November – Happy Thanksgiving

November – Happy Thanksgiving

I want to wish all my readers a very Happy Thanksgiving.

My sous-vide turkey has been cooking away overnight, 12 hours for the dark meat and 8 for the white. Stay tuned, I will post the results and let you know how it turns out.

Sous vide turkey

When do we get our turkey dinner?

We are in the process of packing up the house in Oakland, plans are for it to go on the market in late January if we can complete all the work. You may have seen posts about the remodel and addition to our second home in Fort Bragg, CA. Soon it will become our first home although we plan to keep a smaller apartment or condo in the SF Bay Area. Downsizing is an emotional experience, I see the value of a minimalist lifestyle. After 27 years in this home we have accumulated way too much. And, if we couldn’t figure out what to do with it, we simply stashed it in our garage. Sooner or later you pay the price don’t you?

I will close with a couple of pictures from the coast near Fort Bragg.

From the secret beach

Happy Thanksgiving all!


November – Raisin Cornbread Sausage Stuffing or Dressing

November – Raisin Cornbread Sausage Stuffing or Dressing

I briefly considered calling this Ma Barnes’ stuffing, the last remnant of a brief first marriage at the tender age of 21. The original recipe came from my ex mother-in-law. She was from Wisconsin and her stuffing had a definite midwestern, no-nonsense appeal.  In my own hands it has undergone many variations, especially once I moved to the west coast. But, you can still detect the bones of that first recipe in this one. Some of my adaptations have been more successful than others…chestnuts added (couldn’t really detect them), walnuts (nice crunch but not needed), artichoke hearts (that was an interesting year, kids weren’t crazy about them), Italian sausage (spicy, non-spicy, chicken – all delicious), no sausage (vegetarian version), olive oil instead of butter, currents instead of raisins, and lastly the addition of cornbread. I think you get the idea. I am going to give you the most current iteration, the one that finally stuck. However feel free to adapt it to match your families taste.

The addition of cornbread was what elevated this recipe to a new high. Ma Barnes used crumbled hamburger or hot dog rolls and poultry seasoning, I did the same for the first few years. It was good. But, magic happened the first time I added cornbread and herbs de Provence. It went from simply good to “Oh my!” and “Can I have thirds?”. Now I use about half  torn stale brioche or ciabatta bread and half cornbread. The cornbread gives additional texture and depth of flavor. In my family the holiday meals are all about the stuffing and/or dressing. I have to make enough to last for several days; it’s the first thing that they look for when they open the refrigerator the morning after Thanksgiving. This dressing is the heart of Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner…forget the turkey.

I am using the terms stuffing and dressing interchangeably. But technically it is called stuffing if stuffed inside your turkey or other bird, and dressing if cooked outside the bird in a casserole. I started out cooking it only as a stuffing, but there was not enough copious leftovers. Now I either do both, or cook it entirely as a dressing. It is good both ways. And it is excellent reheated with a poached or fried egg on top, makes an excellent sandwich with leftover turkey and cranberry sauce, and an over the top panini with cheese and turkey.

Speaking of turkey, this is the year I have discovered sous-vide. Stay tuned for sous vide turkey. But that is a discussion for another post, probably after Thanksgiving but in time for Christmas. Aren’t you impressed by all the bloggers who cook a full holiday dinner weeks before the actual event so they can write and photograph a holiday dinner? I sure am. I admit to being more of a ‘just in time’ blogger, or even ‘after the fact’ blogger. I will only be way ahead of the game for 2018!

If you are a regular reader, you might notice that this is not the first time you have seen this recipe. It was first posted it in January of 2015 under the heading of Friday Chicken. I think it would be difficult for you to find, and it deserves a post all of its own. Check out the link above to the Friday Chicken post if you have time. It is a great trick (borrowed from Richard Olney and Vincent Price) to stuff a chicken under the skin before roasting. I have done the same with a turkey, however the longer cooking time means that the skin can easily burn. You do get an extremely flavorful bird, but you have to watch it very carefully.

You can buy prepared cornbread from a bakery or grocery store (try not to use one that is very sweet). Or, you can make your own. This year I am using a recipe from the frugal hausfrau for Southern Skillet Cornbread. You will need about half a recipe for the stuffing; save the rest for serving with a bowl of chili or soup Yum! I am not going to reprint her recipe. You can follow the link to see Mollie’s post. I did change one thing, because I was going to use it in the dressing, I substituted 1/4 cup butter instead of the drippings or vegetable oil called for in her recipe. Wouldn’t bacon fat be wonderful? Oh my! But this doesn’t need it because you already have the sausage. I think it would be over kill.

Take a look at this cornbread…

Southern Skillet Cornbread from the frugal hausfrau

If short on time you can always use a boxed cornbread mix, they aren’t half bad. Your stuffing will still be delicious.

Raisin Cornbread Sausage Stuffing or Dressing:

  • 4 tablespoons of butter, plus more if needed
  • 1 pound of sweet Italian sausage, either bulk or removed from casings
  • 1 medium yellow onion, chopped
  • 2 large stalks of celery, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon Herbs de Provence
  • ¼ teaspoon fennel seeds
  • Pinch or red pepper flakes
  • 2-3 fresh brioche rolls or other soft bread, torn into pieces
  • 8 oz. of cornbread, crumbled
  • 2 small handfuls of golden raisins or currents
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper as needed
  • 1/2 to 1 cup of turkey or chicken stock if baked outside the bird


  1. Melt the butter in a large skillet.
  2. Add the sausage, crumble it into small pieces as it browns.
  3. Add the onion, celery, Herbs de Provence, fennel seeds and red pepper flakes.
  4. Stir and continue to sauté on medium heat until the onion and celery are softened, about 10 minutes.
  5. Meanwhile tear the cornbread and brioche bread into 3/4 inch pieces in a large bowl, you don’t want them too small.
  6. Add the raisins and mix.
  7. When cooked and while still warm, add the contents of the skillet to the large bowl and mix well. Taste for salt, you want it well seasoned.
  8. If the contents look dry (it depends on how much fat is in your sausage), add another 2 (or more) tablespoons of butter to the skillet to melt. Then add it to the bowl. Ma Barnes would add as much as a full stick of butter at this point.
  9. Cover and bake immediately as per numbers 10 and 11 below, or set aside to cool. In my household that needs to be far away from the edge of the counter and out of reach of the dogs. Once cool you can refrigerate it for a day. Keep your last minute stress level down and prepare it the day before the holiday.
  10. If using as a dressing: When ready to bake as a dressing (outside the bird), preheat your oven to 350 degrees F. Spread the stuffing in a shallow casserole dish and add the stock. You want the bread to be moist but not swimming. Cover with aluminum foil and bake until hot, about 30 minutes. Uncover, increase the heat to 425 degrees F and crisp the top. Watch it carefully so it doesn’t burn although those charred crispy bits are my favorite.
  11. If using as a stuffing: When ready to cook your turkey, heat the stuffing in the microwave until very hot. Using clean rubber gloves, stuff the turkey inside both the body and neck cavity. Truss and bake immediately. The hot dressing ensures food safety, you will also find that your turkey will also need less time in the oven. Be sure to check the doneness frequently with an instant read thermometer.

Sausage, onions and celery with seasonings sauteed in butter

Cornbread, Brioche and Raisins combined in a large bowl

Ready to bake or stuff into turkey, wet ingredients added to the dry

Finished baked Dressing

Moist on the middle but crisp on the top, it was delicious.

I baked this in the afternoon to post, took some photos, and went out to dinner with a couple of friends. The dressing was left on the stove to cool.

This is what was left when I arrived home a few hours later…


It wasn’t the dogs either.

Enough said, I don’t think you can have a better recommendation. I think I need to make a quadruple batch for the holiday meal.

I am co-hosting this week’s Fiesta Friday, #198. It’s always fun to have several stuffings/dressings to choose from and I think this one will be a hit. Come see all the delicious offerings at this week’s party by clicking on the FF link, it will take you to our host, Angie’s. My cohost this week is Judi @ Her sausage gravy will go well with my offering.

April – Basic Kitchen Equipment

April – Basic Kitchen Equipment

What items in your kitchen do you consider essential? I thought it would be interesting to explore what is considered “basic” as far as utensils and equipment. Where do you start if you are setting up a new kitchen? What do you keep if you are downsizing (something I will be doing this year)? I’ve compiled a list of equipment I find essential with a little help from Mark Bittman (How to Cook Everything) and Cal Peternell (Twelve Recipes).

What we have in our kitchen is often very personal. Much of my own was inherited from my mother and grandmother. Cast iron skillets only get better if they are properly cared for, and my wooden spoons still retain the stains of my mother’s tomato sauce or pickled beets. I have casserole and gratin dishes given to me by friends over the years. They retain the memories of special meals and the loved ones with whom they were shared. One casserole dish in particular screams Swedish meatballs at me every time I pull it out of the cupboard. It was my younger brother’s favorite meal, always served on his birthday.

So here goes:

  • 2 wooden cutting boards, reserve one for fruit so it doesn’t become flavored with garlic or onion
  • 1 plastic cutting board for chicken (not glass which will damage your knives) – that can go in the dishwasher
  • 8 quart pasta and/or stock pot
  • 1 1/2 or 2 quart saucepan

    Sauce pans from Ikea

  • 3 or 4 quart saucepan
  • 8 inch cast iron skillet
  • 10 inch skillet (stainless steel if you can afford it)
  • 12 inch skillet (ditto)
  • Lids for skillets
  • Mixing bowls – large, medium and small
  • Big wire mesh strainer (my preference) or colander
  • Salad spinner
  • Tongs – several pairs
  • Metal spatula
  • Wooden spoons
  • Vegetable peeler
  • Box type cheese grater
  • Whisk
  • A bamboo-handled spider or other sieve

    Spider or hand held sieve

  • Slotted spoon
  • Potato masher
  • Rubber spatula
  • Can opener
  • Soup ladle
  • Small bowl or container for salt
  • Peppermill
  • Timer
  • Instant read thermometer
  • Measuring cups and spoons
  • Kitchen scissors

    Joyce Chen kitchen shears – sharp enough to be used as poultry shears

  • Knives – 8 inch chef’s knife, 2-3 paring knives, serrated bread knife
  • Knife sharpener
  • 9 inch cake pans
  • Baking/casserole dishes – a 13 x 9-inch casserole is often called for in recipes – pyrex, you may also want an 8 x 8 inch
  • A casserole or gratin dish you can bring to the table – clay is very nice
  • Large roasting pan if you eat meat
  • V shaped rack for roasting pan
  • Baking sheets for cookies and roasting vegetables (I like the large jelly role pans, line with parchment paper)
  • baking pans if you bake cupcakes
  • Cooling racks for cookies or cakes
  • Blender

Then there are those items that I find indispensable and use almost daily.

  • A microplane grater – for hard cheese, ginger, garlic, and zesting citrus
  • 10 inch non-stick skillet for eggs
  • Fish spatula for turning delicate things
  • Silicone baking mat
  • Cheese slicer – for thinly slicing cheese (grilled cheese sandwiches or cheese platters)

    cheese slicer

  • Serving platters, bowls
  • Tea pot
  • Coffee cone and filters
  • Rice cooker (you don’t need a fancy one, my own is over 35 years old and going strong)
  • Mortar and pestle for grinding salt and spices – buy a larger one so you can make pesto sauce in it

You don’t need all these items at one time if you are just starting out. And don’t go out and buy a set, you may not need everything that is included. Start slowly and consider each purchase. Most of what is in my kitchen has been in use for many years. One skillet and one pot will do nicely at first, buy the larger sizes to give yourself more flexibility. Second hand stores are great places to find cast iron and many of the utensils. Check out garage sales, many of us our downsizing right now. Visit a restaurant supply store for real bargains plus high quality, they are also wonderful sources for glassware and crockery. If you have an Ikea close to you, it can be a source of good bargains. The larger pot pictured above has a wider opening and is perfect for making preserves. Similar pots at Williams Sonoma are many times the price.

What do you consider essential that I have not included? I would love to have your input and will update the list.

April – The Basic 20 for a Complete Pantry

April – The Basic 20 for a Complete Pantry

This post is one of a series on setting up a “Basic” kitchen, this time I am concentrating on the pantry. Future posts will feature equipment and other supplies. Over two years ago, I made suggestions for the items I consider necessary for a complete pantry. Keep in mind that these are the very basics, just the basics. At that time I had several young adult friends who were setting up housekeeping for themselves. They wanted to know where they should concentrate first.

You can view this as a minimalist wardrobe for the kitchen, your capsule kitchen.

You can find the original here if you are interested in reading it. However, I would like to make some updates and alterations. If you are just starting out on your own, you really only need these 20 basic pantry items to start preparing delicious meals. These are the items I always have on hand. It is also helpful to have the list if you are renting a holiday house and want to know what to take with you.

We recently returned from Paris where the apartment we rented did not contain any staples, not even salt and pepper. I’ve bolded the ones we rushed out to buy immediately, just in case you find yourself in a similar situation.

It is amazing how many meals you can create if you have the following 20 pantry items on hand. Wonderful cooks have been producing four-star “every day” meals with just these staples. If you add good bread, and a few fresh ingredients from the garden (see my post on the 10 plants to grow in pots) you have a feast. Simplify your kitchen and therefore your life.

All of the following 20 will keep well in the pantry or refrigerator. Use them to make quick delicious meals for your family, or guests.

  1. Salt – I like grey salt and sea salt for finishing, most of my recipes use kosher for cooking and flavoring water for pasta (keep it close to your stove in a jar or salt cellar). Regular table salt has additional additives and is not recommended.
  2. Pepper – a good black pepper (use a grinder not pre-ground, you can find peppercorns already in grinders in the spice section if needed.
  3. Olive oil – extra virgin
  4. Wine vinegar – red
  5. Dijon mustard
  6. Neutral oil such as canola or sunflower or coconut or grape seed
  7. Rice wine vinegar – this is on my list because it is a mild and wonderful with tender salad greens, it does not have a strong flavor
  8. Soy sauce
  9. Parmesan cheese (whole piece, not pre-grated, best you can afford)
  10. Onions – brown or white, plus red for salads
  11. Garlic
  12. Fresh ginger
  13. Lemons
  14. Butter – unsalted
  15. Coconut milk – canned
  16. Sesame oil
  17. Dried pasta
  18. Dried rice
  19. Canned tomatoes
  20. Canned beans of your choice, I love chick peas and use them often

I consider the 5 pantry items bolded are the only ones required to cook a simple meal. Really, only those 5. You don’t need to run out and restock an entire kitchen if you find yourself in a situation similar to the one we found in Paris. Think roast chicken brushed with Dijon mustard, roast vegetables dressed with olive oil and good salt, crisp bread, and a salad.

You will notice a few changes from last time, and what is not on the list…sugar and flour. I don’t use much sugar, in fact there are very few recipes on my blog for desserts. I admire bakers but I am not one of them. Flour and sugar might be part of your own personal list. You don’t really need to confine it to 20. Chocolate would be number 21 on my list (you can make your own judgement about it being essential). A quick dessert consists of good quality chocolate and a few slices of candied ginger (both of those are in my “not-so-basic” kitchen). That simple dessert, with a cup of herb tea or coffee, would complete a meal and put me in my happy place.

Also not on the list are herbs and spices. Flavoring choices are very personal but look for another post listing those I think should be your starting point. Good ingredients often don’t need much more than salt and pepper to shine, maybe with a slick of excellent olive oil.

Yes, coffee is not on the list or tea, also not milk. Add to this list those pantry items if they are required for your own happiness.

Picture these two scenarios…you just got home from work, it was a long day with no time to go to the grocery store. The train or bus was late, and traffic was bad. Your family is grouchy and hungry (and you aren’t far behind).

Or, maybe you get a call from an old friend who is in town for just one night. They want to meet your family. There is no time to do anything elaborate and besides, again, you haven’t had time to go grocery shopping. You want to make something delicious and classy but don’t want to spend hours in the kitchen.

If you have a well stocked pantry (plus some herbs and greens in pots on the deck, and bread in the freezer) you are all set.

Relax; pour yourself (and your guests) a glass of wine.


Buttered (or olive oil) pasta with parmesan. 

As a child in Rome I lived on simple pasta with butter or olive oil and parmesan cheese. I didn’t like all that other Italian stuff.

Got some fresh herbs in the garden, or some parsley in the fridge? Even fancier.

Pasta with olive oil, parmesan and fresh herbs

Toss a salad and you are done.

If you happen to have some type of vegetable in the back of the vegetable drawer, you can do something even more colorful.

3 Pepper Pasta

Or what about a handful of frozen peas? The peas shoots are nice but not necessary.

Pasta with peas and pea shoots

Pasta with canned chick peas and parmesan is delicious as well. Fresh herbs would brighten it but are not required. Make it Mexican with black beans and a can of chopped tomatoes. The possibilities are endless.

April – Cookbook Memories

April – Cookbook Memories

Do you collect things? My personal collection (read obsession) is cookbooks. My library shelves are bursting at the seams.

Some of the collection

Some of the collection

I really do need to do a purge but cannot bring myself to part with any of them. They are a very personal history of my life and that of the women in my family. They tell the story of my evolution as a cook, and how cooking has changed over the last few decades. I have cookbooks that belonged to my mother and grandmother, very precious for the memories they contain. With my mother (and grandmother when I was quite young) I spent hours discussing recipes, ingredients, and menus. When I visited my mother in Florida, we explored any new market near her. I remember her delight when arugula finally made it to the local stores. It was a regular in California where I lived, but less common for her and therefore highly treasured. Traveling together, local farmer’s markets and food specialty stores were goals and highlights. In the evenings we cooked together. Neither of us wanted to go out because it was so much more fun spending time in the kitchen together.

This was one of the first cookbooks my mother gave to me, with a cover she lovingly made herself.



Can you guess?

Mastering the Art of French Cooking b Julia Child

Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child

JC was always Julia Child to her.

But how do you tell, out of those hundreds (I am afraid to count) of cookbooks if it’s a good one? For me it’s the food stains on the pages and the notes in the margins.

Stained and well used pages of a recipe

Stained and well used pages of a recipe

I read cookbooks like others folks read novels. But unlike novels, which I mostly read on my Ipad, for cookbooks I want an actual book I can hold in my hands…hardback preferred.

The recipe pictured above came for the book The Preservation Kitchen by Paul Virant. Paul is a Michelin-starred chef so his preserving manual is different from any others in my collection. The recipes are creative and imaginative, inspired by his restaurant, Vie, in Western Springs, Illinois. He gives menus plus suggestions for using those pickles. It’s a treasure trove of ideas.

My Meyer lemon tree is bursting with lemons which need to be picked. This will be the third year I’ve made Aigre-Deux with them, the jars from last year are almost gone. Look for a post later this week.

What are your favorite and most used cookbooks?