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Laura Holmes Haddad

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San Anselmo, California

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Laura Holmes Haddad, a.k.a. The Grrl, is a freelance wine and food writer. A graduate of Smith College and the California Culinary Academy, Laura worked as a caterer and then as a cookbook editor at Simon & Schuster before devoting her time to writing.
Laura’s work has appeared in Wine Mutineer, Beverage Media, The Tasting Panel, and Wines & Vines magazines as well as iVillage.com, WineEnthusiast.com, MyRecipes.com, and travelandleisure.com. Her book Anything But Chardonnay: A Guide to the Other Grapes was published by Stewart, Tabori & Chang in 2008. She is co-author of Pure Flavor: 125 Fresh, All-American Recipes from the Pacific Northwest and Lulu Powers, Food to Flowers: Simple, Stylish Food for Easy Entertaining. Her latest collaboration is Plats du Jour: A Journey Through the Seasons with the girl & the fig restaurant, due out in November 2011.
Laura launched her website www.gourmetgrrl.com in 2004 where she offers advice to busy foodies seeking a one-stop spot for the latest trends in food, wine, and cocktails. Laura currently resides in Los Angeles with her husband and daughter, where she can be found drinking Champagne and wondering what to make for dinner.

Articles by Author

Pumpkin Sage Puffs a Great Holiday Appetizer Image

There’s a lot of waiting on Thanksgiving Day. There’s waiting for family and friends to arrive, waiting for the turkey to roast, waiting for the potatoes to cook. All that waiting makes you work up an appetite, especially, and inevitably, when things run late.

Forget the sad bowl of nuts on the coffee table. Something warm and lovely is in order on Thanksgiving Day. Feed your guests a small bite to hold them over until the main event. These savory, autumn-inspired puffs are just the thing. They’re creamy, crunchy, and bite-sized and perfect with a glass of Champagne. They look fussy but are actually a breeze to pull together.

Pre-baked phyllo cups are found in virtually every supermarket and you can make the filling the night before. Now just don’t keep your guests waiting too long.

Pumpkin Sage Puffs

Makes 30 pieces

Ingredients

2 packages miniature pre-baked phyllo cups

2 tablespoons olive oil

½ small onion, minced

1 15-ounce can pumpkin purée

½ cup ricotta cheese

1 large egg

2 tablespoons chopped fresh sage

3 slices cooked bacon, chopped fine

Salt and freshly ground pepper

Directions

1. Place the phyllo cups on two baking sheets. Preheat the oven to 350 F.

2. Heat the olive oil on medium-high heat and add the onions and a good pinch of salt. Sauté the onions until soft and slightly golden, about 5 minutes.

3. To make the filling, whisk the pumpkin, ricotta, and egg together until smooth. Add the sage and bacon, and season with salt and pepper; stir to combine.

4. Fill each cup just to the top with the filling. (You can make the filling one day ahead and keep it in the refrigerator.)

5. Bake for 15 minutes and serve.

Photo: Pumpkin sage puffs. Credit: Laura Holmes Haddad

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Raising the Pumpkin Bar: A Pie-Free Dessert Image

I’m a fairly tolerant parent when it comes to food. I give in to my daughter Penelope’s chicken finger cravings once in a while, indulge her preference for plain cheese pizza and let her lick the whisk after I’ve whipped heavy cream.

And while you might think kids will eat every sweet placed in front of them, Penelope won’t touch pumpkin pie. Dealing with finicky eaters is not how I want to spend my Thanksgiving holiday, so this year I’m planning ahead and making a separate desert for the kids’ table: pumpkin bars in a gingerbread crust.

These bars are a mom’s dream: a light filling (a fluffy combo of cream cheese and canned pumpkin) is pressed into a gingersnap crust. Make the bars the day before if the oven is occupied with the turkey (and even get the kids to help stir). A dollop of whipped cream on top doesn’t hurt. You might even see some adults ditching the pie and heading for the kids’ table.

Pumpkin Bars

Serves 14-16

For the crust:

8 ounces gingersnap cookies (about 32 cookies), coarsely broken (see note)

¼ cup (½ stick) salted butter, melted

For the filling:

8 ounces cream cheese, softened

½ cup granulated sugar

3 large eggs, at room temperature (see note)

1 (15-ounce) can pumpkin purée

½ teaspoon cinnamon

¼ teaspoon nutmeg

½ teaspoon ginger

¼ teaspoon ground cloves

¼ teaspoon allspice

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Whipped cream, for serving (optional)

Directions

1. Preheat the oven to 350 F. Grease a 9-by-13-inch baking pan.

2. In a food processor, break up the cookies until finely ground and add the butter. Process until moistened. Press the mixture evenly into the baking pan. Bake for 10 minutes.

3. For the filling, combine the cream cheese, sugar, eggs, pumpkin purée, spices and vanilla in a large mixing bowl. Mix on medium speed until combined.

4. Remove the crust from the oven and pour the filling into the pan. Smooth it until fairly level.

5. Bake for 25 minutes. (Check the bars around 22 minutes; they should be set and look firm but not brown). Let the bars cool in the pan on wire rack until sliceable, about 15 minutes.

6. You can store the bars in the refrigerator in a sealed container for up to 3 days. Just bring them to room temperature before serving.

Note 1: The eggs should be at room temp for at least 30 minutes before baking. Cold eggs will make the cream cheese mixture seize up.

Note 2: Most boxes of gingersnaps are 12 ounces, so use three-quarters of the box.

Photo: Pumpkin bar with gingersnap crust. Credit: Laura Holmes Haddad

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Apple Pie and Politics at ‘Dough for Obama’ Event Image

Writer Joyce Maynard’s philosophy is that pie brings people together.

Pie certainly brought people together  Sept. 30 when more than 15 women and a couple of men gathered at Maynard’s Marin County, Calif., home to learn how to make pie and raise money for President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign.

What Maynard dubbed “Dough for Obama” broke down into two groups — pie makers and eaters — and each group donated to the campaign to spend an unusually warm autumn afternoon making pies, eating pies and talking politics.

Gathering around Maynard’s worn wooden table, guests absorbed her step-by-step instructions on how to make her famous apple pie and then tried their hand at it. Women ranging in age from their 30s to their 70s (and who are artists, writers, photographers, health care workers and a police detective) discussed what brought them together: their political passion, Maynard and their love of pie. For some, it was the first pie they had ever made, and the lure of a hands-on instruction was irresistible.

A tradition of pie and politics

This wasn’t Maynard’s first pie party. The parties started in 2000 after Maynard donated a pie-making lesson to her school’s auction. The $2,000 winning bid from Oracle CEO Larry Ellison, who bought it for his wife, attracted the attention of the local paper. When a journalist asked Maynard whether she was planning any more pie parties, she replied, “I’m baking to defeat Bush.”

She then promptly planned a party to raise money for Vice President Al Gore’s presidential campaign. Since that day, she has taught more than 1,000 people how to make pie while raising money for Gore, Sen. John Kerry and Obama. She also has hosted a daylong baking marathon to benefit victims of the 2010 Haitian earthquake.

Sharing pie wisdom

Maynard’s love of pie is bittersweet. Her mother always told her, “If I ever get a brain tumor I won’t count calories.” In 1989, doctors diagnosed Maynard’s mother with a brain tumor and gave her only weeks to live, so Maynard moved in with her and baked for her mom and her friends.

“Making pie was a comfort to me,” she said.

After her mother passed away and Maynard planned her first Thanksgiving without her kids and ex-husband, she invited friends over to learn how to make pie. Her role as pie-making guru had begun.

The pie lesson that September afternoon was sprinkled with stories and reassuring tips. Maynard’s demonstration was straightforward:

  • To make the filling, use tart, firm apples like Granny Smith, never red delicious.
  • Do not add too much sugar (Maynard uses only a couple of tablespoons).
  • Cut the apples into fairly large pieces.
  • To make the perfect crust use an even mix of shortening and butter.

Maynard loves talking pie. Ever wonder about those airy pies with huge domed tops that look like applesauce when you cut into them? The apples are cut too small. (“I believe in a nice, high pie,” she says.) Her secret pie ingredient? Tapioca. Sprinkle it on the bottom crust before the apples are added to prevent a soggy crust. And she recommends a glass pie dish because it distributes heat more evenly and you can see when the crust is done.

Her teaching is kind, patient and encouraging to first-time bakers and experienced ones. When transferring the top crust from the parchment paper to the pie Maynard said, “Now is moment that requires dive-in courage.”

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Apple pie at the "Dough for Obama" event. Credit: Laura Holmes-Haddad

Maynard’s philosophy puts less emphasis on looks and more on taste. “Mine is not a pretty pie; you can tell it’s made by hand,” she said.

Singer Linda Ronstadt, an avid baker and friend of Maynard’s, surprised everyone by joining the party. Her advice? “Make a pie every day for a week to practice.”

Joyce Maynard’s Apple Pie

Joyce likes to say, “It’s not about the recipe; it’s how you make the pie.” Although she doesn’t use a set recipe, I used her measurements and my notes from the party to create this recipe. This is an adaptation, but it’s the closest thing to being in the kitchen with her!

Makes two 9-inch pie crusts

For the filling:

5-6 crisp apples, such as Granny Smith or Gravenstein

sugar, to taste

cinnamon, to taste (about ½ teaspoon)

1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice (optional)

2-3 tablespoons instant tapioca

For the crust:

3 cups all-purpose flour

¾ teaspoon salt

1 stick cold unsalted butter (plus a little)

½ cup cold shortening (Joyce uses Crisco brand)

1-4 tablespoons ice water

3 tablespoons milk

Equipment:

peeler or paring knife

pastry blender

parchment paper or waxed paper

rolling pin

pie dish (preferably glass)

pastry brush

measuring cup

measuring spoons

Directions

1. Peel the apples and cut them in medium-sized, fat slices.

2. In a mixing bowl combine the apples with the lemon juice (if using), a handful of sugar (depending on how sweet you like it) and a sprinkling of cinnamon. (If you’re not sure if you have enough apple slices, pour them in the pie dish; add more apples if necessary to make a nice, high pie.) Set aside.

3. Before you make the crust, assemble everything you need because once you start you want to work quickly to keep the dough as cold as possible. In a large mixing bowl combine the flour and salt.

4. Cut the butter and shortening into pieces.

5. Add the butter and shortening and using a pastry blender or two forks cut it into the flour until you see little pellets of butter and shortening.

6. Making a well, add 1 tablespoon of ice water and gently mix it in with half the flour using your fingers. (You will make the top crust first.) If the dough seems dry add 1 more tablespoon ice water. The dough should come together but not be too moist or too ragged.

7. Once it sticks together transfer the dough to a parchment or waxed paper-lined counter-top or table. Lightly flour a rolling pin and roll the crust into about ¼-inch thick circle. If it sticks, add a light dusting of flour. You want to handle the dough as little as possible and work quickly to prevent the butter and shortening from melting; that makes a tougher dough. Place the pie pan over the crust and gently flip it over into the pie dish.

8. Press the dough into the pan and cut off any overhanging dough.

9. Sprinkle the bottom crust with tapioca. Set aside while you make the top crust. (If it’s a hot day it’s best to stick it in the refrigerator.)

10. Make the second crust: Add a tablespoon of ice water to remaining flour mixture and gently mix it together until a dough forms, adding more ice water as needed, a tablespoon at a time. Transfer the dough to a parchment or waxed paper-lined counter-top or table and repeat the rolling process listed above.

11. To assemble the pie: Add the apple mixture to the pie dish. In one swift motion carefully flip the bottom crust over the top of the apples. If your aim is off, don’t worry; just adjust the crust and patch any tears or holes. Crimp the edges of the two crusts, sealing them. Using a pastry brush, brush the top of the pie with a little milk and sprinkle with a little sugar. With a sharp knife cut four slits in the top crust to allow steam to escape.

12. Bake the pie at 425 F for 50 to 60 minutes until golden brown and bubbling.

Photo: Apple pie from Joyce Maynard’s “Dough for Obama” event. Credit: Laura Holmes-Haddad

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Review: ‘The Foolproof Freezer Cookbook’ Image

I’ll admit it: before kids, the only things in my freezer were ice cubes, vodka and a pint of gelato. Oh how the mighty have fallen. With kids, I use my freezer for everything: homemade baby food, meat, vegetables, ice cream, chicken stock, shrimp shells, fruit and yes, ice cream. Forget making 30-minute meals every night; with two kids, I want to be able to pull a meal out of my freezer.

So I welcomed the addition of The Foolproof Freezer Cookbook to my kitchen. I needed more inspiration (and more instruction) about what is (and isn’t) freezer-friendly. British cookbook author Ghillie James gives recipes and detailed instructions for stocking the freezer with weeknight meals and party food. And parents of young children, take note: There’s an entire chapter devoted to homemade baby and toddler food.

What I love most about James’ approach is her no-nonsense tone and factual information. She gives her many “reasons to freeze,” with guidelines on freezing and thawing. You don’t need a microwave to thaw frozen food, by the way. I don’t use one, I just use the refrigerator.

Freezer cookbook has adventurous side

I’m crazy about the idea of freezing as way of preserving the fruit of the season. Who doesn’t love the taste of a juicy summer peach on a cold winter morning? And James tells you how to freeze things you might otherwise have thrown out, such as excess egg yolks and white wine. There are flavorful recipes for everything from the more familiar (gazpacho, beef and spinach lasagna, sausage rolls with mustard and poppyseed, and quick double chocolate sheet cake) to the more adventurous (lamb and prune tagine, smoked fish, crab and watercress tart, and mojito sherbet). There are some decidedly British recipes — mincemeat, and orangy syrup tart that won’t be on the top of my must-try list — but there are plenty of others that are now in permanent rotation.

I was skeptical about losing flavor and any icicle freezer burn, but recipe after recipe thaws perfectly and you would never know it came from the freezer. The gorgeous photos and cheerful design add to the appeal.

Here’s a comforting recipe to transition into fall that the whole family will eat. And it’s the perfect way to try out your new freezer skills because the leftovers freeze beautifully. Note: Flageolet beans are immature kidney beans and can be hard to find in the United States; Great Northern beans are a good substitute. The recipe doesn’t call for a specific cut of meat, but I used pork shoulder, which worked well.

Pork and Flageolet Bean Stew

Serves 4

Ingredients

Pork and Flageolet Bean Stew

Pork and Flageolet Bean Stew. Credit: Laura Holmes Haddad

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

1 large onion, cut into wedges, or 3 good handfuls of frozen chopped onion

1 pound frozen cubes of pork leg, or fresh pork, cut into bite-size pieces

1½ inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and chopped

1 large garlic clove, chopped

3 carrots, peeled and chopped

1 medium baking apple, peeled, cored, and sliced, or a handful of frozen apple slices

heaping ⅓ cup white wine

1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

3 tablespoons honey

1 tablespoon soy sauce

1¼ cups vegetable stock

6 mushrooms, sliced, or 2 handfuls frozen mushroom slices

1 (14-ounce) can flageolet beans, drained and rinsed

1 medium zucchini, trimmed and sliced

Directions

1. Preheat the oven to 300 F.

2. In a heavy-bottomed casserole dish, heat the oil and add the onion. Soften over medium heat for 5 minutes.

3. Increase the heat and add the pork. Cook, stirring, for 5 minutes, then add the ginger, garlic, carrot, and apple and cook, stirring, for an additional 5 minutes.

4. Add the wine, Worcestershire sauce, honey, soy sauce, and vegetable stock. Season, stir, bring to a boil, and then cover and cook in the oven for an hour.

5. Remove the casserole from the oven and add the mushrooms, beans, and zucchini. Stir, cover the casserole, and return to the oven for an additional 30 minutes, or until the pork is tender.

6.Taste for seasoning and sweetness, then serve.

 Top composite image:

“The Foolproof Freezer Cookbook” cover. Credit: Courtesy of Kyle Books

Author Ghillie James. Credit: Tara Fisher

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Kid-Friendly Fruit Muffins From Leftovers Image

At my house, cooking for the kids often involves leftovers. Specifically, using up ingredients that they’ve taken a bite of and abandoned on the countertop. This is most often fruit. These banana, apple and more recently, strawberry, peach and nectarine corpses break my heart but have inspired our weekly muffin-making sessions.

My daughter Penelope drags her step-stool to the counter and helps me measure and mix, and about 30 minutes later we’ve got fresh muffins to eat or freeze. The sugar-pecan topping can be included or not, depending on how much sugar your child has already inhaled that day. The muffins are just as tasty without.

This is an indestructible, go-to muffin recipe because you can add any fruit you like and the whole-wheat flour will go unnoticed by the little ones. I love using fresh blackberries or peaches in the summer but if you want to use fresh strawberries, make sure to cut the tops off and cut them in half before using. (This is a great recipe for using up those on-the-brink berries and fruit.)

Cook’s notes: Rinse and thoroughly dry fresh berries before adding them; you don’t want any excess water in the batter. If you’re using frozen berries, don’t defrost them before adding them to the batter. The best tip for fruit muffins: gently toss the fruit in flour before folding them into the batter so they don’t sink to the bottom of the muffin cup. (Use a bit of the flour called for in the recipe rather than adding additional flour, which will throw off the recipe.)

Kid-Friendly Fruit Muffins

Makes 12 muffins

Ingredients

For the topping (optional):

⅓ cup sugar

3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

Grated zest of ½ lemon

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

⅓ cup pecans, finely chopped

For the muffins:

1 cup all-purpose flour

1 cup whole-wheat flour

¾ cup granulated sugar

2 teaspoons baking powder

½ teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon ground cinnamon

grated zest of ½ lemon

¼ teaspoon salt

1 large egg, beaten

5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

1 cup buttermilk

2 cups fresh berries, 2½ cups frozen unsweetened berries, unthawed, or 1 leftover banana, mashed; or 3 to 4 fresh peaches or nectarines chopped fine

Directions

1. Preheat the oven to 375 F. Grease 12 standard muffin cups with butter or nonstick baking spray. (You can also use any leftover muffin tin liners you have lying around.)

2. To make the topping, in a small bowl, stir together the sugar, flour and lemon zest. Stir in the melted butter until the mixture is crumbly. Add the pecans and stir to combine. Set aside.

3. To make the muffins, in a bowl stir together the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, lemon zest and salt. In a small bowl mix together the egg, melted butter, and buttermilk. Make a well in the center and add the egg, melted butter, and buttermilk mixture.

4. Stir just until evenly moistened; don’t overmix. (The batter will be slightly lumpy.) Add the berries or fruit and gently them fold in with a large rubber spatula just until evenly distributed.

5. Try not to break up the fruit. Again, do not overmix.

6. Spoon the batter into the prepared muffin cups, filling each to a bit above the rim of the cup. If using the topping, top each muffin with a tablespoon or so, dividing it evenly.

7. Bake on the middle rack of the oven until the muffins are golden and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, 25 to 30 minutes. Transfer the pan to a wire rack and let cool for at least 15 minutes.

8. Unmold the muffins. Serve warm or at room temperature. The muffins will keep in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to three days; just bring to room temperature or reheat in a 400 F oven for 5 minutes before serving.

Photo: Kid-friendly fruit muffins. Credit: Laura Holmes Haddad

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Review: Marco Pasanella’s ‘Uncorked’ a Fun, Wild Ride Image

It’s hard to make wine come alive on the page (with a few notable exceptions; see Jay McInerney and Randall Grahm), but in “Uncorked: My Journey Through the Crazy World of Wine,” all it takes is one midlife crisis by an Italian-American to get you hooked. Marco Pasanella manages to create a page-turning look at the life of a wine store owner in Lower Manhattan and teach you a thing or two about wine along the way.

In 2002, Pasanella, a designer, and his wife decided to buy a five-story building in Lower Manhattan and open a wine store called Pasanella and Son. Watching a wine novice work his way through the bureaucracy and politics that make up the wine retail world is nothing short of amusing.

Highs and lows of owning a business

Marco and his wife Becky, who live on the floors above the store, work tirelessly to make their venture a success. (Becky works for Martha Stewart Living, and the description of getting the store ready for Martha Stewart’s private event is not to be missed.) Marco’s descriptions are nail-biting and hilarious, starting with the shop’s fishermen neighbors, one of whom is named Carmine, no less. The highs and lows of owning a business include enduring visits from New York state special agents who want to investigate alleged alcohol license violations, surviving a winemaker dinner that featured an exploding barbecue, managing employees of varying quality, and delivering wine in Manhattan in a 15-year-old Volvo station wagon.

You’re rooting for them the whole way. (And they do succeed; the shop is still going strong.) What keeps the book fresh is the organization. Each chapter starts with an element of winemaking (Prune, Harvest, Ferment, Crush) that sets the stage for another adventure at the store.

This isn’t a “wine book” per se; rather, little bits of information are sprinkled throughout the book (the sections on wine ratings and biodynamic wines are particularly informative). And the appendix is a compact guide to wine, including “Five Tips on Tasting Wine,” “Ten Ways to Taste Without Feeling Like a Snob” and a very helpful section on toasts. This is definitely a beach read for the wine lover or foodie in your life. My one quibble: There’s no index, so you have to search around to find your favorite passages or topics.

Having spent his holidays and summers in Lucca, Italy, Pasanella includes a handful of authentic Italian recipes. Here’s one of my favorites, a fish pasta dish from the renowned Italian chef Lorenzo Viani. Pasanella advises to “use the freshest fish.”

Bavette Sul Pesce Da Lorenzo (Lorenzos Fish Linguini)

Serves 4

Ingredients

4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 garlic clove
1 hot pepper
6½ ounces chopped mixed squid, cuttlefish and crayfish, cleaned
⅓ cup dry white wine
10 ounces bavette pasta (linguini may be substituted, although it lacks bavette’s sauce-cupping convex curves)
2 cups warm water
parsley (to garnish)
salt

Directions

1. Sauté the oil, garlic and pepper in a medium-hot large cast iron pan. Add the seafood.
2. Bathe everything in the white wine and reduce the heat to low.
3. Cook for a few minutes until the seafood has lots its translucency.
4. Add the bavette to the mixture, adding the warm water and constantly stirring with a wooden spoon until the bavette is al dente (8 to 10 minutes). Salt to taste.

Top photo composite:

“Uncorked: My Journey Through the Crazy World of Wine” book cover. Credit: Henrik Bostrom

Author Marco Pasanella. Credit: Lucas Allen

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