Monday, January 23, 2017

Say Aloha to Aloha Java Seasoning Blend

How Aloha Java Was Created

The Big Island of Hawaii has been a special vacation destination for the Mackenzie's for years. This past October, Bill and I rented a cottage in the Kohala district at the northern tip of the island, in the town of Hawi. Listening to the rain and wind on the lanai of our cottage while reading, walking through the lush gardens surrounding us and enjoying local dining and arts provided the tranquility we were looking for on this trip to  the Big Island.
Welcome to Bamboo Cottage!
When it was clear enough, we could catch a glimpse of Maui and the summit of Haleakala across the choppy channel that separates the two islands. It was like a Bali Hai experience; mysterious, near but far away at the same time. Knowing another piece of land was also there, so far from the Continental US, was a comfort.

Hawi is a casual town with a thriving art scene and lots of history. King Kamehameha was born in here. In the early 20th century, sugar cane was king on the island and the waters from rain-heavy Kohala flowed to the cane fields through ditches engineered by M. M. O'Shaughnessy, who was also responsible for the Hetch-Hetchy project that brought water from the Sierra Nevada to San Francisco. Known as "Da Ditch", there are tour operators that provide tourists with a locals-only view of the water system by inflatable kayak. My family loved this soggy adventure during a 2002 island visit. I highly recommend the restaurant Bamboo, right in the heart of town. It serves up a tangy pulled pork sandwich and if you're lucky, local son and slack key guitar virtuoso John Keawe will be playing.

Bamboo Cottage is situated along one of the ditches and we were privy to the fresh citrus and avocados that grow on the property. I actually plucked my own ginger root from the garden to include in a vinaigrette I prepared for greens purchased at the Hawi farmers' market. 

Under the banyan tree, the Hawi farmer's market

At the market, I got to talking with Chris Bornstein, the co-founder of Spicy Ninja Sauce. I have recently developed a greater appreciation for heat in my cooking, recognizing that chili peppers provide depth of flavor in many dishes that one may not associate with hot, spicy food. Well, Chris' Spicy Ninja Sauce blew me away. Even the mild sauce tested my wimpy palate, but after the initial intense heat wore off, there was a delightful buzz in my mouth. Hum...I could get to like this stuff! Maybe heat is addictive after all.

I told Chris about Nutmeg Kitchens Handcrafted Seasonings  and he said, "You should do a Hawaiian blend". That suggestion germinated in me for the remainder of our stay. Hawaii holds a significant place in my heart and it would seem only natural for me to give flavor to that special place.

The 5 hour flight from Kona to SFO provided plenty of time for me to dream of potential concoctions. Coffee was an obvious ingredient, and ginger, which I had at my finger tips at Bamboo Cottage, had to be included. Once home, I explored the seasonings I had on hand and found that in addition to coffee and ginger, garlic, smoked paprika, some brown sugar and something I hadn't used very often, Sichuan peppercorns, would make for a very interesting blend. And now I have a blend that gives a little delightful buzz of Hawi to my tongue!

Aloha Java Blend brings me back to a place my family loves. I hope it brings you a taste of the islands and some spice to your cooking!

Aloha Java Pan Roasted Cod with Mashed Butternut Squash

The subtlety of any flaky white fish will be enhanced by the smoky, sweet and spicy flavors provided by Aloha Java blend. Do not be afraid of purchasing fish fillets that have been processed, individually packaged and flash frozen aboard a fishing vessel; this is the best way to high quality, non-local fish (a fish monger told me this). I’ve had a lot of luck with the frozen individual cod fillets available at Costco; they are all even sized portions and easy to defrost and prepare.


For the Butternut Squash

Spray Canola or Olive oil
1 butternut squash, about 1 pound
Ian’s Fire Seasoning Blend, red pepper flakes or hot sauce, to taste
Salt and pepper

For the Cod
Olive Oil
4 cod fillets, or other flaky white fish, even in size.
4 tablespoons Nutmeg Kitchens Handcrafted Aloha Java Seasoning
Maldon Salt or kosher salt, to finish, if desired
Special equipment – baking sheet pan, 10 inch skillet, handheld potato masher


For the Squash

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Spray the sheet pan with the oil.
Slice the stem off the squash and cut in half, lengthwise. Remove the seeds and membranes from the center of each half of the squash with spoon and place, cut side down, on the prepared sheet pan. Use a paring knife to make several slits in the skin of the squash to allow steam to escape during cooking. Place the sheet pan in the oven and roast for about 50 minutes to 1 hour, until the outer skin is soft and you can cut through to the flesh easily.
Remove the sheet pan from the oven and allow the squash to cool to the point that you can handle it. With a spoon, scrape the flesh from the skin into a medium bowl, being careful not include any of the skin. Add a tablespoon or so of butter, salt, pepper and Ian’s Fire or other spicy choice (go easy on the Ian’s Fire, though!), and mash with the potato masher to desired texture; it doesn’t have to be perfectly smooth. Add extra seasoning as desired.
The squash can be made several hours or up to one day in advance. To warm, place in a sauce pan with a lid, add a little bit more butter, and heat over low, stirring occasionally to prevent scorching.

For the Cod

Pat the fish dry and sprinkle with Aloha Java blend on each side, about a tablespoon per fillet.
Heat the skillet over medium-high heat and add 1-2 tablespoons of olive oil. Place the cod fillets in the skillet and cook for about 4 minutes, until you can see that about half of the fillet is opaque. Gently flip the fillets with a spatula and continue to cook until the entire fillet is cooked through and flaky. Remove the fish to a chopping board.
Place a generous spoonful of warm Mashed Butternut Squash onto four dinner plates and then place the Aloha Java cod slightly a top. You can also add another green vegetable or salad if you’d like.

Enjoy with Aloha and Love!

Monday, January 16, 2017

A Kona Village Remembrance

The MacKenzies at Kona Village Resort, 2001

The Big Island of Hawaii…just writing those words makes me take a deep, relaxing breath and pretend a gentle trade wind has brushed my cheek. The island has long been a favorite vacation spot for my family. We spent 5 spring breaks at Kona Village Resort, a throwback of sorts - no phones, radios or TV’s in the individual bungalows, or hales; no swimming pools with multitudes of water slides, grottos or swim up bars. Kona Village provided a feeling of welcome, of ‘Ohana (the Hawaiian word for family) from the staff who had become friends; a refuge from Silicon Valley for our sons to explore tide pools, fish in ancient Hawaiian ponds (catch and release, of course), snorkel through waters filled with a diverse and colorful array of sea life and just enjoy being kids in a very family-friendly environment.

 The boys wore their surf trunks on the plane so they could hop out of the car before it even rolled up to the reception area and race to the beach to find their friends who also always came this same week. Bill and I, in turn, became with friends with the parents of the boys’ friends. That’s what Kona Village was all about – friendship. We’d check in with the daytime bartenders, Sid or Rusty, about how many Cookie Monsters or Lava Flows the boys had ordered; they were limited to 3 of each. “Sometimes it's hard to say no”, Sid or Rusty would tell us if the boys has exceeded their limit. No worries, the boys were not tracking our Mai Tais or Kona Lagers!

Bill and I would catch glimpses of Ian and Alec throughout the day while we sat on the beach and read copious amounts of books. The boys would join us at the bountiful luncheon buffet (they both developed an affinity for sashimi here). We’d watch as they jumped off the diving raft anchored in Kahuwai Bay with half a dozen other kids and I would joined them for snorkeling with green sea turtles that called the bay and beach home. 

Bill kayaked with Ian and captained a sailfish with Alec. The three of them - Bill, Ian and Alec - completed their SCUBA certification at Kona Village.

Fishing in the pond off our hale

Bill and I would collect the boys after “keiki” dinner – a time spent playing totally low tech games like capture the flag or dodge ball with all the other keikis (kids) in the village – at the manta ray grotto at 8:30. We would then watch the mantas who, attracted by the lights aimed at the water, came into the bay to feed and provide us with a graceful farewell to the day, waving to us with their own special form of aloha. For seven days, we were content with living in a thatched roof hale, listening to the lap of waves on the black sand shore as we went to sleep and a cacophony of birdsong as we awoke, and then savoring all the simple pleasures that Kona Village presented.

We had hoped to return with the boys for our 30th wedding anniversary this year, but that won’t happen. Sadly, Kona Village was a victim of the 2011 tsunami that swept across the Pacific from Japan and has been closed since then. 2005 was our last visit to the village.

During a stay on the Big Island this past October, Bill and I walked the KVR beach. We saw the rusted keel of the New Moon, the boat piloted by KVR founder Johnno Jackson, moored on the coral and lava since the early 1960’s. Honu (sea turtle) are still sunning on the black sand and thriving in Kahuwai Bay. The bones of the village are there and all the memories are still alive, all the smiling welcoming people who embraced us as ‘Ohana. It was the same and yet different.

The keel of the New Moon
KVR is rebuilding and hopes to reopen in 2019. Will we ever capture the special feeling we had there for 5 spring breaks? 

Our eldest Ian died in July 2016 at the age of 24. I don’t know what a stay at a renewed Kona Village would be like without him. Bill, Alec and I will build a new relationship with the Big Island, and Ian will always be with us. 

Bill and I tossed a lei into Kahuwai Bay at the manta ray grotto on October 16, 2016, on what would have been Ian's 25th birthday.  He will always swim in those waters.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

What's new in Nutmeg's Kitchens?

Announcing Nutmeg Kitchens Handcrafted Seasonings!

Nutmeg Kitchens Handcrafted Seasonings is the newest offering from my kitchen to yours. These seasoning blends are a result of my playing with my favorite flavors. Why should I purchase a seasoning blend or a rub when I could very well make my own? After gifting my first blend, Magic Mediterranean, to a number of friends, I was overwhelmed with questions about when it would be available for purchase. My second medley, Chipotle-Brown Sugar Rub, has met with similar responses. Lemon-Ginger Warmth and Orange-Sage Warmth complete the quartet of Nutmeg Kitchens Handcrafted Seasonings. All blends are made with Pacific Blue™ kosher sea salt and only organic herbs and spices.

I have worked for many months to create the perfect combination of flavors in my blends and have developed recipes that will hopefully jump start the imaginations of those who purchase them.  I hold a San Mateo County Cottage Food Operator permit and will soon begin selling directly to the public and at farmer's markets in the Mid Peninsula area. 

If you are interested in helping me realize my dream, please visit my Go Fund Me page:

What to do with Nutmeg Kitchens Handcrafted Seasonings?

I use Magic Mediterranean Blend in just about everything, from scrambled eggs to vinaigrettes to roasted vegetables. It's especially good on well-marbled, grass-fed Rib Eye steak, grilled to succulent perfection. Fennel seed, cumin seed, ground sumac and cloves give this blend a distinctive aroma and taste. A ramekin of the blend is always next to my stove, ready to add magic to whatever I'm cooking.

Steaks with Magic Mediterranean Blend waiting for the grill

Ian’s Fire Blend – A force to be reckoned with, just like the young man for whom it is named. Ancho chiles, smoked paprika, red pepper flakes and cayenne lay a spicy foundation for cumin, brown sugar, ginger, garlic, nutmeg and cinnamon to bring balance, sweetness and depth of flavor to this special blend. Use Ian’s Fire in place of packaged taco seasoning for all your South of the Border cooking, but don’t stop there. Be inspired and let your culinary imagination run wild. Ian would like that!

Chipotle-Brown Sugar Rub 

In addition to the two titular ingredients, this mélange of sea salt, ginger, cumin, cinnamon, garlic powder and black pepper is perfect on any grilled meat, especially pork. But why stop there? Toss popcorn with Chipotle-Brown Sugar Rub and butter for an unforgettable movie night treat.

Aloha Java Blend – This blend marries Hawaiian alaea red salt and organic coffee with kosher sea salt, ginger, brown sugar, cayenne pepper, Sichuan peppercorns and smoked paprika.  It’s a spicy, smoky taste of the islands that adds both heat and sweetness to grilled or roasted fish, pork, beef or chicken, or anything else you want to play with. Lei and palm tree optional!

But these are just my suggestions. As a curious cook, I encourage you to play with Handcrafted Seasonings in your everyday preparations and discover your own way to add spice to your meal.

I look forward to bringing spice to as many kitchens as I can!

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Celery! Soup, Chicken Salad and Crunch!

I used to love it. The steam from the bowl as it rose up to my nostrils; the creamy warmth just a spoonful away; the green, floating slices of subtle crunchiness – Campbell’s Cream of Celery Soup, my favorite lunch after coming home from the morning session of Kindergarten at Macy Elementary School. If I was really lucky, Mom would also include a grilled cheese sandwich, but for the most part, just the soup was enough to make me one happy 5 year old. It was served in my very own Mary Alice Hadley bowl.

Mary Alice Hadley was an artist from Louisville, Kentucky and
one of my aunt's best friends. My aunt was one of the first retailers to sell
Mary Alice's wares in her shop in St. Matthews, Kentucky.

It had my name on the outside and ALL GONE on the bottom. Mom made it a game to get to the “All DONE”, making lunch not only filling but fun. I loved this soup; it was my favorite lunch, until…

…I spent a weekend with the babysitter from hell. Her name was Mrs. Marris. My parents were going away for a long overdue weekend away alone, and Mrs. Marris was to mind us. And mind us, she would. She minded me, especially.

My mother had selected Mrs. Marris from a child care registry which noted she was a church going woman, had raised a large family herself and was experienced in caring for infants – my sister was less than a year old at time. I was used to having neighborhood high school girls babysit. They would listen to rock and roll on my parents’ Hi-Fi, tell me all about their boyfriends - “You know the really cute guy who drives that cool Chevy?” -  and would put my hair up in pink sponge rollers before I went to bed so my extra-straight locks would be somewhat curly the next morning. Mrs. Marris was a different kind of babysitter. Everything with her was all peachy as my parents, waving and blowing kisses, drove out of the driveway, down the street and on to their weekend alone. (Elsie Smith, the housekeeper who was in our lives for 20 years, had not yet become that beloved family member, otherwise, Mrs. Marris would never have been a part of this story.)

The first hint of “a different kind of babysitter” came when a boy, a few years older and much taller than me, was dropped off at our house. It was one of Mrs. Marris’ grandsons and she had told his parents that she would watch him since she was already watching someone else’s kids. Once out of eye and ear shot of his grandmother, who was doting endlessly on my little sister, he called me names and teased me mercilessly, trying to illicit a dramatic response on my part that would no doubt cause his grandmother to leave the reverie of caring for the baby and get mad at me. I ignored him, which only made him all the angrier. Bullies are like that, aren’t they? 

As a last resort for my attention, Grandson from Hell grabbed a small chair, a special gift from a visit to Los Angeles’ Olvera Street  and threatened to break my chair, my chair, my chair!

A similar, more modern version
 of my  beloved chair
Grandson, seeing my pleading, anxious eyes, did whatever any self-respecting, overweight 9 year old bully would do – he sat on my chair. It broke. A flurry of frantic calls for “Grandma, come see what she has done!” brought me out of the momentary shock I experienced as I saw a favorite possession ruined . I screamed, and screamed until Mrs. Marris appeared.

Mrs. Marris was not pleased, not at all.  But it was not her devil spawn who felt her wrath. No matter how I tried to explain that it was he who sat in and broke my chair, the blame was all on me. Nope, no way, no how, would her grandson do such a thing. I was told to stay in my room, indefinitely.  I hated Mrs. Marris.

The next day, Grandson from Hell was gone and Mrs. Marris was in a far more conciliatory mood. Perhaps the little blighter confessed, but I’m sure it had more to do with Mrs. Marris wanting to receive a glowing review of her services from the eldest, and only articulate, Reilly child. I was served Campbell’s Cream of Celery soup for lunch that day. “Your mother said it is your favorite”, she said with a tone of voice bordering on fawning. 

“Oh, it is”, I replied with a sly smile. Once her back was turned, I took the lid off the table top salt shaker and proceeded to empty its contents into my blessed, long awaited bowl of Cream of Celery Soup. Sometimes you have to destroy the one thing you love in order to have some integrity. I took a taste. I didn’t scream, I didn’t make a sour face, I didn’t cry about the foulness of it or curse her repugnant grandson. I simply pushed the offending bowl of soup away from me with a look of indifference. Mrs. Marris became harsh now, a bit fed up with all the drama her stay at our home had created. “Why don’t you eat your soup?!” When push came to shove, I asked her to take a taste from my Margie bowl. Afraid that it might be contaminated but not wanting to lose face with a 5 year old, she gingerly took a spoon, dipped it so lightly into that murky, questionable cream of whatever, brought the spoon to her lips and immediately christened the contents “Inedible!" And then she said, with a defeated look," Margie, you may leave the table.”

Now, 50 years later, I have not had another bowl of Campbell's Cream of Celery soup. Try as she might, my mother could not get me to consume another spoonful of my once favorite luncheon item. As for Mrs. Marris? I am so over her!

So, how have I found my current celery love? 

At Camp Blogaway in May 2103, Duda Farm Fresh provided a prom dress showing of pink and green stalks. If these do not change your opinion of celery, I don’t know what will!

One of my favorite salads is Chicken Salad Veronique from the Ina Garten’s Barefoot Contessa At Home cookbook.

Chicken Salad Veronique

Adapted from The Barefoot Contessa by Margie MacKenzie, Nutmeg Kitchens

Serves 6-8, easily increased to serve any amount


4 whole chicken breasts
Olive oil
Salt and pepper
2 cups Red Flame Grapes, halved
2 cups chopped celery
1 cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons chopped tarragon, more for garnish
½-1 cup apple cider vinegar, depending on taste
Salt and pepper to taste
½ cup toasted pecans or walnuts – optional


Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Generously salt and pepper the chicken breasts and rub olive oil over them. Roast for 25-35 minutes, until the skin is golden and the flesh hits 160 degrees with an instant read thermometer. Allow chicken to cool. Chicken can be prepared one day in advance.

Once chicken is cooled, remove the skin and shred the meat off the bones. Dice the meat and set aside.

To assemble the salad:
Halve the grapes. Chop the celery – include some of the leaves for extra flavor.

For the dressing :
Place the mayonnaise, cider vinegar, tarragon and salt and pepper in a small bowl; whisk together and add more salt and pepper to taste (sometimes I even add a splash or two of hot sauce).

Place the cubed chicken, grapes and celery in a bowl; toss with the dressing. Refrigerate overnight, or up to 2 days. 

Allow the salad to come room temperature before serving. Garnish with chopped tarragon and optional nuts. Serve in a large serving bowl or on a platter on top of a bed of red leaf lettuce.

Note: If you don't want to go through the process of roasting and shredding chicken breasts, and you are a Costco shopper, look for vacuum-sealed packages of chicken breast meat in the deli refrigerator case, $11.99. This is meat from the plump, succulent, roasted chickens that do not sell on a given day. Costco birds have little additional seasoning so the breast meat is perfect for use in any recipe that calls for chicken breast meat. And it is REALLY tasty!! A great time-saver that provides excellent results!

Monday, June 16, 2014

Beef and Cabbage Buns and Elsie Smith

In my last blog post, I mentioned Elsie, our housekeeper, and wrote that I couldn’t remember the meals she had prepared for us while my mother was away. That was not exactly true. I wasn’t able  conjure up the dinners she prepared for us on that one occasion, but I sure can remember at least one or two things Elsie made for us, and a few other tidbits about this wonderful woman who was a part of my family for over 20 years.

The first thing about Elsie Smith: she called everyone Honey. And it wasn’t just “Hi Honey!” It was “Honey, you’re mommy just called, and Honey, she won’t be home for another hour, so Honey, I made you a sandwich for an after school snack, Honey. Now go do your homework, Honey”. It wasn’t like she didn’t know our first names or anything, she just called EVERYONE Honey, and she loved calling everyone Honey!

Elsie joined our family shortly after my sister was born in 1963. She worked for another woman in our neighborhood and came highly recommended when it became apparent that my mother needed some household help with 3 children under 5. Elsie came every Friday for the next 2 decades and she became a beloved fixture throughout our growing up and into young adulthood. When Mom and Dad felt they could venture away for a weekend without us kids, Elsie was there to mind us with love, affection and a steel hand resting inside a velvet glove. She loved the music of  the hunky 1960’s singer  Engelbert Humperdinck, but when she found out that was not his real name, she promptly shifted her allegiance to Trini Lopez. She had her scruples, after all. She even named a cockatoo she received as a gift "Trini". Elsie was someone you always wanted on your side. 

The Reilly kids, circa 1968

Elsie was a good, honest woman, of German heritage, and she had a clear, unvarnished view on life, which is why she was such a good housekeeper. She wanted to keep everything in order, Honey, and she did so in the Reilly household every Friday, Honey! She was also a simple cook, so when she stayed with us when my parents were gone, her repertoire was equally simple – grilled cheese, macaroni and cheese, Campbell’s Soup and the like. But I do vividly remember something she made for us once, and it must have been a special occasion: a seasoned beef and cabbage mixture, encased in slightly sweet bread, baked and served warm. Beef pies! Bierocks was what she called them. And they rocked! Bierocks were a onetime culinary taste treat for the Reilly children circa 1968. For some reason, we never got Elsie to make them again and it was pure folly to ask that my mother make them.  I still have that combination of ground beef, cabbage, cheese and dough lingering on the back of my palate.

A few years ago I purchased America’s Best Lost Recipes by the Cook’s Country magazine. (They are also the America’s Test Kitchen folks, so it’s a viable resource). I loved reading through the family favorite and time tested recipes – 7Up Cake, Cheese Crusted Olive Balls, Mile High Bologna Pie among them.  

7 Up Cake Photo by Margie MacKenzie

Cooking is not an exact science, and the outcome of what one is preparing can be effected by the humidity or dryness of the kitchen, the quality and freshness of the ingredients and the skill and patience of the cook. My experience with Runsas falls into the later category. I’ve always had issues with all things dough – pastry and bread – so perhaps I should cut myself some slack. 

What should have looked like this:
photo from Cook's Country

Looked like this:
photo by Margie MacKenzie
Though my Runsas/Bierocks were pretty darned tasty (thanks to the sweet bread dough which wasn't all that hard to make), I felt I had failed. I had failed by not creating a beautiful doughy package of savory delight, but also in not completely capturing the flavors I remember so well from that one time Elsie made them for me. It just wasn’t the same, much like my mother’s attempt at preparing Spaghetti Casserole for my brother, my sister and me years ago. I guess there is truth in the saying, “You can’t go home again”. I will have to have Elsie's Runsas as my taste memory to go along with all the other wonderful memories I have of this very loving woman.

So if you are an intrepid soul, or someone who really knows how to work with dough and fillings, give Runsas a try, and please, Honey, think kindly of Elsie Smith, honey, while doing so, Honey! She'd be so happy, Honey! And so would I!

Runsas - Beef & Cabbage Buns


 8 servings



o    3/4 cup warm water (100 degrees)
o    1/2 cup sweetened condensed milk
o    1/4 cup vegetable oil - I use Canola oil
o    2 TBS sugar
o    1 large egg
o    3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
o    2 packages rapid-ride or instant yeast
o    1 teas salt


o    1 TBS unsalted butter, with 2 TBS melted
o    1 1/2 lbs lean ground beef
o    1 large onion, finely chopped
o    1/2 small head of cabbage, finely chopped, about 3 cups
o    Salt & Pepper to taste
o    8 slices cheese - American, Cheddar or Gruyere


For the dough: Lightly grease large bowl with cooking spray. Mix water, sweetened condensed milk, oil, sugar, and egg in large measuring cup. Mix flour, yeast, and salt in bowl of standing mixer fitted with dough hook. With mixer on low, add water mixture. After dough comes together, increase speed to medium and mix until shiny and smooth, 4 to 6 minutes. Turn dough out onto heavily floured work surface, shape into ball, and place in greased bowl. (To make dough by hand: Combine dry ingredients in large bowl, make well in center of dry ingredients, add wet ingredients, and mix with wooden spoon until shaggy dough forms. Turn dough out onto heavily floured work surface and knead until shiny and smooth, about 10 minutes.) Cover bowl with plastic wrap and let rest in warm place until doubled in size, about 1 hour.

Melt 1 tablespoon butter in large skillet over medium-high heat. Add beef and cook until just beginning to brown, about 6 minutes, breaking up any large clumps. Using slotted spoon, transfer beef to paper towel-lined plate.
Pour off all but 2 tablespoons fat from pan. Add onion and cook until softened, about 3 minutes. Add cabbage and toss until just beginning to wilt, 2 to 4 minutes. Return beef to pan and season with salt and pepper.

Assembly & Baking
Adjust oven racks to the upper-middle and lower-middle positions and heat oven to 350 degrees. Coat 2 baking sheets with cooking spray. Divide dough into 8 equal pieces. Working on lightly floured work surface, roll each piece of dough into 7-inch circle. Place one dough round in deep cereal bowl and top with one slice of cheese. Spoon 3/4 cup filling over cheese and pinch edges of dough together to form bun. Transfer bun, seam side down, to prepared baking sheet. Repeat with remaining dough, cheese, and filling, placing 4 buns on each baking sheet. Cover buns with plastic wrap and let rise until puffed, about 20 minutes.
Bake buns until golden brown, about 20 minutes, switching and rotating position of baking sheets halfway through baking time. Brush buns with melted butter and serve.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Sriracha, Potatoes and Sandwich Failures

I don’t know where it came from – Depression-era frugality or a strange organizational compulsion – but my mother had the oddest habit of taking a certain amount of a condiment – mayo, relish, mustard, horseradish – out of its original container and placing it in a smaller jar which would fit on the shelves of the refrigerator door. The larger vessel was then placed in the back of the lowest shelf, waiting to refill its little friend. Mom would write in blue marker the name of the condiment on the side of the smaller jar in order to avoid confusion over the contents. This system worked pretty well as long as one made sure to read the side of the jar. The mayo jar was the most frequently used, but there were times when it was washed and never refilled and replaced, which accounted for a mistake or two.

As I’ve written previously, my mother was not the most avid home cook. My father was even less so, but he surprised us once.  When I was in elementary school, I remember my mother going away for a long weekend to visit her sister. Dad was in charge of dinner for one of the nights she was to be gone – our housekeeper Elsie made up the difference with several basic 1960's favorites which have faded from my memory. But Spaghetti Casserole, a vestige from his bachelor days, was Dad’s contribution to our weekend sustenance and my siblings and I devoured the concoction of ground beef cooked with onions, mixed with several cans of Franco-American Spaghetti and then baked with grated cheddar cheese on top. It was a special dinner for us, probably because it was the first one Dad had ever prepared. When Mom, upon her return and with our pleas, replicated Dad’s recipe exactly, we turned our noses up. I think the recipe came from the can of Franco-American Spaghetti, so Mom couldn’t have gotten it too wrong; nonetheless, it just wasn’t Dad’s.

Other then tossing a tri-tip on the grill, the only thing I remember my father ever preparing, beside Spaghetti Casserole, was an occasional peanut butter, lettuce and mayonnaise sandwich. If he knew that Elvis added bananas and then fried the thing, he would have been mightily offended. Frying compromised the ingredients and it made for so much more work. Though he would offer to make his favorite sandwich for us, I don’t think my siblings nor I ever accepted, and Mom would have nothing to do with Dad’s bizarre specialty after he had beaten her in the Spaghetti Casserole Bowl.

Fast forward to the late 1970’s and I am home for the summer from college. Whether it was mandated that I do so, or I volunteered, I cleaned the kitchen late one Saturday morning. I took great pride in getting it spic and span and I even reorganized some of the cupboards (yes, I probably alphabetized the spices and dried herbs, what few there were!). I’d just finished my labor of love when Dad came in from the family room. He pulled a loaf of Wonder Bread from the bread drawer, a jar of Jiff peanut butter from the pantry cupboard, iceberg lettuce from the crisper and a small jar of mayonnaise from one of the refrigerator door shelves. He proceeded to prepare his masterpiece, slathering the mayo on one slice of the bread and a thinner layer of peanut butter on the other - he preferred a higher mayo to PB ratio - and topped both with a crackling piece of iceberg. He sliced it perfectly on the diagonal, placed it lovingly on a melamine plate and returned to watch the Dodgers game, leaving the detritus of his snack strewn across the newly cleaned counter top.

I was pissed as hell and came into the family room insisting that he clear the counter  himself. He refused and a vigorous argument ensued, which I eventually lost when my mother intervened and told me to take care of Dad’s mess. I snorted loudly and sighed heavily as I began the process I had completed just minutes before. I first grabbed the jar of mayo and angrily screwed on the lid. As I was placing it in an empty slot on the refrigerator shelf, I noticed written in blue ink down the side of the jar “Horseradish”.

Just then, from the family room came a volley of expletives I didn’t hear repeated until years later in a Quentin Tarantino film. With a sardonic grin, I joined Dad in the family room with the offending material in my hand, shaking it in his face and saying, “You should have read the jar!” The remainder of my tidying brought me a vengeful satisfaction.

Dad and I didn’t speak of his PB-Lettuce-Horseradish debacle that day, but it did come up at dinner a few days later. I delighted in telling the tale to the rest of the family and I thought I had the last laugh, when Dad, without missing a beat, had the audacity to say that he actually liked it! But I don’t remember him making one of those awful sandwiches ever again, with or without horseradish. Years later, when reminded of his unique creation, he declared that I had made up the entire tale. Knowing winks from the rest of family confirmed my side of the story.

So, is there a moral to this tale? There are two, actually: 1.) Always read the labels, or in some cases, the blue ink, on the jars in your refrigerator, and  2.) Try to keep your condiments in their original containers to avoid any confusion that moral #1 may create. Oh, and a third: Do not combine peanut butter, iceberg lettuce and horseradish, no matter what!

What's the current favorite condiment in my fridge that I may or may not properly label? Sriracha mayonnaise.

Sriracha is the latest “it” hot sauce and and part of a recent lawsuit by the city of Irwindale, California, where Huy Fong Foods is headquartered. The lawsuit has been settled and Sriracha will now be flowing freely, whether you purchase the Huy Fong Foods brand, with its famous rooster logo, or a private label squeeze bottle such as one available at Trader Joe’s.
My sons have had Sriracha as their go-to hot sauce for years. I've been slow on the uptake. I'm now a true believer.

And how do I make my Sriracha mayonnaise? Read the recipe below and you’ll find out. Though served with roasted potatoes here, you can sub this spicy, colorful sauce for any plain, old white mayo on a sandwich or in a dipping sauce. Just remember to properly label the container in which you store it! And experiment with Sriracha as you would any hot sauce.

Salt & Vinegar Potato Wedges with Sriracha Mayonnaise
Serves 10 as an appetizer
Margie MacKenzie, adapted from a recipe from Epicurious

2 lbs Yukon or red potatoes, cut into wedges
1 cup white vinegar
1 TBS kosher salt, or more to taste
Olive oil
Minced Chives, optional

Sriracha Mayonnaise
1 cup Mayonnaise
4 TBS Sriracha sauce, or to taste
1.      Place the potatoes wedges and 1 cup of vinegar in a saucepan and cover with water. Bring to a boil and cook until potatoes are soft, but hold their shape. Remove potatoes from the vinegar/water mixture and allow to cool on a sheet pan.
2.      Heat oven to 450 degrees. Toss cooled potatoes lightly with olive oil and more salt. Roast for 20-25 minutes, tossing the pan occasionally, until the potatoes are crispy and golden on the outside but still creamy on the inside. Add additional salt to taste, if desired. Remove and allow to cool to room temperature. Garnish with minced chives, if desired. Serve with Sriracha Mayonnaise.

Sriracha Mayonnaise

1. Combine the mayo and the Sriracha sauce and refrigerate until the potatoes are ready. Serve with room temp potatoes. May be made 1 week ahead and kept well sealed in the refrigerator.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Oh, Fuyu...Persimmons, that is!

I grew up in a Southern California track home neighborhood that bordered what we would now call semi-rural development- larger parcels of land, zoned for horses, chickens and other "farm animals". Back in the day, we called this area The Heights, as in La Habra Heights. Citrus trees abounded - this is in Northern Orange County after all - as did avocados trees.  As kids, my siblings, friends and I considered the Heights our backyard, spending entire afternoons running through the orchards or navigating the banks of the Hacienda Creek. It was the Creek that provided the most fun, and it was the Creek with a capital C. Its course would change each year depending on how much rain we'd had the previous winter. Whole new islands and inlets would be created on which we'd pitch a make-shift camp as our base of operations. We'd role play as orphans, left in the Creek by ne'er-do-well parents to fend for ourselves on crayfish (never caught one, though they were reputed to live in the Big Six Foot Deep Pond) and what we could pilfer from friendly neighbors' (our real parents') pantries. My friend Keri and I actually convinced some children, not from our neighborhood but traversing the Creek one day, that we were orphans and they brought us candy for 2 days! OK, maybe I'm only imagining that that happened, but it just goes to show what fun we had playing in the Creek.

One other thing the Creek had, in addition to crawdads and faux-orphans, were persimmon trees,
a whole orchard of them. I'm not sure to whom they belonged but they never seemed to get harvested. Every fall our neighbor Cora would wander down to the creek side orchard and pluck enough fruit to make persimmon cookies.

My family were among the lucky recipients of these cookies. They were puffy, doughy and ample enough to give a youngster a nice enough sugar high, but in all honesty, they didn't taste very good. I don't know if it was Cora's recipe, her baking ability or that persimmons just didn't taste very good. I loved the cookies because I loved Cora, but I didn't really love the cookies - do you get my point? I gave up on persimmons after that.

Like many foods I've grown to love as an adult - figs, and oysters among them - persimmons now whet my appetite come Autumn. The Hachiya is the soft-skinned fruit, astringent varietal. This is the fruit that Cora picked to make her cookies. They need to be totally soft and ripened to be used in any culinary enterprise. Maybe because I didn't love Cora's persimmon cookies, I've avoided the fruit all together for lo' these many years. But...

...I discovered the Fuyu varietal and I rediscovered persimmons!

Squat, taunt, and a stunning orange, the Fuyu is eaten easily out of hand and provides crispness and a somewhat herbal flavor to salads and fruit platters. I love adding them as a surprise. Are they apples, oranges? What is this mystery fruit? I then discovered a beguiling appetizer - Goat Cheese Persimmon Wedges...

Goat Cheese Persimmon Wedges
photo by Kameron Flores-Maxfield
This appetizer is so easy, so colorful, so flavorful, it makes me wish that persimmons 
were available year round. But if persimmons were available year round,  I'd miss all the anticipation I have for autumn, when persimmons make this time of year so special.

    • 1/2 cup salted roasted almonds, very finely chopped
    • 1 1/2 teaspoons chopped flat-leaf parsley
    • 4 ounces fresh goat cheese, softened
    • 4 Fuyu persimmons, sliced crosswise 1/4 inch thick
    • Aged balsamic vinegar, for serving


    1. In a small bowl, mix 3 tablespoons of the almonds and the parsley with the goat cheese. Divide the mixture into 6 equal pieces and roll each into a ball. Using a 2-inch round biscuit cutter, stamp out 12 rounds from the persimmon slices.
    2. Sandwich each goat cheese ball between 2 persimmon slices, pressing to flatten slightly. Roll the edges in the remaining almonds and refrigerate until firm, at least 10 minutes or overnight. Cut each round into quarters and transfer to a plate. Drizzle lightly with balsamic vinegar and serve.

And why do I now love Hachiya persimmons? Because of my friend Lois' Persimmon Pudding. I may not eat Hachiya's any other way.

I joined a book group in 1994. We were a gathering of women with young children and I was one of the members with the youngest kids. I learned from my sisters with older children and I grew up as a mother, and as a person,  with this amazing group of women. We have not only shared our opinions about books - and boy, have we read the best of them over these nearly 20 years and have had some pretty intense discussions - but we have share triumphs, disappointments, and more importantly, the every day stuff that is life. Lois' Persimmon Pudding is always the dessert at our December gathering.

Lois Ballentine's  Persimmon Pudding 

1 cup sugar
1cup flour
1 cup persimmon pulp
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla (or ½ tsp vanilla and 1 tablespoon rum)
½ cup milk
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 tablespoons melted butter
½ teaspoon ginger
1 teaspoon cinnamon

Mix dry ingredients.  Add rest.  Stir well.  After filling, cover mold tightly with foil and put in top of double boiler. Add lid and steam on top of stove for two hours.

 For a double recipe I like to pour the pudding batter into a metal bowl that has been put into the basket of my pasta cooker (with and inch or two of water in the bottom of the pot).  I cover the bowl with aluminum foil and then put a lid on the pot.

I have tried a variety of sauces.  Whipped cream sweetened with powdered sugar and flavored with vanilla is the simplest and is well liked.

Lois, thank you!