Grandma Zemke’s Gingerbread Cookies

This delicious ginger-spiced, molassas-darkened gingerbread cookie can be rolled thick and chewy or thin and crisp.  It can be adorned with frosting and sprinkles or left in it’s bare-baked splendor.  It can be enjoyed with a cold glass of milk or a dram of your favorite whiskey.  It is this family’s favorite Christmas cookie.

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The universally agreed upon greatest Christmas cookie in our house isn’t even one of my family recipes. It’s BD’s maternal grandmother Helen Molnar Zemke’s gingerbread cookies.  Up until two years ago, I had never attempted the cookies. I didn’t need to.  I’d just wait until Pat (BD’s mother, Helen’s daughter, my mother-in-law … you following?) would go into her baking frenzy and suddenly boxes of gingerbread cookies would appear in our house. Read More


Absolutely Marvelous Caramel Matzoh Crunch

Caramel-crisped matzoh topped with dark silky chocolate and slivers and crunchy almond.  Is it a cookie?  Is it candy?  Does it really matter … it’s delicious.

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And it is … absolutely marvelous.

Every year when I bake the matzoh crunch, I’m reminded of a fictional account of a near-death experience in a blinding snowstorm with four of five siblings and one Mario-Andretti-Wanna-Be sister-in-law behind the wheel of a rented minivan.  As the story goes, there was a tradition, some years back, when available siblings and MAWB would make a weekend road trip between Thanksgiving and Christmas to a place within driving distance of their homes to sample and pick up beers and other provisions for Christmas.  One of these trips was to Montreal. Read More


Christmas Sugar Cookies

A buttery sugar cookie in its purest form.  Rolled thick for a nice softness or thin for a crisp bite, this cookie only gets more magical with a simple buttercream.  Sprinkles optional; enjoyment is not.

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O holy night! The stars are brightly shining,
It is the night of the dear Saviour’s birth.

Mahalia Jackson or Nat King Cole singing that carol are pure Christmas spirit and everything wonderful I feel about the season. Growing up, December 1st always meant the arrival of  Mom’s stack of Christmas albums; the Advent wreath, a stiff wire form covered in fresh greens, red berries, and ribbons, topped with four candles – three purple and one pink; and the Advent calendar tacked to the kitchen door to the basement.  The season had arrived and cookies were not far behind!

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Baked Rigatoni with Roasted Butternut Squash, Sausage and Rapini

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This is a hearty savory pasta bake with juicy bites of sausage, a creamy cheese sauce, hits of bitter from the greens and sweet bits from the roasted butternut squash.  It hits every taste bud in just the right way.  This is easy enough for family dinners and potlucks and special enough for a weeknight dinner party. 

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I came into the butternut squash fan camp way late in life.  I am embarrassed to say – given my mantra to my kids, “at least try it before you say you don’t like it!” – that it wasn’t until last Fall that I discovered my extreme love of this roasted beauty.  I had assumed (and you know what they say about assuming …) butternut squash would taste like sweet potatoes, one of my culinary arch-nemeses. By St. Boogar and all the saints at the backside door of purgatory!! I was wrong and am in the throes of making up for lost time.

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Uncle Frank’s Italian Sausage

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Uncle Frank and his pilfered sausage making machine. It’s a whiz but he’s not sure where it came from or when it got there. It’s a mystery. If it’s yours, give him a call.

Italian sausages with the snap of real hog casings filled with juicy pork and the perfect balance of cheese, wine and herbs.  Fire up the grill!

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Another fabulous family cook pops out of the woodwork of our wacky family tree!  Uncle Frank is the husband of my mother’s younger sister, Dot.  He is a retired DC fireman, father of 10, currently a custom home builder, and (most important for our purposes here) a very good cook.  Lucky us!  Breakfasts at the Principe house would put an IHOP buffet – should an IHOP buffet serve Rapa brand scrapple – to shame… and that’s just on your standard Wednesday.  Breakfast not your thing?  Pfft! If you need a soup, Uncle Frank’s your man.  Other than one unfortunate incident where he went all not-in-a-good-way-free-form on a pot of pasta fazool (yes, I do have the memory of an elephant … a bizarre elephant but an elephant nonetheless), that man can toss things into a pot and come up with the most delicious combinations.

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Lunch Lady Pizza

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A soft, yeasty slab pizza with the slightest amount of crisp on the crust holding up a bright tomato sauce and loads of cheese.  A crowd-pleaser.

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With much deference and a huge blop of literary license, I have dubbed this monstrous-good, locust-and-friends-favorite Lunch Lady Pizza.  I bow to those everyday superheros.  Cafeteria crews who work, day in and day out, to prepare and serve the (oftentimes not wonderful) goods provided them to the sometimes unappreciative (sometimes quite deservedly so) wee masses deserve our respect.   This pizza is easy, tasty, comforting, and budget-friendly… things the lunch ladies worry on our behalf about every day… and so I name it in their honor. Read More


Strawberry Pa Looza!

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Angel food cake with roasted strawberries

Recipes for everything strawberry!  Homemade ice cream and fudge sauce, roasted strawberries for the perfect angel food cake, strawberry limeade, and strawberries and cream biscuits.  Stretchy pants optional but recommended.

Every Spring I look forward to two things of the verdant variety.  First is planting my pot garden (that still amuses me; for the easily scandalized among us, I am referring to my vegetable container garden) and the second, more reliable, is strawberry season.  I start trolling the pick-your-own farm websites at the beginning of May and then give a week or two to clear out the scary die-hard pickers (those folks that come in with their own containers, jam and jelly on their minds, and a sense of territory that would put a pit bull to shame).

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