Butterscotch Pie, and saying goodbye

The first week of February has come and gone, and I’ve left all of my readers hanging since the 9th of January? How unfortunate, for both of us. A couple weeks ago we had to say goodbye to Mikki, Dustin’s grandma, an extraordinary woman whose kindness left a huge imprint on all of our lives. She always treated me like an honorary granddaughter, and I was especially blessed to witness her interaction with her great-grandson, from the first time she met him at 5 days old, to last month when we visited her and he displayed the art of tantruming in her living room, to which she calmly and sweetly responded, “Brianna, I’ll definitely be thinking of you during this phase.” That meant a lot, coming from an experienced mother of two, especially in light of Levi’s new habit of screaming at the top of his lungs at me and then waving “bye” (translation: mom, I’m done with you) when he can’t do what he wants. Levi had his sweet moments as well during our great-grandma visit. After he was over whatever trivial thing set him off, he gave her a kiss, and she offered him a couple bites of the egg she was eating for breakfast. It was one of those moments you wished you could have frozen in time.

I know that Mikki loved reading this blog. As she tasted the baked mac and cheese that we made for her (per her request) while we were in town for that last visit, she looked up at me and said that she loved our recipes and that I write beautifully. I don’t think I’m worthy of that comment, but it obviously stuck with me and I find myself drawing strength from it. Anyway, Mikki wouldn’t have wanted me dwelling on how sad we feel that she’s gone. She’d want me to get straight to the point; the food. In this case, a butterscotch pie, and one that her family loved.

This is a recipe from The Purity Cookbook.  It is a Canadian cookbook that Mikki’s family has used for decades. It was also Dustin’s Grandpa’s favorite pie and he made it often as well. Mikki loved a crust made with lard and now we know why. Thanks to El Salchichero, our local butcher shop, it was easy to find, and it produced a texture and a flavor that I’d never experienced before in a pie. It’s definitely the way to go.

When my mom asked what dessert she should make Dustin for his 29th birthday dinner last weekend (I’m working on another blog post about that dinner … stay tuned!), I suggested this recipe, which my mother-in-law had emailed me a couple months ago, but I hadn’t had a chance yet to make. It was a little piece of nostalgia for Dustin, and it made me happy to see him happy. Happy Birthday, Dustin. You had an amazing grandmother. I celebrate both of you.

Butterscotch Pie

(From The Purity Cookbook)

4  TBS. butter
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 1/3 cup hot milk
5 1/3 TBS flour
1/2 tsp. salt
2/3 cup cold milk
2 eggs
Pie shell (use lard for best results; my mom used the recipe from Big Sur Bakery & Restaurant)

  • It is suggested that you use a double boiler for this recipe.
  • Cook butter and brown sugar for 3 – 4 minutes, stirring constantly.  Add hot milk (it is important that the milk be hot but not quite scalded), and simmer until sugar dissolves.  Mix salt, flour, and cold milk; add gradually to hot mixture*.  Cook for 15 minutes or until thickened, stirring constantly ( if you are not using a double boiler, this will not take as long).  Beat eggs and pour into hot mixture, stirring briskly as you add the eggs.  Cook 2 – 3 minutes on low heat.  When thickened, pour into cooked pie shell.  Top with whipped cream. Levi recommends licking the beaters 🙂

* This is a very old fashioned recipe in that it uses flour instead of cornstarch for thickening. If you find that the flour produces lumps, strain the mixture before adding the eggs.

Skillet Cornbread

It took us six years of marriage to acquire our first cast iron skillet. I’m not sure of the reason behind this huge oversight, but we can finally put it behind us. When we brought our seasoned skillet home, the first thing I wanted to make in it was my mom’s cornbread. I say “my mom’s” because it’s the recipe she always made when I was growing up, but originally it’s from Joy of Cooking. My brother and I always looked forward to eating this cornbread with dinner (usually chili or some kind of soup) because of the honey bear that always made its way onto the table. The cornbread itself isn’t too sweet, and it has a nice tang from the buttermilk, so it’s the perfect match for honey! I always cut my slice of cornbread in half, providing more surface area for butter and honey, of course!

Now that pumpkins are appearing on doorsteps, pumpkin ales are on store shelves, and chili is making a frequent appearance on dinner tables,  it’s safe to say that fall has come, making this the perfect time to share this cornbread recipe with you. It will go wonderfully with your family’s favorite chili recipe. Just don’t forget the honey bear.

Skillet Cornbread

(From Joy of Cooking)

1 cup flour
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1-2 TBS. sugar (I usually add a second tablespoon because Dustin loves a somewhat sweeter cornbread)
1/2 tsp. salt
3/4 cup cornmeal (I use medium grind)
1 1/2 cups buttermilk, plain yogurt, or sour cream (or in a pinch, a combination of any of those things)
2 eggs
4 TBS. butter, melted (you can also use olive oil, which results in a different taste and slightly different texture, but also good!)

  • Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Grease a cast iron skillet (the best option for a yummy, crispy crust, but you can also use a glass baking pan).
  • Sift together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, sugar, salt, and cornmeal.
  • Beat together the buttermilk (or yogurt or sour cream), eggs, and melted butter.
  • Place your greased skillet or baking pan into the oven to preheat while you mix the batter.
  • Stir the liquid ingredients into the dry ingredients with a few swift strokes (aka don’t mix it to death).
  • Pour the batter into the preheated greased pan. Bake about 25 to 30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the middle of the cornbread comes out clean and the top is started to turn golden. Serve slices of cornbread with butter and honey, alongside your favorite soup or chili!

Happy Easter! Part 4: Paskha

In our family, Easter is not Easter without this traditional Russian dessert. This version is made by heating buttermilk until it separates into curds and whey (yep, just like what Miss Muffet ate). Then the curds are combined with eggs, butter, sour cream, sugar, vanilla, and lemon zest to create a delicious creamy mixture that’s poured into molds lined with cheese cloth. As a child I always looked forward to eating it for breakfast on Easter morning before church, and then again for dessert after Easter dinner. I loved watching it come out of its mold, and then helping decorate it with almonds and raisins, making the letters XB, which stand for Христос Воскресе (Xristos Voskrese), meaning Christ is Risen!


(Serves 12-16)

1 gallon buttermilk
zest of 2 lemons
2 eggs
2 cups sour cream
2 vanilla beans, split lengthwise and seeds scraped out
1 cup butter
1 cup sugar
almonds, raisins, and/or edible flowers for decorating
special equipment: cheesecloth

Pour buttermilk into heavy 5-6 quart pan and warm over medium low heat, stirring once or twice until separated into curds and whey (about 20 minutes).

Line a fine mesh strainer (or colander) with 2 layers of cheesecloth, rinsed and squeezed dry.

Pour curds and whey through strainer. Let stand until curds stop dripping, 10-15 minutes.

Pick up the cheese cloth around the curds and squeeze to discard clear whey.

Tada! You have beautiful curd cheese made from buttermilk!

Combine the curds, lemon zest, eggs, sour cream, and vanilla bean seeds in a food processor. Process until very smooth. In the heavy pan, combine the butter and the sugar. Heat over low heat, stirring, until the butter melts. Add the processed mixture to the pan with the butter and sugar, and cook over low heat, stirring frequently, for about 20 minutes. Remove from heat.

Line several 3 small bowls or clay pots with 2 layers of cheesecloth.

Pour cheese mixture into containers.

Fold excess cloth over cheese. Transfer to refrigerator to chill for 6-24 hours.

Invert onto serving plate, decorate with almonds/raisins or edible flowers, and serve. Or chill up to 3 days.

Aunt Doris’ Lentil Soup

I’m excited to share this family recipe that goes back to my Mom’s great-aunt Doris. It’s also the lentil soup that I grew up eating. The ingredients are so simple and adaptable (we added some chard; sometimes my mom has added sausage), it uses water instead of broth, making it very economical, and it’s a link to the past, making it timeless. Serve with Tabasco sauce on the table so that people can make it spicy if they desire. The best part is the aroma that permeates the house as this soup is simmering on the stove top. Make a huge pot tonight and freeze the rest for a meal another night.

Aunt Doris’ Lentil Soup

(Serves 4 with leftovers)

2 cups lentils, washed
2 quarts (8 cups) water

2 slices chopped uncooked bacon
1 onion, chopped

4 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
3 stalks of celery, chopped

fresh parsley and oregano, chopped (together, about a handful)
2 tsp. salt

freshly ground pepper
to taste
1 large (28 oz.) can of diced tomatoes

1 bunch of red chard, washed and roughly chopped

2 TBS. vinegar
(we used red wine vinegar)

  • Place all ingredients (except tomatoes, chard, and vinegar) in a large soup pot.
  • Cover and simmer 1 and 1/2 hours.
  • Add canned tomatoes, chard and vinegar.
  • Cover and simmer another 30 min.
  • Serve with Tabasco sauce on the table.

Piroshki — Yippee!

Last weekend my family and I made piroshki–a recipe that’s been passed down from my Mom’s Russian side of the family. My brother and I have always loved making this meal. It generally takes 3 people. Mom was always the “roller,” rolling the dough to the perfect thin, oval shape. One of us was the “filler,” placing a few spoonfuls of meat-and-egg filling on the flattened dough, and the other was the “pincher,” making sure the piroshki was ready to hit the oil. Of course when we were small, our Mom handled the frying. Even today we still get really excited about making and eating piroshki. And there is no better accompaniment than slathering on some dijon mustard. We also made a simple roasted beet salad dressed with some olive oil, vinegar, and mustard.

Last but not least, we enjoyed some of my brother Lars’ home-brewed beer with this meal! It was his first batch and it came out extraordinarily tasty – a medium bodied light amber ale, with a balanced, moderate hop bitterness. Scroll down for the picture if you’re thirsty now.

For the Piroshki Dough:

1 cup warm milk
1/4 lb. melted butter
2 eggs
2 packages yeast
1/2 tsp. salt

Melt the butter. Add the milk and stir together. When the mixture has cooled down a bit, add the yeast. Next add the eggs and salt and combine. Lastly, add flour a cup at a time until the dough reaches a good consistency. Knead on floured surface, form into a ball, and place in a bowl. Cover with a towel. Let rise once.

For the Filling:

*The measurements aren’t particularly precise, just like any trusted family recipe that’s been passed down. Taste and adjust to your liking:

ground beef
garlic, minced
dash of soy sauce
dash of Worcestershire sauce
hard boiled eggs, chopped
green onion, chopped
fresh parsley, chopped
salt & pepper

In a large skillet, brown the ground beef. Add the garlic, and the remaining ingredients and stir together. Allow to cool.

When the dough has risen, grab a piece and roll it so it’s a thin oval like this.
Spoon some of the filling down the center of the oval. (Don’t over-stuff or you won’t be able to pinch it closed).

Bring both sides of the oval up and pinch together, enclosing the filling.

Heat oil in fryer to 350 degrees.

In batches, fry the piroshki. Tongs are needed to keep them from rolling around.

Flip piroshki when they’re golden on one side, and do the same on the other side.

Drain on paper towels.

Serve with dijon mustard, beet salad, and a pint of cold beer.

Mmm … gotta love those Russian roots …

(Redemptive) Banana Bread

The first time I made this banana bread in Japan, I added a cup of salt to the batter instead of sugar. Salt & sugar are packaged in the same clear bags here, and I couldn’t tell the difference between the characters on the packages! I didn’t notice my unfortunate substitution until I licked the spoon at the very end. It’s almost been 2 years now, and since then I’ve redeemed myself with plenty of successful loaves of this banana bread (the recipe I grew up eating, originally from Susan Feniger and Mary Sue Milliken’s book City Cuisine). We’ll be enjoying it for breakfast for the next few days toasted with butter. It’s also good with peanut butter! Yum!

1 stick of butter (120 g), softened
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
3 ripe bananas
1 TBS. milk
2 cups flour*

1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. baking powder
1 cup chopped walnuts**

*I used 1 cup of whole wheat flour and 1 cup of all purpose flour

**I omitted this time, per Dustin’s request

  • Preheat oven to 325 degrees (160 C). Butter a loaf pan.
  • Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.
  • In small bowl, mash bananas with a fork. Mix in milk and nuts (if using).
  • In another bowl, mix together flour, salt, baking soda, and baking powder.
  • Add banana mixture to creamed mixture and stir until combined. Add dry ingredients, mixing just until flour disappears.
  • Pour into loaf pan and bake for 1 hour to 1 hour and 10 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean.

My Great-Great-Grandma Selma’s Best Oatmeal Cookies

Okay, it’s about time I shared my (and my family’s) favorite cookie recipe. It came from my Great-Great-Grandma’s recipe files, and my mom has been baking these for as long as I can remember. This is a damn fine recipe, and the cookies taste like my childhood (and my mom’s, and her Dad’s!)

Selma’s Best Oatmeal Cookies

1 cup (2 sticks) salted butter
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 beaten egg
1 1/2 cups flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
1 1/2 cups oats
3/4 cup finely crushed nuts (we  usually skip this)
1 tsp. vanilla

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees (180 C).
  • Cream together butter (Selma used shortening, but we’re so over that), sugar, brown sugar, and egg.
  • In another bowl, sift together flour, baking soda, and salt. Add to creamed mixture.
  • Add oats, nuts (if using), and vanilla.
  • Next, Selma says to chill the dough for 1 hour, and put walnut sized pieces on a baking sheet. Then butter the bottom of a small glass and dip it in sugar, and flatten each cookie with the glass. (This is the cookie my mom says she grew up on, and they make excellent ice cream sandwiches). But we do something a little different:  Add a 12-ounce package of bittersweet chocolate chips (or some good quality chopped chocolate), spoon onto baking sheet, and skip the sugared glass.
  • Bake for 12-14 minutes or until golden brown.The result is a thin, crispy, and very flavorful oatmeal cookie!

The Buttermilk Pancakes of my Childhood

I’m a sweet & savory kind of girl. There is no choice between one or the other. I adore these pancakes because the batter itself isn’t sweet, but pouring sweet syrup over them perfectly contrasts with the tangy-ness of the buttermilk. Since we can’t get buttermilk in Japan, I have to use sour cream or yogurt, thinned with a little milk. You can also add buckwheat flour or cornmeal in place of some of the flour for a little variety. When my brother and I were little, we sometimes got buckwheat pancakes for dinner. What a treat that was! And what a treat it was to eat these while we were home in August. (Thanks, Mom, for the recipe!) The recipe below serves 2-3. Double the recipe for a big family!

Buttermilk Pancakes

1 cup flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 egg, slightly beaten
2 TBS. melted butter
1 cup buttermilk

  • Stir together the flour, salt, and baking soda.
  • In another bowl, combine the beaten egg, melted butter, and buttermilk.
  • Stir wet ingredients into the dry ingredients, adding a little more buttermilk if you want your batter to have a thinner consistency, like we do.
  • Cook on a hot griddle.
  • Serve with real maple syrup (or your favorite fruit syrup), lots of butter, and a bowl of fresh cut strawberries or peaches. And don’t forget the bacon! Because it’s all about sweet and savory 🙂

(Dustin being generous with the Wildbeary Huckleberry syrup that my family brought back from their vacation in Idaho)

A Birthday Dinner at the Tree House

We have the best of both worlds up in the Santa Cruz Mountains: Ten minutes from the ocean, yet surrounded by beautiful, stately redwood trees. My cousin Nikita turned 21 on August 11th, so we had a family birthday dinner at my parent’s place; aptly named “The Tree House.” These are some of the highlights.

Ginger Martinis

  • First, make a ginger syrup: Put 1 cup sugar, 3/4 cup water, and 1/2 cup chopped fresh ginger in a pan and bring to a boil. Simmer for about 10 minutes.
  • Strain the mixture, add a little lime (or lemon) juice to taste and then chill.
  • For each drink, use a jigger of gin and the same amount of ginger syrup, and some more lime juice.
  • Shake with ice and pour into glasses. Top off with some ginger beer (or ginger ale).
  • Drop a piece of crystallized ginger into the bottom of each class. Kanpai!

Marinated Shrimp Skewers

olive oil
a few cloves of chopped garlic
a few sprigs of chopped fresh rosemary
a dash or two of Tabasco sauce
a dash or two of Worcestershire sauce
shrimp, peeled and deveined, tails left intact
special equipment: skewers (if using bamboo skewers, soak in water before grilling)

  • Combine all ingredients (except shrimp) in a microwave-safe liquid measuring cup (adjust ingredients depending on amount of shrimp). Microwave until bubbly, about a minute. Assemble shrimp skewers and pour marinade over them. Grill.

Polenta with Gorgonzola & Mascarpone Cheese

  • Prepare the polenta according to package instructions, stirring until it thickens.
  • Meanwhile, in a small bowl, combine equal parts Gorgonzola and Mascarpone cheese. Microwave until they’re soft enough to combine.
  • When polenta has thickened, spoon onto plates and top with a dollop of cheese mixture.

Peach, Fresh Mozzarella & Mint Salad

  • On each serving plate put a few slices of fresh Mozzarella, a few mint leaves, and a few slices of peach.
  • Lightly dress with white balsamic vinegar, olive oil, and a sprinkle of cumin.