Corn Cakes

11 Oct

corn-cakesEvery August my son plays with his bluegrass band at the Wilson County Fair in Tennessee. One year he brought us back a bag of “traditional stone ground corn” from the Livesay Grist Mill at Fiddlers Grove in Lebanon, Tenn.

On the back of the bag is a recipe for “Miss Valerie’s Hot Water Cornbread” — which I ignored for the longest time because it doesn’t include eggs, like my usual cornbread recipe, and I wondered how it could be any good. Then my daughter said she’d tried it and loved it, so I gave it a try, and she was right!

I think of cornbread as something baked in a square  or round pan and then cut into squares or wedges. In this recipe, the cakes are fried on the top of the stove.

These corn cakes are very easy to make, and the they taste yummy with a drizzle of maple syrup.


1 cup stone-ground cornmeal
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking powder
1 Tbs. sugar
1 cup boiling water


Mix dry ingredients, then pour in hot water and mix quickly.

Heat 1/4-inch oil in a skillet, and drop the batter by tablespoons into the hot oil. Fry until golden on both sides.

Makes about 8 to 10 cakes.

Cold Plum Soup

20 Sep

Cold Plum Soup

This is adapted from a recipe I clipped from the Philadelphia Jewish Exponent many years ago. It’s a great recipe for this time of year, when it’s still hot enough outside to enjoy a cold fruit soup and when plums are plentiful in the markets. You can use any kind of plums, but prune plums (also called Stanley or damson plums) are available now and they’re generally cheaper and easier to pit and quarter. Cutting up the plums is the hardest part of the recipe.

The soup will keep for a week or so in an airtight container in the refrigerator.


2 lb. plums, pitted and quartered
3 Tbs. brown sugar
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
Grated zest of half an orange (about 1 tsp.)
Grated zest of half a lemon (about 1 tsp.)
2 cups orange juice
2 Tbs. lemon juice
1 cup almonds, toasted and coarsely chopped
1-2 cups water
Fresh mint leaves to garnish (optional)


In a medium saucepan, combine the plums, brown sugar, cinnamon, orange and lemon zests and just enough water to cover.

Simmer, partly covered, until the plums break down, about 20 minutes. Cool slightly.

In a blender or food processor (or using an immersion blender), puree the plum mixture with the orange juice, lemon juice, half the almonds. If the soup seems too thick, add a cup or two of water.

Chill for at least 2 hours. Before serving, sprinkle with the remaining almonds and garnish with fresh mint leaves if desired.

Serves 4 to 6

Hazelnut Biscuits

13 Sep

hazelnut-biscuitsIn a fit of I-don’t-know’what I bought a package of hazelnut meal (actually labeled Natural Ground Filberts) last Passover, and never used them. So when I saw this recipe in the New York Times I was thrilled. It was part of a fruit cobbler recipe (this was the topping) – and I’m sure that would be yummy, but I tried them without the fruit, as biscuits for breakfast, spread with butter and marmalade and served with scrambled eggs. They were deelish! I used milk instead of cream with no ill effect. And the recipe would probably work just as well (though taste a little different) with almond meal instead of hazelnut.


½ cup hazelnut meal
1½ cups all-purpose flour
½ cup granulated sugar
1 Tbs. baking powder
½ tsp. kosher salt
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1/3 cup cold heavy cream, plus more for brushing biscuit tops
¼ cup cold whole milk


In a small skillet, cook the hazelnut meal over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until golden brown and fragrant, about 3 to 5 minutes. Transfer to a plate and let cool completely.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Combine cooled hazelnut meal, flour, sugar, baking powder and salt in a large bowl and whisk to combine.

Cut butter into flour mixture with a pastry blender or two knives (or your fingers) until the mixture resembles coarse meal with a few pea-sized pieces. If the butter starts to get warm, put the bowl in the fridge for a few minutes.

In a small bowl, combine the cream and milk and quickly stir it into the flour mixture with a fork. Do not overwork the dough.

Drop the dough in 8 to 10 mounds on a baking sheet. Brush the tops with cream and sprinkle with a little sugar.

Bake about 15 minutes, until lightly browned.

(If using to top cobbler, use a favorite filling or make one from 2 lb. peaches, 2 cups blueberries, 2 to 4 Tbs. sugar, ½ tsp. vanilla. 1 Tbs. cornstarch and a pinch of salt. Toss to combine and place in baking dish.)


Tahini Grilled Chicken

30 Aug

Tahini chicken

I like to keep tahini, the Middle Eastern sesame paste, on hand, but it’s not something I use often. My last jar sat in the fridge for years before I used it up (and no, it didn’t spoil!). Now I have a new jar, so I’m on the lookout for interesting new recipes. This one was very tasty. We ate it fresh off the grill one night and then enjoyed the leftovers sliced on top of a green salad a few days later. The taste is intriguing and I liked it a lot even though my husband said it reminded him of Marmite, the awful English “yeast extract.” If you can find tahini, give this a try!

(This recipe is adapted from one I clipped from the Jewish Exponent in Philadelphia.)


¼ cup tahini
¼ cup soy sauce
3 garlic cloves, crushed
2 Tbs. toasted sesame seeds
2 scallions, white and green parts, sliced
2 Tbs. honey
2 lb. boneless chicken breasts
Chopped fresh parsley for garnish, optional


Mix all the ingredients except the chicken and place in a sealable Ziploc bag. Add the chicken and move it around a bit so all the chicken is coated. Place in the refrigerator for several hours or overnight.

An hour before cooking, remove from the refrigerator and allow to come to room temperature.

Heat a grill to high and sear the chicken for one to two minutes per side. Turn off the heat on one area of the grill and move the chicken to the unheated side. If you are using charcoal, push the chicken to the edges of the grill where there is the least amount of heat.

(We have an electric grill, and so I heated it up almost as high as it would go, cooked the chicken for a short time on each side, then turned the heat down to medium.)

Cover and allow the chicken to “roast” on the grill, about six minutes per side, until done.  Total cooking time should be about 15 minutes.

Remove to a platter, cover with foil and allow to sit for five minutes before serving, garnished with chopped fresh parsley if you like.

Serves 4 to 6

Polish Mushroom Soup

16 Aug

Polish mushroom soupHere’s another winning recipe from my friend Greta Zalman. She said she got it from a website called Polska Foods. The last time I cooked this I used one pound of mushrooms, 1 large-ish onion, 2 small celery stalks, and reduced the other ingredients proportionately, and it made four generous servings. Also feel free to use regular white mushrooms instead of the brown ones.


3 Tbs. butter
1 Tbs.  extra-virgin olive oil
1½  lb. brown mushrooms, sliced
2 yellow onions, finely chopped
2 large celery stalks, diced
3 or 4 garlic cloves
1 leek (optional)
2-3 teaspoon dried thyme
1 bay leaf
4 Tbs. dry sherry
5 Tbs. all-purpose flour
5 – 6 cups chicken or vegetable stock
Dash of Tabasco
2 tsp. sea salt (or to taste)
1 tsp.  freshly ground pepper to taste
1 cup heavy cream (or 3/4 cup sour cream, or 3/4 cup plain yogurt)
Garnish: 1 tablespoon fresh dill or parsley, minced


Clean and slice mushrooms.  Heat butter and olive oil till butter is melted.  Add the onion, celery, garlic, and leek and stir until slightly softened; do not brown.

Raise the heat to medium high and add the mushrooms and season with salt and pepper.  Cook 8 minutes until they are golden brown, stirring frequently.

Reduce heat and add thyme, bay leaf, dry sherry, and flour, stirring constantly and scraping the bottom of the pan for 5-8 minutes.  (It may not take this long; be careful not to burn the flour.) Add the stock slowly, stirring to keep it smooth, and the rest of the ingredients, except the cream (or yogurt).

Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to medium, and simmer until slightly thickened for 30 minutes or until mushrooms and vegetables are tender.

Optional:  With a hand blender, blend ingredients to puree the soup. (I don’t do this, I like the mushrooms in slices.)

Remove the pot from heat and serve.  Or, keep on low heat and add heavy cream (or sour cream / yogurt) to make a creamy mushroom soup.  Taste and adjust the seasoning, adding a few drops of lemon juice if desired.  Cook for another 5 to 7 minutes.

Ladle into warm bowls and garnish with fresh dill or parsley.

Serves 6

Almond and Mushroom Chicken

5 Aug

almond chickenHere’s a recipe that’s been in my collection forever — the newspaper clipping is yellowed — but I never made it until last week. It originally came from the Detroit Free Press as part of their Heart Smart collection in conjunction with Henry Ford Health System. Another way I know it’s old is it says it was “tested in the Free Press Tower Kitchen,” and the Freep has been gone from their tower office building for many years. The dish low-cal, low-fat and low-sodium. I modified the original just a bit, because cooking it as long as the recipe suggested resulted in slightly dry chicken.

It’s easier if you buy dry toasted slivered almonds, which are available at Trader Joe and other stores. If you have raw slivered almonds, toast them in a 325-degree oven for about 10 minutes; after five minutes, shake the pan every minute or so and check to make sure the nuts aren’t getting too brown. They should be slightly brown and fragrant.

This is good served with rice, which helps sop up the extra juices.


6 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
Black pepper to taste
Paprika to taste
1/4 cup slivered almonds, toasted
1 Tbs. vegetable oil
1/2 cup chopped onion
4 oz. fresh mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
1 Tbs. lemon juice
1/4 cup sherry
Parsley for garnish


Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Place the chicken breasts in a 9 x 13-inch baking dish and sprinkle with black pepper and paprika.

Heat the oil in a large skillet and saute the onion and mushrooms for 3 minutes.

Add the lemon juice, sherry and almonds and stir well.Spoon the mixture over the chicken pieces.

Cover with foil and bake for 45 minutes to an hour, depending on the thickness of the chicken breasts.

Garnish with chopped parsley, if desired, and serve.

Serves 6

Armenian Stuffed Grape Leaves

8 Jul

grape leavesWe have a bumper crop of grape leaves in our yard, so I just made another batch of these wonderful stuffed grape leaves. The easiest way to tell you about it is to share the post I wrote about them last year for my other food blog, Feed the Spirit. Here it is:

My husband has a wooden swing in the backyard where he likes to hang out on summer afternoons, but it’s right in the sun and can get a little uncomfortable.

To provide some shade, he planted two grapevines next to the swing, one on each side, a couple of years ago, hoping they’d climb up over the swing. I have no idea what kind of grapes they are – one is white, and one is red.

Our grapevine-covered backyard swing.

Our grapevine-covered backyard swing.

Last year we even had two minuscule clusters of grapes, which the birds enjoyed. This year, we had enough to make a couple of pints of grape juice.

But I was also interested in the vines for grape leaves. Living in Detroit, with its large Greek, Chaldean and Arab populations, we’ve been enjoying stuffed grape leaves for decades. They’re often stuffed with lamb, but we eat vegetarian versions. I’ve never made them, but with lush grapevines growing right outside my kitchen window, I thought this was a great time to try.


I’d been interested in trying my hand at stuffed grape leaves since last spring, when I participated in a program about food with Jewish and Chaldean (Iraqi Catholic) women. One of the Chaldean women told how almost every cook in her community keeps a large supply of grape leaves on hand.

The women frequently gather in groups to stuff grape leaves, she said, kind of like a Middle Eastern version of a quilting bee.

One family she knows almost got in trouble because of her grape leaves. The family had a house fire, and after the firemen took care of the emergency, they were about to arrest her; they had looked in her freezer, which was full of grape leaves, and thought she was growing marijuana illegally!

Thank you, Joan Nathan!

Joan Nathan

Joan Nathan

What convinced me to finally take action was this video and recipe from Joan Nathan, the doyenne of American Jewish cooking, which showed up in my Facebook feed. Her book, The Jewish Holiday Kitchen, is one of my all-time faves.

I followed her recipe and her directions, and the result was dee-lish! As she says, you don’t need to grow your own grapes or raid a neighbor’s vine; jarred grape leaves, available in any Middle Eastern or specialty grocery store, will do equally well.

These Armenian stuffed grape leaves are super-flavorful, with onions, tomatoes, currants and pine nuts, and a variety of seasonings including mint, dill, cinnamon, cardamom and allspice.

The filling isn’t hard to make; the only fiddly part of the recipe is actually stuffing and rolling the leaves, which was a little challenging to one used to making the much larger stuffed cabbage rolls. It also takes awhile because you need to prepare the filling, then let it cool, then make the rolls, then cook the rolls.

I took them to a holiday lunch at a friend’s house and they were scarfed up in no time!

Joan suggests trying the same stuffing with chard leaves. We had some chard in our garden, so I made a few that way. The taste was great, but the chard leaves, which are long and thin, were actually harder to roll than the grape leaves.

If you make more than you can eat at once, you can freeze them. Put the extra rolls in a large bowl, drizzle with olive oil and toss gently to make sure all the rolls are lightly coated with oil, then place them in a plastic freezer bag. Defrost in the refrigerator and bring to room temperature before serving.


One 15-oz. or 1-lb. jar of grape leaves (about 70 leaves) — or 70 fresh grape leaves
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons olive oil
3 medium onions, chopped
1/3 cup pine nuts
1/3 cup currants
3/4 cup chopped parsley
1/4 cup snipped fresh dill
1 Tbs. dried or 2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. allspice
1 tsp. ground cardamom
1 Tbs. salt, or to taste
1/2 tsp. freshly ground pepper
1 cup short- or medium-grain rice, uncooked
1 Tbs. sugar
1 1/2 cups diced fresh tomatoes or 1 cup diced canned tomatoes, with juices
2 lemons


If you use fresh grape leaves, blanch them for 1 minute in boiling water. then drain. If you use jarred, drain the grape leaves, then carefully unwrap each leaf, remove and discard any stems. Put the leaves in a large bowl with water to cover. Let soak while you prepare the filling.

Heat 1/4 cup of the olive oil in a large covered skillet, and add the onions. Cover and cook over low heat for 20 to 30 minutes. Uncover the skillet and sauté for a few more minutes until beginning to turn golden.

Add the pine nuts, currants, parsley, dill, mint, cinnamon, allspice, cardamom, salt, pepper, rice, 1 cup of water, sugar, and tomatoes. Cover and simmer for 15 minutes, until the rice is almost cooked. Remove from heat and stir in the juice of 1 of the lemons, then set aside to cool slightly.

Line the bottom of a heavy 6-quart pot with 10 of the leaves, dull side up.

Put 1 leaf on a flat surface, dull side up, with the stem end toward you. Spoon on 1 tablespoon of filling near the stem end of the leaf and flatten the filling to the width of the leaf. (Editor’s note: I’m sure she means one level measuring-spoon tablespoon; don’t use a soup spoon or you’ll have too much for one leaf. It may be easier to use a teaspoon.) Fold the stem end over the filling, then fold the sides into the center and roll away from you. Repeat with the remaining leaves and filling.

Arrange the stuffed grape leaves, seam sides down, in rows along the bottom of the lined pot, then stack them on top of each other.

Pour 1 cup of water over the leaves and place a small plate on top to keep the leaves weighted down. Cover the pot and bring to a boil; reduce the heat and simmer for 20 minutes. Uncover and simmer 10 minutes more. Allow to cool in the pot, then drain.

Serve warm or at room temperature as an appetizer, sprinkled with the juice of the remaining lemon and the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil. If you like, you can also top them with yogurt.

To freeze: drizzle with olive oil and toss lightly to cover all the stuffed grape leaves with a thin film of oil, then pack into a plastic freezer bag or container.