Make It or Fake It

In a time crunch? If you need a great dessert to finish out celebrating the holidays, go to Scandia Bakery (Looks like the the rest of the world did, judging by the table piled high with fulfilled orders at Sonoma’s favorite bakery).Scandia on Christmas Eve





If you’re up for it- get out the eggs and start mixing. Lucky for me, the family did just that and ended up with just this. Oh my:Christmas Day Desserts

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It’s a Dog’s Life

Some just get lucky. Others assume it is their God-given right.Daniel 'n Tessie 4

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Crisp, White and Beloved the World Over

No this is not another Armenian riddle. These little fried strips of dough that are dusted with powdered sugar apparently make frequent celebratory appearances under different names on Norwegian, Russian, Italian, and Austrian dessert tables. I recently embarked on a mission to test my family recipes for hvorost, which I had not made in years. Boy, did I get a surprise! Not only did my first batch fail, but the little angels are not as simple to make as I remembered. Well, they are, BUT, it helps to know a few tricks of the trade such as: my most successful batch was made with Gold Medal All Purpose Flour; remember to roll out the dough until VERY thin, which may mean rolling out several batches; let the dough rest and “think” for a half hour; and finally, be sure the temperature of your oil is HOT, at least 360 – 380 degrees.

In recent history we’ve been conditioned to avoid fried foods. However, if done properly, these cookies are anything but greasy. They are light and crispy, and what seems like a mountain of dessert, quickly reverts to a pile of dust as nimble fingers grab for the gold.Christmas Eve Desserts

In my family, hvorost was seen at Christmas time as well as on namedays and birthdays. One Russian chef on YouTube claims you must “mix the dough with love.” Well, that must have been my biggest mistake the first time around since I was in a hurry and had no time for “da schmaltz.”In the future, I say, leave lots of room for “da schmaltz”, at least as you are lovingly blending the flour into the liquids centered in the well you’ve made. Remember Snow White as she sang at the wishing well while bringing up the bucket of water or anything else that plunges you into a state like Neverland. Most of all, enjoy the end-product….it’s worth all the experimentation and grief I initially encountered!

Recipe: Beat 4 yolks, two whole eggs, 6 T. sugar, 1/2 cup heavy cream (or sour cream) 2-3 T. Brandy or vodka, a dash of salt, and 1/2 tsp. vanilla. Into a large bowl, sift in 3 cups flour and make a well in the center. (Norwegians, add 1 tsp. cardamom to this step!) Pour the egg mixture into the well. With your hands carefully and lovingly work the flour into  (There are countless versions of hvorost and fatiggman on YouTube where you can see how to blend in the flour by hand and how to knead the dough.) the eggs, until a pasta-like dough is formed. Gather into a ball, knead for a few minutes. Then cover with plastic wrap and let rest in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes.

Split the dough into 3 pieces, keeping the other pieces covered as you roll out one of them. Roll the dough on a lightly floured surface until it is as thin as a lasagne noodle. Now heat about 2-3 inches of oil (Mazola or Crisco) in a deep-sided frying pan until it reaches 360 degrees (a thermometer helps).

Cut the dough into 1- 1 1/2″ strips and then into smaller lengths, about 4-5 inches long. slit each strip in the middle and pull one end of the pastry through the slit before plunging it into the hot oil Fry on one side until golden; flip and brown the other side. Remove the pastries as they are ready onto a baking sheet lined with paper towels (to absorb any excess oil).  Once you have fried all the dough, assemble the pastries on a beautiful platter and dust each layer heavily with powdered sugar as you pile up your mountain of loveliness. Great for a large gathering. Enjoy!

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It got eaten so fast, only the glasses remained! My newly created recipe for rice pudding is so easy and so delicious, it was over before I could get the camera out. I wanted to make a comfort dessert to have on these cold nights in Sonoma. I also did not want gallons of dessert to eat for a week. This proportion makes enough for 3 generous or 4, half-cup servings. Make it fancy by using some beautiful glasses. DO NOT use pearl rice.  It’s not wide enough to give off enough starch to thicken your pudding. It will work, just not as well as plain white, long grain rice. DO NOT rinse your rice.

2014 Winter Rice Pudding : 1 1/3 cups  milk, 2/3 cup cream, 1/4 – 1/3 cup white rice, 1/4  – 1/3 cup water, 1/8th tsp. sea salt, 1/3 cup sugar, 1 egg, 1/2 tsp. vanilla, 1/4 tsp. cinnamon, 1/8 tsp. cardamom, a few shreds of lemon peel, 1/8 cup  yellow raisins or currants, 2 Tbsp. sweet butter.

Scald the milk and cream (mixed together). Cook the rice in the water in a small sauce pot until it is absorbed. Add the scalded milk and cream, sugar anChristmas with Tessie 2014d cook for 20 minutes, until the rice is done. Beat the egg in a small bowl. Mix some of the hot liquid into the egg, and then add it back to the rice mixture. Add the raisins. Cook a few more minutes until thickened. (This will not be a very thick pudding.) Add your spices, vanilla, and butter. Mix well and pour into your nice glasses. The pudding will thicken further as it cools. Cool in the refrigerator.

Want to get fancier? Add an Italian maraschino cherry on top or a dollop of whipped cream, or both, before serving. Done! Merry Christmas from Tessie and me.


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Turkey with Applesauce?

We’re so programmed to pair turkey with cranberry sauce at Thanksgiving celebrations, I wonder how many have considered applesauce as a side instead? Yes, I know cranberry sauce is pretty tasty, especially if it’s homemade, and that the apples may very well be on the dessert menu of your meal, like the fabulous Salted Caramel Apple Pie in Williams Sonoma Thanksgiving magazine (recipe at

I say do both! Have that pie but make some applesauce to go with Tom or Ms. Hen.

I made mine and froze already it so I could just pull it out and defrost it on Wednesday. I had a cup or so left over, which went into the fridge. It was my desserApplesaucet last night, graced with cream of course. Well, it was soooooooooo good that I may have to tap the freezer earlier than planned and just make another batch of applesauce for Turkey Day. Or, if my willpower prevails, I can save myself the extra work. In either case, here’s the recipe, one that I created years ago when our apple tree at Russian River produced the most fragrant and intoxicating Golden Delicious apples by the bushel.

What makes it special? Using Golden Delicious apples, real vanilla beans, Meyer Lemons, as little sugar as possible, and a quality liquor before it hits the table. If you’re not inclined to pay heed to the ingredients, skip the applesauce and have the pie instead. This recipe is worth following to a “T”.

RECIPE:8 Golden Delicious apples, 1 vanilla bean, scraped, juice of 1/2 – 1 lemon, 1 cup sugar, or less to taste, 1 Tablespoon cognac

Peel, core and cut the apples into large chunks. Put the prepared pieces into a large, heavy bottomed pot. Cover the pot with a lid. Do not add any water. Cook the apples over a low flame. Watch over the apples until they start to give off moisture and begin to steam. Then raise the flame a little higher, and steam/cook the apples until soft. Open the pot during the cooking process and stir the apples. They should be done in about 10 minutes. Test the apples by running a knife through a piece. If it goes through easily, the apples are ready.

Mash the apples into a chunky sauce with a potato masher. Add lemon juice, sugar and the vanilla bean scrapings. Use as little sugar as possible in order to showcase the flavor of the fruit. If you are not going to serve the applesauce for a coupe of days, throw in the vanilla bean halves into the sauce and let them sit in it until you are ready to serve. They will give off additional vanilla flavor.

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Turkey Ordered?

Pop’s Thanksgiving Turkey

As far back as I can remember, Pop was in charge of the Thanksgiving turkey, long before the bird came anywhere near the oven. He took this responsibility seriously starting with the purchase of the bird honored to grace our table. Around the time he started building the Russian River dacha, he began buying our turkeys in Sebastopol from Vast’s Turkeyland. Vast, as we called him, started his farm on acreage right off Highway 116.

It was on Pop’s way to the River, and he had a habit of investigating all the organic or natural farmers along the way, whether they grew cherries, raspberries (now the famous Koslowski Farms), chickens or turkeys. The terms natural and organic were not in anyone’s vocabulary then as for the most part our food was probably raised or grown that way anyway, especially in Sonoma county.

Pop would stop by Vast’s in early fall when the quince tree bore its fruit. Quince and rose petal jams are Russian favorites as were the choice of jams for the Lobanovsky family in Zhitomir, Russia. Neither Vast nor his wife knew what to do with this strange looking gnarly fruit, but Pop did. They generously allowed him to pick as much of it as he wanted. In turn he brought several jars of his wonderful jam to Vast’s family after the holidays. This exchange went on for years.

As time passed, Vast expanded his business. First came the home-smoked turkeys, then the homemade turkey sandwiches prepared by Vast’s beautiful wife and served at picnic tables in their front yard. In a few years, a waterwheel was added as a landscaping accent. Soon after came a restaurant specializing in turkey dinners right there on the farm. They also catered weddings and special events, and Vast’s children, who ran around in overalls just a few short years before, were now helping their mom and dad serve home cooked turkey specialties.

All along, come early November, we would stop by and order our bird, a hen of course. According to Vast, hens are extra tender. In the early years, his turkeys wandered in the large, fenced front yard. There were hundreds of them. We would walk up to the pens and see them strutting about. Turkeys are very funny, and it was quite entertaining to watch them. The weekend before Thanksgiving Pop would pick up our bird and instructions from Vast on how to cook it. Pop knew everything at that point: what the bird had been fed, that it was free range (a term not even coined yet), and had been lovingly raised and cared for. All this was important to him.

Then Mama and I got to work. Before Pop could start his production, we had to remove the remaining feathers and quills still stuck in Mrs. Hen. I look back fondly on this step since today’s turkeys are prepped so bare-butt clean that there is no interim step. It’s almost too easy. Mama and I had to get out the tweezers, sit down at the kitchen table, turkey neck on Mama’s side, turkey butt on mine, and patiently pull out the quills. (Photo below: Plucking the turkey, 1965, courtesy Maria Lobanovsky family archives.Plucking the turkey, 1965) Sometimes the big fat ones would squirt ink all over if you weren’t careful. It was an odd sort of challenge, finding the largest quill and removing it successfully. Once finished, the bird was washed, dried, covered and put back in the refrigerator to await Pop’s artistry. I have never eaten a better turkey than his.

Pop literally spent the whole of Thanksgiving Day on it. From preparing the stuffing, to rubbing the bird down, to wrapping the wings in buttered cheesecloth. It was when Olga Chekene called me to ask how Pop roasted his famous turkey that I happened to write down his instructions, word for word, to give to her. Window(Photo, lower right: Pop with Vast’s turkey, roasted and ready to carve. Courtesy Maria Lobanovsky family archives.) Eventually, Vast and his wife retired and closed the family farm and restaurant. For me it was the end of an era.

Epilogue…Who would have foreseen that some forty years after my parents’ first acquaintance with Vast and his family at “Turkeyland” I would find myself having moved to Sonoma. Not far from my new home at the intersection of Highway 121 and Napa Road was Laura Chenel’s goat farm, a former dairy that had been owned by Sonoma’s reknown Stornetta family.

In my early years at the Kaiser Permanente Medical Center in San Francisco I worked with Bobbi Stornetta, who drove into the city daily from the then dairy farm her parents owned. Being a long-standing fan of Clover-Stornetta products from my Russian River days, it was a pleasant surprise to find out that Bobbi was part of the very family that produced and cared for Clo and her herd of contented cows!

In 1993 the Stornettas sold their dairy farm to Laura who then turned it into a paradise for her herd of goats and a modern cheese production facility. During the years that had gone by Laura had studied in France and learned how to make goat cheese. Today she is recognized as the pioneer of America’s goat cheese production and has won many awards as an artisan of fine, handcrafted goat cheese products.

Shortly after my move to Sonoma, I came across a book about the county that included Laura, her history and connection with farming. The article featured a portrait of Laura. All of a sudden I knew who Laura Chenel was because, to my surprise, she looked exactly like her mother, Vast’s wife, in the days when my parents and I used to stop by her family’s farm to order our turkeys. One of those little girls that I had seen years before running around in overalls, must have been Laura. Unfortunately, the goat farm was sold to a French firm in 2006 before I had a chance to stop by and reintroduce myself. There’s no way Laura would not have been familiar with “Jerry, that nice Russian man” who lovingly delivered jars of quince jam to Vast’s family year after year.

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The Brown Derby Revisited

I’ve been enchanted with the Brown Derby ever since I was 16 and went to visit a friend of mine in Anaheim, California. We were old enough to drive, so with her father’s permission to use the family car, we toured the Los Angeles area and hit all the in-spots of the day. One was the Brown Derby. The only thing I remember about the experience, aside from dining in a posh, elegant and hat-shaped restaurant, was that a group of salesmen were having a lunchtime meeting at a table next to us. “You know,” said one, “soap is merely a catalyst to get the dirt off your skin.”

It’s funny what sticks in our minds. That was it for me. I think I had a Cobb Salad for my entrée, and I don’t remember if Natalie and I even ordered dessert. But had we considered it, the Brown Derby would have offered this famous cake on their menu. I can see why they created it. I bet it was for the “ladies who lunch” so that they would not feel guilty indulging in a sweet. After all, grapefruit played a part in so many diets of the day, that it couldn’t possibly add any pounds to your hips as it passed through your lips.

When making this cake I made two changes. Canned grapefruit, which is called for in the original recipe, is a big no-no in my kitchen.  So, I segmented a fresh one. I also find that most cakes taste so much better with a bit of liqueur sprinkled on the layers. In this case, I chose Grand Marnier. Now, revised and updated, I present to you the New Pink Grapefruit Celebration Cake.

This cake goes fast!

This cake goes fast!

1 ¼ – 1 ½ sifted cake flour (the smaller quantity for unbleached all-purpose flour)
¾ cup superfine sugar
1 ½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
¼ cup water
¼ cup vegetable oil
3 eggs, separated
3 Tablespoons grapefruit juice
½ teaspoon grated lemon rind
¼ teaspoon cream of tartar

Sift the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt into a mixing bowl.
Make an indentation in the dry ingredients. Add water, oil, yolks, grapefruit juice and lemon rind. Beat until smooth.

In a large mixing bowl beat the whites and cream of tartar until the whites are stiff but not dry. Slowly, pour the yolk mixture over the whites and fold in with a spatula until just blended. Do not stir or that will deflate the whites.

Pour the batter into an ungreased 9-inch pan, or into two or three 9-inch pans. Bake the single layer for 25-30 minutes at 350 degrees. If baking the multiple layers, adjust the baking time accordingly. The cake or layers are done when it springs back to the touch.

Invert the pan(s) on a rack and cool. Run a knife around the edge of the cake and carefully remove from the pan(s). If you have baked the single layer, gently cut it in half with a serrated knife.

12 ounces cream cheese
3 teaspoons lemon juice
1-2 teaspoons lemon rind
1 cup powdered sugar

1 large pink or ruby red grapefruit, peeled and sectioned, skins removed
½ cup Grand Marnier

Soften the cream cheese and then beat until fluffy. Add the lemon juice, rind, and continue beating, gradually adding the sugar. Crush several grapefruit sections to measure 2 teaspoons. Blend into frosting.

Place your first layer on a cake plate and sprinkle with half the Grand Marnier. Top with some frosting and repeat this with the additional layer(s). Frost the top and sides of the cake. Decorate with the remaining grapefruit sections. Serves 10.

Set aside a half-cup of the frosting and tint it pink. Pipe that around the outside of the cake for a more festive look.

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Thousand Kernel Corn Chowder

As summer wraps up, the kids are back in school, but you’ll still find bushels of corn piled high at Safeway! It’s been a great crop this year, and one of the tastiest soups in season can be corn chowder. This is the time to make it, and it cooks up quickly – good thing,  at a time when you may want to savor the last of our warm outdoor weather.

Try my latest creation: Thousand Kernel Corn Chowder (there must be at least that many in the soup!) IMG_1613

Ingredients: 2 T. Butter, 1 Tsp. olive oil, 1 med. yellow onion – diced, 2 cloves garlic-minced, 5 sprigs fresh thyme, 4 cups vegetable stock, 1 cup 1/2 and 1/2 or cashew milk, 1 Idaho potato – peeled and diced, 3 ears of corn, 1/2 red bell pepper – diced, 1 celery stick – finely chopped, 2 tsp. sea salt, freshly ground pepper,  2 T. chopped parsley, 4 T.chopped cilantro (optional).

Directions: Heat the butter and oil in a 4 quart soup pot. Add the onion, garlic and thyme and cook, covered, for 5-8 minutes until softened. Pour in the vegetable stock and bring to a boil. Add the half and half and boil for another 5 minutes. Cut the kernels off the cob ( you do not have to count them!), and add them to the soup along with the diced red pepper and chopped celery. Season with salt and pepper and simmer for another 10 minutes. Remove the thyme sprigs. Stir in the parsley. Turn off the heat. Ladle into bowls and garnish with cilantro, if desired.


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The Most Magnificent Plums

Their season is short, their taste imbeds in your memory forever! Developed by Massachusetts transplant and world renown botanist, Luther Burbank, the Santa Rosa Plum is perhaps the most aromatic of all the plums on the market. It’s delicious to eat right off the tree; be prepared for its juices to run down your hand. Bite in and the sweetness explodes, until it changes to a tart, slightly sour taste as you near the pit.

For dessert, try this Santa Rosa Sensation- a cold fruit soup I made from these garnet-colored jewels. In a 2-quart saucepan, place 12 Santa Rosa plums, bruised or cut into a few pieces. Add 1 cup sugar and cover with purified or spring water just to the top the plums.IMG_1543 Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to low, cover, allowing some of the steam to escape. Cook for about 10-15 minutes until the fruit is soft and separates from the pits.

Puree the cooked fruit through a sieve and toss the pits. Set aside a half cup of the liquid and mix in 2 generous tablespoons cornstarch. When smooth, add that to the rest of the plums, bring to a boil again, lower the heat and cook until the cornstarch mixture is thick and clear. Set aside to cool. Add some read food coloring if you want to enhance the color. (That may or may not be needed.) Serve at room temperature or cold, with 1-2 tablespoons of heavy cream (not whipped).  A summer treat!IMG_1544

Among Burbank’s more famous creations are the Elberta Freestone Peach and the Burbank Russet Potato, the most widely used potato in the processed food industry. Most of the McDonald’s potatoes are of this variety. Burbank was not as successful with his spineless cactus, a joint venture with Jack London about 100 years ago. The spineless cactus was to be the answer to cheap and nutritious cattle feed, but that did not prove to be the case. Well, you can’t win them all. The Santa Rosa plum alone would have been enough of an achievement. Thank you, Mr. Burbank.

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Spunky Spoonburgers

It’s been so hot in Sonoma that even grilling on the barbeque seems like too much work. At this point I vote for some of Marilyn Morton’s Spoonburgers- quick, easy with the aura of a real burger if you broil or toast the bun.

(Abridged recipe from Beyond Beef Stroganoff.)IMG_0872

1 pound ground beef, 1/2 cup chopped onions, 1/2 cup chopped green bell pepper, 1/4 cup chopped celery, 1 – 8 oz. can tomato sauce, 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar, 1 tablespoon sugar, 1/2 teaspoon Lea and Perrins Worcestershire sauce, 1/2 teaspoon salt, freshly ground pepper to taste, 4 French rolls, brioche or hamburger buns.

In a large frying pan brown the beef with the onions.  Add the green pepper, celery, tomato sauce and remaining ingredients.  Simmer for a few minutes to blend the flavors. Serve over split hamburger buns. Maryland used toasted French rolls. I prefer the Alvarado Bakery’s sprouted, whole-wheat buns. Makes four servings. Tips: There aren’t any except, be sure to make extras because these Spoonburgers are so delicious you’ll probably get requests for seconds!

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