Posts Tagged ‘family favorite’

Brother Peter and Frank’s Slaw

July 31, 2017

“Don’t miss the chance to reconnect,” chirped Barbara, as we walked through the park several weeks ago. I had just recounted how a manuscript fact-checking search linked me with Brother Peter Farnesi whom I met 53 years ago at Nandembo mission near Tunduru in Southern Tanzania. Google led me to the Salvatorian headquarters, and even though I had only a first name, a place and a date, I discovered Brother Peter, now 91, living in a retirement community in Milwaukee, not far from here.

When my choir mate, Amanda, mentioned traveling to Milwaukee to deliver her MFA thesis, I asked to come along and my quest was underway. Of course after all these years, I had no memory of his appearance, but when a lively gent bounded down the hall of the Alexian Village, I knew this must be Brother Peter. The hours flew by as we talked memories, both of us happy to recall and relate stories we could easily visualize from the experience of being there.

The son of Italian immigrants, Peter grew up in the San Joaquin Valley. He worked as a cowboy, rodeo performer, farmer, cook, carpenter before he was drafted. While in the army he felt a call to give his life to serving others. Joining the Salvatorian Brothers, he accepted a mission assignment in Tanganyika. When he reached the Nandembo station in 1960 it was a bare bones, Benedictine house. (In the African bush, missions were developed a day’s journey apart, for means of communication, supplies and basic contact with the outside world.) Over his 24 years at Nandembo, Brother Peter built a carpentry school for boys, a domestic science school for girls and a medical dispensary as well as a farm. The mission farm boasted 50 head of Zebu mixed cattle, flocks of hens, a drove of pigs as well as a large vegetable garden and an orchard of cashew trees. It was ‘shoulder to the wheel’ work for decades for this master craftsman and Jack-of-all-trades. Days were long and hot, often with distress calls to drive a villager to the hospital 30 miles away in the middle of the night.

Brother Peter lovingly fulfilled his commitment to live among and to help the native people. “No man wants to hear the gospel if he is starving or sick” but when bellies are filled this man may ask, “ Who is this God you pray to?”

Peter told the story of a local woman who came to the mission garden, saw a large beautiful cabbage and asked to buy it. “No, madam, I will not sell it to you,” he responded. “But I will give you seeds and teach you how to grow the same cabbage in your own garden.”

All the white missionaries are gone now from Nandembo. The African Salvatorians are carrying forward, and I’m sure Brother Peter is warmly remembered there. I left Milwaukee feeling I had stood in the shadow of a living saint, a man who walked among the neediest and gave his life to their service.

Cabbages were often available in East African village markets and this southern cole slaw recipe from my good friend Frank is welcome on any continent, in any climate, at any time of year.

Slaw fixings

Frank’s Cole Slaw

3 tablespoons sugar

4 tablespoons white vinegar (wine, rice or distilled)

½ teaspoon salt

1 ½ tablespoons oil (olive, sunflower or canola)

½ teaspoon celery seed (optional)

1 lb. green cabbage (6 cups shredded)

¼ large sweet onion (½ cup chopped)

½ green pepper (½ cup chopped)

1 tablespoon chopped parsley

In a small bowl, combine sugar, vinegar, salt, oil and optional seeds. Whisk to disslove sugar and salt dissolve. (This mixture may be boiled.)

Frank’s Saw

Shred cabbage using a Japanese mandolin if possible. Finely chop onion and pepper. Combine shredded and chopped vegetables in wide bowl. Pour over the dressing. Toss and allow cabbage to wilt for at least half an hour. Refrigerate until ready to use. Drain excess liquid before serving. Will keep for almost a week in the fridge. Serves 4-5.


Note: red cabbage and red onion may be substituted for green; shredded carrots, diced apple may be added.



Coconut Walnut Squares

June 9, 2017


For the last choir rehearsal before summer break, it seems like a good idea to take along a plate of cookies. There’s a package of coconut staring at me and walnuts left from winter cakes. I flip to that page in the Joy of Cooking with the old recipe for Angel Slices and see a series of notes. There’s an old file card with a similar recipe from Dorrie Waltz, the walnut shortbreads notes from the shop, and the memory of baking these bars for the nurses at DeKalb County Hospital who gave me so much support following Catherine’s birth decades ago. It’s a great recipe; time to bring it out again.

Baked squares

After years of experience, I’ll take the liberty to make a few changes. For the shortbread base, I’ll use my standard 1,2,3 proportions instead of the egg yolk pastry suggested. The basic 1,2,3 shortbread never fails especially when made with European style butter. This is the cookie recipe always to have in your hip pocket memory : 1 oz. sugar, 2 oz. butter, 3 oz. flour; include a pinch of salt with unsalted butter and a quarter teaspoon vanilla for free standing cookies.

Dorrie suggested half corn syrup and the Joy includes another ½ cup brown sugar which makes the squares way too sweet. I opt to cut

Decorated squares

the syrup and limit the brown sugar in the topping to 1 cup. The lemon glaze drizzle is optional but adds a festive flair if you have time for the fiddly bit. These old fashioned bars always bring a nostalgic swoon, a good choice to say goodbye and thank you.

Coconut Walnut Squares

2 oz. brown sugar (heaped ¼ cup)

4 oz. butter

6 oz. all purpose flour (1 cup + 3 tablespoons)

¼ teaspoon salt if unsalted butter


cut and plated squares

7 oz. brown sugar, light or dark (1 cup packed)

2 tablespoons flour

scant ½ teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon baking powder

2 large eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla

4 oz. walnuts, lightly toasted, chopped (1 cup)

4 oz. flaked, sweetened coconut (1 cup)


3 oz. powdered sugar

fresh lemon juice

Preheat the oven to 350º. Line an 11 by 7-inch baking tin with parchment for easier removal. Prepare the shortbread base by mixing the softened butter into the 2 oz. brown sugar and 6 oz. flour. Crumble the cookie mixture over the base of the baking tin. Pat the base evenly over the bottom of the tin, smoothing the top with back of a spoon. Bake the base 15-20 minutes or until lightly colored around the edges and the top beginning to lose the “raw” look.

Meanwhile combine 7 oz. brown sugar with 2 tablespoons flour, salt, baking powder and whisk in the 2 eggs with vanilla. Mix to insure brown sugar lumps are melted. Add walnuts and coconut.

When the shortbread base is ready, dollop the coconut mixture over the top and spread evenly with the back of a spoon. Return the tin to the oven and bake for 25-30 minutes or until golden brown on top. Remove to cooling rack and while still warm decorate with a thin icing made from powdered sugar and lemon juice. Use the tines of a fork or a pastry bag with a writing tip to drizzle the icing.

Cool thoroughly until the icing has hardened. Invert the cookie rectangle into a cooling rack, peel off parchment and upend it onto a cutting board. Cut into squares. Makes 36-48 luscious bites.






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.




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

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






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




Coconut Cake

May 11, 2016
Wedding Cake 1940

Wedding Cake 1940

In a ragged string-bound photo album, there’s a small picture of my Mom and Dad’s wedding cake. It was only two nine-inch layers robed in a marshmallow cloud of icing and veiled with freshly grated coconut. In the center of my grandmother’s lace tablecloth, this special little cake marked the family celebration in January 1940.

For as long as I can remember, a coconut cake was our family favorite. For birthdays, anniversaries or even Christmas, coconut cake was a star. Then it seemed to fade away. Everyone started using cake mixes and faking the cake with tinned icing and packaged coconut. It just wasn’t the same. I even recently bought a slice of a coconut cake elegantly displayed in a prestige bakery, and after a bite dumped it in the garbage.

Coconut Cake 2016

Coconut Cake 2016

As the keeper of the few old family recipes I’ve been able to save, I still have the coconut cake written out on a small file card in my grandmother’s hand. Occasionally I take it out, and think about making it for the now. Instead of white shortening, I use butter and in place of juice from a coconut, I use canned coconut milk. Sometimes I substitute whole eggs for the egg whites and I leave the grated coconut out of the batter for easier slicing after it’s baked.

The perfect frosting for this cake is a  swirled cloak of boiled or seven minute icing. If that icing seems too sweet, and the cake can be held in the fridge, it may be frosted with lightly sugared whipped cream and coated with sweetened dry coconut. If the cake needs to stand at room temperature, then go for the traditional boiled icing and if at all possible, use grated fresh unsweetened coconut. Made into tiny cupcakes, this cake makes sweet, light bites and a small slice of a layered cake will take you back in time.

Coconut Cake Slice

Coconut Cake Slicewill take you back in time.

My parent’s marriage lasted for over sixty years. It was a rough road most of the way, but their cake remains the very best.

Coconut Cake

5 oz. unsalted butter (1 stick + 2 tablespoons)

9 oz. granulated sugar (1 ¼ cups)

4 egg whites (graded large eggs) almost 4 fl. oz. (scant ½ cup)

8 oz. cake flour (2 sifted, scooped and leveled cups)

1 ½ teaspoons baking powder

½ teaspoon salt

6 fl. oz. full fat canned unsweetened coconut milk* (3/4 cup)

1 teaspoon vanilla

* There are many excellent brands of coconut milk from Thailand; I use Chaokoh. Freeze excess for later use.

Preheat oven to 350°. Line two 8 or 9-inch layer cake pans with parchment circles; butter and dust with flour. Tap out any excess. Or line 48 mini cupcake molds.

Cream the butter and sugar until very light and fluffy (use a stand mixer and beat at least 5-6 minutes!) Meanwhile measure flour, baking powder, salt and sift together twice. Once the butter and sugar are softly fluffy, add the egg whites one at a time, beating well after each addition.

Reduce mixer speed and add flour mixture alternately with coconut milk. Scrape down bowl and beat at moderate speed 5-10 seconds. Divide batter evenly between the prepared cake pans and bake in the preheated oven for about 25 minutes (15-20 min for minis). The cake will test done when it is lightly golden and pulling away from the sides of the pans. Allow cake to rest in the pans for 5 minutes then turn out onto a wire cooling rack. Make sure the layers cool parchment side down.

Boiled Icing

2 fl. oz. egg whites (¼ cup)

7 oz. sugar (1 cup)

1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar

1/8 teaspoon salt

6 tablespoons water

1 teaspoon vanilla

Place egg whites in spotlessly clean bowl of stand mixer with whisk attachment.

Combine sugar, cream of tartar, salt and water in small saucepan. Swirl over moderate heat to dissolve sugar. Cover until syrup comes to a boil and steam down any sugar crystals on the sides of the pan. If sugar crystals persist, dip a pastry brush in water and wash down the sides of the pan until clear. Bring the syrup to a strong boil and cook to the firm ball stage or 240°. You can easily test the thickening syrup by putting a few drops on an ice cube; as it cools roll it into a firmish soft ball. As the sugar approaches readiness, turn on the mixer. Whip the egg whites to a soft foam.

When the sugar syrup is ready, hold the saucepan high above the mixer and pour the hot syrup in a thin stream gradually into the egg white foam. Take care to pour the syrup from a height so it hits the egg whites between the whisk and the bowl and doesn’t spin around the beater. This boiling hot syrup will cook the egg whites into a stiff Italian Meringue.

Continue to beat at high speed for a few minutes until the meringue is very stiff and slightly cooled. Add vanilla and beat to combine.

This makes enough icing to fill and frost generously 2 eight or nine-inch layers (or all the minis). Sprinkle generously with freshly grated or packaged sweetened coconut. Serves 12

Mary Jo's Cookbook available on Amazon

Mary Jo’s Cookbook available on Amazon



Bread Pudding for Mardi Gras

February 17, 2015
Blueberry Bread Pudding

Blueberry Bread Pudding

Two thousand years ago Romans loved to party. The rulering powers believed the public needed to let off steam. Carnivals and Dionysian feast days marked the calendar. In the fourth century when Constantine announced Christianity as the new religion, a peaceful transition meant holidays needed to stay. Most of the now Western church-related holidays such as Christmas, Mardi Gras, and Easter replaced standing feast days in name only.

Mardi Gras, or Carnival, has ancient roots. When early French explorers settled the region known as Louisiana, they brought their homeland traditions. Not Puritans like those settling New England, these raucous New Orleans Roman Catholic immigrants paraded and feasted before the penitential season of Lent. Feast days of Carnival said goodbye (vale) to meat (carne). On the last day before Ash Wednesday, it was time to use up the kitchen’s fat before a sparse and somber Lenten diet. Thus we have Mardi Gras, or Fat Tuesday.

In the frugal kitchen of the French housewife, no scraps were wasted. Bits of meat and vegetables went into stocks and soups, and stale bread was saved for French toast, which morphed into the now famous New Orleans Bread Pudding. Who can resist this warm, fragrant dessert that blends the best of a cake, a custard, a soufflé. With some good bread, a few eggs, a little sugar, milk and cream, you can feast like the King of Mardi Gras and find the buried treasure of blueberries in your own bread pudding.

Bread Pudding

12 oz. loaf good French bread, sliced and cut into 1/2-inch cubes (9 cups)

4 eggs

6 oz. (3/4 cup + 1 tablespoon) sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 tablespoon dark rum or bourbon

knife-point ground cinnamon

8 fl. oz. (1 cup) heavy cream

16 fl. oz. (2 cups) whole milk

2 cups fresh or frozen blueberries (or other fruit of choice)

cinnamon sugar for sprinkling

In deep bowl whisk eggs with sugar, vanilla, rum, and cinnamon. Blend in cream and milk. Add bread cubes and fold in until thoroughly moistened. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate two hours or overnight to allow bread to absorb all custard.

Preheat oven to 350°F. Divide half of the pudding among 10-14 individual buttered custard cups or spread in a 8-by-10-inch buttered Pyrex dish. Scatter the berries evenly over the pudding and top with the remaining half of the custard-soaked bread. Dust tops with cinnamon-sugar. Bake in water bath (place the filled cups in a deep baking pan and add at least 1/2 inch boiling water). Set water bath in oven and bake for 20-25 minutes or until individual puds are puffed and golden. (Bake approximately 40-45 minutes for a larger pudding dish or until puffed and lightly browned.)

Serve bread pudding warm or at room temperature with crème anglaise, whipped cream or ice cream if desired. Individual servings of leftover pudding may be quickly flashed in a microwave for a quick warm up.

Mary Jo's Cookbook available on Amazon

Mary Jo’s Cookbook available on Amazon





Pumpkin Bread

November 23, 2014

pu,mpkin breadDecades ago in a booklet on Greek Olive Oil I came across a recipe for pumpkin bread. Actually it’s more of a cake than a bread but falls into place for a tea sweet or a breakfast cake and could easily be dessert with a scoop of ice cream. I see pumpkin bread recipes racing across the screen these days, but each year I take out my 29-ounce tin of the pureed orange stuff and use a pound for the loaves; I still have enough left for a pie.

This quick-mix formula makes plenty for extra cakes to give away. With a half hour’s prep, 40 to 45 minutes baking, and a brush of lemon glaze, six sweet loaves will quickly line your cooling rack. I prefer to use small, 6-by-3 1/2-inch loaf pans, since I’m always advocating small slices of anything sugary. It’s vital that the pans be well buttered and floured before adding the batter so the cake comes out easily. For extra moisture and flavor, I add dried fruit. This can be a mixture of raisins, currants, and dried cranberries, or a more elaborate combo of diced prunes, dates, apricots, and figs, or any combination. Chopped walnuts or pecans may also be part of the fruit mixture.

Since the original recipe came from an olive promotion booklet, olive oil works well, but this is no place for fancy extra virgin olive oil. Those cold-pressed oils should be saved for dressing salads or garnishing since their flavor and many benefits disperse in heat. For any sautéing or baking it’s suitable and much less costly to use a reputable “pure” olive oil. Otherwise, use a standard vegetable oil.

Thanksgiving’s right around the corner, and you can easily fit in a welcome batch of pumpkin bread.

Pumpkin Bread

16 oz. canned pumpkin (2 cups)

1 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon grated nutmeg

1 teaspoon ground allspice

¼ teaspoon ground clove

4 large eggs (or 3 extra-large)

18 oz. sugar (2 2/3  cups)

6 fl. oz. pure olive oil (3/4 cup) or 8 fl. oz. vegetable oil (1 cup)

6 fl. oz. water (3/4 cup)

16 oz. all purpose flour (unbleached if possible) (3 ½ cups)

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon baking powder

12-16 oz. mixed dried fruit and nuts* (2-3 cups) (optional)

* raisins, golden raisins, currants, dried cranberries, cut dates, figs or prunes, chopped walnuts or pecans.

Butter and flour 6 small or 4 medium loaf pans. Preheat oven to 375°.

In a wide mixing bowl whisk the spices and salt into the pumpkin. Add eggs; beat to combine. Add sugar and whisk like crazy. Pour in oil and blend thoroughly. Place flour, soda and baking powder in sieve and sift 1/3 over pumpkin mixture. Whisk to combine, adding 1/3 of the water. Repeat, alternating the flour and water until all are incorporated.

Fold in optional fruit and nuts. Divide batter equally among the prepared baking pans. Place in preheated oven; bake at 375° 15 minutes. Reduce heat to 350° and bake for another 20-30 minutes or until tests done.

To glaze, mix 2 cups powdered sugar with a tablespoon of lemon juice and few drops of boiling water to make a thin icing. Remove loaves from pans; place on cooling rack and brush icing over warm cakes, allowing some to drip down the sides. As cakes cool, icing will harden.

Wrap carefully and store in a tin or plastic box, or freeze. Makes 6 12 oz. loaves. They’ll be even tastier if allowed to mellow for a day or so.

Mary Jo's Cookbook available on Amazon

Mary Jo’s Cookbook available on Amazon




Pasta Pronto

October 8, 2014
Pasta Pronto with Black Beans and Carrots

Pasta Pronto with Black Beans and Carrots

After Friday’s pizza and Sunday’s roast chicken, meatless Monday sounds just fine. Some years ago a rushed Italian mother of twins told me about this one-pot pasta supper, and I’ve had a quick fix treasure up my sleeve ever since.

Here pasta and vegetables cook together, then combine with warm garlic-infused olive oil plus grated Parmesan cheese for one of the most versatile and satisfying noodles in the book. Pasta shapes and veg varieties are limitless: asparagus or peas in the spring; green beans or zucchini in the summer; broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts or kale in the winter. Basically any noodle (wheat, or gluten free) and any veg that takes to a quick boil will work.

Once you’ve selected a vegetable and a pasta, you’ll need garlic, olive oil, crushed red pepper, Parm cheese, and you’re ready to go. Since the veg usually takes less cooking time than the pasta, start the pasta in boiling water and add cut veg 4-5 minutes later. Meanwhile, olive oil warms in a small pan along with an infusion of chopped garlic and crushed red pepper, while grated Parm waits in a bowl.

With a quick combination, dinner’s ready. I complemented this week’s veg pasta pronto with tomato and cumin-stewed black beans and carrots braised with ginger and preserved lemon, plus a bowl of homemade yogurt: a colorful feast for a meatless Monday.

Pasta Pronto with Broccoli

8-10 oz. trimmed broccoli

4-5 oz. linguine

3-4 tablespoons olive oil

3 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped

½ teaspoon crushed red pepper or to taste

generous ½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese


Trim broccoli or other selected vegetable into bite sized pieces. (If using broccoli stems, peel and slice). Grate cheese, chop garlic.

Bring 10 cups water to boil; salt generously. Add pasta and begin timing. (My pasta took 12 minutes, so I added the broccoli and sliced sprouts at the 6-minute mark.) Add veg with enough time to cook until tender: at least 4-6 minutes.

Meanwhile, warm olive oil in small skillet or saucepan. Add chopped garlic and pepper. Heat until garlic is fragrant and soft, but do not let it brown. Turn off heat and hold.

Once pasta and veg test done, reserve a small cup of the cooking water and drain pasta. Return drained pasta and broccoli to the cooking pan and add the warm garlic oil. Stir gently to combine adding the cheese a handful at a time. Stir after each addition to melt the cheese and form a coating sauce. Add a little of the reserved cooking water if the mix seems dry. Mound glorious greens and noodles on a serving dish and drizzle with little extra virgin oil if desired. Serves 2.

Mary Jo's Cookbook available on Amazon

Mary Jo’s Cookbook available on Amazon