Cream Cheese Tarts

Cream Cheese Tarts

  • 8-oz package cream cheese, room temperature
  • 1/2 c. sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • 6 vanilla wafers
  • 1/2 can (21 oz can) cherry pie filling

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Line muffin pan with cupcake papers. Put one vanilla wafer in each.

Mix the cream cheese and sugar together until fluffy, then add egg and vanilla. Beat well. Spoon the mixture into each cup on top of the vanilla wafers.

Bake for 20 minutes, then remove and allow to cool. The tarts will deflate and form a dip in the middle. Spoon cherry pie filling into the dips. Chill. You can double this recipe to make 12.

The batter before and after baking:

Add topping and chill:

Welcome to the Real Life Cooking Podcast. I’m Kate Shaw and this week we’re going to learn how to make cream cheese tarts.

Okay, finally, yes, this is the start of our third season. I’m going to try to release two episodes a month, but I can’t promise that I’ll manage it every month. We’ll see. The episodes themselves are usually pretty quick to record and edit, but it takes time to actually make the recipes and record all the details properly. Anyway, let’s learn how to make cream cheese tarts.

I have a vague memory of finding this recipe in a cookbook I got from the library, but I don’t remember which one. It makes a pretty and unusual treat that’s showy enough for office parties or holiday parties while being easy to throw together quickly. You just have to have enough time to let the tarts cool completely and then chill in the fridge after they’re done.

The recipe as listed in the show notes is halved from the original, since I rarely need to make 12 of these things. They’re rich, and since they’re made in ordinary muffin pans, quite large. They taste a little like cherry danishes and a little like cheesecake, but with a lighter texture. You can easily double the recipe if you like, in which case you’ll need a larger mixing bowl.

You only need one mixing bowl for this recipe, and if you’re only making six you can use a medium mixing bowl instead of a large. You’ll also need a muffin pan and some cupcake liners. If you remember to get the cream cheese and egg out of the fridge a few hours beforehand to warm to room temperature, it’s much easier to make these.

Put the cupcake liners in the muffin pan and turn the oven on to preheat. Then place a single vanilla wafer into the bottom of each cupcake liner, flat side down. Yes, it looks too small. No, do not put more than one in each cup. The vanilla wafer just adds a little bit of texture to the finished tart and implies the existence of a crust without you needing to actually make one.

Next, cream together the cream cheese and sugar just like you would cream butter and sugar to make a cake or cookies. If you started with room temperature cream cheese, it shouldn’t take much time at all to get the sugar fully incorporated. Then add the egg and vanilla extract and mix it up thoroughly, until it’s light and fluffy.

Hopefully by this time the oven is ready, because you are done and just about ready to bake it. I told you this was easy. Fill each muffin cup with the cream cheese mixture, plopping it on top of the vanilla wafer. You’ll fill the cups pretty much all the way to the top.

Then put the pan in the oven and set the timer for 20 minutes. When the time is up, take it out and set the pan on the stove or sink to cool completely.

When you first take them out of the oven, the tarts are puffed up like little soufflés. Just like a soufflé, they’ll start to deflate and crack almost immediately, and that’s fine. They’re supposed to. They’ll form a dip in the middle as they sink, and once they’re cool, that’s where you’ll spoon the cherry filling in.

Cherry filling is canned cherries cooked down with sugar and a few other ingredients, like lemon juice, and thickened with cornstarch to make a gloppy, sweet-tart filling for pies and other recipes. You can make it from scratch, but for this recipe you just want the canned stuff. It doesn’t really matter what brand, although the cheaper brands have fewer cherries.

Once the tarts are cool, or mostly cool, spoon cherry filling into the dip in each one. Add lots since otherwise the tarts are kind of boring. Then put the pan in the fridge to chill. You don’t need to cover it unless you don’t plan to serve the tarts for a day or more. If you put plastic wrap over the filling, it’ll stick to it, but if you leave the tarts uncovered for too long, the cherry filling loses moisture and gets rubbery on the outside.

After an hour or two, though, the tarts should be nicely chilled and ready to eat. If you eat them before they’re chilled, they don’t have a very nice texture and the flavors don’t work together nearly as well. When they’re chilled through, though, they’re absolutely delicious and look much fancier than any recipe that calls for vanilla wafers has a right to be.

These keep in the fridge for a few days, but make sure to cover them after the initial chilling if you don’t eat them within a day.

Thanks for listening! You can find Real Life Cooking Podcast at That’s blueberry without any E’s. You can find the recipe that goes with this episode in the show notes. Now get out there and enjoy your food.

Double Chocolate Cookies

Double Chocolate Cookies * cooking with cocoa powder

Double Chocolate Cookies

  • 1 c flour
  • 1/3 c cocoa powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 c plus 2 Tbsp butter
  • 1 c sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 c chocolate chips
  • 2/3 c. walnut or pecan pieces (optional)

Mix dry ingredients in a medium bowl. In a large bowl, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the egg and vanilla, blend well. Add the dry mixture to the butter mixture, mixing well after each addition. Dough will be thick. Add the chocolate chips and mix in well.

Bake on lightly greased baking sheets at 350 Fahrenheit for 9-11 minutes. Makes about two and a half dozen.

Welcome to the Real Life Cooking Podcast. I’m Kate Shaw and this week we’re going to learn how to make double chocolate cookies.

I found this recipe online while I was looking for something else, but it made something like five dozen cookies. I don’t need five dozen cookies. I halved the recipe and made a few tweaks, and the result is a more manageable two or two and a half dozen.

You make these cookies the same way you make ordinary chocolate chip cookies, but you use cocoa in place of some of the flour. The cocoa in question is unsweetened cocoa powder. Don’t substitute any kind of sweetened cocoa mix or the result will be horrendous. These cookies are plenty sweet on their own, trust me.

For this recipe you’ll need two mixing bowls, one large, one medium, and at least one cookie sheet. You can use butter and an egg straight from the fridge, but it’s a lot easier to make the dough when all the ingredients are room temperature, so if you think of it earlier in the day, take a stick of butter and an egg out of the fridge and set them on the counter. You’ll actually need two tablespoons more of butter than one stick, but I’m assuming that you already have some butter out next to the toaster.

In the smaller mixing bowl, blend the flour, cocoa, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon with a fork or whisk. Be careful with the cocoa since it’s very fine and will poof everywhere if you try to handle it quickly. It’s hard to measure and easy to inhale. Once you get it mixed with the flour it will settle down some, though.

Set that bowl aside and put the butter and sugar in the larger bowl to cream together. This is also a good time to grease the baking sheets and turn the oven on to preheat. Once the butter and sugar are creamed together until they’re light and fluffy, add the egg and vanilla and mix them in well.

I’m going through this quickly because it’s so similar to my chocolate chip cookie recipe, which was our very first episode. If you need to brush up on how to measure flour or how to cream butter and sugar, listen to that episode because it walks you through the process.

Once you’ve mixed the dough except for the chocolate chips (and nuts, if you decide to add them), the dough will be extremely thick. You’ll wonder how on earth you can mix in those chocolate chips, but it’s actually not hard.

Place spoonfuls of dough on the cookie sheet. These cookies don’t spread very much so you can put them pretty close together without ending up with one big cookie. Pop the pan in the oven and set the timer for ten minutes, or nine if you made your cookies very small.

When the timer goes off, take the pan out of the oven and let it cool for a few minutes. You’ll notice that the cookies are a little puffed up when you first get them out of the oven, but they shrink and crack a little as they start to cool. After about five minutes or so, use a spatula to move the cookies from the pan to a wire rack if you have one.

Depending on how big or small you make the cookies, you’ll get between two and three dozen from this recipe, so it’s easier if you have two cookie sheets and can put the second batch in the oven as soon as the first batch comes out.

I recommend that you make these when you’re hungry and really want something sweet, because these are best when they’re fresh out of the oven and still a little chewy. They taste just like brownies, although once they cool they have a taste and texture more like cookies. This is a good recipe to use if you want chocolate chip cookies but don’t have any brown sugar. They keep well for several days if you wrap them up well. I’ve been taking them in my lunches and they hold up pretty well, although they do tend to get crumbly. You can warm them up a little in the microwave to melt the chocolate, although they’ll never be quite as perfect as they are when they’re still fresh from the oven. This is the case for most cookies, though.

Thanks for listening! You can find Real Life Cooking Podcast at That’s blueberry without any E’s. You can find the recipe that goes with this episode in the show notes. Now get out there and enjoy your food.

Corned Beef and Cabbage

Corned beef and cabbage * how to prepare cabbage

Corned Beef and Cabbage

  • about 2 to 3 lb piece of corned beef brisket
  • one cabbage, cut into chunks
  • 1 lb carrots, scraped and cut up
  • 1 onion, diced (optional)
  • some potatoes, peeled and cut up (optional)
  • peppercorns (optional)

Place the meat fatty side down in a very large pot and cover with water. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium and simmer about one hour per pound of meat. Add peppercorns if you’re using them. Add water as needed as it steams off.

About half an hour before the meat is done, add all vegetables except the cabbage. Ten minutes later, add the cabbage. Continue to simmer for about 20 minutes or until the cabbage is fork tender.

Cut the meat into thick slices across the grain. Serve hot with the vegetables.

Cutting up the vegetables:

Hopefully you can see the top part of the stem here that still needs to be cut out:

Cabbage when it’s first added and after it’s been cooking a while:

The finished product:

Welcome to the Real Life Cooking Podcast. I’m Kate Shaw and this week we’re going to learn how to make corned beef and cabbage.

I’m not officially out of the season hiatus but it is spring break and I’m taking the week off work. Since I was making corned beef and cabbage anyway, I thought I’d do an episode about it.

Corned beef is not to everyone’s taste, and cabbage certainly isn’t. I cannot stand cold corned beef on a sandwich, and I’m not a huge fan of cabbage in general, but for some reason I love the combination of corned beef and cabbage. The salty, fatty meat contrasts beautifully with the mild, clean flavor of cabbage. I also add carrots, and if you want to throw in an onion too I approve although I don’t usually bother. You can also add potatoes, but if you do, you’re going to need a really big pot, more of a cauldron.

For this recipe you need to be able to keep the meat submerged while it boils, while still having room at the end for the cabbage and other vegetables, so you need a really big pot. Try to find a piece of meat that’s under three pounds or so in weight, because while it doesn’t look so big in the store, once you get it home and stick it in the pot, you realize just how enormous that thing is. Also, just a heads-up, corned beef and cabbage is considered traditionally Irish although it’s actually not, so in the run-up to St. Patrick’s Day prices are high, but they often drop afterwards. I ended up paying $2 for a head of cabbage and that is just highway robbery.

Anyway, this is a really easy recipe to make. It just takes a few hours to cook, so about three hours before you plan to eat, you need to get started.

Open the package of meat and discard the little packet of spices that is usually included. I’ve used them before and found they don’t add anything to the dish and just get all over the cabbage, looking gross. If you like little seeds and crap stuck to your cabbage, that’s fine. I throw that mess out. The corned beef is already highly flavored as is and doesn’t need any help beyond maybe some peppercorns if you have them.

Put the meat fatty side down in the pot and add as much water as the pot will safely hold. Ordinarily I’d say “add water to cover,” but you’re going to have to add water as it steams off so start with plenty.

Turn the stove on high and bring the water to a boil, then turn it down to about medium or just above so it simmers briskly. Whatever you do, don’t turn it on to high and then wander off to hang pictures in your newly painted bedroom, only remembering the stove is on when you hear the violent sloshing and hissing as water hits the burner.

After you turn the heat down, you’ll notice that there’s a lot of gross whitish foamy gunk floating on the water. That’s just fat that has rendered out of the meat. Skim it off with a spatula or something and throw it out.

You want to boil, or rather simmer, the meat for about an hour per pound. My piece of meat is two and a half pounds exactly so I simmered it for two and a half hours. Actually, I have no idea how long I really simmered the meat because I forgot to take note of the time I started, so maybe take note. Keep an eye on the pot and add water every so often as it steams off. Every time you add water, or later when you add vegetables, it will drop out of a boil and take a few minutes to warm up again, but that’s fine. You can also turn the meat over after half the cooking time has passed (or thereabouts) to make sure the top gets plenty of time in the water too. Once it starts to cook through, the meat will float anyway.

While the meat is cooking, get your vegetables ready. If you want to add an onion, dice it up. Clean and cut up your carrots, or pick over the baby carrots if you’re using them instead. Peel and cut up the potatoes if you want to use them, although truly, you probably do not have room for them in that pot. Look how full it already is. Set that head of cabbage next to the pot and ask yourself, can I fit this into the pot without it overflowing? Maybe you should cook the potatoes separately.

We haven’t talked about preparing cabbage before so let’s do that now. Cabbage looks like lettuce but it’s tougher and needs more cooking to make it tender. You should buy a cabbage that feels heavy for its size, which means it has lots of densely packed leaves. The outer few layers of leaves are dirty and leathery, so pull those off and discard them. Then get a sharp knife, maybe the really nice paring knife your cousin gave you for Christmas, and cut the stem of the cabbage out. I do this just by cutting out a sort of pyramid shape around the stem, then cutting up from the top of the pyramid to slice the cabbage in half. Pull it apart and finish cutting out the stem, then cut the remaining cabbage into chunks. You don’t need to dice it or anything.

When you’ve got about half an hour left of cooking time, put the carrots in around the meat, and potatoes and onion too if you’re using them. Ten minutes later, add the cabbage. Your pot is going to be incredibly full at this point but get the cabbage submerged somehow, even if it means the meat is actually on top of the cabbage pieces. The meat is mostly cooked at this point anyway. You may need to take some water out so the pot won’t overflow, and that’s fine. You’ll be throwing the water out anyway. Use a metal measuring cup or something else that’s not plastic, and which has a handle, and dip water from the top carefully. Don’t try to pour the water off—it’ll make a huge mess.

Once the cabbage is tender enough to pierce easily with a fork, everything’s ready to eat. Your house will smell appalling but it’s worth it. Remove the meat to a big plate or carving dish and cut it in thick slices across the grain. I usually remove some of the fat at this point too. You may be concerned when you cut the meat and find it’s still pink inside. It doesn’t look done. This is because corned beef has been salt-cured until it’s basically pickled. Don’t worry, it’s fine. If you’re wondering, corned beef is made from a cut of meat called the brisket, which is the part on the cow’s chest between its front legs.

I usually use the spatula to dip the vegetables out of the hot water. Either remove them to a serving dish or put them directly on plates. After I’ve eaten and I’m cleaning up, I pour off the rest of the water through a colander, catching the remaining vegetables in the colander. I know I probably shouldn’t pour that greasy water down the drain, but it’s still really hot at this point and I flush it afterwards with more hot water from the tap.

Serve this hot with plenty of cabbage and carrots. It keeps well for several days and you can heat it up without drying it out by throwing it in boiling water for a minute or two.

Thanks for listening! You can find Real Life Cooking Podcast at That’s blueberry without any E’s. Now get out there and enjoy your food.

Chocolate Butterscotch (or maybe it’s toffee) Cracker Cookies

Chocolate Butterscotch Cracker Cookies * how to make butterscotch

Chocolate Butterscotch Cracker Cookies

  • saltine crackers
  • 1 c butter, unsalted
  • 1 c light brown sugar
  • 1 package semi-sweet chocolate chips (12 oz, or about 2 cups)
  • 1 c M&M candies (optional)
  • 1 c chopped nuts (optional)
  • sprinkles (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Line a baking sheet with tinfoil and grease. Place crackers all over it in a single layer, touching. In a medium saucepan, melt butter and brown sugar over medium heat, stirring constantly. Bring to a boil and stir constantly while boiling for about four minutes. Pour evenly over the crackers. Bake 7 minutes.

Remove from oven and pour chocolate chips evenly over the pan. Allow them to sit for a minute or two to melt, then spread with a knife. Sprinkle with M&M candies, chopped nuts, decorative sprinkles, etc., as desired.

Allow to cool for several hours or until the chocolate hardens, then break apart and serve.

The butter and sugar melted together (left) and boiling (right):

Spread the butterscotch as evenly as possible over the crackers:

Just after decorating (left) and after they’re completely cooled and broken apart (right):

Welcome to the Real Life Cooking Podcast. I’m Kate Shaw and this week we’re going to learn how to make chocolate butterscotch cookies. I don’t actually know what else to call them. The butterscotch does not taste like butterscotch flavoring, fortunately. It’s much, much better. [It may actually be toffee by the time it gets out of the oven, now that I think about it. Toffee is just butterscotch that’s been cooked longer.]

This is the recipe you make when you remember late at night that you promised to bring cookies for the office meeting the next day. You don’t have time to do anything fancy or run to the grocery store, but you want something everyone will like.

This recipe only really needs four ingredients: saltine crackers, butter, brown sugar, and chocolate chips. That’s it. You can put these together in half an hour, literally. The only drawback is that they need to cool completely before you can break them apart, which takes at least two hours. But they’re just fine sitting out overnight while they cool and while you sleep, and in the morning you just grab them and go.

For this recipe, you need a baking sheet and a pot. That’s it. No mixing bowls to wash. You don’t even really need to measure out anything but the brown sugar.

First, line your largest baking sheet with tinfoil and grease the foil. This is one time when it really is easiest to use the spray stuff, but you can also grease it with just a bit of vegetable oil, shortening, or butter. As soon as you’ve done that, get the saltine crackers out. Yes, just ordinary saltines that you eat with soup or chili.

You’re going to need at least one sleeve of crackers, depending on the size of your baking sheet. Mine fits 48 crackers. Place them on the tinfoil in a single layer so that they’re all touching on all sides. If you have the kind of crackers that are joined together in pairs, you can either keep them in pairs or snap them apart, it doesn’t really matter. Once you have the baking sheet covered, set it aside, but make sure it’s somewhere you can get to easily.

Next, turn the oven on to preheat. Then put two sticks of butter and a cup of light brown sugar into a pot. The recipe says saucepan, but that’s basically just a fancy word for a pot. Remember to pack the brown sugar firmly into the measuring cup. You don’t need to soften the butter before using it, because you’re about to boil the heck out of it with the brown sugar to make butterscotch.

Butterscotch is related to caramel and toffee, but it’s richer than caramel and softer than toffee. But don’t be nervous—you don’t need a candy thermometer or anything. Just throw the butter and sugar into the pot together and turn the heat on to about medium, or maybe a little higher. Unsalted butter is best but if you only have salted butter, that’s fine too.

Heat the butter and sugar together, stirring with a spatula. The butter will melt quickly and after a few minutes the mixture will start to boil. Don’t turn the heat down. Let it boil, but stir it constantly with the spatula. It doesn’t boil like water, it foams and heaves and basically looks horrific, like you’ve made a terrible mistake and surely this will not be edible when you’re done. But you’re doing fine, don’t worry. It’s supposed to look like that. Continue to stir while it boils for a solid four minutes by the clock.

Then lift the pot from the stove and carry it to the baking sheet of crackers. This is why you need that pan to be easily accessible, because you need to pour the butterscotch over the crackers while it’s still really hot—and it starts to cool almost immediately. Try to pour the butterscotch evenly over the crackers, but don’t try to get every inch. You’ll notice that no matter how fast you work, the last little bit will have cooled enough that you have to scrape it out of the pot with the spatula. That’s fine. Just drop the hardened piece onto the crackers with the rest of it.

Then pop the pan in the oven, just like that, and set the timer for seven minutes. While it’s in the oven, cut the package of chocolate chips open and set them aside, then wash the pot that you made the butterscotch in, or at least run some water in it to wash it later. It actually won’t have made much of a mess, since the butter kept the sugar from sticking. If you’re using chopped nuts or M&Ms for the topping, get them out too.

When the timer goes off, remove the pan and set it on the stove, but not on the burner that is probably still hot. Well, you don’t have to set it on the stove if you have somewhere else to set it where it won’t scorch anything.

Immediately sprinkle the chocolate chips across the surface of the crackers. You’ll notice that the butterscotch has spread and partly melted into the crackers, partly sunk between them, and it should still be bubbling when you take it out of the oven. Once it cools, it will make a nice flaky layer of sweetness on the bottom of the cookies. Try to sprinkle the chocolate chips evenly, but again, don’t stress about getting them exactly even. Just try to keep them in a single layer and not piled up. You do this immediately after the pan comes out of the oven because it’s still hot enough to melt the chocolate chips.

Wait a minute or two, then use a knife to spread the melted chocolate over the cracker layer. This is where you cover any gaps and spread the chocolate all the way to the edges.

Once that’s done, add the toppings. What you add is up to you. I like colored sprinkles and milk chocolate M&Ms, either regular sized or the mini size they sell for baking, just because they look so cheerful. You can also use chopped nuts, colored sugar, and even chopped dried fruit like cranberries or raisins. Whatever you decide to use, add it now while the chocolate is still soft so it will stick.

That’s literally it. The cookies are done. They just have to cool completely. Specifically, the chocolate has to cool completely, and this takes a couple of hours. But once the chocolate is cool enough that you can snap the pieces apart into cracker-shaped cookies, they’re ready to eat.

Once they’ve cooled completely, lift one side of the foil up so that the layer breaks in the middle. Then you can just break off rows and break the rows into cookies. They shouldn’t stick to the foil, and while some of the butterscotch may have leaked underneath the foil, cleanup is still very easy.

These transport well and keep well. Just wrap them up so the cracker part won’t get stale. The crackers give the cookies structure and a nice little crunch, while butterscotch and chocolate are delicious together. Everyone loves these cookies, and you don’t have to tell people how incredibly easy they are to make.

Thanks for listening! You can find Real Life Cooking Podcast at That’s blueberry without any E’s. You can find the recipe that goes with this episode in the show notes. Happy holidays to all my listeners, and I hope you are all safe, healthy, and well fed. Now get out there and enjoy your food.

Sugar Cookies

Sugar Cookies * coloring dough * rolling out and cutting cookie dough * coloring sugar

Sugar Cookies

  • 1 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2 c. butter
  • 3/4 c. sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • food coloring (optional)
  • cinnamon candies (optional)
  • sparkle sugar (optional)

Mix dry ingredients in a medium mixing bowl and set aside. In a large mixing bowl, cream together butter and sugar, then add egg and vanilla and blend well. Add a generous squirt of food coloring to the butter mixture and blend it in well. It should be really green (or whatever color). Add flour mixture to butter mixture. Divide dough, wrap in plastic, and chill for at least half an hour.

Preheat oven to 350 F and grease two cookie sheets. Roll out chilled dough on a lightly floured surface and cut into shapes. Place on cookie sheets and decorate with sparkle sugar and cinnamon candies (if desired). Bake for 9-11 minutes. Makes about two dozen.

The butter mixture with food coloring (left), the dough after flour is mixed in (middle), and the dough wrapped up to put in the fridge (right):


The dough before and after baking (left), showing the difference in color; cookies rolled too thin, where the red hots have melted from touching the pan (middle); and cookies showing increasing evidence of wrinkling, caused by putting the dough on a pan that has not cooled completely:


All done! (These were actually a little overbaked because I rolled them too thin):

Welcome to the Real Life Cooking Podcast. I’m Kate Shaw and this week we’re going to learn how to make sugar cookies! This is hands down the best sugar cookie recipe I’ve tried, and my family has made it for many, many years. We call them holly cookies because we use food coloring to dye the dough green, then cut them out in holly leaf shapes and decorate the tops with green crystal sugar and cinnamon candies like holly berries. I’ve included all the steps to make holly cookies, but if you don’t have a cookie cutter shaped like a holly leaf, you can use any shapes you like or just cut them out round.

For this recipe, you’ll need a large mixing bowl, a medium mixing bowl, a surface where you can roll out the dough and something to roll the dough out with, and at least one cookie cutter in a shape you like.

If you want to make holly cookies the way I do, you’ll also need some cinnamon candies, and that can be a problem. These are the small round pieces of red candy that are cinnamon flavored, usually called cinnamon imperials or red hots. You can get them specifically for baking, but those are actually not very good for this recipe. The best red hots you can find are sold by Brach’s, but they can be hard to track down. I was going to order them online this year and actually went to the Brach’s website to find them, but when I followed their link to buy, it took me to an Amazon page that said they were sold out. In the end, I lucked out and found them in a small grocery store I almost never go to. Brach’s are better than the ones sold for baking because they’re much cheaper, but also because they’re flattened instead of round. Those big round baking ones tend to just melt into goo in the oven. But you can use any kind you can get your hands on, or, of course, you can leave them out. But they do really contribute to the overall flavor of the cookie.

A few hours before you start the recipe, it’s a good idea to get the butter out of the fridge and let it warm up to room temperature. You can do the same with the eggs too. If you forget, though, no problem.

These cookies follow the same basic method for most cookies, including the chocolate chip cookie recipe from our very first episode. If you haven’t listened to that one, you might go back and do so for basics about measuring flour and mixing dough.

First, grease your baking sheets and set them aside. I use a little butter to grease the pans, since I have a theory that greasing the pan with the same fat you used in the recipe gives better results, plus I already have the butter out. When you unwrap the butter, especially if it’s at room temperature, there’s often some left on the paper wrapping. I put the wrapper face down on the pan and rub it around as an easy way to grease the pan.

It’s best to use two pans minimum for this recipe. It should make just enough to fill both pans, and with two you can be working on the second batch while the first is in the oven. I’ll go over some more considerations about pans later on, though.

In the medium mixing bowl, mix the flour, baking powder, and salt, then set it aside. Then in the large mixing bowl, cream the butter and sugar together until the two ingredients are fully combined and the butter is smooth and has an almost fluffy texture, but gritty because it’s full of sugar. Then you’ll add the egg and vanilla and mix it again until everything is blended well and the mixture is creamy again.

Next you need the food coloring, because you get a more consistent color throughout the dough if you add the food coloring to the butter and sugar mixture before you add the flour mixture. Decide what color you want, and I recommend you don’t go for anything fancy that requires a certain ratio of one color to another. Let’s assume you’re making holly cookies, or Christmas tree cookies, or something else that requires only one color. Take the little plastic squeezy bottle of food coloring and give it one solid squeeze into the butter mixture. You’re not counting drops, you want a full squeeze of the bottle to go in. This is probably at least ten drops, probably more like 12 or even 15. Mix it in well. The mixture should be quite bright at this point. If it’s barely colored or very pale, add more food coloring.

Once the color is blended in, add the flour mixture to the butter mixture. Remember to add only part of the flour first, mix it in well, then add another part of it, mix it in well, and then add the rest of it. The dough will be fairly stiff but not impossible to mix with just a big spoon. You’ll note that once you have the flour mixed in, the dough is much less brightly colored. It will fade even more in the oven, which is why you want to use quite a bit to start with.

Before you can roll the dough out, though, you need to chill it. Sugar cookies are largely made of butter, and the butter is much easier to work with once it’s hardened in the fridge. Divide the dough into two lumps and put one lump each on a piece of plastic wrap. Place another piece of plastic wrap over it and press it down gently from the center to the sides, flattening it. You don’t have to make it super thin, but it will cool more quickly if it’s a disc shape and not a ball. Then wrap the plastic over the edges and put both discs in the fridge for at least half an hour.

You can keep the dough in the fridge for a couple of days if necessary, so you can prepare the dough ahead of time and roll it out to bake the cookies just before friends or relatives arrive, for instance, or when you have more time to cook.

Rolling out cookie dough is similar to rolling out pie pastry, but the cookies need to be thicker than pastry (but not as thick as biscuits). You also need to work quickly since your dough will start warming up immediately, and use as little flour as you can manage. You shouldn’t need to use much flour, just a thin layer on the surface you’re using to roll out and a little on the rolling pin so it won’t stick. I typically flour my surface and put a little pile of extra flour to one side. I place the palm of my hand in that extra flour and rub it on the rolling pin as needed. Roll the dough out so that it’s maybe a quarter of an inch thick, maybe a little thinner. Remember to work from the middle of the lump of dough out to the edges.

When you have the dough to the right thickness, it’s time to cut out shapes. The best cookie cutters are made of metal. The plastic ones are just too thick and dull to get a good cut. Press straight down without jiggling the cutter, then pull it straight back up. Sometimes the cookie will come up with the cutter, but usually not. If it does, just shake the cookie out onto your hand gently and place it on the greased pan.

Quite often the cookies will stick to the surface despite the flour, and it’s easiest to use a spatula to get them up. If you’ve worked fast enough, the cookies will still be cool at this point and they shouldn’t deform too much when you shove the spatula under them. The warmer the dough, the stickier it gets and the more pliable it is, resulting in misshapen cookies. If your dough gets too warm to work with, resulting in floppy cookies that stick to the cookie cutter as well as everything else, it’s easier to mush the dough back into a disc, wrap it up again, and put it back in the fridge to cool properly. I’ve tried to work with overly warm cookie dough and it’s nothing but frustration, while nicely chilled cookie dough is easy to work with.

Anyway, place the cookies on the baking sheet so that they’re close together but not touching. You’ll still have lots of dough left, so just ball it up and roll it out again if it’s not too warm. If it is too warm, put it back in the fridge and get the other half of the dough out. (That’s why you divide the dough.)

While your raw cookies are in the pan waiting to be decorated and then baked, remember to set the pan somewhere other than on the stove. You don’t want them to get too hot or they won’t look as pretty when they bake. If you don’t have anywhere but the stove to set the pan, at least balance it on top of a pot to raise it off of the stove and let air circulate underneath. This will help keep the cookies cooler.

Finally, you have the cookie sheet filled with cut-out cookies. Now you get to decorate them! You can get as fancy as you like or you can just put them in the oven as is. If you want to make holly cookies, place two or three red hots near the stem end of the holly leaf, or what you interpret as the stem end, to look like berries. Then you can sprinkle the rest of the cookie with green sugar. If you forgot to buy any green sugar, you can make your own by adding a drop of food coloring to a little saucer of regular sugar and sort of rubbing it into the sugar with your fingers. Your fingertips will turn green if you do this, and of course it’s going to be ordinary sugar and not the larger crystals, but it will be nicely green and look good.

If you use red hots, make sure not to push them down too far. You want them dimpled into the dough, but not so deeply that they’re too close to the pan or touching the pan through the cookie. They’ll melt if they’re too close to the hot pan. That won’t affect their flavor, but they look nicer if they don’t melt.

Once the cookies are decorated, put the pan in the oven and set the timer for nine minutes. This is usually enough time for perfectly done cookies, but if your oven tends to run a little cool or if you made your cookies really large and thick, they may need another minute or two. Thinner cookies cook faster than thick ones, of course, and any pieces that stick out from the main cookie, like reindeer antlers, will cook faster too. That’s one reason why I don’t like cookie cutters that have fiddly designs. It’s too easy for those narrow pieces to burn before the entire cookie is fully done, plus those little thin sections tend to deform more easily when you’re cutting the cookies out, plus the cutter itself tends to get clogged and you have to scrape dough out of it with the tip of a knife or something before you can cut the next cookie. My favorite cookie cutters are simple shapes, like stars.

You can tell when the cookies are done because the edges will be just barely browned. Take them out and set them somewhere besides the top of the stove, because you want them to cool quickly. I often set the pan over the sink.

Hopefully, while the first batch of cookies was in the oven you were able to get the next batch ready to go. Usually it takes me longer than nine minutes to cut out the second batch and get them decorated, though. It depends on how efficient you are and whether you have someone else in the kitchen to help you.

Once the first batch of cookies has been out of the oven for a few minutes, remove them carefully from the pan with a spatula and place them on a wire rack to cool the rest of the way, if you have a wire rack. If not, you can set them on a paper plate or a regular plate.

These cookies really are easy to make, and they’re pretty forgiving even if you’ve never rolled out cookie dough before. You’ll get the hang of it quickly, and even if you burn the first batch a little they’ll still taste good. The main thing to remember is to keep your dough chilled, even if it means repeatedly returning it to the fridge, or even the freezer for short lengths of time, so it can cool down.

I don’t recommend you double this recipe. It’s easier to make one batch of dough, put it on to chill, and then make a second batch. You can even reuse the same bowls without needing to wash them out, as long as you’re going to make the second batch the same color as the first.

I have good memories of making these cookies right before Christmas, me and my mom working together to produce enough for our family get-together with extras for neighbors, friends, coworkers, and anyone else we could think of. Wrap half a dozen holly cookies in wax paper and tie it with a ribbon, and you’ve got a nice little gift that costs almost nothing but time and doesn’t make the recipient feel like they should have gotten you something. There were years when Mom and I made more than eight dozen cookies in a single night, which is exhausting, by the way. If you make more than one batch of this dough, and plan to bake it all up in one day, you need to use three baking sheets—or more if you have more. One pan will be in the oven, one pan will be the one you’re working on, and one pan will be cooling down before you use it again.

If your cookies get too warm before they go into the oven, whether it’s because you set the pan on the oven while you were decorating the cookies or because you put the dough on a pan that hadn’t fully cooled, your cookies will come out of the oven looking wrinkled. The warmer the cookies were before baking, the more wrinkled they end up. The pan can feel cool to the touch and still actually be quite warm where cookie dough is concerned. Of course, wrinkled-looking cookies still taste just fine, but if you’re giving these as a gift it can be frustrating if they don’t look pretty.

These cookies aren’t just for Christmas or other winter holidays, of course. Everyone likes sugar cookies, and they make a pretty addition to any gift or potluck. Or you can just make them for yourself.

Thanks for listening! You can find Real Life Cooking Podcast at That’s blueberry without any E’s. You can find the recipe that goes with this episode in the show notes. I will be going on hiatus for a while with this podcast, although I may release an episode here and there. Until season three rolls around sometime in spring of 2021, get out there and enjoy your food.

Cranberry Relish

Cranberry relish * cooking cranberries

Cranberry Relish (small amount)

  • 1/2 c. orange juice (or apple juice)
  • 1/2 c. brown sugar
  • 2 c. fresh cranberries
  • 1/4 tsp allspice

Combine ingredients in a saucepan and heat to a boil. Turn heat down to medium low and simmer for 15 minutes. The sauce will thicken as it cools.

Cranberry Relish (large amount)

  • 1 c. orange juice
  • 1/2 c. white sugar
  • 1/2 c. brown sugar
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  • 12 oz fresh cranberries

Dissolve sugars and cinnamon in juice over medium heat. Stir in cranberries and simmer 10-20 minutes. The sauce will thicken as it cools.

Just putting the cranberries on to cook:

The cranberries after cooking for a while:

The finished relish after cooling to room temperature:

Welcome to the Real Life Cooking Podcast. I’m Kate Shaw and this week we’re going to learn how to make cranberry relish, also called cranberry sauce, just in time for Thanksgiving.

I know many of us grew up with the cranberry relish that comes in a can, and which comes out of the can can-shaped, at which point an aunt or somebody slices it carefully into thin discs and arranges it on a plate, where it looks festive on the table and almost no one eats it. But you can make your own cranberry relish very easily from fresh cranberries that’s not only delicious, but it looks lovely in a glass compote if you own such a thing. It also takes very little time to make and can be done ahead.

I’ve included two recipes in the show notes, because I have two recipes that are very similar but make different amounts. You can also half or double the recipe you prefer or just tweak it to fit your own taste.

First, you’ll need fresh cranberries. These show up in the produce section of the grocery store right before Thanksgiving and they’re pretty cheap, two dollars for a 12 ounce bag in my local Walmart this year. You can sometimes get them on sale. Keep them in the fridge until you’re ready to cook them. Before you start the recipe, pour the cranberries into a colander and give them a good rinse, and pick out any berries that are under- or over-ripe. Sometimes a bit of leaf or stem makes its way into the bag and you obviously want to remove that too. Fresh cranberries should be a nice red color and should be firm to the touch. If you cut one open, you’ll see that it’s mostly empty inside except for thin membranes that separate little round seeds.

For this recipe, you’ll need a saucepan. That’s it.

Start by deciding whether you need a lot of cranberry relish or just a little. The recipe that makes a lot uses the whole 12 ounce bag of cranberries, the recipe that makes a little uses two cups of fresh cranberries, which is half the bag. If you don’t have any use for the remaining half a bag, go ahead and make the larger recipe.

Measure the orange juice into the pot and add the sugar or sugars along with the cinnamon or allspice. One note about how much sugar these recipes call for: I think you can half it. I didn’t this time, but when I tasted the finished relish it was just so super sweet that I wished I had. Then again, as you know, I have been trying to eat a lot less sugar so everything tastes sweet right now. Also, one recipe calls for allspice and the other calls for cinnamon, but it doesn’t matter which you use. They’re both good. I think the allspice has a richer, more complex flavor, but cinnamon is always a winner.

Turn the heat up to about medium high and stir the orange juice and sugar as it heats, until the sugar has mostly dissolved into the orange juice and the mixture is starting to boil. Then turn the heat down to about medium and add the cranberries. Set the timer for fifteen minutes and let it cook, stirring occasionally. The liquid shouldn’t be at a full boil but at a brisk, energetic simmer.

An important thing to remember about cranberries is that they pop while cooking. Do not be alarmed, but do be careful, because they will sometimes spray you with a little bit of hot liquid. So, you know, don’t put your face right over the pot.

Once the timer goes off, remove the pot from the heat. The relish is done, but it does need to cool since it thickens as it cools. You can pour it directly into the serving dish and set it aside, because it’s fine just cooling to room temperature. You don’t need to refrigerate it if you plan to eat it right away, although of course you should if you make it a day or two ahead. At room temperature it’s thick but goopy, sort of like homemade fruit preserves, while after refrigerating it thickens to more of a jelly consistency. Either way it’s really good and makes a sweet-tart accompaniment to turkey or ham.

You might also try adding some orange zest if you want to get fancy, which will add a touch of color and extra orange flavor. I wish I’d thought of it myself, but yesterday a coworker mentioned that his mom adds orange zest to her cranberry relish and I’d already made mine.

This keeps well for several days in the fridge. You don’t have to save this for holidays, though. It’s delicious any time you can get fresh cranberries, and by the way it’s quite good on buttered toast.

Happy Thanksgiving to all my listeners who are in the United States! I hope you all have a safe and happy holiday. My family is not holding a get-together this year so I’m staying home with my two cats and plan to try all new recipes, just for fun.

Thanks for listening! You can find Real Life Cooking Podcast at That’s blueberry without any E’s. You can find the recipe that goes with this episode in the show notes. Now get out there and enjoy your food.

Mashed Potatoes

Mashed potatoes * Cream Cheese-Garlic Mashed Potatoes * what “water to cover” means * parboiling

Cream Cheese-Garlic Mashed Potatoes

  • 2 ½ lbs baking potatoes, peeled and quartered
  • 4 oz cream cheese, softened
  • 1 stick salted butter, softened
  • 1 ½ tsp sugar
  • ½ tsp garlic powder
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 1 tsp pepper
  • about 1/4 c. milk

Boil potatoes until tender. Drain. Preheat oven to 325 Fahrenheit. Add all other ingredients to the potatoes and beat until fluffy. Add the milk last so you can adjust the amount; the milk is just for consistency. The potatoes should be creamy enough that they won’t dry out in the oven.

Grease a 9×9 baking dish and spoon in the potato mixture. Bake for 30 minutes or until heated through.

Mashing the boiled potatoes with a fork:

Welcome to the Real Life Cooking Podcast. I’m Kate Shaw and this week we’re going to learn how to make honest-to-goodness mashed potatoes from scratch. They won’t be lumpy, I promise.

Instant mashed potatoes are pretty good and they’re definitely fast, but homemade mashed potatoes are really easy to make. All you need is a few ingredients and some time. And a pot big enough to hold the potato pieces.

First, you need some potatoes. This is when you want to buy a bag of potatoes. White or yellow-fleshed potatoes are fine, but if you have red potatoes those will work too. Basically any potato will do. You can usually get a three or five pound bag of potatoes for a few dollars, and definitely go for what’s cheap. Don’t buy those individually wrapped potatoes meant for baking. They’re overpriced. Just buy a bag of cheap potatoes.

Bagged potatoes are usually pretty small, but you’re going to chop them up and then mash them anyway so it doesn’t matter. Generally, grab two small to medium potatoes per person to make mashed potatoes. If you ended up with big potatoes, more the size of ones you’d expect to get if you ordered a baked potato in a restaurant, then one per person will do. When I’m making mashed potatoes just for myself, I’ll usually use four small potatoes, since that gives me plenty for leftovers.

You need to peel the potatoes first. You can do this with a paring knife if you don’t have a potato peeler, but really, a potato peeler only costs a buck or so and will literally last you your entire life, so it’s worth buying one. That said, I did go through a phase when I was in my late teens where I wanted to feel rustic, so I peeled potatoes with a knife. It’s not hard, and you can pretend to be a pioneer woman or Cinderella or a captive of pirates who have put you to work in the galley, only the pirate captain is secretly a kind man who falls for your honest beauty and your cooking skills, and eventually you become a pirate too, but you only steal from bad people. Also, the pirate captain is super handsome.

Anyway, peel the potatoes using your method of choice. It’s easiest to peel them over a trash can or bowl so you can just let the peels fall without worrying about clean-up later. If you’re using a knife, you can go ahead and trim off any bruised or rotten places while you work. If you’re using a peeler, you’ll need to trim the potatoes once you’re done and have switched to a knife to cut them up.

Potatoes, of course, are roots of the potato plant that grow underground. That means they’re dirty. Don’t worry that your hand holding the potato gets all grotty and the potato gets covered in muddy handprints. Once you’ve finished peeling, take your naked potatoes to the sink and rinse them and your hands. Then cut the potatoes into pieces. The pieces shouldn’t be too small. You want chunks about the size of, I don’t know, an egg—several inches across, don’t dice them up tiny.

Drop the pieces into your empty pot as you cut them. Once all the potatoes are cut up and in the pot, add enough water to just cover the potatoes.

When a recipe says “water to cover,” this is what it means. You don’t want so much water that there’s room between the ingredients and the water’s surface, you want just enough that the ingredients you have in the pot are mostly submerged. Bits and pieces may be sticking above the water, but only barely. If the ingredient to be covered is something that floats, it should still be touching the bottom of the pot, or just barely floating above it.

So, add water to cover and put the pot on the stove. Add some salt too—just throw some in, maybe a teaspoonful. Turn the heat up to high and bring the water to a boil, then turn it down to about medium. You want the water to stay at a brisk simmer, meaning the water is moving the potato pieces around just a little but the water isn’t bubbling violently. Give the potatoes a stir to make sure none have stuck to the bottom, and if any pieces are sticking up out of the water, press them down so they’re submerged.

Let the pot simmer uncovered for a while, checking the potatoes frequently. Give them a stir, check to see if they’re starting to get tender, adjust the heat up or down as needed. As they cook, you’ll notice that a lot of white foam collects on the water’s surface, but don’t worry about that. It’s just starch and will eventually mostly melt back into the water.

This is a good place to explain what parboiling is. When the potatoes start to get tender but aren’t completely soft, they’re parboiled. Parboiled just means partially cooked by boiling. Some recipes call for parboiled potatoes or other ingredients, so now you know what that means.

I can’t give you a cut and dried time for when your potatoes will be done through because I don’t know how many potatoes you’re cooking or how small or large the pieces are. It’s going to be at least an hour, because you want your potatoes cooked thoroughly. No hard nuggets of undercooked potatoes for you!

Do not add any water to the pot. As the potatoes absorb water and some of it steams off, you’ll start to get antsy and worry they’re going to burn. Just turn the heat down and continue to let them cook.

Your goal is to cook the potatoes until they start turning into mush. If you go to stir the potatoes and they’re literally falling into pieces and mush under the slightest pressure, they’re done. Turn off the heat but don’t take the potatoes out of the pot.

Take the pot over to the sink and very carefully pour the excess water out. Don’t try to get all of it out. You don’t want to accidentally dump your potatoes into the sink. Just pour off the excess, then return the pot to the stove. Make sure the burner is off.

You want to turn your potatoes into mashed potatoes while they’re still hot, which will result in the best texture, so let’s go.

First, add a knob of butter directly to the pot. You don’t really need to measure, but I typically use about 1 Tbsp of butter per potato, or per two potatoes if they were small. You can use butter straight from the fridge. It’ll melt pretty quickly once it touches the hot potatoes.

You don’t need a special potato masher. You don’t need to put the potatoes in a blender or anything weird like that. You just need a fork. Use the back of the fork to break up the pieces of potato and blend them around, heaping the mashed-up pieces over the butter to help it melt. Keep doing this, mashing the potatoes with the fork, moving them around, blending in the butter as it melts, until the butter is completely melted. Add some salt, stir it in, and then add a splash of milk. Go with less milk at this point, because it’s easy to add more if you want fluffier potatoes but you can’t take milk out if you add too much.

Continue to mix the potatoes until the milk is incorporated completely. Taste them, add more salt and more milk if the potatoes are stiffer than you like, then taste them again and add more salt if necessary. By now the potatoes should be 100% mashed with no lumps, and the reason there are no lumps is because you cooked the everloving heck out of those potatoes and that did most of the work for you. The lumps in lumpy mashed potatoes are mostly bits of undercooked potato.

You can now move the potatoes to a serving bowl if you like, or just serve them from the pot. You’ll probably want to add pepper. Leftovers keep well in the fridge in a covered bowl.

So that’s mashed potatoes.

But suppose you want to dress those mashed potatoes up. Suppose you want, for instance, some garlic cream cheese mashed potatoes for a holiday dinner or part of a special meal. Well, that’s easy too but it requires more ingredients.

This is my cousin Molly’s recipe and the family makes it for big holiday gatherings. The recipe calls for 2 ½ pounds of potatoes, but you can double the recipe if you want. Make sure you have a really big pot if you do double it, though, because five pounds of potatoes is a whole lot of potatoes.

You prepare and boil the potatoes the same as you do plain mashed potatoes. Follow the above directions until the potatoes are tender but not falling apart, which takes less time but means you will need to be more aggressive about mashing them. Drain them well, then return them to the pot. You’ll notice that these are really rich potatoes. You’re adding an entire stick of butter and 4 ounces of cream cheese. It’s good to soften both before adding them, either by taking them out of the fridge a few hours before, to warm to room temperature, or by warming in the microwave for 10-second bursts.

Turn the oven on to 325 degrees Fahrenheit and grease a 9×9 pan. My 9×9 pan was dirty when I made these so I used a two-quart casserole and it worked just fine. Set the pan aside.

Add everything except the milk to the potatoes and then either beat them with an electric mixer or just mash the heck out of them with your fork. Mash it until it’s thoroughly blended so that when you take a little taste, it’s completely creamy and there are no lumps. This will take a while if you’re doing it by hand, but it’s worth the effort.

When I made these, I read the recipe wrong and instead of 1 ½ tsp of sugar I put in 1 ½ tsp of garlic powder. Then I realized what I’d done and tried to scrape some of it up, but of course that never works. But the end result was really good, so if you’re a garlic lover, you can be more generous with the garlic powder. (But let’s be honest, you probably were going to anyway, right?)

As the recipe says, you only want to add enough milk to give the potatoes a creamy consistency. Don’t overdo it. The original recipe calls for about 3/8th of a cup of milk, but I don’t have a measuring cup that measures in eighths so call it between one quarter and one third cup of milk.

Once everything is mixed up well and the potatoes are smooth, pour them into the greased pan. You’ll need a rubber spatula to get them all out and smooth the top. Then pop the pan into the oven and set the timer for 25 or 30 minutes. If you had to wait to make these and the potatoes cooled before you mashed them, you definitely need to bake them for a full 30 minutes. If they were still hot when you made them, you can get away with a little less time.

When the timer goes off, take them out of the oven and they’re ready to serve! They keep for several days in the fridge if you cover them up or put them in a closely sealed container. Heat them up before eating them.

Thanks for listening! You can find Real Life Cooking Podcast at That’s blueberry without any E’s. You can find the recipe that goes with this episode in the show notes. Now get out there and enjoy your food.

Roast Parsnips and Carrots, and Shepherd’s Pie

Roasted carrots and parsnips * how to prepare parsnips * Shepherd’s Pie

Roasted carrots and parsnips

  • About 1 lb each carrots and parsnips, scraped and cut into sticks about 2” long
  • Olive oil
  • Salt
  • pepper

Preheat oven to 425. Pour olive oil in a 9×13 pan to just barely cover the bottom, then add carrot and parsnip pieces. Drizzle another Tbsp of olive oil over the vegetables and add salt and pepper. Stir with a spatula and turn over the vegetables until they’re coated with oil. Add more salt and pepper. Cook for 20 minutes, remove and stir. Return to oven and cook for another 15 or 20 minutes or until tender.

Shepherd’s Pie

  • Leftover vegetables
  • Leftover meat
  • Leftover gravy
  • Leftover mashed potatoes

Preheat oven to 350. Place the vegetables in a 9×9” pan with the meat on top (in bite-sized pieces). Pour about one cup of gravy into the dish and top with mashed potatoes. Bake for about 30 minutes or until heated through and the potatoes are starting to brown.

Parsnips unpeeled and peeled:

Parsnips and carrots before roasting and after:

Shepherd’s pie, yum! Add ALL the mashed potatoes!

Welcome to the Real Life Cooking Podcast. I’m Kate Shaw and this week we’re going to learn how to cook parsnips. Specifically, we’re going to learn how to roast parsnips and carrots, which go well together and which make a fantastic accompaniment for turkey. Then we’re also going to learn how to make shepherd’s pie to use up your Thanksgiving leftovers.

Parsnips look sort of like pale yellow-white carrots, and they taste slightly sweet like carrots too but with a little more zing and a chewier texture that I really like. They also pair well with carrots. You peel them just like carrots, then slice the tops off just like carrots, and for this recipe you cut them into little sticks just like you do carrots. Parsnips often have much bigger tops than carrots of the same length do, though, which taper to a much thinner end.

For this recipe, all you need is a 9×13 pan with sides. Pour enough olive oil into the pan to just cover the bottom with a thin layer when you tilt it around, then set it aside.

Next, clean and cut up about a pound each of carrots and parsnips. You can cut these into sticks or pennies, but I think you get a better texture and flavor from the sticks. You can start with baby carrots, but you still need to slice them up. You want the pieces to be thin so they’ll cook faster. I typically cut the baby carrots in half lengthways, and cut the parsnips into pieces about the same size. This takes a while, but it’s not difficult and you can listen to a podcast or some music while you work.

When you’re about halfway done cutting the vegetables up, turn the oven on to preheat to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. By the time you finish the oven will be hot.

Once you’ve got the carrots and parsnips cut up, put them into the pan and drizzle more olive oil over them—not a lot, maybe about a Tablespoonful. Sprinkle salt and pepper over them, then use a spatula to carefully stir them around and turn them over until they’re pretty well coated with oil. Then sprinkle more salt and pepper over them and put them in the oven.

Set the timer for 20 minutes. When the timer goes off, take the pan out of the oven. You need to really give those vegetables a good stir and that’s hard to do while they’re still in the oven. Make sure to close the oven door so heat doesn’t escape while you’re working. Use the spatula to turn the vegetables over again and stir them around. They’ll still be hard at this point.

Put the pan back in the oven when you’re done and set the timer for 15 minutes this time. When the timer goes off, use a fork to test a few of the pieces. They’re probably not fully softened yet but they may be, depending on how thin you cut them. If they’re not tender, stir them again and set the timer for another five minutes. They should be done at this point unless you cut them pretty thick or you set the oven temperature to 350 instead of 425.

When they’re fully cooked, a fork will pierce the carrot sticks easily. The parsnips may feel just a little firmer but it shouldn’t take effort to jam the fork through them.

This makes a great side dish, and in many parts of the United States, at least, parsnips are kind of a novelty. When I first tried them I wasn’t sure I liked them, but now I’m nuts about them and wish they weren’t so expensive compared to carrots.

The vegetable sticks should keep just fine in the fridge for a few days if you cover them up well or put them in a sealed container.

But when I make this recipe, I’m always planning to use at least half of them for shepherd’s pie, or even all of them. This week I made this recipe, then immediately shoveled the cooked vegetables into a fresh dish and turned them into shepherd’s pie without tasting a single one. Shepherd’s pie is fantastic and it’s really the only reason I ever make gravy.

For shepherd’s pie, you only need a 9×9 pan. Basically, you put any leftover vegetables in the bottom of the pan, layer leftover meat over that, in bite-sized pieces, pour leftover gravy over it, and top it with leftover mashed potatoes. Then you bake it about half an hour and it melds into something greater than the sum of its parts, and its parts were pretty darn good to start with.

In practice, though, who actually has that much leftover mashed potatoes? And how much gravy do you use? What if you don’t have any gravy? Let’s go through the recipe more closely.

First, the mashed potato issue. Mashed potatoes are amazing and I eat a lot of them. We’ve never had an episode about mashed potatoes, although I’ve got one planned eventually, but while they’re not hard to make, they do take some time. So unless you made a mountain of mashed potatoes for Thanksgiving but everyone filled up on dressing instead, you probably don’t have enough left over for shepherd’s pie. You need at least two cups to barely cover the top of a 9×9 pan, and double that is better.

The solution is instant mashed potatoes. These are actually pretty good nowadays. I literally buy the Walmart house brand that comes in a cardboard box, because it lasts a long time, it’s super cheap, and the cardboard recycles. You can buy the same mix in a plastic pouch but it costs more for a much smaller amount. To use in this recipe, buy the plain potato mixture, not the fancier kind with garlic flavor or anything. You just prepare them according to the package directions, but if it doesn’t call for butter, add a Tablespoon or two of butter to the water while you’re heating it to improve the flavor.

Once you’ve got the potatoes made, you’re ready to go. Turn the oven on to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and get out your 9×9 pan, but you don’t need to grease it. You’ll be adding gravy or a gravy substitute, which will keep everything from sticking. Put the vegetables in first, then the meat, all of it cooked, of course. I usually use this with leftover turkey, but other meats work fine with it. Any vegetables work fine too, but I especially like the roast parsnips and carrots. You can, of course, mix the meat in with the vegetables instead of layering them, but putting the meat on top of the vegetables keeps it from absorbing too much moisture and taking on a wet texture. If you’re using turkey that’s gone dry in the fridge, though, you might want to put it on the bottom layer.

Over this you’ll pour about one cup of gravy. I sometimes make my own gravy and sometimes use a mix. I am not a gravy lover and frankly my homemade gravy is not that good. If you don’t have gravy, you can add a cup of broth or stock instead, but gravy adds a lot more flavor and is a better texture since it’s thicker. If you use broth instead of gravy, make sure you add extra salt to the vegetables even if you salted them perfectly when you made them originally.

Finally, pile the mashed potatoes on top of it all. More is better. Add them all! It’s easiest to spoon them on. You can smooth them off with the back of the spoon if you like, but you don’t need to as long as they completely cover the top. They’re acting as a lid and you want to keep the steam inside.

Put the pan in the oven and set the timer for 30 minutes. This is a forgiving recipe since everything is already cooked and you’re basically just heating it through, so if you want to leave it in a little longer that’s fine. Just make sure the potatoes don’t burn. A little browning is good, a lot of browning is not so good.

That’s it. That’s all you need to do. Your shepherd’s pie is ready to eat, although be careful because it’s blazing hot when you first take it out of the oven. While all the ingredients are great on their own, somehow when they’re baked up together they become even better, which is a neat trick.

This recipe keeps well for several days in the fridge, covered up with tinfoil. Heat it up before eating. It’s a filling, satisfying comfort food that’s perfect for chilly days and is the best way to finish off the turkey meat that everyone’s sick of several days after Thanksgiving or some other holiday. If you don’t eat meat, there’s no reason why you can’t make this without meat and use vegetable stock or a butter gravy, although I admit I haven’t tried it that way. Let me know if you do.

Thanks for listening! You can find Real Life Cooking Podcast at That’s blueberry without any E’s. You can find the recipe that goes with this episode in the show notes. Now get out there and enjoy your food.

Roast Turkey

Roasting a turkey

The seasoned turkey ready to put in the oven (left), the tented turkey resting after roasting (middle), and the finished turkey ready to carve (right):

Welcome to the Real Life Cooking Podcast. I’m Kate Shaw and this week we’re going to learn how to roast a turkey!

This year (2020) has been endless and horrible, but somehow we are finally approaching the winter holiday season. In the United States we’re nearing Thanksgiving, a feast day celebrated with family and friends. The traditional main course for Thanksgiving is turkey, but a lot of people don’t know how to roast a turkey without drying it out. Hopefully this episode will help you roast your turkey perfectly every time.

As soon as turkeys start showing up in the stores in October I usually buy one and cook it for myself, because I love turkey. I always buy the very smallest one I can find, of course, because I am just one person and while I do have an astonishing capacity for eating turkey, I have my limits.

Don’t forget you need to have something to cook a turkey in, because even a small one is too big for ordinary pans. You can buy those heavy-duty foil roasting pans, but while they make clean-up easy, they’re also not great. You have to put a pan under them because otherwise you can’t safely move the roasting pan once the turkey is in it, because heavy-duty or not, no aluminum foil can stand up to the weight of even a small turkey. But since the roasting pan is also bigger than a typical cookie sheet, it’s still really hard to move safely. If you have room to store it, though, you can usually find inexpensive steel roasting pans this time of year. I spent less than ten bucks for mine and I’ve had it five or six years now, so I figure it’s paid for itself.

It doesn’t matter what brand of turkey you buy. They’re all pretty good. The cheaper ones sometimes have surprise bags of premade gravy tucked in the cavity, which you just paid for and they’re mostly water, but I can never feel too upset because it’s actually pretty good gravy.

Unless you’re cooking for a huge crowd, you’ll probably want to get a smaller turkey. Thirteen pounds is actually on the small side, but you can usually find turkeys that are a bit under ten pounds when you have a big selection to choose from. If you get a turkey that small on sale, it can cost less than a four-pound chicken.

So let’s assume you have acquired a frozen turkey and a roasting pan big enough to hold it. Four or five days before you plan to cook the turkey, put it in the fridge. It takes at least four days to thaw, or a day or two longer for bigger turkeys. If there’s even a slight chance you’ll forget to move it to the fridge from the freezer, put a reminder in your phone. Don’t thaw it on the counter, put it in the fridge to thaw.

Okay, the big day has arrived. It’s time to cook that turkey. People sometimes say that you cook a turkey for 20 minutes per pound, but that’s actually too long. It’s more like 15 minutes per pound, maybe even a little less. For a small turkey, up to about eleven pounds in weight, you can count on it cooking in about two and a half hours or just a bit more at 350 degrees F. My 13-pound turkey needed more like three hours. So if you like to have Thanksgiving dinner early, remember you’re going to have to get that turkey in the oven early. You also need at least an hour to prepare before the turkey goes in the oven, and at least half an hour afterwards. That’s why your grandmother was always up at dawn on Thanksgiving.

The first thing to do is clean out the sink. Wash any dishes sitting in it and give it a quick scrub or at least wipe it out with a sponge. Then set your roasting pan out so you can get to it easily. If it comes with a rack, you can use the rack. Otherwise, you’ll set the turkey directly on the bottom of the pan. I line my pan with foil because it’s a cheap pan with cheap nonstick coating, and despite my care over the years, the coating has started to peel off and I don’t want to accidentally eat any. You know, it occurs to me that I might want to upgrade my roasting pan pretty soon.

Next, take the turkey out of the fridge and open the package over the sink. If you’ve listened to the roast chicken episode, this will feel familiar. Set the turkey in the sink with the drumsticks pointing up and cut the package open. A lot of yucky water will pour out, which is why you are using the sink. Remove the packaging entirely and throw it out, and that’s why you emptied and wiped the sink clean, because the turkey is sitting in it now.

The ends of the drumsticks will be tied together, and how they’re connected depends on what brand of turkey you bought. My Butterball had a rope of skin looped over the drumsticks to hold them in place, which is honestly the best way to do it. You can just push the skin over the ends to release the legs. If the legs are joined by a heavy-duty plastic piece, it’s much harder. The plastic is really thick and even kitchen shears aren’t usually strong enough to cut it. I think you can just leave the plastic in place while the turkey cooks, but I am opposed to putting plastic in the oven. If you have a pair of pruning shears, they’re usually strong enough to get that plastic off in just one or two snips. Pruning shears: not your typical kitchen tool.

Once the legs are free, pull the neck out of the cavity. You can throw the neck out, or you can keep it for stock or to simmer in water on the stove until it’s cooked and pick off little pieces of meat to add to the gravy later if you make grvy. That’s what I meant to do this time, but I forgot and dropped it in the trash right on top of the cat litter I had scooped earlier. So it stayed in the trash.

Next, turn the turkey around so you’re looking at the neck end. This is usually sealed over with loose skin. Pull the skin back to expose the neck hole, and that’s where the giblets should be. They’re usually in a little pouch, which makes them easy to remove. Don’t forget this step! Whether or not you want to cook them, you have to take them out of the turkey first. You can also trim away the extra skin from around the neck hole and also from around the tail, although it’s not necessary.

Next, pick up the turkey, hold it cavity-down over the sink, and give it a few hard shakes. This will dislodge any ice and let any remaining water drip out. Then turn the tap on and rinse the turkey off before setting it in the roasting pan. Then wash your hands thoroughly, and scour out the sink properly before using it for anything else, because you really don’t want any raw turkey juice on anything you might eat.

Leave the turkey sitting out for about an hour. This allows the turkey to warm a little and its skin to dry, which will help it cook better. Be careful if you have pets in the house, though. I caught one of my cats trying to leap onto the counter where the turkey was sitting, which he ordinarily never does.

When the hour is almost up, get the oven ready. Before you turn the oven on, move the racks! You want your turkey sitting right above the burners at the bottom of the oven, so move one rack down there and get the other rack out of the way by moving it to the highest slot. You might want to check and make sure the turkey will fit before you turn the oven on. You may need to remove the top rack entirely and set it aside. Once the racks are moved, turn the oven on to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. While it’s preheating, season the turkey.

Despite the brand name Butterball, there’s no butter on the turkey, but that’s about to change. Warm some salted butter in the microwave for about twenty seconds and rub it all over the turkey. You can melt the butter and pour it over the turkey if you prefer. It’s even better if you push some of the softened butter under the skin, but it can be hard to get your fingers under the skin without tearing it. Then sprinkle the whole turkey liberally with salt and pepper, including inside the cavity.

Finally, peel an onion and cut it in half. Put one half in the neck cavity, where the giblets were, and pull the loose skin down to hold it in place. This helps block the neck hole, which will keep the turkey from cooking too fast. It will probably fall out during cooking, but at least you tried. Cut the other half of the onion in half again and throw both pieces into the large cavity. Then pour two cups of water into the bottom of the pan.

That’s it. Your turkey is ready to roast. Put it in the oven on the bottom rack and set the timer for 15 minutes less than the time you estimated it would need to cook. Remember, go with 15 minutes per pound for your estimation. You don’t want it to overcook, so when the timer goes off you can check it and decide if it needs that last 15 minutes.

Personally, I think basting a turkey is a waste of time. I do keep an eye on the turkey and when the skin looks as brown as I want it, I’ll set a tent of foil over it so it won’t overbrown, but that’s the only time I open the oven until the timer goes off.

Many people like to cook dressing in the turkey’s cavity, but that slows the cooking time considerably and may keep both turkey and dressing from cooking all the way through. It’s better to cook the dressing separately if you make any.

When the timer goes off, take the turkey out of the oven and set it on the stove, and make sure you shut the oven door so the heat stays inside. Use your meat thermometer to check for doneness. As we talked about in the roast chicken episode, push the thermometer deep into the meat but make sure you don’t push it all the way through into the cavity. The breast meat should measure 160 to 165 degrees F. Then check the thigh, which should be hotter than that, closer to 180. If it’s not, the thigh meat will be underdone and that’s a crime because it’s the tastiest part. If it’s not hot enough, put the turkey back in the oven for another 15 minutes, then check it again.

Many brands of turkey have a thermometer inserted in the breast meat that will pop up when it reaches optimum temperature. It’s plastic, now that I think about it. I was surprised my Butterball didn’t have the thermometer, which actually works pretty well and has helped me not overcook many a turkey.

Once the turkey is done, it’s still not done. It needs to rest for a good 20 minutes. Place a tent of foil over it the same way you do for roast chicken, which will help keep the steam from escaping. You want the turkey to absorb that steam and stay moist instead of drying out.

Once the 20 minutes have passed, or a little more if you’re in the middle of other things, you need to carve the turkey. This is traditionally the role of a male relative, mostly because the cook probably has their hands full finishing other dishes in time to get everything to the table before it’s all cold. Various offspring and their cousins are probably busy conveying dishes to the sideboard or table as they’re ready, and someone is trying to fix the ice maker which has frozen up, and everyone else is standing around watching the table expectantly like a pack of hungry dogs. Oh, and there’s usually an aunt or somebody filling wine glasses.

Anyway, if you have to carve the bird yourself, you will need a sharp knife. The only sharp knife I own is a bread knife so I use that. First cut into the skin between the leg and the body. A lot of juices will run out as soon as you pierce the skin here, and the juices should be clear and not cloudy. If they’re cloudy, there’s a good chance that the thigh meat is underdone, but the breast meat should be done so don’t worry. Thanksgiving is not ruined. You’re fine. Cut down until you hit bone, then either pull the leg back out of the way or remove it entirely if you can. My uncle pulls the leg off completely but to be honest I’m not sure how he does it.

Anyway, once you’ve done that, you’re ready to get the breast meat off, but if you plan to make gravy, you need to move the turkey out of the pan first. You need to get at those pan drippings. If you don’t have a platter big enough for the turkey, you can set it in a big skillet or a 9×13 pan long enough to pour the drippings from the roasting pan into a small mixing bowl. Then you can put the turkey back in the roasting pan to carve. Slice pieces from the sides of the breast and remove them to a serving platter.

Turkey breast meat, usually called white meat from its color, has a good texture but it becomes dry easily. Hopefully yours is moist, but if you overcooked it and it’s a little dry, the dark meat should be perfectly done. So Thanksgiving is still not ruined. Dark meat, which is mostly from the leg and thigh, has a less pleasant texture but much more flavor than white meat.

Turkey meat keeps in the fridge for about three days, maybe a little longer, but make sure to wrap it up well. Even if your turkey is perfectly done, it will get dry in the fridge, and if you microwave it to heat it up, it gets even dryer, so eat it up fast. Or you can make shepherd’s pie out of it, but that’s next week’s episode.

Thanks for listening! You can find Real Life Cooking Podcast at That’s blueberry without any E’s.  Now get out there and enjoy your food.

Carrot Banana Bread

Carrot-Banana Bread * how to grate carrots * how to choose bananas for baking

Carrot-Banana Bread

  • 2 very ripe bananas, mashed
  • 2 carrots, grated
  • 1 3/4 c. all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/3 c. shortening
  • 1/2 to 2/3 c. sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

Grease a loaf pan and preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

In a small bowl, mix the mashed banana and grated carrots. In a large bowl, mix flour, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon. In another large bowl cream together shortening and sugar, then add eggs and vanilla. Mix well, then add flour mixture alternately with banana and carrot mixture. Batter will be thick.

Pour into prepared loaf pan. Bake for 45-50 minutes.

From left to right: You can use these bananas for baking (but probably throw that black one away); a grated carrot (I added more after I took this picture); grated carrots and mashed bananas contain a lot of moisture:

The finished bread. Yummy with coffee or tea:

Welcome to the Real Life Cooking Podcast. I’m Kate Shaw and this week we’re going to learn how to make carrot banana bread.

The weather here in East Tennessee is rainy and cool as I record, which has made me want to bake. But I’ve also been trying to cut back as much as possible on sugar. So I pulled out this recipe and tinkered with it to see if I could make it slightly more healthy. I like the results, so let’s get started.

First, of course, you’ll need some bananas that are getting over-ripe. They don’t have to be completely black, but they can’t have any green left on the skins. I’m not a huge fan of bananas, but I do eat them from time to time, and I like them very ripe. The two I had on the counter were to the point where they were perfect for eating, to my mind, and when I peeled them there were no places where they were getting gross. That’s ideal for banana bread too, personally, but if you have some that are getting really over-ripe, they’ll work just fine.

As for the carrots, peel and cut off the tops just like you would for any other recipe. Then you’ll need to grate them. I feel like we’ve talked about grating carrots before but if so, I can’t remember which recipe it was for. Possibly I’m remembering the zucchini pineapple bread recipe, where you have to grate zucchini. But let’s go over it briefly here.

Once your carrots are cleaned and ready to use, get out your grater. My cheese grater is just a piece of metal with holes punched in it that I set across a medium mixing bowl. If you have the kind that’s like a little metal house, you’ll just stand it on a clean surface.

Hold the grater steady with your off hand. Then just start grating the carrots against the smallest holes in your grater. It actually goes pretty quickly. It’s easiest to hold the carrot perpendicular to the grater so that you’re grating the end of it right across, not grating it at a slant which will be awkward to hold as the carrot gets shorter and shorter. It doesn’t matter if you start grating at the thin end or the thick end.

Eventually you’ll get down to a little carrot nub that’s too small to hold without risking grating your fingers too. Just pop that little piece of carrot in your mouth and eat it. It’s a healthy snack.

As you grate, you’ll need to occasionally knock down the pile of grated carrot you’re creating, because you don’t want it getting so high that it touches the grater. Just shake the bowl. If you’re using a standing-up grater, stop occasionally to remove the grated carrot into the bowl you set out.

Okay, so that’s that. I kind of got ahead of myself so let’s start at the beginning and catch up.

You’ll need a loaf pan for this recipe and three mixing bowls, one of them medium-sized and the others larger. Use the medium-sized bowl for the grated carrot and mashed banana. It doesn’t matter what size loaf pan you use as long as it’s not teeny, but if you have a choice of sizes go for a medium-sized one.

So, grate your carrots first. You should have a good amount of grated carrots in the bowl when you’re done. The amount is flexible and I never bother to measure, but if your carrots are on the small side you probably should use three of them. Likewise, you can get away with one banana if that’s all you have, but two are even better.

After you’ve finished grating the carrots, peel the bananas and remove any of those little strings and any blackened spots. Drop the peeled bananas onto the carrots, then use a fork to mash them up together. This shouldn’t take long. You don’t need to stress over this step—as long as you don’t have any big pieces of banana left, it’ll be fine. Mix the bananas up well with the carrots.

Set that bowl aside and get out your larger mixing bowls. First measure out the flour and other dry ingredients into one bowl and mix it up well with a whisk or clean fork. Then set that bowl aside too. In the remaining bowl, measure out the shortening. You can use softened butter instead if you prefer, but shortening works just fine. While you’ve got the shortening out, grease the loaf pan and set it aside too. This is a good time to turn the oven on to preheat.

Next, add the sugar to the shortening and cream it together. How much sugar you add depends on how much of a sweet tooth you have. The original recipe I use calls for 2/3 cup sugar, which is a good amount because it doesn’t overwhelm the natural sweetness in the bananas and carrots. Today I reduced the sugar to 1/2 cup, and I found it was just enough to satisfy my craving for something sweet without tasting overly sweet—but keep in mind that I have cut almost all sugar out of my diet for several weeks now, so anything sweet tastes REALLY sweet to me.

Once you’ve creamed the shortening and sugar together well, add the eggs and vanilla and mix it up well again. Then you’re ready to put everything together and make the batter.

The recipe says to add the flour mixture alternately with the banana and carrot mixture. That means that you add some of the flour mixture to the sugar mixture—not all of it, though, just some—and mix it in well. Once it’s combined, add some of the carrot and banana mixture and stir it in. Then add more flour mixture and mix it in, and so forth.

You’ll notice that the carrot and banana mixture is really watery after sitting out for a little while, but the bread actually needs all that moisture so don’t try to drain it or anything. You’ll see when you’re done that the batter is actually quite thick, especially if you only used one banana.

Pour or spoon the batter into the greased loaf pan. You’ll need a rubber spatula or your clean fingers to get all of it out. Then put the pan in the oven and set the timer for 45 minutes.

I’ve found that 45 minutes works perfectly for this bread and it didn’t need more than that, but hopefully you know your oven. If your oven tends to run a little hot, make sure to check the bread after about 40 minutes. A toothpick inserted about halfway between the side of the pan and the middle of the bread will come out with a few damp crumbs on it when the bread it done, but you shouldn’t find underdone batter on the toothpick. The edges of the bread should be well browned, but if they’ve pulled away from the sides of the pan the bread is in danger of getting overdone.

Remove the pan from the oven and let it sit for a few minutes to cool slightly, then turn the bread out to cool, preferably on a wire rack if you have one. The bread should come out of the pan easily.

You can eat this right away, although you should probably give it at least five minutes to fully finish cooking inside. That’s the perfect amount of time to make coffee or tea. The bread is dense in texture and very moist.

If your kitchen is on the warm side, you should keep the bread in the fridge, but it should be fine on the counter for a few days as long as it’s wrapped up well–assuming it lasts that long.

Thanks for listening! You can find Real Life Cooking Podcast at That’s blueberry without any E’s. You can find the recipe that goes with this episode in the show notes. Now get out there and enjoy your food.