Sunday, August 30, 2009

Mom was peachy-keen in the kitchen

My mom was a wonderful cook. She could throw a meal together in 20 minutes and it would taste like she spent all day preparing it. We marveled at the speed and versatility she showed in the kitchen.

When she passed away a few years ago I was blessed to get her recipe collection. Well, blessed and cursed. She had half of her pantry filled with cookbooks, magazines, index card file boxes, accordion files, shoe boxes, and binders, and they were all stuffed full with recipes.
I didn’t have room for them all, so the curse was in having to decide what to keep and what to give away.

After much thought, I settled on a scientific method of deciding which recipes to keep. My mom was a very messy cook (I inherited that quality), so if the recipe was stained and dirty, and appeared well used, I kept it. If the recipe was in good shape, it probably didn't get used much, so out it went.

This method worked on most of the recipes, except for the recipes that were written by mom in her own hand. I couldn't part with the ones bearing her handwriting. It is a connection that's important to me. I continue to feel her presence in the kitchen when I’m following one of her handwritten recipes. I'm not ready to let that feeling go. The handwritten recipes stayed in the "keeper" stack.

This peach cobbler recipe was on one of those handwritten and stained recipe cards. What I like about this cobbler is that it is easy, easy, easy... I can still see my mom's hands whipping it up in record time.


4 pounds peaches, peeled, pitted, and cut into bite-sized chunks
1 tsp. cinnamon
2 Tbsp. brown sugar
2 Tbsp. granulated sugar
1 tsp. lemon juice

1 cup flour
½ cup sugar
½ tsp salt
½ cup (1 stick) cold butter, cut into 8 pieces

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Butter 2-quart baking dish. Mix peaches, cinnamon, 2 Tbsp. brown sugar, 2 Tbsp. granulated sugar, and lemon juice together and pour into buttered dish.

In a food processor, mix together ½ cup sugar, salt, and flour until blended. Add slices of butter to processor and pulse until mixture resembles wet sand. Sprinkle crumbly mixture evenly over peaches. Bake until crust is golden brown, about 45-50 minutes. Serve warm with vanilla ice cream, if desired.


Saturday, August 29, 2009

Freshness is the key

I know…you are all probably tired of tomato recipes. But the fresh tomato season is slowly coming to an end here in the San Joaquin Valley and there is one more tomato recipe I want to share with you.

I found this recipe in a Bon Appetit magazine about 25 years ago. This is a pasta recipe with a fresh tomato sauce. The garlic is sauteed, but the sauce isn't cooked. It’s assembled earlier in the day so the flavors can meld. All you have to do before dinner is cook the pasta. It only requires one burner, so it’s a great recipe for the campers or motorhome owners. Just be sure you take a grater for the Parmesan cheese… lots of freshly grated Parmesan cheese is a must.


4 Tbsp. olive oil
2 Tbsp. minced garlic
3 pounds very ripe tomatoes, coarsely chopped, liquid reserved
½ cup coarsely chopped fresh basil
3 Tbsp. red wine vinegar
Salt and pepper

1 pound linguine
1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Heat 1 Tbsp. olive oil in a heavy small skillet over medium-low heat. Add garlic and stir 3 minutes: do not brown. Transfer to large non-aluminum bowl. Mix in tomatoes and liquid, remaining 3 Tbsp. oil, basil and vinegar. Season with salt and pepper. Let stand 6 hours.

Just before serving, cook linguine in large amount of boiling salted water until just tender, but still firm to bite. Drain well: transfer to large bowl. Add olive oil and toss well. Add sauce and toss again. Pass Parmesan cheese.


Serve with a green salad and a crusty loaf of French bread. I wonder what kind of wine would compliment this dish. Do any of you followers have any suggestions?

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Children love to create in the kitchen

I'd like to introduce you to my sous chef, Calico. She's a wonderful cooking partner, and she isn't afraid to experiment with new foods. But she is most experienced in determining fresh and wholesome flavors.

One of her strengths is an ability to clearly let you know she doesn't like the taste of something you've whipped up. There are times when all of us could use that kind of honesty in the kitchen. Sometimes politeness gets in the way of an honest assessment of the results of a new recipe.

Calico is also quite bold in her creations. In this photo, she is whisking equal parts brown mustard and grape jelly, which believe it or not, made a very delectable sauce for crock-pot cocktail meatballs.

I actually got this recipe from Carla, one of the most creative cooks I know. She always has some unique trick up her sleeve. She said that mixing equal parts apricot jam and thousand island dressing makes a great meatball sauce too, but the color isn't very pretty. What I love about these recipes is they are so easy. So easy, even a 2 year old can make them.


1 large jar Guldens brown mustard
1 large jar grape jelly
1 bag frozen meatballs, any kind

Warm grape jelly in microwave until no longer gelled. Mix with equal parts brown mustard. Place frozen meatballs in crock pot and pour mustard/jelly mixture over the top. Stir together. Heat until meatballs are hot. Serve with toothpicks.

I look forward to future cooking adventures with Calico helping me in the kitchen.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Comfort food for grieving friends

In all cultures, food is used as a way of bringing comfort and healing at a time of grief or great loss. We take food to those who are sick, or to families when they have lost loved ones. This pie was prepared for that reason, and its ingredients go beyond the traditional and include a big dose of love.

A family close to me lost one of their members this week. I know the devastation and helplessness that goes along with loss, and I want to help soften the pain any way I can. But, I also know that grief has to work itself out with each person in their own way, and that it is a necessary part of the healing process.

Souls are comforted with faith and time, and those are things we can’t help with, other than letting them work on their own pace in their own. But we can comfort their bodies with the food we bring, and make ourselves available in any way possible.

We hope that in comforting their bodies, maybe a tiny bit of comfort – maybe just momentarily -- will flow to their souls and bring them moments of peace at this difficult time.


3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
2/3 cup light corn syrup
3 Tbsp. melted butter
1 ½ tsp. vanilla extract
Pinch of salt
4 large eggs
1 cup sweetened shredded coconut
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1 cup whole pecans
1- 9” pie crust

Place large baking sheet on oven rack and preheat to 350 degrees. Whisk sugars, corn syrup, melted butter, vanilla extract and salt in large bowl to blend. Whisk in eggs. Stir in shredded coconut, chocolate chips and pecans. Pour filling into pie crust. Place pie on baking sheet in oven: Bake until crush is golden brown and filling is set in center, about 45-55 minutes. Transfer pie to rack and cool slightly. Serve warm.


Serve with a scoop of love and vanilla ice cream.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Bye, bye American pie

I think America should throw out the saying, “As American as apple pie,” and replace it with “As American as banana cream pie.” I love apple pie, but if you put a slice of apple pie next to a slice of banana cream pie, I’d choose the banana cream every time.

I think most of America feels the same, but I put my theory to the test. I called a specialist to see which pie was the best selling, and according to Amanda, at my local Marie Callender’s Restaurant, more banana cream pies are sold than any other pie. There you have it! It’s time to change the nation's slogan.

I found this recipe over 20 years ago on the back of a 5-pound bag of C and H sugar. Most of the words are illegible from spilling milk, vanilla, and eggs on it(I'm a messy cook), but I’ve made it so many times I have it memorized. The beauty of this recipe is you can make four variations of cream pies with it.


3/4 cup sugar
1/3 cup flour
1/4 tsp salt
3 eggs yolks or 2 whole eggs
2 cups milk
1 Tbsp. butter
1 tsp. vanilla
1- 9" pastry shell (baked and cooled)

Combine sugar, flour, and salt in medium saucepan. Stir until blended. In separate bowl whisk egg yolks (or whole eggs) into milk and pour into flour/sugar mixture. Beat with a whisk until smooth. Bring to boil over medium heat, stirring constantly. Continue cooking and whisking until smooth and thickened. Remove from heat and stir in butter and vanilla. Cool 5 minutes. Pour into pastry shell and chill until set.


Banana Cream Pie: Make basic filling and cool. Slice 2 or 3 ripe bananas in bottom of baked pie shell. Add cooled filling and chill. Serve with whipped cream topping. (If the whole pie isn’t going to all be eaten that day, I slice fresh bananas on top of the whipped topping on each individual piece.

Chocolate Cream Pie: Make basic filling. Add ½ cup semi-sweet chocolate chips to hot thickened filling in saucepan. Stir until completely melted. Pour into cooled shell and chill. Spread with whipped topping and garnish with shaved chocolate.

Coconut Cream Pie: Stir 1 cup flaked coconut into basic filling before pouring into pie shell. Top with meringue or whipped cream topping. Garnish with toasted coconut.

Butterscotch Cream Pie: Add ¾ cup brown sugar instead of granulated sugar to basic recipe. Make as directed. Increase butter to 3 Tbsp. Top with meringue or whipped topping.

If made with 2 whole eggs it can appear lumpy. Using an electric mixer to hot thickened filling works quite well to smooth out lumps.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Jimmy crack corn and I don't care...

For me to enjoy entertaining I have to be able to visit with my guests. I do not want to be chained to the kitchen the whole time sweating over a hot stove while my guests are left to fend for themselves.

So, you’d think by now I’d learn. You’d think I’d know the importance of timing in entertaining. I should know not to have three things on the menu that all require last minute preparation right before serving.

The problem with yesterday's dinner was just that. I had chicken and corn on the cob to grill, and fries to fry. To top it off, I didn't have enough grill space to barbecue the chicken and corn at the same time so I had to barbecue in shifts… something I don't recommend. The only thing that saved me and the dinner was my helper, Jimmy. With two extra hands and an extra brain, we managed to pull it off without anyone else knowing the frustrations and strategies required to bring it all together.

One thing I have learned over the years…just how therapeutic a good glass of wine can be after a long hard day in the kitchen.


8 ears sweet white or yellow cobs of corn
¼ cup butter, room temperature
¼ tsp. chipotle chili pepper powder
1-2 cloves garlic, pressed through garlic press
½ tsp salt

Shuck corn and remove silk. Combine butter, chipotle chili powder, garlic and salt and divide evenly among corn cobs. Smear seasoned butter all over cobs of corn and grill about 20 minutes until cooked and nicely browned in areas. Serve hot.


Chipotle chili pepper has a great smoky flavor that blends well with the sweetness of the corn. You may want to start with less chili pepper and taste test it to your liking, as it can be very spicy.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Grilling peaches is easy like Sunday morning

Who would have thought barbecuing fruit on the grill would be so fabulous? But that's where we're going with this tasty dish.

When I first suggested this to my Dad, he looked at me like I was his crazy daughter that you'd keep in the basement -- until he tasted my grilled peaches. Now he keeps asking me, "When are we having that barbecued fruit again?" "Just as soon as you let me out of the basement, Dad."

Only kidding in case any of my dear readers might think CaliCook is wacky. But back to the grilled peaches. We had the barbecue fired up anyway for some beef kabobs, so throwing on some fruit was easy.


3 ripe freestone peaches
Non-stick cooking spray
Brown sugar, if desired

Split peaches in half and spray tops and bottoms with non-stick cooking spray. Place, cut side down on hot grill for about 5 minutes or until grill marks appear. Turn over and cook for 5 more minutes or until soft. Remove from barbecue and serve. Sprinkle a little brown sugar over the top.

Be sure you use freestone peaches because it's easy to get the pit out without destroying the beauty of the fruit. Other fruits that grill up nicely are pineapple, plums or bananas. You can add lots of things to grilled fruit. My suggestions are drizzling them with honey, maple syrup, vanilla yogurt, or balsamic vinegar. It just depends on how bold you want to be.

I had one grilled peach left over after dinner, so after everyone had gone home, I warmed it slightly in the microwave, sliced it into chunks, and dumped it over a bowl of vanilla ice cream... DELIGHTFUL!

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Spice up some carrot soup with cumin

I don’t usually make soup in the summer, especially when it’s over 100 degrees outside… except when someone in the house is sick. When you don’t feel well there is nothing more comforting than soup.

I found this original recipe years ago on a wonderful internet site called I go to this site frequently for ideas in cooking and love to read the reviews submitted for each recipe to see how other cooks liked or disliked it. It's also fun to see how different cooks tweak the ingredients. The main thing I like to change with this recipe is double the cumin, since I love that spice.


1 large onion, chopped
2 Tbsp. butter
6 medium carrots, peeled and sliced thin
1 tsp. ground cumin
3 ½- 4 cups chicken broth
1/4 cup pecans, coarsely chopped

In medium saucepan cook onion in butter over moderate heat until onions are soft. Add sliced carrots and cumin and stir 1 minute. Add chicken broth and simmer, covered, 25 minutes, or until carrots are very tender. Let soup cool slightly.Place pecans on cookie sheet in 350 degrees oven for about 8 minutes or until fragrant and one shade darker.

Pour cooled soup into a blender and puree until smooth (never work with hot soup in a blender, as it can be dangerous). Pour back into saucepan and reheat to desired temperature. If soup is too thick, add more water or chicken broth to reach desired consistency. Divide soup into 4 bowls and top with toasted pecans or a dollop of sour cream, if desired. Serve hot.


If you prefer a vegetarian soup, use water instead of chicken broth. Serve with a loaf of French bread and butter.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

French toast that will knock your socks off

French toast has always been one of my favorite breakfast meals. I haven’t experimented much with different recipes since I love the plain old regular French toast, but my son told me about a new recipe he tried and liked. He made his French toast with French bread, but I tried it with the thick sliced French toast bread and it was really good. I used some homemade apricot preserves, but you can probably use any flavor preserves in the cream cheese filling and syrup for variety.


1/3 cup apricot preserves
1/3 cup light corn syrup
1/3 cup orange juice

8 ounces cream cheese, softened
4 Tbsp. apricot jam or preserves
½ cup walnuts, chopped

5 eggs
½ cup half and half
1 tsp. vanilla
2 Tbsp sugar
2 Tbsp. rum (optional)

8 slices thick sliced French toast bread
Butter for grilling
Powdered sugar

Make syrup by combining apricot preserves, corn syrup, and orange juice together. Set aside.

Mix cream cheese and jam together. Stir in chopped nuts. Spread 2 Tbsp. cream cheese mixture between 2 pieces of bread (sandwich style). Repeat for remaining pieces of bread.

Beat together eggs, ½ and ½ , vanilla, sugar and rum. Pour into a pie plate for easy dipping. Dip cream cheese sandwiches, one at a time in egg mixture for 30 seconds on each side. Cook on lightly buttered medium temperature griddle until both sides are golden brown. Remove from heat and slice diagonally.

Serve hot French toast with apricot syrup drizzled on top and sprinkled with powdered sugar.


I'm going to try this recipe with boysenberry, strawberry or peach preserves the next time I make it, just for fun.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

All for rum and rum for all...

My all-time favorite thing to prepare, and eat for that matter, is dessert. It could be the sugar-addict in me, but there is nothing like the aroma of chocolate chip cookies or cinnamon rolls wafting through the house to pique my appetite. My love of sweets could explain why I’ve never been successful with the Atkins diet.

Today’s recipe comes from The Cake Mix Doctor Cookbook, by Anne Byrn. It’s a wonderful book that uses cake mixes but adds a twist to the recipe. Bacardi Rum Cake was created in 1976 by a neighbor of William Walker, the president of Bacardi. The neighbor brought this cake to a party Mr. Walker was having… and the rest is history.


Vegetable oil spray for misting the pan
Flour for dusting the pan
1 cup finely chipped pecans or walnuts
1 package plain yellow cake mix (not with pudding-in-the-mix) **
1 package vanilla instant pudding (3.4 oz.)
½ cup Bacardi dark rum
½ cup vegetable oil
½ cup water
4 large eggs

6 Tbsp. butter
3 Tbsp. water
¾ cup sugar
1/3 cup Bacardi dark rum

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Lightly mist with vegetable oil spray and flour bundt or tube pan. Sprinkle nuts in the bottom of the pan. Set pan aside.

Place cake mix, pudding mix, rum, oil, water, and eggs in a large mixing bowl. Beat for 3 minutes, scraping down sides bowl with spatula as needed. Pour batter evenly over nuts into prepared pan.

Bake the cake until it is golden brown and springs back when lightly pressed with your finger, 55 to 60 minutes. Cool for 20 minutes. Run sharp knife around edge of the cake and invert it on a serving platter. Poke holes in the top of the cake with a toothpick.

Prepare the glaze. Place butter in a small saucepan and melt it over low heat. Stir in water and sugar. Increase heat to medium and bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce the heat slightly and let the glaze simmer until thickened, 4 to 5 minutes, stirring constantly. Remove pan from heat and add rum. Spoon the glaze over warm cake, allowing it to seep into the holes and drizzle down the sides and into the center of the cake. Allow the cake to cool completely before slicing.


**If you are using a cake mix with pudding-in-the-mix, use 3 eggs, reduce the oil to 1/3 cup, and don’t add the instant pudding mix. Bacardi rum cakes made with pudding-in-the-mix tend to be heavier and very moist, but still tasty.

I’m wondering if the neighbor of the Bacardi president that developed this recipe was ever rewarded for her efforts.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Bunches of broccoli, bunches of yum.

One of my beautiful nieces asked me to put this recipe on my blog since it’s one of her favorite salads. It’s so filling that sometimes it’s all I have for dinner.

My niece jokingly said,”Maybe you could name it after me Auntie.” Good idea, so here it is!


1 large bunch broccoli, cut into flowerets
½ lb bacon, cooked and crumbled
1 cup chopped red onion
1 cup cashews, coarsely chopped (or sunflower seeds)
½ cup raisins
½ cups halved cherry tomatoes

1 cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons white vinegar
¼ cup sugar

Toss all salad ingredients in large bowl to mix. Combine dressing ingredients in small bowl and pour over salad. Toss gently. Can be served immediately or refrigerated and served later.

Serves 6-8

This is one of those recipes that can be altered a hundred ways and still taste great. Most frequently this salad is made with sunflower seeds, but I like the crunchiness of cashews better. The tomatoes give it color and a little moisture. I’ve also seen chunks of cheddar cheese or a chopped red bell pepper added.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Room for 'shrooms

Today’s recipe is for all my vegetarian friends out there. It’s low in fat and packed full of nutrients, fiber and flavor.


4- (4 inch diameter) Portobello mushrooms
2 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
1 Tbsp. olive oil
½ tsp. dried basil leaves
Salt and pepper,
4 slices provolone cheese
1 large tomato sliced
1 avocado, sliced
alfalfa sprouts
4 kaiser rolls or 8 pieces whole wheat bread
Dijon mustard and mayonnaise

Remove stems from mushroom. Rinse and dry caps. Whisk together vinegar, oil, salt, pepper, and basil and brush on the top of the caps. Heat grill and place caps on grill, bottom side up. Brush inside of each cap with remaining oil mixture.

Grill about 3-4 minutes on each side until mushrooms are soft. Place cheese over each cap to melt. Remove from grill. Spread bread with condiments. Place each cap on bun or bread and top with avocado, tomato, and sprouts. Serve hot.

Serves 4

Some sweet potato fries would go great with this sandwich.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

A word to live by...

While driving down Highway 1 along California’s Central Coast a few weeks ago, we came across a little town just south of Cambria, named Harmony. Now, when I say little, I mean "population 18" little. This 140-year-old town has quite a history, but seeing the town sign got me thinking about the word "harmony," and how it applies to life.

The Webster’s Dictionary definition of harmony is "a state of agreement or completeness in the relations of things or of parts of a whole to each other." This definition holds the secret to success in families, love, music, and food.

In life, we want harmony with the people and things around us, and the more harmony we can experience, the more fulfilling and content our lives will be. In cooking, we want harmony in the flavors, colors, and textures because it adds to the overall eating experience.

Harmony in food nourishes our bodies, while harmony in life nourishes our souls.

The more harmony we have in life the more sated we will be in the end... same goes for a good meal.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

It's too hot to cook

When the temperatures are above 100 degrees for over a week, the last thing I want to do is eat something hot. That's when this recipe comes out of my bag of tricks. Chinese chicken salad is refreshing, filling, and nutritious.


1 lb skinless, boneless chicken breast meat, cooked, cooled, and shredded
1 head shredded iceberg lettuce
1 cup green onions, chopped
3/4 cup minced fresh cilantro
3/4 cup toasted sliced or slivered almonds
1 package maifun (rice sticks or bean threads)**
Vegetable oil for frying

1/4 cup salad oil
1/4 tsp salt
2 Tbsp sugar
1/4 tsp pepper
3 Tbsp seasoned rice vinegar

Combine chicken, lettuce, onions, and cilantro in a large bowl. Refrigerate until ready to serve. Fry 1/4 package maifun in vegetable oil as package directs. Set noodles aside after fryng. Place all dressing ingredients in jar and shake to mix. Immediately before serving add dressing and maifun to salad and toss. Top with almonds. and sprig of cilantro.

Serves 4

It's really quite fun to watch these noodles puff up as they hit the hot oil. But, be sure all noodles get submerged in oil. Otherwise, you will have some very hard uncooked pieces of maifun. I usually cut the maifun into 1 inch pieces with a sissors to make it easier to get full coverage in the oil.

Complete this meal with a loaf of french bread and butter. A bottle of Italian Pinot Grigio or Reisling would go nicely with this salad.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Let me tell you about this wonderful butterscotch torte

This is a recipe that's been around. I have seen it several times in the Valley Children’s Hospital All Guild Cookbook, Cooking is a Lark Cookbook, and my mother’s recipe box. But I give you a twist on this torte recipe.

My twist is in the presentation. All of the recipes I've seen call for a 9x13 rectangle pan. But, I like to make it in a springform pan to show off the layers.


1 cup flour
½ cup cold butter (I stick)
1 cup nuts, finely chopped (walnuts, pecans, or almonds)
½ cup powdered sugar (optional)

Mix flour and butter in food processor until crumbly. Stir in chopped nuts and press into bottom of 9 or 10 inch springform pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 10-15 minutes or until slightly brown. Cool.

1 8 oz. package cream cheese, softened
1 cup powdered sugar
1 cup cool whip (buy 8 oz size)
½ tsp vanilla

Whisk all ingredients together and spread over cooled crust.

2 small packages instant pudding, any flavor
3 cups milk

Mix pudding and milk together and spread over cream cheese layer.

Cool Whip
Chopped nuts (optional)

Spread remainder of 8 oz. Cool Whip over pudding layer. Sprinkle nuts over the top. Chill several hours.

Serves 10-12

The beauty of this dessert is that it looks great, is easy, and can be made with any flavor pudding you choose. The torte in the photo above was made with butterscotch pudding with sliced toasted almonds sprinkled on top of the Cool Whip. Butterscotch flavored pudding makes this dessert very unique, but it is equally good with chocolate (with nuts or chocolate shavings on top), lemon (with lemon zest on top), or coconut (with toasted coconut on top). Use whatever flavor pudding suits your taste. Although the recipe calls for instant pudding I prefer the taste of cook and serve pudding. Either way, it's yummy.