Category Archives: Susan

Cinnamon Roll Bliss!!

Every year for probably the past eighteen years, our traditional Christmas breakfast has consisted of Pillsbury cinnamon rolls that come in a tube. Because they smelled and tasted good, because they were super easy, and because we’ve had so much chaos and small children to deal with, not much sleep, and knee-deep wrapping paper. It was all we could manage.

But one of those small children has grown into a budding baker, and this Christmas she offered to make cinnamon rolls from scratch. She found a recipe in one of her Christmas presents from last year, The America’s Test Kitchen Family Baking Book. This cookbook has produced some incredibly delicious and amazing treats this year.

These cinnamon rolls were probably one of the best things yet.

These cinnamon rolls were not to sweet. The density was perfect – soft, yet with a thick and satisfying chewiness, almost biscuitlike. The cinnamon center was incredibly rich and wonderful, and the icing had a little tang of cream cheese. It was so deeply satisfying and decadent, and was definitely a special treat, yet wasn’t overly sweet.

These are hands-down going to be the new Christmas (and maybe New Year’s!) morning tradition. Recipe from: America’s Test Kitchen Family Baking Book

(recipe after the break)

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Polenta Cornbread: A Happy Mistake

Tonight, I was planning to make chili for dinner. Usually we serve chili over rice (natch) but I had a quart of buttermilk in the fridge and thought… can I use that to make some cornbread?

I went over to Foodgawker (which I am in LOVE with these days!) and did a search for “buttermilk cornbread.” There were so many options, and many of them looked amazing, BUT I did not have the time or the ingredients to add special nifty stuff like fresh corn or bacon or chiles or whatnot. I just wanted yummy cornbread that included buttermilk.

Finally I settled on this recipe at The Hungry Mouse. It looked awesome! I love step-by-step photo recipes.

I looked in my pantry. Could not find cornmeal anywhere. I swore we’d had a big container of it. But my pantry is an overstuffed, disorganized MESS and I could not find it. I did, however, find a bag of polenta. Ahhh!

Isn’t polenta just … Italian cornmeal? I went to Twitter and asked, “Can I use polenta instead of cornmeal to make cornbread?” and I got a flurry of responses. Such as, “They’re really the same!” to “Grind it in a coffee grinder!” (what???) and “NO.” Yow! But at this point I was committed. I had all my ingredients out, including the buttermilk that started it all.

Then I could not find my metal 8 x 8 pan, only a glass one. Again I turned to Twitter. HELP! And got another round of enthusiastic yet conflicting advice. “Metal is better!” “Glass is more even!” “Try a cast iron skillet!” This all made me laugh in a confused way. Then I found the metal pan. Whew! But people were still touting the benefits of glass. Hmm! What to do?

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IMG_9711We are blessed to have an amazing and awesome houseguest who is staying with us for several weeks. Hooray! It is a great thing to have someone who likes to cook, living with us and cooking in our kitchen! Last night she introduced us to the joy of gyoza, aka potstickers. This is something I would NEVER have attempted on my own, but she demystified the process and showed us how very fun and easy (and delicious) they could be.

There were no measurements or written recipe, so I just soaked up this info while watching:

  • 1 lb ground turkey
  • 1 lb shrimp, peeled and deveined and chopped up (we used the easy-peasy frozen kind)
  • chopped up can of water chestnuts
  • chopped up green onions (3-4??)
  • little bit of sesame oil
  • minced garlic
  • minced ginger
  • little bit soy sauce?
  • wonton wrappers

Mix up all ingredients.  Put teaspoon? of mixture in half of wonton wrapper (they’re round). Seal with water and make a little pocket. Line up on tray. When you have a few dozen, put a little bit of oil in bottom of nonstick pan. Add gyoza and cook until they are browned on the bottom. Add a little bit of water and cover to steam cook the rest of the way. Probably takes about 5-8 minutes per batch. Eat. ENJOY!

Some Diet!

Well, with much kicking and screaming, I commenced the South Beach diet about a month ago. I was not at all happy about this, but it felt like a necessary step, plus my other family members were doing it, so I gave it a try. Much to my shock, it not only is NOT torture, but it’s working. I’m becoming acquainted with some pieces from my wardrobe from long ago, and the food! The food is not. Bad. At. All.

After the initial cold-turkey first four days or so, when I was very sad and freaked out, I got used to the lean meat/vegi thing. It helped a lot that we could snack on cheese, since I am a cheese maniac.

But I thought I would share here some of our favorites from the last month.

One of our big surprises was pork loin. The first thing one does on the SBD is to carefully study the list of “allowed foods” because it isn’t a long one. I noticed that “pork loin” was A-OK. We have never eaten a pork loin, let alone prepared one in our own home, and the sound of it was not appetizing to certain family members (especially my husband, who swore off pork forever after hearing the sound of pigs being slaughtered outside our window on Christmas Eve in Estelí, Nicaragua almost twenty years ago). But I could not bear the idea of being sentenced to a life of chicken breast and salmon, so…

porkloin.jpgI remembered an episode of Take Home Chef, that goofy show where the young blonde chef accosts people in grocery stores and then follows them home and shows them how to make some awesome meal. He jumped out of the car about a block from this woman’s house and tore an armful of rosemary of one of her neighbor’s bushes. Then he brought it home, soaked it in water for a while, rubbed the big hunk of meat (I think it was actually a leg of lamb, not pork loin) with garlic, salt and pepper, wrapped it all in rosemary and put it on the grill. The family went nuts over it. It looked so good, I could practically smell it through the television screen.

WE happen to have a monster rosemary bush in our front yard. It’s about the size of a small buffalo, lying down. I took to it with a pair of shears and hacked off an armload of very fragrant little branches. I soaked it, then slathered the pork loin with garlic, salt and pepper. I tied the pork loin up in the rosemary and threw it on the grill. Guess what? The family went nuts. We’ve had it twice now and it does not fail to garner amazing groans of delight. For an extra touch, I put a small dollop of pesto on the pork and mmmmm, is that good.

chickenparm.jpgThanks to some online South Beach Diet forums, I’ve also found creative ways to get around the no-carbs thing. It’s actually only NO carbs right at the start, but then it turns into low-carb, complex carb.

My family really likes chicken parmesan, but I thought that was out forever due to the breadcrumb thing. NO! But someone suggested using almond meal (ie., crushed almonds) to bread the chicken. We tried it a few days ago. Mmmmmmm. Very delicious. Add some no-sugar tomato sauce and some part skim mozzarella, and … yum.

This isn’t so bad at all. And incidentally, I’ve lost 14 lbs eating this good stuff!

All meat, only meat*! *Niman Ranch Meat

mysterious dining

Connie, Susan, and I (Christine) each had the opportunity to parttake of the Dissident Chef’s “Niman Ranch Meal” this past weekend. The Dissident Chef/Subculture Dining is something I’ve written about here on Muffin Top before–an underground dining experience drenched in secrecy, anticipation, and adventure. You don’t know what you’ll eat (well, this time we knew it was a Niman Ranch meat-focused meal) and you don’t know WHERE you’ll eat until a few hours before mealtime. You only know WHEN. (The direct link to the Dissident Chef’s website is here).

There’s just something about that kind of setup that sets a diner’s mouth salivating. (not a pretty picture, I tell you).

Having eaten and reviewed a previous Dissident Chef meal, I was curious as to what I’d experience next–would he try something new? Would it be consistent with my previous meal experience? Would I last for 9+ carnivorous courses? (At the end of our meal on Sunday, the diners were sprawled across the couches and floor in the living room, giddy with full stomachs and food coma). And I was curious as to what Connie and Susan’s opinions would be.

(Not to mention that Michael Bauer, the SF Chronicle’s food critic, blogged about the Dissident Chef preceding the dinner nights–it was definitely a topic of conversation amidst the diners).

We ate on separate nights–Connie and Susan dined on Saturday night with 40+ diners (in a residence, with a residential kitchen, something to keep in mind–and they sat at the same table). I dined on Sunday night, with 12 diners in the same residence. Needless to say, this affected mood and kitchen pacing, etc., as you will read in the interview that follows.

grilled and braised shoulder of lamb with turnip and farro

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The Giant, Enormous, Mega Chocolate Cake


Yesterday was my husband’s birthday. He was flying cross country and from the airport, he said he really wanted a chocolate cake. Christine very helpfully happened to email me several chocolate cake recipes while I was standing in the grocery store, and when I phoned her, she advised me on what kind of chocolate to buy.

The recipe (below the break) was for a double-layer cake but with ten inch pans. We only had nine inch pans, so it turned into a triple layer cake. He also said he wanted chocolate frosting, not whipped cream (which I think would have tasted a lot better) so we used (don’t kill me!) canned frosting because we were late on time, the girls were on their own, and I had to rush to the airport to pick him up.

The photo shoot cracked me up because all I could think of were Christine’s gorgeously composed photos with beautiful lighting, plating, backgrounds. And Connie’s impeccably gourmet ingredients.

I did say that I was the low-brow, downhome member of this blog! So here are the results. I have to say that it was delicious and crazy and over the top. The cake looked like a cartoon cake, or like the cake at Minnie Mouse’s house in Toontown at Disneyland. It was a surreal, enormous, wild cake. We all pigged out and were very happy.

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Food Meme

food.jpgDid we already do this one? I don’t think I did. And I saw it over on FeedYourLoves and felt like doing it. Here goes!

1. If you were stuck on an island and could only eat one cuisine (e.g., French, Italian, etc.) for the rest of your life, what would it be? Why?

That is a very difficult question, but I guess ultimately I would say Japanese.

2. What is the most unusual food you’ve eaten?

When I was in Mexico, I took a teeny tiny bite of fried grasshoppers.

3. What is the most unusual food you’ve eaten and liked?

When I was little, everyone thought I was totally freaky for liking eel (unagi). But now everyone likes it.

4. What foods will you avoid eating (either because of a dietary choice or allergies or just plain don’t like)?

Bananas bananas bananas. (just don’t like) Brussel sprouts. Beets. Anything licorice or anise tasting, including FENNEL. Except the fennel that Christine tricked me into eating at Pearl.

5. Do you cook (and by that, I mean prepare a meal that you’d serve to friends)?

Yes. But something about making dinners 5-6 nights a week for a bunch of oppositionally picky people has taken the wind out of my cooking sails. Maybe one day I will really enjoy it again, when I can serve meals that Certain People don’t push around with their forks and say, “Do I HAVE to eat this?!”

6. If yes, what is your favorite dish to prepare to impress someone?

Hm. That is a good question. I know that my Thanksgiving feasts have been fairly impressive, just on a yummy comfort level. Sweet potato casserole with bourbon and pecans, green beans with lemon butter and pecans, chicken-apple sausage stuffing, pecan pie. LOTS of pecans.

7. When you go to a restaurant, what’s your ordering strategy/preference?

I have no idea what this question means. My general approach is one of mass confusion and indecision. I always try to order last, after everyone else. My father’s strategy, which I loved and admired, was that he would poll everyone at the table (even up to 20 people), instantly memorize it, and then recite the whole thing for the server.

8. Have you ever returned a dish or wine to the kitchen at a restaurant? Why?

No, I never have. I am the self-effacing, suck it up and don’t complain kind of diner. If it’s a cheap restaurant and it’s bad, I figure I get what I’m paying for (not much). If it’s an expensive restaurant, I figure I don’t know enough to realize that the food is what it’s supposed to be like, and if I don’t like it, too bad.
9. How many cookbooks do you own?

About 20. But I only use a small handful: Cover and Bake, and the original Moosewood. I also use quite a bit of Epicurious.

10. What is one food that you wouldn’t want to live without?

Cheese. And rice. (whoops)

Now I tag all the Muffin Top contributors, and all of our readers.

Sneaky Fennel & Short Ribs

lunch at Pearl

Christine and I had lunch at Pearl today. This was very thrilling for me on many levels: one, because I hadn’t seen Christine in almost two months and I missed her; and two, because ’til today, I had only experienced Pearl for dinner or cocktails (both wonderful, but always crowded). Apparently the secret is not out yet; there were only two tables filled the whole time we were there, including ours. The server was quite attentive although he admitted he was New; he didn’t know if we were sitting on new chairs or not. (they seemed different but maybe it was just the difference between night and day, ha)

We ordered three “small plates” but they were hardly miniscule: crab cakes; flatbread with vegetables (sweet potato, feta and spinach? greens?) and short ribs. The flatbread was like a very delicate, delicious pizza with sweet potato puree instead of tomato sauce. Different, but yummy.

lunch at Pearl

The crab cakes were small – about the size of a large scallop – but just a perfect bite or two. In between the crab cakes lay a small quantity of extremely beautiful saladish material. Some flat strands of delicate white stuff with pale green dots; I thought it might be shaved jicama (I love jicama) along with some mandarin slices. It was all very fresh and a little crunchy and citrusy and perfect along with the crab cake. Christine said, “Do you think it is fennel?” I shuddered. “No way!” I hate fennel. I hate anything even remotely licorice tasting. I don’t like black licorice or even red licorice Red Vines. Ugh. So I adamantly shook my head and denied that it could be fennel. Our server came by to see how everything was. “Delicious!” we said. “But what is this white stuff?” We picked up a strand and held it up with a fork. “Oh, that’s fennel,” he said.


I had eaten fennel and liked it?! Christine laughed. “I really like fennel, but I don’t like this particular fennel,” she said. She had known it was fennel all along, the sneaky girl! But she hadn’t let on because she knew I would have flung it across the room if only I’d known. Here she got me to eat fennel. I even had another bite after I knew, and I still liked it, but I was able to detect a very faint licorice undertaste. It wasn’t half as awful as I’d feared.

But the best thing on the menu was by far the short ribs. It was a completely boneless rib and when I touched it with a fork, it all just fell apart into melty, tender strands. It was shockingly delicious; braised on the outside and like butter on the inside. I was absolutely swoony. Unfortunately, the potatoey things (I really do not think they were potatoes, but what else could they be? some kind of root veggie) were hard as a rock. The only false note.

We virtuously passed on dessert, which was a good thing. Little did I know that I was going to be ordered to haul my bottom up 90 stairs ten times, less than an hour after this meal, so it really is just as well we didn’t get dessert. But it was, overall, one of the most satisfying lunches I’ve had in eons.

Oh, and P.S. Christine took all the stunning photos.

lunch at Pearl

‘Tis the Season for… Faux Gingerbread Houses!

img_3270.JPGEvery year for the past dozen years, our family has hosted a gingerbread-house making party.  The first year, I had no idea what I was getting into.  My father, in his wheelchair, carefully designed the houses and cut beautiful templates out of cardboard.  I mixed up giant vats of gingerbread cookie dough which took a day to mix and roll out, then cut in the template shapes, bake and put together, with equally giant vats of icing glue.  In years after that, we made smaller houses, shaped around little milk cartons.  Then we came upon the ingenious fake-gingerbread, actually madeimg_3261.JPG with graham crackers.  Genius!  These little beauties can be put together in just a couple of hours. Everyone knows the best part is decorating them, so why waste time on making real gingerbread?  Here is this year’s gingerbread village.

Happy Pecan Pie

img_3011.JPGChristine talked me into attempting my first pie crust today. (actually my first one in about 15 years; the last one didn’t turn out so well)  It looks like a mess but I’m sure it will taste a lot better than the Pillsbury storebought crust.  All butter, courtsey of Martha Stewart. I will report back on the taste later!