Blueberry Muffins

blueberry muffins

When I worked in Chelsea Market in New York City, I would stop by Amy’s Bread at least twice a week for a muffin and coffee snack. As I’ve already established, muffins are one of my favorite foods to eat and to bake, so I was thrilled when my sister gave me the cookbook The Sweeter Side of Amy’s Bread. Now I can have a bite of Amy’s from my Boston apartment.

Zoe is still my little muffin monster. I usually have a stash of muffins in my freezer but yesterday I ran completely out. At some point she had a full on tantrum, crying “muffin, muffin, muffin” as though I was holding out on her. So today I wasted no time getting these in the oven.

These take a whole cup of butter! Yes, that’s two whole sticks. I was horrified at first, but when my apartment started to fill with the aroma of butter baking, I got over it. Butter is good. Roll with it. These are dense, rich muffins, no extra butter or jam required when you serve them.

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Homemade Taco Seasoning

taco seasoning
Sometimes it’s the little things, like Taco Tuesday on Cinco de Mayo, that really make me happy. I had other plans for dinner Tuesday, but strolling through Whole Foods with their huge displays of nachos and salsa samples, I succumbed to the power of suggestion and picked up a few taco ingredients. One thing I didn’t pick up? Taco seasoning. I love mixing my own tweak-able, MSG-free (you’d be surprised how many ingredient lists include hidden names for MSG), version. Continue reading

Grandma Lois’ Kolaches

They say that the sense of smell is the one most closely linked to memory, and I know it’s true whenever I catch a whiff of yeast blooming, raising or baking. I’m instantly whisked away to Saturday mornings at my Grandma Lois’ house 30 years ago, sitting in her comforting oven-warmed kitchen and devouring my favorite treat, freshly baked kolaches.

Kolaches are a Czech pastry, but Grandma Lois wasn’t Czech; she was half-Swedish and half-Irish. But having grown up cooking for the farm crew on her family’s farm, she could cook or bake anything with ease. She was the perfect person to preserve and pass along my Great Grandma Vala’s secret kolache recipe from “the old country.” Continue reading

Lemon Creme Fraiche Salad Dressing (and my Tough Week)

lemon salad dressing

When it comes to cooking, I’ve had a doozy of a week. For meatless Monday I made baked falafel, substituting canned beans for dried — big mistake! They were way too moist and turned into chickpea pancakes in the oven. Strike one.

On Wednesday I used my only Greek cookbook (first recipe I’ve made out of it and I’ve owned the book for years) to make a baked lamb and pasta dish that was just so very, very disappointing. The pasta got all mushy and slimy. We could barely eat it. Geoff and I spent the whole dinner talking about what went wrong with the recipe, but there’s no way I’m going to try to doctor it up and make it again.

Thursday I made the leftover lamb into sandwiches slathered with tzatziki sauce (yumm!) but as a side dish made oven fries that stuck to the baking sheet and became a huge mess. Grrr!

Then Friday night I made Geoff a happy birthday pavlova for Saturday’s supper. I love pavlovas but haven’t baked one in years. We had guests coming on Saturday, berries were looking good at the store, so it seemed like it would be a great birthday treat. I baked it up, set it on the counter but noticed it slowly sinking as it cooled… I forgot to let it crisp up in the oven for an hour! Noooo! It was a gonner. I threw together a batch of so-so mini cupcakes in the morning.

How could I have so many cooking mishaps in one week? Well, among all the barely edible bad food I churned out this week, one thing, I’m happy to say, was amazing. And yes, it’s this salad dressing. Continue reading

Creamy Pasta with Bacon and Peas (For Baby and Me)

pasta with peas
We spent last Christmas up in Toronto with Geoff’s family, and while there (hunkering down in the house, out of the cold and snow) I picked up his Mom’s copy of Jamie’s Food Revolution and read it from cover to cover. Geoff and I already have quite a collection of Jamie Oliver cookbooks but this is not one I would normally buy — it just seems too simple and basic. But the more I read it, the more I realized, these are the meals I need to be making now. They’re just easy, get-some-good-food-on-the-table meals.

Still I resisted. We left Toronto and I looked up a few of the recipes online. Then I checked the book out from the library, and had it overdue, and re-checked it out again until it was overdue once again. And then, to salvage my relationship with the library, I went ahead and bought the cookbook. I mean, I don’t use half the cookbooks I own as much as I had used this borrowed one, so I figured I might as well add it to my bookshelf. Continue reading

Easter Dinner and the Simplest Asparagus Recipe Ever

Our Easter dessert buffet

I know, this is not asparagus. But why would I take a picture of my simple asparagus? Our Easter dessert buffet was infinitely more alluring.

For Easter our little Fong family headed to Nebraska to celebrate with Grandma, Grandpa, Aunts, Uncles and Zoe’s beautiful little 3-month-old cousin. (I went a little overboard in anticipation, at one point owning three Easter dresses for Zoe — I love tulle!) It was the largest Easter party we’ve ever had, with 20+ guests at my parents’ house for an amazing Easter supper. Continue reading

Grandpa Chuck’s Swedish Pancakes

Swedish pancakes
My connection to Swedish pancakes is a little confusing, since it’s my paternal grandma (Grandma Lois) who was Swedish. I remember her making Swedish pancakes for me when I was young, telling me about how lingonberries were grown under the “midnight sun” and offering me black coffee (how can something that smells so good taste so bad to a little girl?).

But, it’s actually my maternal grandpa (Grandpa Chuck) whose specialty has always been making pancakes. My family still has a wonderful little tradition of going to his house for either classic buttermilk or Swedish pancakes. When I swoop into town I usually call him to put in my request, telling him how many of us (parents, sisters, brother-in-law, husband?) are coming. He has the batter mixed and the table set when we arrive. Continue reading

Chopped Greek Salad

chopped greek saladI used to eat a little bit of salad every once in a while, but then I met Geoff, my husband. He introduced me to the joy of eating large salads every day. And he has two salad rules he lives by: 1) A salad is more than just lettuce and dressing, and 2) Dressing does not come from a bottle. It took me a while to adapt to his rules, and I hate being bossed around in the kitchen, but I can honestly say my salads are much better now than they were before. And healthier too!
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Sweet Potato Muffins at Midnight

sweet potato muffins

“No no, Zoe, let mommy take a picture!”

Sweet potatoes are Zoe’s favorite vegetable these days. And since being a toddler evidently means learning to spit out peas and broccoli, I’m so grateful she’s still stuffing handfuls of baked sweet potatoes into her mouth with enthusiasm. I’ve mixed mashed sweet potatoes with quinoa, rice, yogurt and even lamb stew! She eats it all (knock on wood).

As I mentioned before, I love making baby (and now toddler) foods. But it’s a three-step process: 1) Buy the ingredients, 2) Cook the food, and 3) Freeze the food within 2-3 days. As the steps progress, I get more and more challenged. So, last night (or this morning) at midnight I realized I still needed to freeze a large bowl of baked sweet potatoes I had in the fridge. On my way to bed I stopped to diligently portion out the chunky potatoes into my cute freezer trays, only… they didn’t all fit. So, what to do with leftover baked sweet potatoes?

Bake muffins, of course! I adore muffins — they’re simple, easy, quick and cake-like without being cake. In baked goods, sweet potatoes are basically just sweet pumpkin, so I looked up “pumpkin muffin” recipes and chose one that looked easy and foolproof (it was midnight after all). I was delighted to find an old Gourmet magazine (Nov 2006) recipe written about on one of my favorite all-time blogs, Smitten Kitchen. (Aww, Gourmet… I could find that same magazine issue right now if I had to, lovingly tucked into one of my bookshelves). Continue reading

Who’s the Congee Queen Now?


Oh, congee. How I love congee. Congee (or jook, a Chinese rice porridge) is one of those dishes that I never knew existed until I moved to St. Louis for college and became a regular at a “real” Chinese food restaurant. Then in New York, Geoff and I had our favorite place to order congee in Chinatown (Big Wong King) where I discovered that it’s traditional to dip sweet (ngau lei sou) and savory (youtiao) fried dough (Chinese doughnuts!) into steaming bowls of congee. Heaven. So, so, so good.

Geoff, of course, has a whole different relationship with congee. He grew up eating excellent congee, both homemade and at amazing Toronto Chinese food restaurants (Congee Queen is one of his family’s long-time favorites). And it’s the dish that his mother would make whenever he was feeling under-the-weather — a warm, comforting, gentle-on-the-tummy porridge, Chinese comfort food at it’s best.

Traditionally, Geoff is the congee cooker in our family. He has several shortcut methods: 1) A pressure cooker version that makes a mess, and 2) A frozen rice version that takes some planning ahead. But when Geoff wasn’t feeling well last weekend, it was up to me to make him a batch of congee. Continue reading