Finding Betty Crocker: A Book Review

I spent most of last week running around with this book tucked awkwardly into my purse. I confess that I don't usually read hardcover books because I find them cumbersome to hold and read on the train, but I made an exception this time because the story looked so good.

It's called Finding Betty Crocker by Susan Marks, and it tells the history of the iconic domestic spokeswoman from inception (or rather, invention) to the present day. The book is a couple years old (2008, I believe), but I picked it up in my hunger to learn more about mid-century housekeeping and was not disappointed.

I absolutely loved reading about the incredible influence and inspiration that Betty Crocker was for women in the early and mid twentieth century, particular during the trying economic times of the Great Depression, and then later in the 1940s when women had to relearn how to manage a household during times of extreme rationing and trying personal challenges (working outside of the home, dealing with the absence--and sometimes death--of men serving in World War II).

Today we associate Betty Crocker with the ubiquitous red spoon logo on the packages of supermarket cake mix, but it was interesting to learn that this is not at all how Betty started. For many years--decades, even!--Betty Crocker was the woman who calmed and instructed inexperienced young brides and inspired frustrated older women stuck in a rut.

Through her incredibly popular radio shows (click here to listen to an mp3 of one of these wartime Betty Crocker radio programs), tv appearances, booklets, personal letters (each researched and handwritten by one of a veritable army of college-educated home economists employed by General Mills), and bestselling cookbooks, she taught women about nutrition, budgeting, housekeeping, and cooking. She even, on occasion, offered advice on matters of the heart!

While Betty's advice was very much a service to her audience, her sales agenda was never lost from the message; every single one of her recipes and tips made use of major General Mills products like Bisquick, Wheaties, and Gold Medal Flour. The implication was always that to use anything but the "tested and assured" General Mills products, was simply opening oneself up to failure and waste--a pointedly suggestive argument in times of economic hardship.

Though many of the excerpts, quotes, and recipes printed in the book are there with (I suspect) a note of irony, I actually found quite a bit of modern inspiration in those old fashioned bits of advice. Take, for instance, the "Consumer Pledge for Total Defense" which was created by the U.S. government in 1942, and which Betty urged all her listeners to sign and uphold. It stated:

I will buy carefully. I will take good care of the things I have. I will waste nothing.

At the time, this pledge was a patriotic duty during wartime, but they're simple words that hold true and are just as relevant today. As someone who is trying to find a way to reduce waste in my kitchen, I like knowing that this is something that has been important to generations of women before me.

And then there was the wonderful "Homemaker's Creed," an engraved document that was sent out to all Betty's listeners who called themselves the "Home Legion" and took seriously the role of caring for the home and cooking for and nourishing one's family. It's a wonderful little creed that I'm thinking of having professionally printed so that I, too, can hang it in my kitchen. [click the image to enlarge & read]

As I've mentioned in the past, I'm really trying to focus this year on building an developing my personal brand in order to create a solid foundation for my future projects. From this perspective, I found the branding lessons in this book incredibly enlightening. Through initiatives like the Home Legion, Betty (and by extension, General Mills) created a sense of brand loyalty and connection that is remarkable both from a history and a marketing perspective.

The connection between the consumers and Betty Crocker was so strong, that many were devastated when they finally learned that she was not a real person. The General Mills headquarters, which offered tours of the "Betty Crocker kitchens" to curious tourists and fans, were even equipped with sympathy hosts and tissues to console the women who learned they would never be able to meet Betty in person. In the book, one of the home economists from the test kitchens compared the realization to finding out there is no Santa Claus, but called it "worse because Betty was their hero."

Near the end of the book, the persona of Betty Crocker started to lose her relevancy and underwent a bit of a personality crisis. She was challenged by feminists and radical groups who found her "offensive." The women's group NOW even filed a lawsuit against General Mills because they found Betty "discriminatory toward minority women" simply because she was white. Critics defended Betty, of course, and the suit was eventually dismissed, but it was evident of a distinct change in society.

One thing I found most significant, was the way the official Betty Crocker portrait, which during the 40s and 50s had remained a solid and classic image, started receiving multiple "reconstructions" to better fit the fashion and sensibilities of the time. She quickly went from being a warm and motherly icon, to a young and polished woman who looked like she barely ever stepped foot in the kitchen.

In 1996, perhaps as an answer to those miffed by her "whiteness"; yet another new portrait was created consisting of a computerized composite of 75 different women of different ethnicities and ages. The result (seen above) is a bit of an odd news anchor/political wife style woman with slightly tan skin, freakishly white teeth, and a perpetually dazed expression. It's probably the reason why the Betty Crocker image has disappeared from most packages, and has since been replaced by the easily recognizable (although much less charming) red spoon logo.

Her story lives on in this book which combines history and social marketing in an entertaining and totally readable format. I definitely recommend it, and if you are hungry for a bit of vintage Betty, do a search online for some of her classic pamphlets and cookbooks from the 40s and 50s. There are a lot out there and they're really a great way to absorb some of the incredible history of kitchens past.

I'd love your recommendations for some great food-related books (both fiction and non-fiction). I'm especially interested in those that have to do with wartime and mid-century cooking and housekeeping. Let me know if you have read some good ones!

Baked Mozzarella Arrabiata

There is a little Italian restaurant located directly across the street from my office in midtown. Because of its convenient location, this restaurant has become our unofficial office restaurant and the inevitable destination of all business lunches and holiday luncheons.

Late last month, my department was hosting a few editors who were in town from Vietnam. On the second day of their visit, we all bundled up into our coats and raced across the street to the restaurant, where the host and waiters greeted us familiarly. They sat us at our usual table where we quickly defrosted thanks to the nearby brick oven (and the large goblets of wine our waiter almost immediately set before us.)

Along with the regular menu, our waiter filled us in on a list of specials, one of which instantly grabbed my attention: little balls of mozzarella, wrapped in prosciutto, baked in marinara sauce. I ordered it right away, and delighted in the tiny dish or warm baked mozzarella goodness.

That night, I decided to recreate the dish at home, replacing the marinara with a spicy arrabiata sauce, and multiplying it by about 20. The results were incredible! ...and I admit to having made the dish a full THREE times since. It's a perfect appetizer to start an Italian meal, and even makes for a nice little lunch (along with a salad and maybe a crusty heel of Italian bread).

You can easily customize the dish at home using your own favorite sauce. I really love the heat of the arrabiata and encourage you to try it first, but a classic marinara or maybe even a vegetable sauce would work well too. Vegetarians can skip the prosciutto and wrap the mozzarella with basil leaves before burying in the sauce. And if you have trouble finding the little round ciliegine (in Italian, "ciliegi" means cherry), you can just cut a regular size ball of mozzarella into 1" cubes.

Baked Mozzarella Arrabiata
Arrabiata is a spicy Italian tomato sauce. For this recipe you can use a good bottled one (I like Rao's) or make your own.


1 pound of mozzarella ciliegine or bocconcini (little cherry-sized balls of fresh mozzarella)
1/4 pound prosciutto (I like San Daniele)
2 cups arrabiata sauce
3 tablespoons of grated Pecorino (or other hard italian cheese like Parmiggiano Reggiano)
Fresh Basil (optional)


Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Spread 1 cup arrabiata sauce along the base of a small (about 6") baking dish or ramekin.

On a clean work surface, cut each strip of prosciutto in 1/3. Take 1 ball of mozzarella and roll up in the 1/3 strip of prosciutto (it's ok if it's not perfect). Tuck seam-side down in the baking dish. Repeat with all the mozzarella until you run out of prosciutto, placing each prosciutto-wrapped ball tightly against the next, nestling them all into the baking dish.

Top the mozzarella balls with the other cup of arrabiata sauce, making sure to cover the entire surface of the baking dish. Sprinkle the top with a little grated pecorino and drop a few slices of extra mozzarella around the top. Bake in your preheated oven for 20 minutes or until the dish is heated through and bubbling. If you'd like, you can place under the broiler for an additional 2-3 minutes until the cheese on top is toasted.

Top the baked dish with a few leaves of fresh basil. Serve immediately.

13+ Reader Tips for Reducing Food Waste in Your Kitchen

Last week I wrote a post featuring 10 tips to reduce food waste this year. The post featured some ideas that I've been incorporating in my own kitchen in order to save money, eat healthier, and stop wasting so much food. With the recent devastation in Haiti, it's become impossible in the past week to ignore the amount of poverty and lack of food that people in this world are living with. It's also made a lot of us even more aware of just how much STUFF we all have and buy and consume and (unfortunately) waste.

While it's true that making the effort to not waste a bag of arugula is not actually going to make a difference in the life a hungry family elsewhere in the world; I still strongly believe that it's our duty to be good stewards of all that we've been blessed with. That stewardship starts at home, and there is no better place to begin than in our own kitchens.


Rock Shrimp Cobb Salad with Coconut Milk Dressing

There is a little seafood restaurant in the West Village that I've been to about a half-dozen times, each time ordering the exact same meal. The restaurant is called Fish, and the meal consists of raw oysters, an ecstatically good appetizer called "Angels on Horseback" (oysters, wrapped in bacon, broiled to a crisp, then served topped with horseradish and cocktail sauce), and a giant lobster cobb salad for my main. We also usually go through a couple bottles of the same vinho verde--a light, slightly-green hued Portuguese wine. For dessert, I admit to sometimes getting a second order of the aforementioned Angels on Horseback.

Fish is a lovely little place, but it's in the West Village and I live in Harlem so the commute isn't ideal. The other day, during a quiet afternoon at home, I started craving the perfect melding of lobster-avocado-bacon and decided it was definitely time to recreate a version of it at home.

Instead of lobster, I decided to experiment with significantly more affordable rock shrimp. Rock shrimp are small, sweet shrimp with a texture that's nearly identical to that of a spiny lobster. They're usually sold already peeled and deveined (since peeling them by hand can be tricky; the shell really is hard as a "rock"), and cook quickly for a lobster-like meal in just a couple minutes.

I chose peppery baby arugula for my salad and topped it with rows of crisp and crumbled bacon, tiny round grape tomatoes, diced avocados, and the rock shrimp--which I seasoned with lemon juice and sauteed in bacon fat. I would have added a hard-boiled egg, but I got impatient and decided to skip it. I confess that I completely forgot about the container of crumbled Gorgonzola hidden behind the milk.

I did not, however, forget about the dressing! Cobb salad is generally served with one of two dressings: a tangy vinaigrette or a much creamier mayo-based dressing. (I'm sure you'll have no trouble figuring out which kind I prefer... )

Relying on my taste memory, I whisked together a creamy coconut milk dressing with a few spoonfuls of mayo (for flavor!), Dijon mustard, lemon juice, smoked paprika, cayenne, my homemade garlic-onion powder, and just a dollop of honey to round everything out. The result was lovely and light with just a hint of smokiness from the paprika.

Like most salads, this one is easy to play around with. Use regular shrimp, bay scallops, or spring for that lobster. Add cucumbers or use a mix of greens (a handful of my favorite Upland Cress would be amazing here!). I didn't miss the egg, but I think the cheese would give it something lovely. Even the dressing is flexible (although I think I'll probably keep my version as is).

New to Always Order Dessert? Consider subscribing to my RSS feed, follow me on Twitter, or sign up to receive my once-a-week e-mail updates by filling in your address in the box on the right. And if you ever need any entertaining or cooking advice, please don't hesitate to e-mail me.

Rock Shrimp Cobb Salad
Serves 2, generously. Can be doubled as necessary.


For the Salad:
4 strips center cut bacon
1 pound rock shrimp, peeled and deveined
Juice of 1 half lemon
1 avocado, diced
1 cup grape tomatoes, washed and dried
1/4 cup of crumbled Gorgonzola cheese (optional)
5 cups baby arugula (can also use watercress, upland cress, chopped romaine, etc.)

For the dressing:
1/2 cup coconut milk
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard (preferably creamy, not grainy)
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon honey
1 teaspoon smoked Spanish paprika
1/2 teaspoon cayenne
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon onion powder
Freshly ground black pepper
Kosher salt

Prepare the dressing: Whisk together all the dressing ingredients until fully combined. Taste for seasoning, adding salt and pepper as necessary. Set aside.

Fry bacon over medium heat in a heavy-bottom skillet until crisp throughout. Remove from the pan and let cool slightly before crumbling. Set aside, reserving the bacon fat.

Raise the heat to medium high and add the rock shrimp to the hot bacon fat. Saute for 1-2 minutes, until the shrimp are fully cooked and opaque. Add in the lemon juice and toss well to coat. Remove from the heat and let cool.

Assemble the salad: Fill a large bowl with the arugula. Arrange the shrimp, avocado, tomatoes, crumbled bacon, and Gorgonzola (if using) in single rows above the arugula. Serve with the dressing on the side. Just before eating, toss the salad with a 1/4 cup of the dressing, reserving the rest on the side for guests to serve themselves.

The BluePrint Cleanse: A Detox with Dessert!

This past Saturday, I completed six days on The BluePrint Cleanse, a juice detox program that has seriously captured my heart.

If you've spent any amount of time poking around this blog, you've probably already realized that I have a penchant for lush and decadent meals capped off with a bit of sweetness. Because of this, it may surprise you to know that a few times a year (usually around the start of a new season) I like to take a few days off from the indulgence in order to cleanse and refresh my body and digestive system.

My favorite is The BluePrint Cleanse, a raw vegan juice cleanse that is prepared fresh and delivered to your door in conveniently numbered bottles. I love it so much, I've already done it three times, and am already plotting my fourth.

The night before I started, a delivery man showed up at my door with three cute little cooler bags. Inside each were six numbered bottles containing a selection of three different juices. Since I did the Excavation (or the "strictest") cleanse, the juices were Green Juice (a mix of Apple, Kale, Romaine, Celery, Parsley, Cucumber, and Spinach), Spicy Lemonade (Lemonade made with agave and a hint of cayenne), and Cashew Nut Milk (Cashews, filtered water, vanilla, cinnamon).

The juices are meant to be consumed about an hour or two apart in lieu of any other food. It's a somewhat terrifying prospect for someone who loves to eat (and a lot, at that!), but the truth is that the juices really do keep you sated throughout the day. There were even some times when I had to force the juices down because I was so full.

BPC also (wisely) includes a "Cheat Sheet" with acceptable snacks or foods that you can safely incorporate without negating the effect of the cleanse. The cheats are yummy: a 1/4 of an avocado, a few sticks of celery, some warm vegetable broth (I like to kick up that last one by slicing in some garlic and ginger and letting them simmer--it makes for a spicy and satisfying detox soup). They also mention that it's OK to nosh on a few pieces of seaweed, and I found that a handful of kale chips on the first couple days also helped make it easier.

The best part of it is that the juices actually taste good!
  • The green juice is sweet with just a little hint of herbal undertones. I actually like to add some lemon juice to it to cut the sweetness a bit. Note that the first time I tried the green juice, I actually *didn't* love it; but with my second and third bottles this went away and now I actually crave it. This seemed to be the case in other reviews that I read so I urge you to give it a chance when you first try it. It helps to pour it over ice and add lots of lemon juice.
  • The spicy lemonade (those of you who have attempted that horrid "Master Cleanse" or "Lemonade Diet" will probably already have an idea of how this tastes) is amazing! The cayenne gives it a little kick (I'm all for heat in my beverages!) and it makes for a great afternoon snack.
  • The final drink, the Cashew milk, is my favorite(!!!). I look forward to this one all day and relish drinking it. It's actually what inspired my homemade pecan milk, because I wanted to be able to cap my evenings off with it all the time. The drink is creamy, sweet, and comforting, with yummy hints of cinnamon and vanilla. For a girl who always orders dessert, I love that the BluePrint Cleanse comes with that extra bit of sweetness!
Each time I've done the BPC, I finished off my week feeling refreshed and full of energy. My skin is clear and glow-y, I sleep better, and I drop an average of about 7lbs--most of which is water weight, but which actually stays off! I really look at it as a great way to cleanse my system and get a great head start on eating (slightly) better.

In an effort to make this post a little more useful for my readers, I contacted BluePrint to ask them if they would be willing to provide me with a discount code that I can share with all of you, and they happily agreed!

If you're planning on ordering a BluePrint Cleanse, I would urge you to use the discount code Goal10 when you place your order. This BluePrint Cleanse discount code is exclusive for readers of Always Order Dessert and will save you 10% on the cost of the detox. Note that it's only available to the first 50 readers who use it, so please be sure to take advantage of it soon.

(Oh and since you (and probably the FTC) might be wondering, I am not receiving a single cent from BPC for writing this or for offering you the discount. I seriously just love it and wanted to share in case any of you are looking to try it out for yourselves!)

I'd love to hear from my readers who have tried BluePrint Cleanse or who decide to give it a shot. Leave me a comment with your questions or thoughts about the cleanse. Or send me an e-mail. I hope you guys enjoy!!

Kitchen Tip: 10 Tips for Reducing Food Waste

Despite my best intentions, I've realized that each week, I throw out at least a couple bags or containers of spoiled food. I don't know about you, but I get an awful feeling watching the once lush bag of cilantro sitting in a murky and slimy green puddle on top of the trash.

I know I'm not alone; a recent study found that Americans throw away 50% more food today than they did back in 1974. How awful is that? Not only is 50% more food going to waste, a lot of money is also being tossed away along with the slimy parsley and shriveled carrots.

In my apartment, I've estimated that I probably throw out about 10 to 15 dollars worth of unwanted food a week (think freezer-burned leftovers, poorly stored grains, spoiled produce, etc.). In a year, that's enough money for a decadent multi-course dinner at a top NY restaurant or a round-trip ticket to the Caribbean!

In an effort to reduce food waste in my own kitchen, I've started incorporating the following tips into my regular routine and will try to make a habit of each of them by year's end. Even just by following one or two of these, I've found that I'm throwing out a heck of a lot less. If you're looking for ways to curb food waste in your own home, perhaps some of these tips will help:


Kale Chips & Project 365

I have a new snacking obsession and can happily report that unlike some of my others, this one is entirely virtuous.

Kale chips aren't a new invention and are popular among health enthusiasts, raw foodists, and vegetarians. I am none of those three, but I really do love these. Fresh kale is rinsed and dried, then tossed with a drizzle of olive oil and a hint of seasoning. I like mineral-rich Celtic sea salt, but have also toyed with other seasonings--cayenne pepper, Old Bay, a shower of cracked black pepper and found all lovely.

The crisp chips take about 30 minutes to prepare and bake (really, it's not baking; it's drying) and disappear in mere seconds. Light as air and nori-thin, with just a hint of earthiness and (of course) that addictive salinity; I was able to consume two entire bunches of Lacinato kale during a single episode of The Office.

It's January and we're all still being good. Sticking to our resolutions. Making declarations for the year. These detox and resolution-friendly chips might be just the thing to keep us going a few weeks longer than usual.

I photographed these for Day 5 of my Project 365, in which I photograph one new and different thing a day, every day, for the entirety of this year. There are a lot of us doing it, sharing support and secrets and things we didn't know about each other with each photo. There is even a group just for food bloggers who have taken on the challenge (thanks to the lovely and talented Shannalee of Food Loves Writing).

And yes, since you must be wondering, I did change the look of things here a bit. The macarons are resting in a folder on my hard drive in order to make way for something a little different. I know you might miss them, but I hope you'll appreciate the fresh coat of a paint. It's a sign of good things to come, I'm sure!

New to Always Order Dessert? Consider subscribing to my RSS feed, follow me on Twitter, or sign up to receive my once-a-week e-mail updates by filling in your address in the box on the right. And if you ever need any entertaining or cooking advice, please don't hesitate to e-mail me.

Kale Chips

1 bunch Lacinato (dinosaur) or regular kale, rinsed and gently patted dry
Olive oil
salt (I like Celtic sea salt, but at least try and use Kosher)
Desired seasonings (optional)

Special Equipment: 2 parchment-lined cookie sheets

Tear the leaves off the thick stems of the kale. Toss in a bowl with a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkle of salt. If you're adding any additional spices, add them now. Toss to make sure the leaves are well coated. Arrange in a single layer on parchment paper-lined cookie sheets.

Bake in a 250 degree oven for 20-25 minutes or until the leaves are dry and crisped. Let cool for 1-2 minutes before removing from the parchment paper. Serve and enjoy immediately

What I Want This Year

After all my active campaigning for the Shorty Awards, I decided today that I want to take a couple minutes to share a few words about the way I use Twitter to both expand Always Order Dessert and my own personal brand, but even more importantly, about my (many!) goals for the site this year. This is a little different from my usual posts, but one that I hope will fill you in a bit on how I see and use and view my presence here on the Web.

I joined Twitter back in June of 2007 when I heard about it from a fellow blogger in the NY Bloggers Meetup group I created and used to run. He was raving about it so I decided to check it out. My first tweet was something along the lines of "Just setting up my Twitter..." but, I confess, that was probably about it for the next year or so.

Then, sometime in the middle of 2008, I started up again. I honestly don't remember why; I just remember that I suddenly really liked it. I loved the instant connection with people all over the globe. I followed every food blogger, food writer, chef, etc., that I could find and reveled in the direct access that I now had at my fingertips. I started conversations with bloggers I had previously only read, and it wasn't long before we were chatting regularly and helping each other out with recipes and ideas. The phrase "my Twitter friend" became a regular part of my vocabulary.

I know there are plenty of people out there who think it's a waste of time, but it really isn't. I've had some pretty incredible things happen in my life 100% because of Twitter. I've met great people that I now consider my friends. I've been invited to events I would have never heard about. I've gotten dinner reservations that I couldn't get through the phone. I made a pretty important Mashable list of Foodies to follow on Twitter that brought Always Order Dessert and my writing to the attention of reporters, publicists, and agents who have encouraged me to take further steps with my career. Even simply being linked to a great article or story that inspired me or moved me in some way--a link that I would have never seen had I not been on Twitter. These things (and a heck of a lot more) are proof to me that this site is anything but a waste of time.

I use the site to communicate and share about my day and what I'm doing. I also ask for help. Twitter can sometimes be like an amazing global customer service. Any question you have, guaranteed, there is someone out there who can answer it. Usually several people! I try to foster this by answering as many questions as I possibly can, and generously (I hope!) sharing my own different kinds of expertise (or even just experience) with the community.

If I had to pick between Facebook and Twitter, I'd pick Twitter without hesitation. I'd pick it because no other medium (not even this blog) gives me the kind of direct one-on-one communication with so many people. If you ask me something on Twitter, I will answer you. If you just drop me a note to say hi, I will respond. If you ask for help with a recipe or for suggestions on what to do with an ingredient, I'll gladly give it.

I will let you know right away that I'm not one of those people who instantly follow everyone back, but I have a good reason. Since I want Twitter to be about more than just collecting "friends," I need there to be some kind of connection before I will take that step. I really like to have at least some kind of basis before I follow someone. I want to open the conversation first. But I promise you that if you respond to me a few times or send me a quick hello and introduce yourself and are open in a way that's beyond simply sending out links or self-promotion, then I will follow you, guaranteed. Every now and then I send out a message that says "introduce yourself" and when I do it's because I really do want to know who is following me. I want to get to know you!

(And if you notice that we've been chatting, but I'm still not following you. Well then just ask me to! I probably just assumed that I already was. That's the amazing thing about the Web: nearly everything you want can be yours just by asking. The trick is figuring the who and how, of course)

I should also note that I'm the same way when it comes to e-mail. If you ever have any recipe questions, ideas for something you'd like to see on the site, questions about what to do with an ingredient, or are even looking for some party planning or entertaining ideas, please don't hesitate to e-mail me. Seriously. I freaking love answering those kinds of messages. Sometimes it might take me a few days to get back to you if I've gotten a lot of mail, but you can totally just forward me the note and follow-up. Nudge me all you want!

I've got a lot planned for Always Order Dessert in 2010. It's my goal to post twice as many original recipes as I did last year. I've already started working on articles about entertaining (primarily about entertaining in small apartment spaces like the one that I, and probably most of you, live in) that I'm really excited to share with you. I'm planning more videos, playlists, and events. It's my dream to have this site become major this year and I hope you'll all stick along for the ride.

I'm not sure if I've ever shared this with you guys, but I love this blog. I mean that. I love what I do here more than anything else that I do in my day (I'm including the cooking as part of what I "do" here). I joke around about it, but this site is totally my baby. Even when I'm at work and totally committed to what I'm doing there, the plans and ideas keep unfolding in the back of my head. Over the holidays I took a lot of time to think about the things I want to achieve this year and I've laid them all out here. You're welcome to take a look. Let me know what you think. Let me know if you have any ideas.

One of the best things about always ordering dessert after a great meal, besides the deliciousness of course, is that it gives you a little more time to relax and extend the conversation.

So let's do that. Let's keep talking. And (most importantly!) let's have fun!

New to Always Order Dessert? Consider subscribing to my RSS feed, follow me on Twitter, or sign up to receive my once-a-week e-mail updates by filling in your address in the box on the right. And if you ever need any entertaining or cooking advice, please don't hesitate to e-mail me.

Retro Recipes: Molded Salmon Mousse

A creamy and savory salmon molded salmon mousse is a classic and kitschy way to feed a crowd. Made from canned salmon (this is basically the ONLY thing canned salmon is really good for) and pantry staples, it's a budget friendly dish that will be sure impress. And yes, you can replace fresh cooked salmon for the canned salmon, or sub 1 cup of the canned salmon for 1 cup of smoked salmon. Or you can even try it with tuna! It's a very adaptable recipe; just have fun with it!

For my retro party, I made this mousse in two really cute fish-shaped molds I found at Sur La Table for about $10 each. I used paprika, olives, and pimentos to decorate the finished mold and served it atop a bed of fresh dill with a knife and plenty of crackers for snacking.

The mousse can be made up to 24 hours in advance and unmolded just before serving. To quickly release it, I just filled a basin with hot water and quickly dipped the underside of the mold in it for a quick 15 seconds. I placed a plate over the mold and quickly flipped it over. It slid out easily (if it doesn't, just repeat the dip in the hot water and try again).

I used an olive cut in half to make an eye, strips of pimento to make scales, and a dusting of pimento for color. The salmon mousse leftovers will keep well-wrapped in the fridge for an additional 2-3 days after your party.

Oh! And just so you know. If you have trouble finding a mold or something goes wrong while taking the mold out, (nothing will! Don't worry!...but just in case) you can just whip it up and serve as a regular dip. None will be the wiser!

New to Always Order Dessert? Consider subscribing to my RSS feed, follow me on Twitter, or sign up to receive my once-a-week e-mail updates by filling in your address in the box on the right. And if you ever need any entertaining or cooking advice, please don't hesitate to e-mail me.

Molded Salmon MousseServes about 20 as part of a party buffet; can be halved

1.5 envelopes unflavored gelatin
1/4 cup cold water
1/2 cup boiling water
1/2 cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons finely diced shallots
Dash of Tabasco (I used a smoked chipotle tabasco for a little smokey heat)
1 tablespoon smoked spanish paprika (plus more for garnish)
2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh dill
2 cups flaked canned salmon, skin and bones removed (can replace 1 cup smoked salmon for 1 cup of the canned salmon)
1 cup heavy cream

Watercress or fresh dill, crackers, pimentos, for garnish and serving


1. Soften the gelatin in the cold water in a large mixing bowl. Stir in the boiling water and whisk the mixture slowly until the gelatin dissolves. Cool to room temperature.

2. Whisk in the mayonnaise, lemon juice, diced shallot, Tabasco, smoked paprika, salt, and dill. Stir to blend completely and refrigerate until the mixture begins to thicken slightly, about 25 minutes.

3. Use a food processor to puree the flaked salmon (use a little cream if the mixture sticks). Fold this pureed salmon into the slightly gelled mayonnaise mixture using a spatula.

4.In a separate bowl or the base of your mixer, whip the cream until it is thickened to soft peaks and fluffy. Fold gently into the salmon mixture (don't worry if a few small white streaks remain).

5. Transfer the mixture to a 6- to 8-cup bowl or decorative mold. (I used 2 4-cup fish-shaped molds I purchased from Sur La Table for $10 each.) Cover and refrigerate for at least 5 hours.

6. To serve, dip the bottom of the mold in a basin of hot water for 20 seconds, then overturn onto a serving dish. Garnish with fresh dill or watercress. If using a fish shaped mold, use an olive to make the fish "eye" and pimento strips to make scales. Add crackers or toast points (I like pumpernickel!) for serving

Help me beat Tyler Florence in the Shorty Awards!

It's January, which means it's award season and the Shorty Awards (think of them as the Oscars of Twitter) are officially accepting nominations for the best Twitter users in a variety of categories. I have been nominated for an award in the #food category and am doing quite well, but I have one major obstacle. His name is Tyler Florence.

Now I love Tyler. He's adorable and his cookbook is one of my favorites...but does he REALLY need the publicity and recognition of a Shorty Award? No way! The dude already has shows and cookbooks.

I, on the other hand, don't have shows and cookbooks (yet!) and I think this Shorty award could help me get a little closer. Don't you want to help me get a little closer? (Hint: It only takes 15 seconds!)

I thought you might!!

Here is what you can do: Unlike other awards that ask you to set up an account or login, you can easily submit your vote via Twitter using your existing account; or through the site using your Twitter login info. It takes 15 seconds and would mean the world to me. How great is that? Just 15 seconds to make my day!

So I'm asking, if you've enjoy chatting with me on Twitter or have ever gotten a recipe from me that you really loved...would you give me 15 seconds to nominate me?

Here are the two easy ways to do this:

1. Visit, sign in using your existing Twitter account, enter why you're nominating me, then hit submit. Voila! That's all!


2. Simply Tweet the following sentence on the Twitter website or through whatever service you use to update your account (Tweetdeck, Twitterberry, etc.)
"I nominate @nandita for a Shorty Award in #food because...
[enter your reason here; doesn't have to be super complicated]"

That's it!!
Oh but you want to do MORE?!
  • Retweet this link out to your followers and ask them to vote for me too.
  • Pop this link into your Facebook status so that others can support the cause.
  • E-mail this out to everyone you know and ask them to support my campaign.

Together we can totally take down Tyler!!

*I took the above photo at an event I went to last year where I met Tyler and Duff. They were both great and while I can't remember the exact conversation they were having in that picture, I'm pretty sure it went something like that...

New to Always Order Dessert? Consider subscribing to my RSS feed, follow me on Twitter, or sign up to receive my once-a-week e-mail updates by filling in your address in the box on the right. And if you ever need any entertaining or cooking advice, please don't hesitate to e-mail me.

Retro Recipes: Sparkling Gin Punch

This retro and sparkle-y pink punch is a great beverage to serve at a cocktail party or outdoor bash. This was a hit at my recent 1960s cocktail party, and is definitely going to become one of my party staples. The recipe can also be cut to smaller amounts and served in a pitcher if you're just having a few friends over (this would be particularly fun for a Girl's Night, although the guys at the party really did love it too!).

You'll notice that in the recipe I call for a large ice block in place of regular cubes. A large ice block is preferable to using ice cubes when chilling a punch since they dissolve much slower and will keep your punch from getting watered down. Don't worry about trying to find this at the grocery store; you can easily make an ice block at home by filling a medium-sized Tupperware container or decorative mold with filtered or bottled water and freezing. To release, run the bottom quickly under hot water for about 20 seconds. I sometimes like to pretty it up a bit by adding a handful of maraschino cherries, raspberries, or edible flowers to the ice block for decoration.

I'm going to (slowly, but surely) continue to post all the recipes from my retro/Mad Men cocktail party on the site, but if you would like any specific ones, feel free to email me to and give me a little nudge (my contact info is below).

New to Always Order Dessert? Consider subscribing to my RSS feed, follow me on Twitter, or sign up to receive my once-a-week e-mail updates by filling in your address in the box on the right. And if you ever need any entertaining or cooking advice, please don't hesitate to e-mail me.

Sparkling Gin Punch
adapted from Gourmet Magazine, 1967

20 oranges, juiced
12 lemons, juiced
2 quarts gin
4 jiggers grenadine
6 dashes orange bitters
2 quarts chilled soda water
ice block for chilling

Combine the orange juice, lemon juice, gin, grenadine, and orange bitters in a large punch bowl. Add a large ice block to chill (see note below). Just before you are ready to serve, add a large ice block to chill and pour in 2 quarts of chilled soda water.


Orange & Vanilla Bean Marmalade

I got the idea to make orange marmalade the day after Christmas, when I was sitting at the kitchen table in my parents' house with my dad and Eugene watching an old rerun of The Barefoot Contessa.

In the overly-scripted episode, Ina was home in her spacious Hampton's kitchen, working on an elaborate breakfast basket which she'd (allegedly) been commissioned to make by her friend Barbara's daughter who, as Ina reminded us multiple times, had just had a baby named Summer. Summer's mom wanted to surprise her own mother with a visit and so she and Ina were "conspiring" to surprise the new grandmother with a Barefoot Contessa breakfast basket. Ina spent two days laboring on this thing, complete with date nut bread, orange cream cheese, muesli, yogurt, fresh fruit, and homemade orange marmalade.

It was an easy recipe: 8 navel oranges and two lemons are sliced thinly, then brought to a boil in a big pot filled with 8 cups of water and 8 cups of sugar. Once the sugar dissolved, Ina let them soak overnight at room temperature upon which she brought them to a boil again and let the liquid reduce and the fruit come up to about 220 degrees (F). Then she poured this into mason jars she sanitized in the dishwasher (without soap) and added to the raffia filled basket.

In the episode, Summer's mom showed up and with barely more than a thank you, hurriedly grabbed the basket to head over to Barbara's house. Barbara was overcome with surprise to see her daughter and new baby (although not, interestingly enough, the Food Network camera crew that met them at the house and followed them into the kitchen). The worst part, and the part that has me thinking very little of Barbara's daughter, is that she completely TOOK THE CREDIT FOR INA'S BASKET!!!. Her mom was all like "You made this yourself?!" and she was all like "Yes I did!"

I don't know if you read my blog, Ina Garten, but if you do, you should stick with Jeffrey and your entourage of gay male cheese-shop-owning friends. They, at least, give credit where credit is due.

I’m incapable of leaving well enough alone (even when it’s an Ina Garten recipe), so I altered my marmalade slightly with the addition of the juice of a third lemon, a pinch of sea salt, two whole vanilla beans, and a swish of balsamic vinegar. The result was a sweet and bitter marmalade redolent with hints of vanilla. I also used a food processor to process about 2/3 of my marmalade to give it a smoother texture. The best part, though, are the gorgeous specks of vanilla suspended throughout the finished bottles.

The marmalade will keep in sanitized jars for about a year in the pantry (if it lasts that long, of course), or you can just pour it into any heatproof container and store in the fridge for a month or two. I gave a few of my jars away and kept three to enjoy with Eugene on our morning bagels or, in his case, on a cracker with a mug of tea.

New to Always Order Dessert? Consider subscribing to my RSS feed, follow me on Twitter, or sign up to receive my once-a-week e-mail updates by filling in your address in the box on the right. And if you ever need any entertaining or cooking advice, please don't hesitate to e-mail me.

Orange & Vanilla Bean Marmalade
Adapted from a recipe by Ina Garten (The Barefoot Contessa)


4 large seedless oranges (I used navel oranges)
2 whole lemons + the juice of a third lemon
2 vanilla beans, split down the middle
8 cups sugar
8 cups water
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon sea salt


1. Cut the oranges and lemons in half lengthwise, then slice thinly into half-moon slices (by hand or with a mandolin). Be sure to toss out any seeds in the lemons.

2. Combine the sliced fruit in a large pot with the 2 vanilla beans, lemon juice, 8 cups of sugar, and 8 cups of water. Turn the heat to high and bring to a boil. Stir until all the sugar is dissolved and turn off the heat. Cover and let sit at room temperature for at least 8 hours or overnight (I let mine soak for 14 hours)

3. After the oranges have soaked for at least 8 hours, bring the heat back up to a boil then reduce to medium-low and let simmer uncovered for about 2 hours. Swirl in the tablespoon of balsamic and the teaspoon of salt and stir into the fruit.

4. Bring the heat back up to boil and let boil for 30 minutes, skimming off any foam that forms (optional--it will produce a clearer marmalade). Insert a candy thermometer and let continue to simmer until it reaches 220 degrees. (You can test it to see if it's ready by placing a teaspoon of marmalade on a plate and placing it in the fridge to cool. Use your finger to push the marmalade--if it is still runny, it's not ready. If it wrinkles slightly, it's perfect. If it's too thick you can add more water to thin it out before canning.)

5. Remove the vanilla beans and cut into large pieces, one for each jar. Pour the marmalade into clean, hot canning jars (I used clean old jam jars that I ran through the sanitizing cycle of my dishwasher) and bury a piece of vanilla bean in each. Wipe the rims with a damp paper towel and seal. You can store in the refrigerator or in the pantry for up to a year.

Guest Post: Eugene's Seafood Feast

Editor's Note: This year for New Year's Eve I attempted the most difficult task I've ever undertaken in the kitchen...I let someone else do the cooking. Eugene decided that he wanted to be the one to prepare the feast this year and so, with only a hint of reluctance, I handed over my Dutch oven and resigned myself to sitting quietly in the living room while he did all the cooking. Well, sort of...

Here, in his own words, Eugene relates the tale of our New Year's Eve feast.


Emily Dickinson never let Judge Otis Lord write her poems. Alfred Stieglitz never painted a portrait of Georgia O'Keeffe's lady parts. Joseph Albright never sat across Kim Jong Il in his wife's stead. However on New Year's Eve 2009, Eugene Smolenskiy tried to cook a 3-course, 5-dish dinner for Alejandra Ramos.

A little background is in order.

Alejandra and I spent New Year's Eve 2008 in our apartment where she prepared a lovely dinner while I popped champagne corks. As great an evening as that was, I felt that this girl deserved to be taken out and paraded around in a fabulous evening dress at a classy New York City party. I became resolute in making that happen at the upcoming turn of the decade, but clearly things did not work out as I had intended. In the intervening time between Thanksgiving and the week leading up to New Year's Eve, Alejandra and I booked a one-week trip to Puerto Rico and threw an over-the-top 1960s-themed Christmas Party. I have to admit, I felt a bit of sticker shock, and therefore had to make the executive decision that New Year's Eve 2009 was going to have to be less ambitious than I had originally wanted.

Of course "less ambitious" does not mean "slummin'" by any stretch of the imagination. I optioned to impress my lady by really extending my very limited culinary abilities and put together a feast worthy of the great Alejandra Ramos. Coming up with some dishes that she would love proved difficult at first: "Just make something I would want to eat." A bit later, Alejandra provided some additional parameters: "No potatoes, no pasta." Fair enough. No longer working in the complete dark but within a murky fog, I put out the idea of cooking a seafood meal, which was received with an appreciable amount of enthusiasm and excitement. I had my theme.

I had decided on featuring my favorite kinds of seafood: crab, lobster, and shrimp, so I jumped on the computer and began looking for appealing recipes. A few minutes on Google and Tastespotting and I had what looked like brilliant recipes for Lobster Bisque, Broiled Lobster Tails, and Shrimp Skewers with Cilantro Pesto. The bisque was going to be the opening course, followed by the shrimp and lobster as the main, but I still needed a side. Initially I was thinking vegetables, but ended up deciding (with a suggestion from Alejandra) on a Lemon Risotto.

The dessert took a little longer to pick. For some reason I wanted to do something with strawberries despite the fact that winter is not strawberry season. But hey, this is America, if I want strawberries in December, then by God there will be strawberries in December (I think the Founding Fathers would have been proud).[Editor's Note: Please be advised that the opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the writer and do not reflect those of the owner and editor of this site, whom we hear actually prefers to eat her berries when they are lush and locally in season]. Jumping back on Tastespotting and doing a search for 'strawberries,' I found a delectable-looking recipe for a Strawberry Chocolate Chip Bread Pudding. I put the grocery order into FreshDirect and gave myself a hearty pat on the back for constructing a scrumptious menu that had class and taste in spades.

My two biggest concerns going into the dinner: timing and risotto.

I was having a hard time figuring out the correct timing for starting the various dishes and stages of prep. Do I start the bisque and then marinate the shrimp? Do I get the risotto going and then prep the lobster tails? Do I toast the bread pudding bread before making the shrimp marinade? I feared the risotto. I have seen enough Hell's Kitchen episodes to know that a risotto can flummox even the most experienced of chefs. I did not want Alejandra to smash plates and yell obscenities in a British accent if I happened to overcook the rice.

Putting all these fears, questions, and doubts aside (I figured I'd just wing it), I sprang into action chopping shallots, mincing garlic, defrosting the shrimp and the lobster, melting butter, etc. As soon as I got the first dish on the stove (the risotto) things started to get hectic. Failing to realize how closely the risotto needed to be monitored (constantly adding broth, stirring) I quickly began to lose my cool. Ingredients and containers began to fly, the floor became a work surface and the sink quickly ran out of space, no longer able to accept the constant stream of dirty bowls and utensils. The entire time I tried to put on a brave face for Alejandra, who was quietly watching me from the kitchen entrance.

"Do you need me to put away some of these dirty dishes?"
"No it's ok, I got it."
"Do you want me to chop something?"
"No, everything is under control."
"Did you season the risotto yet?"
"No, not yet, I'll get to it after I get this bisque going."
"Do you want me to keep an eye on it?"
"Umm.. well.. okay."

And so it was Alejandra's turn to spring into action, which she did, seasoning and stirring, leaving me free to concentrate on the bisque and prepping the lobster tails--which I forgot to do in advance. While the bisque was simmering, I marinated and skewered the shrimp and marinated and broiled the lobster. Alejandra finished off the risotto and moved to assembling the bread pudding while I finished off the tails and broiled the shrimp.

In the end, the dinner was an amazing success. Everything was cooked to perfection and tasted amazing. The meal was complemented by an incredible Cupcake Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc (highly, highly, highly recommend!) and St. Germain-champagne cocktails. I might have been over-ambitious in terms of selecting a menu that matched my abilities, but with the help of this amazing woman, without whom I could not live--never mind cook--without, the evening turned out to be one that I'm sure we'll remember for the rest of our lives.

[Editor's Note: It really was a wonderful meal!]

New to Always Order Dessert? Consider subscribing to my RSS feed, follow me on Twitter, or sign up to receive my once-a-week e-mail updates by filling in your address in the box on the right. And if you ever need any entertaining or cooking advice, please don't hesitate to e-mail me.
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