Celebrating “A Tiger in the Kitchen” with a Family Recipe

Today is the day A Tiger in the Kitchen: A Memoir of Food and Family by Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan comes out, and to celebrate the big day with Cheryl I, along with other bloggers, will be sharing a recipe that is very special to my family. So special, in fact, my grown siblings and I have about been reduced to tears if it was not served at a holiday gathering. So special that my mouth waters at the mere thought of it… But first, let me tell you about Cheryl.

I first met Cheryl at Yaddo, when we were both in residence this past spring, and I remember her working with great passion and dedication on this book, rivaled only by her passion and dedication to the bacon served at weekend breakfast. So, Cheryl, this recipe is for you, although, alas, I’m afraid it does not include bacon.

Oh but first let me tell you one thing. When Cheryl asked if I had a family recipe to share, I immediately thought of this dessert my mom makes, one that has become a tradition in my family due to its delectable yumminess, and really because anything my mom makes is delectable and yummy, and this, being dessert, is the cap to an evening full of delectable yumminess. She is my favorite chef in the universe.

You may have guessed this from my name, but my mom was a hippie—still is, really—and I was raised as a vegetarian (with a few dark years where we ate chicken, and in which I did try bacon and I remember it being good, Cheryl!, and then I chose to be a vegetarian again around age 13 or so and I haven’t gone back). When I was very young, my mom had a giant garden and grew most of our food. I could have shared the recipe for her zucchini muffins, first made I think because the garden was overflowing with zucchini and she had to do something with all of it, but that is a Great Family Secret, as is our method of cooking them, which can be, um, a little embarrassing. (Sorry, family joke.)

But there is nothing funny about this dessert I’m sharing today. It is too good.

So I emailed my mom and asked her for the recipe. She wrote back something a little hilarious:

“Actually, the recipe is from Tassajara Bread Book. I will send it if you want, but it is not my original. Did you think I made it up and are now disappointed?”

I must have known it was from a cookbook, I mean didn’t we have the page open on the counter while we were cooking?, but I clearly blocked that out! I mean, it’s my MOM’S recipe. In my mind, at least. Where it counts. 🙂

Without further ado, here is the famed dessert that we call Cream Cheese Squares…

(aka “Cheesecake Cookies” with grateful thanks to the Tassajara Bread Book by Edward Espe Brown, copyright 1970)

Cheesecake Cookies: 16 cookies 2″square
1/3 C butter
1/3 C brown sugar
1 C Whole wheat flour
1/2 Chopped walnuts (or toasted sesame seeds, or roasted sunflower seeds)
1/4 C honey
8 oz cream cheese
1 egg
2 T Milk
1 T lemon juice
Grated peel of 1 lemon
1/2 t vanilla extract
1/2 t nutmeg (optional)
Garnish (optional):
fruit slices: orange, apple, banana, strawberry
chopped nut meats: almonds, walnuts, brazil nuts
• Pre-heat oven to 350
• Blend together first 3 ingredients with pastry cutter to make a crumble texture. Mix in chopped nuts or seeds. Reserve 1/2 C for topping.
• Press remainder into oiled 8″ square pan, bake for 12-15 minutes.
• Soften cream cheese with mixing spoon. Using an electric mixer, blend in honey, blend in remaining ingredients and beat well. Spread over baked crust. Sprinkle reserve crust. Garnish with fruit or nut meats. Bake for 25 minutes. Cool and cut into 2″ squares.

(This recipe is from the 1970 edition of the book, but I see now that a new edition is available this very month.)

Note from my mom: I use chocolate chips for the garnish and walnuts for the crust. I double the recipe too!

Note from me: She doubles the recipe because we devour them and beg to take batches home, so one pan for three grown children (+ one E) would never be enough. In our family, it is necessary to always make two pans.

Check out Cheryl’s blog to see which other bloggers are celebrating her book launch today by sharing family recipes. And to order A Tiger in the Kitchen, visit Indiebound to find an independent bookstore near you. Congratulations, Cheryl!

Do you have a family recipe to share to celebrate Cheryl’s book launch?


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