Cheese straws and cheesy olives

Serving suggestion
Serving suggestion... martinis or negronis work well. Sweet drinks, not so much.

Lee, Matt and Ted Lee, While the Bird’s Still Stuffed, But Before the Guests Are, F1, New York Times, Nov. 27, 2002. Did you know your library has old newspapers online – with recipes in them? Handy, huh?

This is actually one recipe with two applications. The brothers Lee wrote up the no-cookie-press-needed cheese straw recipe and I recognized the pastry as quite similar to what my mother used to wrap olives in for hors d’oeuvres. Yes, it was the seventies, what’s it to you? First the Lee’s faux cheese straws:

Cocktail party-to-be
Cheese, butter and flour - it's pretty simple to make tasty savory apps
Double the recipe
I don't clean the food processor for single batches - double the recipe

Since this is just cheesy pastry, it makes sense to do it in the food processor like any other pâte brisée – it’s fast and foolproof. It also means all those fiddly processor bits to clean, so I never do this unless I’m at least doubling the recipe. (If you do more than double, you have to do it in batches – even our new 11 cup processor won’t do more than a double batch well.)

Parts list:

  • 4 oz. extra-sharp Cheddar cheese, grated
  • 4 Tbsp. butter, softened and cut into 4 pieces
  • 3/4 c. flour
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. crushed red pepper (this is the right amount, but reduce if you don’t like even a little heat)
  • 1 Tbsp. half-and-half

Grate the cheese in the processor, switch to the steel blade, then pulse cheese, butter, flour, salt and red pepper until you’ve got clumpy sand or coarse crumbs. Add the half-and-half (or milk or cream), and process until dough forms a ball – it should only take a few seconds, depending on temperature and moisture in your cheese.

I think a rest/chill for 15 minutes or half an hour is helpful at this point, but it’s up to you. The Lees’ say one recipe makes a rectangle 8 by 10 inches and 1/8 inch thick. To make the straws, cut dough into thin strips, 1/4 to 1/3 inch wide. Gently transfer each ”straw” to an ungreased cookie sheet, leaving a 1/4-inch space between them, and bake 17 minutes, or until the ends are barely browned. Let cool.

If you’re doubling the Lee’s recipe to use 8 oz., you can probably buy a block in just that size at the store. Otherwise, it’s handy to have a scale. We buy the plain sharp cheddar in the giant two pound blocks and cut it up.

Cheese straws in the making
Cheese straws in the making - pizza cutter or paring knife makes short work of the pastry.

You can use a pizza cutter or a fancy pastry cutter, though I usually just use a paring knife – dip it in some flour if it sticks. If you have a roulpat, do be extra careful not to cut it when cutting your pastry – it would be best to move your rolled dough to another surface to cut (but I live dangerously).

Cheese "straws"
Cheese "straws" without the cookie press.

Once baked off, the straws cool quickly and remain crisp for a few days, but they’re best warm. I’d suggest keeping some dough in the fridge and baking them when folks drop by so they’re fresh and warm. Unless you don’t want to encourage that sort of behavior.

Now, about that part that I added… the olives. People will have strong feelings about these, one way or the other. Either they’ll love them and pester you for them on a regular basis, or… not. I live with an anti-olive person. That’s fine… more for me.

Cheesey olives
Cheesy olives are spicy, cheesy, salty - and freeze wonderfully. You have no excuse not to have an impromptu cocktail party.
Any olive will do
Any olive will do - jalapeño, pimento or peppered.

Cheesy Olives is a nice additional use of the cheese pastry. Just roll it out and cut into squares or triangles to wrap around the olives of your choice. The only trick it to make sure that your olives are really well drained. I drain in a colander then press them gently in a paper towel.

Once you have the olives wrapped in the pastry and put on a baking sheet, they can be frozen. Once frozen on the sheet, put them in resealable freezer bags and store for a spur of the moment party.

To bake, just put on a small pice of foil (no dishes!) and pop in the oven or toaster oven for about 15 minutes (the “everything bakes at 350F and burns at 450F” rule holds here). If you’re doing a real batch – not just for yourself – a little butter on the foil or the cookie sheet will surely keep them from sticking, but it’s usually not a problem for me. The worst that happens is you get a little tear in the crust. Smaller olives might bake faster – once the pastry is set and starts to brown a tiny bit, they’re done.

Oh, and these will be about 10,000,000F internal temperature when they come out of the oven. Give them five minutes at least. You’ve been warned.

Nut Butter Crunch (Toffee)

Toffee ingredients
Ingredients for making toffee.

This one is easy, but you do need a candy thermometer at least the first few times. It’s is from River Road Recipes.

Parts list:

  • 2 sticks butter
  • 1 c. sugar
  • 2 Tsp. water
  • 1 Tsp. light corn syrup
  • 1/2 c. chocolate chips
  • 2/3 c. chopped nuts
Toffee begins quite light
Toffee begins quite light
Toffee in the lava stage
Toffee in the lava stage, around 305F degrees

Melt the butter and sugar together, add the corn syrup and water. If you used unsalted butter, a tiny pinch of salt at this point couldn’t hurt. Use a wooden spoon to stir constantly over medium (medium-high if you’re daring) heat, cook the syrup to 320F. It will “stick” around 260 and again just near 300. Keep stirring and once the relevant proteins and carbs do their thing (Maillard reactions or caramelization, respectively), the color and texture will change and you’ll be back off to the races – be extra careful between 300 and 320 – it will sneak up on you and you don’t want to overshoot by too much.

Pouring the toffee
Pouring the rocket-hot toffee
The finished toffee
The finished toffee, before coating with chocolate

Pour the lava onto a greased cookie sheet or a silpat-covered sheet pan. You’ll want to move the saucepan as you pour to spread the sugar around, then tilt the pan this way and that to get it as even and spread as possible. Let it cool thoroughly.

Melt the chocolate in your usual way (you do have a usual way, don’t you? I like a double boiler… Bittman has a great video on tempering chocolate) and spread thinly on the cooled toffee. Sprinkle with the nuts if you’re feeling like a nut. Or not, if you don’t. Let the chocolate set. Break the toffee into bite sized bits and package up for gifts or… not… if you’re hungry.

Don’t leave this sitting out. First, it will get eaten up. Second, anything left will get soft and nasty – remember this is basically sugar, so it’s crazy hygroscopic. Also, this is why I think of this as Christmas candy – it would have been nearly impossible to keep in humid Maryland summers.

Note on doubling
I sometimes make a double batch, but since it gets so foamy, you need to do this in a large dutch oven. Even if you have a big enough pot, don’t try a triple batch: you won’t have time to pour and spread the toffee onto three different pans before the last bit overcaramelizes (what we usually call “burns”).

Why corn syrup?
Yes, you need to use corn syrup because you want several kinds of sugar structures (sucrose, gulcose, fructose) in your toffee to prevent big crystals from forming. Eventually the heat will break down some of the sugars (caramelization) but you want a bit of a buffer, so just add a squeeze of corn syrup. (Now that it comes in squeezable bottles – why did that take so long?)

Finally, safety first:
Do not turn your back on this very, very hot sugar. It can boil over. If it gets on your skin, you will be burned. It takes a surprisingly long time to cool – no licking the spoon or thermometer, please. If you don’t use a silpat, put the cookie sheet on something heat-resistant (and don’t touch it for a few minutes). Really, this stuff is worse than oil – it’s just as hot as a deep fryer, but sticky. Tight-fitting long sleeves too, please. (Can you tell I’ve been burned by this stuff once or thrice?)

I declare victory in the butter war! (Brioche Sticky Bun)

A pound and quarter! Five sticks! Forty tablespoons! I defy you to use more in one recipe  that isn’t

  • a) buttercream wedding cake
  • b) chocolate covered butter-stick
  • c) written by Paula Deen
Brioche Sticky Buns
You know you want to eat these. Go on. You know you do.
Brioche sponge after resting
Brioche sponge after resting, showing the "cracks" in the blanket that let you know it's working.

Sticky buns made from Brioche dough, recipe by Nancy Silverton from Baking with Julia. It’s not for the faint of heart but the hardest part is time management, and I’ll give you some tips. Even still, these aren’t practical to make more than a few times a year – and that will make your cardiologist happy anyway (3.4 oz butter per two-bun serving, eat three and that’s more than a stick of butter and a whole egg). Full parts list at the end.

Fear not the yeasties; fear not the chicken eggs nor the incorporation of three sticks of butter into your dough. But, my beemish boy, beware the lack of stand mixer. Trying this, or indeed any brioche dough, by hand is surely more frumious than any bandersnatch. Really. I did it by hand. Once. You must have a heavy duty stand mixer – Kitchen Aid classic or better – our 4.5qt Kitchen Aid gets really hot. Or do it by hand – maybe Amy Adams will play you in the movie.

Mixer heat
Long knead times make your mixer really hot. Or your arms really hot if you don't use a mixer.
Hot mixer grease
The first few times you get your mixer really hot, it might leak some grease. Be alert for drips when you remove the dough hook.

Make some brioche dough:
The brioche dough recipe in the book is straightforward enough: make a sponge, knead in the rest of the flour and eggs then work in the butter. Totals are two and a half cups of flour, five eggs, a third of a cup each of milk and sugar. And a stick and a half of butter. (Are you counting?)

You mix up the sponge with part of the flour, cover it with the rest and set it aside. (1 c. flour, 1/3 c. warm whole milk, one egg and the yeast. Cover with another cup of flour and let work for 40 minutes.)  When the sponge is good and bubbly, you add the rest of the dough ingredients, except for the butter. And this is where the heavy duty mixer comes in. Let it run for 15 minutes kneading the dough. (Mixer motor temperature: 100F.) Once you have a beautiful soft eggy dough, you proceed to gild the lilly – by adding the softened, but not melted, butter. Your nice dough will fall apart as the butter is added and the mixer is in for another workout doing the five to seven minutes of additional kneading required to get the butter incorporated. (Final mixer motor temperature about 110F.) Once it’s done it will all come back together and look really great – slightly satiny and soft. This is the prettiest dough I’ve come across. You’re looking for the fabled “slapping sound” from the dough hitting the mixer bowl.

Finished brioche dough
Finished brioche dough should be satiny and cool, not greasy.
Brioche dough meets butter
Brioche dough meets butter - the result is not pretty

Wait around for a good long time:
Let the dough rise for two hours or until doubled. Then you deflate it (“punch down”  is a dumb term – never punch your dough, lift gently around the edges and press gently to redistribute the yeasties and their byproducts) and chill it during the second rise – 4 to 6 hours or overnight. I know; I did warn you it was elaborate.

Dough doubled after rise
A regular container helps you tell when your dough has doubled.

The science here tells us that in addition to the kneading workout we gave it at the beginning to develop the gluten, this extended second rise will help create the distinctive crumb that makes brioche so wonderful. It also allows the butter a chance to rest and recover from any overheating.

Choose your path wisely:
After your dough has chilled, you have an decision to make: just how many sticky buns can you eat? With your blob of rested brioche dough, you can make two rolls of sticky buns or make one roll and some other sort of brioche-based yumminess, like a traditional tête or a more French Toast/Pain Perdu-friendly nanterre loaf. Complicating your decision is this: you can prepare two logs of sticky buns and freeze one for another time. This freezer trick is especially handy for blowing the minds of houseguests.


Making sticky buns
Rolling, buttering, turning and re-rolling prepares the dough for buns. After a rest, filling and rolling up makes the log.

We’ll proceed to make the entire recipe of sticky buns – of course, use half quantities if you’re only making one roll of buns. Divide the rested dough in half, rewrap half and return it to the fridge. You need to keep the dough cool to avoid setting the yeast off or worse, melting the butter – the dough should never be greasy. Gently press and roll out the working half so you get a 11″ by 13″ rectangle. Spread half the butter (6 tablespoons) across the dough – you need to have the dough and the butter at cool room temperature for this to work reasonably well. Fold in thirds, like a business letter, then roll out to 11 x 13 (-ish) again, avoiding the edges (you’re making layers here). Fold in thirds again, then wrap tightly and refrigerate for at least half an hour.

Do it all again with the second half.

Mix the cinnamon and sugar and set aside. Beat the egg and grab your pasty brush. Take the first half out of the fridge after its rest and roll it out again. Paint it up with the egg – leave a bit at the top or bottom unpainted for sealing up the roll – and sprinkle half the cinnamon sugar over the dough. Spread half the chopped nuts and press them gently into the dough so they stick. Roll tightly and wrap, seam side down, in plastic.

Freeze long enough to harden lightly, about 45 minutes. Do the same fill-and-roll routine for the second piece of dough.

This is the part where you can double-wrap one of your rolls and leave it in the freezer for another time. Just let it defrost, wrapped, on the counter for 15 or 20 minutes before proceeding.

More butter, please:
Prep your pan(s) for the rolls – you’re actually making the sticky topping in the bottom of the pan.You need one 9″ round cake pan with “high sides” per roll – I find my 3″ deep pan works great, but I have done it in the supermarket 1.5″ cake pan with just OK results. Press a stick of butter into the bottom of the pan then cover evenly with half a cup of brown sugar.

With the roll(s) that have been in the freezer for just under an hour, proceed by pulling it out and pressing firmly to make sure it’s truly round. Measure out (yes, get a ruler) seven even slices – about 1.5 inches and slice them off. I use a serrated knife to avoid mashing the roll. You’ll need to reshape them gently into rounds. Press three pecan halves into the top of each bun – I like to make a little triangle – them flip them, pecan-side-down into the prepared pan. Put 6 around the outside – seams out – and the last one in the center. Repeat with the second log if you’re doing two. Let the prepared rolls proof for two hours or so, until the slices are touching each other. Bake in at 350F oven 35 to 40 minutes. If you’re using a shorter cake pan, put foil or a sheet pan on a lower rack to catch drips.

Upside-down buns just out of the oven
Upside-down buns just out of the oven - notice the layers showing on the bottom buns.
Avoid contact with molten sugar
Avoid contact with molten sugar - add pot holders and flip over sink.

Avoid the molten sugar and eat up!
Remove from oven, let cool for just five minutes – then invert onto a serving platter. Be careful as you’re flopping around molten caramel, and likely some melty, drippy butter. Remove the cake pan and let the buns cool for several minutes on the platter to avoid sugar burns. Serve warm, and really, you need to eat them all the first day. They don’t keep too well.

Timeline suggestions
Well. It’s going to take a while no matter what. I like to make the dough in the morning, get through the first rise and get it in the fridge before lunch or errands or whatever. Then in the evening, before bed, you can knock out the butter and turns, and fill and roll and into the freezer. That’s about an hour’s active work with the half-hour rest after the butter-and-turns.

The day you want to eat them, you can get up really early and defrost, pan, proof and bake, but that makes for a really early day, even for a brunch-time breakfast. I’ve been known to cheat and slice and pan them the night before, cover and refrigerate. Then set an alarm for early, take them out of the fridge and let them proof while you have a little nap. Then bake them off and you can have them at actual breakfast time.

Parts list, brioche dough:

  • 3 1/2 c. all purpose flour
  • 2 1/4 tsp. active dry yeast (or one packet)
  • 5 large eggs
  • 1/3 c. whole milk
  • 1/3 c. sugar
  • 1 tsp kosher salt or 1/2 tsp. table salt
  • 1.5 sticks (6 oz.) unsalted butter

Parts list, sticky buns (makes two logs, 14 buns):

  • 3.5 sticks unsalted butter
  • 1/4 c. sugar
  • 1/4 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 c. chopped pecans
  • 1 c. packed brown sugar
  • 42 pecan halves – about a cup and a half


  • Heavy duty stand mixer
  • Serrated knife
  • Pastry brush
  • 9″ round x 3″ deep cake pan
  • Serving platter bigger than your cake pan (safety first!)

Almond Cake

For those of us too chicken to try Steph’s macarons, this will get you your almond fix. As a bonus, it’s very, very easy and is always a crowd pleaser.

Almond Cake

This was in the food section of the The Week in November 25, 2005 as a summary of an LA Times article about Lindsey Remolif Shere’s Chez Panisse Desserts cookbook. How’s that for attribution? It does indicate, however, why this may seem familiar: it’s not a new recipe. In fact, looking at the original now, I see that this is officially dubbed “Almond Torte” but we’ve been calling it almond cake for so long, I’m changing the title.

Parts list:

  • 1 1/4 c. sugar
  • 8 oz. almond paste
  • 1 c. unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 6 eggs at room temperature
  • 1 c. flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp. table salt
  • 9-inch cake pan or springform pan

Almond pasteHey! Almond paste isn’t the same thing as marzipan. Nor is it the same as ground up almonds. You’ll probably see some paste that comes in a 7 oz. package. Note that you need 8 0z., and there is a manufacturer that puts 8 oz. of almond paste in a can (UPDATE: now a box). We’ve used both, and really, you need all 8 oz. or it messes with the fat ratio in the cake. Just sayin’.

Mix the almond paste and the sugar in your mixer or food processor. You want sandy looking almond-sugar without lumps of almond paste. Start slow – when we do this in the mixer, it invariably tries to throw some of the sugar and almond paste out of the bowl – just pick up any big lumps and chuck ’em back in the bowl.

Almond Cake creamed butter, sugar and almond paste
Cream the butter, sugar and almond paste until it’s white and fluffy.

Cream the butter and almond-sugar mixture. Watch the color during this step; you want it to go from yellowy-tan to almost white. This is your only real chance to get any air into the cake, so don’t skimp here.

Add the vanilla and the room temperature eggs one at a time, allowing each to become fully incorporated before adding the next. (I break them into a measuring cup to check them and then pour them in one at a time.)

Combine the flour, salt and baking powder and add to the batter and mix until just combined.

Butter and flour (or Baker’s Joy and/or parchment round) a 9″ round x 3″ deep cake pan or a springform pan (We’ve only used the springform a few times – there’s really no need and it’s a pain to clean). Pour/spread in the batter (depending on your room temperature, you may need to even it out a little in the pan) and bake in a 325F oven for an hour to 75 minutes.

Almond Cake cooling
As the cake cools, it will sink a bit in the center and pull from the edges of the pan.

Skimping on baking time is the one thing you can do to mess up this cake. It will look beautiful and puffy and golden brown after about 50 minutes. It’s lying to you! Don’t believe it. It’s all a trick. If you take it out now, the center will sink and you will be sad. (It will still taste fine, but it won’t look so nice – can you tell we’ve done this a few times?) Test with a toothpick in the center and look for the center to spring back when pressed lightly. Don’t test halfway between the edge and the center – test in the center. (UPDATE: if your kitchen is particularly warm, you might even consider popping the filled pan into the fridge to firm up the butter for 5 or 10 minutes. This will give the batter a chance to set up a bit in the oven before the butter loses all its structural integrity.)

Let the cake cool for about an hour or so – it will pull away from the edges a bit. Run a knife around the edge and unmold if you springformed, or dump it out onto a cooling rack if you used the regular pan. If you let it cool overnight in a cold kitchen and it seems reluctant to leave the pan, put the pan in a hot water bath for a few minutes to soften the butter you greased the pan with – it will pop right out (don’t do this with a springform – they’re notoriously leaky and no one wants soggy cake).

Almond cake all dressed up
All dressed up… for me to eat!

A sprinkle of powdered sugar and a few slivered almonds (toasted if you’re feeling fancy) make it look really nice. We usually don’t bother unless we’re taking it to a party. (The almond garnish is a nice warning to the nut-intolerant as well, since the cake doesn’t really look like it’s full of nuts.)

Malt Loaf — In Development (post #1)

This is a work-in-progress at the early stages. Tips, suggestions, replication challenges welcome!

Malt loaf is something you probably either love or hate.  If you’ve spent much time in the UK, you’ve probably encountered it and had the chance to become addicted or horrified.  It’s a sticky, chewy, dark dense bread with dried fruit (usually raisins) in it, served sliced with butter or margarine.

I’m attempting to replicate the Soreen Maltloaf.  We get it from the UK when we can, and fill the freezer, but there’s no US distributor that sells to stores, so our supply is limited. And it’s a sad day when we realize we’ve eaten the last one from the freezer.

My first try with this bread was a quickbread recipe, despite the Soreen version being a yeast bread. Ok. Lived, learned.  Here are some notes from that first attempt.

1. Select fruit.  I went with dried mission figs and dried cherries, about 150g, to make something similar to Soreen’s Lincolnshire Plum (which has no plums in it).

2. Make a pot of tea!! No, seriously!  I made about 75mL of very strong Rington’s black tea. This is to mix with the malt syrup to make it easier to mix, but I soaked the dried fruit in it first.

3.  Mix tea into 200g malt extract, and mix with 175g self-rising flour (1 c. self-rising = 1 c. AP + 1 1/4 t. baking powder + 1/8 t. salt), 1 egg, 1/2 t. mixed spice (I used a pumpkin pie spice blend), and the fruit.

4. Spray a 2# loaf tin with oil, pour batter in, and bake 75 – 90 minutes. Let stand at least 10 minutes before slicing (if you can stand it).

Outcome: It was tasty, but it wasn’t maltloaf.  Next time, I think I’ll try this recipe, which uses a combination of whole wheat and white flour, both malt extract and black treacle, and YEAST. And comes from the UK Flour Advisory Bureau, apparently.

Kale Chips

Still buried under CSA shares of kale?

Versions of this recipe/application appear in various places. This is the version that looks most appealing to me, though I’ll admit I haven’t tried it yet. Not for lack of kale, though, or even lack of interest… it just keeps slipping my mind!  Maybe now that I’ve put it here, I’ll remember.

3 or 4 large kale leaves, with stem removed and cut into 2″ pieces
2 tbsp apple cider vinegar
1 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
A few pinches of kosher salt

Preheat oven to 350 and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Whisk together vinegar, oil, and salt, and toss with kale leaves. Place in a single layer on sheet and place into oven. Bake 10-15 minutes, flipping halfway through until crispy. When kale gets brown, it gets very bitter- – so pull them out before then!

Steph’s Caribbean-Inspired Chili w/ Mango Habanero Salsa & Cilantro-Lime Rice

I know, it’s a mouthful.  But it’s worth it, I promise.  Our neighborhood association has an annual chili cook-off, and I wanted to make a vegetarian chili — and WIN with it.  I had in mind that I wanted something that tasted like seared meat and fruit from the grill, like pork and pineapple.  So this is what I ended up with. It’s not Western Caribbean, for sure, but maybe it approaches Jamaican flavors. It’s an adaptation of a Bobby Flay recipe for jerk chicken, but made into chili and with veggie meat. And personally, I think the flavors really come together well with this application.

1 tube Gimme Lean beef style
2 large cans of black beans
2# roma tomatoes, skinned and chopped (or two large cans)
3 T. canola oil
1 yellow onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
Spice mix (see below)
Salt and pepper, to taste

Spice mix (adapted from Bobby Flay’s recipe for jerk mix)

2 T. ground ginger
2 T. coriander seeds (ground)
1 T. cayenne pepper
1 T. freshly-ground black pepper
1 T. onion powder
1 T. garlic powder
1 T. dark brown sugar
1 t. dry thyme
1 t. cinnamon
1 t. allspice
1 t. ground cloves
1 t. salt
1/8 t. ground nutmeg

Spice mix may be made ahead — it’s a nice seasoning for other dishes.

Drain and rinse 2 cans black beans, and add them to the crock pot, on low.

In a large saucepan, heat 1 T. canola oil until oil shimmers.  Add the onion, and reduce heat to low.  Cook until onions are translucent. Add the GimmeLean and raise heat to medium, breaking it up as it cooks (it helps if you break it up into a bowl first).  Add 2T of the spice mix and continue stirring until meat is browned. Add tomatoes and 1 T. of the spice mix, stir to incorporate, scraping bottom of pan to remove any bits of the veggie meat.

Turn heat to low, cover and let simmer 10-20 minutes.  Add to crock pot, along with 1T spice mix, about 1c. water and raise heat to high.  Add more spice to taste.

A note about cooking veggie meat: if you don’t have a nonstick pan, add the GimmeLean and walk away from the pan for a few minutes – LET IT STICK, in other words. When you add the tomatoes, also add about 1c. water, and put the lid on. The water and steam will loosen the veggie meat from the pan while it simmers.  When you add to the crock pot, skip the water.

Mango-Habanero Salsa: (adapted from Bobby Flay’s recipe)
1 T. canola oil
1 yellow onion
2 cloves garlic
3 medium mangoes or pineapple (whichever is freshest)
1 habanero pepper (use a milder orange or yellow pepper if you prefer — not anything green!!)
1 1/2 c. apple cider vinegar
pinch of salt

Roughly chop mangoes, and dice yellow onion.

WHILE WEARING GLOVES, and on a small piece of wax paper, carefully quarter habanero pepper. Seriously, these little peppers pack a ton of punch, so handle them extremely carefully. Be sure to remove all seeds and white ribs from the inside and discard. If you’re concerned about the heat, you can substitute another pepper.  Since the salsa gets blended, though, and the mango base is orange, you’ll want to avoid adding anything green.  The longer the habanero is in the pan, the hotter it’ll be — so taste often and remove it once it’s hot enough.

Heat saucepan with the oil, and add everything at once.  Simmer on low, covered, for about 40 minutes.  Stir periodically to be sure nothing sticks to the bottom.  Remove from heat, remove all pieces of habanero, and blend until smooth (a stick blender is ideal for this). Chill if not serving immediately.

Cilantro-Lime Rice:

3 c. jasmine rice
4 ½ c. water
1 t. lime zest
1-2 T. fresh lime juice
2-3 T. fresh cilantro, finely minced

Cook 3 c. rice with 4 ½ c. water in steamer or on stovetop. While cooking, prep all other ingredients. When rice is finished cooking, fluff and add other ingredients and mix gently.

Serve chili on top of rice, with a drizzle of the mango salsa, a dollop of sour cream, and a sprig of fresh cilantro.

p.s. yes, I won — for spiciest chili!! (2008 DGNA Chili Cook-off)

Split Pea & Barley soup

I have never been a fan of split pea soup, but this one converted me. When it was made for me, it was just pea soup, but had rice in it, and the recipe called for cauliflower or broccoli or carrots. Or rice or whatever. Since I’m always looking for ways to use hulled barley, this is the way I make it. It’s delicious, really. I mean it!

You should know that I am one of those people who always double the garlic called for in recipes. I’ve made this with 8 cloves of garlic, but most were tiny cloves. I’m not sure that 10 good sized cloves of garlic would be a very good idea in this soup. At 5, it adds heat and flavor, but the soup is actually a little delicate, and I don’t think it would be well served by more garlic.

The recipe:

Chop 2 onions (about 1 cup) and saute in a few (3-4) tablespoons of olive oil, in a large soup pot. Peel and smash 5-7 heads of garlic (don’t chop, smash. It really will taste better!) and toss in with the onion.

Chop some carrots, throw a couple handfuls in with the savories. Add spices — sage, salt, fresh ground red and black pepper. Add some more pepper. And maybe a little bit more than that.

When the carrots start to soften, add 6 or so cups of water and three bouillon cubes (or 6 cups of stock, or whatever equivalent works for you). When it comes to a boil, add 2 cups of split peas (most of the $.89 bag from the grocery store) and 1/2 -2/3 cups hulled barley. Reduce heat, but keep it above a simmer.

Add some more spices – bay leaves, thyme, more pepper. Pepper is really the main spice here, add more than you would think. Avoid oregano and basil, they don’t work well in this soup.

Keep the soup bubbling for about two hours, until the barley is done and the peas are mushable.  Check on it every 15 minutes or so, stirring and adding water as needed (I usually end up adding another 2  or 3 cups of water over the cooking time. It’s all good though — when the water evaporates, the spices and flavors stay in the soup, so you aren’t ‘watering it down’). When you stir, help the peas smush by pressing them against the sides of the pot with your stirrer.

When it’s at a consistency you like, eat and enjoy! This also freezes really well.

Turkey Gobbler

I love my family.  I just love them more when I have a BAC over .06%.  This is an excellent holiday drink.  You can serve it warm or cold.


  • 3 parts apple cider (cider, not juice)
  • 1 part orange juice
  • 1 part Bourbon (I prefer Wild Turkey 101. Maker’s Mark would also be a good choice, but any really Kentucky bourbon would be okay.)


  • Mix it all up!  Take a sip and slap a silly grin on your face.
  • If serving warm, you could also chuck in a cinnamon stick.  Wait to add the bourbon until right before serving.
  • If serving cold, it would be pretty to put it in a glass punch bowl and float some orange slices on it.

Corn Pudding

One of my holiday favorites.  Substantial and creamy.


  • 1 stick of butter (can lower to half a stick if you feel weird about butter)
  • 1 pint of sour cream
  • 15 oz can cream corn
  • 15 oz can corn (drained)
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1 box corn bread (like Jiffy)


  1. Melt butter in 9×9 casserole dish.
  2. In bowl, mix all ingredients.  Be sure to drain the plain canned corn.  It also helps to do all the wet stuff first and then add the dry.
  3. Pour into casserole and bake uncovered at 350 F for 45 minutes to an hour.