Author: Kathy Hunt

cinnamon pie crust sticks

Cinnamon Pie Crust Sticks Like Nana Used to Make

A few weeks ago I attended a food journalism conference where editors told the assembled writers, “No more grandmother stories.” Everybody has a grandmother. No one wants to hear about her anymore. The timing couldn’t have been stranger. Just that morning, while wandering around Philadelphia’s Reading Terminal Market, I came across something that I hadn’t seen or thought about in years, something that reminded me of my paternal grandmother, whom I also hadn’t seen in years and about whom I’ve never written. A relic from early childhood, they were strips of pie crust dusted in cinnamon sugar. At the Market they were called “cinnamon sugar pie fries.” When I was a little kid, they were ‘scraps of leftover pie dough that Nana had decorated with cinnamon sugar and baked.’ Now I think of them as cinnamon pie crust sticks. Unlike many food writers, I don’t have charming stories of baking with my grandmothers or mother. By the time that I was old enough to whisk eggs or roll out dough, my maternal grandmother was gone …

uncooked lime-marinated swordfish kebabs

Grilling Lime-Marinated Swordfish Kebabs

Want a quick, crowd pleasing seafood dish for your next summer cookout? Try lime-marinated swordfish kebabs. Officially, I created this recipe for my seafood cookbook Fish Market (Running Press, 2013) but I’ve made variations of it for years. Lime appears often in my seafood cooking. I love the slightly sweet, clean flavor of this citrus and how it adds complexity and life to fish and shellfish. That dash of green zest on a white-hued fish isn’t bad, either. When I can’t find sustainable, North Atlantic handline or harpoon-caught swordfish, I substitute another firm, white fish. That can be anything from Pacific yellowfin or longtail tuna and mackerel to U.S-sourced snapper, mahi mahi and striped bass. When making this and any other seafood dish, I consult Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch to ensure that I use sustainable fish. Because I’m always a little concerned about losing chunks of my fish kebabs to a scorching hot grate, I lay these skewers on lightly oiled tin foil before placing them on the grill. If you’re not the worrying …

slice of peanut butter pie

Perfecting Peanut Butter Pie

Growing up outside of Pittsburgh, I always assumed that peanut butter pie came from my part of the country. Every picnic my family attended and almost every restaurant where we ate offered a version of this rich sweet. Some bakers made it with a classic pie dough. They spooned the no-bake filling into the crisp crust and served the dessert at room temperature. Others lined their pie pans with graham cracker, shortbread or Oreo cookie crumbs, added the peanut butter mixture and refrigerated or froze the pie before serving. Each type—crunchy yet velvety or crumbly, hard and cold—had its diehard fans. The variations didn’t end with crust and consistency. Toppings ranged from chopped peanuts, shaved chocolate, cocoa powder or more cookie crumbs to whipped cream, chocolate glazes, or, my least favorites, overly sugary caramel, banana or strawberry sauces. No matter what differences existed, people gobbled up this dessert. In spite of my home turf’s love of this pie, Western Pennsylvanians cannot claim it as one of their own. Peanut butter pie has its roots in …

peach puff

Got puff pastry and peaches? You’ve got dessert!

It’s probably no surprise that a lot of my recipe ideas come from travel. Unusual ingredients that I’ve tasted, signature dishes that I’ve tried and local recipes that I’ve acquired all influence my cooking. Although I gravitate to far flung locations, I do find inspiration closer to home. A perfect example is this spring’s obsession with puff pastry and stone fruit. A few Saturdays ago I went to Philadelphia to meet up with an old friend. Since I’d done something extraordinary and actually arrived early, I popped into a little bakery selling pastries and a small assortment of breads. What better place to kill time than in a food shop? While the almond croissants and pain au raisins looked lovely, what caught my eye were the “apricot boats,” glistening ovals of puff pastry topped with halved apricots and pearl sugar. So simple. So elegant. Why didn’t I ever think of doing that? Anything that easy and enticing I had to make. First, though, I should have a taste. So, with a box of apricot boats …

jam-filled plunderhörnchen

Is it a doughnut? A croissant? No, it’s a plunderhörnchen!

Plunderhörnchen or, to quote several German baking websites, “plunder croissant” or “plunder squirrel.” What better name for a treat that’s shaped like a croissant, glazed like a doughnut, tender like a roll, baked like bread and jam-filled like a croissant-shaped, doughnut-bread-roll. I would love to share a fascinating origin story for plunderhörnchen. However, all I have are basic facts. In Germany and Austria plunder is a yeast-leavened dough used in sweet baked goods. Unlike croissant dough, plunder contains eggs. It also has less fat in it than other pastry doughs. As for the designation “plunderhörnchen,” like whoopie pies, snickerdoodles and other unusually named treats, it remains a mystery. So, too, does the reason for calling it a ‘squirrel.’ What’s not a mystery is why I came across it so often while traveling in Germany. This pastry is light, portable, convenient and delicious. You can take it on the train, munch on it as you walk and never worry about crumbs, greasy fingers or sticky frosting. As with doughnuts, people generally eat this roll at breakfast. …

ven pongal

South Indian Ven Pongal. It’s Not Just for Breakfast.

I always feel a little sheepish about discussing Indian foods. Obviously, I am not Indian nor do I have a long, rich history with this cuisine. Until a 2009 trip to Delhi and Rajasthan, my understanding came from the cookbooks of Madhur Jaffrey and local Indian restaurants. What I lack in background, though, I make up for with my passion for the country and its diverse, vegetarian-friendly cooking. Whenever I try an intriguing, new dish there, one that I may not find back in the States, I track down the recipe so that I can make it on my own. The latest of these at-home recreations is South Indian ven pongal. During a recent trip to Chennai Air India had offered a scoop of ven pongal as part of my in-flight, vegetarian meal. The hotel where I stayed also served it as part of its breakfast buffet. After trying and liking it on the plane, I made a beeline for it at the buffet table. For the next eight mornings I skipped the glazed, fruit-filled …

giant cast iron pan holding sauteed mushrooms

The Sautéed Mushrooms of Poland and Germany

Food is always on my mind but never more so than when I’m traveling. What local specialties can I try? What cool ingredients can I track down? What can I eat that won’t kill me or make me insanely ill? (It took only one meal in Delhi, after which I had an emergency doctor’s visit, IV drip and 3 days bedridden, to add that question to my list.) Since I’m a pescetarian, I also wonder whether I can order dishes without meat. On a recent trip to the meat-loving lands of Poland and Saxony Germany I found that last criteria surprisingly easy to meet. Along with bratwurst, kielbasa, pork knuckle and hunter’s stew, restaurants, bars and food stalls served sautéed mushrooms. Since at least the Middle Ages mushrooms have played a part in Poland’s cuisine. In the past people went out into the surrounding forests and gathered as many edible mushrooms as they could find. Once at home they brushed them off and started cooking. Mushrooms made their way into soups, sauces, dumplings and stuffed …

2016’s Books for Cooks

Yes, I’m squeezing in my seasonal list of books for cooks at the very last minute. This year I’ve got suggestions for readers, history lovers, bakers, spice fans, travel buffs and, of course, cooks. You won’t see any titles by social media darlings or celebrity chefs—if you read Kitchen Kat, you probably already know how to scramble an egg and you probably aren’t going to serve stuffed, roasted goat hearts at your next family gathering—but you will find a wealth of information, solid recipes and great gifts in this mix. Waste Free Kitchen Handbook by Dana Gunders (Chronicle Books, 2015) A scientist with the Natural Resources Defense Council, Gunders offers tips for shopping smarter, eating more of what we purchase and throwing away less food. She also provides recipes for making the most of what we have on hand; this includes dishes such as Sautéed Lettuce and Broccoli Stalk Salad. My favorite sections don’t include recipes but instead focus on portion planning, food storage and uses for leftovers and food scraps. Spend less, waste less …

gluten-free cinnamon stars

Tips for Cut-Out Cookies and Austrian Cinnamon Stars

Whenever I make the gluten-free, cut-out cookies Austrian Cinnamon Stars, I think of my late father. Although he was neither an ardent cook nor baker, every holiday season he and I spent at least one night in the kitchen baking and decorating cut-out Christmas cookies. The tricks he employed to ensure beautiful holiday sweets are ones that I use to this day. If making the aforementioned Austrian cinnamon stars and any other cut-out cookies possessing a soft, sticky texture, I refrigerate the dough for at least 30 minutes before rolling it out. After mixing the ingredients for the cookie dough, I shape it into a ball, cover it with plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm, about 30 minutes. Depending on the size and tackiness of the dough, it may need to stay in the fridge for a little longer or shorter. No matter what, it shouldn’t get cold and stiff. If it reaches that stage, it’ll be difficult to roll and cut. Another trick that my father taught me was that, to stop cookie dough …

What to Eat at European Christmas Markets

My mother used to claim that I inherited my wanderlust from her late father, a civil and mining engineer who worked and traveled throughout Latin America. If he was to blame for my “itchy feet,” that unceasing desire to roam the globe, then she bore responsibility for my passion for European Christmas markets. As a kid, I spent countless Saturdays following her through crowded church Christmas bazaars. Which faith sponsored the event never mattered. As long as it featured homemade pizzelles, kolaches, stollen or fruitcake, we’d be there. A curious kid, I wondered how my hometown’s holiday bazaars stacked up against those in people’s homelands. If I visited Germany’s Striezelmarkt, would ladies jostle and push for the last few loaves of nut-studded stollen? If I went to Poland, would people nibble on onion- and potato-filled pierogis as they shopped? What did people eat at European Christmas markets? For that matter, did they even have these seasonal fairs? Turns out that Europe is chocked full of cheery, outdoor, holiday markets. Along with decorations, crafts and jewelry, …