Category Archives: Recipes


Recipe: Peanut Butter, Revisited

Another peanut butter recipe? Here’s why.

Recipe: Peanut Butter, Revisited

Makes 1 pound peanut butter


  • 1 pound dry-roasted, unsalted peanuts


Preheat oven to 350°F. Place the peanuts in a shallow layer on a tray in the middle of the oven. Roast for 15-16 minutes, stirring every 5 or 6 minutes. The peanuts are ready when they have turned a darker shade of brown and have a glossy appearance. Meanwhile, set up a food processor with a chopping blade.

For smooth peanut butter: Transfer the peanuts into the work bowl of the food processor (first photo from the left). Pulse the nuts until smooth and whipped, about 4 to 6 minutes, using a spatula or wooden spoon to push the peanuts down a couple of times. The peanut butter will gather itself into a rough ball and roll around on top of the food processor blades after about 3 or 4 minutes (second photo). Push the paste down and keep processing the peanut butter until it no longer holds together, another minute or two (third photo). Transfer to a glass jar and store at room temperature.

For chunky peanut butter: Measure out ¾ pound peanuts, reserving the remainder. Follow the directions for making smooth peanut butter. Once smooth and whipped, add remaining peanuts to the work bowl, and pulse until the peanuts are chopped and incorporated into the rest of the peanut butter (fourth photo). This should take about 30 or 45 seconds. Transfer to a glass jar and store at room temperature.


Recipe: Peanut Butter

See the story of how I was nudged into making my own peanut butter by circumstances beyond my control. UPDATE: I improved this recipe, here.

Recipe: Peanut Butter


  • 1 pound dry-roasted, unsalted peanuts
  • salt (optional)
  • honey or sugar  (optional)
  • oil (optional)


For smooth peanut butter: Place the peanuts in the work bowl of a food processor. If desired, add salt, honey or sugar, and/or oil to taste. Pulse the nuts until smooth and viscous, about 5 minutes. Use a spatula or wooden spoon to push down the peanuts two or three times. When the peanut butter is ready, it gathers itself into a rough rough ball and rolls around on top of the food processor blades. Taste and adjust the seasonings, if using. Transfer to a glass jar and store at room temperature.

For chunky peanut butter:  Place ¾ pound peanuts in the work bowl of a food processor. If desired, add salt, honey or sugar, and/or oil to taste. Pulse the nuts until smooth and viscous, about 5 minutes. Use a spatula or wooden spoon to push down the peanuts two or three times. Continue pulsing until the peanut butter gathers itself into a rough rough ball and rolls around on top of the food processor blades. Push down and spread out the peanut butter ball at the bottom of the work bowl, sprinkle in the remaining ¼ pound peanuts, and pulse until the peanuts are chopped and incorporated into the rest of the peanut butter, another minute or two. Taste and adjust the seasonings, if using. Transfer to a glass jar and store at room temperature.


Recipe: (Birthday) Ice Cream Cake

Read the story behind the creation of the DS’s ice cream cake (for his birthday).

Recipe: (Birthday) Ice Cream Cake

Makes 12-16 servings


  • ½ cup slivered almonds
  • 10 ounces chocolate cookies (see Notes)
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

For vanilla-brownie chunk ice cream (see Notes):

  • 2 large eggs
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 2 cups heavy whipping cream
  • 1 cup milk
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 cup brownie, cut into ½ inch dice

For strawberry ice cream (see Notes):

  • 2 cups fresh or frozen strawberries
  • 3 to 4 tablespoons sugar, depending on the sweetness of the strawberries
  • Juice of ½ lemon
  • 2 large eggs
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 2 cups heavy whipping cream
  • 1 cup milk

For the ganache topping:

  • 6 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
  • ½ cup heavy whipping cream
  • 1 ½ tablespoons dark corn syrup
  • ¾ teaspoon vanilla extract
  • pinch of salt


Preheat oven to 350°F. Spread the almonds in one layer on a metal tray. Roast the almonds until fragrant and lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Remove from oven, but leave oven on. In a food processor, pulse the cookies until they are ground to a coarse crumb. Alternatively, place the cookies in a resealable bag. Use a large can (of tomatoes or soup, for example) to crush the cookies until they are ground to a coarse crumb. Transfer all the crumbs to a bowl, then return 1½ cups of crumbs back to the food processor or resealable bag. Continue processing or crushing the crumbs until they are finely ground. Set aside the coarse crumbs for sprinkling between the two ice cream layers.

Make the base: In a medium bowl, mix together the finely ground cookie crumbs and sugar. Add the melted butter. Stir until the mixture is evenly moistened. Line the bottom of a 9-inch diameter springform pan with 2¾ inch sides with a round of parchment paper. Press the crumb mixture onto the bottom of the springform pan. Bake until set, about 12 minutes. Cool to room temperature.

Make the vanilla-brownie chunk ice cream: In a mixing bowl, whisk the eggs until they are light and pale-colored, about 2 minutes. Slowly add the sugar, whisking until well blended, about 1 minute. Add the cream, milk, and vanilla; whisk until blended. Transfer the mixture to an ice cream maker, and freeze following the manufacturer’s instructions. A couple of minutes before the ice cream is done, add the diced brownie. Mix in and continue freezing until the ice cream is done. Scoop the ice cream into the springform pan. Using an offset spatula, smooth the top. Sprinkle the coarse cookie crumbs on top. Store the cake in the freezer while preparing the second ice cream layer.

Make the strawberry ice cream: Defrost frozen strawberries, or wash, dry, and hull fresh strawberries. Slice the strawberries, and transfer to a bowl. Stir in the sugar and lemon juice. Cover and refrigerate at least one hour. Meanwhile, in a mixing bowl, whisk the eggs until they are light and pale-colored, about 2 minutes. Slowly add the sugar, whisking until well blended, about 1 minute. Add the cream and milk; whisk until blended. Mash the strawberries, drain the juices into the cream mixture, and stir to combine. Transfer the mixture to an ice cream maker, and freeze following the manufacturer’s instructions. A couple of minutes before the ice cream is done, add the mashed strawberries; mix in and continue freezing until the ice cream is done. Add the ice cream to the springform pan. You may have some left over; save for another use, or eat it immediately! Using an offset spatula, smooth the top. Store the cake in the freezer while preparing the ganache.

Make the ganache topping: Place a metal bowl over a saucepan with simmering water. The metal bowl should not touch the water. Place the chocolate, cream, and corn syrup in the metal bowl. Whisk until chocolate is melted and the mixture is smooth. Add the vanilla and pinch of salt, and whisk until combined. Remove the bowl from the saucepan. Carefully dry the outside of the bowl with a towel, and allow the mixture to cool to room temperature. Pour the ganache evenly over the ice cream, and sprinkle with the toasted almonds. Return the cake to the freezer for at least 45 minutes, or until the ganache is set.

Before releasing the cake from the springform pan, wipe a warm, damp kitchen towel around the outsides and underneath the pan a couple of times. The cake should now easily release from the sides and bottom. Similarly, before cutting the cake, warm the knife in a tall glass of hot water.

Notes: Substitute 2 quarts of your favorite flavors of homemade or store-bought premium ice cream. Soften the ice cream gently in the microwave on a very low setting to make it easier to spread. For the base and in between the ice cream layers, I used a 10-ounce bag of Mi-del brand Chocolate Snaps. Chocolate graham crackers would work well too, or your favorite plain, crisp chocolate cookie.


Recipe: Seared Tofu Salad

Mellow tofu, and sweet bell peppers and carrots balance the zesty ginger and onions in this colorful and flavorful salad. I served this salad with a homey side of glutinous rice cooked with azuki beans, and can see it pairing well with other whole grains or a hearty bread, like the buttermilk rye bread I made in week 2 of my Whole Grains and Tofu Challenge. Plan ahead to give the tofu time to rest and marinade.

Recipe: Seared Tofu Salad

Makes 4 servings


  • 14 ounces firm tofu, cut into ¾ inch thick slices, then each slice cut into 6 pieces
  • 8 ounces salad greens
  • 2 teaspoons vegetable oil
  • 6 ounces mixed baby greens
  • 1 medium carrot, peeled and grated
  • 1 medium orange bell pepper
  • 1 medium yellow bell pepper
  • 1 lime, cut into wedges (optional)

For the marinade:

    • ¼ cup sake
    • 2 tablespoons low sodium tamari
    • 2 teaspoons sesame oil
    • 1 garlic clove, peeled and crushed
    • 1 teaspoon fresh ginger root, peeled and grated
    • 4 scallions, sliced thin on an angle

For the dressing:

  • 1 teaspoon onion, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon fresh ginger root, peeled and grated
  • 1 small garlic clove, finely chopped
  • ½ tablespoon rice vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon ketchup
  • 1 teaspoon water
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 tablespoon low sodium tamari


Remove excess water from the tofu: Place tofu in one layer on a dish towel, cover with another towel, then lay a cutting board on top. If you have a light cutting board, add a frying pan or a couple of cans on top. Allow the tofu to rest for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, make the marinade: In a flat bottomed casserole just big enough to fit the tofu in one layer, combine the ingredients for the marinade. After the tofu has rested, transfer it to the casserole in one layer. Marinate the tofu for approximately 45 minutes, turning occasionally.

Heat oil in a griddle pan or frying pan, preferably cast iron, over medium low heat, until very hot, almost smoking. Add tofu to the pan in one layer, reserving the marinade. Sear the tofu until golden brown, about 2-3 minutes, then flip it over and cook the other side. Remove the tofu from the pan.

Make the dressing: Place all the ingredients for the dressing in a jar with a tight fitting lid, and shake to mix thoroughly. Alternatively, whisk all the ingredients together in a bowl.

Place greens and carrots in a large bowl. Remove the seeds and ribs from the bell peppers, cut them into thin strips lengthwise, and add them to the greens. Add the reserved marinade and the salad dressing and toss.

Divide the greens onto 4 plates, and top with tofu. Tuck a wedge of lime (if using) on the side of each plate and serve.

Inspired by “Grilled Tofu Steak Salad” in The Wagamama Cookbook by Hugo Arnold (Kyle Books, 2004).


Recipe: pear compote

I try to teach my kids about cooking, food, and diet choices, but I have a black thumb. I’ve killed so many plants that, much to my embarrassment, the kids have a knee-jerk reaction when friends give us plants: “Oh, no! She’s going to kill it!” Despite the efforts of both the DH and me, we have only ever succeeded in growing some herbs, and a sad handful of green beans, stunted lettuce, and mutant turnips. To them, growing food is better left to the experts.

So when my neighbor Bella rang the doorbell last week and gave us a bag of pears from her tree, they were skeptical that these pears could be safe to eat, much less tasty. The pears were hard and green, but after a week, they turned yellow-green and ripe. One or two were soft and had bad spots. I needed to do something quick before they all spoiled! I decided to make pear compote to serve over pancakes. I was surprised when even the DH wouldn’t try it, but after I wolfed down my first pancake with compote, the DD relented. After one cautious bite, she slathered on a generous helping on her short stack. The table was quiet except for the sounds of chewing and the two of us saying, “Mmmm!” Finally the DH and DS caved, and the pear compote disappeared.

Sure hope Bella will have a bumper crop of pears!

Recipe: Pear compote

Makes about 2 cups


  • 3 cups pears, peeled, cored, and sliced (about 1 pound)
  • 3 tablespoons water
  • 1 generous tablespoon honey
  • ¼ teaspoon ground ginger
  • ⅛ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 tablespoon brandy (optional)


Put all the ingredients except the brandy into a 1-quart saucepan. Over medium heat, bring the mixture to a low boil, uncovered. Turn the heat to low, and simmer for 10 minutes, until the sauce is thick and the pears are soft. Remove from the heat and stir in the brandy if using. Serve warm.


Recipe: Bok choy with steamed chicken and shiitake mushrooms

[Go to my short story, Cooking Lesson, which features this recipe.]

Recipe: Bok choy with steamed chicken and shiitake mushrooms

Serves 4


  • 8 whole, dried shiitake mushrooms
  • boiling-hot water
  • ¼ cup thin soy sauce, low-sodium if possible
  • 2 tablespoons sherry
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1 teaspoon sesame oil
  • 3 scallions, sliced into pea-sized pieces
  • 1 tablespoon fresh ginger, peeled and minced
  • 8 pieces chicken thighs
  • 8-12 small heads baby bok choy, washed well, ends trimmed, and quartered lengthwise partway
  • for serving: cooked rice


Place the dried mushrooms in a medium bowl and pour about 2 or 3 cups of boiling-hot water over them. Allow them to soften, about 30 minutes, adding more hot water if necessary. When the mushrooms are soft, discard the water. Squeeze out the extra water from the mushrooms, cut off the stems, and slice the caps in half, or, if large, in thirds.

In another bowl, mix together the soy sauce, sherry, cornstarch, sesame oil, scallions, and ginger. Pull the skins off the chicken thighs, and trim off any excess fat. Cut each thigh into three pieces, once lengthwise, then crosswise through the bone. Put the chicken in the bowl with the soy sauce mixture, and stir them together until they are well-combined. Marinate at room temperature for 10-15 minutes.

Add water to a pan with a steamer or wok with a steamer rack; bring water to a boil, covered. Add the mushrooms to the chicken and stir to combine. If using a pan and steamer, place a round, straight-sided cake pan or pie plate inside the steamer, then transfer the chicken, mushrooms, and sauce to the pan or plate. Place the steamer on the pan of boiling water, and cover. If using a wok with a steamer rack, transfer the chicken, mushrooms, and sauce to the cake pan or pie plate. Carefully place the pan or plate in the wok, and cover. Steam until the chicken is just cooked through, about 25 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a large saucepan, bring 2 quarts of water to a boil. Add the bok choy to the boiling water, pushing them into the water and stirring them around gently. Return the water to a boil, and cook the bok choy until bright green and still firm, about 3-4 minutes. Drain in a colander.

Carefully remove the chicken in its cake pan or pie plate from the steamer or wok. Arrange the bok choy around the edge of a serving plate. Spoon the chicken and sauce in the center of the plate. Serve hot, with rice.


The kids in the kitchen

Skip the preliminaries; go directly to the recipe for pasta, cannellini beans, bacon, and sage soup

School’s out this week. The DD is immediately plunging into an intensive summer course to learn a year’s worth of Japanese in 6 weeks, and the DS is whiling away the week learning how to survive on a deserted island. Don’t ask me; this is their idea of fun. I generally let them choose summer camps and activities that they want to do, but this summer, I’m also asking them to plan on cooking one meal once every other week. I tried to suggest that they do it once a week, but a tidal wave of groans and complaints drowned me out.

The rules are simple. It can be any meal of the day, as long as it involves planning and cooking. Making a cheese sandwich does not count, unless they make the bread and the cheese. OK—maybe not the cheese. But it needs to be a well-balanced meal with carbs, protein, and vegetables (or fruits). That cheese sandwich would need to be accompanied by a salad, or have lots of veggie toppings in addition to the cheese. Heating up leftovers does not count. The meal can be something that they have had in the past; it does not have to include dessert. We adults will shop for the ingredients once they’ve supplied a list of what they need, and we’ll supervise and help, but they will be in the driver’s seat.

I keep trying to create opportunities for my kids to learn and practice cooking skills because when they leave home (for college, I hope!), basic cooking know-how should be among the life skills they have: that and not turning their white t-shirts pink in the laundry (not that I did that two weeks ago), cleaning up after themselves, taking public transportation, managing money, having healthy relationships…. can I lock them up in a closet yet?

Anyway, I thought I had cooking—at least—covered. For a couple of years, we organized a Lunch Club with a group of my friends’ kids. They had to present recipe ideas, create a balanced meal plan, make sure the ingredients came in within budget ($5 per person, which we adhered to strictly), cook the meal (without adult help, at least in theory), and clean up (the last was mostly theoretical, since the moms couldn’t seem to help ourselves, and we’d end up cleaning up when the kids melted away to play capture-the-flag). The kids made luxurious meals, like fettuccine with peas, asparagus, and pancetta; roasted baby vegetables; and strawberries with chocolate caramel sauce. Or like fresh tomato salsa on cheese-and-spice tortilla chips; flank steak with corn-tomato relish and grilled garlic bread; and fruit salad with citrus syrup. There were very few dishes that were off the mark, only one cut finger, and no burns. But within two years of the Lunch Club’s demise, the DD seems to have forgotten how to measure flour and the DS is afraid to handle an 8” chef’s knife! Sigh—one step forwards and two steps back.

So I’m back, encouraging them to take up cookbooks and colanders again. Don’t tell them, but I hope this is a habit they will continue even after school starts again! The DD has nominated pasta, cannellini beans, bacon, and sage soup as the first main course they make. It’s one of their favorite dishes, and always among the first ones they request when asked to give input on the weekly menu plan. They’ll have to add on a vegetable side dish, and decide whether to do a dessert or not. Hmmm… I wonder if they remember how to make chocolate lava cakes with whipped cream like they did for Lunch Club?

Recipe: Pasta, cannellini beans, bacon, and sage soup

Makes 4 generous servings

This recipe is adapted from Beans & Rice by Joanne Weir (Williams-Sonoma Kitchen Library, 1994). The ingredient quantities are flexible; feel free to put in more or less of any particular ingredient to suit your taste!


  • 2 cups dried cannellini beans
  • 1 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 4 ounces lean bacon, thinly cut crosswise
  • 1 medium yellow onion, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 (28-ounce) can diced tomatoes
  • 2 tablespoons fresh sage, chopped
  • ¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 4 cups low-sodium chicken broth, plus additional if desired
  • 8 ounces dried pasta, such as shells
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • for serving: freshly grated Parmesan cheese


Make the beans. Pick over and discard any stones or damaged beans. Put the beans in a colander and rinse them with water. Transfer them to a large bowl, cover with water by 2 inches, and allow them to soak for at least 3 hours or overnight. Alternatively, quick-soak the beans by transferring them to a medium saucepan; add water to the saucepan to cover the beans by 2 inches. Bring the beans to a boil, cover the saucepan, turn off the heat, and allow the beans to soak for 1 to 1-½ hours.

After soaking, drain the beans, put them into a medium saucepan, cover the beans with water by 2 inches again, then bring the water to a boil. Boil the beans, uncovered, for 5 to 10 minutes, then turn the heat down to low, and simmer the beans until they are soft and cooked through, approximately 1 hour. Check the beans as they cook to make sure they are always completely covered by water, adding more water if necessary. Beans may be prepared in advance. Cool completely, and store in cooking liquid, tightly covered. Drain the beans, and proceed with the recipe.

Make the soup. In a 4-6 quart soup pot over medium-low heat, warm the olive oil until it shimmers. Add the bacon, onion, and garlic; sauté until bacon and onion begin to brown, about 10 minutes. Add the tomatoes, sage, and red pepper flakes, and bring to a brisk simmer; turn the heat to low, and simmer for 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Turn the heat up to medium-high, and add the broth and beans. Return the soup to a slow boil, then turn the heat back down to low, cover partway, and simmer for another 15-20 minutes to meld the flavors, stirring occasionally. Turn the heat up to medium-high, and bring the soup up to a slow boil, add the pasta, and cook  until the pasta is al dente. Add more broth or water to thin the soup if it is too thick. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Serve the soup, hot, with Parmesan sprinkled on top.

Tips: Substitute 2 (15-ounce) cans of cannellini beans for the dried beans; drain and rinse the beans before proceeding with the recipe. If you have fresh tomatoes and homemade broth, substitute them for the canned ingredients.


Happy Halfgiving! Or, how we came to celebrate Thanksgiving twice a year

(Skip the gabble; get ready to gobble! Go straight to the recipe for puréed sweet potatoes with Grand Marnier and buttered pecans.)

A sudden cacophony of pin-ball machine clangs, rings, and pings deluged the sunny room where I was working. I jumped in my seat. It was my phone, set to the most annoying ringtone possible. On the other end was the DH, at the supermarket: “Hey.”

“What’s up?”

“Did you mean to have yams and potatoes on the list?”

“Er…. No? Why do we need to have yams and potatoes?”

“How can we have Halfgiving without yams or potatoes?”

Let me explain: my family loves Thanksgiving. Not that we have a zeal for proto-American why-can’t-we-all-just-get-along historical fantasies. For us, it’s a celebration of fabulous late-fall harvest food and a momentary pause to recall the many blessings in our lives. (And if I keep saying the second part, maybe the DD and the DS will actually believe it one day!) We love Thanksgiving so much that not only do we celebrate Thanksgiving, we make more sides to join the leftovers in the days following Turkey Thursday (who needs Black Friday?) because even we recognize that it would be a tad crazy to try to make all the dishes we absolutely can’t do without on Thanksgiving Day itself. We love it so much that a few years ago, the kids declared that we also need to celebrate Halfgiving, six months after Thanksgiving. So every year, on the weekend following the fourth Thursday in May, we make Thanksgiving Dinner Lite.

So when the DH made his urgent call from the grocery store, I knew I had crossed the line. You see, I had planned on making the buttery fantail rolls that we all love, plus stuffing, so I thought that would more than take care of carbs for the four of us. What was I thinking!? Who am I to tamper with Tradition? Yams were duly, and speedily, added back into the lineup. It was really a no-brainer; we’ve been making these heady, citrusy yams for Thanksgiving since before the kids were born. And, yeah, yeah: technically, they’re sweet potatoes (so that’s the way I’ve labelled them in the recipe), but I grew up calling them yams, and between you and me, that’s what I’m going to keep calling them.

Here’s our final menu for Halfgiving 2013:

  • Grilled, stuffed turkey breast
  • Green beans with walnuts and dried-cherry dressing
  • Puréed yams with Grand Marnier and pecans
  • Buttermilk fantail rolls
  • Cranberry-orange sauce
  • Gravy

It’s not as extravagant as the actual holiday, but it tides us over until November when we can really do it up right. BTW, the DD and DS are still lobbying for Halfmas, but we’ve told them not to hold their breaths.


Recipe: Puréed sweet potatoes with Grand Marnier and pecans

Serves 5-6


  • 2 cups pecan halves
  • 5 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened, divided
  • 1 teaspoon coarse kosher salt
  • 4 large orange-fleshed sweet potatoes (like Red Dianes, often labelled “yams”), about 4 lbs.
  • 2 tablespoons Grand Marnier, or another orange-flavored brandy liqueur
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons packed light brown sugar


Preheat oven to 325°F. Place pecans in a shallow roasting pan in one layer. Roast in the middle of the oven until fragrant, about 8 minutes. Remove from the oven, and immediately toss with 1 tablespoon of the butter and kosher salt, stirring until coated evenly. (The pecans can be made up to 2 days ahead, cooled to room temperature, and stored in an airtight container.)

Increase oven temperature to 425°F. Prick each sweet potato 6-8 times all over. Place on a roasting pan lined with parchment paper or foil. Roast them in the middle of the oven until easily pierced through the middle by a fork, about 1 hour.

Reduce the oven temperature to 325°F.

As soon as the sweet potatoes are cool enough to handle, peel half of them them, and place them in the work bowl of a food processor. Add 2 tablespoons of Grand Marnier, ¼ teaspoon of salt, and 2 tablespoons of butter. Purée the sweet potato mixture until smooth. Scoop the purée into a gratin dish. Repeat with the rest of the sweet potatoes, Grand Marnier, salt, and butter. Level the sweet potato mixture in the casserole dish. (The sweet potatoes can be made up to this point a day ahead. Cool and cover before storing in the refrigerator. Bring to room temperature before proceeding.)

Arrange the pecans in one layer over the top of the sweet potato purée, and sprinkle with the brown sugar. Bake in the middle of 325°F oven until heated through and pecans are slightly browned, approximately 30 minutes (or, 35-40 minutes, if starting from room temperature purée).

Pancakes anyone?

King Arthur White Whole Wheat Flour is the pancake of my eye

As I flipped pancakes on a recent Saturday morning, I was thinking about how much more baking I’ve been doing recently (skip the chatter, and go straight to the recipe). For instance, besides the pancakes, the day before, I made whole wheat walnut-raisin bread, and that night, the DH was going to be making pizzas, one with pepperoni and one with sausage and green bell peppers. Yeah, yeah, I know, pancakes aren’t baked; the actual connection is the main ingredient, flour (but I do keep the pancakes warm in the oven, wink), and when I think flour, I think baking.

A couple of different things led to this state of affairs. It all started last summer, when a friend shared a lemon muffin with me that she made with King Arthur White Whole Wheat Flour (thanks, Michele!). We could’ve been in an ad, all exclamatory remarks: “You’ve gotta try this!” “This is made with whole wheat flour? No way! It’s so light, and the color is like regular flour!” Then she gave me a bag with a couple of cups in it, and I started playing with it. I began substituting the white whole wheat flour in muffins, cookies, and brownies, starting with just a quarter of what the recipe called for, then a third, and now, depending on the recipe, half or all the flour. Everyone—the family, my adult friends, the kids’ friends—continued to ask for my baked goodies (better than complements, I think), so it just encouraged me to try it in more recipes.

Eventually, I ran through the recipes I usually make and that I wanted to substitute in white whole wheat flour, but I was on a roll. And when my friend Julie asked me what she could do with her new stand-mixer besides bake sweet treats, I thought of bread. Now, I used to bake bread here and there—mostly things like challah and standard 1½ lb. loaves for sandwiches—before I had the kids, but bread making mostly fell by the wayside as I focused on my two bundles of joy. The big exception is pizza, which the DH or I still make from scratch, including the dough. But I love (who doesn’t?) that heady, yeasty perfume and slight crunch of cutting open a fresh-baked loaf.  I’m lucky that there are many great bakeries in the Bay Area, and I occasionally buy beautiful breads from Semifreddi’s, my favorite local bakery. Taking a page from my book Twice As Nice, I’ve taken to stashing a few of their wheat panini in the freezer to use on the fly. But the local bakeries don’t stock a large variety of whole wheat loaves, so I started keeping an eye out for recipes for whole wheat bread, especially bread which I can then freeze and then later, defrost just as much as I need. Goody! More baking! I’ve continued experimenting with both white whole wheat and regular whole wheat flours, and I’m sure that I will be sharing some recipes in the future.

Here’s what I learned: substituting some or all the the regular white unbleached flour with King Arthur White Whole Wheat in everyday recipes works well. If it’s not at your local grocery store, you can get it directly from King Arthur’s website or from Amazon. Since the nutrition profile of white whole wheat flour is the same as regular whole wheat, it’s a great way to bump up the healthfulness and heartiness of everyday baking (including pancakes and waffles!). The white whole wheat flour, milled from white spring wheat rather than traditional red wheat (according to the King Arthur website), is heavier than regular white flour, so it’s very important to use proper measuring technique to avoid a dense or dry end result: loosen up the flour by stirring it around inside its container (I suppose sifting the white whole wheat flour before measuring it would be the foodie thing to do, but frankly, I’m too lazy for everyday baking), then scoop the flour into your measuring cup. Finally, use a butter knife to scrape off the excess—never tamp it down! For every ½ cup of regular flour, substitute ½ cup minus 1 tablespoon white whole wheat. The white whole wheat does add a “tan” and a subtle nutty flavor to the dishes, which I think actually makes things like pancakes taste better. But I wouldn’t substitute it in cakes, pie or tart crusts, and other delicate baked goods; after all, treats are treats are treats. Leave ‘em alone, I say. There’s plenty of other ways to make our everyday cooking healthier; an easy way is to start with these pancakes with ½ cup, 1 cup, or all white whole wheat flour!

Recipe: Pancakes

This is my pancake recipe; I’ve used it for years, but now I usually make it with 1 cup white whole wheat flour. I even make it with all white whole wheat, which the DD prefers. It’s a good recipe to experiment with, because you can easily substitute ½ cup, 1 cup or all the regular flour for white whole wheat. Just remember to use proper measuring technique, and subtract 1 tablespoon for every ½ cup!

Makes about 20 pancakes


  • 1½ cups flour
  • 1½ tablespoons sugar
  • ¾ teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon baking powder
  • ¾ teaspoon cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup lowfat buttermilk
  • ½ cup skim or lowfat milk
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1½ tablespoon canola oil, plus more for greasing pans
  • 1½ teaspoon vanilla


Heat a serving plate in 150°F oven. Lightly grease a cast-iron double burner griddle pan with a little vegetable oil, and heat over low flame. If not using a cast-iron pan, after the pancake batter is ready, heat your preferred pan, greased a little vegetable oil, over medium-low heat until hot but not smoking.

Place all the dry ingredients into a medium bowl and whisk together; make a well in the center of the dry ingredients. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and whisk just until smooth. Let the batter rest for a minute.

Fill a ¼-cup measuring cup about ¾ full for each pancake (about 3 tablespoons batter). Cook the first side until bubbles are forming on top, the edges begin to set, and the bottom is golden brown, about 2 minutes. Flip and cook another minute. Grease the pan again as needed. Move the cooked pancakes onto the serving plate, keeping them warm in the oven until ready to serve.

Serve with your favorite toppings.

Home-made granola

Hola, Granola!

Score one in my column. For years, my family insisted on eating bagels most weekday mornings. In terms of nutrition, bagels are more or less Jewish Wonder Bread: tasty but empty calories. There just aren’t a whole lot of health benefits in poppy seeds and sesame seeds. But they rejected other, healthier choices, like whole wheat toast and whole wheat bagels. The price of bagels has steadily increased over the years, and because I buy them by the dozen, that’s almost $10 a week! I’m cringing even as I type this…. I feel like I’m channeling my mother complaining, “Ah-ya! I remember when bagels were 4 for a $1!” But it’s not just about the cost, Ma, really! There just had to be a better way.

This is where granola takes the stage (skip the chit chat, and go straight to the recipe). I resisted making granola for years. We all love it, but I don’t usually buy it at the grocery store, because it doesn’t feel like a great value. After all, granola essentially is oatmeal minus water, but making it felt like too much work. Not that I actually knew how much work it would be since I’d never made it. Well, I must have had 10 free minutes on my hands in February, because I finally rolled up my sleeves and did it! I had all the ingredients on hand. It turned out to be easy and delicious! And everyone ate it the way people eat Cracker Jacks. I’ve made a handful of batches since then, refining the original recipe to get the perfect balance of toasty nuttiness and sweetness. The DH has switched to eating my homemade granola with milk on weekday mornings, and the DD and DS make homemade yogurt parfaits with the granola, fruit, and plain yogurt. We all eat it straight up or with milk as a snack, too.

What was my mental block against making granola about? Maybe it was an unconscious resistance to shedding another token of my New York City girlhood. I know, there are lots of “iconic” New York foods—it’s a big city—but bagels are it for me. In its place, insert granola, a (tie)dyed-and-true Northern California hippie emblem. Heck, I’ve only been living here for 20+ years. Probably not, but don’t you love the symbolism of it?

OK. Crazy Foodie time: does making my own granola actually save money? I did a bit of calculating to find out. There are about 8 ½-cup servings in one pound of granola; that’s $5.79 for 4 cups. My granola cost $8.65 for 7 cups—see my calculations below (the only ingredient I didn’t include in the cost analysis is salt)—or $4.94 for 4 cups, which is 17% less than the store-bought stuff. Of course, that doesn’t include cost for energy, water and detergent, or my labor. [Update: this cost analysis was based on an earlier version of my recipe. I've since substituted brown sugar for the honey, and I now add fewer nuts and dried fruits, which should bring the cost for ingredients down.] When it’s all said and done, it’s not a huge cost savings, but now that I know how easy it is to make, I’m going to keep making my granola anyway (and the kids are helping out, too!)—it just tastes better when it’s homemade.

Recipe: Granola

Makes about 10 cups


  • 4 cups rolled oats
  • 1 cup steel cut oats
  • 1½ cup raw wheat germ
  • ⅜ cup flax seeds
  • 1¾ cups chopped raw nuts (almonds, walnuts, or pecans)
  • ½ cup brown sugar
  • ¾ teaspoon salt
  • ¾ cup canola oil
  • 1½ tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1½ cups mixed dried fruit (cranberries and raisins)


Preheat oven to 325°F with the oven rack in the middle of the oven. Line 2 roasting pans with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, stir together the first 7 ingredients (all the dry ingredients except the dried fruit). Stir well to combine. Add the oil and vanilla, and stir again. Spread the granola evenly onto the roasting pans.

Bake the granola for 30-35 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes and switching the position of the pans each time. The granola is done when it is golden brown and fragrant. Mix in the dried fruit as soon as the granola comes out of the oven, then allow the granola to cool completely in the roasting pan. Store granola in an airtight container. Granola can be frozen.