Category Archives: Cooking the Classics

Zucchini Bread: Revisited

My mom went through a mischievous phase as a cook.

She would make delicious sweets and cakes and breads. You would admire the unusual richness of a cookie, the silky texture of a pudding. She’d wait for you to say: “This is sublime! What IS it?” Which, you would. Her treats were that astoundingly good.

Spritely, she would reply: “Sauerkraut Surprise!” Then you would realize that what you thought was coconut was, in fact, sour cabbage.

Her favorite sly recipe was her chocolate cake. This gateau was renowned the county over. It won local awards, it was frequently praised and often requested for gatherings. The family alone knew that there WAS indeed a secret ingredient that gave the cake its complex, unusual, almost nutty flavor. MAYONNAISE.

I wonder now if maybe her baking was a reaction to my picky eating habits. Now that I cook for, er, choosey eaters, she has my sympathy. Better late than never?

My favorite of all her roguish recipes was her zucchini bread. There were a lot of zucchinis at the market today, but the truth is I hate zucchinis in their usual guise. Still.

So I decided to recreate the classic in her honor: a sweet bread that, oddly, contains a vegetable.

Zucchini Bread, Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

3 eggs
1 cup vegetable oil
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 1/4 cups grated zucchini
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 (or 375, if you have an old, decrepit oven like me)

Beat eggs, stir in oil. Stir in sugar, vanilla extract and zucchini.

Slowly sift in the flour.

Stir in cinnamon, nutmeg, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Last, add the chocolate chips.

Refrigerate for 15 minutes.

Grease with butter (even if your pans are non-stick) two 8 x 4 loaf pans.

Cook for 50-60 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean from the middle of the bread.

Did any of your family recipes growing up contain any unusual components? What were they? (If you are allowed to tell!)


Filed under Cooking the Classics, Traditions Revisited

Cooking the Classics: Happy Fourth of July! And, Banana Cream Pie!

Summer and pie go hand in hand, right?

Darcy found out it was National Pie Week, and he decided to celebrate by making the Chocolate Banana Creme confection pictured above for the 4th of July party we were invited to.

I LOVE Banana Cream Pie. Bodega Bliss made me one for my birthday. It was awesome.

Here’s Darcy’s adaptation of the Food & Wine Black-Bottom Banana Cream Pie:

1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch
4 large egg yolks
2 1/2 cups milk
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
3 1/2 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
3 medium bananas, sliced 1/2 inch thick
Buy a pre-made Oreo pie crust. Bake according to the instructions on the package.

Food & Wine Instructions
In a large saucepan (preferably with a rounded bottom), combine the granulated sugar with the cornstarch, egg yolks and 1/2 cup of the milk and whisk until smooth. Whisk in the remaining 2 cups of milk and cook over moderate heat, whisking constantly, until the custard is very thick, about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and whisk in the butter and vanilla extract until the butter is melted. Pour half of the vanilla custard into a medium bowl.

Whisk the chopped chocolate into the custard in the saucepan until it is melted. Spread the chocolate custard evenly in the pie crust and top with the sliced bananas. Carefully spread the vanilla custard over the bananas. Refrigerate the banana cream pie until it is well chilled, at least 6 hours and preferably overnight.

Darcy’s topping:

Buy canned whipped cream. Top the pie with it when ready to serve, and garnish with grated pieces of chocolate.

What’s your favorite kind of pie? Will you make a pie to celebrate National Pie Week? If so and you write a post about it, please link in the comments. I love to read about pie and I love to look at pictures of pie.

Happy Fourth!


Filed under Cooking the Classics, cooking?!?

Cooking The Classics: An Italian Meal, With Reservations

Cooking With Capote is a community-based writing project I am starting for the month of April.  The goal is to encourage bloggers to write about food, but specifically: their emotional attachments, stories and family lore around certain culinary traditions.  It is a way to cull together a collection of well-written food memoirs and recipes.  A sort of writerly version of those dreadful Junior League cookbooks our mothers once purchased and used.

Tuscany.  The name conjures plenty of cliches about sunflowers, vineyards, rolling verdant hills and castles.  Doesn’t everyone in the world imagine themselves meandering through the wine country and beginning a life of cooking and eating well?

I went there myself with the simple idea that because I was in this famous land of enchanted cuisine, the fairy dust of centuries of epicurean excellence would just wear off on me.

We decided to rent a villa with a kitchen in the middle of a vineyard.  I imagined it would look like this:

Sloan Italian Villa

Photo credit: By Samuel Sloan (Modern Architect) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

In reality, it looked like this:

Photo credit: Public domain, via Oven Fresh.

I exaggerate, except, not.  The nearest market, a five mile trek through sketchy one lane dirt roads, possessed Buitoni pasta, tomatoes that looked like they were grown in a hothouse and waxy-looking basil.

During our vacation, I cooked pasta that might as well have been produced in Milwaukee.  No offense, Milwaukee.  Your pasta probably tastes loads better.  Our meals sucked, the “villa” sucked, Tuscany sucked.  I tell everyone I know that  I. Hate. Tuscany.  Everyone looks at me like I have seven gelato-shaped heads.

Me, contemplating the bad food, in Tuscany.  I lived in London at the time, and had decided I should look like a walking advert for Burberry.








I believe that if you want to go to Tuscany, and really enjoy the experience, either don’t do it on a budget, or stay in a town like Siena or San Gimignano.

All of this is a long-winded tale as to why I have a love-hate relationship with cooking Italiano.

I had this elaborate plan to cook poached salmon with dill tonight.  I was forced to abort that mission rather abruptly when our local market had no dill.  (And they always have dill!).  I decided instead to cook gnocchi, the one Italian pasta I have a love-love relationship with, and so I bought the really expensive $19.99 gnocchi, stuffed with porcini mushrooms.  Imported from Milwaukee Italy!








I know, you are blanching at the price.  But, it makes at least three meals worth of dinner.  So says I.

I decided to accompany the gnocchi with rainbow chard.  Now, I am wary of Michael Pollan.  I’ve read “Omnivore’s Dilemma” and “In Defense of Food”.  I disagree with him on many points.  I agree with him about a few things: CSA farmers and the wonders of rainbow chard.  I LOVE rainbow chard.  It is the most delicious vegetable: in fact, there is a close tie between rainbow chard and brussels sprouts in my mind for BEST vegetable.  (Now I’ve completely lost you.  I probably already lost you at the Tuscany hate.)

I decided to use a wonderful-looking Food and Wine recipe. I pulled out the Chard.  Somehow, our crisper made it REAL crisp.











Whoops!  I thawed it in the strainer with warm water.  Then I worked on the prep.











What a beautiful vegetable.  The prep was a bit finicky.  I had to cut out the “ribs” and cut the leaves into two-inch strips.

Meanwhile, I picked sage from our herb garden.











I boiled the gnocchi until it floated to the top of the water.  I fried the sage in brown butter, then gently cooked the gnocchi in the brown butter.  It looked like this when ready:











It was divine.  Take that, Buitoni.

The rainbow chard turned out delicious as well.











It doesn’t LOOK delicious, because the natural light was gone by the time I finally made it.

All this is a big apology to Italian cooking.  Apparently, I had to return to my native California to be able to cook real Italian food.

Please comment below with a link to your own recipe or dinner.  Share the food love.


Filed under Capote Cooking, Cooking the Classics, cooking?!?, Discovering joy, The Reluctant Cook

Cooking the Classics: Recreating My Grandparents’ Fried Chicken

Perfect Moment Monday is about noticing a perfect moment rather than creating one. Perfect moments can be momentous or ordinary or somewhere in between.

Bookstore (Eugene, Oregon)

Photo credit: By Visitor7 (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons

We try to eat pretty healthy around here. (Corned beef not withstanding.)  But yesterday I had a hankering for my grandma’s fried chicken.

My grandparents were genetic marvels.  My grandfather smoked two packs of cigarettes a day.  Their daily meal plan began with bacon and fried eggs, and ended, often, with fried chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy, and corn on the cob.  They both lived well into their late eighties.

My grandparents lived above the bookstore they owned and operated, so my grandfather would flip the open sign closed, and head upstairs for his lunch and dinner.  Their days were completely run by routine, with no level of spontaneity.  My grandmother, a glamorous kind woman, would dress in her everyday attire (usually a beautifully printed dress, with a cocktail pin and earrings, and always, a pretty apron) with full makeup and begin beautifying her lovely home at about 7 AM.  She was the tidiest woman I have ever known, and she mopped her floors everyday and washed the windows three times a week.  She was constantly dusting, polishing and scrubbing.  She made all of her delicious, (if cholesterol-ridden) food from scratch.  She also always made a batch of iced tea every morning.  She would go downstairs with a pitcher, occasionally, to refill Grandpa’s supply.

I’ve made fried chicken before, but I don’t have my grandmother’s recipe, which totally bums me out.  I’m finding as I get older that I am getting more sentimental about food.  Proustian, even.

The next best thing I have is The Carefree Cook’s “Fried Chicken with Blue Cheese Dressing”.  Darcy is a HUGE aficionado of wings, so the dressing is a big hit with him.  I think the title “The Carefree Cook” is somewhat of a misnomer, though.  While not Martha-esque, the prep work in most of the recipes makes me feel a bit careworn.  However, the food usually tastes fantastic, so there’s that.

I’m not very good at pounding down the chicken breasts with the mallet.  If anyone has any tips on how to do that better, that would be great.  Is it purely a time issue?  Maybe I get impatient and leave them too fat.

My favorite part is dredging the chicken in the buttermilk/tabasco mixture, then the flour/salt.  Really messy but satisfying.

Next, the oil prep.  Rick Rogers, the Carefree Cook himself, suggests that you heat the vegetable oil hot, and wait for it to shimmer.  The shimmer looks a bit like the haze on the asphalt of a desert road in August.  Then, he suggests you fry the chicken for 5 minutes on each side.

Yeah, that didn’t work for me, because I suspect the chicken wasn’t flat enough.  I ended up cooking them about 10 minutes on each side, then cut into the biggest piece, to make sure there was no pinkness/salmonella.  Drained on paper towels, the end product looked like this:

The blue cheese dressing was easily made, the weird thing was that you had to keep it at room temperature while you fried the chicken.  It consisted of mayonnaise, Danish blue cheese, garlic and celery seeds so I was a little wary that it would go bad, but it didn’t.








I made mashed potatoes with buttermilk (Joy of Cooking recipe), and a salad with mixed springs greens, pink lady apples, more Danish blue cheese and my mother’s famous vinagrette.  If I shared that recipe, my mother would disown me.

I’m terribly sad that my children will never meet these wonderful folk, their great-grandparents.  (And that’s what they’d want to be called, folk.)  My Grandpa wore bolo ties and western belts, and read Louis L’Amour as well as Hemingway, Faulkner and Bellow.  He used to reserve some ginger ales from the soda bottling company down the street when he knew I was coming for a visit, and he called it “pop”.  I wasn’t allowed to have soda as a girl, so this was a rare treat.  My grandmother was a beautiful person, kind, with an edge of style and reserve: she shyly shared her soap operas with me, and allowed me to sip her iced tea.  Such wonderful memories, these are.  I hope I am passing the whiff, the osmosis of that experience to my children.  Like many things, the scent of old books, the crisp, sweet taste of ginger ale “pop”, the beautiful pearl broach I pinned to my wedding bouquet, these sensory and material experiences bring them back to life, if just for a few transient moments.  I felt their presence as I smelled the kitchen air, redolent with frying.  It was a perfect moment, filled with the the sweet past. And the promise of future moments where family long gone can return to us, if only fleetingly.


Filed under Cooking the Classics, cooking?!?, Discovering joy, Family, The Reluctant Cook

Cooking the Classics: St. Patrick’s Day Revisited

Perfect Moment Monday is about noticing a perfect moment rather than creating one.  Perfect moments can be momentous or ordinary or somewhere in between.

I made our traditional St. Patrick’s Day dinner late this year.  There are some reasons for this which don’t particularly make me glad.

I married into a clan and they are very family-oriented.  I have traded in much to fit into this family: my religion, my holidays, my free time.  (Kidding! Sort of.)  Most of the time, for many reasons complicated and varied, I am just fine with that decision.  Happy, even.  I didn’t grow up with extended family around, and my own parents and brother have moved across the country and we see them rarely.  So, family.  Good to have around.

There are some times however when I begin to chafe at the obligations.

I begin cooking my St. Patrick’s Day meal by boiling a large, four pound cut of corned beef.  It simmers with peppercorns and bay leafs for at least three hours.

After we had kids, my big line in the sand was St. Patrick’s Day.  My mom did some genealogical research recently, and it turns out my family is not as Irish as we thought.  In fact, we’re mostly English.  Be that as it may, every year growing up I looked forward to the annual, special St. Patrick’s Day feast.  The food, it was not gourmet.  It was not fancy.  But it was made with love, it was homemade and it was delicious.

While the corned beef is boiling, I start making the Irish Soda Bread.  Just the Joy of Cooking recipe, nothing special.  I whisk the flour, baking soda, baking powder and sugar together, then add the raisins and caraway seeds.  I had trouble finding those seeds at the grocery store.  Are they Irish?










I then whisk butter, egg and buttermilk together.  It all looks a bit granular.  Is that OK?










I mix the buttermilk batter with the dry ingredients, and it seems to be a sticky mess.










I pile it on a baking sheet and hope for the best.

It’s important to me that the kids experience at least one tradition that I had growing up.  So each year, I plan a St. Patty’s Day menu.  This year, the week of St. Patrick’s Day, I had two birthday dinners (one for a family member, one for a friend) and a pre-school religious festival that I helped plan and organize. St. Patrick’s Day got lost in the shuffle.

I have to double the baking time for the Irish Soda Bread.  I think our oven is really old?

I felt horribly guilty about this.  I decided to make the dinner on Sunday night, when Darcy was around to watch the kids.  Sunday night we have a standing date for a family dinner elsewhere.  We have already attended two family occasions this week, so we decided to invite the family over to our house for dinner instead.  I bought the ingredients.  I bought the lilies and Irish bells for the table.











I pick rosemary from our herb garden.  I wash it well.  I don’t want the “je ne sais quoi” of the meal to be radioactivity.








The family, not pleased.  Standing date claimed, the wish to have dinner at their own house cited.  Pressure was exerted.  Darcy held firm.

I roast the fancy small potatoes I got from Whole Foods with our local rosemary, garlic and olive oil.











I arrange the corned beef on a platter.









I boil the cabbage in the corned beef water.









I serve the soda bread, which looked and tasted like a giant scone.











And my perfect moment was the following:








My own home-cooked, hard won St Patty’s Day meal, served to my immediate family of four.  Served homemade, and with love.


Filed under Cooking the Classics, cooking?!?, Discovering joy, Perfect Moment, The Reluctant Cook