Uncle Garbage Pail and Cocoa Pecan Pie

When I was a little girl, if I left food on my plate, I handed it over to my dad to finish, saying I had something for “Uncle Garbage Pail.” This nickname, I later learned, had been lifted from Herman Wouk’s Marjorie Morningstar. Even now, at age 92 and 7 months and 2 weeks and 3 days, Dad has an appetite to rival his teenage grandsons’.

But I’ve discovered something now that I cook more for Dad than I did while Mom was alive: even though he is pretty easygoing in general, Dad reserves his enthusiasm for his favorites. I realized that when I knocked myself out to make some really special fish or chicken dish, he’d eat it but not really say anything. I finally figured out that he’s just eating those dishes out of politeness or duty. If I make a brisket, on the other hand—even a really simple brisket that I did nothing to but cook on the stovetop a la Mom’s pot roast style—then he’s happy and I hear endless praise.

Eventually, I learned that when he visits us (which is happening less and less often since he’s in NYC and I’m in Maryland and the trip is getting to be too much for him), he’s happy if I make lots of beef and his two favorite desserts, pumpkin pie and pecan pie. In fact, last year, I bought a cheap and enormous pumpkin pie at Costco that we had for days and he was thrilled to eat it even when it kept showing up again (it was really big).

This year's cocoa pecan pie photographed by someone who does love it--REG

This year’s cocoa pecan pie photographed by someone who does love it–REG

As to the pecan pie—I’ve always used my mother’s recipe for cocoa pecan pie (although I’ve updated the recipe a bit with almond milk rather than nondairy creamer and couple of other tweaks). When Dad last visited my family, I made two pies and wanted to give him some to take home. Well, imagine my surprise when he told me that he doesn’t really like chocolate and prefers a plain pecan pie. It turns out that he is a nut person and not a chocolate person—something I seemed to have missed during the Uncle Garbage Pail years.

So I won’t be making cocoa pecan pie for Dad—but I am making it for Thanksgiving and am sharing the recipe now in case you want to add it to your holiday repertoire.

Cocoa Pecan Pie

Crust (for 2 pies)

2 2/3 cups all-purpose flour

scant ½ cup confectioner’s sugar

¼ teaspoon salt

¾ cup unsalted butter, cut into small cubes (can use margarine)

1 egg yolk

2 tbsp cold water

Put the flour, confectioners sugar, and salt in a bowl and add the butter, using the paddle attachment on the mixer (or use your hands or the food processor). Mix until the dough is the consistency of coarse bread crumbs.

Add the yolk and water and mix until the dough just comes together. Do not over mix. Add more water by drops if necessary.

Shape the dough with your hands into 2 disks. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill until ready to use. Remove from the refrigerator around half an hour before you are ready to use.

Roll out dough on a floured board into a 10 inch round.  Place it carefully in pie plate or tart pan. While this isn’t Mom’s recipe, I’ll share her comment since it can apply here as well: “. . . crust still looks like a map of Asia, but . . . once it’s tucked and baked —nobody knows!”  Prick with a fork

Cocoa Pecan Pie filling (for one pie—but I usually double this)

1 cup sugar

1/3 cup cocoa

3 eggs

¾ cup corn syrup (either light or dark)

1 tsp vanilla

¼ cup sifted all-purpose flour

½ tsp. salt

¼ cup melted butter (or margarine)

¾ cup unflavored unsweetened almond milk

1 1/3 cup pecan halves (1/2 cup should be chopped, ½ should be whole, but don’t have to be perfect and the final 1/3 cup are for the surface of the pie, so you want nice, decorative halves, not ones that are nicked)

Preheat oven to 325.

Sift together sugar, flour, cocoa, salt.

Beat eggs for several minutes. Add melted butter, corn syrup, almond milk and vanilla.

Add dry ingredients to mix and stir until smooth. Blend in 1 cup of nuts (both the chopped and whole but not necessarily perfect nuts). Pour into unbaked pie shell.

Bake for 5 minutes and then remove and add decorative pecans. I begin with 3 pecans in the center and fan out into circles from there. My mom would just spread the nuts out haphazardly. Return the pies to the oven and bake for an additional 55 minutes.


My corner

Once upon a time, I was a young real estate attorney in Jerusalem. This job was not my destiny and I had very little in common with my boss but I did learn a few things from him, as follows:

  1. The cognoscenti in Jerusalem call things by their old names. Our office, for example, at the corner of King George and Hillel Streets was across from the “old Knesset”. For the record, the Knesset hasn’t been there since 1966. My first trip to Israel was in 1967, but I learned to refer to the building as the old Knesset.
  1. When my boss was growing up in the late 1940s and early 1950s, his family thought that Jerusalem’s Rehavia neighborhood—where much of the Ashkenazi elite of the time lived–was too  far from the location of  my boss’s father’s barber shop–that is, the building that housed my office in the early 1990s. It would have been a leisurely 15 minute walk to the far reaches of Rehavia from this downtown location. Instead, their family lived a block away from the office at the corner of King George and Ma’alot streets so that his father could go home for lunch and an afternoon siesta back in the pre-air conditioning days when every shop in Israel closed down from 1:00-4:00 pm.
  2. The best lunch place downtown was Pinati, where most days there were two items on the menu: hummus or hummus with meat; and on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, they served kubbe soup. (Well, it’s possible that there were other items on the menu, but no one I knew ever ordered them). I started to go to Pinati regularly with a group of friends although hanging out with friends was a violation of the Pinati ethos of eating quickly and making room at the communal table for the next people. We used to joke that you would be kicked out if you brought a newspaper, that is, if you exhibited signs of settling in and staying too long. A few other places serve meat and hummus, but none are as good as Pinati’s heaping ground beef on top of fresh hummus. In fact, most other places I’ve been to serve shwarma meat on their hummus and that is just not as good.
Ground turkey (looking beef-like thanks to pomegranate molasses) and hummus  Photo by REG

Ground turkey (looking beef-like thanks to pomegranate molasses) and hummus
Photo by REG

One habit I did not pick up from my boss was the afternoon nap, which he took in his office every day. Frankly after eating hummus with ground beef as your mid-day meal, you need a nap but, well, I lived too far from the office.

Pinati is now a chain in Israel but the original Pinati was a few blocks away from my office, at another corner of King George Street—which is how it got its name, since Pinati means “my corner.” I have tried to replicate the taste of that beef but these days, I try to eat less beef and have come up with a recipe with ground turkey. I’m not going to pretend that it tastes exactly like beef, but I recently discovered that a judicious amount of pomegranate molasses gives the turkey a meatier flavor and appearance. This is an easy recipe for a weeknight meal and you might not even need the nap.


Hummus and Ground Turkey

1 cup hummus—either home made or a good Middle Eastern style hummus that is smooth and garlicky

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

1 lb ground turkey

1 teaspoon ground cumin

½ teaspoon ground allspice

½ teaspoon black pepper

salt to taste

1 tablespoon pomegranate molasses (you might want more but taste carefully—different brands have different levels of viscocity and tartness and you don’t want to overdo this—although the hummus will mellow the tartness a bit).

Heat the oil in a large saucepan or chef’s pan. Add the ground turkey and stir so that you remove the lumps. Continue to let it brown on all sides, stirring occasionally s that you have cooked it almost all the way through.

Add spices and continue to cook.   Mix in pomegranate molasses so that the color coats all of the turkey.

Spread the hummus on a serving platter and then heap the cooked turkey on top. Serve with warm pita and pickles.

This can be a great appetizer or a week night dinner. If you want to make it with beef, follow the same recipe, eliminating the pomegranate molasses.

Two lasagnas: no meat, no tomato sauce: eliminating the least unhealthy ingredient

My mother taught me to cook by having me work as her sous-chef. I have to admit that I have not been as generous as she about teaching my daughter. Somehow, my fearless photographer has managed to become a great cook when she sets her mind to it–even without the meticulous lessons on technique.

no to sauce--yes to tomatoes photo by REG

no to sauce–yes to tomatoes
photo by REG

When my daughter does cook, her recipes can be quite ambitious. She has made great Vietnamese chicken and chicken pot pies. Her go-to cookbook is Teens Cook: How to Cook What You Want to Eat. The recipes in this book are not necessarily easy; some include elements that good chefs have to master; for example, the vegetable lasagna includes both a béchamel sauce and roasted red peppers. It’s a delicious dish and has a range of vegetables—just not tomato sauce.

When my daughter and I started talking about  “tomato sauce-less” lasagna, I immediately thought of “flourless chocolate cake” and my daughter knew exactly what I meant.  It’s not that this lasagna has anything to do with the restaurant staple of flour less chocolate cake. Instead, I was thinking of   BJ Novak’s story Julie and the Warlord. In it, Julie and her date –who just happens to be a warlord–are making small talk and looking at a menu. The warlord, being his charming first-date self, questions why every one makes a big deal about flourless chocolate cake: “Is flour such a bad thing? I mean compared to other things in chocolate cake.” He goes on to say: “Flour is probably the least unhealthy thing I can think of in chocolate cake.”

Teen cook with Teens Cook lasagna photo by YJAG

Teen cook with Teens Cook lasagna
photo by YG

So in that spirit here are two lasagnas without tomato sauce, arguably the least unhealthy thing in classic lasagna (I’ll leave the whole gluten thing for other bloggers). But sometimes it’s nice to have a change.  And when that change is that my daughter is doing the cooking and the results are this good, I don’t question why the least unhealthy thing has been omitted from the recipe.

 Teens Cook Vegetable Lasagna

2 tablespoons butter

3 tablespoons flour

1 ½ cups milk

½ cup grated parmesan

salt and pepper to taste

2 red bell peppers

1 small zucchini (or a whole bunch of baby zucchinis which is what we had on hand)

1 large tomato

4 ounces mushrooms

6 uncooked lasagna noodles

1 ½ cups ricotta

1 cup mozzarella

Place the red peppers directly on the stove burner (or under the broiler if you have an electric stove) and cook over high heat, turning occasionally for 15 minutes or until the peppers are almost completely black on the outside. Place the blackened peppers in a small bowl and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Let stand 10 minutes to loosen the skin.

When the peppers are in the covered bowl, place the butter and flour in a small saucepan and cook over medium heat, stirring frequently for 3 minutes or until bubbly. Add ½ cup of the milk and stir until smooth. Add the remaining 1 cup of milk and cook for 7-8 minutes or until it begins to boil. Remove from the heat and stir in the Parmesan. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Then go back to the peppers: Peel the skin off and cut the peppers in half. Discard the seeds and cut each half into 2 or 3 strips.

Stem the zucchini and cut it lengthwise into 1/8 inch thick slices. Cut the top and bottom off the tomato and discard them. Dice the remaining tomato. Cut the mushrooms into ¼ inch thick slices.

Preheat the oven to 350.

Spoon ½ cup of the sauce onto the bottom of an 8 inch square baking pan. Cover the sauce with a laywer of the noodles. Arrange zucchini on top of noodles and cover with ¾ cup of the ricotta. Place the roasted peppers over the ricotta and spread with ½ cup of the sauce. Form another layer of noodles and top with the mushrooms. Spread the remaining ¾ cup of ricotta over the mushrooms and top with the remaining sauce. Place the tomato slices on top and cover the pan with aluminium foil.

Bake the lasagna covered for 40 minutes. Remove the foil and sprinkle the top with grated mozzarella. Bake for 10-15 minutes more or until cheese is lightly browned. Remove the lasagna from the oven and let it stand for 10 minutes before serving.

Since this is really my food blog (with pictures by my daughter) and thus all the recipes should be dishes I have made, I’m linking to another unconventional lasagna that I came across one day when the cupboard wasn’t exactly bare but I didn’t have the usual and I wanted to use some eggplant. So here it is, the combo of eggplants, béchamel, hazelnut and parsley.

eggplant & hazelnuts--but no tomato sauce in this lasagna photo by REG

eggplant & hazelnuts–but no tomato sauce in this lasagna
photo by REG

The recipe is from Gourmet so here is the epicurious link for Eggplant Lasagne with Parsley Pesto.

I really did find it by going to epicurious and searching eggplant, pasta, and parsley. Nope, I didn’t add tomato sauce to the search.