Italian Mashed Potatoes for Thanksgiving?? YES


Although our mashed potato duty has been contracted out for Thanksgiving this year I am sure that sometime between now and New Years Day I will make Rosemary Mashed Potatoes. These are our favorite mashed potatoes of all time. I got the recipe years ago from a cooking class at the Kitchen Witch when it was still open in Encinitas. If I remember correctly it was taught by Nadia Frigeri. I think it was an Italian inspired class because the recipe is titled Puree Di Patate Ai Peperoni e Rosmarino. If you don’t have a plan for your mashed potato dish this holiday season, this is for you!

Rosemary Mashed Potatoes with Red Bell Pepper and Pine Nuts
Serves 6 (or 2 hungry Saakes, recipe multiplies well)

2 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes skin on diced into 1″ cubes
Coarse Sea Salt and Freshly ground coarse pepper
4 Tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1 cup or more of milk
2 Tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary
1/3 cup toasted pine nuts (toast at 350 for 5 minutes)
1/2 cup or more grated parmesan cheese
1 red bell pepper, roasted, peeled and cut into strips (directions below)

1. Boil or steam potatoes until tender, start checking about 12 minutes. a fork should slip into a piece of potato easily. Puree with a potato ricer or food mill. Transfer to  large saucepan, season with salt, pepper and add the melted butter, mix together.

2. In a small saucepan heat the milk and chopped rosemary. Simmer 2-3 minutes. Slowly incorporate the milk mixture into the potatoes, just until you reach the desired consistency, stir to blend the ingredients. Taste and adjust the seasoning as necessary. Stir in pine nuts, grated parmesan and red bell peppers strips. Serve warm.

Make Ahead Note: These can be made ahead and refrigerated but leave the red bell pepper out until you are finished reheating the potatoes.

Roasted Bell Peppers:
Preheat the grill to high heat for 10 minutes. Place the whole pepper directly on the grill and close the lid, turning occasionally. Take care to not let the pepper burn too badly ( some blackening and blistering is desired) cook until the pepper collapses about 10 minutes. I like to grill them but you can also roast them in the oven at 500F on a rack set near the top this takes a little longer about 30 minutes. Place the hot peppers in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap. When cool enough to handle the peel will remove easily. Discard the stem, peel and seeds.

This version is slightly tweaked a la Saake. I rarely peel vegetables because I like the added texture and nutrition gained by leaving the peel on but the original recipe did call for peeling the potatoes. I puree the potatoes with a potato ricer which takes some muscle and time if your cooking for a crowd. I think a food mill would be easier but it is one of the few kitchen gadgets I don’t own. If your in a hurry you can mash them but the fine texture really is worth the extra time. I am a bit picky about my salt and pepper and highly recommend these OXO salt and pepper grinders. If I could permanently set the grind to coarse I would. Whenever Willie is home he adjusts them down to a finer grind which I only discover after the fact! A great holiday gift for the cooks on your list.  I start by adding only 3/4 of a cup of the milk and rosemary mixture and usually that gives me just the right texture. I often let the milk and rosemary sit on the warm oven after simmering, I think it allows the rosemary to soften a bit. If you live in a Mediterranean climate plant an upright rosemary plant, you will never regret it. It is a low maintenance, low water plant that stays green all year and will provide you fresh rosemary for the kitchen for years to come. Although I have 2 friends who do not like rosemary I cannot fathom how that can be. Be sure to watch and smell for the pine nuts closely when toasting, they are too expensive to let burn! You can use jarred roasted bell peppers if you must but be sure to pat them dry first.

Buon Appetito!





As I prepare for a big week of eating…..


I thought I would share some Encinitas Saakes favorite Thanksgiving recipes. Tonight it is Sweet Potato casserole which is our middle ground between an over the top version that could be a dessert and the scrimpy light version. This is Serena’s favorite and she will prepare it for our feast this year. This needs to cook for 30 minutes and set for another 30 minutes so be sure to factor that into your plan.

Saake Sweet Potatoes:

6 servings


2/3 cup brown sugar

1/3 cup flour

1/2 cup chopped pecans

1/2 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice

1/4 teaspoon cardamom

1/4 cup butter, melted


3 cups cooked and mashed sweet potatoes (approx. 4 medium potatoes)

1/2 cup sugar

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 large egg, well beaten

5 ounces evaporated milk

For the crust: Combine brown sugar, flour, spices, nuts and butter in a mixing bowl. Set aside.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine sweet potatoes, sugar, salt, vanilla, egg and evaporated milk in a mixing bowl in the order listed. Mix thoroughly. Pour mixture into buttered baking dish. Sprinkle the surface evenly with the crust mixture. Bake for 30 minutes. Allow to set at least 30 minutes before serving.

Mom’s Night Out (aka MNO)


For the last 18 years I have gathered once a month with 10 moms for a delicious meal and an evening of sharing and laughing. It was my turn to host last month and honestly I was not looking forward to it. As with many social situations in my grief it just seemed like too much work. I often find it difficult to join in the fun and enjoyment of socializing. I had recently returned from traveling, a conference in Yosemite and visiting my son at Penn State. I was tried and wanting to spend time alone. But once my kitchen was filled with these women with whom I have shared so much with I began to relax. What cook can help but love a group that refuses to hang out anywhere besides the kitchen. This year I was prepared and just brought the chairs into the kitchen.


Later during dinner as I looked around the table I thought which of us has not suffered? These women understand that I might need to sit back and listen and not share. We are a funny group. We have known each other for so many years but will often only see each other at our monthly gathering. We have mom couples, Yanina and I see each other at least once a week for a walk, I teach Natalie’s daughter and see Natalie at school most weekdays, B and I go to the same church and I’m sure there are connections amongst the others in between our get togethers. We have two widows, two who have suffered through divorces, serious marriage problems, major illnesses and disabilities with their children, cancer, loss of siblings, parental illness and death. Nothing close to the group of young moms we started as. These women understand and accept my grief. They were there at Tom’s memorial service quietly organizing and cleaning up the massive amounts of food that that arrived at our home after the church service. Always we bring food to each other when one is suffering, it is how we share our love.

It was an honor to prepare a meal made with love for them in my home.


I made my favorite chili. How is it that I have never made this for the moms? I have made this slow braised tri-tip chili for our annual neighborhood halloween gathering, my son’s robotics team kick off and many other large gatherings for years. It is always very well received. I recently shared the recipe in our local lifestyle magazine 92024 and several people from school have told me how much they like it. No beans, no veggies just pure chili. Great for a gatherings because it is even better a day or two after you make it. Here is a link to the recipe, originally from Sara Moulton:

In our new found quest to keep it simple for the hostess my menu was pretty basic:

Apple slices and crackers with Pumpkin dip
Chili with all the fixins
Pumpkin Roulade

Josie brought a nice jalapeño corn bread that was extra moist almost like corn pudding.

My favorite fall appetizer – Apple slices, Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Cranberry Crisps and pumpkin dip. The pumpkin dip is:

8 oz. cream or goat cheese
1/4 cup Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Butter (any fruit butter would work)
Mix together with a hand mixer until light and fluffy and voila!

My favorite fall dessert by far! Ina Garten’s Pumpkin Roulade with Ginger Buttercream


For the cake:
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
3 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup canned pumpkin (not pie filling)
1/4 cup confectioners’ sugar, plus extra for dusting
For the filling:
12 ounces Italian mascarpone cheese (COLD)
1 1/4 cups sifted confectioners’ sugar
2 tablespoons heavy cream (COLD)
1/4 cup minced dried crystallized ginger (not in syrup)
Pinch kosher salt

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Grease a 13 by 18 by 1-inch sheet pan. Line the pan with parchment paper and grease and flour the paper.

In a small bowl, mix together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and salt. Place the eggs and granulated sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and beat on medium-high speed for 3 minutes, until light yellow and thickened. With the mixer on low, add the pumpkin, then slowly add the flour mixture, mixing just until incorporated. Finish mixing the batter by hand with a rubber spatula. Pour into the prepared pan and spread evenly. Bake the cake for 10 to 12 minutes, until the top springs back when gently touched.

While the cake is baking, lay out a clean, thin cotton dish towel on a flat surface and sift the entire 1/4 cup of confectioners’ sugar evenly over it. (This will prevent the cake from sticking to the towel.) As soon as you remove the cake from the oven, loosen it around the edges and invert it squarely onto the prepared towel. Peel away the parchment paper. With a light touch, roll the warm cake and the towel together (don’t press!) starting at the short end of the cake. Allow to cool completely on a wire rack.

Meanwhile, make the filling. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the mascarpone, confectioners’ sugar, and cream together for about a minute, until light and fluffy. Stir in the crystallized ginger, and salt.

To assemble, carefully unroll the cake onto a board with the towel underneath. Spread the cake evenly with the filling. Reroll the cake in a spiral using the towel as a guide. Remove the towel and trim the ends to make a neat edge. Dust with confectioners’ sugar and chill overnight.

This will make another appearance on my Thanksgiving menu! Looking forward to MNO at Anne’s in December and hearing about her travels to Costa Rica.

Two Years Later


Over the last two years I have often thought about starting to update this blog again. Since I couldn’t remember the last time I made a post, I decided to take a look. Oh how telling that date was. November 3 2012 was a few days before my life completely changed forever. On this day two years ago I was happily confessing my fondness for bagged salad and bottled dressing and less than a week later I would be facing a terminal cancer diagnosis for the love my life.

I had just returned from a wonderful trip back east with my husband, Tom. We had spent three days in NYC. He worked during the day while I wandered around the city and central park, visited the World Trade Center site and shopped. At night we hung out in Time Square, ate in interesting restaurants and saw a Broadway show. That weekend we took the train up to Massachusetts to visit our oldest daughter, Kelsey, who was a senior at Hampshire College. I had planned to stay in MA for a couple of extra days with Kelsey while Tom returned home to work. During the week we began to hear reports that Hurricane Sandy was due to hit that week. Tom’s flight on Sunday was fine but my United flight for Tuesday was cancelled Saturday night by an email telling me I could reschedule the following Sunday. Fortunately Sandy was no more than a blustery storm in that part of rural western Mass. Kelsey and I stocked up on food and hunkered down with her roommates to ride out the storm and I was able to fly home on Wednesday only a day later than planned.

On the November 3rd Tom left for a business trip to Tokyo.  On the 5th he called to say he had been feeling sick and had pain in his right thigh. Our youngest daughter, Serena,  was home sick with the flu, we thought he probably had the flu and the virus had settled into a muscle in his leg. The next day I did not hear from him and had a feeling of great unease. Even with the time difference we would at least exchange emails everyday. He called on the 7th to say he was still feeling awful but was managing to slug through his meetings. He flew to L.A. on the 8th, stopped to visit his parents and drove home to San Diego. By the time I got home from work he looked terrible, I tried calling his doctor but they had already left for the day. We ended up in the ER. It was determined he had suffered a pulmonary embolism on November 6th while in Tokyo. While initially it was thought that the blood clots causing the embolism were due to his recent extensive travel schedule it was eventually discovered that Tom had stage 4 metastatic stomach cancer. He began chemotherapy in December and did quite well until August of 2013. He was hospitalized most of August and came home with the care of hospice on September 12 and passed away on September 17, 2013.

Through Tom’s illness his desire to eat faded with each day as I felt my ability to comfort him in any way slipped from my grasp. After his death to cook for the kids seemed to be the only bit of normalcy I could provide.  The last two years have been the most painful and difficult of my family’s  lives.

During most of this time and sometimes obsessively I have continued to bake, cook and do a bit of gardening.   These activities are familiar, provide comfort and have helped me through my grief. I am fully engaged when I am cooking and baking and this provides a much-needed break from my grief. I feel my return to gardening has been slower because Tom and I often took care of the garden together so unconsciously I may avoid it or it could be because grief is so exhausting I simply don’t have the energy for it. I returned to work in November of 2013 and took over as the garden instructor, previously I had been in the kitchen so perhaps I get my fill of gardening at work. I am making an effort to begin working on my own garden for many reasons but the power it has to absorb me in the work and keep my mind engaged is the strongest pull.

I believe I am ready to start sharing my love of cooking, baking and gardening via this blog again. I had barely started the blog when my life fell apart and so many changes have occurred since then, I know it will be very different from what I had originally anticipated. I became an empty nester in September and now cook for one most nights and it isn’t so bad, I’d like to share some of those experiments. I am also very intrigued with the idea of the small dinner party after years of hosting open houses for between 50-100.  I tried my hand at it a couple of weeks ago and throughly enjoyed it. And of course the Art of Simple Food project… and there is a new Tuesdays with Dorie project with Dorie Greenspan’s new book Baking Chez Moi starting November 11. And not least of all MNO (Mom’s Night Out) which I hosted on Halloween Eve. So here’s to sharing my passion for food and trying to find a way to live this life I never imagined.

MNO appetizers recipes to follow soon.

MNO appetizers recipes to follow soon.







True Confession


This week our Art of Simple Food recipe was Garden Salad. Well I didn’t exactly make it like the book said or even try anything new. I didn’t make a salad with produce bought at the farmer’s market or from my garden. The truth is this is the salad I have almost every night:

And I love it and don’t want to change! I don’t usually use this salad mix but I do like it. I was out of town and Tom bought the salad at Costco. I only buy this mix when feeding a crowd because otherwise it usually goes bad before we can finish it. But I do like bagged salad! Especially Trader Joe’s Herb Salad mix:

They also have a Baby Spring mix I like and I like to buy romaine hearts and baby spinach and make my own mix. I like to buy the salad mixes at the farmers market. None of them have a leaf that doesn’t belong. Another confession …. I often have greens growing in my own garden:


But sometimes I’m too lazy to go pick them! Or I forget that they are ready to pick and buy bagged salad and the greens in the garden will keep longer than those in the fridge! And I like creamy dressing, not vinaigrette. We usually serve up the salad just as shown in the first picture and you put it together yourself. This way you can put what you like in the salad. If it is just the fam I just put out the bags. I get all fancy and put the mix-ins in bowls, like the picture, if we have guests (unless it is my sister or mom, they just get the bags) I do have a vinaigrette-like dressing that I love and it only take 5 minutes to make but unless I’m having guests for dinner I rarely make it. Here is the recipe:

2 Tbsp sugar

2 Tbsp White wine vinegar

1 Tbsp Flat leaf Italian Parsley, Cilantro or Basil chopped

Salt and pepper to taster

Put it all in the blender and slowly pour in 1/2 cup canola oil as the blender runs (this emulsifies it and makes it creamy)

It keeps in the fridge for at least  week.

When company is coming I pour this over mixed greens (usually bagged), avocado, candied almonds and dried cranberries.

There you have it. I’m not changing my salad regime and this week I couldn’t even find the motivation to try the Art of Simple Food way! Greek Salad may also be a challenge since olives are one of the four foods I don’t like!



They Have Risen!


This week for our TWD recipe we baked whole wheat loaves. My experience with yeast breads is limited. Our first recipe was a  companion recipe of this one, white loaves. Although they tasted fine, they never rose. I wasn’t sure if I really knew what the recipe meant when it said to let the yeast mixture rest until creamy.

Is this creamy?

I had bought new yeast after the white loaves, thinking maybe my yeast was too old. When I went to make the wheat loaves, of course I couldn’t find the new yeast. Serena was trying to avoid her homework and offered to go buy it for me. So I couldn’t blame any failure to rise on my yeast this time. I started to mix and worried about my stand mixer as it heated up and jumped around the counter during the 10 minutes of kneading. The mixer survived and the dough looked great and wasn’t sticky at all. I was not able to find malt extract so I opted to just skip it rather than try to find an adequate replacement.

Before the rise.

You can see by the size of the bowl I chose that I had “high” hopes. I let it sit for 1 1/2 hours to rise. I was working on my Sunday school lesson and checked on it at every breaking point in my lesson plan. It was working, there was pressure and moisture building up under the plastic wrap. The end result was amazing to me, it really did double its size!

It has risen, indeed!

I punched it down, which broke my heart because I was sure it would never rise again, and put it into two loaf pans. They looked so pathetic and small in the pans that I didn’t even take a picture. I busied myself with a garden project outside to avoid checking on it every 15 minutes. An hour later …

They have risen, again!

I put them in to bake and soon the house smelt heavenly. They seemed to be cooking faster than the recipes stated 35 minutes so I took them out of the pan to let the sides turn golden when I had 15 minutes left rather than 10 as the recipe stated. Unfortunately the house soon began to smell like burnt bread. The bottoms were burning but I stuck them back in the pans and all was well.  They turned out beautifully

The final product.

The bread was perfect sandwich bread, moist and tender but a little lacking on the flavor front which is typical of sandwich bread . I wonder if the malt extract would have made a big difference? We are fans of a crusty flavorful bread you want to tear off a chunk of. This was great sandwich bread but I don’t think I like sandwich bread all that much. I found myself think that the Irish Soda bread was a lot easier, quicker and tastier. Oh well if I ever have a need for a whole wheat sandwich bread recipe I’ll have it!

If you would like the full recipe visit the blogs of this week’s hosts at  Veggie Num Nums and Teresa of The Family That Bakes Together.

I’m looking forward to the next recipe, Cranberry Walnut Pumpkin Loaf.

Happy Baking!




Popovers 2x’s


This week the TWD BWJ recipe was popovers. My family and I were very excited because my mother-in-law often makes fabulous popovers for holiday meals and I have never attempted them at home. My youngest daughter even asked me to wait to make these when she was back from her church youth group trip. She is not much of a foodie so this was a significant request. Well the first batch was quite a disappointment compared to Grandma’s!


They were very toasty! The insides were beautifully hollow but the outside….. well that was another story. The recipe directed me to bake them for 25 minutes at 425 and then lower the temp to 350 and continue to bake for 15-20 minutes. Well these were over toasted before the 25 minutes were up so I just turned off the oven and let them sit until we were ready to serve dinner because I was afraid they might still be doughy inside. They were not. We ate them all and no one complained but this was a definite do over. Even before they were out of the oven I emailed grandma “what went wrong” ? I missed her call  the next day but she left me her recipe on voicemail. She had always had great success with the Sunset magazine recipe . I took a look at this, it was not much different but did have different baking instructions. I also posted to the TWD P&Q : Popovers post (I think this means Posts and Questions?). As I was posting my dilema, I realized all the things I had done wrong, first I had been obsessing all day on a practice version a Rainbow Cake I was making for a bakery order.


This was my version of Whisk Kid’s Rainbow cake meets Ina Garten’s lemon cake with a lemon buttercream frosting, I was making this by special request for a 65th birthday! Anyways not only had I forgotten to take the eggs and milk out of the fridge to come to room temp for the popovers, I only had nonfat milk (recipe call for whole or 2%) and I set the oven to convection which is what I always use for baking but it does brown a bit quicker.

Round 2 went a bit better:


I used whole milk and eggs at room temp. I put all the liquid ingredients in the  blender first and slowly incorporated the flour. And I lowered the oven temp. The end result was much improved but still not quite like grandma’s. I had to turn off the oven at 17 minutes and they were still a little over toasty. I think I’ll give grandma’s version a try next time!

If you’d like to try them for yourself Paula of Vintage Kitchen Notes and Amy of Bake with Amy are this week’s hosts and have the recipe posted on their sites.

Next up Nectarine Upside-Down Chiffon Cake and those nagging 8 recipes I’m behind on!

Bake on!!