Posts filed under ‘Just for Fun’

Lunar New Year: Celebrate with Simple Chinese-Style Dumplings!

Simple, delicious potsticker dumplings, with ginger-soy dipping sauce, photographed by Maren Caruso for my Quick & Easy Chinese cookbook.

Simple, delicious potsticker dumplings, with ginger-soy dipping sauce, photographed by Maren Caruso for my Quick & Easy Chinese cookbook. These same dumplings can be boiled or steamed, and made with ground chicken or turkey instead of pork.

One of many things I love about the Asian celebration of Lunar New Year is that the fun and festivities need not be crammed into one day and one night. It’s a luxurious and leisurely holiday season, lasting two full weeks and observed in countless ways for the duration. Beginning on the night of the new moon and ending on the arrival of the full moon, it can include parades, family gatherings, feasts, snacks, firecrackers, visiting, travel, and infinite expressions of good fortune in all areas of life. Lucky merch red gold shelves

Red and gold colors abound, since these two symbolize and invite good luck to show up and stick around. Here in North Carolina, the huge Asian supermarket where I shop year-round overflows with auspicious decorations for homes and businesses, along with favorite edible New Year treats including persimmons, tangerines and pomelos, all of which are in season, golden in color and round in shape, which symbolizes harmony and unity. Early-blooming branches of puffy pussy willow and plum and peach blossoms are on sale as symbols of new beginnings, a reminder that the festival’s origin is to welcome the spring season.

china 4

This young chef turned out dozens and dozens of dozens of perfect and tasty dumplings at a tourist restaurant serving busloads of visitors heading back to Beijing from the Ming Tombs.

Dumplings are a great favorite traditional Lunar New Year food, and dumpling-making parties bring families and friends together to share the tasks of filling, shaping, cooking, and feasting on dumplings. The simplest Chinese dumpling, jiaozi, begins with a seasoned minced pork mixture which is wrapped up in a chewy flour dough wrapper and boiled, pan fried, or steamed, if not all three methods at the same gathering.

While a traditional gathering includes mixing up the simple wheat flour-water dough, kneading it well, rolling out circles and filling them on the spot, you can make a simple, delightful version using won ton wrappers from the supermarket. While a midnight dumpling-making party on Lunar New Year’s Eve isn’t possible this year (that was this past Wednesday, February 18th), you can still invite good luck and good times into your home kitchen over the next 10 days, because Lunar New Year takes its time coming in.

I love this post by Sarah Lin on the Chronicle Books website, featuring the dumpling recipe from my cookbook, “Quick and Easy Chinese: 70 Everyday Recipes”.

For my recipe, click here and zoom over to Ms. Lin’s post on the Chronicle Blog!

Tangerines w leaves

These lucky Lunar New Year symbols were on display at my local Whole Foods market. I love seeing them with the green leaves and stems attached. They don’t taste any better but what a delight for the eyes. Good Luck to one and all!

February 20, 2015 at 5:59 pm Leave a comment

#Wordless Wednesday

Wordless Wednesday yellow fall tree

October 8, 2014 at 1:19 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

#Wordless Wednesday September 3, 2014

Wordless Wed 9 3

September 3, 2014 at 11:52 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

Banana Cream Pie from Beth M. Howard’s “Making Piece” on Leite’s Culinaria

Banana Cream Pie on the windowsill

Banana Cream Pie on the windowsill

Last week we went to heaven — not the one-way ticket concept, or the Rewards for Good Behavior concept, but the Heaven on Earth concept, and it was lovely all around. My friends Dean and Joe have a beautiful farm up past Scranton, Pennsylvania, with all the transcendant beauty of an old-school dairy farm and none of the work. We sleep late, sit and visit, read a lot, take turns in the big ol’ swing and the enormous hammock under the most magnificent ancient shade tree, and spend a little time cooking good things.


Avoiding a trip to the grocery store (not quite ten miles and a lovely drive at that) has high priority, and when the Dessert Bug bit, we all turned to stare at the basket, where once and recently had waited ripe peaches and blueberries, but at that point was home to naught but onions, shallots, chilies, and a big freckly bunch of bananas.

“Banana Cream Pie?” whispered Dean. How hard could that be, we all murmured? “Not very!” came the answer, since the magic of wireless took us to Leite’s Culinaria where excellent recipes await (including, full disclosure, a few of my very own…). Not only did we find a most worthy recipe with encouraging inspiring commentary from cooks, but it came with a sweet, tender, moving essay by Beth M. Howard, from whose book, Making Piece: A Memoir of Love, Loss, and Pie, the recipe came.


I liked it not only for its intrinsic qualities,  but because it called for meringue, rather than whipped cream. I love me some whipped cream, to the point of not getting in to that other Heaven Concept if the gluttony and worship of unholy things part is on the money, but since we did not have any, that was a mark against it (See “…trip to the store…” above). This called for egg yolks in the custard and egg whites into the meringue and we had every single other thing required. In a very short time, custard was made and pie shell was baked to a golden turn. We lined it with ‘naners, filled it with custard, added the remaining ‘naners to the top even though that was not mentioned (we like walking to the edge sometimes), and buzzed up the meringue with sugar and cream of tartar and a bit of salt, using Dean’s electric hand mixer. Do you love his green mixing bowl, which came from his mama’s kitchen? I know, right? If I were not worried about that other Heaven thing I might covet it or worse, but deep breath, I stayed on the good road, with the reward of pie in my near future. IMG_0868

It was so pretty with all that meringue, from five, count ‘em folks, FIVE egg whites —- what a pleasure to transform the little clear golden-tinged egg whites to bubbly foam and then thick cream and finally magical mighty whorls of glorious sweetness. Dean did that, I just watched and cheered. While the oven heated up, we put it in the window, because when one encounters an actual old-school window sill in a kitchen on a day when one can do so, one ought to put a pie right there and take its picture.


Here’s Dean placing the handsomely perfectly browned pie back on the window sill to cool down. We all stayed far away from it because you could just not hardly avoid cutting an early piece if you got too close. It sat there for a good while, till cooled off nicely, and then went in the fridge until after dinner. It was so wonderful. Can’t believe it but there was enough left after the first pass by four people that we had some for breakfast the next morning, before hitting the road to drive back home. It was sweet, every bit of it, so very sweet. We are very lucky.

Want the recipe for this delightful summertime pleasure of a pie, from Leite’s Culinaria?

Click right HERE!

Want to read the essay from Making Piece: A Memoir of Love, Loss, and Pie, which was even more wonderful than the actual pie and that is saying very very wonderful moving and good?

Click HERE!

Want to know more about the book from whence cometh the pie, and the author of that book?

Click right HERE! and right HERE!

Want to buy the book from an Indie Bookshop, near or far?

Click right HERE! or HERE!

Want to see that pie on the windowsill one more time? I know I do. To time with friends, vintage and new, family too, in the kitchen, on the porch or in the car, and especially at the table. Happy summer, folks!




August 9, 2013 at 7:49 pm 1 comment

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