavy pot with tight fitting lid. Add cinnamon stick, coriander and bay leaf, along with chopped onion. Sauté gently until onion is translucent. Add turmeric, garam masala and salt. Drain rice reserving 1 1/3 cups soaking water. Shake soaked rice in strainer to remove excess water; tip rice into sautéed base. Stir to combine with seasonings. Add measured water, stir again making sure all grains of rice are covered with water. Cover, bring to a boil, reduce heat to low and simmer 10 minutes. Turn off heat (remove from burner if electric) and steam at least 10 minutes. Fluff with fork before serving. Place towel over top of pot and replace lid to hold.

Serve with grilled meat, fish or vegetables, nicely sauced chicken or just by itself with a green salad. Enough for 4-6.

Mary Jo's Cookbook available on Amazon

Mary Jo’s Cookbook available on Amazon