Happy Pie Day

Just before baking: lots of apples and lots of crumble on top.

Just before baking: lots of apples and lots of crumble on top.


Hello, pie. No I won’t be making any cliched comments about the Life of Pie. Just a recipe. A classic that holds precious memories. This is the pie that always takes me home.

And, oh, by the way. January 23 is National Pie Day. Warm up your oven.

If you’re in Milwaukee and not up to baking, go have a slice at Honey Pie Cafe. Get there early.

Mom’s Apple Pie with Crumble Topping

My mother always doubled this recipe. One pie is for immediate eating and the other goes into the freezer.

1 recipe Crumb Topping (below)
1-1/4 cups all-purpose flour

1/4 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup shortening
4 to 5 tablespoons water
1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon salt
6 cups thinly sliced, peeled tart cooking apples (about 2-1/4 pounds)

1. Make Crumb Topping. Set aside.

2. In a medium mixing bowl stir together 1-1/4 cups flour and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Using a pastry blender, cut in shortening until pieces are pea-size. Sprinkle on 1 tablespoon of the water; gently toss with a fork. Repeat moistening dough, using 1 tablespoon of water at a time, until all dough is moistened. Form into a ball.

3. Roll dough into a 12-inch circle. Transfer to a 9-inch pie plate. Trim pastry to 1/2 inch beyond edge of pie plate. Fold under extra pastry. Set aside. (I usually cover and put it in the fridge til I’m finished peeling apples and mixing the topping.)

4. Preheat oven to 375 degree F. In a large mixing bowl stir together sugar, 2 tablespoons flour, 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, and 1/8 teaspoon salt. Add apple slices. Gently toss to combine.

5. Pile apples mixture into crust. Sprinkle Crumb Topping over apple mixture. Gently pat mixture down over apples.

6. Place pie on a baking sheet. Cover entire pie loosely with foil. Bake for 15 minutes. Remove foil. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes more or until top is dark golden brown and apples are tender. Cool on a wire rack.

CRUMB TOPPING: Stir together 3/4 brown sugar, 1/2 cups flour, and 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon. Using a pastry blender, cut in 1/3 cup butter unitl the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Stir in 1 cup chopped nuts.

Make-Ahead Tip: Prepare as above, except after sprinkling with crumb topping, wrap entire pie tightly in a double thickness of foil. Freeze up to 3 months. To bake frozen pie, remove foil wrapping and place frozen pie on a baking sheet. Cover entire pie loosely with foil. Bake in a 350 degree F oven for 40 minutes. Remove foil. Bake 35 to 40 minutes more or until top is brown and apples are tender. Cool on wire rack.

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Bloody Good

The Bloody Masterpiece at Sobelman's Pub is "garnished" with 13 nibbles including a bacon cheeseburger slider!

The Bloody Masterpiece at Sobelman’s Pub in Milwaukee is “garnished” with 13 nibbles including a bacon cheeseburger slider! And it’s served with a beer chaser.     —Photo courtesy of Sobelman’s Pub & Grill

The Bloody Mary, whose history seems as cloudy as the cocktail itself, is often tied to Ernest Hemingway, who rather enjoyed imbibing with his fellow writers. At his behest, legend has it, the bartender at Hem’s favorite Paris bar—Harry’s—created the drink to either soothe a Hemingway hangover (hair of the dog, you know), or to concoct a beverage that could not be detected on his breath and distress his wife (might have been Wife #4 whose name was Mary).

Nonetheless, the beverage has evolved dramatically from the 1920s concoction Hemingway swilled—tomato juice, vodka, Worcestershire sauce plus seasonings. Today’s Bloody Mary is a moveable feast, taking on various iterations and descriptive names. It’s an appetizer and a drink in one and can be loaded up with arugula sprouts, sugared bacon, crab claws, chunks of cheese and pickled vegetables including okra, Brussels sprouts and green beans.

At Sobelman’s Pub & Grill in Milwaukee, the Bloody Masterpiece was created on a whim to make fun of some of those over-the-top toppers. There are 13 of them on the Masterpiece: a bacon cheeseburger slider, celery, sausage, cheese, olive, pickled Brussels sprout, asparagus, shrimp, green onion, mushroom, cherry tomato, a bit of fresh lemon and a pearl onion.

“I made it as a joke, took a picture and posted it on Facebook asking if it was too much,” says owner Dave Sobelman. Apparently it wasn’t. Last week about 175 Bloody Masterpieces were served every day. “I had to hire new staff just to help prep and skewer everything—and order more and more buns. The sliders are made and added at the last minute.”

In comparison, the Chubby Mary is an exercise in restraint. Sort of. It’s the signature drink at The Cove in the small, but swanky fishtown of Leland, Michigan. Fresh lemon and lime juice, horseradish, Worcestershire sauce, hot pepper sauce, celery salt and cracked black pepper make for a lovely, but standard Mary, but the garnish puts it on the map: a smoked chub (a fish found in the Great Lakes) goes tail-first into the drink, so you are face to face with its shriveled fish eyes as the server ceremoniously places it on the table before you. Off-putting though it is, the smoky little fish soaks up the sweet-citrus-spice flavor of the drink, making for an oddly addictive nibble. Here’s a Chubby Mary recipe and photo that appeared in Midwest Living magazine.

Hemingway, being the fisherman that he was and having spent time in Michigan, would have approved.

For a simple Bloody Mary Dave Sobelman suggests using Jimmy Luv’s Bloody Mary Mix and Rehorst Vodka, both produced by Milwaukee companies.

Or try my bacon-flavored Bloody Mary. It makes one serving.

Bloody Mary with Bacon

2 lime wedges
Bacon Salt  or coarse sea salt
1 cup tomato juice
1 tablespoon lime juice
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon dill pickle juice or olive brine
1/4 teaspoon horseradish or hot sauce to taste (some like it hot)
Freshly ground pepper
2 ounces of Bakon Vodka (worth the splurge here) or vodka
2 crispy-cooked bacon strips

Rub lime wedge around rim of  2 glasses. Dip rims in Bacon Salt. Combine remaining ingredients, except bacon strips, in a large cocktail mixer and shake. (Or put ingredients in a small pitcher and stir.) Pour Bloody Mary into 2 ice-filled glasses. Lay a bacon strip across the top of each glass, or crumble on top.




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New Year’s Food for Good Fortune

I like to hedge my bets, so am planning on eating as many “lucky” foods as possible New Years Eve and New Years day.

And wearing red undies. Red lingerie brings giddiness, passion, love and luck. Right?

But, as for food that brings good fortune, here’s a short list, that I’m picking up at the grocery store for these next two days. Just in case. Oh…skip the lobster and chicken. They don’t have good New Year’s vibes. But these foods do.

  • Grapes, 12 of them Eat them at midnight for luck in each month of the new year. Raisins work too.
  • Turmeric-laced foods:  Gold-colored foods bring financial prosperity.  Monica Bhide, who leads a life of spice, talks turmeric and has an amazing Fish Curry recipe here.Post image for Spice of the month: Turmeric
  • Pork Recipe below: Pork Sauerkraut with Sour Cream
  • Beans, lentils, black-eyed peas Combine them all in a super good-fortune soup
  • Cabbage or sauerkraut It’s just lucky. My German heritage means this is the recipe I’m including here.
  • Fish I might only have time for a tuna sandwich today
  • Long noodles They’re Japanese symbols of long life, so Soba or buckwheat noodles work…or what about ramen noodles? I’m sure spaghetti works too. Noodle up!
  • Sweet bread or cakebaked in a ring shape You know—coming full circle. Add a little trinket to bring extra luck to the person who gets that trinket in her slice.
  • Share, share, share! Food and friends guarantee happiness in the new year…and always. xo

Pork Sauerkraut with Sour Cream
Makes 8 servings

Despite my German heritage (sauerkraut is served at EVERY family holiday), I’m not a big fan of sauerkraut. Except for this version. The sour cream mellows the kraut. I sometimes cut down on the pork and add some Polish sausage.

2 pounds pork (I like pork butt), cut into 1-inch chunks
Salt and pepper to taste
3-4 tablespoons canola oil
3 large onions, chopped
1 tablespoon sweet paprika
2 pound jar sauerkraut (drained and squeezed dry)
1/2 cup water (or low-sodium chicken broth)
2 tablespoons flour
1 cup sour cream

 1. Sprinkle pork with salt and pepper. Heat oil in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add pork; cook and stir until brown. Remove pork from pan and set aside. Add onions and cook until soft. Drain excess fat. Stir in paprika; cook for 1 minute.

2. Stir in browned pork, sauerkraut and water. Cover and cook gently for 60 minutes.

3. Meanwhile, whisk together the sour cream and flour. Stir into sauerkraut mixture. Simmer gently until heated through.

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Dark Chocolate Brownies at Midnight

One pot uber-fudgie brownies. No mixer required.

One pot uber-fudgie brownies. No mixer required.

I typically triple the recipe and put them in a half-sheet pan (18 x 13 x 1 inch) because these brownies are meant to be given away. I actually ran out of walnuts, so this photo only has about half the amount. Usually they’re fully loaded—a nut-lover’s dream. Works too if you leave ’em out.

But, remember, walnuts are high in good-for-you fats that provide protection against a host of health problems. And dark chocolate, including bittersweet, has heart-healthy antioxidants and has been found to lower blood pressure. Never mind the butter and sugar. Surely the nuts and chocolate cancel out the butter-sugar concerns. I like to think these brownies are a health food.

Walnut-Studded Dark Chocolate Brownies

1/2 cup butter
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate (70% cacao), coarsely chopped
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
2 eggs
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/2 cups coarsely chopped walnuts, toasted
1/2 cup milk chocolate or semisweet chocolate pieces

1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease an 8x8x2-inch or 9x9x2-inch baking pan; set aside.

2. In a medium saucepan, combine butter and bittersweet chocolate. Cook and stir over medium heat until butter and chocolate are melted. Remove from heat. Using a wooden spoon, stir granulated sugar and brown sugar into chocolate mixture until smooth. Add eggs, beating with spoon until well combined.

3. In a small bowl, combine flour and baking powder. Stir flour mixture into the chocolate mixture just until combined. Stir in nuts and milk chocolate pieces (batter will be thick). Spread in prepared pan. Bake for 25 minutes or until top is set but still soft. (A toothpick inserted in center will come out slightly gooey.) Cool on a wire rack. Cut into bars. Makes 16 brownies.

Tip: The secret to fudgy brownies is to make sure you don’t overcook them. For easy clean up,  line the baking pan with foil, leaving an overhang on two opposite sides. Butter the foil. When brownies are baked and cooled, lift out the foil along with the slab of brownies. Remove foil and cut brownies.

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Quick Garlic-Parmesan Chicken

Quick Garlic-Parmesan Chicken

Was hungry NOW. Usually when I’m hungry NOW, I end up filling up on cheese and crackers while I figure out what to cook for dinner. Then I start cooking. Then I eat more cheese and crackers or maybe a brownie or more than likely a couple of gigantic garlic-stuffed olives that I keep in my fridge for emergencies.

But I’ve been watching my weight, so I figured if I could fix dinner fast, I’d avoid the extra pre-dinner calorie gorge. Skinless, boneless chicken thighs were awaiting. (Thighs cook quickly when untucked and opened flat, butterfly style.) So, I narrowed it down to either lemon chicken or, hmmm, Parmesan chicken.

Parm chicken won because I just happened to have a chunk of Wisconsin’s own Sartori SarVecchio Parmesan in my refrigerator. It’s rather awesome. It has big sharpish taste and that same crystalline-crunch of Parmigiano-Reggiano. (I buy local not to just buy local, but because it tastes remarkable).

I also had a little bit of grated Parmesan in the fridge, too. You know. Green can o’ Parmesan. Couldn’t resist combining the two. But you can use one or the other if you don’t want to use both.

I served the chicken with pasta tossed in pesto. And a salad. And now I’m happy.

Here’s my recipe. It serves 6. Guess what I’m bringing for lunch tomorrow?

Quick Garlic-Parmesan Chicken  

1/4 cup butter
2 cloves garlic, minced
3/4 cup fine bread crumbs (I used a fine grater to make my own crumbs with a piece—the heel—of a loaf of multigrain bread. You can use Panko or purchased bread crumbs, too.)
3 Tbsp. grated Parmesan (green can)
2 Tbsp. freshly shredded Parmesan
Coupla shakes Italian seasoning
Freshly cracked black pepper
1 lb. skinless, boneless, chicken thighs (6 thighs) 

1. Preheat oven to 425°F. Combine butter and garlic in a small skillet. Heat (low) until butter melts. In a bowl combine bread crumbs, Parmesan, Italian seasoning, and pepper.

2. Dip chicken in garlic butter (both sides), then into crumb mixture to coat. Put chicken in a 9×13 baking pan. Drizzle with remaining garlic butter. Bake, uncovered, for 15 minutes or so, or until chicken is cooked through (165° F).

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A Red Velvet Cake Hug


This is a guest blog from Sarah James, a writer and camper who spreads cheer through food. Check out her blog: Mountainman Approved.


Every grandma has a signature recipe. One dish, whether it be sweet or savory, that embodies all of the love and care a grandma could possess. It’s a dish greeted by “oohs” and “ahhs”.  Eyes close and time stops as the first bite is savored and followed by sighs of blissful satisfaction.

While these recipes are beyond mouthwatering, what makes them special is the magic that they hold. Each bite eases heartache, wipes away tears, and soothes stress. They are the ultimate comfort food.

Over the past six months I’ve experienced plenty of heartbreak. A breakup, ailing grandparents, illness and a sexual assault, but no matter what life throws at me, I always find myself in the kitchen, recreating some of my Grandma’s iconic recipes. I’ve sought comfort in Grandma’s cooking: from melt-in-your-mouth Velveteen cookies, covered in sugary Day-Glo sprinkles, to flaky crusts filled with tender apples, sweet peaches and tart cherries.

The one recipe that I keep repeating is her infamous Red Carpet Cake. Also known as a Red Velvet Cake, this tower of crimson perfection always fills my bruised heart with sugar-coated happiness.

A little butter, a splash of vanilla, a shower of sugar and a hit of cocoa, are blended together and baked into three layers of moist cake, stacked and held together with the most decadent of icings—a cooked white frosting that is absolute heaven, and mends a broken heart.

If things are rough in your life, break out the cake pans and cut yourself a slice of this magical dessert.


One Response to “A Red Velvet Cake Hug”

  1. Jamie says:

    Lovely! Food heals so many sorrows, soothes so much pain. And food evokes emotions and connections. The last cake I ever baked with and for my brother was his favorite Red Velvet Cake so this has meaning for me as well. I will try your grandma’s recipe, Sarah.

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Halloween Finger Food

High-five for Halloween Finger Food.

Posting this again for those who didn’t see it a couple of years ago. The story is old, but the recipe is still frighteningly good.

Harumph. I’ve never been a big fan of Halloween. Adults in costume? Puh-leeze. But I do like to entertain. And Halloween is yet another good excuse for a party. The year I was laid off, boo-hoo, I rented out a room in my house to help ease my financial burden. It was late October. The new roomie talked me into hosting a Halloween party. With costumes. Ick.

I had been laid off after 13 years of editing and writing about food…and developing recipes…and was in a witchy mood.

“Bitter, party of one, your table is ready.”

But in the spirit of the holiday I adopted a devil-may-care attitude. (OK. That’s enough of the Halloween puns.)

Although I don’t do costumes, I felt somewhat obligated to come up with appropriate attire for my Halloween gathering. Read More >>

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Sausages and Polenta

Just barely tweaked this recipe from a couple of years back that was originally developed by food writer/editor/creator extraordinaire, Renee Schettler, for a magazine I was editing at the time. The grapes in this one-dish dinner roast to a mellow mushy jam-ish delight. And they take on a happy sweet-tang after getting  a finishing drizzle of balsamic glaze. Of course, you can skip the glaze and just splash with 1 or 2 tablespoons of balsamaic vinegar…or nothing. Trader Joe’s has a pretty good balsamic glaze, too.

Yes, the recipe calls for purchased polenta. (Of course you can make your own. I used Melissa’s Organic tube o’ polenta. Kinda good, especially when the sausage juices melt into it. It’s got onions and rosemary too. That’s it. Pop it in the oven and do a good deed for your neighbor while it’s sizzling. Or pour a glass of red wine and sink into another chapter of “50 Shades of Gray.”

What’s your favorite fall comfort food … or book to snuggle up with?

13×9 one-dish dinner!


Sausages, Polenta and Grapes

4-6 smoked chicken sausage links, about 1 1/2 lb. total (I’m partial to Aidell’s. I usually use their Artichoke and Garlic version here.)

1 1/2 pounds seedless red grapes

1 tube (1 lb.) refrigerated cooked polenta, cut into 1/2-inch cubes

1 large red onion, cut into thin wedges


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Peach Pie Miracle

Sarah James

This is a guest blog from Sarah James, a writer and camper who loves to spread a little cheer through food. Check out her blog: Mountainman Approved.

When I was little I would look forward to the days when Grandma would come to visit. Patiently I’d sit at the kitchen window, straining my eyes for her white car, like a child watching the cold December sky for a glimpse of Santa’s sleigh.

She was our own Mary Poppins, bursting through our front door with a flourish, creating rainbows of joy and happiness in our black and white world.  “Sarah, Sarah, Sarah,” she’d say with a smile, pulling me into her soft body for the perfect embrace. After hugs and hellos, Grandma settled herself in the kitchen and called my sisters and me to her side, pulling perfectly wrapped packages out of her big black bag.

To a 6-year-old, that bag was magical. I always wondered what was tucked inside—the latest Polly Pocket, a shiny new Barbie or strawberry-flavored chapstick? While these small tokens were always appreciated, what I loved most were the spices, sugar and butter she’d pull out. “We’ll save these for later,” she’d say. Hours later, Grandma would call me into the kitchen, wrap an apron around my small frame, hand me a stick of butter and say, “Let’s bake, shall we?”

We’d bake all afternoon, rolling and kneading, mixing and pouring; pulling tender biscotti, rich chocolate cakes, and warm biscuits out of the oven. But the pie! Oh, my! Grandma’s pie, was the most beloved confection of all.

With a deep, golden crust and perfectly crimped edges, Grandma made her pies look like they were from the cover of a glossy food magazine. Tart cherry, spicy apple or sweet strawberry, no matter the flavor, these pies were served with a dollop of Cool Whip and gobbled up in a flash.

Pile sliced peaches into a deep-dish shell. Mmmm.

My favorite, however, was her peach pie. Spiced with cardamom and ginger, this pie was unlike any other. I’d top mine with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.  The sweet taste of late summer and early fall was in every heavenly bite.

Fast-forward 20 years. Grandma’s magic black bag is now retired along with our cozy kitchen baking sessions. Three weeks ago Grandma underwent routine shoulder replacement surgery, only to wake-up with serious complications.


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Random Act of Pie

Every now and then, six or seven firefighters sit in a row of chairs in front of the firehouse at dusk, sometimes after dark, cooling off. I’ve driven by on my way home and there they are, side by side, sitting on folding chairs in the driveway, facing the street. Makes me smile.

And because of that, I decided to bake them a slab apple pie (also known as apple pie bars).

Picked up Jonathan and Cortland apples from the farmer’s market. Used vodka, along with water, in the dough for the first time because Cook’s Illustrated says it makes the best pie crust. It’s all about science and gluten (which makes tough crusts). When water is combined with flour, it forms gluten. Replace some of the water with vodka and you don’t get as much crust-toughening gluten. I probably won’t do it again. My original crust was easier to work with. Just sayin’.

Also tried adding apple cider to the glaze, rather than my standard milk.

Then it was time for the delivery. I stopped in just as the firefighters were finishing dinner. “Here’s the dessert I ordered,” said the guy who held the door open for me.

It made the guys smile. Which made me smile. Again.

Here’s the recipe:

Slab Apple Pie

3 1/4 cups flour
1 tsp. salt
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup shortening
½ cup ice water
¼ cup ice cold vodka or water

1/2 cup sugar
2 Tbsp. flour
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
8 cups sliced apples
1 recipe Vanilla Glaze (below)


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