I made hot cocoa from scratch for my daughter this weekend. (I didn’t grow, harvest, and grind the cacao beans or sugar cane, but it’s hard to do that in DC!) This is just the luxurious beverage for chillier nights that could use a lift in mood.

Here’s how I adapted a simple recipe for hot cocoa from Epicurious, doubled to make enough for 2:

Add 2 cups whole milk in a a 1 quart sauce pan. If you have an actual vanilla bean, scrape out the pith and put it & the husk in.

Heat up, then stir in 4 tablespoons cocoa powder through a sifter, & a pinch of salt.

Then, sweeten to taste. Honey, maple syrup, simple syrup, molasses & Stevia are all fun, interesting alternatives to granulated sugar. Heat to 83C/181F to scald the milk but be careful not to scorch or boil over. A milk

Remove from heat, & stir in a teaspoon of vanilla extract if you didn’t have a bean.

Top with whipped cream and or marshmallows, & shaved chocolate.

For a fun twist (for adults) add cinnamon, chili powder, or star anise instead of or in addition to vanilla to explore Mayan and more exotic flavors.

We had four desserts this Thanksgiving, but pumpkin pie tragically was not one of them. We fixed that the next day, when my mom visited and baked with my daughter.

Unfortunately, I found that we did not have a key ingredient: cream!

This “perfect pumpkin pie” recipe uses condensed milk. The Food Network’s pumpkin pie recipe uses half and half. Libby’s pumpkin pie recipe uses evaporated milk. Sally’s pumpkin pie recipe uses heavy cream cut with milk.

As has happened often in our kitchen, necessity became the driver of invention: we used the “light” eggnog I’d picked up at Trader Joe’s. The results were so spectacular that I wanted to share. You can find recipes for eggnog pumpkin pie from the Food Network or the “girl who ate everything.” Following is ours!

Eggnog pumpkin pie

For the filling:

First, beat 2 eggs.

3/4 cup sugar (brown preferred)
Teaspoon cinnamon
Half tsp allspice
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp cardamom

Fold in 2 cups of eggnog. (We used “light!”)
Add one 1 can of pumpkin.

Stir well, set aside.

For the crust:

Sift 2 cups of flour.Mix in 5 tbsp sugar and 1/2 tsp salt.
Take 6 tablespoons butter, and make it into little balls.

Cut the butter into the flour with a table knife.

Bind together with 4 tablespoons of cold water.

Let the pie dough sit in fridge for an hour before rolling, at least.

Preheat the oven to 425.
Bake 10 minutes, then lower to 350 for 50 minutes.

Keep checking if it’s set every 5 minutes from then on using a match, skewer or straw, until it comes out clean.

Allow to cool and set, before serving with whipped cream.


homemade-crab-cakeI’ve learned to make hundreds of dishes over the years. Very few of them consistently elicit the reaction that the family Maryland crabcake recipe provokes. The recipe, passed down from my grandmother to my mother to me, focuses on the most important — and precious — ingredient: the crab. Done right, this is a dish I’d be proud to serve to a president, Pope or parent on a special day.

Acquire one pound of crabmeat, of the best quality and freshness you can afford, & a box of Saltines.

Crush one sleeve (~32 crackers) into the consistency of corn meal. (You may also substitute Stoned Wheat Thins.) Test different ratios of cracker/crab. The more of the latter, the better!

Combine crab & crushed crackers. Fold in 2-3 large dollops of mayonnaise using a spatula. Again, amount is up to cook. For me, dollop = 2 tablespoons.

If desired, add a 1-2 teaspoons of Old Bay seasoning, to taste.

Divide into 4 portions and form into cakes. Chill.

Heat large cast iron pan. Add enough cooking oil to coat bottom. (Key: choose oil with high flash point (canola, safflower, grapeseed, not olive oil). Add cakes. After 2 minutes on high heat, add 1 tablespoon of butter to pan. Flip when bottom of cakes is golden brown. When other side is golden, turn heat to minimum & cover to heat through.

Remove and place on draining rack. Serve with aioli, fruit salsa or “plain” with a squeeze of lemon.

Last summer, a friend asked for my recipe for blueberry pie. Technically, it’s my mother’s recipe. Here’s how I make it:


2 1/2 cups of flour
1 stick of butter (8 tablespoons)
4 oz of neufchâtel/cream cheese
1/4 cup cold water

1 quart of wild blueberries (or more, depending on pie dish depth)
4 tablespoons of Minute tapioca
1 1/4 cup of sugar
1 tablespoon of cinnamon
1 ounces of milk


Combine berries with 1 cup of sugar and tapioca in a bowl at least half an hour before baking, preferably 2 hours or so. Set aside.

Preheat over to 425 degree F.

Sift flour into large mixing bowl. Cut butter and neufchâtel into flour in small pieces. Pinch pieces of shortening between fingers until no globs remain. Add cold water, mix until dough comes together but no longer. Split into 2 balls, chill in fridge for 4 hours. (Possible to use immediately if needed but try to plan ahead!)

Dust counter top or big cutting board and a rolling pin with flour. (If you have access to a ceramic rolling pin, chill it prior to baking.) Roll out first ball of dough until it’s 1 inch wider than pie plate diameter on all sides. Fold into half and then once again to transfer into plate, then unfold after moving it over. Press closed any cracks.

Add filling. Roll out the other ball of dough, this time making an oval (for lattice) or circle for closed pie. Slice into 1/2″ strips. Weave into lattice over the pie filling. (If pie top is one piece, make sure to cut 8 1″ slit into it to allow steam to escape.) Press the top and bottom crust together with two fingers to form a wave.

Brush the top of the piece with milk. Sprinkle with cinnamon sugar.

Put pie into over in the middle rack, preferably with a cookie sheet below it to catch any overflow. (If you have a crust protector, put it over the edges.)

Bake for 15 minutes at 425, then reduce heat to 350 degrees F. Bake for 45 minutes. Check to see if blueberries are bubbling. If not, check back periodically every 10 minutes. If crust is browning too fast, reduce heat further to 325.

Let cool for at least a few minutes — filling will be boiling hot and will gel as it cools.

Goes exceptionally well with cold milk, tea or a la mode.

Valentine's Day dinner: seared sea scallops, fresh lemon... on Twitpic

Seared sea scallops, fresh lemon pepper fettucine, roasted red pepper, shitake, zucchini.

Lemon chicken schnitzel. Perfect for a chilly November dinner. Not a bad pairing with a good Riesling, either. Tangy capers, citrus and sweet wine. Yum.

We’ll be back to Central.

Proper Maryland crabdip

In our family, Maryland Thanksgiving means crab dip is the prime attraction until the bird is done.

Cream cheese, shallots, sour cream, sherry, white pepper, 2 pounds of backfin lump.

Bake for 30 minutes at 350. Keep warm.


Making the classic family giblet gravy is a decades-old practice in my clan, from browning a proper roux to sautéeing wild mushrooms to separating turkey droppings and adding stock and flour.

In recent years, we’ve been trying gluten-free flours. Some Thanksgiving traditions are well worth preserving and evolving, as needed.

Last year, when I visited Sebastapol, Californina, I stumbled upon a terrific restaurant, the Himalayan Tandoori & Curry House.

I enjoyed a delicious pumpkin chicken masala, with organic pumpkin from a nearby farm. Rather good, with garlic cilantro naan and an IPA. Great service, fine ambiance.

We brewed beer from the White House’s Honey Porter recipe last October.

The home brewer who kindly offered his home and equipment adapted the recipe slightly but we hewed to its spirit.

The homebrewer I'm working with today adapted the White House thusly.

There was no way to get White House honey so we substituted the product of my friend’s father’s apiary in Maryland and a few ounces of local Virginia honey.

Not @WhiteHouse but it *is* from bees in an apiary from a home owner in Bowie, Maryland. Honey Porter, here we come.

Below, we’re about to remove the grains from the kettle.

Brewing White House beer today. About to remove the grains from the kettle.

Adding malted barley extract to the wort.

Adding malted barley extract to the wort.

Cooling the wort using a clever cold water system, transferring the heat energy through a copper coil and hoses.

Cooling the wort using a clever cold water system, transferring the heat energy through a copper coil and hoses.

Transferring the wort.

Transferring the wort

Hoppy discovery: The beer we brewed using the White House Honey Porter recipe was not only drinkable – it was actually quite good. I pulled my first taste December 8th and I was proud to share it with guests the next day.