How to slice bread, or how I get around a round

Round loaf

Slicing a round loaf of bread in half will let you carve off similar-size slices for sandwiches instead of having the slices be uneven in size as you slice the loaf from one side. Photo by Laura Groch




Maybe it’s just me. Who am I kidding? It probably IS just me.

I have a thing about the uneven slices you get from a round loaf of bread.

Don’t get me wrong. I love round loaves of marble rye, sourdough, Italian (oh, Italian …) and multigrain whatever. I have fond memories of my Italian great-aunt holding a basketball-size loaf under her arm as she carved off massive slices with a formidable Continue reading


Thanksgiving recipes bring back memories

Pie crust

Pumped-up piecrust awaits its custardy filling. No spills with a raised-edge crust. Photo by Laura Groch

Well, we’re coming close to crunch time for Thanksgiving cooks. You’ve probably already got your recipes in hand, but just in case you still need some ideas, here are some of my favorites:

First up, a sweet potato-and-apple dish that I actually enjoy: Find it here. Next, my Italian grandmother’s stuffing recipe, which you’ll find here. How to make hearty turkey soup from the leftovers here. Some hints for your pumpkin pie crust here.

And, in case you’d like to be reassured that even seasoned cooks can make kitchen Continue reading

Unscrambling a mystery after all these years


scrambled eggs

Lift the cooked part of the scrambled egg with a flexible spatula, letting the uncooked egg flow into the empty spot. What a revelation! Photo by Laura Groch

Sometimes things that are easy to cook turn out to be not so.

Take scrambled eggs. Millions of people manage to cook scrambled eggs every day without a problem.

Not me. For years — I’m embarrassed to say how many — I’ve been scrambling my eggs “wrong.”

Continue reading

Struffoli: Not all it’s cracked up to be


Mom and me and the struffoli: Sometimes traditions are better remembered than observed. (Photo by Laura Groch)

With most of the holiday fun and fuss behind us, it’s a good time to look back on tradition: what family rituals still work, which ones should be adjusted, which ones need replacing.

I offer you the story of the struffoli.

One December afternoon after school, my little brother and I returned to my paternal grandmother’s house, where we would do homework and watch TV until our parents came home from work to pick us up.

Throwing my book bag on the floor and shedding my winter gear, I was suddenly aware of something out of the ordinary. It sat proudly on Continue reading

Enjoy your holiday, but don’t forget to look around

I wouldn’t leave you high and dry for Thanksgiving Day without pointing you to a few trusted recipes.

First up, the sweet potato-and-apple dish that brought me back to the sweet potato fold: You can find it here.

Nor would I leave you without a peek at our Italian family’s stuffing recipe, which you’ll find here.

And, in case you’d like to be reassured that even seasoned cooks can make kitchen blunders, check out the tale of my 2014 turkey here.

I do hope you can relax and enjoy your Thanksgiving dinner, whether it’s a Continue reading

For hot weather, some cool memories

 Southwestern Tabbouleh Salad

Southwestern Tabbouleh Salad is cool, nutritious, low-fat — and ridiculously easy to prepare. And did I say cool? (Photo by Laura Groch)

Hot, muggy weather of the sort we’ve been having lately makes me want to find cool and easy summer meals. After 25 years of relying on fans, we’ve got A/C in our home now, which is nice, but I still don’t want to heat up the kitchen too much.

Which makes me wonder — what, in those long, hot summer days before widespread air-conditioning, did my mom and her fellow homemakers do to put dinner on the table?

Continue reading

A cup of tea, a little pasteen, and comfort

cup of tea

Tea, heavy on the milk and sugar, still signals comfort in my family. Photo by Laura Groch

I’ve been overindulging in chocolate, adding sugar to my tea and coffee, and sneaking an extra blob of maple syrup on my pancakes. When life presents difficulties, we all need a little something sweet, as my mama would say.

.Sweets rank high on the list of comfort foods, and we’re needing some comfort these days. My mom has moved into a nursing home, and she doesn’t deliver much advice to me these days. After I visit her, I find myself reaching for a mini peanut butter cup, more than my normal ration.

And we just spent Father’s Day weekend mostly at the hospital because of a health issue with my dad. Serious, but treatable, thank goodness. So I’ve been checking into the comfort food-cupboard lately.

I think it’s safe to say we’ve all got a special comfort food. My theory is that most of these are on the white or pale side — why, I don’t know. Maybe they reflect mother’s milk, our very first comfort foods.

Yes, I know, chocolate, however delightful, doesn’t fit that theory. But what about vanilla ice cream (OK, any ice cream), rice pudding, mashed potatoes, mac & cheese (mostly white), cream of mushroom soup, even buttered toast.

Our childhood had two comfort foods. First honors go to the tiny Italian pasta called, appropriately and diminutively, “pastina.” Pastina is bitty star-shaped pasta that mammas cooked for their bambini as a kind of “first food,” so it has a longstanding pride of place. This was often served when we were sick or needed something mild to eat.

There’s no upper age limit on pastina. You might recall that in one episode of “The Sopranos,” Mama Carmela asks her upset daughter Meadow, “You want I should make you a little pasteen?”

And my pal Grace, who recently had surgery, posted a photo of herself a few weeks later wearing a full neck brace, with a familiar dish set before her. “Pastina at last,” she wrote.

Pastina doesn’t have to be little stars, which can be hard to find outside Ronzoni country. Orzo works, as do alphabet pastas, if you can find them. Goya also makes a little star-shaped pasta that is bigger than pastina but still small enough to qualify.

With butter and Parmesan cheese, pastina is a mild, soothing and savory dish. It’s also featured in Italian soups as “pastina in brodo” (broth). Some folks top it with tomato sauce, which is fine, and I’ve lately been enjoying it with a dollop of pesto, too. But butter and Parmesan cheese are my first choices.

The other comfort food of our childhood, served whenever we were tearful about some injustice or slight or disaster, was called “sugar milk tea,” heavy on the sugar and milk (so it also fits my “pale food” theory).

This was dispensed by my mother, who would pour cups for herself during the day from a small Corelle pot of brewed tea that was kept on the stovetop. The Corelle was ideal in those pre-microwave days because you could just fire up the burner under the pot to warm the tea, without having to pour it into a separate pot to warm or without having to boil water for a fresh cup. Tea was always there, ready for any childhood (or adult) calamity.

Once the matter had been hashed out, advice delivered and and tears dried, Mama would ask, “Now, how about a cup of sugar milk tea?” My answer was always “Yes.”

It was warm, sweet and a solace. How I miss those days when problems could be eased with a cup of sweet tea.

(If you have a comfort food, I’d love to know what it is. And whether it fits my pale-food theory.)

(c) copyright 2015 Laura Groch

PB pickles, and how to get into the San Diego County Fair for free

deep-fried peanut-butter-filled pickle

Deep-fried peanut-butter-filled pickle at the San Diego County Fair, slightly busted open to show the PB. It actually tasted kinda good. (Photo by Kelley Carlson)

Deep-fried. Peanut-butter-filled. Pickle.

Guess what time it is? Oh yes, it’s San Diego County Fair time, starting Friday, June 5 and running through Sunday, July 5, at the Del Mar Fairgrounds.

Before we go any farther, let me just say that the above-mentioned DFPBFP wasn’t as bad as it sounds. I could have done without the deep-fried part, really, but the actual peanut-butter-pickle combo was — kind of tasty.

That’s when I remembered: A long time ago, the newspaper’s Food section ran a Continue reading

Sauerkraut and tomato soup — in your cake? A little food fun for April Fools’ Day

sauerkraut, potato chips, tomato soup

Sauerkraut, potato chips and tomato soup can put a little harmless April Fools’ Day fun on your dessert table. Photo by Laura Groch

As April Fools’ Day approaches, we’ll see plenty of ideas from clever, creative sorts for cakes, cookies and other foods transformed into things they are not, the better to turn the tables on folks. Such as cakes turned into what looks like, oh, scrambled eggs or hamburgers, or cookies turned into carrots, and the like.

Such “Fooler Foods” bring to mind some of our efforts at the now-defunct Times Advocate newspaper, precursor to the also-now-defunct North County Times.

Our Food Department was me, whichever feature reporter was free at the time, Continue reading

Welsh cakes, physalis, banoffee and more food notes from overseas

Welsh cakes in packaging

Welsh cakes in their native habitat. A UK grocery store, that is. Unprepossessing in appearance, they turned out to be surprisingly good. (Photo by Laura Groch)

Ah, St. Patrick gets all the love in March, but there’s another UK saint who deserves remembering, and that’s St. David. His feast day is March 1 (oops), and among other things, he’s known for urging his flock to “do ye the little things in life.” Not a bad sentiment.

I’m bringing up the Welsh saint as a (shameless) segue into talking about Welsh cakes, about which I’ll have more in a moment. This is my wordy way of returning to sharing observations about our (fairly) recent Scottish/English Continue reading