Saturday, July 30, 2016

The Importance of Family Recipes

I love reading books for many reasons, but one of the best moments is coming across an idea -- captured in a phrase, sentence or passage -- that shifts something deep inside. It's like a gong goes off and reverberates through the layers of your being until a new awareness, a new layer of you, is added to the mix.

Reading Nola McKey's From Tea Cakes to Tamales set off that gong for me.

(Pictures courtesy of Nola McKey. Photo credit: Kaitlyn Braddock. The lemony tea cakes that led to the cookbook)

The exact passage that caused the moment:

"Whether typed neatly on an index card, written on the back of an envelope, or scribbled on a scrap of paper, an heirloom recipe has magical powers: it allows you to recreate a loved one's signature dish after that person is gone," starts the second chapter of the cookbook. "Taken a step further, an heirloom recipe is a link to a legacy, one that lives on when a cook in the present generation makes the same dish that a departed cook prepared decades earlier."

I have always enjoyed and valued recipes that have stood the test of time -- family recipes, immigrant recipes, historical recipes. All of them have stories to tell, stories that shouldn't be allowed to fade away.

(Nola's grandmother)

The cookbook came about because of a moment that linked together three generations of McKey's family:

About 20 years ago, her then-8-year-old son asked McKey for "a traditional family dish" to take to school the next day for a class presentation. A sixth-generation Texan, McKey responded by baking her grandmother's tea cakes.

"I began mixing up the ingredients, and it wasn't long before I got a whiff of memories," McKey wrote in the cookbook. "Baking the cookies brought more. It felt like a visit from Grandma, especially after we sampled the tea cakes — thick, pillowy, with a hint of lemon — just the way I remembered them."

McKey has collected about a 100 "heirloom recipes" from Texas families around the state for the cookbook, which also includes stories and photographs of the people behind the recipes. 

I'm thrilled that McKey will be in San Angelo today presenting a special program about the importance of family recipes, sharing her grandmother's tea cakes, and signing cookbooks. Here are the details:

What: Author Nola McKey cookbook signing

When: 1:30-3:30 p.m. Saturday

Where: Eggemeyer's General Store, 35 E. Concho Ave.

Contact: 325-655-1166

If you can't make it, the cookbook is also available on Amazon.

Want to try a recipe? Here's a sample from the From Tea Cakes to Tamales cookbook:

Grandma's Old-Fashioned Tea Cakes

McKey hopes to have some to share at the cookbook signing Saturday. The recipe makes about three dozen tea cakes.


1/2         cup butter (1 stick)

1              cup sugar

2              eggs

1              teaspoon vanilla

2              teaspoons lemon zest or 1 teaspoon lemon extract (optional)

2              cups sifted flour

2              teaspoons baking powder

1/2         teaspoon salt


1. Cream butter and sugar in a large bowl.

2. Add eggs and beat well.

3. Stir in vanilla and lemon zest, if using.

4. Blend flour and remaining ingredients together and add to butter mixture, mix well.

5. Place dough on a floured board and roll out to 1/4-inch thickness; cut into 2-inch rounds.

6. Place cookies on a lightly greased baking sheet and bake at 375 degrees F for 0 to 12 minutes, or until edges are golden brown. Remove to wire racks to cool.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Farmers Market Casserole Step-by-Step Recipe

Our local Farmers Market is bursting with the bounty of summer produce. Red, sun ripened tomatoes, purple eggplants, summer squash, onions and leeks, a variety of herbs -- all laid out in tempting display.

I like to cook with seasonal ingredients because not only do you get the best quality and best flavor, but it's also cheaper. 

Unfortunately, I can't limit myself to a few items when faced with such a selection and end up returning home with a bulging bag. And there's the garden produce to consider...and I have to figure out ways to use all of it up and keep the family from complaining.

So I was really excited to discover a recipe in the Weight Watchers Family Meals cookbook that made good use of all kinds of vegetables I'd picked up at the Farmers Market and from my garden.

It's a layered dish, but still pretty easy to make and full of flavor and summertime goodness.

Farmer Market Casserole with Tomato, Eggplant and Zucchini

Right now all the ingredients are in season, which makes this the perfect summer recipe.
Makes 4 servings and is vegetarian and gluten free.
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 small eggplant (about 3/4 pound), unpeeled and cut into 1/2-inch chunks
1 medium onion, chopped (about 1 cup)
1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano (or you can substitute about 2 or 3 tablespoons of fresh leaves), divided
3-4 large garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoons salt, divided
1/2 teaspoon of black pepper, divided
1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1/4 cup chopped fresh sweet basil
3/4 pound medium to small tomatoes, cut into 1/4-inch slices
1 large zucchini, cut into 1/4-inch slices (should be about equivalent to tomatoes)
1/4 cup grated Asiago or Parmesan cheese 
1. Preheat oven to 400 degree Fahrenheit. Spray a shallow 8-cup casserole dish or 9-inch deep pie plate with olive oil nonstick spray.
2. Heat oil in large skillet over medium-high heat. Add eggplant, onions, half the oregano, garlic, 1/2 teaspoon of salt, and 1/4 teaspoon of pepper; cook, stirring, until eggplant is very tender and browned in spots, about 10 minutes. Reduce heat if eggplants brown too quickly. Transfer to prepared dish or pie plate.

 3. Mix parsley, basil, remaining oregano, salt and pepper in a small bowl. Sprinkle evenly over eggplant mixture.

Even though the herbs are not the title of the recipe, they are key to adding flavor to the dish! 
4. Arrange tomato and zucchini slices on top of the herb-covered eggplant in alternating rows, overlapping slices.
Don't they look pretty? Mmm, nothing beats the flavor of garden tomatoes.
5. Bake until vegetables are tender and browned along the edges, about 25 to 30 minutes.
6. Sprinkle evenly with cheese and place under broiler for about 2 minutes. Serve hot, warm or at room temperature.

Note: Next time I might use goat cheese or Feta crumbles, both of which are locally produced by El Camino de Las Capbras. If you try it out let me know what you think!