Posts filed under ‘Recipes’

Pears from Blue Ridge Mountain Farmstand = Pear Pie and Pear Chutney

1 Pears on platter
My friend Dean brought me this pile of pears from a roadside stand in Ashe County, North Carolina. Ashe County is in the Blue Ridge Mountains, on the NC-Virginia border northwest of Winston-Salem, NC. They were hard and sturdy, not the best for eating out of hand, but full of flavor, which I took in two directions: one sweet and one savory.

2 Whole Pear Pie

First move was to put a pear pie in the oven. Peeled, cored and chopped in large chunks, these pears baked up beautifully, filling the kitchen with a spice-kissed perfume and giving juice aplenty. I added chopped pecans and currants since those were on hand. Next pear pie I will give raisins and walnuts a whirl. My sister Linda reminded me that we had a gigantic pear tree growing on the vacant lot next to our home in Burlington NC when we were little, and that our mother made pear pies each autumn.

3 Cut Pear Pie Piece

In researching my cookbook, Southern Pies: A Gracious Plenty of Pie Recipes from Lemon Chess to Chocolate Pecan, I came across many recipes for pear pie in which the pears are cooked first on top of the stove to make a chunky preserves. This pear preserves (and potential pie filling, and dessert on its own, in small bowls, with cream or not) kept well through the winter and served as a dessert on its own, as well as providing a ready-to-bake pie filling for cooks when the fresh fruit was long gone. Pear preserves on the pantry shelf: That would be a feeling of contentment and pride.

4 Piece pear pie

For this simple pie, I didn’t really pay too much mind to amounts. Fruit pies need just a big pile of fruit, peeled and chopped in nice chunks, big bite-sized is my favorite. About 3/4 cup sugar + 2 tablespoons of flour or cornstarch + a pinch of salt + spices (nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves, allspice, ginger — about 2 teaspoons total, any combination, or none; not everybody likes spices and some people think it covers up the pear’s own flavor, but I like them myself), and generous pinch or 2 of salt. Stir those together, toss with the fruit, tumble into a pie crust unbaked. Dot with butter: i love that phrase from my early baking days in cookbooks. 2 tablespoons cold butter, cut into nice bits, and scattered and placed all over the fruit. Pile it up in the center as it sinks down. Cover, pinch, press, cut slits or holes for steam and juice, and bake at 400 degrees for 10 – 12 minutes; then at 350 degrees until the crust is golden brown, the pie is bubbling and juicy, and the pears are tender, 40 to 55 minutes. Vanilla ice cream, whipped cream, or cream on the side is a lovely addition, but not a necessity, not at all.

5 pear chutney

My friend Elizabeth Young suggested pear chutney, which she makes using pears in an apple chutney recipe from The Original Moosewood Cookbook. I found a version of it and followed it using what I had in the house, which to my surprise did not include fresh ginger. This extraordinary ingredient is one I mean to keep on hand in the basket above the sink, where a permanent supply of onions, garlic, potatoes, sweet potatoes, lemons, and limes keep company with occasional avocados, plum tomatoes, and butternut squash. I had all the spices, which give this relish a substantial fragrance and pleasing kick, and I added currants because I love them in fall dishes in general and savory ones in particular. The pears stayed firm and the garlic took the lead. My expectation when seeing ‘chutney’ is of a softer, smoother, sweeter dish, so I would describe this as a relish, and I will make it again to keep company with pork chops, roast chicken, or rice and curry. Click here for the recipe I used for this Pear Chutney, substituting pears for the apples.

October 9, 2014 at 7:04 pm Leave a comment

“Make This Cake!” said Lottie + Doof, and So I Did (and You Should, Too!)

6china plate

I love Lottie + Doof, a blog by a Chicago-based food writer and photographer named Tim Mazurek. It’s always gorgeous and interesting and the tone is gentle and inviting. Until an early September post, entitled The Torte, which began with an outright command: “Make this cake.” Now, I don’t go letting just any food writer up and be the boss of me, but Lottie + Doof has my trust, and, entranced by the handsome image and confident in his intentions, I read on.

By the end of paragraph #3, I was completely on board. When I quickly got to the actual recipe, I did a little happy dance because I had EVERY SINGLE INGREDIENT ON HAND IN MY HOUSE. Right then and THERE! I really like not having to go to the store or the market or the south forty when I am all fired up to make a certain dish which has caught my fancy. It was a sign, and a good sign indeed. One centerpiece ingredient, plums, were in short supply in my kitchen, and what I had was on the last day of being lusciously-ripe as opposed to around-the-bend ripe.

But I had a handful of blackberries with which to fill in, and I figured super-ripe extra-juicy plums could be a plus and not a minus. (I was right about that.) In fact, my 8-inch spring form pan only allowed me room for most-but-not-all of the plums, and no blackberries, so I was truly on this recipe’s path.

3ready to bake

Into the oven went my plum torte in my 8-inch spring-form pan, at 350 degrees F for around 50 minutes…

4Done in pan

I left off the optional dusting of cinnamon and sugar over the top before baking, and tossed the lemon juice with the plums because I got so eager to have the cake ready that I presumed that was the plan. All this was absolutely fine. While the torte (which I believe to mean “thick lovely single-layer Euro-cake which needs no icing and creates joy) baked, I finished reading and checked out Lottie + Doof’s inspiration, a recipe featured often in the New York Times since Marion Burros first published it there in 1981. Turns out it was featured in the Elegant but Easy Cookbook, written by Ms. Burros and Lois Levine in 1960 and revised in the 1990’s. Ms. Burros credits her friend and co-author Lois Levine with the recipe, in this feature on the cake from The Splendid Table


“Ding!” and it was done, and then out it came, lovely and irresistible, though resist I did, until it cooled down. More fruit in bigger pieces would have been pleasing, but I was thrilled with how it looked. After it cooled I easily liberated it from the spring form pan, even though you neither grease the pan nor line it with parchment/waxed paper for this gem of a recipe.

5out w pan

I cut into it as soon as it cooled down, and I liked it very much. He was absolutely right about it all. I also concur with Mr. Marzurek’s assessment that this is a recipe you will be able to remember without even looking back at the recipe, once you have made it about three times. He said two, but I’m working with me, and I think third time’s the charm.

7cut piece

Then I started wondering if the spring form pan was a deal-breaker, since I know that not everyone who enjoys baking(or might if they tried it), has this fine piece of kitchen equipment. I got some raspberries to stretch the blackberries (worth trip to store), and went in for round #2.

8 cakepan

It baked up beautifully, and could have handled even more berries than I put on it. I love the peekaboo quality, but I also love seeing lots of fruit beckoning when it’s serving time.

cakepan done9

Ungreased and unsprung, this dense and friendly cake plopped right out and survived being turned back over, so if you were worried about the spring form pan issue, don’t be. A cake pan works fine. I’m fond of the 8-inch pans which make for a somewhat thicker torte. But Mr. Mazurek used a larger spring form and his more svelte slice of plum torte looks quite marvelous. This is one user-friendly, have-at-it, go-for-it, you-can-do-it Everything Cake.

10cakepan green plate

So you know what I’m going to say, right? Make This Cake! You won’t be the first, fiftieth, or fifty-leventh times tenth, but that’s all right. Good things should be shared, like deviled eggs, lemonade, tomato sandwiches, and apple pie. Join the Torte Club along with me and a dazzling array of my favorite food people who exult about it and offer variations and tips (freezes beautifully; goes well with ice cream; even better the second day, etc.) in posts all along the information superhighway. Read all about it: but first, stir this up and pop it in the oven.


So here is Lottie + Doof’s Recipe for The Torte.

And here is Marion Burros’s recipe for Plum Torte, published on Epicurious in 2003.


September 16, 2014 at 3:18 am Leave a comment

The Kitchn’s Spicy Ginger Lemonade, with a Lemongrass-Galanga Assist


I’m always in the kitchen, where I cook for pleasure, of necessity, and as part of my food-centered work. I also spend time in The Kitchn, the online one where recipes, advice, essays, and ideas are always bubbling up and catching my eye. Early in the summer, I saw their tempting and appealing recipe for Spicy Ginger Lemonade, posted by Sarah Crowder, and with our air conditioner on the blink, I wanted it right at that very moment. 


Trouble was, I had plenty of lemons and limes, but only a tiny bit of fresh ginger on hand, and it was an “I don’t WANNA go to the store!!!” moment, so I decided to try the same idea using fresh lemongrass and frozen galanga, which I did have on hand that day. 


While the sugar, water, and Asian herbs simmered away, I juiced a few lemons and limes, and cracked ice cubes out of the ice cube tray. When I combined the sweet-and-hot simple syrup with the citrus juices and water, the result was fantastic! Now I love it with fresh ginger, as well as with the Southeast Asian culinary notes of lemongrass and galanga I tried that first time. 


If one were looking for ways to make late summer cocktails, this might be a good place to begin the pondering. Me, I’m content with this feisty, satisfying spin on lovely lemonade, and I won’t let the coming of fall slow me down. Even with the air conditioning restored to full function long ago, and the signs of autumn tip-toeing in to my consciousness, I keep making and sipping and sharing this wonderful beverage. 






September 5, 2014 at 7:36 am Leave a comment

On Being Distracted by Banana Bread in the ‘Midst of Late Summer’s Fruitful Abundance


I should be telling you about how to make the most of late summer’s plums, peaches, nectarines, and blueberries. I ought be telling you about the marvelous, small, dark green watermelon WITH seeds: SEEDS!!!! which I snagged at the farmers’ market last Saturday, and which we are munching on right now. That will come, but for today, the truth is that I got distracted by a post on the fantastic, inspiring and delightful blog, Smitten Kitchen, from a good while back, because of four words: Double Chocolate Banana Bread. Once I’d seen them, I couldn’t think past them. And once I just went to check and peek and remind myself to come back to it come winter, I was lost. Or rather, home.


I love banana bread, and knew that people put in chocolate chips which never really appealed to me; but I had never ever considered that banana bread could BE chocolate, and not just that, but double. I was all in, and I have made this three times in the last month. Which was called August. I’m not proud, I’m just saying this is where I am. So before I return to the blackberries and the peaches and the watermelon, cantaloupe, and newly arriving scuppernong grapes, I’m confessing that this kind of baked treasure is always in season for me. It comes together quickly, it bakes up handsomely, it was good with and without nuts, and it tastes even more wonderful the second day. 



Here is the link to Smitten Kitchen‘s recipe for Double Chocolate Banana Bread. Like me, you may want to make it now, or soon, or as soon as the right bananas reach their luscious, fragrant, nearly over the hill-perfection for banana bread heaven. Or you may wish to save this for cooler weather, when you are seeking reasons to crank up the stove and heat up the kitchen for comfort and cozy-ness. For those days when you no longer have access to peaches, plums, nectarines, and blueberries, when watermelons are but a memory, and apples and pears the new rulers of the seasonal produce world.

Then, I’m betting that Smitten Kitchen‘s Double Chocolate Banana Bread will be just the ticket, and it will occur to you that it might go perfectly with a mug of hot chocolate, whipped cream/marshmallows optional. For now, do what works for you; but remember, this goes wonderfully with a scoop of vanilla or whipped cream and a pile of late-summer berries, peaches, and plums. If you get yourself a copy of The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook, you’ll find a year round abundance of kitchen pleasures, SK-style. 


Smitten Kitchen‘s Double Chocolate Banana Bread RECIPE:

September 3, 2014 at 1:29 am Leave a comment

“Gluten-Free Girl Every Day” Delivers All-Day-Long Deliciousness to One and All

1  Gluten Free Every Day coverI’ve been cooking from a wonderful cookbook which I purchased last year, not because I needed it in terms of my health or my family’s, but because 1) I’m interested in baking and in home cooking, 2) My dear friend Trisha and her husband Don have celiac and have been eating gluten free for many years, 3) It is written by my wonderful, brilliant friends Shauna James Ahern and Daniel Ahern, and I love their work and am inspired by it in countless ways. I figured I would like the book and enjoy it, but I didn’t realize I would absolutely love it and find myself returning to its pages to cook One More Thing, even after I had photos and knowledge aplenty for writing this post.

Nancie Merry Shauna NOLA during IFBC

Good times at NOLA in New Orleans with Merry Jennifer Markham of “The Merry Gourmet”, Shauna James Ahern, and me, in 2011.

I met Shauna and Danny and their amazing and beautiful daughter at a big noisy fun distracting food conference, the annual gathering of IACP in Austin TX a couple of years back. It was a crowded reception at the Driskill Hotel, and I was zooming from point a to point b with a whole slew of buddies, when I noticed a couple who had their small  daughter with them. I loved that, and decided I needed to get to know people who “brung the family” cause they would be my kind of people, and I was so right. Later in the week we connected again in the hallways, and I got to sit down with them over Big Bountiful Texas Barbecue at a farm on a hot April evening, at which time I found they are pals with the amazing Daniel Kohler and that did it.

We have been friends ever since, and I loved having time to visit more during a later conference, IFBC  in New Orleans, where Shauna presented a session about her pathway to health, which began once she received the diagnosis that celiac disease is a part of her life, and started figure out how to eat and cook and life a happy, delicious life starting from where she was. Her blog, “Gluten-Free Girl” (current post on making biscuits by the way) and her books and cookbooks have allowed her to share what she’s learned and kept us crossing paths at food events, since she lives in Seattle and I am in North Carolina.

GF Biscuits1These are the biscuits I made first thing, since I am Southern and immediately worried that people who have celiac cannot eat biscuits where are about 94.7 percent wheat flour. Turns out that thanks to Shauna’s recipe for All-Purpose Gluten Free Flour Mix, biscuits are not only possible, they are wonderful! Here’s my first batch, made in my cast-iron skillet.

I made up a big batch of this GF flour mix, as Shauna suggested, when I first made the biscuits, and stored it in a big airtight container on the counter.  That made it easy to up-and-bake on a whim, when I later decided to make both the waffles and the sandwich bread which are included in this excellent and useful cookbook.  Here’s the link to the GF AP Flour Mix recipe, as well as Shauna’s apple pie recipe and more.

GF biscuits inside4More pix of my biscuits: I’m bragging, I know, but they were great and I was very proud of myself. The picture above is an Instagram and the lighting makes my biscuits look like cornbread, but that’s not the case. Just biscuits, with a photographically induced golden glow.
GF Biscuits jelly butter2Mighty fine with jelly, jam, preserves, sorghum, honey, and I’ll bet Devonshire cream would be tasty as well, should you have that on hand at home.  Next it was time for something savory, and this Asian dish caught my eye as well. The book is about fine, do-able, delicious, everyday home cooking, not just about re-inventing dishes which call for wheat flour. This makes it a super all-around cookbook, more than a manual for addressing the challenges of GF eating, though that it does, beautifully.

Here are some of the dishes I’ve made so far. First up after biscuits was this hearty stir-fry of beef with fresh lemongrass, a favorite ingredient.

GF beef red tablecloth4


GF Cake 1Here’s the lovely lemon cake from Gluten-Free Girl Every Day….Glazed and then enhanced with berries and cream.

GF Cake n slice  3
GF slice 4
Sliced gf bread1This sandwich bread worked wonderfully for that purpose and made excellent toast with butter….
GF bread 2

For this dish, Zucchini “Noodles” with Spinach Pesto, I’m including a link to the recipe, which was featured on @Serious Eats as part of a review of the book. I am not fond of feta cheese, so I used parmesean cheese instead, with wonderful results. The pesto recipe makes more than you will need for this recipe, so it was great to have gorgeous and delicious pesto around for a few more meals after making this dish.

Pesto 1
zukes bowl w pesto 2
zuke pesto platedAnd finally, waffles using Shauna’s gluten-free all-purpose flour which made lovely nutty waffles which we enjoyed with butter and maple syrup.
waffle 1 GF
waffle 2 GF
dinner zuke beef bisc rice  FINAL Having cooked my way around within this book, I can say that it is a treasure, for the recipes, cooking notes, and also the spectacularly beautiful and inviting photos by Penny De Los Santos whose fine work I first encountered in Saveur.

1  Gluten Free Every Day cover

As a fan of this cookbook, I am in very good company, because The James Beard Foundation chose it for their 2014 James Beard Book Award, in the category “Focused on Health”. I’m still cooking from it, and if you want to do so, here’s where to find a copy:

 Amazon.      Powell’s.     Indie Bound.

September 1, 2014 at 8:29 pm 2 comments

Valentine’s Day Wisdom and Chocolate Treats


My Southern Chocolate Pound Cake with Chocolate Pecan Icing, beautifully made and handsomely photographed by my friend, Linda Rogers Weiss, author of “Seasoned in the Kitchen”. Recipe below.

Flowers, candy, cards, candlelit dinners, chocolate: That’s my word-association when Valentine’s Day comes up. We tend to focus first on romance, special someone’s, expressing sweetheart-love. My friend Denise Vivaldo wrote the most wonderful, brief, brilliant commentary on this, and because I subscribe to her e-mail newsletter, it came right to my screen. (Always follow Denise, any time she invites you to do so. She is the hilarious, insightful, brilliant and talented best.) What Denise notes about Valentine’s Day is  short and sweet. You can read it in about 54 seconds and I promise you will be glad you did. Want to read it? Please click HERE. Denise ends with a little gift: Two recipes, one for adorable petit fours, and one for a pretty champagne cocktail involving raspberries.

IMG_3689Then there’s the wonderfulness of saluting and celebrating that romance, that love and affection, that finding someone special and signing on for the journey, and along came my friend Jamie Schler , who writes a wonderful blog called “Life’s A Feast”.  I always love her posts, but this latest one? It’s about love, romance, marriage, and French-style pudding au chocolat with salted caramel sauce. It, too, moved me, delighted me, and opened my eyes and heart. You can read it if you simply click HERE.

jamie cakes

Jamie includes the recipe for that chocolate confection, and gorgeous photographs of same. I made the little puddings, covered  and chilled them, and on the Big Snow Day (yesterday 2/13/14),  I made Jamie’s salted caramel sauce, and had it ready for my husband to enjoy for breakfast on the surprise snow day, instead of waiting for Valentine’s Day proper.


Jamie’s Salted Caramel Sauce in progress, butter going in, soon to be followed by cream…

You want that caramel sauce recipe?Yes, you do. For that, just  click HERE. Jamie’s French Pudding au chocolat recipe is at the end of her post, HERE. 

It has actually been a rather chocolate-y week around here. I have been and remain very, very busy on a big project, and bless my heart, when I get really going and need relief, I tend to bake. Going out for a run, a game of racquetball? Were those my escapes, instead of baking, that wouldn’t have worked, given the big snow and all.

I know some people clean and organize their homes and offices. That is so nice, and I may change as I age, but so far, it’s baking. Flipping through my Miscellaneous Recipe folder (one of the 243+ MR folders around the house in various places around the house) I came across “15 Minute Chocolate Cake”.


It had no notations at all as to where I had found it. Must have been a cut-and-paste, I thought. Can it really be a 15 minutes-into-the-oven chocolate cake, I wondered? I had everything. I went in the kitchen, started a timer, heated the oven to 350, set out the ingredients, and stirred it up. Oh NO!!! I forgot to do the pan first. Don’t like to do that so I put it off. Checked clock. Five minutes left!!! I got pan, greased it, lined it, and presto, into oven before the bell. The cake lifted up beautifully and came out just fine. Then I felt frustrated, because I couldn’t share it without credit and where in the world did I get it from? How would I ever find it?

unfrosted cakeBut why not at least just go Google 15 minute chocolate cake, so I did,  and voila, there it was, on my friend Andrea Nguyen‘s wonderful blog/website, Vietworld Kitchen. “Well, help my time!” is what my maternal grandmother used to say at such a time, which is Southern American NC English for “Who knew?” And so with full credit and delight, I present to you the recipe and story and pictures regarding the 15 Minute Chocolate Cake from Andrea on Vietworld Kitchen. All you do is click HERE.


15 Minute Chocolate Cake from Andrea Nguyen’s “Vietworld Kitchen”, covered with ganach from

“That went well!” I said to myself. Then I thought about icing/frosting, and knew I needed the fastest simplest icing as I was WAY off the topic of the Big Project, and I thought not of a certain cake book we keep lying around here with lots of smudges and scribbles and crumbs on its pages. I thought of ganache! Chocolate and cream, right? How hard could that be? Not hard at all, as it turned out. I chose this recipe from google-ville, from Martha Stewart’s website, and it worked just fine. For that recipe, click HERE.

I had pecans handy, and a wholesale bakery where I once worked briefly used to put ground almonds on the sides of their Vienna fudge cake, so I did that too, but with pecans. They stuck a candied violet in the middle. One ingredient of which I happened to be out. Kidding — I never have candied violets. (I did buy some once, back in another era of my cooking life, and almost broke a tooth on one. I think those were more decorative, not for actual eating, though they were edible.)

This cake is chocolate-y and we loved it, but I think it does need whipped cream or ice cream, as a companion and foil.  By the way, in addition to chocolate cake, Andrea Nguyen has SO much to share on food, cooking, Vietnamese and Asian food, and life, so visit her site often, right HERE. I have all three of her books, and can’t wait for her next one:


This book will be out in July, but you can go to your favorite bookseller and order a copy in advance. Then you will not have to wait when it comes out, and the publisher can decide to print even more than they’d planned because of the mammoth buzz. But back to chocolate and Valentine’s Day and baking and treats.


My chocolate pound cake. What a good friend Linda Rogers Weiss is, to cook from my books, and take gorgeous photos, and send them to me, and let me share them. I love her book, “Seasoned in the Kitchen”, which you can order if you click HERE.

ChocPndCakeThis is my very favorite chocolate cake, and while it is too wonderful to save for Valentine’s Day only, it makes for an especially good choice if you want to bake something to share with lots of people on Valentine’s Day Weekend. Pound cake works equally well for  “It Snowed!” Or “You did it!” Or, “Thank you for being so _______!” and “I appreciate how you ________!” We don’t need to wait till next February 14th to express love, appreciation, gratitude, or kindness, do we, now?

On this love-centered day and moving forward, let’s broadcast love. Let’s plant it and cultivate it. Let’s share cake or candy, cards or notes, hearts or flowers, smiles or jokes, simple kind greetings, looks and words.  My friend Denise Vivaldo said it well in her Valentine’s post linked above:

“…I think what we are supposed to celebrate is love and the JOY it brings us.Maybe you celebrate with a spouse, or a lover, or your best friend. Maybe the true romance of Valentine’s Day is the kindness we can show another.”

Nancie’s Chocolate Pound Cake with Chocolate Pecan Icing

This handsome cake has a deep, rich, chocolate flavor with just the right touch of sweetness. You can bake it in a tube pan, a bundt cake pan, or two loaf pans, and make lots of people happy with one baking session.Chocolate Pound Cake

3 cups sifted flour

1/2 cup cocoa

3/4 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 1/4 cups evaporated milk

1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened

1/2 cup shortening

1 1/2 cups sugar

1 1/2 cups light or dark brown sugar

5 eggs

To make the cake, heat the oven to 325 F. Generously grease and flour a 10-inch tube pan or two 9-by-5-inch loaf pans.

Sift together the flour, cocoa, baking powder, and salt over a medium bowl. Stir the vanilla into the evaporated milk.

In a large bowl, combine the butter and the shortening and beat well with a mixer until they form a smooth, fluffy mixture. Add the sugars gradually, beating well to achieve a creamy, smooth consistency.

Add the eggs one by one, beating well each time. Add about one third of the flour mixture, and then half the milk, beating each time at low speed only until the flour or milk disappears into the batter. Mix in another third of the flour, the rest of the milk, and then the last of the flour in the same way.

Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and bake at 325 for about 1 hour and 30 minutes, or 55 to 60 minutes for loaf pans, until the top of the cake is firm and dry, the sides are pulling away from the pan, and a wooden skewer inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.

Cool the cake in the pan on a wire rack or a folded kitchen towel for 15 minutes. Loosen the cake from the pan with a table knife, and turn it out onto a wire rack or a plate to cool completely, topside up.

Makes 1 large cake or 2 loaves

Nancie’s Chocolate-Pecan Frosting

This makes enough to glaze a pound cake or bundt cake. To frost a two layer cake or lots of cupcakes, simply double or triple the recipe.

1/4 cup butter (1/2 stick)

One 1-ounce square unsweetened chocolate, or 3 tablespoons cocoa

1 1 /4 cups confectionersí sugar

3 tablespoons milk

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 1/4 cups chopped pecans

To make the frosting, in a small saucepan, combine the butter and the chocolate or cocoa. Cook over medium heat, stirring often, until melted and smooth. Remove from the heat, add the confectionersí sugar, milk, and vanilla, and stir well until the glaze is smooth.

Spread the glaze over the cake while it is still warm, or cool to room temperature and use it to ice the top of the cake. Quickly sprinkle the chopped pecans over the frosting on the top of the cake.

 This recipes comes from Southern Cakes: Sweet and Irresistible Recipes for Everyday Celebrations, by Nancie McDermott. Chronicle Books: Copyright 2007: All rights reserved

February 14, 2014 at 3:21 am 6 comments

Lunar New Year Farewell: Mom’s Special Dish and Good-Luck Lettuce

Meet my friend Shirley Lin. She lives in San Francisco and just like me, she adores food, cooking, culture, and travel. With these common interests, I could have met her anywhere in the world, but the place I was lucky enough to meet her was Beijing.  I traveled there last fall with my husband, who had a scientific conference to attend in November. This landed us in a big, handsome convention center hotel located next to the Olympic Village.


An elaborate and multifaceted buffet breakfast was part of the room rate, and we didn’t miss a one. The restaurant served up an enormous array of Foods of the World, from yogurt shakes, fruit, and omelets to order, to sushi, miso soup, bacon and eggs, and toast.  Tourists like me lined up with convention-goers and business-people like my husband at the coffee maker and toast bar, everybody  fueling up for a day of sightseeing, networking, dealmaking, or shopping. My husband piled his plate with ham, sausage, omelet and hash browns, while I headed for the Chinese section to check out the local fare.

Hotel breakfast dining room1

I met Shirley because I was holding up the line in the porridge section, taken by the variety of grain soups in the traditional Chinese food section of the vast buffet. First came rice porridge, also known as congee, jook and moi. Beloved throughout Asia, it’s a warm, satisfying bowl of thick rice soup. Though it’s sometimes cooked with meat or preserved egg, unseasoned is most common. Diners add condiments, from sesame oil, peanuts and and cilantro to salty egg, crisp-fried bread, and shredded ginger. Throughout Asia, rice porridge bookends the day, equally popular as a filling breakfast food and as a late night snack.

2porridges on buffetI didn’t recognize two other saucepans next to the jook, filled with other types of porridge, yellow in color and equally plain. Noticing my curiosity, Shirley offered to explain the menu, introducing me to millet porridge and corn porridge, as well as puffed bean curd and various add-ons, many of them chili-fueled. I thanked her for being a resource on a busy morning, made notes, and continued exploring.

porridge add ins

3Steamers set up time

Around the corner on the far end, this chef was refreshing the steamed-items section. I expected to see buns and little filled dumplings, but not the array of yams, taro, beets, and other root vegetables.

4filled steamers

While the nearby bacon-and-egg staionshad plenty of takers, so did this steamer station. Five minutes after set-up, here’s the steamer-scene. The purple ones held the beets.

5steamers after

Curious about Beijing cooking and Northern Chinese food, I looked for Shirley’s table and interrupted her breakfast with more culinary questions. She kindly invited me to sit down right then and there, and enlightened me more while her food cooled. She agreed to meet with me that afternoon and continued my culinary education, complete with photos from meals she had been enjoying in Beijing.

Convention center

That afternoon learned that Shirley was not merely “in town for a conference”; she was leading one, a big one: the Mobile Entertainment Games Summit. Turns out my new friend-in-food is a genius programmer, entrepreneur, and founder/director of 800 Birds, She is also a foodie extraordinaire. I cannot believe she took so much time with me, a complete stranger, to share her knowledge of and love for food, culture and stories. I cannot wait to cook with her one of these days, because we are clearly on the same path in regard to eating, cooking, travel, and food.

I asked Shirley if she would write something for me, a memory of Chinese New Year, centered on food. Again, she said yes, and here is what she wrote:


“My mom left a legacy among people around her as the best home cooking woman in her time.  Our Chinese New Year Eve dinner was always a feast and a tribute to the grandparents we had never seen.  Besides homemade sausages, Chinese bacon, etc. one of her most difficult dish is the 10-Delicacy Vegetarian Delight.  It’s a New Year special. It would take her a day to buy the ingredients, another day to wash/clean/prepare and cook and season each one separately, then combine them together to its perfection.  It consists of: shitake mushrooms, pickled mustard green, dried tofu squares, yellow soy bean sprouts, carrots, Chinese celery, thin rice vermicelli, wood-ear (a kind of wood fungus plant that is used a lot in spicy sour soup), dried Day Lilly, fresh bamboo shoot.  I miss her dearly with the vivid scenes how I was around her to work thru each step of the process.”


Shirley’s story moves me, even though I have never attended such a Chinese New Year Eve dinner, nor have I ever eaten 10-Delicacy Vegetarian Delight. This elaborate dish requires unusual ingredients and special skill and knowledge to prepare. To me, the most precious ingredient in this story is the love and dedication of Shirley’s mother. She provided her family with such a gift: Memories of preparing and sharing these celebration meals. She set an example of showing love through her cooking, bringing the family to the holiday table, and keeping traditions. Past, present, and future, invited back to the table, year after year.


The Lunar New Year festival came to an end last night, the 15th day of the first month of the new lunar year. The new moon on New Year Eve grew into the full moon we welcomed last night. All over Asia and wherever Asian people live in the world,  New Year celebrations wound up with the Lantern Festival, with lots of small and large lanterns backing up the full moon in shining brightly, amid a farewell round of parades, lion dances, and firecrackers to close things out with a bang. Valentine’s Day happened to be on the same day this year, which meant abundance of pretty red decorations and maybe an increase in the number of reasons to celebrate and smile.

In honor of Shirley Lin’s mother’s vegetarian celebration dish, I wanted to close with a recipe for something both vegetarian and loaded with good luck. As always,  Grace Young had the answer to my Chinese cooking questions:

Grace Young’s Stir-Fried Iceberg Lettuce

Cooked lettuce 4

Grace notes that stir-fried lettuce is a cherished New Year dish, because of wordplay: The word for lettuce in Cantonese, saang choy, sounds like “growing fortune”. Buying it, bringing it home, cooking it up, and eating it? This sequence of events is a recipe for luck, prosperity, all good things. This dish is simple to prepare and a wonderful companion to a hearty meal, especially one centered on rice; All you need are grocery store ingredients and a wok or a big skillet for a speedy stir-fry.

For the recipe, click HERE . For a recent conversation noted food writer Irene Sax had with with Grace about Lunar New Year traditions, just click right HERE.

Stir fry lettuce prep 1Here are iceberg lettuce, green onions, oil, garlic, and the seasonings: Asian sesame oil, soy sauce, sugar and chilies.

green onions 2Toss the green onions and garlic in hot oil; add the ice berg lettuce.

lettuce in wok3Here it is before being tossed in the hot oil. Below is the finished dish, with abundance of thin but flavorful sauce for spooning over rice. Remember: the lucky vibe is yours all year round, not just during Lunar New Year. This is lovely (and still lucky) with romaine lettuce.

Cooked lettuce 4

For more on this dish, and abundant tales of Chinese New Year celebrations, foods, and traditions, get yourself a copy of Grace Young’s fine book, “The Wisdom of the Chinese Kitchen”. Check out Grace’s website and blog by clicking HERE, for her wisdom on Chinese cooking, culture, and traditions. You’ll find Grace’s cool short videos on Chinese New Year ways and recipes, by clicking HERE.


February 11, 2014 at 6:59 pm Leave a comment

Older Posts

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

December 2014
« Oct    

Recent Posts

Nancie’s tweets:



Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 98 other followers