Tuesday, December 29, 2009

New Beginnings

2010 is upon us; 2009 can be put to bed. For those of you who have suffered, I wish you peace in the new year. For those of you who have thrived, I wish you another year of riches. For those of you who are hoping for new beginnings, I wish for those ladybugs to appear. For those of you blessed with the love of family and friends, may those bonds remain strong.


Will you make a New Year’s resolution…..will you stick to it? I think I’ll continue to resolve not to make any resolutions, since they’re so easily broken. Call it lack of will power, or perhaps it’s just human nature. I will do my utmost to be the best person I can be, but not just for others….more importantly, for myself.


Those of us who are givers—whether it be in the tangible or intangible form—sometimes forget that in order to be strong for others, we need to be strong for ourselves. Listen to those inner voices reminding us that it really is okay to say “no.” It’s not a weakness to say, “I’d love to help, but I just cannot at this time.” No explanations needed. True friends will understand. We all have limits. Even the most giving of people need down time, or that candle we burn at both ends finally reaches the center…..and then…..it is extinguished.

So, to all of you out there: Be good to others…..but be especially good to yourselves.  I wish you peace, health, and happiness.

Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Holiday Cheesecake Torte




As if cheesecake isn't rich enough, sandwich it between two chocolate cake layers spread with apricot jam, and cover the entire dessert with a delicious buttercream frosting...with a hint of raspberry liqueur.  Sprinkle a few crushed pistachios on top; arrange a few marzipan kumquats and cranberries dipped in egg white and dusted with sugar, and I'll bet the cholesterol police will be at your door.  But, I guarantee they'll have a piece before carting you away to the land of sensible eating.

Merry Christmas! 

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Buche de Noel and Struffoli



Buche de Noel with Struffoli in the background


Reading the above title, one might get the impression that I have both French and Italian roots.  My only connection to France is my four years of high school French.........and my Buche de Noel.  Ok, I can still sing most of La Marseillaise when I've had perhaps tee too many martinis.  But, I digress. 

I believe it was Julia Child who was on television preparing a Buche de Noel, and I thought it was just the neatest dessert.  I had to make it for my family.  Eric was four months old that Christmas, and I've been serving it every year since then.  28 years.  Since I assemble the whole thing on Christmas Eve, and I wanted to post a photo prior to Christmas, this is one from a prior year.  I'll be making the meringue mushrooms later today.  Perhaps I'll even make a few snails.  They always look appropriate sitting on and around the log.  I've added sugar-coated cranberries, marzipan cranberries, holly, or have just left it in its simplest form:  The log and the meringue mushrooms.  Sometimes less is more. 

As for the Struffoli, no self-respecting Italian...or at least Neopolitan....Christmas dessert table would be complete without them.  Little balls of dough that are deep fried, drained, coated in honey, lemon, and orange zest.  They're then stacked and covered with colored sprinkles.  They are positively addictive. 

I wish all of you a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Lucky Ducky




Copyright Loew's Incorporated, 1956

When I think back to my childhood.....as I do quite often at this time of year and on this blog.....memories of my mother flash vividly in my mind.  And, interestingly, every year I dig out the Tom and Jerry cookie cutters.  Do I use them?  No.  Why?  Well, for one thing, they have nothing to do with Christmas, but primarily because they're not as convenient as cookie cutters made post that "era."  That era being 1956, when these were produced, and from what I understand, sold for a whopping 25 cents.  Alright, so I'm not an antique, but I guess I am inching closer. 

Tom & Jerry, Tuffy, Droopy Dog, Barney Bear, and Lucky Ducky sit atop my counter, making their annual appearance so that I can say, "Oh!  Remember these?"  Heads nod, a smile adorns my face, and yes....even a tear is shed as I think lovingly about my mom who always showed the patience of a saint as she poked the cut-out-dough through the cutter's "convenient" little holes.  As the title indicates, I was quite lucky to have Ann as my mother. 

Now I'm sure you won't cry when you look at the photo of these treasured kitchen items from my past, but I hope you enjoyed another walk down that lane we like to call, nostalgia. 

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Christmas Cookies

I tried a few new cookies this year, but the ones that remind me of my mother are the 7-layer Ribbon Cookies and the Chocolate Crackle Tops.  She always had them on her "repertoire" of goodies at this time of year.  The 7-layer cookies are made with almond paste and have an apricot jam filling; then covered on both sides with chocolate. 

The Chocolate Crackle Tops include plain breadcrumbs, ground pecans, and grated chocolate.....they're rolled in confectioners' sugar, and as they bake, "crack" on top.  I've been baking these every year for over 30 years.

Cookies shown below include:  Coconut-Orange Snowballs, Italian Almond Cookies, Chocolate Crackle Tops, 7-Layer Ribbon Cookies, Fig Swirls, Gingersnaps, Chocolate Candy Cane Cookies, White Chocolate Covered Peppermint Cookies, Peppermint Sugar Cookies (I apparently had a "thing" for peppermint this year)

Not shown:  White and Dark Chocolate Peppermint (see?) Bark,
Brandy-soaked Fruitcake (My husband is the ONE person on the planet who loves fruitcake),
Banana Bread

I might still bake:  Rugelach, Spice Shortbread, and White Chocolate Cranberry/Pistachio Biscotti








Thursday, December 10, 2009

Christmas Music

Admittedly, when I'm browsing the web, I get a bit miffed when the site opens and I'm bombarded by music.  Sometimes I enjoy what I'm hearing, but for the most part, I find myself racing for the pause or mute button, so that I can "think" while reading or not disturb the entire household if I happen to be cruising the web at some ridiculous hour of the morning while having a bout of insomnia. 

As guilty as I am at spiking the eggnog, I've broken my golden rule of having readers of my blog choose whether or not to listen to the music I've selected.  Please forgive me.  It's only for the next few weeks....only for Christmas....only because the songs invading your space make me happy....or sad....or nostalgic.  It's Christmas.  And even Bob Cratchit said, "It's only one day...."  Ok.  I've taken liberties there, too.  But....it is Christmas. 

I promise to return things back to the way they were after the tinsel and lights have been stowed. 

Merry Christmas, everyone.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Who Spiked the Eggnog?

Guilty.  I'm sure if there's eggnog, I've added some brandy, bourbon, rum, vodka, or all of the above.  However, in this case, I'd like to bring your attention to a vocal group called, "Straight No Chaser."  Perhaps you've heard of them.....if not, do yourself a favor and click on the following link.  I believe you'll be quite impressed. 


For those of you who'd like a great eggnog recipe...try this one:

12 cups heavy cream (or combination heavy cream, light cream, and/or half and half)
2 dozen egg yolks
2 cups sugar

Additions:  Freshly grated nutmeg
2 cups liquor of your choice: My preferences are a combination of bourbon, peach brandy, and dark rum

Bring cream to a simmer in a large saucepot.  Whisk yolks and sugar in a large bowl.  Gradually, whisk in half of hot cream.  Return mixture to pot.  Stir over medium-low heat until mixture thickens to a custard-like consistency; about 5 minutes.  Do not boil.  Strain mixture into a bowl.  Cool; chill.

Add liquor and nutmeg. 

Makes about 16 servings

Monday, December 7, 2009

Nesselrode Pie




For the most part, this classic pie has suffered the same fate as the dinosaurs.  Interestingly, Arthur Schwartz, aka, The Food Maven, used almost the same descriptive.  And, it's a shame if you ask me.  Mr. Schwartz discusses the history of the Nesselrode moniker--named after Count Nesselrode--and continues to describe its popularity by Hortense Spier.  He goes on to list where the main "ingredient," can be found, at the Raffetto manufacturer, Romanoff International, Inc.  Unfortunately, as Mr. Schwartz laments in an additional post, Raffetto's Nesselro can no longer be found.  So, for all of you Nesselrode Pie lovers out there....if anyone knows where a renegade jar can be purchased, please inform Arthur Schwartz and me....and anyone else who loves this pie. 

Mr. Schwartz does post a terrific recipe, but for tradition's sake (my tradition), I'm going to post the recipe my mother made....and yes, even a wonderful Italian cook used Betty Crocker's recipe.  She desperately wanted to please everyone. 

You can substitute candied chestnuts for the Nesselro, and as Mr. Schwartz points out, there was actually cauliflower, yes cauliflower, in the Raffetto's product.  Who knew? 

I've also learned through my quest for Nesselro, that a bakery in Brooklyn, NY--Teena's Cake Fair--makes this pie....but only for the holidays.  As it should be. 


NESSELRODE PIE

Baked 9-inch pie shell
4 teaspoons unflavored gelatin
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups milk
6 egg yolks, slightly beaten
1 bar (4 ounces) sweet cooking chocolate, grated
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon rum flavoring
1 jar (10 ounces) Raffetto's Nesselro
3 cups chilled whipping cream

In a medium saucepan, mix gelatin, sugar, cornstarch, salt, milk, and egg yolks.  Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until mixture thickens and boils.  Boil and stir 1 minute.  Pour 1 1/2 cups of the hot mixture into bowl; set aside and cool.

Reserve 2 tablespoons of the chocolate for topping; blend remaining chocolate and the vanilla into hot mixture in saucepan.  Cool completely.

Line 9-inch pie pan with waxed paper.  Stir rum flavoring and Nesselro into plain mixture in bowl.  In chilled bowl, beat 2 cups of the cream until stiff; fold one half into each mixture.  Pour chocolate mixture into baked pie shell; pour Nesselrode mixture into waxed paper-lined pan.  Chill each until firm.

Loosen edge of Nesselrode layer; invert layer on chocolate filling.  In chilled bowl, beat remaining cream until stiff.  Spread over pie, covering completely; sprinkle with reserved chocolate.  Serve immediately.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Girls' Night



Before cutting....

Once upon a time a group of women gathered together to play that infamous dice game known as, Bunco.  We'd talk, eat, drink, laugh, roll dice, keep score, and exchange gifts.  As time moved on, we realized that the game was getting in the way of valuable gab time, and the better option was to just relax with a few glasses of wine and good food.  We're now Bunco drop-outs, but the laughs and yummy food abound when we're together.  Last night was our Christmas gathering, and I wanted to make a special dessert to bring as my offering.  Looking through my seemingly endless recipe files, I finally decided on Bon Appetit's, December 2009, Peppermint Meringue Cake with Chocolate Buttercream.  We girls love our chocolate, and the peppermint added just the right holiday touch.  The only thing I changed was to make two meringue layers instead of three.  There was no specific reason, I just liked the idea of two chocolate and two meringue layers filled and frosted with the rich ganache-like buttercream.   The recipe can be found on Epicurious at the following link:
Peppermint-Meringue-Cake-with-Chocolate-Buttercream



After...

As Promised.....




My Limoncello is all bottled, labled, and ready for gift giving.  If desired, print out the recipe and tie to the ribbon. 

The bottles shown are 16-ounce capacity, and I purchased them from: Beer-Wine Hobby

Sunday, November 29, 2009

A Touch of Whimsy




I almost forgot to post a photo of a birthday cake I made over the weekend for a friend's daughter.  This was a special request for my Spice Islands Carrot Cake, but I didn't want to spread it with the usual coconut cream cheese frosting, so I decided to have a little fun with it.  I made a gum paste ruffle and whimsical flowers to add a focus.  I surrounded the sides with a black lace white chocolate transfer sheet, draped it loosely with fondant, giving the whole cake a feminine, yet "Dr. Seuss-y" look. 




My Favorite Things

Once the remnants of Thanksgiving dinner are but an epicurean memory, my focus shifts to the biggest holiday of the year--at least for me--Christmas. The preparations typically begin the day after the gobble-fest.

Boxes stuffed with treasured decorations are lugged down from the attic, and for the most part of a week, I carefully place and arrange the holiday memories from years gone by.  Of course, Christmas carols play in the background.  Some silly; some sentimental.  "Dominick the Donkey" gets me every year.  My father's name was Dominick....so of course, this silly song about an Italian Christmas donkey brings tears to my eyes.  The first year I purchased Christmas Organ Spectacular, by Rob Richards, my sister and I marched around the kitchen, to "The March of the Wooden Soldiers."  (It's a Radio City memory....the sound of that pipe organ makes my eyes tear).  I know, I know...I'm so goofy!  Here's a link to the Laurel and Hardy movie: March of the Wooden Soldiers

Christmas wouldn't be Christmas without massive amounts of baking, and I'll post a few of my favorite recipes as I progress through the next few weeks, but for now, this is about the decorations. 




I received this marching Santa from my grandfather, John (Giovanni) when I was around 8 years old.  The paper covering the drum managed to get a little girl's finger poked through one year, so in order to redeem myself, I replaced it with a cupcake liner.  Pretty creative, I'd say. 




"Father Christmas"  Ok.  Donna and I think he resembles our father. 




Babbo Natale, Papa Natale, Father Christmas. 




These ceramic "Noel" letters are actually candle holders.  They stand about 3" high and hold standard birthday cake candles.  Mom used to light them years ago, but now they've become window-ledge decorations.  They rarely spell, "N-O-E-L," since my sons have taken to rearrange them throughout the season to spell, "L-E-O-N,"  "E-L-O-N," and "L-O-N-E." 




Ok, this is just a shameless display of affection for my sons.




What's a baker without baker snowmen in a wreath?




My mother-in-law stitched this treasure for me, oh, I guess around 20 years ago.  Those are her initials in the lower right-hand corner: FAS.  Florence Andre' Schmidt.
The two antique photos:  John's paternal grandmother, Olga, far right.  My father, about 4-years-old, far left.

Coming soon:  My Marx Trains

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Gobble, gobble

Admittedly, today's Thanksgiving dinner is more manageable than those gone by. With only my husband and two sons, dinner becomes a stress-free, fancy celebration for all we’re thankful to have in our lives without worrying about satisfying the masses.  I did end up making three desserts even for just us: Pumpkin Crumble Pie, Pear and Pastry Cream-filled Cream Puffs glazed in chocolate, and Apple-filled Puff Pastry Pockets. So, we’ll all jog around the table after dinner.

Growing up, there were aunts, uncles, cousins, assorted drop-in friends. It seems that these days, everyone has cocooned into their individual families, and the big-deal dinners are but a distant memory. Mom would be in the kitchen on the eve of a holiday most likely setting the table, polishing the few pieces of silver that she owned, or finishing the manicotti. The good china would adorn the table, or tables, depending on the head count.
Yes, as I’ve mentioned in earlier posts, there was a huge antipasto, soup—most likely, Little Meatball Soup—homemade manicotti or stuffed shells, “The Turkey”, maybe even a roast since “you never know,” potatoes, vegetables, several desserts, nuts, and fruit. We’d sit at the table literally all day. I call Italians: Marathon Eaters. We know good food, and we know how to savor it. It’s all about the food and the company.

So, to all of you out there, I wish you a blessed holiday filled with loving reflections of warm memories and promises of greater times to come.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Whoopie!








Dark chocolate cake.....marshmallow buttercream filling.....a recipe for success, and I'm donating a basketfull of Whoopie Pies to the anniversary/fundraiser being held tomorrow at HD Sports in Toms River.  Folks are being urged to bring in their used sports equipment, non-perishable food, clothing, among other listed items, and they will be donated to Ocean's Harbor House, a safe haven for abused and abandoned children.  The link for this event:http://www.njhitdogs.com/
Click on the sidebar link:  "HD's Open House."

Why "Drew's" Whoopie Pies?  Because Joanne and Jack's son, Drew loves them.  So, he got bragging rights.  I only hope the basket makes it to the public......

Monday, November 16, 2009

Banana Nutella Chocolate Cream Tart

The Donna is coming! The Donna is coming!  The tension is palpable....the excitement drawing near....my sister is arriving tomorrow from Marco-la-la-land.  She's unique; we're the same, but different; and I love her.  So naturally, I had to bake a banana something or other for her.  Her birthday was in October and because she'd hit me, I won't give her age away, but I can tell you from my heart, she doesn't look anywhere near her __ years. 

So, here's what I came up with this year for "The Donna," as we like to call her. 

Banana Nutella Chocolate Cream Tart

Chocolate Tart Shell*

2 cups pastry cream OR
1 package 2.75 oz. pkg. vanilla pudding (not instant) made with whole milk and 1 vanilla bean (split in half—seeds scraped into mixture—add bean), chilled until ready to use
4 bananas
1 tablespoon dark rum
½ cup Nutella
1 cup whipped cream (the real deal…not Cool Whip, etc.)

1. Make pastry cream or pudding; chill until ready to use.
2. Make Chocolate Tart Shell; cool
3. Spread Nutella carefully, on the bottom of the cooled tart shell.
4. Fold whipped cream into pastry/pudding.
5. Slice bananas; add rum; toss to coat; add to pudding/whipped cream.
6. Spoon banana/cream mixture over Nutella.
Chill, covered, until ready to serve:  (I'd assemble this right before serving)
7. If desired, (and I highly suggest it), follow my recipe for the "fostered" bananas in my October's posting for Rum Roasted Banana Bread (as much or as little as desired) and when ready to serve the tart, spoon the bananas in the Foster sauce over each serving.  You'll thank me. 

*Chocolate Tart Shell
1 ¼ cup all-purpose flour
2/3 cup sugar
Pinch of salt
8 tablespoons butter, chilled
2 tablespoons shortening
2-3 tablespoons ice water

In a food processor, combine flour, sugar, and salt. Pulse to blend. Add butter, cut into pieces, and shortening; pulse again until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Add water and blend just until dough holds together; do not over mix.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Press into greased 9-inch tart pan, pushing mixture up sides. Chill for ½ an hour. Pierce holes around tart with tines of fork; bake for 18 minutes or until tart shell has no more moisture on surface.
Cool completely on rack.



Friday, November 13, 2009

Pumpkin Pie

I don't know about you, but I can't even think about Thanksgiving without Pumpkin Pie.  At this time of year, actually beginning in October, my mom baked more pumpkin pies than I can can remember, since it was my dad's favorite dessert.  Other than just a bowl of whipped cream.  I can still hear my dad asking, "Ann....when are you going to bake a Pun-kin Pie."  He'd say it that way just so that his wife and two daughters would say, "Pump-kin!"  Every year, the same thing.  I'd say that Pumpkin Pies make me feel nostalgic for the warm feeling of "home for the holidays," but truthfully, everything relative to food conjures up special memories of my parents.  The holidays are especially bittersweet without them. 

I'm one of those cooks/bakers who loves to try new recipes or variations on a favorite almost every time I prepare a dish.  Pumpkin Pie isn't typically that time, since I found a recipe for a spicy Pumpkin Pie in Bon Appetit many years ago that I find to be the best version of this classic pie.  I'll post that recipe but also mention one that I saw in their November 2009 issue for Pumpkin Pie With Brown Sugar-Walnut Topping.  That sounds particularly yummy, since "brown sugar" and "walnut topping" have me holding my fork in the ready at just the mention of that combination.  The link is listed below.
Pumpkin Pie With Brown Sugar-Walnut Topping

Here's my all-time favorite, though, which is from Bon Appetit's November 1978 issue, and it was listed in a feature on microwaveable recipes.  I always baked it in the traditional way, however.

PUMPKIN PIE

1 16-ounce can pumpkin
1 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
1/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
1/4 cup hot water
1 egg, beaten
1 tablespoon flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1/2 teaspoon allspice
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon cloves
1 9-inch prebaked pie shell
Whipped cream/vanilla ice cream....or my personal favorite:  Haagen-Dazs Rum Raisin (Yum, yum)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Combine pumpkin, milk, sugar, water, egg, flour, and spices in large mixing bowl and stir until well blended.  Pour into pie shell. 
Bake pie for 50 to 55 minutes. 

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Spice Cake



It's been an emotional few weeks as those who know me can attest to, or those who read my blog.  Right after the tragic loss of my friend, Tommy, we had a contrasting event to attend:  A wedding.  This is a lovely, intelligent, and fun couple; Eric was honored to be Greg's best man, and we were all honored to attend the uplifting ceremony where the vocalist sang like an angel, and the bride, Nadine, looked like a fairy princess.  I couldn't keep my eyes off of the beautifully painted frescos adorning the altar.  After the vows were exchanged, we were treated to a beautiful reception at the Stroudsmoor Country Inn in the Poconos.

This was class personified, and the food was no exception.  Our dinner choices were tenderloin of beef or oven roasted chicken.  That sounds pretty basic, right?  But, there's one thing that every cook knows.  It's not the uniqueness of the ingredients that makes a great meal, but how great the meal is prepared.  Everyone was in agreement that these two dishes couldn't have been finer.  The cinnamon, batter-dipped apple slices to accompany my perfectly prepared and sliced chicken were a treat.  As if dessert mingled alongside the entree'.  The baby carrots were just the right degree of crispness, and the autumn vegetable speckled rice tried its best to be unpretentious as it waited its turn to be tasted underneath the chicken and apples.  Adam said the beef was like butter.  Seasoned and cooked to perfection.  The tables were adorned with terracotta-colored rose and bayberry wreaths and vases which completed the picture for a beautiful autumn day. 

But, as someone who truly appreciates an exceptional dessert, I must give two-thumbs up, kudos, nods, props, call it what you will, to the Spice Wedding Cake.  Again, unpretentious.....no hidden surprises.....just a most moist and delicious cake with a delicate and smooth maple buttercream frosting.  It wasn't sweet; it wasn't too spicy; it wasn't too rich; it just, was.  I can still taste its perfection.    

More often than not, it's the most basic of things, if presented in the best light.....that become the most wonderful of memories. 

My best wishes for a long, healthy, and happy life to Greg and Nadine.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Favorite Childhood Fun Foods




The passing of my dear friend has me reminiscing about days-gone-by.  Tom was a part of my childhood having grown up in the same town as I and being the cousin of a neighbor and close friend.

I can remember when those Funny Face Drinks came out in the mid-60's; I would have been around 10 years old.  Some of those names would probably be considered politically incorrect these days, but we always looked forward to our mothers' grocery bags where the cute packets with the funny names would be hiding.  "Goofy Grape," "Rootin' Tootin' Raspberry," and "Freckle Face Strawberry," to name a few. 

There was something so fascinating to me about those little Nik-L nips wax soda bottles, though I felt they could have poured a little more liquid inside.  How sweet were they?  (Rhetorical).

One of my all-time favorite candies is still around:  NECCO wafers.  Not only are the candies good, but the waxed wrapper holding each and every one tightly inside made them seem more than special.   And, if you can get ahold of the all-chocolate packs....even better. 

So, tell me about your favorites.  I'd love to hear about them.....and don't forget to check out the poll right over there on the right.  Scroll down a bit.  You'll find it.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

With a heavy heart....


The stars will be shining much brighter in the heavens as our good friend, Tommy is now smiling down upon us.  His suffering has ended; ours has only begun. His loving wife, beautiful daughters, devoted parents, family, and friends will now have the unthinkable and difficult task of facing our lives without this vivacious and wonderful man.

There will not be a bottle of red wine opened, nor a dish of broccoli rabe and sausage consumed, without thoughts of Tommy.  Dining out on Saturday nights.....sitting around the backyard firepit....."Can't get enough of those Johnnycakes".....songs by the Eagles......NASCAR races....Giants football....."Tommy Tux"....the sound of his booming voice and infectious laugh. 

You will be missed, my dear friend.  More than these mere words can ever express.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Food For Thought

My thoughts haven't been so sweet this past week; a close friend is seriously ill.  It's almost too difficult to imagine this man in any other way than grabbing life and devouring it in the same way he would a great meal.  Food, family, fun, and friends are synonomous with: Tommy.

We take so much for granted in our brief journey through life, and it's only in times of stress and sorrow that we begin to realize the precious importance of normalcy.  Sitting across from a loved one toasting "health and friendship," flows out as smoothly as the wine in the glass, but we really don't want to believe there might come a day sooner rather than later when that toast will really matter. 

My mother always said, "If you have your health, you have everything."  Here's to miracles. 

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Blueberry Scones



Wikipedia describes scones as, "a small British quickbread (or cake if recipe includes sugar) of Scottish origin."  It goes on to explain how they're typically made from wheat, barley, or oatmeal, with baking powder as a leavening agent.  The pronunciation of the word "scone" varies across the United Kingdom from the "o" having a long or short sound.  There is a debate as to the origin of the word, sometimes scones are round, sometimes they're flat, most of the time they're triangular in shape.  They can be sweet; they can be savory.  They can have raisins, nuts, chocolate, can be baked or griddled.  You say potato; I say potahto.  Let's agree on one thing:  There are as many variations of scones as there are shades of OPI nailpolish.  And, then some. 

I like to use whole wheat flour along with all-purpose flour in most of my scone recipes. It does make them crumblier, but I like that flaky, rustic texture.  The ones I baked this morning included dried blueberries, grated coconut, and chopped walnuts.  For those of you who prefer pecans, and you know who you are, please feel free.

This recipe is similar to my Nutty Coconut Scone recipe.

1 1/4 cups white whole wheat flour
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup golden brown sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon freshy grated nutmeg
1/2 cup unsalted butter, chilled, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
2 large eggs
1/4 cup half 'n half
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups chopped walnuts
1 cup dried blueberries
1/4 cup shredded coconut

1 tablespoon additional half 'n half
1-2 tablespoons Turbinado sugar

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.  Line a baking pan with a sheet of parchment paper. 

In a large bowl, stir together the flours, brown sugar, baking powder, salt, and nutmeg.  Add the butter, and cut into the flour with a pastry cutter or your fingers (I use my fingers) until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs.   In another bowl, mix the eggs, half 'n half, and vanilla; then add to flour mixture.  Don't overmix.  Add the nuts, blueberries, and coconut, just until combined. 

Drop mixture onto parchment paper-lined pan and form into a 9-inch diameter circle.  Brush half 'n half over the top; dust with sugar.  Slice into 8 wedges.  Bake for 20 minutes or until a toothpick or cake tester inserted in center comes out clean.  Remove pan from oven; reslice wedges; transfer to a rack to cool.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

For Karen

Ok, Karen.  I'm sorry.  I'll begin posting more often again, and I'm so flattered that you enjoy reading my blog. 

I hope my fingers can type after Zumba on Tuesday night.  (But, we're going to be so thin!)  Can we please go on that spa weekend?  Please?

Cafe' World

Hello, my name is Pam, and I'm a Cafe' World addict.  Has anyone gotten involved with this thing on Facebook?  It's not a real cafe', I need to keep reminding myself.  However, I had to rush home from dinner tonight to serve my French Onion Soup, Triple Berry Cheesecake, and begin preparation of the Pumpkin Pie to these virtual customers. 

I've realized that I desperately need to begin a new business.  The virtual cafe' is not exactly cutting the mustard, so to speak.  However, it does make me realize how much I miss my former dessert cafe'.  In fact, after dining on an absolutely fabulous meal tonight, the desserts fell short.  We all agreed that the little place "up the road a piece" would have been a great spot to enjoy a cup of coffee and/or espresso, and one of my homemade desserts.  Now, don't get me wrong.  There are millions of great bakers out there, and in fact, one of the patrons sitting at an adjacent table from us overheard our conversation about the so-so quality of the desserts, and she agreed.  She said hers are better, too.  But, I bake because I love it, and because it feeds my soul.  It's like the olive oil running through my veins.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Rum Roasted Banana Bread Glazed with Foster Cream



I found this great recipe for banana bread in a cookbook called, "Mix it Up!" by Jamee Ruth, and it came with my Kitchen Aid Pro mixer.  I've added cinnamon and nutmeg to her recipe, since I do like a little spice in everything I bake.  I challenge you to not want to eat all of the bananas right out of the pan or to pour them over vanilla ice cream.  This is Bananas Foster meets Banana Bread, and in fact, why not slice a piece of the bread, place in the bottom of a dessert bowl, top with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, then spoon the cream sauce over the whole kit and kaboodle.  Absolutely indulgent. 

10 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 very ripe bananas
1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar
1 tablespoon dark rum (I use Captain Morgan)
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup chopped walnuts
1/4 cup plain vanilla yogurt
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Grease and flour the bottom of a 9-inch loaf pan, and set aside. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.


Melt the butter in a heavy-bottomed skillet. Leave ¼ cup in the skillet, and pour the rest into a small bowl. Set the bowl aside. Peel and slice the bananas, add them to the skillet, and saute’ for 1 minute. Sprinkle the brown sugar over the bananas, add the rum*, and saute’ for 2 minutes more. With a slotted spoon, transfer the bananas to a bowl and set aside. Add the cream to the remaining liquid in the skillet, stir, and turn off the heat.
*A very astute reader advised me to inform my fellow bloggers to remove the pan from over the heat when adding the rum, as the alcohol could cause flareups.  We do not wish for anyone to combust.  Spontaneously, or otherwise. 

Combine the flour, sugar, baking soda, spices, and walnuts in a bowl. In the mixing bowl, combine the bananas, yogurt, eggs, vanilla, and the reserved melted butter. Mix on low for one minutes. The bananas should be lumpy, rather than completely blended. With the mixer running, add the flour mixture all at once, and turn the mixer off as soon as the flour is moistened. The batter should look a little dry in places. Using a spatula, transfer the batter to the loaf pan. Tap the pan to distribute the batter evenly.

Place the pan in the oven, and bake for about one hour or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack in the pan for 5 minutes; then turn the loaf out onto the wire rack.

While the bread is cooling, make the glaze: Warm the cream mixture in a skillet; cook for 2 to 3 minutes until it’s thick and creamy. Slice the bread and drizzle some of the Foster Cream over each slice. Serve immediately.

Zumba



Tomorrow is my good friend, Joanne's birthday.  I won't reveal her age, but to me, we'll always be just silly girls.  She's decided to have a "Zumba" party to celebrate.  For those of you who aren't familiar with Zumba, it's an exercise program that combines Latin dance rhythms with a workout, so that you're having fun rather than thinking about losing inches and weight. 

But, what would a birthday party be without cake?  So, I'm baking a Coconut Cake with a White Fluffy (7-Minute) Frosting; Limoncello Cupcakes filled with Lemon Curd, and an Applesauce Spice Cake.  I might also bake a dozen Brownie Cupcakes with Peanut Butter Frosting.  So, we should probably begin the Zumba today and dance our way clear into tomorrow night so that we can indulge in a a dessert or two. 

Happy "Trip Around the Sun", Joanne!


Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Mom's Penicillin

When I was a child, back in the dark ages of the late 50’s and early 60’s, we had a family physician, Dr. Ciccone. He actually made house calls and carried a black satchel. However, I honestly cannot remember him ever coming to our house.   It would have taken the plague for my mother to call the doctor. But, when she did, Dr. Ciccone knew someone in our house was really sick.  It wouldn't have been just a case of the sniffles or a scraped knee.  There was one “test” Dr. Ciccone gave my mother early on, and that criteria was the golden rule of which every illness was determined. Listen carefully, this is important for all of you young parents out there in Blogland. Dr. Ciccone’s failsafe determination as to whether or not your child is ill:

“Check the soles of her shoes.”

“What????”

“Are they scuffed?”

“Well, yes, doctor.”

“Then, she’s ok.”

Logic: If the shoes are scuffed, then she’s outside playing, and all is well with the world. Ok. Works for me. I used this rule, more or less, when raising my two sons. Yes, yes, there were the times when they’d heat the thermometer with the blow dryer raising the temperature to miss school.  But, for the most part, when they were home sick, they were sick. Truth be told, I probably made staying home a treat; something to look forward to during the long and dreary days of winter. After all, my mother trained me.  She’d walk up to the A and P and come home with a coloring book and crayons, or the little loom to make potholders (yes, I did), and then, there was the soup. Homemade soup. Chicken and Rice, or the holy grail of soups: Beef Barley. It made being sick, worth it.

Now, I can post recipes for both.  But, honestly, they’re just not the same as mom’s. She put “secrets” in her recipes. I never discovered those secrets….but I think what it amounts to is:  Love.  I have my own version of that love, but it will never replace the uniqueness of my mother's.  So, no matter what I cook….no matter how great it turns out….it’s missing that one secret ingredient that belonged to mom alone.

Eric wasn’t feeling well over the weekend. He’s 28. But I can’t help it. I’m a mom. I’m Italian. I made soup. And, he’s better. I don’t care if he got more sleep than he was getting; it was my soup that made him better. That’s my story, and I’m stickin’ to it.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Bottle it Up

I've had a nice request to post a picture of my finished Limoncello in its gift-giving bottle and wrappings.  I promise to do so when this year's product is finished.  In the mean time, I've posted a sample label on the Limoncello post that I've created in the past, and I stick it right on the bottle.  You can obviously change the size depending on the bottle used, or pick one size. 

As to the bottle itself, well, this is up to your liking.  My favorite style is the one used for Grolsch beer--the swingtop.  However, I like to purchase clear glass so the color of the liqueur shows through.  These bottles seal in the liquid to ensure there's no spillage in the freezer, should you need to lay them down.  Of course, you can use a cork-style as long as its a tight fit. 

One of the many sites on line to find these bottles is:  SpecialtyBottle.com
I've also found pretty bottles at vintage stores, Sur la Table, and Amazon, to name a few.  You can even use washed and dried bottles from other products, but stay away from anything with a strong smell or oily residue.   

For the recipe, use a standard 5" x 7" card, but fold it in half lengthwise, so it's not too bulky looking for the bottle.  Punch a hole in the top; slip a pretty ribbon through--red & green for Christmas--and add a few lemon peels or dried lemon slices.  Be creative! 

Saturday, October 3, 2009

When Life Hands You Lemons.....



My friend, Karen, reminded me that it's time to make the Limoncello.  It just wouldn't be Christmas without Santa's "Ho-ho-ho," and a red-ribboned bottle of my homemade spirit under her tree.  After the presents are purchased, wrapped, and opened; the holiday dinners planned, prepared, and eaten; it's always nice to sit back, relax, and sip a freezing cold cordial glass of sinfully soothing Limoncello. 

I should point out that I'm discussing Christmas in October, since when making this liqueur, the lemon peels need ample time to steep, infusing their flavor and color into the alcohol.
I've used 100-proof vodka in the past for my homemade liqueurs and have had good results, though the purists say one should only use the 151-proof grain alcohol, known most commonly as Everclear.  There's also a 190-proof, but it's not available for purchase in every state because of the high alcohol content.  Even the 151-proof has a limit on its availablity in certain states. 

You'll need one or two (if doubling the recipe) large, glass jars for the initial resting period; then individual gift-giving bottles which should be stored in the freezer for optimal flavor of the Limoncello.

Limoncello

16-18 thick-skinned lemons
1.75 ltr. bottle of 100-proof vodka (Do not use less than 100-proof)
4 cups sugar
5 cups water

Wash and dry the lemons.  Peel the lemons removing only the yellow skin, not the white pith, as this will produce a bitter liqueur. 

Add half of the bottle of vodka to a large, glass jar; add all of the lemon peels.  Cover the jar and let it sit at room temperature for at least two weeks, and up to one month.  The longer, the better, as the flavor will intensify. 

After the initial resting period, combine the sugar and water in a large saucepan.  Heat and cook until thickened, about 5 minutes.  Cool, then add to the lemon/vodka mixture.  Add the remainder of the vodka; stir.  Cover and let the mixture rest for an additional two to four weeks.  Again, longer is better. 

Strain the Limoncello, discarding the lemon peels, and pour into individual bottles.  Keep in the freezer until ready to serve.

If giving Limoncello as a gift, it's nice to print out the recipe, tie around the neck of the bottle with a pretty ribbon, and you can even zest a few lemon spirals to include as a decoration.  I also make labels for the bottles. 

Friday, September 25, 2009

Hiding under that aluminum foil...

I've had some very observant and curious readers ask me just what was under that foil next to the Almond Praline Cake.  Here's a photo of the other desserts I served for our casual, "Meet the PhotoArtists" night at the cafe' last year. 



From left to right:
Cherry & Pear Frangipane Torte, Pumpkin Ginger Streusel Pie, Poppyseed/Chocolate Pound Cakes,
Chai Tea Cheesecake, Almond Praline Cake, and in the back: Orange Pecan Biscotti

Thanks for asking! 

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Almond Praline Cake with Mascarpone Frosting and Chocolate Bark



Here's a cake that has it all, and the flavors are perfect for this time of year.  This cake, with layers rich and delicious made with the addition of almond paste; the filling, laden with chocolate ganache and almond praline; then topped with a sumptuous mascarpone frosting is sure to satisfy anyone's sweet tooth.  I made no alterations from Bon Appetit's recipe with the exception of the decorating.
  You just can't improve on perfection.

Ganache filling:
1 1/4 cups heavy whipping cream
3 tablespoons (packed) dark brown sugar
10 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped

Almond cake:
1 1/2 cups cake flour
2 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup (packed) dark brown sugar
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
3 7-ounce packages almond paste,* crumbled into 1-inch pieces
7 large eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 3/4 teaspoons almond extract

Almond praline:
1 cup sugar
2 cups whole almonds, toasted

Mascarpone frosting:
1 1/2 8-ounce containers mascarpone cheese**
1 1/2 cups chilled heavy whipping cream
3 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract

Chocolate bark:
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
For ganache filling:


Simmer cream and sugar in medium saucepan, stirring to dissolve sugar. Add chocolate; whisk until smooth. Chill until just spreadable, about 6 hours.

For almond cake:
Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter three 9-inch-diameter cake pans with 1 1/2-inch-high sides. Line bottoms with parchment paper; dust pans with flour. Whisk flour, baking powder, and salt in bowl. Using heavy-duty mixer, blend brown sugar and butter in large bowl. Beat in almond paste 1 piece at a time, then beat until smooth. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in extracts. Fold in dry ingredients. Divide batter among pans; smooth tops. Bake cakes until tester inserted into centers comes out clean, about 25 minutes. Cool cakes in pans on rack.

For almond praline:
Line baking sheet with foil. Stir sugar and 1/4 cup water in heavy medium saucepan over medium-low heat until sugar dissolves. Increase heat; boil without stirring until deep amber, swirling pan and brushing down sides with wet pastry brush occasionally. Mix in nuts. Pour onto foil; cool. Peel foil off praline. Chop praline coarsely. DO AHEAD Praline can be made 1 day ahead; store airtight at room temperature.

For mascarpone frosting:
Beat all ingredients in large bowl just to soft peaks (do not overbeat or mixture will curdle).

Run knife around pan sides to loosen cakes. Turn cakes out; peel off paper. Place 1 cake layer on platter. Spread half of ganache over; sprinkle with 1/4 cup praline. Top with second cake layer. Spread remaining ganache over; sprinkle with 1/4 cup praline. Top with third cake layer. Spread frosting over top and sides of cake. DO AHEAD Cake can be made 1 day ahead; cover with cake dome and chill. Store remaining praline airtight at room temperature.

For chocolate bark:
Line baking sheet with foil. Melt chocolate in small bowl set over saucepan of simmering water. Stir until smooth. Remove from over water. Drizzle all but 1 tablespoon chocolate over foil in thick (about 1-inch-wide) zigzag lines (chocolate will pool in spots). Sprinkle 3 tablespoons praline over chocolate; chill bark until firm, about 1 hour.

Press praline around bottom 2 inches of cake; sprinkle more atop. Peel foil off bark; break into pieces. Press edges into frosting atop cake. Remelt 1 tablespoon chocolate over simmering water, stirring often. Using spoon, drizzle chocolate over cake. DO AHEAD Chill up to 4 hours. Serve cold or at room temperature.

This recipe was featured in Bon Appetit, March 2007

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Lazy Susan


Perhaps it's the weather.....just beautiful here at the Jersey Shore.....perhaps it's the Raul song playing on my iPod right now:  Dream River where he sings of "floating down a dream river...." and it's making me feel quite mello, but both are contributing to a very relaxed.....maybe it's instrospective......but ultimately, lazy feel to the day.  One thought led to another, and mom's Lazy Susan entered the picture. 

In fact, a friend and I were discussing a Lazy Susan made from a wine barrel lid that was quite pricey, although rustic and a great conversation piece as well as a practical addition to one's table.  I imagine it was only time before I featured another retro item that I have in my serving collection of treasures that originally were purchased by or for my mom.  Looking at and using these items make me feel as if she's still right here.....though I don't need a tangible item to feel her presence at all times.  I think what it does, is allow the memory of her actions to remain......active.  That might make sense to some. 

But here we have the Lazy Susan.  I checked on the origin of the name, since I really had no idea.  Most accounts state that the name appeared in a Vanity Fair article in 1917 for a revolving server.  Early stories describe revolving servers were often tiered and called, dumbwaiters; that term later used to describe  servants' elevators.  There are also accounts of servants being known as, "Susans," hence the revolving tray would assist the lazy server. 

Well, whatever the origin, our Lazy Susan was used primarily for an Italian antipasto.  The center covered bowl would be filled with a salad.  No dressing....oil and vinegar served separately.  In the surrounding dishes, you'd find assorted olives, cheeses, anchovies (if my sister, Donna and I didn't eat the whole can first), salami, pepperoni, roasted peppers, eggplant, and anything else that would be considered fit for an antipasto.

Of course as kids, we just liked spinning the tray.....even if we didn't really want that other olive or piece of cheese.  It gave us something to do while the grownups talked about boring things.  Well, that piece of serveware speaks to me now.....and everything it has to say fills me with warm memories. 

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Trifle

White Chocolate Tiramisu Trifle with Spiced Pears
If there's one dessert that is almost foolproof, but yet impressive looking and tasty, it's the Trifle.  Traditionally prepared with ladyfingers or sponge cake brushed generously with liqueur, you can use any absorbant cookie or cake, such as poundcake or anisette cookies.  The cake is then spread with preserves or fruit syrup; topped with a pastry cream and/or whipped cream; then layered with fresh fruit.  This process is repeated, until you have several layers to fill a trifle or other pretty, glass serving bowl.  Whipped cream decoratively tops the entire dessert along with any fruit, cookie, or chocolate garnishes.  What's even better about a Trifle, is that it's best made the day ahead, or at least early in the morning of the day you plan to serve it to give the flavors time to mingle and for the cookies or cake to soak up the liquid and soften.   I'd wait until right before ready-to-serve before topping with whipped cream

The photo shown above is a beautiful and delicious variation of the traditional, English Trifle, and was in Bon Appetit's December 2007 issue; now on epicurious.com.  Since I did make this recipe, I can tell you without hesitation, that it's a showstopper in looks and in taste.

http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/White-Chocolate-Tiramisu-Trifle-with-Spiced-Pears-240701

Thursday, September 10, 2009

May I be Frank?

All of us have that one dish that perhaps is not the best for us.....doesn't rank among the healthiest choice on the menu.....but, every once-in-a-while, we just need to have it.  For whatever reason, I needed to feast on something totally indulgent today.  My dish?  Macaroni and and a Creamy Cheese Sauce doused with Frank's Hot Sauce.  (My son, Adam got me hooked on Frank's).  Unfortunately, I had to share with two others, but ok, my waistline is all the happier for that.  Here's my recipe for comfort:

MACARONI AND CHEESE SAUCE A LA FRANK'S HOT SAUCE
 (The latter, of course, is optional)

1 box elbow macaroni, cooked, and kept warm
6 slices center cut bacon, cooked until crisp
1/2 an onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, diced
6 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons flour
1 cup milk (whole is best)
1 cup chicken stock
2 tablespoons finely chopped, fresh basil
2 tablespoons finely chopped, fresh parsley
1 cup shredded Montery Jack and/or Cheddar cheese
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Freshly ground black pepper
Frank's Hot Sauce

In a large skillet over medium heat, melt butter; add onion and garlic.  Saute' for 5 minutes.  Add flour and stir constantly for one minute.  Gradually, add milk; whisking until incorporated, smooth and thickened; about 3 to 5 minutes.  Add chicken stock and whisk until heated through.  Add basil, parsley, cheeses, and black pepper; heat until cheeses are melted and sauce is thickened, smooth, and hot.  Combine macaroni and sauce; crumble bacon over and stir to combine.  Spoon into bowls......serve with Frank's. 

Thursday, September 3, 2009

It's Pumpkin Time


Always sad to see summer come to a close, but I welcome the crisp, clean air of autumn. The trees seem to be ablaze with the beauty of nature's colors in shades of gold, bronze, and red, and it's easy to see why artists never tire of capturing this seasonal canvas.


Nor, do we ever seem to tire of the aromas of spicy and creamy pumpkin pies baking in the oven. There is just something comforting in the tastes and smells of "this time of year."


I tried a new twist on the traditional pumpkin pie last year at the cafe', incorporating butterscotch in the filling--a recipe I had found in Bon Appetit. It was luscious.....smooth.....delicious. I also made several Pumpkin Cheesecakes with Gingersnap Crusts; Pumpkin Scones and Biscotti, but one of the easiest recipes.....and a big hit, was my Pumpkin Roll with a Cannolli Cream filling........served with whipped cream, of course. (What's a few more calories among friends?) All of those desserts are shown here, but here's the recipe for the Pumpkin Roll. This is the traditional one found on Libby's Pumpkin for the cake; but the filling is my Italian twist.


Cake:

1/4 cup powdered sugar, to sprinkle on towel)
3/4 cup of flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 large eggs
1 cup sugar
2/3 cup pure pumpkin puree
1 cup ground pecans, optional (Libby's calls for walnuts, optional)


Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Lightly spray a 15 x 10 inch jelly roll pan; then line with parchment paper. Lay out a clean kitchen towel; dust with powdered sugar.


Combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, cloves, and salt in a bowl; blend eggs and sugar in a large mixing bowl until thick; add pumpkin; beat to combine. Stir in flour mixture. Spread mixture evenly in prepared pan. Sprinkle with nuts, if desired.


Bake for 13 to 15 minutes or until top springs back when lightly pressed with finger. Immediately loosen edges of cake and invert onto prepared towel. Peel off parchment paper; roll cake along with towel from the short end, and place on wire rack to cool completely.



Cannolli Cream Filling:

16 ounces Mascarpone cheese, room temperature
2/3 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons freshly grated orange zest
1/8 teaspoon orange flower water
1/2 cup mini chocolate chips, optional


Combine mascarpone and sugar in mixing bowl; blend on low until combined well. Add zest and orange flower water until incorporated; mix in chocolate chips.


Unroll cake carefully and remove from towel; spread cake with filling; reroll; place seam-side down on serving dish; refrigerate until ready to use. Sift additional powdered sugar over the top; slice on the diagonal; serve with whipped cream. (I spread my whole cake with whipped cream, as shown in the photo).

Monday, August 31, 2009

Oh KitchenAid, Oh KitchenAid....


There was a time, long ago and far away........when a hand-held mixer was all I used for my baking. For about 10 years, in fact, early on in married life. Somehow, I managed to produce desserts for dinner parties; freezers-full of Christmas cookies; and even sheet cakes and frostings for my sons' birthday parties. I've been using a stand mixer for twenty years now, but it wasn't until less than 10 years ago, that the stand mixer became my 6-Quart Kitchen Aid Pro. You know how some people can't wait to buy a new car? It was that way with me when my new toy found its way into my culinary garage. I think I slept at the counter when I brought it home. I aquired the smaller, Artisan--Pistachio Green--when I needed to borrow the Pro for cafe' use. It's interesting, I think, what we get used to, and oddly enough, even though I feel that my two KitchenAid mixers are indispensable appliances in my present kitchen, I still find myself reaching for the hand mixer--almost like a phantom appendage.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

What's for dinner?

"As a child, my family's menu consisted of two choices: Take it, or leave it." -- Buddy Hackett
So true....but not the negative sentence that quote might imply. Mom was a great cook, as I've mentioned, and the Italian heritage didn't hurt either. Who could complain when arriving home after a harrowing several hours ice skating on an outdoor rink to be welcomed with a delicious bowl of homemade Pasta e Fagioli or Minestrone? Every Sunday before church, mind you, the pot of "gravy" (Italian tomato sauce) would be put to a simmer on the stovetop....laden with homemade meatballs and bracciola. We'd stop at the bakery on the way home for our crusty, semolina bread and enjoy our family dinner at 2:00. The typical time for Sunday meals.
Now, though Mom's homemade cannelloni and manicotti (made with homemade crepes; rather than macaroni shells) are legendary to those who passed through our doors.....we did have a few less than popular dishes....but we had to eat them anyway, as per the Buddy Hackett rule. One comes to mind: Kidney stew. That one has never made it to my own kitchen as an adult.....but even with that meal, mom had a way with the gravy....thick and flavorful....so that it made sopping it up with great bread a delicious treat. Don't even mention Wonder Bread to my dad--he'd call it, "Like gum....a waste of food."
Just because Mom was a great cook and most of our meals were homemade, she wasn't opposed to trying new trends, such as Chicken Pot Pies or TV Dinners. What a treat that was for me! All the food was separated into little compartments--nothing touching the other food--and what about that little dessert treat! Oh, we knew it didn't taste as good as Mom's food, but the novelty was special for us, and she'd always want to make us happy. Mom would make her famous Stained-Glass Window cake using Jell-O and Cool Whip, for company dinners ("Doesn't it look pretty?"), but alongside would be a meticulously prepared cake from scratch....and then some.
No, we surely didn't suffer in the meals department when it came to my mother. She'll always be the gold standard for kitchen excellence in my book.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Pirates' Day










At around this time last year, I was preparing the cafe' for the annual Pirates' Day celebration in Barnegat. The township closes off a portion of the main drag and people gather from miles around--drawing up to 10,000 residents and vacationers--to enjoy the fun and games, street vendors, and local merchants. We had a special menu--printed on a parchment scroll background of course, and some of my desserts included: "Doubloon Macaroons," "Walk the Plank Coconut Cake," and "Yo-Ho-Ho and a Bottle o' Rum Raisin Rice Pudding." Lots of fun......everyone dresses as, well pirates....or wenches, in my case. This pic was taken with my "girls," as I called them--servers extraordinaire--and Giovanni, the silent type, whose job specs involved holding the blackboard with the daily specials.......or on this day, The Hook. Argh.



Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Mmmmmmm, cake.

Need I say more?








Seven-Minute Frosting....Happy Birthday Eric


Twenty-eight years ago today, my first son was born. It is sometimes incomprehensible to look at this adult man and place him with the same, tiny newborn I held in my arms all of those years ago. Both he and his brother are the lights of my life, and have made their dad and me very proud parents. Here's looking at you, Eeej.....we'll stick the candles in this cake later.


Seven-Minute Frosting
This recipe makes more than enough to fill and frost a two-layer cake. I like to use my stand mixer along with the hand-held that you'll need in the first part of this recipe; I place the ingredients in the stand-mixer's bowl, so that the transition is easier, and use my whisk attachment.
I love the old-fashioned, free-formed look to this frosting. Once frosted, this cake just screams, "Cut this cake!" And.....I guarantee, it'll be difficult to keep your fingers out of it.

1 1/4 cups sugar
3 large egg whites
6 tablespoons water
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
In a heatproof metal bowl, add the sugar, egg whites, water, and cream of tartar. Set this pan over simmering water, and mix on high speed using a handheld mixer; beating until mixture holds stiff peaks; about 5 to 7 minutes. (The weather can influence egg whites--if there's a lot of moisture in the air, you might have trouble getting this to beat correctly).
If continuing to use a hand-held mixer; remove mixing bowl from over heat, and place on kitchen towel to prevent bowl from slipping. Continue to beat the mixture until it's completely cool--about 2-4 minutes more. Beat in vanilla.
This frosting is best made the same day you plan to serve it, as it does weep.
Note: The cake used here is my recipe for "Grandma's Chocolate Cake." I spread 2 tablespoons of seedless raspberry jam on the layer before adding the frosting. Any flavor jam works nicely.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Egg and I


Before I begin this eggciting post, a nod to "you know who" with many thanks for your too generous words.....and yes, I really did grow up in the 60's.


Ok...back to the topic at hand: Eggs. What can I say about an egg? Why am I even posting about eggs? Your guess is as good as mine, but suffice it to say, I was watching Sabrina again (more times than I'd like to admit), and the scene where she's in Paris, at the Cordon Bleu, being taught how to crack an egg always brings a smile. "Today, we will learn the correct way how to crack an egg. Voila! An egg. Now an egg is not a stone, it is a living thing. So when we crack it, we must not torment it. We must be merciful and execute it quickly.....like with the guillotine. It is done with one hand....kindly watch the wrist. Voila! One, two, three, CRACK! You see? It is all in the wrist. Now everybody take an egg. One, two, three, CRACK! New egg." (All said with a thick French accent).

The incredible, edible egg. There was a time when I felt it necessary to remove the "chalaza," those icky, stringy strands found in raw eggs. They just, well, were nasty looking. It took me a long time to get over it. Probably around the time that baking and cooking became an integral part of my life........and certainly, when I worked at the cafe', it wouldn't have been prudent to take the time and remove all of those ropes from all of those cracked-open eggs. And apparently the fresher the egg, the more prominent the chalaza. Who knew? How to tell if an egg still in its shell is raw or cooked? Give it a spin. If it whirls around like a top, it's cooked. If it looks like a weeble-wobble, it's raw.

This whole egg topic brought to mind another old movie, The Egg and I starring Fred MacMurray (Bob) and Claudette Colbert (Betty), and introduced Ma and Pa Kettle to audiences. (Marjorie Main and Percy Kilbride, respectively). It was adapted from the memoirs of author Betty MacDonald and apparently caused a lawsuit or two....which I won't get into here. Bob informs Betty--on their wedding night--that he's purchased a chicken farm. Betty is none too enthused about their prospective new 'digs,' and when glamorous neighbor (Harriet Putnam) sets her sights on Bob, Betty is just, well, fed up with the muck and mire. All-in-all, a cute movie, guaranteed to scramble you up in all the fun. (Don't say it....I know).

Savory, not Sweet Talk







Do you remember back a bit--August 11 to be exact--when I posted about Penzey's Spices? Well, the pork tenderloin shown here, is one of those times when Penzey's has "just the right" seasoning for the dish. Their Southwest, is a blend of salt, ancho pepper, onion, garlic, black pepper, Mexican oregano, cayenne pepper, cumin, chipotle, and cilantro. Great on chicken, fish, and pork, I took two tenderloins; mixed about 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a bowl along with a tablespoon of soy sauce, a splash of lime juice, and a generous tablespoon of Penzey's Southwest blend. Whisk together and pour over the tenderloins. (I like to marinate in a zip-lock bag, since the marinade stays nice and close to whatever I'm marinating). Refrigerate for at least an hour before cooking.
Preheat oven to 325 degrees; place pork on a baking sheet; pour marinade all around; add a sprig or two of fresh rosemary. Cook until desired degree of "doneness," turning once or twice to brown nicely on all sides. Remove pork from pan, and let it rest for 5 minutes before slicing; pouring juices on top.
I served this with delicious pan roasted potatoes. Again.....a little olive oil, a pat of butter, freshly chopped garlic, freshly ground black pepper, sea salt, and a pinch of red pepper flakes. Cover, and cook on medium-low heat until tender; turning frequently.