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 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


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:
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 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.


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, 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.