A passion for food + fashion

Posts Tagged ‘family recipe’

Chinese Chicken Salad

In Food, Recipes on July 19, 2012 at 9:03 am


My dad’s mother was an elegant woman who used to take in fashion shows at Bullocks Wilshire, followed by a ladies lunches in the adjoining Tea Room. In those days, Chinese Chicken Salad—a Southern California invention—was all the rage. Naturally, my grandmother had her own spin on the classic (thinly sliced mushrooms), and her recipe for Chinese Chicken Salad remains one of my all-time favorite meals. It makes for a perfect Saturday lunch and all the better if accompanied by a very cold glass of Chablis and a very good girlfriend or two.

Mama’s Chinese Chicken Salad

For the salad:

2 cups canola oil

12 wonton skins, sliced

2-3 sliced fresh mushrooms

1 cup cooked chicken breast, shredded

1 head romaine lettuce, sliced

2 green onions, chopped

3 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds

½ cup toasted slivered almonds

2 tablespoons chopped cilantro


For the dressing:

¼ cup seasoned rice vinegar

½ cup vegetable oil

1 1/2 teaspoons sesame oil

2 tablespoons agave nectar

¼ teaspoon black pepper

½ teaspoon salt

Heat about 2 cups canola until it reaches 375. Fry wonton slices for about 45 secs, or until crispy and golden, remove with slotted spoon and then drain on paper towels.
Add wontons and remaining salad ingredients to large bowl. In a separate bowl, mix together dressing ingredients and then toss with salad. Serve.

A Pirate’s Birthday

In Baby Love, Design, Food, Recipes on July 16, 2011 at 4:31 pm

I’m still recovering from the sugar coma that was my son’s third birthday party, not to mention the (completely justifiable) death stare another mother shot me when the cotton candy cart rolled out. But you only turn three once. And Tiny G wanted a pirate party, and pirates love sugar, so arrggh! Tiny G’s preschool classmates were arriving at 11 am, so this morning—because I’m a supreme procrastinator—my sister and I got up at 6:30 am to make and assemble the party favors: little treasure bags for little pirates. First, I printed out a recipe for Tiny G’s Desert Island Cookies (my favorite sugar cookie recipe from my grandmother) on mottled paper, rolled up each and tied with a red string.

Meanwhile, Claire rolled out the dough and cut out little sharks using a cookie cutter I got at Sur la Table for $1. (I ended up getting a few dozen for favors.) Claire frosted the cookies and dusted with pale turquoise sugar crystals I found at Surfas in Culver City. They have the BEST colors of sugar crystals.

While at Surfas, I also grabbed some cellophane treat bags. I was concerned about the shark tails snapping off, so I cut out 4″ x 2″ red card-stock rectangles to put the cookies on, then slid into the cellophane bags and affixed the backs with pirate stickers.

For the treasure bag itself, I found these 4″ x 6″ old-fashioned drawstring bags made of organic unbleached cotton mill cloth. They were 19 cents each. We stamped each with a red pirate.

Then we filled the muslin bags with a cookie and a treasure map recipe, and then tied a shark cookie cutter on the drawstring of each bag. The cost of each goodie bag came in at under $2. Which left plenty of room in the budget for Dark & Stormies for the grown ups…

Tiny G’s Desert Island Cookies


1 ¼ cups sugar

3 cups flour

½ teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon baking powder

2 sticks softened unsalted butter

3 eggs

1 teaspoon Madagascar vanilla extract


4 cups sifted powdered sugar

3 tablespoons whole milk

1/2 teaspoon Madagascar vanilla extra

Colored sugar crystals (optional)

To make cookies: In a large bowl, mix together flour, salt and baking powder. In a separate bowl, using a hand mixer, beat together sugar, butter, eggs and vanilla until fluffy. Add flour mixture to egg mixture and stir to mix well. Gather dough together; divide in half. Flatten each half into disk; wrap in plastic and chill at least 1 hour. Roll out dough (1 disc at a time) on floured surface to ¼-inch thickness. Cut out cookies. Transfer to parchment paper-lined baking sheets. Repeat with remaining dough. Chill on sheets for 1 hour. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Bake for 5-10 minutes, until golden brown. Cool on rack.

To make icing, Combine powdered sugar, milk, and vanilla in medium bowl. Stir until icing is well blended, smooth, and spreadable. Spread thin layer of icing atop each cookie. If using colored sugar crystals, sprinkle over cookies before icing sets.

Happy Halloween!

In Baby Love, Food on October 31, 2010 at 1:22 pm

Happy Halloween! Tiny G is getting his “friends” ready—the creatively named Doggie, Pumpkin and Baby Witch—to take to a friend’s birthday party later this afternoon. He’s excited that there could be cupcakes on offer. I’m excited because this friend’s father makes the best damn chili around. Post-party we’ll dress up Tiny G in his skeleton costume to embark on his first real trick-or-treating adventure, and then I’ll put on a pot of my dad’s pasta e fagioli to enjoy while passing out candy and hoping that Mr Foodinista won’t notice that a bag of Reese’s peanut butter cups has gone missing…

Update 11/1/10: Greg’s chili, below. See what I’m talking about?

Thanksgiving Countdown

In Food on November 22, 2009 at 3:50 pm

photo by romulo yanes via gourmet.com

By now I’m guessing most of us have settled on our menus for Thursday, but for those still looking for inspiration, here are some ideas of how my friends and family are spicing up the holiday table.


Julie, agent: “Tom Colicchio’s Herb-Butter Turkey – from Bon Appétit Nov 2005 – it is the BEST recipe, we have made it every year since.”

Geoff, screen writer: “We cheat on turkey, but it’s truly delicious. Greenberg Smoked Turkey. Slice and serve.”

Sara, fashion publicist: “I am BBQing my turkey – do it every year like my father did except that I don’t have to put a parka on every time I baste it. I make my father’s BBQ Sauce – RED RIVER that he created from his 1960’s cooking club. Makes an awesome smokey gravy too!”

Janet, food editor: Dry-brined turkey. “Just haven’t decided what way to go [with aromatics] – thinking rosemary, maybe ground fennel seeds….It’s so hard to decide these things!”

John, actor/writer: “We have a heritage turkey. I can’t wait to destroy it with a carving knife while everyone tries to smile.”

Kim, fashion editor: “A simple turkey breast for two using the same Thomas Keller roast chicken technique you detailed a while back. It just doesn’t get better than that!!”


Kate, writer/producer: “Chestnuts, breadcrumbs, sausage. And hard-cider gravy.”

Lisa, wine marketing: “I always do a version of this BA recipe [Apple & Sausage Stuffing]- I also add dried unsweteened cranberries!

Julie, agent: “I have the best stuffing recipe from my step dad a few of the key ingredients are – sausage, apples, apricots, spinich, apple juice, white wine… even better the next day on a stuffing / turkey sammie….”

Nicole, creative development: Her Italian grandmother’s stuffing—”French bread, celery, onions, mushrooms, herbs, butter, garlic, etc, etc. I love it.”

Katie, magazine editor: “Artichoke, Sausage & Parmesan Cheese Stuffing (Bon Appétit, November 2002)


Carolynn, food writer extraordinaire: Check out her blog post on an AMAZING Sourmash Apple Crisp.

Joy and Michelle, Napa Valley natives, respectively: classic pecan and bourbon pecan.

Elissa, mother of four girls, with another baby en route!: “Here in TX it’s definitely pecan… but I’m thinking of adding a sweet potato pecan pie to the mix (thanks, epicurious)”

Jessica, actor/culinary student: “Classic pumpkin pie, Old Fashioned Apple pie with dried cherries and homemade vanilla bean ice cream.”

Andy, writer: “My wife’s mom makes a killer walnut pie … goes beautifully with a white port.”

Aunt Holly: classic apple pie from Grandma’s recipe.

Betsy, mother-in-law: My mother-in-law does two versions of pecan pie—a classic and a chocolate-pecan pie. She also sets a stunningly beautiful table with heirloom monogrammed silver, beautiful white/gold china and vintage amber Biot wineglasses. We’re so sad not to be sharing Thanksgiving with my in-laws! Sending much love from the left coast to the right. xoxo

Thanksgiving Countdown

In Food, Media on November 5, 2009 at 3:25 pm
Photo by Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times

Photo by Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times

Can you believe that Thanksgiving is a mere three weeks from tomorrow? I was reminded of such while reading a great article in today’s Los Angeles Times by Russ Parsons, which compares how all the food magazines are handling Thanksgiving. Over at The Foodinista’s, here’s how we’re handling the menu, and it’s looking a lot like this:

Roast Salted Turkey: Known in foodie circles as The Judy Bird, this recipe was published several years ago in the LA Times by Russ Parsons, who was inspired by his friend chef Judy Rodgers of Zuni Café in San Francisco. It’s a dry-brine technique that results in the world’s juiciest bird. Parsons suggests three days of dry brining in the fridge, but we will have to settle for two since our Heritage Turkey arrives on our doorstep on Tuesday, 11/24. So excited!!!

Cornbread and Escarole Stuffing: Indulgent and rich, with fresh ricotta, prosciutto and parm balanced by bitter escarole and toasty pine nuts.

Gravy: I usually do a simple pan gravy, but this year I might go easy on myself and pick up some house-made gravy from the Larchmont Larder. Sacrilege or smart?

Mascarpone Mashed Potatoes: A dollop of mascarpone adds creamy decadence to the classic.

Butternut Squash Purée: My mother makes this comforting classic, which has been featured on her family table for more than half a century.

Brussels Sprouts and Walnuts with Fennel and Shallots: A recipe from my super-talented friend Carolynn Carreño, who wins James Beard Awards and authors cookbooks with the likes of Nancy Silverton. We’ve been using this recipe of Carolynn’s at our Thanksgiving table for almost the past decade. I’ll post it soon.

Cranberry Sauce: We’ve never quite settled on one we love, and so this year I’ve charged my friend Vincent, who is joining us!, with finding the ultimate in tartiness, a challenge to which he will undoubtedly rise and surprise.

Pumpkin Pie: My sister is a genius with piecrust. With a little coaxing, perhaps she will share her secret before the big feast. What I can tell you is that she makes beautiful leaves from leftover dough and uses them to decorate the edge of the piecrust.

Bourbon-Pecan Tart: From the November issue of Bon Appétit, this looks amazing. My husband’s family only serves pecan pie (two versions of it) at Thanksgiving, so this one’s for him—unless, that is, I can get my mother-in-law to part with her excellent recipe.

Okay—one final question. Do I need another veg? I hate salad at Thanksgiving. Ditto on peas. Plus, in addition to the Brussels sprouts dish, I figure the stuffing has escarole. But should I be thinking along the lines of adding sautéed kale or broccoli rabe? Maybe green beans and shallots?

Original Pêche

In Food, Recipes on July 20, 2009 at 8:28 am


If there is one food I associate with summer, it has to be peach ice cream. When I was I kid we’d go to my grandparents’ for a three weeks each summer, and my grandfather would make THE WORLD’S BEST fresh peach ice cream in a hand-crank ice cream maker with ice and rock salt. When my husband and I got married, we registered for a beautiful White Mountain Hand Crank Ice Cream Maker specifically so that we could make my grandfather’s ice cream exactly to plan. Yesterday we made a batch—my husband’s first go at homemade ice cream. Yes, it’s a workout turning the crank for 20 minutes, but the payoff is quite simply sublime.

Peach Ice Cream

4 eggs

2 cups sugar

4 generous cups ripe yellow peaches, pureed (from about 4 lbs peaches, peeled)

4 cups heavy cream

2 tsp. vanilla (scant)

1 tsp. almond extract (scant)

1/2 tsp. salt. Beat eggs and sugar together until thick. Add peaches, cream, extracts and salt. Mix well. Freeze in ice cream maker. Makes about 3 quarts.


Late-Night Baking

In Food, Recipes on April 18, 2009 at 8:18 am


Last Saturday night—correction: early Sunday morning—when my husband and I were punching down dough for sticky buns in the wee hours, my husband turned to me and said, “well, this gives whole new meaning to ‘late-night baking.'” 

My husband, who has much more fortitude than I, had been enlisted to help me navigate my grandmother’s recipe for sticky buns that we were taking to an Easter brunch that following afternoon. It should be noted that what I had scribbled down was not really a recipe, but more of a suggestion of a recipe. My grandmother is one of those effortless and elegant cooks who has never consulted a recipe, and at the age of 90 still whips up a batch of these sinful sticky buns without a second thought to her perfect pink manicure.

I, however, am not a natural-born baker—I have neither the patience nor precision for baking. Which is why I had to consult a professional chef late-night to talk me off the roof when my dough wasn’t rising fast enough, and placed several panicked phone calls to my mother for reassurance—something that only happens in extreme cases of emergency. But the end results were positively stupendous. That said, it’s a LOT of work. Start this process the day before. Also, make sure you knead the hell out of the dough for the full 8-10 minutes. It helps both with rising as well as perfect texture.

Esther’s Cinnamon Rolls

Makes 24 rolls

1 3/4 cups sugar, plus 1 teaspoon, divided

½ cup hot water (105 to 110 degrees)

2 .25-ounce packages dry yeast

7 egg yolks, plus 1 whole egg

1 cup heavy cream

2 cups whole milk

3/4 cup butter, melted

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 teaspoon salt

8 cups all-purpose flour

4 tablespoons ground cinnamon

Buttercream Icing

2 sticks (1 cup) butter, softened

1 1/2-2 cups confectioners sugar

2 tablespoons cold milk

Vanilla extract, to taste

Grease two 13 x 9 x 2 baking dishes. To activate yeast, mix 1 teaspoon sugar, yeast and water. Let stand until foamy, about 8 minutes. I used RiZE yeast from Whole Foods, and after much googling discovered, ironically, that it takes longer to rise than, say, Fleischmann’s. Frankly, I’d go with Fleischmann’s next time.


Using electric mixer, beat egg yolks and whole egg, and slowly beat in ¾ cup sugar. Add cream, milk, butter, vanilla, salt, and yeast mixture. Stir in 8-9 cups of flour, and mix until dough is soft. 


Transfer the dough to a lightly oiled work surface, and knead for 5 to 8 minutes, or until it’s smooth. Or knead it in an electric mixer, using the dough hook, for 4 to 7 minutes at medium speed. Place the kneaded dough in a lightly oiled bowl, turn to grease all sides, cover the bowl with plastic wrap and a dish towel, and let it rise in warm place for 60 minutes, until nearly doubled in bulk. 

Mix one cup sugar and cinnamon. (I probably used even more than 4 tablespoons cinnamon, but it’s up to you.)

Punch down and let rise again until double. Divide dough in half. Roll out ½ of dough into a rectangle. Brush generously with melted butter. Sprinkle generously with half of cinnamon sugar mixture. Starting at 1 long side, tightly roll up each rectangle into log. Cut each log into 12 rounds. Place 12 rounds, cut side down, in each prepared pan, spacing evenly. 


Repeat with second half of dough. Let rolls in pan rise again, about 30-45 minutes.


[Note: at this point, rolls can be covered with plastic wrap and refrigerated overnight. Bring to room temperature for one hour before baking.]

Bake at 350 degrees until golden, about 20 minutes.


Cool for 20-30 minutes. Meanwhile, to make buttercream icing, cream butter with an electric mixer [I use an immersion blender] and slowly blend in sugar and vanilla. When cinnamon rolls have cooled, frost with buttercream icing and serve slightly warm. 


Pasta e Fagioli Redux

In Food on March 17, 2009 at 6:00 pm


A couple months ago, I posted about my dad’s recipe for smoky, spicy pasta e fagiolibean and pasta soup, which is never quite as good as when he makes it. Last night we took another stab at it, this time following my dad’s advice about using Strianese cannellini beans (avail at Whole Foods) and a less starchy pasta, and the results were fantastic! Also, I think the Spanish Nuñez de Prado extra-virgin olive oil I’m currently obsessed with adds a deliciously sacrilegious note to the Tuscan affair—I drizzled some in at the end for a rich, citrusy, peppery finish. It makes for a hearty and satisfying soup, and leftovers are every bit as good. For my dad’s pasta e fagioli recipe, click HERE.


The Duxbury Sandwich

In Food on March 16, 2009 at 5:50 pm


My husband and his two brothers spent most of their childhood summers at their maternal grandmother’s on the beach in Duxbury, Mass. On weekends, his dad would come up from New York and join the rest of the family. Lunches were always a sandwich free-for-all with endless choices of cold cuts and cheese, and it is his father who deserves credit for perfecting the ultimate weekend sandwich creation. And it all starts with a sandwich size English muffin.

Toast the English muffin—the “Sandwich Size” from Thomas’ is recommended—and then liberally spread with mayonnaise on both sides, and honey mustard on one. (We like to use Napa Valley Mustard Co. Hot Sweet Mustard.) Then thinly layer slices of roast beef, and don’t be shy. Top with a slice of provolone and four or five bread and butter pickle chips. Bubbies pickles are a favorite around here. Lettuce and tomato are optional, but as my husband says, “it’s really about letting the mustard, pickles and mayo do their dance.”


It Must’ve Been the Sauce…

In Food, Recipes on January 1, 2009 at 4:41 pm



Sometime in the beginning of the last century, my great grandmother, Maria Francesca Clementina Pacello, came over from The Old Country, bringing with her a much coveted sauce recipe that my grandmother Leora made whenever she needed to feed a crowd. Which was often. My aunts and mom all make the sauce, in which short ribs and meatballs simmer for hours, but someone isn’t telling the full story because each of their sauces tastes a little different. Two years ago I finally convinced my mom’s youngest sister to part with the recipe. Which is less a recipe and more a conversation.

My first attempt two years ago went down very well with my now-husband and his friend Alec. Coincidentally, the next evening was when my husband proposed. When my aunt heard the news, her first reaction was “It must’ve been the sauce…”


Nonna Pacello’s Sauce with Short Ribs and Meatballs

I’m sure I’ll get calls from my mom and aunts should they read this because, like these formidable women, I’ve played around with the recipe over time and have made a few adjustments of my own. Namely, I don’t use seasoning salt in the meatballs and instead use a smidge each of dried thyme, ground mustard, curry powder, paprika and celery seed. I also make fresh breadcrumbs in the food processor. Oh, and I like to pour in a splash of Barbera d’Alba, which of course we polish off with dinner.

One final note, my great grandmother hailed from Napoli, which is why there is an unexpected regional ingredient in both the sauce and meatballs—finely chopped green bell pepper.

Olive oil

4 -5 beef short ribs, salt & peppered

2-3 sweet onions, finely chopped

1 green bell pepper, finely chopped

2-3 bay leaves

28-ounce can San Marzano whole tomatoes

28-ounce can San Marzano crushed tomatoes

2  28-ounce cans tomato puree

¾ cup tomato paste

Fresh oregano, marjoram, thyme, basil

Dash of cinnamon

2 TBSP sugar

6-8 garlic cloves, pressed

½ cup red wine

2/3 pound each of ground sirloin, pork, veal

1-2 eggs

½-3/4 cup unseasoned breadcrumbs

Salt & Pepper

Seasoning salt (or a dash each of dried thyme, ground mustard, curry powder, paprika and celery seed)

To make sauce: Cover bottom of a large pan (I use an enormous 13 1/4 quart Le Creuset French oven) with olive oil and heat on high for 3 minutes. Brown short ribs. Add ¾ each of chopped onion and bell pepper (the remaining 1/4 of each will go into the meatballs). Sauté over medium heat until tender.


Add bay leaves, tomatoes, herbs, cinnamon, sugar, garlic, wine. Add meatballs (recipe to follow). Reduce heat to low and simmer for two-three hours. Remove bay leaves before serving.

To make meatballs: Mix ground sirloin, pork, veal with remaining onion & green bell pepper, eggs, breadcrumbs, salt & pepper, and seasoning salt. Roll into golf ball-sized balls and drop into sauce. This will make a LOT of meatballs – about 15.

Serve over bucatini, and sprinkle with marjoram and parm. Leftovers are great baked with rigatoni and mozzarella.