Friday, August 26, 2011

Tried and Tweaked Thursday for the Perpetually Unaware

I'm not saying I didn't know yesterday was Thursday. I'm just saying I didn't know it until about 9:30 pm. I've been living in a bit of a fog lately, but I'm hoping the cooler weather will bring better sleep and greater available brain power.


But I do have a wonderful recipe to share, one I've made dozens of times through the years. It's nutty, it's seasonal, and it's PIE. What could be better?

Well, for one thing there's no fruit to worry about, except a touch of lemon that you can leave out or fake if needed. It's good warm, room temp or cold, with or without ice cream or whipped cream, it's easy-peasy to make, and it's based on pantry ingredients. Plus, a slice in the morning for breakfast beats even croissants for decadent satisfaction, and it's more nutritious anyway from the nuts.

I've been craving it for a few weeks, and finally the air is cool enough to let me bake it. It's taken from a Southern Living magazine recipe that was itself an attempt to tweak traditional Pecan Pie into something other. They added lemon for freshness, switched to maple syrup from corn syrup, and used the bitterly delicious, elusive black walnut in place of pecans. A magnificent tweak!

Sadly, you rarely see black walnuts available here, and when you do, they're outrageously expensive and never look very fresh. Doesn't matter for this-- to sub, I've used both straight walnuts and walnuts touched with black walnut extract, and either way works beautifully.

(BLACK) WALNUT PIE, adapted slightly from Southern Living, Oct. 1997

3 lrg eggs

1/3 C firmly packed brown sugar

1 C maple syrup*

1 tsp EACH fresh lemon juice and grated lemon rind*

1/2 tsp vanilla extract*

1/8 tsp salt

3 Tbsp butter, softened

1 C walnut pieces

1 unbaked 9-inch pie crust in 9-inch pie plate*

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

Beat eggs and sugar at medium speed w/electric mixer* until smooth. Add syrup and next five ingredients (lemon juice through butter), beating until smooth.

Place walnuts in pie shell, pour filling over nuts.
Bake pie at 375 F for 35 minutes (center of pie will not be set.). Cool completely, serve with sweetened whipped cream.

*Here's the tweaks-- first off, I like this in a 10-inch pie crust, so that it doesn't overflow in the oven. You could also leave the lemon out altogether and bake it in a chocolate crumb crust for an extra dimension of flavor. In any case, I'd advise putting a cookie sheet under the pie plate while baking.

Another thing-- I didn't have any kind of mixer the first few times I made this, so got into the habit of using a whisk instead.

Fresh maple syrup instead of corn syrup was a great idea on the part of SL; but in a pinch, if all you've got or can afford is the average maple-flavored table syrup (which is mostly corn syrup itself) use it: I have.

For those sparky touches of lemon and black walnut bitterness, you can sub another citrus rind and juice, and a drop, singular! of black walnut extract. Or use extra rind and no juice, or a teensy drop of lemon or orange extract for the rind/juice combo. It will still be good, but use restraint with any extracts.

If you've got citrus rind & juice but no black walnut extract, you can leave it out or sub a few drops of rum extract or a drop of almond. This is an adaptable sort of pie-- my favorite type of recipe, as you've probably guessed by now.

There's nothing on earth to stop you from topping it with any chopped fresh fruit you think will go with nicely, either. I hope you try it; I know you'll enjoy it as much as we do.

Peace, Mari

Monday, August 22, 2011

Once-A-Year Pleasures

Saturday I saw the loveliest, dark violet blue Italian Prune Plums at the Farmer's Market. I wanted them desperately, but decided to wait till next weekend. It was too hot then to use them the way I wanted to-- roasted and then baked into a gorgeous silky custard, each serving bathed in their fuschia juices.

Today I regretted waiting, since it's been cool enough to bake. I asked at the market if they would be available next week and they said yes, but still... There are so many rare tastes nowadays, things you may only get once, twice a year; tastes that capture a season, or more accurately are captured by the season. Tastes like the watermelon salad I posted Friday, or a perfect honeydew, or Thanksgiving pie or fresh rhubarb, or these sweet-tart plums that come to market maybe two or three times in a row. Maybe.

I could buy canned plums, but it won't be the same. Their season here is brief and tricky, and their quality can vary week to week. But I'll snap them up if I see them again, no matter what. I can't bear to wait another whole year.

Here's the recipe, from one of my favorite cookbooks:


Softened butter for 2 baking dishes


1 lb prune plums, halved and pitted (cut plum lengthwise, twist, remove pit)

1/8 tsp cinnamon

1/2 C sugar

grated zest of 1 lemon (I use an orange for the zest & juice sometimes)

1 Tbsp fresh lemon juice


2 large eggs

3 Tbsp sugar

2 Tbsp flour

1 tsp vanilla

1/3 C half-n-half

1/2 C cognac or kirsch (optional)

whipped cream to garnish-- optional

Place the oven rack in the middle position, preheat oven to 350 F. Lightly butter a medium baking dish.


Arrange the plum halves skin side down in the baking dish. Sprinkle with remaining filling ingredients and bake for 15 minutes, until the plums are tender but hold their shape. Lightly butter a 10-11-inch baking dish and transfer the fruit from the first dish; reserve the juices.


Raise the oven temp to 375 F. In a medium bowl whisk the eggs and sugar to blend, then whisk in the flour, vanilla and half-n-half. Continue whisking until well blended. Pour the mixture over the fruit** and bake custard in the upper third of oven for 20-25 minutes, until it has puffed and browned slightly.

While the dessert is baking, warm the reserved juices in a small pan with liqueur if using. Serve the custard warm or room temp, accompanied by the warmed juices and sweetened whipped cream, if desired.

**At this point, the unbaked custard can be covered with plastic wrap and refigerated for up to 8 hours. Bring to room temp again before baking.

You can see how easy this is-- I barely even measure the ingredients, it's so natural to throw together. I use whiskey or even sweet vermouth if there's no Kirsch or brandy-like liquids to be had; but use less as those are so much stronger flavors. You could a splash of light wine, instead. For a baking dish, I generally use one of my larger pie plates, like a 10-inch. Serves 3-4, depending on how strong your willpower is.

from Barbara Lauterbach's THE SPLENDID SPOONFUL

Peace, Mari

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Feeling it

The pleasures of a given season are hard for me to deny myself, and I can deny myself a lot. But the seasonal lusciousness of summer in Buffalo, which for me is part literary, part culinary and wholly sensual, is too much to forgo. Apart from the overbearing heat and the sudden busy-ness, underneath the glossy bullshit snapshot of these few short months that would have us all grilling huge hunks of cow and swimming in waterproof mascara (and not much else) is the real thing: sweet, soft wind and the green smell of mown lawns, music trailing from car windows, melons and berries and real tomatoes and extra time and light everywhere.

Reading and writing have a different quality in the summer, a freer feel— less serious, more flowing. You can put down a book and come back to it without worry, or decide to ignore the other things you’d normally do and just read (or write, or play guitar) all day. It’s a pleasure I give in to often, but I could let it go— it’s harder for me to let go the special tastes of summer, like a chilled Perfect Margarita at El Palenque, or a Raspberry Craze smoothie at Anderson’s. You may be able to have them in November, but they won’t taste the same any more than good eggnog will in August. You have to enjoy them now, and I am a sucker for the taste of a moment.

One special collection of flavors I haven’t been able to get to, yet-- and it’s driving me mad-- is Nigella Lawson’s Watermelon, Feta and Black Olive Salad. I keep buying most of the ingredients and then not being able to find fresh mint, which is a key element. You can use a different onion, you can use almost any kind of black olive, but you can’t leave out the mint and have it taste the same. It’s cooling, sweet, salty, juicy; a bright and sharp mouthful of the best of summer.

You probably made it years ago when Forever Summer came out, or tried some more recent celeb chef interpretation of the concept; but if you haven’t already fallen in love with it, here it is. You’ll never eat anything fresher and more perfectly suited to an August afternoon. It’s a meal in itself for several people, 4-6 at least with baguette on the side, by my serving size. I’m determined to find some fresh mint, somewhere, and eat a plate of this under the shade of the old maple in the backyard, because the nights are getting cooler fast, and this pleasure won’t wait.

Nor does this salad hold up over time— make it not long before you mean to eat it, and share it or halve the recipe—it won’t taste great tomorrow, just now.
Adapted slightly from Nigella Lawson’s FOREVER SUMMER.



• 1 small red onion (hard to find here-- use half a large)
• 2-4 limes, depending on juiciness
• 3 ½ lbs. sweet, ripe watermelon
• 9 oz. feta cheese
• Bunch fresh flat-leaf parsley
• Bunch fresh mint, chopped
• 3-4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
• 4 oz. pitted black olives (I use Kalamata when I can)
• Black pepper


1. Peel and halve the red onion and cut into very fine half-moons and put in a small bowl to steep with the lime juice, to bring out the transparent pinkness in the onions and diminish their rasp. Two limes' worth should do it, but you can find the fruits disappointingly dried up and barren when you cut them in half, in which case add more.
2. Remove the rind and pips from the watermelon, and cut into triangular chunks. Cut the feta into similar sized pieces and put them both into a large, wide shallow bowl. Tear off sprigs of parsley so that it is used like a salad leaf, rather than a garnish, and add to the bowl along with the chopped mint.
3. Tip the onions, along with their pink juices over the salad in the bowl, add the oil and olives, then using your hands toss the salad very gently so that the feta and melon don't lose their shape. Add a good grinding of black pepper and taste to see whether the dressing needs more lime.

The above recipe has been a part of my late summer routine for years-- and that brings me to a new "feature" here on what I am starting to joke about as being the least read blog in the multiverse: for the new few months, I'm going to set aside Thursdays as a day for recipes, those that I truly rely on.

I'd call them Tried & True, for a catchy TRIED & TRUE THURSDAYS theme, but with me, it's more like tried & tweaked... what they will be, though, is recipes that are used so often, I don't measure or look at the book/clipping/scrawled notes anymore. I'll get myself posting regularly, and give out the friendliest, easiest, most affordable veg recipes from my decades of cooking in the process. Other days will remain a jumble of possibilities: reviews, reflections, diatribes, questions. Whatever living the veg life in Buffalo NY is about, as experienced by a foodie with more taste than money.

If you'd like to contribute a guest post, please contact me:

Peace, Mari

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Roasting in August

Isn't it lovely? The wind is high and soft, the air cool and glistening... a perfect day to roast food, after months of using the oven as storage space for too many (unused) pans.

I think my plan of skipping over the end of Summer to early Autumn is working.

Time to turn up the heat and roast whatever is left in the crisper and vegetable bins-- chunked green pepper, lemon, potatoes, onion, garlic. Thrown into an iron skillet with a few Tbsp. of olive oil, a bay leaf or two and a smattering of rosemary. High heat, 425 degrees F or so. Stir after 20, 25 mintues. Continue roasting till everything is browned and cooked through; probably another 20 minutes or a little more. Sprinkle with sea salt or crumbled feta as soon as it comes out of the oven.

MMM. I love a day warm enough not to need a jacket but cool enough to make pie crust or roast potatoes. If Spring in Buffalo was like this, it would still be my favorite season. Sorry, Spring-- It's early Fall for me, now.

Tonight I'll be heading out to the newfangled Cafe Allegro for my writer's group and the Open Mic afterwards; alot of talented musicians and the occasional poet show up to perform, regularly. Nice evening for it, rain or no, and they have a fantastic selection of teas.

Enjoy the day! Peace, Mari

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Watermelon Gazpacho and other things I used to buy...

My local Dash grocery store has a watermelon gazpacho I adore-- it's simple, but wonderful on a hot day. Thin, slightly sweet, spiced lightly with ginger and cooled with a touch of mint and seeded cucumber, it's a perfect starter, or on a ridiculously hot day such as we have been having lately, a meal with some crackers or pita on the side; if I'm spoiling myself, a crusty baguette. It wouldn't be bad as dessert either, but I like it for lunch or a starter best.

The problem is, I've seen it in the store all of three times since I discovered it three summers ago. In desperation, I made my own yesterday, after making the veg relish I posted about.

It was better than theirs-- Ha! Sadly, I can't give you an exact recipe, but let's be honest-- it's not difficult and you get to make it perfectly this way, for your own tastes.

How to do it: fill your food processor with chunks of seeded watermelon. If it's not sickening sweet, add a tablespoon or two of sugar or one of agave syrup (raw if you're doing the Raw Thing). The sugars help juice it up, too. Then a squeeze of fresh lime, a half tsp of fresh grated ginger, a shake of salt and a few shredded mint or basil leaves, or some of each; I used both. Blend till it's watery with barely any chunks, add another few cupfuls of melon and a grating of lime zest and blend again till pretty smooth and liquid.

Taste and add: more mint, lime, a splash of white wine, ginger or sugar to taste, remembering that the flavors will blend further as it chills. Pulse to mix, add a handful or so of finely chopped, seeded & peeled cucumber. Chill at least two hours. Taste for seasoning before serving. I like this refreshing brew the way I first had it, slightly sweet and deeply cooling with plenty of mint. But you could go another way, make it sweeter or less sweet and add more salt, add diced peaches as a garnish, use more ginger...

It's gonna be good as long as it's cold. It's not the kind of soup that holds well, though, so eat it in a day, day and a half after chilling for best looks and flavor. I'm having leftovers for breakfast right now, with a plum on the side; as baguette weather is not yet upon us, that will have to wait.

Keep Cool! Peace, Mari

Monday, August 8, 2011


Here's the truth: I'm done with Summer. D-O-N-E done. Haven't experienced much of it... While being sick for most of June and all July, I went to the parties, showers and weddings that fill up my calendar every summer no matter how antisocial I've been the rest of the year, sitting through the swelter in a cough syrup induced hallucinatotory state. What I ate, I can't tell you. I haven't been cooking either. Eating in this humidity/heat is a challenge, one I've failed at miserably most days, even with the help of raw cookbooks and the everlovin' crockpot. Today being a little cooler so far, I've thought about food in an interested way for the first time in some time. I've watched Julie & Julia, I've looked at old Bon Appetit and Food and Wine magazines, and then-- I decided to skip over August and go straight to September.

My favorite month, September-- you get cooler days and warm days with cool nights. It's the best month for eating outside, hiking, baking pies, drinking cocktails in the backyard, and brewing beer. There's great vegetables at the Farmer's Market and in the stores. Red wine feels right, cinnamon starts to seem alluring again. So, although the baking part will have to wait, I'm skipping the reality of summer and subbing my idealized version that is called early Autumn by most.

I'm also making use of a cabbage that's been knocking around in my crisper for two weeks. Thank goodness it keeps, because lately I've survived on salads and sandwiches-- and the Tried & True vegetable relish recipe I'm using makes the best addition to a sandwich ever. It's a standby for 20 years, now, a gem taken from Laurel's Kitchen. Which, if you're looking for a first vegetarian cookbook for someone, would be my first choice hands down. It's family friendly, not full of overly rare ingredients or overly artful recipes: real everyday eating. Most of the recipes I've prepared from Laurel's have become standbys, in fact. And the beautiful quality of the writing keeps me reading it for inspiration as well.

Here's the relish-- it's needs to sit overnight before using, but then it keeps for weeks and weeks in the fridge, and makes an awesome Reuben style sandwich; I like to use smoked tofu sliced and sauteed for the filling, along with mustard instead of Thousand Island dressing, and some mild cheese, though it works without.


2 C shredded green cabbage, packed

1/2 C grated carrot, packed

1/2 C very thinly sliced red onion (use any onion you have)

1/2 C very thinly sliced green pepper**

2 tsp salt

dash pepper

6 Tbsp distilled vinegar***

Combine all ingredients, then pack into a pint-sized jar. Add enough water to cover, if needed-- about 1/4 cup. Cover tightly and refrigerate overnight. Makes 2 C (the vinegar shrinks the veggies). Store in refrigerator.

**you can also use some red bell pepper for some of the green; or for a spicier touch, a small amount of thinly sliced chili along with this, but use sparingly-- the vinegar carries the heat.

***Red or white wine or even cider vinegar works too, the red of course tints the relish.

Use a big tablespoonful of this on any sandwich to add crunch and zest, or serve it in small amounts on the side of something rich, as a pickle.

Here's to cooler breezes and crisp days! Peace, Mari