Posts Tagged ‘Judie Choate’


As I mentioned upon my return to writing these posts, one of my joys is watching our youngest granddaughter thrive.  So, we often go to the west coast to visit her which is where we’ve been these past couple of weeks.  This is a photo of the two of us doing what she loves best – playing and learning.  We are at a cash register that she recently got as a birthday gift learning about how to pay at the grocery store as well as the worth of each bill and coin that you have to spend to buy your groceries.  Her monies – as she calls the play money – all seem to have the same value to her at the moment no matter how many times we try to point out the differences it is all there just to spend.  As we neared the end of our visit, I told her parents that she should have been named Sunshine as that is what she brings to each day.  A have never known such a happy, joyful child and I’m so happy that we are able to frequently spend time with her.




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Steve loves this photo of me – why I don’t know.  But it might be because it amuses him and everyone I know that I can wield a knife and talk on the phone at the same time.  Looks like – in this instance – that I was putting together one of my impromptu fried rice meals, but I really don’t remember what I was doing.  I was probably on the phone with one of the many health professionals that have recently been part of our lives, but I could just as easily been gossiping with a friend.  I hope the photo amuses you as much as it does my family and friends.

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Along with a new book, our family has welcomed a brand new baby girl, Willa Elizabeth, who has just spent a week with her adoring grandparents (that be us!).  I even got to take her into the kitchen to help me cook.  It is thrilling to see the family line of cooks to continue.  Welcome to our lives and to the world, little Willa.

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Cheers to the end-of-summer!  Celebrate the coming of fall and the family holidays ahead with my latest cookbook  An American Family Cooks to be published by Welcome Books on September 24th.  It may be pre-ordered online:


or through your favorite bookstore.

Mine is Micawber’s Books in St. Paul. ( micawbers.blogspot.com )

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I’ve decided that I want to do a lot of cooking for gift giving this coming holiday season so I have begun looking through some of my old cookbooks for “new” old ideas.  In my original Gift Giver’s Cookbook (written with my dear friend Jane Green and published in 1970) I found one of my mom’s most favorite breads for gift giving – Boston brown bread – or, at least her version of it.  I made it for years but then, like many favorite dishes, it fell off my radar and had been forgotten.  One of the reasons might have been my mom’s requirement that it be baked in gold-lined No. 303 cans.  I rarely use commercially canned products so no longer had any cans in which to bake it.  But I went on a scavenger hunt and came up with cans I thought would do but being of a cautious nature (well, sometimes) I also had some small loaf pans on hand when I made my first return batch.  The photo should give you a good idea of my failure to find the right cans – but, since for some reason the bread tastes better baked in the can, I’m going to keep trying to find the correct No. 303 can.  In the meantime, the loaves tasted pretty good, too.  This recipe should be enough to make 6 No. 303 cans or about 5 small loaf pans.


8 ounces dark raisins

2 cups sugar

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature

2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

2 large eggs, at room temperature

4 cups sifted flour

1 teaspoon salt

1 cup chopped walnuts


Place the raisins in a heat-proof bowl and cover with 2 cups of boiling water.  Stir in the baking soda and set aside to cool to room temperature.

Preheat the oven to 350ºF.

Combine the sugar, butter, and vanilla in the bowl of a standing electric mixer fitted with the paddle.  Beat on low to lighten.  Raise the speed to medium and beat until blended.

With the motor running, add the eggs, one at time, and beat to blend.  When well-blended, add the flour and salt and beat until well-incorporated.  Then, add the raisins along with their soaking water and beat to blend.

Remove the bowl from the mixer and, using a wooden spoon, stir in the nuts.

Carefully scoop the mixture into the cans, filling each one about half full.  (If you are using loaf pans, either coat them with Baker’s Joy or butter and flour them).

Place in the preheated oven and bake for about 45 minutes or until the breads begin to pull away from the sides of the cans.

Remove from the oven and place on wire racks for 10 minutes before removing the breads from the cans by running a small, sharp knife around the interior of the cans and then popping the breads out.

Serve warm or at room temperature with butter or cream cheese or alongside Boston Baked Beans.

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Lately I seem to be on a bok choy kick, but who could resist this absolutely flowery bunch of purple bok choy that found its way into the kitchen?   I was going to incorporate it into some fried rice but decided it was just too pretty to not stand on its own.  So, I cut it into pieces and quickly sautéed it in a bit of grapeseed oil and butter, seasoned it with salt and pepper, and cooked it just until it wilted.  I added a good measure of ponzu sauce that I found in the fridge, gave it a toss, and served it up as a side to soft shell crab sandwiches we had made from our leftovers.  A simple, easy, and very tasty dish.

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My son, Mickey, remembers my mother’s lemon meringue pie with such intensity that I have never made one for him – don’t want to risk failure.  But after years and years of avoiding it I finally decided to take a stab at duplicating my mother’s famous pie.  Since Mickey wasn’t around I didn’t have anyone to judge the result based on the “real thing” so I really didn’t have much to lose.  Though I have to admit I was more than ready to judge myself but fortunately the end result was pretty darn good.

I have been working at perfecting my pastry – not that I haven’t made okay pastry – but it has never brought mom immediately to mind.  I think that I’ve finally nailed it and I hope that I will inspire you to try your hand at what I think is, after brownies and chocolate chip cookies, the quintessential American dessert – even more than apple.  This recipe is a combination of the recipes used by my mom and my Aunt Frances, now departed but remembered always through their love of feeding family and friends.

A further note about the pastry.  When making savory pies and tarts, I do use lard which you can order online or purchase at most farmers markets (I get mine directly from Gaia’s Breath Farm and you can email them at mtoro@wildblue.net).  Whether to use vegetable shortening or butter is your choice – I combine them – sometimes using more butter than shortening when making open-faced French-style fruit tarts.

½ recipe My Near-Perfect Pie Pastry

1 egg white

Lemon Filling:

1½ cups sugar

¼ cup cornstarch

⅛ teaspoon salt

Juice of 3 lemons

3 large eggs, separated, at room temperature (you will use the whites for the


¼ cup (½ stick) unsalted butter, cut into pieces

2 teaspoons freshly grated lemon zest

Aunt Frances’ Never-Fail Meringue

Preheat the oven to 400ºF.

Lightly flour a clean, flat surface.  Place the chilled dough in the center and, using a rolling pin, begin rolling the dough out to a circle about 10- to 12-inches to fit into the bottom of a 9-inch pie pan, leaving an edge for fluting.

Transfer the dough to the pie pan and carefully push on it to make a neat fit, leaving the edges overhanging the pan.  Fold the excess dough under the edge and then, using your thumb and forefinger, crimp the dough into a decorative edge.  Using a table fork, randomly prick the bottom the pie shell.

Place the one egg white into a small bowl and whisk in 1 tablespoon of cold water.  Using a pastry brush lightly coat the bottom of the pie shell with egg white wash.

Cut a piece of parchment paper to fit the pie pan and fit it into the shell.  Layer the bottom with pie weights, dried beans or rice.  Place in the preheated oven and bake for about 15 minutes or until the pastry has set and is lightly browned.

Remove from the oven and set aside on a wire rack to cool.

Do not turn off the oven.

Combine the sugar, cornstarch, and salt in a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan.  Stir in 1¾ cups of cold water and place over medium heat.  Cook, stirring constantly, for about 6 minutes or until thickened.  Stir in the lemon juice and remove from the heat.

Place the egg yolks in a small bowl and gradually whisk in about ½ cup of the lemon mixture to temper.  Quickly whisk the egg yolk mixture back into the hot lemon mixture.  Return to medium heat and, whisking constantly, beat in the butter and lemon zest.  Cook for another couple of minutes or until thick.  Remove from the heat and set aside to cool slightly.

While the pastry and filling are cooling, make the meringue.

When cooled slightly, pour the filling into the pastry shell, smoothing out the top with an offset spatula.

Spoon most of the meringue on top of the center of the filling and spoon small amounts of the remaining meringue around the edges.  Using a spatula or wide knife, gently spread the meringue out from the center to meet the edge, making sure that the entire top is covered and the edge is sealed.

Place the pie into the preheated oven and bake for about 10 minutes or until the meringue is golden brown.

Remove from the oven and set aside to cool for at least 30 minutes before cutting.

My Near-Perfect Pie Pastry

Enough dough for one double-crust 9-inch pie

            2 ½ cups all-purpose flour, sifted

            ¼ teaspoon salt

            Pinch sugar

            ¾ cup plus 1 tablespoon vegetable shortening, chilled

            ½ cup unsalted butter, cut into cubes and chilled

            ½ cup ice water

Combine the flour, salt, and sugar in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade.  Process to aerate and blend.

Add the shortening and butter and, using quick on and off turns, process just until crumbly.  With the motor running, add the water and process just until the dough begins to ball.

Scrape the dough from the processor bowl and divide it into two equal pieces.  Wrap each piece in plastic film and refrigerate for about 30 minutes to chill before rolling.  The dough may also be frozen; thaw before using.

Aunt Frances’ Never-Fail Meringue

            1 tablespoon cornstarch dissolved in 1 tablespoon cold water

            3 large egg whites

            6 tablespoons superfine sugar

Combine the cornstarch mixture with ½ cup cold water in a small saucepan over medium heat.  Cook, stirring constantly, for about 3 minutes or until the liquid is clear.  Remove from the heat and set in a pan of ice water to cool quickly.  Stir frequently to keep the mixture liquid.

Place the egg whites in the bowl of a standing electric mixer fitted with the whip.  Begin beating on low to froth.  Increase the speed and continue to beat, alternately adding the cooled cornstarch mixture and the sugar, beating until stiff and shiny.

Use a directed in the pie recipe or for any dessert requiring a stiff meringue.

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The other morning a young man who is an every morning coffee drinker at JOE (along with yours truly), our Upper West Side coffee bar, excitedly reported that he “had the best coq au vin I’ve ever had”.  Which was followed by “But I’ve never had coq au vin before – what is it?”  And, that in a nutshell is how bloggers and tweeters and facebookers keep restaurants in or put them out of business!

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With the 4th of July weekend on the horizon, I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to be American, particularly in these rough economic times with wars waging in distant lands and families splintered.  As angry as I get with our politicians and our own inertia to bring about change (can you tell that I was a rabble-rouser in the 60s?), we always conclude that I live in a very extraordinary country – still filled with promise.

One of my not-so-important but irritating peeves comes about when I read about how the populations of other countries are more in touch with the land than we are in America.  Yes, we are, for the most part, an urban society finding our nutrition in supermarkets and fast food restaurants.  But, I can tell you, the rest of the world is not far behind us in this area and the quaint foraging natives that food and travel writers tend to glorify the world over are a dying breed.  I’ll bet that you will find far more American cooks returning to the land for their sustenance than you will find elsewhere in the world.  But don’t use the word “locavore” when talking to me, that irritates me more.

Recently I was surfing the net and came across an old article written by Mark Bittman and sent from Pula, Croatia.  The article states – segueing from his opening about people picking wild asparagus from the roadside – “For many in this section of Croatia, any free nutrition is good nutrition.  And for those who are better off its simply a matter of getting the best food, directly from the land.”  Him and Dick Tracy!   Isn’t this true for all of us?

I grew up in the Midwest picking asparagus from the side of the road and from the edges of the irrigation ditches.  Long after I had grown and left rural life behind my aunt and uncle still went out every spring to collect it.  In upstate New York, where we spend a lot of time, people are still picking wild asparagus, ramps, dandelion greens, and mushrooms in the spring, planting gardens, fishing for perch, trout and other local fishes, hunting for deer and wild birds, supporting farmers, and creating town markets.  For many of them, this is a way of life that has not changed for generations, for most it is a way of eating well while staying within the confines of a very tight budget, for some it is an acquired addiction, and for a few of us, it is an extravagance that we indulge in to allow ourselves the pleasure of truly knowing what we are eating, no matter the cost.

I know that our experience is not unique.  I just know too many people who care deeply about where, what and how they eat.  For some this is simply how it has always been while others might not have begun knowing anything about foraging, gardening, agriculture and/or animal husbandry but they have made it their business to find out.  And you know what it usually comes down to – the food just tastes better when you have some attachment to it.

One of our dearest friends – who happens to also be our physician – supplies us with wild turkey, venison, and whatever wild birds he can catch.  And, sharing a bottle of wine we think of new ways to cook our good fortune.  Another friend – also a doctor – takes me by the hand to carefully forage for wild mushrooms.  Our postal person brings me morels from the abandoned apple orchard on her road.  And, if you are a reader of my ramblings, you know that I dig (a miserably hard job) for ramps every spring and often pickle them for a winter treat.  The farm nearby has meadow-raised lamb and goat.  Another down the road a piece has the same but also adds beef, cheeses, eggs, chickens and turkeys that were in the coop in the morning – along with maple syrup and hand-knit sweaters and mittens.  My good friend, Debbie, is a whiz of a cook with no training and no exposure to 3 star restaurants.  She and her husband take their brief week’s vacation with a drive through the central New York wine region, stopping and tasting at every winery they can get to.  This all occurs just a couple of hours from New York City with a mix of people who run the gamut from MD/PhDs to those who have never cracked a book with any enthusiasm.  We can’t be alone – I know that all over the country there are communities just like ours with a mix of “locals” who really know the lore of the region and transplants who are eager students.  Let me know if you agree!

This, I guess, is my 4th of July rant – after all is said and done I send greetings for a safe holiday – one filled with family, friends, good food, and reflections on peace and prosperity.

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We all know that salmon is good for us.  But, often what’s good for us, is not what we like.  That is the case for me and salmon.  I should eat it a couple of times a week but since Steve is allergic to fish with scales and can even get a reaction when I cook it, I use his ailment as an excuse for not cooking salmon very often.  And, when I do I try to think of new ways to prepare it.  Since I have been in a bok choy and Thai mode lately, I decided to devise a new salmon cake for lunch the other day that would use a little of both.  I find it very easy to use the microplane to grate chile and ginger directly into the bowl – use as much of either as you like.  This recipe should make enough for 6 good-sized salmon cakes.

1 large egg, at room temperature

1½ pounds boneless, skinless salmon, cut into small cubes

1 cup panko breadcrumbs plus about 3 cups for breading

2 tablespoons finely chopped scallion

1 heaping tablespoon chopped fresh mint

1 heaping tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro     

About ½ jalapeño chile, grated

About 1 teaspoon freshly grated ginger

½ teaspoon paprika

Salt and pepper to taste

¼ cup nonfat plain yogurt

1 tablespoonDijonmustard

1 tablespoon lemon juice

Grapeseed oil for frying

Separate the egg.  Set the yolk aside.

Place the egg white in a small, shallow bowl and, using a whisk, beat until light.  Set aside.

Place the salmon in a medium mixing bowl.  Add 1 cup of the panko along with the scallion, mint, cilantro, chile, and ginger.  Sprinkle on the paprika and salt and pepper.  Add the yogurt, mustard, and lemon juice along with the reserved egg yolk.  Using your hands, lift and toss the mixture to blend completely without smooshing the salmon.

When blended, form the mixture into 6 large or 12 small cakes.

Place the remaining panko in a large shallow container.

Working with one at a time, dip the salmon cakes into the egg white and then place in the panko, turning to generously coat all sides.

Heat a thin film of oil in a large frying pan over medium-low heat.  Add the cakes, without crowding the pan, and fry, turning once or twice, until golden brown and just cooked through.

Serve hot on a bed of salad or other greens.  (I used baby bok choy leaves, spinach, carrot, and thinly sliced hothouse cucumber in a dressing of rice wine vinegar, a touch of sesame oil, grapeseed oil, orange juice concentrate, and sesame seeds.)

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