Archive for the ‘just like mom used to make’ Category

Hello, friends: Jessica here!

First of all, if some of you missed Lindsey’s Kitty Litter Cake? Well, I am having trouble recommending anyone look at those pictures, actually. My stomach is not strong enough to look at cake-poop, much less eat it, apparently. However, it did turn out amazingly realistic, and Lindsey’s post also features one of our many mutual friends (and one of my favorite friends), Frank. Say hi to Frank, everyone!

Okay. Moving on. Topic at hand: Thanksgiving. It is on Thursday. As it usually is. But unusually, I am having my first Thanksgiving away from family… which means this is the first Thanksgiving where I have been somewhat charged with menu-planning and food cooking!

And for the first time, I am realizing just how bizarre everyone’s family food cultures truly are.

Our slap-dash, twenty-something Thanksgiving looks a little like this:

The hosts:

  • G, our longtime friend from Michigan
  • G’s roommate, from Texas

G’s guests:

  • Myself, from Michigan
  • My boyfriend, from Michigan
  • Our roommate, from Elena

G’s Texas roommate’s guests:

  • Cousins who live nearby… but maybe are from Texas? I don’t know.

So, my involvement in this event planning has revealed a number of people telling me what they MUST have for Thanksgiving. As in, if there is no X, Y, or Z on the table, then why bother?

The whole event began with G’s Texas roommate, who, despite living in an apartment building in Boston, MUST have a Deep Fried Turkey on the table for Thanksgiving.

 So… turkey. Complete. What’s left? I asked G. He had come up with a little list of things he was going to make – green bean casserole and something with sweet potatoes – and what was missing.

The Texas Cousins were bringing cookies and brownies. Hmm. Weirdos. Whatever. I asked G what I could bring, and he said we probably needed either potato salad or cole slaw.

To that I say: is this a barbecue??

Michigan boyfriend says as long as someone is making green bean casserole, we are good to go, but he insists on making corn bread and maybe biscuits that taste like they are from Red Lobster. I am still hoping to persuade him into following a RECIPE for corn bread, being that it is bread and relies on certain scientific reactions to make it… um… bread.

Even though I have already committed to dessert patrol – a pie and a bonus cake – I feel a need to pipe in an offer a vegetable to the table, since they seem notoriously absent.

Both Michigan Boyfriend and Kansas Roommate give me funny looks. Apparently, vegetables are quite optional at many Midwestern tables. Kansas Roommate indicates that the only vegetable that makes the cut at her house is a casserole made from creamed corn, crumbled cornbread, milk, and cheese. Oh, and they have turkey AND a ham.

So without further ado, here are the Thanksgiving essentials in my family. You probably think they are as weird as I think yours are.

My Thanksgiving Table

Turkey – often grilled.

My parents started grilling their turkey out on the charcoal grill to keep the oven available during the day. They must have liked this system a lot because most years our turkey spends time outside. Even if there is snow on the ground.

Mashed potatoes

You can’t pour gravy on potato salad. Just sayin’.

Homemade bread

My dad spends entire days baking a few times a year, so we either reheat a loaf of his famous cheese bread or make some potato rolls the day before. They are usually very thick, doughy, and way too filling for Thanksgiving… but so delicious.

A salad with mandarin oranges

This is somewhat blasphemous – both for its salad-ness and its Asian-ness – but my aunt brought it over one year and it was so tasty we keep resurrecting it.

Broccoli Casserole

Look guys. I didn’t eat a green bean casserole until I went to Thanksgiving at my Michigan boyfriend’s house a few years ago. I was too busy eating an entire brick of Velveeta, mixed with frozen broccoli florets, oil, and eggs, and baked with crunched up crackers on top. My bad.

An assortment of interesting vegetables

Even before half my family went vegetarian/vegan/food allergic/picky (wait, that’s like, all my family), my mother always used Thanksgiving as an excuse to try out a fancy vegetable recipe. And hey, when else are you going to make those 7 ingredient green bean dishes you see in Real Simple every month? Tuesday after work? No. Of course not.

Chess Pie

In addition to the traditional pumpkin (or sweet potato, which is actually superior), and some kind of fruit pie, my family makes this delicious yellow-y custard pie. It seems weird, but tastes delicious.


Sadly enough, I will not be eating any of these things this year for Thanksgiving, except for an interesting vegetable. But as long as someone else handles the giant turkey (and apparently a few gallons of peanut oil…) I am open to the formation of new traditions.

Happy Holidays to you! Anyone making anything particularly delectable this year?



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I worry that a lot of my side dishes gross people out with their Midwestern-ness. But those are the things I crave the most when I’ve been away from home for a while. They’re cheap, they’re tasty, they’re filling and I can usually make them a hair healthier. Plus, you know, vegetables (usually with a whole mess of cheese).

I’ve been hankerin’ for this broccoli slaw, aka ramen salad, for a few weeks. Trader Joe’s had broccoli slaw on sale this week, so I finally had the opportunity to get at it. Hooray!

You’ll need:

1 16-ounce bag of broccoli slaw

2 3-ounce packs of chicken flavored ramen noodles

1 bunch of green onions

1 C unsalted peanuts

1 C sunflower seeds

1/2 C white sugar (I used 1/4 C and it was fine)

1/4 C oil (I used Smart Balance omega-3 veggie oil)

1/3 C cider vinegar

So here’s what you’ll do:

Mix the slaw, crushed up ramen and green onions in a bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk the sugar, oil, vinegar and ramen flavor packets. Pour that over the slaw. Mix together and refrigerate. Top with nuts and/or sunflower seeds before serving.

This goes with basically any barbecue or Asian dinner. I’m going to have it with pork and broccoli tomorrow night. You can have it whenever.


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For Fourth of July in the nation’s capital, we like to go all out. Sparklers. Fireworks. I personally sing “Rock Flag and Eagle” no less than a half-dozen times. Whatever. It’s America. I also make an American Jell-o poke cake.

This caused a lot of controversy in our group, mostly because I don’t think people understood the phrase “jell-o cake.” This is understandable if you didn’t grow up in a household where most recipes were modified from a) eastern European stink-bombs or b) the back of Kraft food packages. This one is probably the latter, but was also big in my dorm cafeteria. So easy.

You’ll need:

A box of white cake mix (seriously, it’s the Fourth of July; do you really want to be screwing around with a homemade cake? Do this one, and in forty minutes you’re in the pool. Go!)

One small (3 oz.) box of red Jell-o (I like strawberry)

1 C boiling water

1 container Cool Whip

Strawberries, blueberries (I also used white currants)

OK, so make the white cake as directed. This is the easiest part of a very easy recipe. When that thing is done, let it cool completely. When it’s done, use a fork (I used one of these guys) to poke holes in the top of your cake at random intervals. Mix the boiling water with the Jell-o and pour it over the top of your cake. Refrigerate, perhaps overnight.

Now you’re going to decorate. Take out your cake and ice it using the Cool Whip. Then, use your berries to create a stars and stripes pattern. I liked the white currants because they had a little star quality to them.

When you carry it to your barbecue, make sure you use toothpicks to keep the whipped topping and berries from getting messed up. Also, beware that this cake apparently entices older cab drivers to ask if you have a husband and would you like one. Ignore that guy! Get to the cookout and wow people with both the exterior and interior of your cake.

And don’t let youngsters hit you with snaps. No one wins when that happens, especially America.


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2010 brought us a lot of things. It brought Jessica and me both apartments with more than the combined 24 inches of counterspace we once had. It brought us my favorite Kanye West song to date, the end of my favorite otter blog and a moment when I didn’t hate a shellfish-type food, possibly because it was immediately followed by tzatziki sauce. I got to see the Queen of Butter in person. Overall, it was a pretty good year.

It also brought me to a realization: I can never betray my delicious Midwestern roots. I might think I’m highfalutin food bloggy city lady, but deep down, I just want to eat cheesy potatoes.

So I do.

You’ll need:

1 2-lb. bag of hash browns (you want the little cubes, not the little matchsticks)

1/2 C onion, grated

1 can cream of whatever soup (I use cream of mushroom for the least obtrusive flavor that is still vegetarian)

2 C cheddar cheese (I use a package of mild cheddar and a package of sharp cheddar, but this is up to you)

1 lb sour cream

1/4 C melted butter

1/2 tsp salt

Dump all of these things into a bowl, mix ’em up. Pour it all into a 9×13 pan and top with corn flakes. Bake at 350 for an hour or until everything looks sizzly (I made up this word; plenty of other people have done a lot worse in 2010) and you can’t wait anymore.

NOTE: The corn flakes are necessary! I cannot even tell you how important these guys are. CORN FLAKES, you guys.

The motion blur is for realism.

Listen, I can eat this for every meal or as a side dish. It’s a dish best enjoyed with a few other people avoiding the cold outdoors. Leftovers are phenomenal, but make sure you top with fresh corn flakes before you nuke ’em; they tend to get a little soggy in the fridge.

We’ll see you guys in 2011, when I promise to be adventurous in both the kitchen and the world.


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My Grandma W makes some of the best Christmas cookies in the business. Nary a year went by without the full menu of Christmas cookies: sugar cookies (obviously; my sister and I went nuts trying to help her with these), snow balls, pecan cuplets, pecan sandies, jelly thumbprints, etc., etc., etc., until the whole house was cookie-filled and we stashed boxes and boxes of ’em in the chilly vestibule.

My mom’s favorite when I was growing up was a staple in both Grandmas’ houses: Cat turds. Yeah, we eat cookies called CAT TURDS. This is why: when done right, they’re kind of log-shaped, and then you roll them in coconut, sooooo…… you get the picture. The best part about the name is it grosses out the kiddos, so you can keep these in full view but have adult dibs on them.

You’ll need:

1 C chopped dates

1 C brown sugar

1/2 C butter, melted

1 C chopped nuts (I used walnuts; pecans work really well too)

1 egg, beaten

Combine all these in a sauce pan and bring it to a boil. Make sure the bottom of your pan is good and buttery otherwise you’re going to scorch it. Reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes.

Stir in 1 tsp vanilla and 2-3 C Rice Krispies. Take off heat.

Shape this goo into turd-shaped logs (balls also work) and roll in coconut. Let cool on a wire rack.

Now, I might feel like Cookie Monster this year, because my sister and I will both be home, and she’s vegan, so all of the old standards are off-limits. SUCKS TO BE HER. But, I found a vegan cookie recipe in the Washington Post that I’m a big fan of, so I’ll probably try to make these while she’s home so I’m not the only one hoovering treats.

You’ll need:

1 C fake butter, like Earth Balance

3/4 C evaporated cane sugar (don’t beat yourself up if you can’t find this. Straight up sugar works just fine)

1 tsp vanilla extract

A little lemon zest

1/4 almond milk (soy probably works OK, too)

1/3 C roasted, unsalted pistachios, chopped (you’re allowed to go overboard on this)

2 tsp ground cardamom (I found this was too much; it was like putting a tea bag directly in your mouth. I cut it by a teaspoon and added some chopped crystalized ginger)

Combine the fake butter and sugar in a bowl and beat for 2-3 minutes. Add vanilla and beat again.

By hand, stir in the almond milk, lemon zest and pistachios. Then add sifted flour and cardamom (and ginger if you threw that in too). You should have a soft dough – but you might need to add a touch more fake milk. Work gently until you have a dough ball, then refrigerate that puppy for at least 30 minutes.

Preheat your oven to 350. Make little balls of dough and flatten them a bit, then cook ’em up for about 13 minutes or until they’re getting golden on the bottom.

Merry Christmas! Hope Santa likes these under your tree tonight.


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I don’t talk about it too much on this blog, but I was raised pretty Polish-Catholic. Unfortunately, I never learned how to speak Polish – unless you count singing the Polish national anthem and “Sto Lat” and a couple of choice swears from my Busia – and my polka skills only see the light of day at weddings and beer tents. But we did do (and still do) a pretty solid, bastardized, Americanized wigilia on Christmas Eve.

Wigilia is the traditional Polish Christmas Eve meal. Normally, it doesn’t include meat, and it does include a bunch of dishes I’m just not ready to cook yet (duck blood soup, for example). I love it because most of my favorite memories of my grandparents start in their basement, where we gather around a folding table and eat kielbasa, pierogi and other tasty treats. Grandpa would lead us in prayer and try to sneak us blackberry brandy without our mom yelling at him.

Almost all of my hometown is Polish. I met my best friend at polka lessons when we were 3. But almost none of my DC friends are Polish. So I thought I’d treat them to a little Woho tradition – a mini wigilia, here in DC. And I thought I’d share the menu here, in case you get excited about stinky Polish food, too!

Woho Wigilia: a Pole-ish Christmas

Menu: Oplatek (not really food, but necessary)

Kielbasa: Fresh (from The Kielbasa Factory in Rockville; the owner is amazing!) and smoked (from Canales Deli in Eastern Market)

Pierogi (I had to buy, there were budget issues, but they were yummy)

Boiled potatoes


You’ll need:

One big ol’ jar of sour kraut (my mom uses Vlasic; I grabbed one in all Polish)

One tube breakfast sausage (I used the fake-meat Gimme Lean stuff), browned

One onion, grated

One can mushrooms, drained

A few bay leaves

Dump all ingredients in a crock pot. Cook for 6 hours on high or all day on low.

I’ll post desserts later in the week, but know this: with only one other Polish Princess in the room, everyone still left full, happy and satisfied.

Sto lat, indeed.


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I have a theory that, just like Anton Ego in Ratatouille, the right foods can transport us back in time, to the first or best time we ever tasted something important. Especially under stress, we want these familiar tastes – that’s why we crave simple, wholesome things. Seriously, no one wants an eel roll when they’re sick. Nobody’s crying for lobster thermidor after a long day at the office. We just want something easy and tasty.

In my house, that’s breakfast for dinner.

My mom makes, easily, the best french toast in the world. What is her secret? A little ground black pepper in the dip. It makes all the difference.

You’ll need:

Some bread (here I used a raisin bread from the farmer’s market but seriously any bread will do)

Eggs (however many)

Milk (whatever)

Splash of vanilla

Dash of cinnamon (if desired)

ground pepper (mandatory if you want it to taste good)

Syrup (necessary) and garnish of fruit (who cares at this point; you just want dinner)

Mix up the egg and milk. Throw in your aromatics. Dip a bread slice in, both sides. Fry. Seriously, you’re thinking about it this much? It is BREAKFAST FOR DINNER. You clearly had a crummy day. Why don’t you pop on an episode of 30 Rock and relax. This’ll be ready in no time.

Feel better, champ. Tomorrow’s a new day.


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