Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Birthday Cake

My brother Rob's birthday is right before Christmas, so the family always gets together and I  make his birthday cake. They've gotten more extravagant over  the years.  Last year's Devil's Food Layer Cake with Peppermint Frosting was so high, the cake dome wouldn't fit on it. It was on the cover of Bon Appetit so I decided to make this December's cover cake too. It was a Peppermint Meringue Cake with Chocolate Buttercream. It's such a fun project but I usually do a couple of steps the day before.
Here's the cover photo: (What was I thinking, right?)

I started the day before with the meringue layers,(which are just like forgotten cookies), and  the peppermint syrup.
Day two I made the chocolate cake and the chocolate buttercream. Then it was just a matter of putting all of the  12"x4" pieces of cake, meringue, peppermint syrup, and chocolate buttercream together.
Here goes on a meringue layer.

Brushing the peppermint syrup onto the cake layers.

After the top layer of buttercream I decorated with raspberries and mint leaves.

It looked very pretty when we cut into it.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Snow Days

With two feet of snow on the ground, there wasn't much to do but cook! We went through some old Gourmet and Bon Appetit magazines from Decembers past, looking for a fun different holiday cookie to make. We decided on mini black and white cookies. I bought a big one in New York last summer for everyone to try so they were familiar with them. They really taste more like a little cake than a cookie.

Ruby was my cooking partner and she chose the black and white cookies. A big help in the kitchen.
I thought a perfect snowed in dinner would be Coq au Vin.

Lots of chopping but ah so delicious. I including a little cognac and burned it off. Quite the fire hazard!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Tis' The Season

Fa la la la laaa la limoncello. For those on my family gift list the following entry may spoil your surprise! It's no secret I love limoncello, there's alway a bottle in our freezer ( I've been know to take it camping). I've been trying to make all of my holiday gifts for the past few years and our trip to Italy inspired me to attempt to make limoncello.

I started with 100 proof vodka since grain alcohol isn't legally sold in VA. Instead of a vegetable peeler I used this handy zester. After 20 lemons a batch and I made two batches, my hands were raw! I think since the zest strips were so thin it helped to really impart the lemon flavor into the alcohol. I let it sit about two weeks and then added my sugar syrup. I've found various bottles to package it in for giving. It's quite yummy! Ho Ho Ho! It'll put the Happy in your Holidays!

I've done a little bit of cookie baking so far. A favorite is these Linzer cookies. I made them for a school fundraiser. I like them because they're so pretty but they taste really good too. Sometimes it's hard to get both from a Christmas cookie.

A family favorite is these incredibly easy forgotten cookies. My mom always made them for us and now my kids love them too. I looked around the internet for recipes and a lot of them added nuts. We don't.

Forgotten Cookies
2 egg whites
2/3 cup sugar
pinch of salt
1 t. vanilla
1 cup chocolate chips
Preheat oven to 350º. Beat egg whites until stiff. Keep beating while adding the sugar, then salt and vanilla. Stir in chocolate chips. Drop by teaspoon onto cookie sheets. Put cookies in oven and turn oven off and leave overnight.

Today I made these Pumpkin -Spiced Whiskey Walnuts for gift giving.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Hits and Misses of Thanksgiving

"When I walk into my kitchen today, I am not alone. Whether we know it or not, none of us is. We bring fathers and mothers and kitchen tables, and every meal we have ever eaten. Food is never just food. It's also a way of getting at something else; who we are, who we have been, and who we want to be."
Molly Wizenberg from A Homemade Life

I had a wonderful time planning and preparing for my Thanksgiving meal for twenty this year. I like to try a few new things every year and stick to the classics that always work. I decided to venture out in the appetizer department. We tend to nosh all day until meal time around 5pm. I put together a beautiful pickled vegetable platter (insalata di rinforzo) surrounding a steamed head of cauliflower drizzled with a red wine vinegarette. Well it looked nice and I loved it but not a lot of people ate it. I may just have to accept the fact that my family is not Italian. I won't let it deter my lemoncello making endeavor!

Then I tried a recipe from David Lebovitz's fabulous book The Sweet Life in Paris. He called it chicken and apple spread but it's chicken liver pate. My kids were scarred by the smell of it cooking but a lot of others tried it. I think it was a great recipe if you like chicken liver pate, unfortunately a lot of people at my house on Thanksgiving did not. It is definitely a grown up taste and I would make it again for a cocktail party.
My brother always brings the oysters and they roast them over our fire pit.

As to  the main meal:  I got a 22 lb. fresh turkey and decided to try brining for the first time. My dad and I mixed up our brew in a cooler. We put water, salt, brown sugar, buttermilk, peppercorns, garlic and sage. We let the brine sit overnight and then soaked the turkey in it for 24 hours. I rinsed it well before cooking, but it browned so quickly! I had to cover it with foil after only 2 hours. I think the meat had a lot of flavor but we were joking that the dark meat was so dark it looked black.

For the sides we had mashed potatoes, stuffing, spinach gratin( I was told it wouldn't be Thanksgiving if I didn't make this as usual) and cranberry relish. My mom always orders an Edwards ham sliced thin. My brother Jack  does the creamed onions and gravy. He used the cooked bits in the bottom of the pan for the gravy and it was so flavorful. My dad made a wonderful pot of kale and collard greens too. I roasted a mix of butternut squash, sweet potatoes, carrots, parsnips, and brussel sprouts with some olive oil, salt and pepper.

And a new addition this year was rotkohl or german red cabbage. I think it went really well with the meal.

A week before I made and froze these pull apart rolls and sweet potato biscuits.

And on the dessert front. Another miss was David Lebovitch's dulce de leche brownies. I had such high hopes for these but they were so dense. I don't know what went wrong.

 Otherwise I made pumpkin pie, bourbon pecan tart, and a walnut pumpkin cheesecake.
 I feel full just thinking about it all. It was a great gathering with those I love!

Monday, November 23, 2009


So much food activity around here lately I haven't even found time to blog about it. We've celebrated a couple of birthdays, one with a fondue dinner. Always fun and delicious, we usually do cheese first with bread and vegetables to dip and then hot oil with chicken and beef to cook. I make a bunch of sauces to dip the meat in, but the curry is usually everyone's favorite. I'll remember to photograph next time!
 Also had a Japanese meal which we started with a  saketini  made from a combination of different recipes (which is how I tend to cook too). I started with vodka, added a splash of a very mild sake and then some juice from the Lychee's which I garnished them with, á la olives.

When we lived in Los Angeles I used to go downtown where there was an entire Japanese department store and huge grocery store. I acquired a lot of my Japanese dishes and sake cups there. It was much easier to get all of my ingredients in one place too.

We had edamame, miso soup, cucumber salad, chicken yakitori, and a variety of sushi. Seafood @ West Main had some really nice sashimi quality tuna and salmon. Some folks drank Sapporo beer and others had cold or hot sake.

For dessert I made my first icecream bombe and served it with ginger cookies. It was mango sorbet, raspberry sorbet and strawberry icecream with a raspberry sauce on top. It got me thinking about all of the different icecream and/or sorbet combinations you could do...

The last sliver!

Monday, November 9, 2009


Years ago when we lived in Los Angeles my girlfriends and I would get together for tea at one of the nice hotels. It was a bargain to be able to sit for hours at the beautiful Hotel Bel Air.  For $22 we would get a glass of champagne, little sandwiches, scones, cookies and all the tea we could drink. Sometimes they would have to ask us to finish up because the dinner patrons were arriving!
That's what inspired me to start making scones at home. I used to make créme fraiche to go with them for special get togethers.
I still love them and make a batch almost weekly, more so in the fall/winter. Late in the afternoon with a cup of coffee or tea, they are a perfect treat. A great after school snack or for breakfast with scrambled eggs.
Our favorite kinds are cheddar dill, buttermilk currant and chocolate chip orange scones. My children absolutely love the chocolate chip orange scones and I've been asked for this recipe more times than I can remember so I'm going to share it here. Once Upon a Tart,  Barefoot Contessa and Joy of Cooking all have some great scone recipes too.

Chocolate Chip Orange Scones

2 cups flour
1/3 cup sugar
1 T. baking powder
1/2 t. salt
 6 T.  cold unsalted butter (cut into pieces)
1 egg
1/2 cup heavy cream
grated zest of one orange
1/2 cup mini chocolate chips

Whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Cut in the butter with a pastry blender. Stir in chocolate chips. Whisk together cream, egg and orange zest then add to flour mixture. Stir with rubber spatula just until it comes together. Transfer to a lightly floured surface and pat the dough into an 8 inch circle. Cut into 12 wedges, place on baking sheet and brush with cream. Bake at 425º for 12- 15 min.

Friday, October 30, 2009


We carved pumpkins with the kids last night. ( I agreed just so I can get all of the seeds!)

I love to roast them. It takes awhile to clean them well but after they are clean and dry, I put olive oil (about 2 T.) and then various spices that you like and salt. This year I used chili powder, cumin, garlic powder and cayenne. Roast at 350º for 35-40 min.
I made one bowl less spicey. So delicious and good for you too!

Off to a school Halloween party. I made these brownies with skeletons. The skeleton icing was thinner than I had hoped so they ran a little bit but I doubt the kids will care. The head is a mini marshmallow.

My favorite thing to bring to parties for Halloween is a skeleton crudite platter. A cauliflower scooped out with dip for the head and then celery ribs, carrot arms, tomato joints etc. Always a hit.
These labels are really fun too. The big ones go on soda bottles and the smaller ones are for wine bottles. Instead of buying a terrible wine just for the fun label you can label whatever you like. I got these a year or two ago at maybe Dollar Tree?

Monday, October 19, 2009

Fall Cravings

As soon as the cool weather sets in and you can smell fall in the air I start craving soup. I make a lot of soup through out the fall and winter. This week I made a roasted potato and leek soup. Roasting the potatoes and leeks gives it so much more flavor. So comforting with a loaf of homemade bread.

That brings me to my latest favorite gadget, the immersion blender. I debated whether I really needed another appliance in the kitchen when I had a blender that could do the job. Well it is so worth it, and makes pureeing soup so much easier with less mess and clean up. I will get a lot of use out of it. It also emulsifies dressings with a whisk attachment. I would definitely recommend a cordless version.

Another fall favorite around here is caramel apples. My daughter Maddie asked if we could make some this week, but instead of regular size apples I bought these adorable crab apples.

I think they are the perfect size for a snack or they'd be great for a party.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Family Gathering

We had a warm up for Thanksgiving over the weekend with all of my brothers here. The guys said they would take care of the meat, Mom would do appetizers and I took care of the sides and desserts. We're getting out numbered by the kids these days but our total for Sunday supper was nineteen!
They decided on chicken and here's my brother Jack hacking them up, getting them ready for the grill.

He mixed up some rub from my spice cabinet to put on them.

I made roasted brussels sprouts which I just love. I put olive oil, salt and pepper on them and then roast them @400º for 30-40 minutes. A great fall side dish I think.

Then I did navy beans in the pressure cooker. Added a little salt, bacon (pepper bacon of course) and cumin.

Rounded that out with a baked macaroni and cheese and orzo with roasted vegetables. Everyone really loved the orzo. I've never made it before but it's a definite keeper in the recipe files. And there were delicious White House rolls from Ukrops (in Richmond).

Then there was dessert!! I figured I needed to make two with so many people. First I made a good ole  chocolate buttercream cake which chocolate lovers always dig.
When we were in NYC over the summer a new Magnolia Bakery had opened near us. It's hard not to be charmed by the place, although the prices are a bit high. My daughter wanted to try the
"famous banana pudding" one night. We all tasted it and then I saw that they had the recipe in their newest cookbook. I was shocked to see it's made with jello pudding.I thought it would be pudding from scratch for sure. I've been looking for a time to try it and it was fantastic and so simple to make with vanilla jello pudding, nilla wafers, whipped cream and bananas.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Martha's Market

A friend invited me to the preview party for Martha's Market held at John Paul Jones Arena. I didn't realize it would be so nice!! We headed for one of the open bars scattered around and I zeroed in on the Proscecco. Our first stop was for this gazpacho with avocado and shrimp served in martini glasses. Nice but a little over pureed.

Then there were cheeses, meats and roasted vegetables.

Really nice presentation on the oyster shooters. I don't eat oysters but they looked great.
They had celery puree on the bottom and tomato sauce on top.
There was also a carving station and tiny dessert tarts.

I took time out from all of the eating and drinking to try on this fabulous hat!

The whole thing was catered by the caterer for most JPJ events. They did a nice job! I hope I get invited back next year.

Monday, October 5, 2009

C-ville Piefest

I saw a tiny blip in our local newspaper,The Daily Progress, about an upcoming pie contest. A pie throw down, count me in! What a hoot.
I decided to enter my chocolate cream pie mainly because the family goes crazy for it. I made it about a year and a half ago and then everyone wanted it for their birthday instead of cake. I don't have a ton of pies in my repertoire, so I thought let's go with the well loved chocolate cream.

I registered on their C-ville piefest site and that morning there were 24 people registered. Well many more showed up. I think they were so overwhelmed with the amount of entries.
It was a fun day at the new Mudhouse  in Crozet. The Honey Dewdrops played and they raffled off our second pies to benefit PACEM.

I really felt for all of the judges. They divided them up with about six judging cream pies and six tasting fruit pies. They started with my pie! I couldn't believe it but they sliced it up and took little slices. I thought they would take one bite tops, but they ate the whole little slice. I thought they are in big trouble if they're going to make it through all of those pies.
 They looked seriously ill by the end. It took them the full two hours to get through them all. Their palates must have been so overwhelmed.
The only bummer of the day was that after they finally finished tasting, it took the organizer another hour to add up our scores, so a lot of the momentum of the day was gone. They didn't really announce the prizes with the winners, so it was a bit anticlimactic.
The cream pie winner and best in show was a lemon chiffon pie. The minute it was announced I just said, "Can I get that recipe?!"
There was a nice article in The Daily Progress the next day and it showed them cutting into my pie!!
I'm already thinking about next year...........

Tuesday, September 22, 2009


How cute is the Carpe Donut truck?!

We were lucky enough to attend a WHTJ event out at the always lovely King Family Vineyards. Along with the spectacular view out back was the Carpe Donut truck. I was saving my appetite for the dinner catered from L'etoile so I sent over my personal taster, Mr. Mark to check them out. He wasn't sure after the first one so he needed to try another one.

 Need I say more. Hot and yummy come to mind.

The cute cart  reminds me of my cupcake truck dream that has yet to come to fruition.
(Imagine a small airstream painted up like a giant cupcake driving around town, stopping at little league games. Calling out, "I've got red velvet, devil dog, chocolate buttercream.......!")
Any investors out there????

Sunday, September 13, 2009

End of Summer Eating

I can't quite get my head around the fact that summer is officially over. I'm prolonging it as long as possible with fresh produce. I'm making a lot of trips to Lynchburg these days and have been stopping at the Saunders Brothers Market. Their corn was the best I had all summer. They have a huge selection of peaches and now apples. I tried a couple of different peach varieties and made this peach pie. I was inspired by Evan Kleinman, of KCRW's Good Food,' pie a day' project throughout the summer. I haven't made a lot of fruit pies but peach pie is delicious! I used to listen to Good Food in Los Angeles and now I download the podcasts.

I love substantial salads for dinner during the summer too. This was so easy, fresh and filling. I baked the chicken breasts in white wine and sprinkled them with salt, pepper, fresh basil and parsley. Then steamed the potatoes and asparagus.

Served it over a bed of greens with a balsamic vinegarette.
My other craze this summer was the ultimate BLT. First of all I discovered pepper bacon a couple of years ago and now it's practically all I use. I haven't found anything that calls for bacon that's not better with pepper bacon.
So I have a couple of great BLT variations. First if you ever make garlic aioli for dinner, you always have some left over. Use that for your mayonnaise with toasted white bread, juicy tomatoes, lettuce and of course, pepper bacon.
Instead of the aoili put a thin layer of pimento cheese on your toasted white bread with tomato, lettuce, and pepper bacon.