First Try at Sushi

February 28th, 2018

One of my favorite things to do during my holiday shift at Williams-Sonoma (which ends in February) is teaching cooking classes, particularly children’s classes. I love the enthusiasm and appetite young people bring to the experience.

Last month I was asked to teach a class in conjunction with the store’s American Girl Around the World Cookbook. The class covered an odd but intriguing duo of recipes: vegetable sushi and Black Forest cake.

I have worked with the American Girl books before, and in general I’m not crazy about them. The recipes tend to be bland and sometimes don’t quite work.

The Black Forest cake recipe lived up to that experience. I actually baked the basic cake twice. (It had to be made before the class so that it had time to cool before my students decorated it.) In neither case did I care for the consistency. My students didn’t really mind because the whipped cream and cherries they slathered all over the final product literally and figuratively covered up the cake’s defects.

The sushi was a different story. I loved it! Never having made sushi before, I enlisted my family’s aid in pre-testing the recipe. We did change it a little bit. The cookbook wanted the sushi rolled by hand into little cornets. I couldn’t for the life of me make that work. Instead, we rolled it by hand into the classic cylinders and rounds. Soon my sister-in-law, who adores sushi, purchased a little sushi mat to simplify the rolling procedure. It definitely helped—but if you want to try the recipe, you don’t have to have the mat.

Here is the cookbook’s recipe, amended by my family.  Our sushi is a work in progress, but it will improve over time. Meanwhile, I’m happy to report that my students had a grand time making the sushi. Their rolls weren’t entirely neat (neither are mine!), but they tasted great.

Of course, the fillings for the sushi can be varied. One of these days I plan to try making classic sushi with fish. For the moment, I’m happy.

Vegetable Sushi


for the rice:

2 tablespoons rice vinegar
1-1/2 tablespoons sugar
1-1/2 teaspoons salt
2 cups cooked short-grain sushi rice (we have been using Nishiki brand, but others are available), still hot

for assembly:

1 teaspoon rice vinegar
2 tablespoons water
2 to 3 sheets of nori (seaweed), cut in half
2 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds (white or black or some of each)
2 baby cucumbers, peeled (or not!) and cut into thin pieces
several baby carrots, cut into thin pieces
1 ripe avocado, peeled, pitted, and thinly sliced

for serving:

soy sauce or tamari
wasabi (optional: some people, like me, love it, while others find it too spicy)


Begin by making the seasoning for the rice. In a small saucepan combine the vinegar, sugar, and salt over low heat. Stir and heat until the sugar and salt dissolve (a minute or 2). Set aside to cool completely.

Cook the rice according to package directions. (I usually cook it for a little less time than the recipe suggests and then let it sit off the heat for 10 minutes to finish cooking on its own.)

Place the hot rice in a baking dish, using a spatula or paddle to spread it out evenly. Slowly pour in the vinegar mixture while slicing the spatula through the rice to make sure that it goes all the way through. Flip the rice so that all of it gets some of the liquid. Cover the rice with a clean, damp cloth while you get ready to make your sushi. (The seasoned rice is essential to really good sushi so don’t try to skip this step.)

Combine the vinegar and water for assembly in a small bowl. Place 1 piece of nori, shiny side down, on a clean, dry work surface or sushi-rolling mat. The long side should be closest to you. Slice the nori in half so that you have two long sheets.

Scoop a couple of tablespoons of rice onto one of your sheets. Dip your fingers in the vinegar/water mixture to keep the rice from sticking to them; then gently flatten the rice on the sheet, leaving room on all sides but particularly on the long side opposite you.

Lightly sprinkle the rice with some of the sesame seeds; then place a few slices of cucumber, carrot, and avocado on top, keeping them fairly near you on the rice. 


For this roll we forgot the sesame seeds and went too close to the edges of the nori (nobody’s perfect!), but you can see how the vegetables are clumped together.

Lift the side of the nori closest to you, and roll it forward. The process is a little delicate. You want a small amount of pressure to keep the sushi together, but you don’t want to squash it.

When the sushi is rolled, remove the mat (if you are using one) and slice the sushi into little rounds with a serrated knife. Serve with soy sauce and (if you like it) wasabi. Serves 4 to 6 as an appetizer.

A Southern Twist on Funeral Food

January 31st, 2018

Regular readers of this blog may recall that I LOVE funeral foods, an affection I inherited from my mother. With a nod to Shakespeare, she billed herself as a “specialist in funeral baked meats.” When a neighbor died she sprang into action organizing contributions to the post-funeral repast.

One of these days I will find a publisher for my death-related cookbook, which will be titled Dishes to Die For: America’s Favorite Funeral Foods. Meanwhile, I take inspiration from a new funeral-food cookbook that highlights the south.

The Southern Sympathy Cookbook: Funeral Food with a Twist (Countryman Press, $22.95, 176 pages) comes from the fertile pen and kitchen of Perre Coleman Magness. Magness, who lives in Memphis, Tennessee, is the author of Pimento Cheese the Cookbook. She is clearly my soul sister. In addition to doting on funeral food, I adore pimento cheese. I ate it almost daily when I lived in Tennessee.

Magness’s new book abounds with tempting recipes for classic southern foods, from fried chicken to chess pie. It also adapts many typical southern dishes into crowd-friendly form, providing for example a mini version of cinnamon buns and an easily sliced caramel Bundt cake (much handier for a large group than the typical layered version).

I recognized many of Magness’s recipes from my southern sojourns and also from funerals I have attended, but some were new to me. I can’t wait to try her paper-bag chicken (yes, it’s chicken roasted in a paper bag, and it sounds WONDERFUL) and her buttermilk pie bars.

The Southern Sympathy Cookbook is a keeper—perfect to consult when you’re heading out to a funeral or just entertaining friends and family at home.

Photo courtesy of Perry Coleman Magness and Countryman Press

Southern Sympathy Sweet Tea Bread (Courtesy of Perre Coleman Magness/Countryman Press)

Sweet tea is a staple of southern hospitality. Almost every restaurant at which I dined in Tennessee and Texas provided large pitchers of sweetened iced tea at low cost. Here Magness uses this ingredient as the basis for an elegant sweet loaf.


1 family-sized tea bag
2 sprigs mint, plus 1 tablespoon finely chopped mint
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 cup granulated sugar
the zest of one medium lemon
2 eggs
1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup confectioners’ sugar


Put the tea bag and 2 sprigs of mint in a measuring cup. Add 1 cup boiling water. Steep for 30 minutes; then remove the tea bag and mint. Cool to room temperature.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 9-by-5-inch loaf pan with baking spray.

Beat the butter and sugar together in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment until light and fluffy. Beat in the lemon zest and 1 tablespoon of finely chopped fresh mint. Add the eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition and scraping down the sides of the bowl.

Measure out 1/2 cup of the tea, reserving the rest for the glaze. Add the flour, the baking powder, and the salt to the butter in the bowl in three additions, alternating with the tea and scraping down the sides of the bowl. When everything is well combined, beat on high for 5 seconds; then scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth it into an even layer.

Bake for 45 to 50 minutes until a tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in the pan for 10 minutes; then remove to a wire rack to cool completely. Meanwhile, prepare the glaze.

Sift the confectioners’ sugar into a small bowl. Whisk in the remaining tea slowly until you have a pourable glaze about the consistency of heavy cream. Drizzle the glaze over the cake with a spoon, spreading to cover the top with a few attractive drips down the sides. Let the glaze set for about an hour.

The loaf will keep in an airtight container for a day. Makes one loaf.

Just for fun, here I am in full funeral mode, leaning on the tombstone of Abigail Baker, my hometown’s best known baker. Mrs. Baker won the famed pudding contest our town sponsored in 1780. This photo will grace the cover of my own funeral-food book.

Cooking Up a Storm (in Gifts)

December 22nd, 2017

I have been busy this December. I’m trying desperately to finish proofreading my forthcoming rhubarb book (with a little help from my friends), working a temporary retail job to pay for holiday presents, and OF COURSE shopping and cooking for the holidays.

As always, I have prepared several edible gifts. This year’s favorites (well, every year’s favorites!) include chili peanuts, sweet-and-spicy mustard, and curried cashews.

On Mass Appeal today, I prepared the cashews, as well as a favorite confection from my Pudding Hollow Cookbook, penuche. The recipe originally came from my wonderful matriarch of a neighbor, the late Mary Parker, known to all of us kids as Gam.

Penuche is a brown-sugar-based fudge that tastes a bit as though it has maple in it. It’s EXTREMELY rich and sweet—so much so that even I, sweet lover that I am, can’t eat too much of it. A tiny morsel is delicious, however.

Readers, what is your own favorite holiday gift? Please leave a comment below to let me know. (I’d love recipes if you’re willing to share them with me as a holiday present!)

And please have a wonderful holiday season. I wish you peace, joy, and a of course new rhubarb book in 2018….

Gam’s Penuche


1 cup sour cream
1 pound light brown sugar
1 cup white sugar
1 cup chopped pecans or walnuts (optional)
a generous splash of vanilla


Combine the sour cream and the sugars in a heavy, medium-size saucepan, and place the pan over low to medium heat.

Stir the mixture constantly until it comes to a boil; then cover it for a minute or two to wash down the sides of the pan. Uncover the mixture, and cook it, without stirring much, until it reaches the soft-ball stage (234 degrees). Remove from heat.

Add the nuts (if you want them) and the vanilla, and let the mixture cool for a few minutes without stirring it. Don’t let it get cooler than lukewarm; optimally, it should be a bit warmer than that.

Beat the warm fudge until it becomes creamy and thickens slightly—in other words until it begins to seem fudgy. Quickly pour it into a buttered 8-by-8-inch pan, and let it cool before cutting it into squares. Store the fudge in an airtight container.

Makes about 36 squares, more or less, depending on your cutting. Penuche is best when eaten within 24 hours. Happily, it rarely lasts that long.

And now the video:

Crazy for Cranberries

November 19th, 2017

I recently taught a class on Thanksgiving pies at the Baker’s Pin in Northampton, Massachusetts. Naturally, I had to feature cranberries in at least one pie.

Every year in September I begin calling grocery stores to ask whether cranberries have arrived. Once they do appear on shelves, I go crazy for cranberries. I make sauce. I make pies and tarts. I freeze the berries. I revel in redness.

Cranberries have a lot to recommend them. They are rich in vitamins and antioxidants. New England sailors used to consume them on sea journeys to avoid scurvy. They abound with flavor (albeit flavor that needs a little sweetening!).

And they are simply gorgeous. I view them as the rubies of the Thanksgiving table.

Unlike many other popular fruits, the American cranberry is native to our continent. Native Americans combined ground cranberries with venison to make pemmican, a portable high-energy food.

When English settlers arrived on these shores, they quickly adopted the berries as their own, not just to eat but as medicine. They learned from the original Americans to apply ground cranberries to wounds to keep them from getting infected.

My friend Kathleen Wall, colonial foodways culinarian at Plimoth Plantation, believes that cranberries might have appeared on the table at the first Thanksgiving. She emphatically denies that cranberry sauce was present. It hadn’t yet been invented.

Food writer Hank Shaw dates the first written reference to cranberry sauce to 1808. The increasing popularity of that sauce probably owed a lot to the new availability of reasonably priced sugar in the 19th century. Historian Clifford Foust notes:

“By the second quarter of the nineteenth century, Caribbean sugar had declined in price so far over the preceding century that its consumption had risen enormously….

“Sugar in its several forms made possible the widespread use and enjoyment of formerly shunned fruits and vegetables whose sour tastes were too disagreeable for ordinary use, no matter how healthful they may have been. Sugar also contributed to their preservation in glass or tins….”

In 1912, Marcus Urann, a lawyer turned cranberry grower, decided to try canning cranberry sauce. This innovation boosted cranberry cultivation in New England. In my opinion, however, it represented a step backward in cranberry cuisine.

I blush to admit that my cousin Alan, who often hosts Thanksgiving for our clan, insists on serving canned cranberry sauce. The ridges from the can take him back to his mother’s kitchen. (She was a lovely woman but not much of a cook.)

I always bring homemade sauce to his house and defiantly place it on the table alongside the canned version. Canned sauce lacks the color and flavor that define cranberries to me.

Making basic cranberry sauce couldn’t be easier—and it can be done well in advance of Thanksgiving dinner. I usually just follow the directions on commercial bags of cranberries, although I sometimes add flavorful items like orange or cinnamon.

Below I share a recipe that uses a variant on that sauce, made with chipotles. My cranberry chipotle spread may be served with meat, crackers, or apples. It may also be used to stuff celery. This gorgeous pink substance packs just a little heat.

I will be making it, along with my cranberry-apple crumb pie, this Wednesday, November 22, on Mass Appeal. I’m publishing the recipe in advance in case readers want to make it for Thanksgiving. I’ll post a link to the video after it airs.

Meanwhile, I hope you all enjoy feasting and giving thanks this Thursday. I know I will! I offer thanks to all of you for reading.

Cranberry Chipotle Spread


1 cup water
1 cup sugar
3 cups (12 ounces) cranberries
2 to 3 chipotles in adobo from a can (plus a little of the adobo sauce), chopped
1 8-ounce brick cream cheese at room temperature
a few chopped pecans, toasted or candied


Begin early in the day, or even a day ahead. In a saucepan combine the water and the sugar and bring them to a boil. Add the cranberries and the chipotles, and return the mixture to the boil.

Reduce the heat, and boil until the cranberries pop, 5 to 10 minutes. (If the sauce seems too fuzzy, add a tiny amount of butter.)

Remove the mixture from the heat, cool it to room temperature, and then puree the sauce in a blender. Refrigerate it until it is needed.

When you are ready to make your spread, whip the cream cheese using an electric mixer. Beat in some of the chipotle-flavored cranberry sauce to taste. (Start with 1/2 cup and see how you like it.) If you want your spread to taste more of chipotle, stir in more of the adobo sauce.

Refrigerate until ready to use. You will have extra sauce which you can use for more spread or serve on the side of meat or poultry.

Sprinkle the pecans on the spread just before serving. Serves 6.

“Mass Appeal” co-host Danny New and I had fun getting ready for Thanksgiving.

P.S. from Tinky LATER:

Here is the video!

A Belated (but fun!) Halloween

November 2nd, 2017

I don’t get trick or treaters here in the wilds of western Massachusetts, but that didn’t prevent me from enjoying Halloween this year. My house was festooned with my favorite fall decorations on Tuesday. Cocoa the dog reluctantly donned her turtle costume. And I made Halloween treats with my friends on the show Mass Appeal.

Actually, the first recipe we prepared wasn’t a treat; it was a hearty soup I recommend for Halloween night (or any other fall evening). Pam’s Country Ham and Potato Soup (the recipe is here; I shared it a few years ago) is so warming and delicious I don’t want dessert after dining on it.

I did feel the need to feature a treat on the air as well, however, so we made festive sweets from the recipe box of one of my area’s best bakers, Paula Rice of Charlemont. In plastic wrap or a sandwich bag, they’re an ideal hand out for trick-or-treaters. They’re also tasty all fall long. (Paula reports that she hasn’t made them yet this year, but she’s going to!)

The recipe below is Paula’s. Instead of her filling, I used my traditional cream-cheese frosting. Either way, the pies are welcomed by adults and children. They taste like pumpkin, spice, and fall.

Paula’s Pumpkin Whoopie Pies


for the cookies:

1 pound light brown sugar
1 cup vegetable oil (I use Canola)
2 eggs
1-3/4 to 2 cups pumpkin puree (freshly cooked and mashed, or a 15-ounce can)
1 teaspoon each cinnamon, cloves, and ginger
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 teaspoons vanilla
3 cups flour

for the filling:

1 cup confectioner’s sugar
1 cup marshmallow fluff
1/2 cup vegetable shortening
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter at room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

For the cookies: Combine the sugar, oil, eggs, pumpkin, and spices in a large bowl, mixing well. Add the baking soda, baking powder, and vanilla, mixing well. Stir in the flour 1 cup at a time, mixing well after each addition.

Lightly grease baking sheets or line them with parchment or silicone. Drop rounded 2-tablespoon portions of dough onto the sheets.

Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, or until the cookies are firm. (A slight indentation where your finger tests them is allowable.)

Cool the cookies completely; then get ready to fill.

Beat together the filling ingredients, and spread them between whoopie layers. If you’re NOT handing these out to children in bags, feel free to decorate the tops as well.

This recipe makes about 20 filled pies. If you wish, you may make your whoopie pies bigger or smaller than indicated. (Paula likes small ones.)

If you make them bigger, you may have to cook them a little longer; smaller, a little less time.

And now the videos:

Tinky Makes Pam’s Country Ham and Potato Soup on Mass Appeal

Tinky Makes Paula’s Pumpkin Whoopie Pies on Mass Appeal