Tasty Spelling

Years ago, when my children were young, I was a regular subscriber to Family Fun magazine.  We tried many of their recipes and crafts.  This recipe for gingerbread letter cookies has become a tradition in our family.  We always make them the week before school starts, which, in New York is the first week of September.  This recipe makes A LOT of cookies, and we like to share our letter cookies with some of our young friends who are starting school and other young friends and cousins.  This year we had some cousins stop in for lunch on their way through town on Labor Day.  Their timing was perfect for helping us with these cookies.





Gingerbread Letter Cookies


  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup molasses
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (you may substitute up to half white whole wheat flour)
  • 1 tablespoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • Cream Cheese Frosting:
  • 6 ounces cream cheese
  • 4 cups confectioners' sugar
  • 8 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla or 1 teaspoon lemon rind


  1. In a large bowl, cream the butter and brown sugar. Beat in the eggs one at a time. Mix in the molasses and the vanilla extract.
  2. In another bowl, combine the flour, cinnamon, ground ginger, baking soda, and salt. Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture a little at a time, stirring well after each addition. The dough is very sticky. Cover the dough and chill for at least 2 hours.
  3. Heat the oven to 350 degrees. On a floured surface, roll the dough flat to a 1/4-inch thickness. Cut out letters. Place cookies on slightly greased baking sheet. Bake for about 10 minutes or until the cookies are set. They should still be a bit soft to the touch, but not doughy.
  4. To make frosting, beat the butter and cream cheese until smooth and uniform. Add the confectioners' sugar and vanilla or lemon rind, and beat until the frosting is very smooth. Transfer frosting to a decorating bag and pipe letter shapes on top of cookies.
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The Same Meals Every Week

I realized long ago that if I shopped with grocery list which had been created using my menu plan for the week, I spent a lot less at the grocery store.  Over the years, I have become reasonably good at this, and even added a few other habits like buying two when I finished one of basic pantry items which I like to keep on hand.

I have friends who have a house full of picky eaters and stick to basically the same meals that everyone in their family can deal with.  This makes weekly shopping from a list even easier, but  my children were reasonably adventurous as eaters, and so there has always been a lot of variety in our diet.  Very occasionally I try a new recipe and think, “I could eat this every week!”  This is one of those recipes, especially since it is so easy to substitute whatever vegetables you happen to have on hand.  I actually prefer this salad without the chicken, but my student athlete needs that protein.  It would be simple to substitute tofu for the chicken, if you prefer.



Cold Soba Summer Salad


  • For the Salad:
  • 6 ounces soba noodles
  • 2 cups red cabbage, thinly sliced
  • 1 cooked cob of corn, kernels sliced off
  • 1 yellow or orange pepper, cored and sliced
  • 1 cucumber, deseeded and julienned
  • 1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1 head romaine, shredded
  • 1/3 cup roughly chopped cilantro
  • 1/3 cup sliced green onions
  • 1 cooked chicken breast, shredded (optional)
  • For the Dressing:
  • 1/3 cup rice vinegar
  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 - 2 tablespoons Sriracha
  • 2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
  • salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds


  1. Cook the soba according to the package and rinse in cold water. Drain well. Whisk together the dressing ingredients, taste and adjust seasonings. Toss together with the noodles and vegetables, taste and adjust seasonings once more.
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Love is spelled c-o-o-k-i-e

From the time I was very young, just 6 weeks old it turns out, I spent nearly every day with my grandmother while my mother worked and my dad went to medical school, and then residency, and …. well, you get the idea.  Her love language was definitely service: cooking, reading stories, sewing little, and big, projects.

She had a fryer which sat next to her stove, and I remember home-made french fries with home preserved spicy ketchup, lots of preserved things.  She also made scones, not the English variety, but essentially fried dough which I was allowed to shake in a brown paper bag containing either powdered sugar, or granulated sugar with cinnamon.  She made delicious triticale bread which we ate with a smear of honey and a slice of Tillamook cheddar cheese.  This is a Grandma sandwich.  She also made very straight bread sticks, not wobbly at all.

And then there were cookies.  I remember baking peanut butter cookies with her once.  When I bake, I use a scale to measure ingredients, whenever possible.  She was more of a pinch-and-jigger cook, just estimating quantities, based on literally decades of experience.    The recipe was in her handwriting on a scrap of paper; I had no idea, or thought really, of where it originated.  Now that is confidence!

There were also chocolate chip cookies, a drop cookie with browned butter frosting, but mostly I associate snickerdoodles with my grandmother.  I don’t bake snicker doodles all that often, chocolate chip being the standard here, but whenever I see one, I think of her.  Recently I heard a story on NPR about shared cooking space for start-ups and a baker mentioned a browned butter snicker doodle, I immediately sat down at my computer and began a search.  After a little testing, I worked out the recipe I like and I share it here:


Love is spelled c-o-o-k-i-e


  • 2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 teaspoons cream of tartar
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup unsalted butter
  • 1 1/4 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste*
  • 1 tablespoon plain Greek yogurt
  • For rolling the cookies:
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon


  1. In a medium saute pan, not non-stick so that you can see the butter changing color, melt the cup of butter over medium heat. Continue to cook, swirling the pan as necessary to keep the butter moving a bit until it starts to foam. Once this happens, watch carefully as the butter can go from browning nicely to burned in less time than you would think. Remove the pan from the heat and allow to cool for a few minutes. The butter should be brown, and smell wonderfully nutty.
  2. In a mixing bowl, stir together the flour, baking soda, cream of tartar, cinnamon, and salt. Set aside.
  3. In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat together the brown sugar and sugar and slowly add the brown butter until the mixture is uniform. Add egg, egg yolk, vanilla bean paste, and Greek yogurt. Mix on low until all is incorporated. Slowly add in flour mixture and mix on low until combined.
  4. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and chill for at least one hour and up to three. When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper and set aside.
  5. Using a cookie scoop, form balls of dough and roll them in the cinnamon sugar mixture. Place 2 inches apart on prepared cookie sheet.
  6. Bake for 8-11 minutes or until the edges are lightly brown and the tops are crackly. Transfer to a cooling rack.
  7. Makes 3 1/2 dozen
  8. * If you haven't tried Caswell and Massey's Vanilla Bean Paste, you are in for a treat.
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Tea Party Anyone?

As a mother with daughters, there were a few years in which I spent a lot of time playing dress-ups and having tea parties.  And we baked a lot of tiny little things for our diminutive tea dishes: miniature cinnamon rolls, tiny cookies, 3/4 inch squares of brownies, fruit skewered onto toothpicks, and wee scones.  Scones, like the Brits have rather than the fried dough version popular in the mountain west, are highly favored, in almost any flavor, by everyone in the family.

This last summer while we were on a family reunion vacation, my daughter Jane, a terrific cook,  baked cream scones for us one morning, with raspberries and white chocolate.  Popular demand had her mixing up another batch the following morning, and again the morning after that.  It was as though we were rediscovering a forgotten favorite.  The basic recipe comes from The New Best Recipe Cookbook from the editors of Cook’s Illustrated, and it can be adapted to numerous variations.  White chocolate and raspberries is always a good idea.  Although today, in the absence of any fresh raspberries, I am using chopped crystallized ginger.


Start by cutting cold unsalted butter into quarter-inch cubes.


It is fastest to use a food processor, 12 one-second pulses to mix the cold butter into the dry ingredients.  This can also be done with a pair of knives or a pastry blender, or even your fingers if you are quick and keep the butter bits insulated from the heat of your fingers with a layer of flour.  Pass your thumbs over the pads of your fingers in quick movements to flatten the butter bits.


If you have used the food processor, pour the resulting mixture into a bowl for the next step.  The bits of butter should still be apparent and slightly smaller than peas.  Add mix-ins at this point (like nuts or chocolate chips or dried fruit or crystallized ginger or berries).  Pour the cream into the bowl and mix gently until the mixture begins to come together, then turn it out onto a counter, floury bits and all and knead just a few times gently to bring the dough into a cohesive mass.  This takes extreme care if you are using fresh berries to prevent excessive crushing of the fruit.


This is half a cup finely chopped crystallized ginger, yum.  Just try not to snitch.  If you want to make the raspberry and white chocolate chip variation, add 1/2 cup fresh or frozen, but not thawed, raspberries and 1/2 cup white chocolate chips.


Pat the dough into an 8-inch square about 1/2 inch thick.


Cut the dough square into individual scones.  Normally, this quantity of dough would yield 8 triangular scones, although 9 squares is just as easy.  Because I am talking about tea parties, I decided to cut each of the eight scones in half to get 16 smaller scones.  I like to brush the tops of the scones with cream and sprinkle with a bit of raw sugar.


Invite a friend to share.

Cream Scones with Crystallized Ginger


  • 2 cups (10 ounces) all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 5 tablespoons cold, unsalted butter, cut into 1/4-inch cubes
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 cup chopped crystallized ginger


  1. Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 425 degrees.
  2. Place the flour, baking powder, sugar, and salt in a large bowl or the work bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade. Whisk together or process with a few 1-second pulses.
  3. If making by hand, use two knives, a pastry blender, or your fingertips and quickly cut in the butter until the mixture resembles coarse meal with a few slightly larger butter lumps. If using a food processor, remove the cover and distribute the butter evenly over the dry ingredients. Cover and process with twelve 1-second pulses. Add the crystallized ginger and quickly mix or pulse one more time. If using fresh berries, don't process, just fold in gently. Pour contents of food processor bowl into a medium bowl.
  4. Stir in the heavy cream with a rubber spatula or fork until the dough begins to form, about 30 seconds.
  5. Transfer the dough and all dry flour bits to a countertop and knead the dough by hand just until it comes together into a rough, slightly sticky ball, 5 to 10 seconds. Cut the scones into 8 wedges and place them on an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake until the scone tops are light brown, 12 to 15 minutes. Cool on a wire rack for at least 10 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.
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French favorite

The title here is a bit of a misnomer since just about everything French is a favorite with me, but this entry is not about me.  It is about Willard, and his French favorite is Bistro Flaubert, a tiny little bistro, seating a maximum of 36 people in a room smaller than my kitchen and presided over by chef Michel Rostang, pictured just over my right shoulder.


Everything here is delicious.   Together, Alec and I ordered a whole chicken which was served in two separate courses and we both committed a crime against French restaurant etiquette  in failing to eat every last morsel and drip of sauce on our plates.  I am sure Chef Rostang must have been shaking his head and cursing Americans when our food-laden plates were returned to the kitchen.   The first course was sooo delicious, I actually contemplated eating it ALL, but knew there was more coming and was trying to pace myself.

Willard tries to eat in this restaurant every time he is in Paris, which is at least a few times each year, and every single time, he orders molten chocolate cake for dessert.  I have worked at perfecting my recipe, and it is nearly there.  But there is something about eating it in Paris after an uncommonly tasty meal that is difficult to replicate at home.  Still, we keep trying, and whenever I ask Willard what we should have for dessert, his answer is invariably molten chocolate cake.  So here, in honor of his birthday, is our recipe.


Butter and lightly flour five to six 4-ounce molds, ramekins or custard cups.  Tap out excess flour and set aside.


Melt butter and chocolate together either in a double boiler over simmering water, over very low heat, or in the microwave in 30 second intervals.  Using high-quality chocolate and unsweetened butter makes a difference.  These are Callebaut bittersweet chocolate callets.


Beat eggs, egg yolks, and butter in the bowl of an electric mixer for several minutes until light and thick.


Add the melted chocolate and flour and stir to combine.  This can be done using the paddle attachment, but is faster using a spatula because the chocolate/butter is heavier than the egg/sugar mixture and tends to sink to the bottom of the bowl.  Using a spatula, you can lift the chocolate over the egg mixture.  This takes just a few strokes.


Divide batter evenly among the molds or ramekins.  I love to use these little brioche molds, but ramekins work equally well: Chef Rostang uses ramekins.  The recipe can be made to this point hours ahead of when you want to serve them.  Just hold them in the refrigerator, or cool room temperature until you need them.


Bake the cakes at 450 degrees for 6-9 minutes.  In my oven, it takes 8 minutes for the cakes to be done on the outside, but still liquid in the middle.  Experience and repetition will help you know how long it takes to bake these in your oven.  This repetition will not be a chore; your family will enjoy your efforts to discover the timing in your oven.  Watch for the edges to be slightly risen and set and for the middle to still be slightly depressed and show some movement.


As soon as you remove the cakes from the oven, invert the cakes onto the serving plates.  Once they are all inverted, carefully lift the mold from each cake.  If you have buttered and floured well, the molds will lift right off.


Serve with a dollop of whipping cream or a small scoop of ice cream and a few berries.

Molten Chocolate Cake


  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, sliced into quarter-inch slices, plus more for the molds
  • 2 teaspoons all-purpose flour, plus more for the molds
  • 8 ounces high quality bittersweet chocolate such as Callebaut, chopped
  • 2 whole large eggs
  • 2 yolks from large eggs
  • 1/4 cup sugar


  1. Heat oven to 450 degrees. Butter and lightly flour six 4-ounce molds, ramekins or custard cups. Tap out excess flour and set aside.
  2. Place butter and chocolate in the top of a double boiler or heat-proof bowl and set over a pan of simmering water and heat until the chocolate has almost completely melted. Take off heat and cool slightly.
  3. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat together the eggs, yolks, and sugar until light and thick, several minutes.
  4. Add melted chocolate mixture and flour; beat to combine. Divide batter evenly among the molds.
  5. Place filled molds on a baking sheet, and bake until the sides have set but the centers remain soft, 6-9 minutes. Begin checking after 6 minutes. The top should look dry, but the center should still have movement when shaken. Check each minute until done.
  6. Invert each mold onto a plate and let rest 10 seconds. Unmold by lifting up on one side of the mold; the cake will fall out onto the plate. The cakes should hold their shape, but the inside should still be soft, even slightly runny. Serve immediately, with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream, if you like.
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