HAM AND BROCCOLI QUICHE: Cleaning out the Christmas Kitchen

How you can help—or get help—after the Marshall Fire

To make a tiny flute on the edges of the dough like this, use the side of your thumb instead of the pad of your index finger.

Away from home and in an airbnb for two weeks at holiday time could be a recipe for disaster for many cooks. Dull knives, warped and nicked non-stick pans, dollar store utensils, and no pantry but for the ubiquitous old oil, salt, pepper, and weak coffee are the earmarks of many rental home kitchens. There are the rare gems stocked to the nth degree with nearly everything of which you could hope to find in your dream kitchen including All-Clad waffle irons, Breville food processors, Henckel knives, Italian coffee, and, of course, the most spacious of air fryers and instant pots. I’ll give you that, but such happy deals are few and far between and are usually in upscale houses for big groups. Having rested our poor weary heads in a large variety of these smaller houses over the years — often with friends — we come prepared. A small bag of our favorite spices makes the journey with us along with a whisk, a pastry blender, one great knife, a stovetop grill pan, a pie plate, and even a big soup pot if we’re going by car. While the store sometimes (but not always) sells nearly everything you’d want, it’s best to bring a few things along to avoid what might otherwise look like the largest grocery bill of your life. Even then, be prepared for the sticker shock that moves many vacation folks to skip cooking and head to restaurants. While we’d do a bit of that in good times, we’re currently avoiding restaurants like the plague. To coin a phrase. On the road, we do a drive-through at lunchtime in the winter, but are tossing meals into a cooler along with a nice bottle of wine for in-hotel-room dinners. No searching for take-out in the cold and dark and the dogs are happy to stretch out on the floor hoping for dropped crumbs from something way more interesting than grilled chicken sandwiches. Sorry, Wendy’s.

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Pumpkin-Cranberry Bread

I know without question I cannot bake and cook at the same time. Disaster awaits. Or at the very least, serious unhappiness. There must be either a baking morning and a cooking afternoon or some variation thereof. This doesn’t mean I won’t stir up a pan of cornbread while my beans finish cooking at 5:30 or that I’d refuse to bake cookies if the slow cooker was on. No, no, no–not at all. But it does mean I shouldn’t be chopping and adding ingredients to a soup and think I can also whip up a loaf or two of quick bread in the the short minutes between soup chores. Because if I do, the bread will be missing its cinnamon, for instance, or in this case, its very necessary salt. And I might serve the soup without making sure all of its ingredients were just as tender as they should be. Which I did — and sent it to ill neighbors like that. (I hope the carrots weren’t crunchy. God, Alyce.)

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Salsa-Cheddar Omelet with Pickled Onion

Beating eggs with salsa instead of water or milk is one of Alyce’s tricks that you absolutely need in your kitchen. This omelet also features an extra-easy cooking method you’ll want to try if omelet-making has been baffling you.

When people talk seriously to me about why they don’t cook or why they dislike cooking, there are a few oft-repeated reasons. One is the time it takes. (So does getting to a drive-through.) Another is “too many ingredients.” (Buy Jamie Oliver’s 5-Ingredients Cookbook.) Third is not knowing what to cook. (Food and Wine: Meal Planning 101.) A fourth favorite is, “I hate the mess.” (That’s why God made dishwashers.) The other day on Twitter, there was a thread that began with a comment that went something like this, “If I had known that as an adult I’d have to come up with something for dinner every night the rest of my life, I’d never have grown up.” A multitude of responses intoned the same lament. While those feelings indicate any number of problems (“That’ll be 5 cents, please.), cooking truly needn’t be one. Devoting a little time to planning, shopping, and learning how to cook your favorite meals solves a lot of it. One can’t just show up in the kitchen at 6:30 a.m. or p.m. and hope for divine inspiration. Unless, that is, you’re counting on breakfast for dinner (or breakfast!) and know you have eggs in the fridge — or, if you’re elsewhere in the world — on your counter. In that case, you have a million options. And my Salsa-Cheddar Omelet with Pickled Onion is just one. You can come up with the other 999,999.

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Banana-Zucchini Bread with Chocolate Chips

Dave’s mom Lorna + brother Bill, newborn

When my husband Dave was a kid, he tells me there were nearly always bananas in the house. With three growing and active boys, there was likely to be a big bunch, I’m guessing. Boys do eat. But no matter who hankered for a banana or how badly, if there were 3 bananas left, no one touched them. Because from an early age, they all knew it took 3 bananas to make their mom’s banana bread. And they wanted banana bread. And who doesn’t? It’s a great family story and most likely a common one. (Do you have a banana bread story?)

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Nutcracker Granola

When you invite someone to go to “The Nutcracker,” it goes without saying it’ll be one of the events of the season complete with everyone dressed in their best holiday duds and ready for a yummy tea or fancy dinner before or after. It’s a special occasion and worth every bit of the extra effort it takes to get little girls’ hair tied up with ribbons or talking the teenager into some shoes besides banged up sneakers or clunker boots — even if you’re watching from the comfort of your own couch this year:

Your Guide to Streaming “The Nutcracker” in 2020/PLAYBILL

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Pumpkin-Pepita Muffins

Before moving to Colorado, I don’t remember eating pepitas, but I certainly got to them as fast as I could upon arrival. The tiny, full of health “pumpkin seeds” we eat for snacks, add to salads, tacos, omelets, or granola, and what I put on my muffins (above), aren’t like the pumpkin seeds you remove with all of the gloppy mess inside the typical Halloween jack-o-lantern. I mean, you could open up those big fat seeds (which have their own happy uses–see below at MORE THAN YOU WANTED TO READ) and try to get at the little inner seed, but that’s not where pepitas come from. Read on:

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Father’s Day: Dave’s Easy Huevos Rancheros with our CHEEP A** BLOODY MARYS.

When my husband Dave and I became empty nesters several years ago, we began to eat brunch out on Sundays after church and rarely cooked it at home except on holidays or special occasions. Then came COVID-19. No church except online. No restaurants open until recently. (We’re still not going, though we did go to our local dive drive-in for ice cream the other day.) We immediately hopped to and began cooking brunch at home again–just like in the old days. We shared the work–Dave making eggs, etc. and me happily baking a goodie like the Blueberry Buckle below, which I hadn’t been doing in eons. We’ve taken turns on what we now call our Cheep A** Bloody Marys (more on that later) and now eat brunch BEFORE church for the most part. We’ve even gone way old school and made Dave’s mom Lorna’s comforting egg casserole a time or two as it provides excellent lunch leftovers. (Recipe in photo below.) Could we ever have imagined all this? No. You probably hadn’t either.

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How to Make Quiche out of Just About Anything

French home cooks always seem to have a dozen wonderful things up their sleeves to make on the spur of the moment. Great ideas to use up leftovers come awfully naturally, as well, and they all appear to know about how to feed 6 people with a cup and a half of milk, 3 eggs, a bit of ham, and a handful of grated cheese. How DO they do it? These folks are always frying croutons, whipping up homemade hot chocolate, baking an apple tart using apples from the backyard tree, simmering cream soups or vegetable pastas, stirring up something tasty with canned tuna … or even making quiche! How is it that even carbs aren’t a problem for them? This is proven routinely by the unending ubiquitous photos of yard-long baguettes being carried home by slim citizens riding bikes down tree-lined sunny Paris streets. (Well, right now they’re limited to an hour out a day and can’t go far from home. Sigh.) Over the years I’ve been writing the blog, I’ve read and seen quite a lot about this phenomenon, but staying in France for two weeks a couple of years ago gave me a much more complete and definitely personal insight. I’m finding it all definitely useful in today’s cooking world.

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Blueberry-Banana Bread–Kona Inn Banana Bread Redux: Lighter and Healthier

Sunday, February 23, 2020 is NATIONAL BANANA BREAD DAY. I had no clue, but you know there’s a day for everything. I’d love you to make my loaf to celebrate the — uh-hem — holiday, but I’ll be totally happy if you make it tomorrow or even the next day, too. The original version of the famous Kona Inn Banana Bread has been a star in my baking repertoire for at least 35 years. Sure there’ve been other banana breads I’ve cheated with and lots of other sweet quick breads….but this is the one that has passed the test of time and feels like the world standard–at least at my house. The recipe for my bread came from THE FANNY FARMER BAKING BOOK by Marion Cunningham, one of my go-to basic baking books in 1985, 2020, and all the years in between. (The book’s out of print, but there are used copies available. Don’t hesitate if you like to bake.) These days, you can also find the recipe in several places and versions around the web, even on Epicurious or Food Network!

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