Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Very Intense Chocolate Slab

This recipe comes by way of my friend Jody Witkop Shepson who makes it so often her friends refer to it as "Jody's Chocolate Slab." It's kind of a chocolate ganache loaf, similar to a chocolate paté.

Here's Jody's story:

"This recipe came from a great cookbook, and the great cookbook came from my sister, Cindy. She read a book years ago called “A Trip to the Beach” about (and written by) Melinda and Robert Blanchard, from Vermont. They took a trip to Anguilla, and ended up creating a restaurant, and a life, in Anguilla. Cindy was so taken with the book and the story, that when she and Barry planned a vacation, they included Anguilla and visited the restaurant, had wine with the Blanchards….and then went back the next year, I think. The cookbook is called “At Blanchard’s Table” and it’s one of those really pretty cookbooks with interesting notes about the recipes. They’ve since written a few other books, about doing what you love in life….I think you would enjoy them, and relate to them! Their most recent cookbook is “Cook What You Love” which pretty much sums up their philosophy.

Chocolate Slab was the first recipe I tried from the cookbook, and I couldn’t possibly count the number of times I’ve made it. It’s ALWAYS a hit, every time I serve it, and people usually call the next day begging for the recipe. I made it for the first meeting of my book club when I moved here, and when my turn to host rolled around again I made an Apple Crostini and the women said “Where’s the slab!? You were supposed to make the slab!!” When my friend Katrie had her second daughter, our other friends were making quilts and one painted a beautiful painting. I thought “Uh oh…I don’t quilt or paint….” So I made her a slab and she acted like I was handing her a gold brick. “My very own slab?!! I’ve never had my own slab before!” She made it last almost 2 weeks.

It’s just a great recipe. I’ve exchanged emails with the Blanchards, explaining that I feel guilty because people call it “Jody’s Slab” but I always give them credit, and often, when people ask for the recipe, I buy them the whole cookbook, so it’s not as if I’m not helping them sell books!!

I’ve tweaked it a little. I ladle some of the Kahlua custard sauce onto a plate and put a slice of slab on the pool of sauce. Then a dollop of real whipped cream and some fresh raspberries on the side. The recipe doesn’t call for whipped cream, but I like it and the raspberries go really well with the chocolate. I have lots of recipes I love, but this would have to be the all-time favorite. And I enjoy making it as much as eating it. It’s very simple and quick, but stirring that big bowl of warm, dark chocolate is one of the great joys of life! If anyone is home with me at the time I always bring the bowl over and let them stir a few times. I would feel guilty having all the fun and not sharing. "
Thanks for this, Jody!

Bob and Melinda Blanchard
Serves 8-10

• 2 cups heavy cream
• 12 ounces semisweet chocolate, finely chopped, plus more for garnish
• 6 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
• 1/4 teaspoon almond extract
• 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
• 5 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

Cut a piece of parchment paper to line the bottom and long sides of a loaf pan. It should hang over the sides by a few inches. (You’re going to use this like a sling to remove the slab from the pan.) Don’t worry about the short ends of the pan.
In a large pot, bring the cream to a boil. Make sure to use a pot that’s large enough so that the cream does not overflow. Remove from the heat as soon as it boils. Whisk in both chocolates until they are completely melted. Add the almond, vanilla and butter and whisk until smooth.
Pour the mixture into the prepared pan, being careful to keep the paper in place. Chill in the refrigerator for at least six hours or overnight.
When the slab is very firm, run a knife around the ends to loosen and lift out by holding the ends of the paper. Slice into 3/4-inch slices using a long, thin knife. It will be easier to slice if you have a damp cloth or paper towel handy to wipe the blade clean in between slices.
Place each slice on a dessert plate and pour enough of the sauce around it to cover the plate. Grate or shave some semi-sweet chocolate onto the sauce and serve.

Kahlua Custard Sauce
Makes 2 cups
½ cup whole milk
1 cup heavy cream
¼ cup sugar
3 large egg yolks, at room temperature
Pinch salt
1 tsp vanilla extract
3 tbl Kahlua

Put the milk and cream into a large saucepan over medium heat, and bring to a boil. Remove from the heat and whisk in about half of the sugar. In a large bowl, combine the remaining sugar, egg yolks, and salt and set aside.
Return the cream mixture to the stove over medium heat. When the cream starts to simmer, reduce the heat, add the yolk mixture, and whisk for 3 minutes, or until thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Add the vanilla and Kahlua and blend well. Pour through a strainer into a shallow bowl and refrigerate until cold.
(I usually serve it with raspberries on the side and some real whipped cream. I put a puddle of the sauce on the plate, then a slice of slab, a dab of whipped cream, and some berries alongside. It’s a winner.)

Tuesday, September 29, 2009


It’s getting colder and I want soup.

I loved the lunches my mother made, and when I was a kid I loved Campbell’s soups. To feed seven kids, she’d heat up a number of cans of the standards: tomato, cream of mushroom, chicken noodle, and sometimes there’d be vegetarian vegetable or beef barley. I especially liked the cream of mushroom when there were little lumps of creamy goodness. I thought mushrooms came in little cubes like that, too. There’d be combos: tomato soup with grilled cheese sandwiches. Cream of mushroom soup with tuna fish. Vegetarian vegetable with peanut butter and jelly.

I served my kids the same canned soups I grew up with. It wasn’t until I became more of cook than a can opener that I tried my hand at home-made soup. It seemed a lot of effort for the end result, and I gave up. At the time I was living on my own and thought “Who makes a huge pot of soup for one person?” so I continued in the canned tradition.

Last night Katie made home-made chicken noodle soup, from the remnants of the previous night’s dinner. She simmered the remaining chicken with onions and garlic, some chicken stock, the little bit of remaining gravy and enough water to cover it all. She threw in carrots and mixed vegetables, some poultry seasoning, kosher salt and cracked pepper. We emptied our spice cabinet and before we got carried away throwing everything in the pot (no, NO cinnamon, no ginger, no nutmeg!!!) we realized enough was enough.

Katie removed the chicken from the pot to pick off as much remaining meat as possible, which went back into the simmering brew. The soup was still pretty clear and thin but when she added the half-cooked egg noodles (Pennsylvania Dutch style) it all came together like magic. The starch from the noodles thickened it up beautifully. Since we were doing this late into the night, we let it cool a bit and then filled every little storage container we could find so we can enjoy it later. I had lids with no bottoms and bottoms with no lids but eventually all the parts came together and there’s soup for days ahead. Of course, I left for work this morning without my little container of soup. I need a morning assistant!

There’s no recipe for this kind of soup, no specific quantities. It’s just a thrown-together pot of comfort that will be different every time, depending on what’s on hand. You know what I’m having for dinner tonight!

Monday, September 28, 2009

The Kitchen Table and Blueberry Sauce

It’s been since July 2003 that I’ve had a kitchen table of my own. The old apartment had a breakfast bar and two stools – so I ate staring at my kitchen sink. In the new apartment, meals with my family have been taken around an island table with stools, one that my sister Anne gave me when the apartment was still under construction. It’s been taking a while, this getting-settled thing, and yesterday my friend Joanne gave me five Windsor-backed chairs to put around a table I bought last year at a divorce sale. It’s been waiting to be set up, and yesterday was the day.

Unlike a garage sale, a divorce sale is kind of sad, each item leaving the owners’ home with a bit of baggage. I remember that well – we sold most of what we owned back in the mid-90s with a sigh and a what-if and “I can’t wait to get rid of everything that reminds me of this hard time” perspective. But the table is beautiful, if not a bit tired, and ready for another shot at life. It’s solid, with sturdy, turned legs and a real butcher block top and a silverware drawer. We had to scrub pretty hard to remove the evidence of a few bumpy years. A little girl’s name, Hannah, was autographed in pencil all over the underside. Someone had stashed a piece of now rock-hard bubble gum underneath. But when it was all cleaned up and sitting in my new kitchen on a new braided rug, a little life was breathed into the room. Thoughts of future meals there filled me with optimism. We decided to hang the pretty light fixture above it, and I put up some curtains. It’s all beginning to take shape.

Last night, we had our first meal at the new table. "We" were Katie and Bill, little Henry (who now walks, in a Charlie Chaplin kind of way), Bill’s dad Richard and Granny Syd, and me, and my son Joe was there too. I set the table with my nice dishes and pretty wine glasses. Katie had roasted a beautiful chicken and served rice pilaf and steamed carrots, and for dessert we had some vanilla ice cream with blueberry sauce I’d made. Henry, in his high chair, was sitting at the corner near his grandfather, his seat elevated a bit above the rest. I said he was lording over the table, and he gave us all a huge grin.

It was different, last night, having a real Sunday dinner at my own kitchen table. It was something I’d never fully appreciated before, until I didn’t have a table. It felt great and now I can see future Sunday dinners and and other times with friends and family around this new table, and the thought of that makes me happy.

Blueberry Sauce

2 cups frozen blueberries, divided
¾ c. sugar
1.5 cups water
3 tbsp. cornstarch

Mix sugar and cornstarch together well in saucepan. Add water and stir well. Add half the berries, reserving the other half until later. Bring to a boil and simmer until it’s all thickened. Mash the mixture with a potato masher. When thick like pudding, remove from heat and stir in remaining blueberries. Cool until mixture is still warm.

Serve over vanilla ice cream.

(If you have any left over, refrigerate it and when you want it again, warm it up and stir till smooth).

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Disney Magic - Serves Four or More

Disney Magic – serves four or more

Take four adult siblings who haven’t traveled together in years

  • Remove from their day-to-day routine
  • Put them on a plane to Orlando
  • Mix all together in a beautiful suite in Disney’s Old Key West resort
  • Slowly stir in a riverboat ride (repeat often)
  • Fold in some night life at Pleasure Island
  • Generously sprinkle with sunshine and toss in a pool, making sure to use the slide as often as possible
  • Stop to add photos
  • Incorporate an evening stroll and dinner at the Boardwalk
  • Laugh like fools until sides hurt
  • When done, remove from vacation but be careful to remember all the fun
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Monday, September 21, 2009

Living Disney, Day Two

Yesterday was very warm and humid as we trekked about our resort and others, and last night we took the ferry (a.k.a. waterbus) from Old Key West to Downtown Disney and Pleasure Island, this time exploring the Marketplace section of this isle-o-fun. The air is filled with music and little children and bigger people are moved to dance in response. We went in and out of shops and stopped at every restaurant along the way to read the posted menus. We finally chose Portobello Yacht Club, a beautiful Italian restaurant overlooking the water. It's right next to Fulton's Crab House (a huge Mississippi-style steam ship that houses a great seafood restaurant where my daughter Katie and I had dinner eight years ago, after she graduated from college).

Portobellos is designed by Wolfgang Puck (his own restaurant is located on the island as well) and is not filled with Disney icons or cutesy characters- no sign of them - it's a beautiful, authentic Italian restaurant with a warm and inviting atmosphere. It is moderately priced (my spaghetti and meatballs was about $20) and the servings are generous. My sister Patsy loved her linguini with clam sauce and Ginny and Steven both ordered individual wood-fired pizzas and salads. Our attentive server brought out little ciabatta bread rolls and roasted garlic and olive oil as a prelude to our meal. I ate about half my dinner (probably because of that strawberry daiquiri!). The sauce was one that tasted long-simmered and my pasta was done perfectly. I love spaghetti and meatballs, and am particular about the meatballs. These were small, flavorful, and soft -- just the way I like them. I've been to restaurants where the meatballs are too big, too hard, and lacking in flavor. So, I was very satisfied. After dinner we walked the length of this big, happy island, from the Cirque de Soleil tent to the House of Blues, and took our time. The crowds were thin on a Sunday night, and it seemed a different experience from the busier pace of the previous night.

The sun is shining this morning and we'll be venturing out soon. My "roommates" are all still asleep and I am enjoying a few quiet moments. I've got my eye on the pool. We got back too late last night to take advantage of the evening swim.

Loving every minute of this relaxing vacation!
Photo credit: Google images wolfgang/diningroom.jpg

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Shrimp and Cheddar Grits, Disney-Style

We arrived at The Old Key West Resort last evening in time for an ealry dinner. We decided to have dinner at Oliva's Cafe, right here on the resort, which is a bright and cheerful place full of people including LOTS of children (some very tired!). I remarked that we're proably the only four adults ever to go to Disney World without kids!
Disney World is an amazing destination. This is such a beautiful place, and I'm not sure whether I'm impressed more by its artificial authenticity or its authentic artificiality! Regardless, it's a gorgeous setting and Disney has taken great pains to make sure everything is as beautiful and comfortable as possible.

Back to dinner -- I ordered an appetizer: shrimp and grits with crabcakes. I've never had grits and was feeling adventurous, southern-style, so I gave it a shot. The grits were delicious, with cheddar cheese, almost like a light rissoto. There were two skewers of small shrimp with an asian/barbeque sauce, and two little crabcakes sitting on a bed of spring mix dressed in a vinaigarette. it was very, very good and I will attempt to duplicate this once I get home.

After dinner we took a ferry from Old Key West to Pleasure Island. It was a cool, breezy night and we had a lot of fun walking around such a lively nightspot.

This morning we had breakfast in our suite, which is equipped with a full kitchen. We'd purchased a few items at the Disney Store last night in order to have breakfast food here, figuring we can hang around a bit in the mornings and relax. After breakfast we took the ferry to Disney's Saratoga Springs resort (yes!) and walked around a place with a theme just-like-home! Everywhere you go here, people say "Welcome Home!" which took me by surprise at first. A vacation is about leaving home behind for a while. I said "I want you to say Welcome Away!"

It's about 90 degrees here today and humid, but bright and sunny despite forecasts that looked like we'd be in the soaking rain all week, so we are all grateful! Tonight we're headed out again and when we get back, plan an evening swim - the pool is open until midnight! If there's a pool, I'm in it!

I don't have the recipe for shrimp and grits, but here's what I think goes in to it (I apologize for the lack of detail, but it's pretty simple, really!):

Grits, cooked according to package directions, with chicken broth or stock for the liquid and shredded cheddar cheese melted into it after it's cooked.
Shrimp, cooked just until pink with garlic and teryaki sauce, and a little bit of barbeque sauce, either in a sauce pan or under the broiler, or skewered on a grill.

Serve with a spring mix tossed in a vinaigarette.
More culinary adventures coming! I'm on the look-out for Key Lime Pie!!!!

Photo: from

Friday, September 18, 2009

I'm Not a Student Anymore

Even though I walked across the stage in May for my graduation for my masters degree, I am just now finishing the big final project for that diploma. I am what is referred to, in academia, as a “star baby,” someone who’s finished all but the very last requirements and is able to march at Commencement, though with an asterisk by her name. My final project will be handed in tomorrow, and it marks the end of a very long journey.

I’ve been a college student for sixteen years. As a response to my marriage failing, I looked for an outlet, and it started with just one class, then another, and another. It took me nine years to earn my undergraduate degree in English here at Skidmore College, as a part-time student in the University Without Walls program. I took all my classes here at Skidmore, some seminars, but most sitting in classrooms with traditional students. I had to fit in evening and lunch-hour classes in order to get it all in, and it took a long time, this part-time student thing. Some semesters I took one course, others three, and sometimes, when I couldn’t jive my work schedule with course offerings – none. Most summers were spent with a course or two. My original goal was to complete the degree in ten years, by the time I was 50. I beat it by a year and graduated in 2003 at the age of 49, two years after Katie’s graduation from Skidmore in 2001. During those nine years I was often doing homework alongside my kids. Sometimes they’d complain because I often had my nose in a book. I looked at it as more than education. It was post-divorce diversional therapy, and I’d say something like, “It could be worse. I could be drinking or smoking crack!” Nice mother.

I’m not certain what motivated me to apply to Skidmore’s MALS program (Master of Arts in Liberal Science) other than the fact that I really enjoy the academic experience and didn’t feel “done.” There’s this insatiable curiosity that’s not always convenient. It all comes with a price: sometimes I’m overwhelmed. Often times I procrastinate and then have to work like a maniac to get it all done (my ususal M.O.). Sometimes what I write is crap and I have to start all over, or at least rearrange all the crap until it makes better sense. It’s expensive. And I never considered putting the rest of my life aside, so I tried to jam it all in, all at once. I won’t give up spending time with my family. I have to hang out with my friends. I continue to bake like a fool. I look forward to every visit with Russ even though any other couple would give up trying to jive two impossible schedules. I travel whenever possible, and it is possible at least once a year. And now I’m a granny, with little Henry just footsteps away in our new, shared home.

I’m handing in my final project. There may be revisions to make, but in my mind, I’m done. I won’t be a student any more, and it is going to feel weird after so many years. How will I fill that void? I don’t know. Hey Henry, how about taking a long walk with Grandma?

Photo Credit:

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Hot Meatball Sandwiches!

You have a package of ground beef or turkey and don’t feel like making burgers. You’d like something a little different. How about a hot meatball sandwich? On early autumn nights when there’s a chill in the air, there’s nothing like a good, hot sandwich.

Katie made these last night, and even little Henry loved his tiny, chopped up portion. Delish! I got to enjoy these and didn’t have to lift a finger, except, of course, to shove it in my mouth – oh, and then there were the dishes. But that’s a price I happily paid to enjoy this delicious sandwich.


1 lb. ground beef or turkey, whatever your preference
1 egg
¾ c. seasoned bread crumbs
1 small onion, finely chopped
Salt, pepper
A couple of tablespoons of grated parmesan cheese
A generous sprinkle of garlic powder
2 tbsp. ketchup
1 tsp. mustard

Mix together without packing too tightly. Roll into ping-pong-sized balls and cook over medium flame in 3 tbsp. olive oil, rolling around so the meatballs brown evenly and well, for about five minutes or so.

Reduce flame to medium/low.

Add: 1 red pepper, sliced.
1 onion, sliced
1 cup mushrooms, sliced

Stir together with the meatballs and cook until the peppers and onions begin to wilt. Add a quart of spaghetti sauce (your own or your favorite not-your-own) and simmer until the meatballs are cooked through – about 10 minutes more.

While the meatballs and veggies are simmering, slice open sub rolls (one per person – up to six) and lightly butter inside and sprinkle with a little garlic powder. Broil until the buttered side of the rolls begin to brown a bit.

To serve: Open roll, spoon meatballs and sauce on top (about 4-5 meatballs with sauce per sandwich) and sprinkle with grated mozzarella cheese. Let it sit for a minute to allow the cheese to melt.

Dig in.

Photo Credit:

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Cool and Creamy Chocolate Pudding

I was at work late last night, working on a writing project with a deadline. I’ll be pulling late nights all this week. When I got home, I had to have “something.” It was about 11:00 p.m. and there was not one sweet thing in my house other than a box of Craisins, and that wasn’t going to do it. I wanted chocolate. I’m on a chocolate bend lately (as you can tell by my recent chocolate cake posting). Well, the cake was long-gone and I stood with the refrigerator door open thinking I’d find something that clearly wasn’t there. Pudding. I wanted chocolate pudding. I checked my cabinets – no, no pudding mixes. But I don’t like pudding mixes. I like the real deal—cooked and stirred and smooth as silk. How hard could it be? What’s in pudding besides cocoa, cornstarch, sugar, and milk? I can figure it out. I have no internet right now and my cookbooks are all still (ugh) packed in the basement. So I gambled and combined the above ingredients in estimated proportions and cooked them up to a smooth, creamy, incredible chocolate pudding! I poured it into a bowl and laid plastic wrap on top to avoid a skin forming. But I couldn’t wait. I spooned a bit of the still-steaming pudding into a small, white coffee cup and admired the simple beauty of it. I thought, “I should take a picture of this” because it looked like something out of a food advertisement: smooth, shiny, lightly mounded to a peak (but I still haven’t replaced my camera that was stolen in July)… The visual was almost enough to satisfy me, and it was late and I’d already brushed my teeth, but I went for it. It was perfection. No whipped cream, just pudding, and it was exactly right.

You should know that chocolate pudding and I have history. When my kids were young, I’d stay up late, long after everyone was asleep. After picking up the house and folding my fourth basket of laundry, I’d make a small pot of cooked chocolate pudding (mix) and was so anxious to have it that I put the bowl of cooked pudding in a larger bowl of ice water to cool it off so I could eat it without burning my mouth! This was during the period of time when my marriage had seen better days and things were getting worse, and I was looking (apparently) to fill an emotional void. I’ve never been one to use food as compensation for relationships. (My extra baggage is due exclusively to a love of food and an apparently hibernating commitment to regular exercise.) And this pudding had no such responsibility. It was just there to provide a little bit of comfort when a whole lot of comfort was what I needed.

Last night’s pudding was better than any I remember having. In the very early 70s, Birdseye made a frozen line of puddings called “Cool and Creamy” and when I ask, no one seems to remember it, which surprises me because it was amazing! It came in a Cool Whip-type container and after it was thawed, it was so smooth and cold and delicious. I was still a kid and not buying groceries at the time, which is a good thing because I’d have filled a cart with nothing but Cool and Creamy!

Here’s my recipe for Cool and Creamy Chocolate Pudding, named in honor of the one I remember from 1970, and best made at 11:00 p.m!

Cool and Creamy Chocolate Pudding

½ cup cocoa
½ cup sugar
¼ cup cornstarch

Mix all these together in a hefty saucepan.

Pour in 3 cups milk and whisk constantly over a medium flame until the mixture starts to bubble. Once big bubbles break the surface, turn off the heat and add 1 tbsp. butter and 1 tsp. vanilla extract. I also added two tablespoons coffee from the pot, but that’s not necessary.

Whisk again like crazy and pour into a serving bowl. Cover with plastic wrap to avoid a skin forming. Cool and refrigerate, or take a spoonful right away and risk burning your mouth!

Photo credit:

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

King Arthur Flour's Lemon Squares

This recipe comes from King Arthur Flour and is very highly rated. People love it. My friend Sue is a lemon lover and she brought lemon bars to lunch today. What a great surprise – the buttery crust and zip of the lemon make a perfect ending to a work-day, or any day, lunch.

King Arthur Lemon Squares
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
1 cup King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
1/4 cup confectioners' sugar

2 eggs
1 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons lemon juice (recipe reviewers said 4 tablespoons is better).
2 tablespoons King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
a pinch of salt
Preheat your oven to 350°F.

Cut the butter into the flour and confectioners' sugar and press into a 9-inch square pan. Bake 20 minutes or until light brown.

Combine the topping ingredients. When the bottom is done, and still hot, pour the topping over it and continue baking for about 25 minutes.

Sprinkle top with confectioners' sugar. (This hides any lumps, bumps, and browning and makes it all look pretty!).

King Arthur Website:
Photo Credit:

Monday, September 14, 2009

Incredible Chocolate Ganache Cake!

Alright - so I had this INCREDIBLE cake made by Matt the Baker at Skidmore College. It was hands-down the best chocolate cake I've ever had and he shared his recipe with me. I don't know what kind of frosting he put on it, but I decided to go with a chocolate ganache and it was the perfect topping to this delicious cake. A small slice is enough (really) but it's so delicious you'll want more, I guarantee it! And it's easy - just mix the dry ingredients with the wet and bake. Once it's cooled, pour a simple (trust me) chocolate ganache over the top. That's it, and you'll be so loved for this, seriously.

I made this for a party this weekend, and it was devoured. Katie helped me make the ganache - we are both new to this amazing concoction - and we'll be ganaching again, that's for sure!

This cake should take care of ANY chocolate craving for about three months!!!!


Grease and flour two 9” baking pans (or whatever size you’re baking – I baked one 10” and one 8”) and line with parchment paper. Spray parchment lightly with cooking spray.


1 cup sugar
1 cup light brown sugar
1 ¾ cups all-purpose flour
¾ cup cocoa powder
1 ½ tsp. baking powder
2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt

2 eggs
½ cup canola or vegetable oil
1 cup buttermilk
1 tsp. vanilla extract

1 cup hot coffee

In mixer bowl, mix all dry ingredients well, until there are no lumps.

In separate bowl, beat eggs and add oil, buttermilk, and vanilla extract. Add this mixture to dry ingredients and mix well.

Slowly pour in hot coffee and mix until it’s all incorporated. Batter will be thin.

Bake at 350˚F until it tests done – about 30-35 minutes. Cake is done when toothpick inserted in center comes out clean and sides begin to pull away from the edge of the pan.

Cool on racks until lukewarm. Remove from pan and cool completely.

Ganache Frosting:

12 oz. semisweet chocolate, chopped or in morsels
3 tablespoons butter, softened.
1 cup heavy cream, heated on low just to a simmer
2 tablespoons hot coffee
1 tsp. vanilla extract

Place chocolate and butter in large glass bowl. Pour hot cream over chocolate and stir until melted. If it doesn’t melt completely, microwave in 30 second intervals until it is completely melted.

Whisk chocolate and cream until smooth and shiny. Add coffee and vanilla and whisk until it a very smooth mixture. Allow mixture to cool until it’s still pourable and resembles a thick chocolate syrup.

Place each cake on its own serving plate.
Pour ganache over the center of each layer, spreading just within the outside edge. Before it sets, sprinkle the outer inch of the cake with chopped walnuts or mini-chips.

Refrigerate cake to set ganache and bring to room temperature before serving.

This cake can be stacked and frosted as a 2-layer cake, but with the ganache frosting one layer is sweet enough. If you make the 2-layer version, pour and gently spread ganache on the first layer, top with the second, and pour and gently spread rest of ganache on the top. Let some drizzle down the sides if you have enough. Refrigerate until ½ hour to 1 hour before serving so the ganache softens up.

Photo credit:

Friday, September 11, 2009

Easy Chicken Parm

I made this last night and it was great. Henry loved it too! Nothing cuter than a baby with spaghetti sauce all over his face!

Easy Chicken Parm

4 tbsp. olive oil
4 thin-cut chicken breast cutlets
1 egg beaten with ½ cup buttermilk or cream
1 cup flour
1 cup seasoned bread crumbs
Good spaghetti sauce – your own, or a good jarred version
Grated parmesan cheese
4 slices of provolone or mozzarella cheese

Wash and pat-dry cutlets.

Dredge dry cutlets in flour.
Dip in egg mixture
Dredge in bread crumbs

In pan heated to medium-high, add cutlets to hot olive oil and cook until golden brown on one side. Flip and cook until golden brown on the other. Remove to platter.

Spray bottom and sides of baking dish with cooking spray (makes clean-up SO much easier). Layer 1 cup sauce in bottom of baking dish. Place cutlets in sauce. Cover each cutlet with ¼ c. more sauce. Sprinkle with parmesan cheese. Layer provolone or mozzarella over top. Spread 1 more tbsp. sauce over cheese.

Bake at 350˚F until cheese is melted and sauce is bubbly – about half an hour.

Serve with a side of pasta.

Photo credit:

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Comfort Food - Shepherd's Pie

Looking forward I know there will be days when comfort food is the only answer. We all have our own ideas of comfort foods. In my life, I think of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, macaroni and cheese, chili, spaghetti, and my mom’s tuna casserole. Notice all the serotonin-raising carbohydrates on my list? Oh well… One warm and soothing dish I made often when my kids were growing up is Shepherd’s Pie. Mine is a simple version – lean, ground beef with sautéed vegetables and a crown of seasoned mashed potatoes baked to golden goodness – but there are many renditions out there and you can make up your own. It’s one comprehensive slice of at least three food groups – add some ice cream for dessert and you’re all set!

Shepherd’s Pie

• 3 tbsp. olive oil
• 1 large onion of your choice, chopped
• 2 cloves garlic, finely minced
• 2 lbs. lean ground beef
• Worcestershire sauce – a tablespoon or so
• Cracked black pepper
• Salt
• 3-4 cups vegetables of your choice, sautéed in the pan you used for the beef. I use peas and carrots, but you can use anything you want.
• Mashed potatoes to serve 8 people

In large skillet over a medium flame, heat olive oil and add onions. Cook onions until they’re translucent. Add garlic, and sauté just until it begins to turn golden. Immediately add beef and break it up with a wooden spoon until it’s evenly browned and no longer pink. Add Worcestershire sauce, cracked pepper and salt to taste. Gather all the meat to one side of the pan, tilt it a little, and with a spoon, remove excess juices.

Line bottom of buttered casserole dish with a thin layer of mashed potatoes. Layer all of beef mixture above. Add the layer of sautéed vegetables and, finally, the mashed potatoes. Swirl them a little bit to make a peak here and there. Bake in a 350˚ F oven until the tips of the mashed potatoes are beginning to brown, some time between 30 and 40 minutes.

Photo credit:

Wednesday, September 9, 2009


My friend lost her son this weekend. He was twenty and full of life and vulnerable and now he is gone. I am terribly sad for her family but my heart aches, especially, for her. I worry about how she can possibly survive this. Will she be able to remember his life before his death, will she be able to divert her constant focus away from that awful morning to re-remember the joys of his life? Will this void ever be filled? How does a mother go on after such a tragedy?

At the memorial service, there were posted many photos of a happy family, celebrating this son’s life from the moment of his birth. A number of people commented, "What a beautiful boy." He was a beautiful boy, more beautiful than most. How life has changed now from the scenes depicted in those photos. Who, back then, could have anticipated what was to come?

No one said that children turn eighteen and all the worrying is done. There is no line of demarcation which, once crossed, is safe. Despite the many joys of motherhood, some of us wish to escape, just for a little while, from the often emotional burdens that come with guiding our children through their journeys from infancy to adulthood. But we never wish for this. We’d multiply the burdens a million-fold not to have to do this.

It’s so hard to see people we care about in pain, especially if it is the worst pain we can imagine. If only friends’ love and concern could envelope her, and hold her until the hurt goes away…that would be the next best thing to turning back time.

Photo credit: Picasso's Mother and Child,

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Hancock Shaker Village and Apple Gingerbread

This past weekend found me visiting the museum at Hancock Shaker Village in nearby Pittsfield, Massachusetts. (Follow link below to their official website.) The museum is a fascinating site made up of actual buildings on the location of the authentic Shaker community that dissolved in 1960 due to dwindling numbers. This particular Shaker community originated in the late 1700s in Watervliet, New York, moved east to New Lebanon, and finally settled over the state border in Pittsfield. The Shakers were a celibate community. Their numbers could only be increased by recruitment and the adoption of orphans (who, at the age of 18, could choose to stay or go out in to “The World”) and were eventually reduced to the point where the village could no longer be sustained. Today, only the communities in Canterbury, New Hampshire and Sabbath Lake, Maine remain.

Living celibate, though egalitarian, lives, Shaker men and women were very productive, and lived communally (still with men and women separated, often occupying opposite areas of buildings at the same time) and were agriculturally self-sustaining. All inhabitants of the village were considered family. Shakers were well-known for the exceptional quality of their labors, especially for furniture and also canned kitchen products, which were in demand in surrounding communities.

At Hancock Shaker Village, I took particular interest in the kitchen, located in the basement of a large, rectangular building, named The 1830 Brick Dwelling. Despite its location, the kitchen was filled with sunlight, a bright, cheerful place with many features people look for in kitchens today. As a working museum, in the kitchen there was a young woman making dough. My daughter Katie took some photos and we were both impressed with the simple, homey beauty and efficiency of the space. It was not at all institutional as I had expected.

Leaving the kitchen, I helped curly-haired Henry (16 months) toddle across the lawn to a spot where we found a young volunteer spinning yarn from freshly-shorn sheep. Just beyond, in the Round Stone Barn, another volunteer was tending to chickens, cows, and sheep. Ducks and turkeys walked the grounds. Throughout the day there were presentations in different buildings, though our timing was off and we seemed to miss most of those. (Besides, we were getting hungry for what turned out to be a late lunch at The Red Lion Inn in Stockbridge!).

Saturday was a gorgeous, sun-filled day, perfect for a road trip and for strolling around the museum’s beautiful flower and herb gardens. Of course, at the end of the day, what had interested me most was the kitchen, and I remembered that the young woman making dough was referencing The Best of Shaker Cooking by Amy Bess Miller and Persis Fuller. Of course, I had to buy my own copy from the gift shop. I was disciplined and controlled myself, though there were many items calling out to me – an assortment of wooden, oval Shaker boxes, all sorts of jams and jellies, wooden toys for children (Henry’s parents did buy him a beautiful set of hand-made wooden blocks), books, art work, jewelry, calendars and books.

Once home, I sat down to read the cookbook (a favorite past-time). The recipes are simple and practical, optimizing the star ingredients. I’m sharing with you the recipe for Apple Gingerbread, blog-adapted:

Sister Olive
Hancock Shaker Village

2 tablespoons brown sugar
½ teaspoon baking soda
1 cup bread flour (for this, you can use all-purpose flour)
1 cup whole wheat flour (AP flour again if you don’t have whole wheat)
½ teaspoon each ginger, cinnamon, mace, and salt (no mace? – substitute nutmeg)
¾ cup molasses
¼ shortening, melted
¼ cup raisins
2 apples, pared, cored, and cut into eighths
1 egg, well beaten
½ cup milk

Mix and sift together all dry ingredients, add the molasses and shortening melted. Then add the well-beaten egg, raisins, and the milk. Place apples into greased pan.* Pour mixture over apples and bake in moderate 350˚ F. oven about 25 minutes or until it tests done.

Serve hot or warm with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.

*Sister Olive indicated 6 muffin pans, which doesn’t add up to me, measure-wise. I suggest an 8” square pan and bake until it tests done. Watch the top to lose its wet look, give it the bounce test (lightly press center of cake, if it bounces back, it’s done) when the sides leave the edge of the pan, or test it with a tooth-pick.

More about Shaker cooking at:

Photo credit:

Friday, September 4, 2009

Looking Forward to A Long Labor Day Weekend

All summer I’ve been working a 4-day (though longer days) work week, Monday through Thursday. This is my first week back with the regular schedule. While I surely miss the abbreviated work week, in some ways it feels good to be part of the herd again, realizing that much of the world is synchronized in a similar schedule. There were times when I felt like a real outlaw on those Fridays – sleeping as late as 8:30 or so, enjoying lunch out for more than a rushed hour, wondering what the poor Monday-through-Fridayers were doing while I was enjoying the good life… It was the same feeling I got on those rare occasions when my mom insisted I stay home from school when I actually felt well enough, as if having been given a free pass. Have you ever had a random day off, and taken notice of an entirely different world out there, going on at the same time? I’ve often wondered where all these people come from, what other thing they do for a living, these shoppers who populate stores in the middle of the afternoon, or relaxed people driving around with their sun roofs open, maybe eating an ice cream cone? Do they work at night, or do they not work at all? If they work at night, why aren’t they sleeping? Is this their day off as well, or are they independently wealthy and have all the free time in the world? Rather than try to solve the world’s problems, these are the things that run through my brain.

Fridays are good days. Before I became an NPR junkie, driving to work I’d listen to morning radio talk shows. There was one station that, on Friday mornings, played the reggae song with the lyrics, “I don’t want to work, I want to play on my drum all day.” Just hearing that made me smile. It was such an upbeat, happy tune and set a positive tone not only for Friday but for the upcoming weekend as well.

Working on Fridays allows me to appreciate the weekend so much more. Like many people, the early part of the weekend is filled with things I have to do, that I don’t have time for during the work week. But once that list is cleared, a casual sense of liberation takes over and then my brain has an opportunity to relax. Only as Sunday evening approaches do I consciously consider the following work week. I can plan to my heart’s content Monday through Friday, but weekends are meant for a little less structure.

So, I look forward to this long, Labor Day weekend. I’m headed, on Saturday, to the Shaker Museum in Pittsfield, Massachusetts with my daughter Katie and her family, and then we’ll go on to the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge followed by lunch at the Red Lion Inn. You know I’m going to blog about that! On Sunday, I’m invited to an early Labor Day picnic at my ex-husband’s house (yes, we are able to do that). He and his wife often graciously invite me to their home whenever they have a family function. It’s important to us that our kids never have to worry about divided loyalties, and it works out.

I wish you all a restful, rejuvenating Labor Day weekend. Sleep late and enjoy every minute!

Photo credit:

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Breakfast Pizza

Once when I’d never heard of breakfast pizza, I made the recipe up for my kids. Now breakfast pizzas are everywhere, but for a while it was a cool and unique dish in our house! It’s one of those things that has me thinking I missed yet another opportunity for fame and fortune!

For my original version, I’d take a Boboli crust and add omelet-like fixings and pop it in the oven until the cheese was melted and it was all nice and bubbly. This became a regular early Friday-morning breakfast before my kids left for school. These pizzas also make a nice contribution to a breakfast buffet, cut in wedges or little squares. They can be as healthy or as decadent as you like - the combination of ingredients and possibilities are only limited by your imagination!

Here are some ideas:

Boboli crust (or your own pizza crust)
Already-scrambled eggs
Hollandaise sauce (you can make it from a packet – McCormick’s)
Sliced mushrooms
Breakfast sausage, cooked and crumbled or links sliced into little rounds (or veggie crumbles)
Diced or thinly sliced cooked ham
Bacon, cooked and crumbled
Roasted red peppers

Choose any of the toppings you want and top it off with shreds of your favorite cheese (swiss, cheddar, Monterey Jack – whatever).

Bake at 425˚F until the cheese is melted and bubbly, about 10 minutes.

Watch it disappear.

Photo credit:

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Sutton's Marketplace and Layered Mexican Dip

Sutton’s Marketplace on Route 9 in Queensbury (just south of Lake George, between I-87’s exits 19 & 20) is home to a beautiful gift shop and restaurant with a full bakery and confectionery. You can go for a delicious breakfast or lunch (the food is really good) and at the same time find a special gift for any occasion, even if it’s a gift to yourself! The marketplace also offers an exclusive furniture store (pricey, but a visual treat and well worth a walk-through) and a women’s clothing store. In the gift shop building, there’s a charming section with old-fashioned toys you won’t find in any department store. I like to make an afternoon of it with lunch, browsing, and finally, a little treat to take home. They are famous for their cider donuts, and that season is upon us now.

Sutton’s carries the Stonewall Kitchen line of specialty foods including jams, salsas, dressings, and mixes. There are always samples available and recipe cards for inspiration. The recipes are good and, of course, feature SK products, though you can certainly create these dishes with your own substitutions.

Today I’m highlighting Stonewall Kitchen’s recipe for layered Mexican dip, from one of the free recipe cards in Sutton’s gourmet section. With Labor Day right around the corner, this is a dish that family and friends will dive right in to.

Layered Mexican Dip

• 1 15 oz. can refried beans
• 1 4.5 oz. can green chilies, chopped
• ½ c. sour cream
• ½ c. mayonnaise
• 2 avocados, peeled and diced
• 1 cup STONEWALL KITCHEN Black Bean or Mango Lime Salsa (or your own salsa)
• 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
• 1 cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese
• 4 green onions, chopped

1. Preheat oven to 350˚ F.
2. In a greased deep pie dish, spread the refried beans and then layer the chopped green chilies on top.
3. For the next layer, combine the sour cream and mayonnaise. Continue layering the avocados, lemon juice, salsa, and top with the two cheeses and green onions.
4. Bake for 20-30 minutes until heated through and bubbly.
5. Serve with tortilla chips.

Photo credit:

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Apple Nut Crisp from Eating Well and The Food Network

It's September 1, and my thoughts turn to apples. Driving by Saratoga Apple on Route 29 the other day, I noticed that the trees are laden with ripe fruit. We'll be apple picking any time now, right through mid-October. Last year when we went to pick, Henry was just a tiny bundle in his Baby Bjorn. This year he'll be pulling (or pushing) his own wagon and picking up "drops." I remember when my kids were young. We'd pick more apples than we could ever use (I didn't can them) and as soon as we got home I'd make a huge pot of applesauce, bake a pie, and we'd eat apples until we all had stomach aches! We used to go to Focastle Farm in nearby Burnt Hills and we'd enjoy apple picking as well as shopping in their beautiful gift shop (which also has a great restaurant for breakfast or lunch). I'm going to try to visit Focastle a few times again during the next few months.

This recipe comes from Eating Well, and offers a somewhat more nutrition-packed Apple Crisp than the traditional version by incorporating whole-wheat flour and walnuts (or hazelnuts) along with the oats. It has a 5-star rating, and the link to the recipe and web page can also be found below.


* 5 medium-large crisp, tart apples, such as McIntosh, Empire, Granny Smith or Cortland, peeled and thinly sliced (about 6 cups)
* 3 tablespoons granulated sugar or Splenda Granular
* 1 tablespoon lemon juice
* 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon, divided
* 2/3 cup whole-wheat flour
* 1/2 cup old-fashioned rolled oats (not instant)
* 1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
* 2 tablespoons butter, cut into small pieces
* 2 tablespoons canola oil
* 2 tablespoons frozen apple juice concentrate, thawed
* 1/3 cup coarsely chopped hazelnuts or walnuts


Preheat oven to 375°F. Coat an 8-inch square (or 2-quart) deep baking dish with cooking spray.

Combine apples with granulated sugar (or Splenda), lemon juice and 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon in a large bowl. Toss to mix. Transfer to the prepared baking dish, cover with foil and bake for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, combine whole-wheat flour, oats, brown sugar and the remaining 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon in a medium bowl. Mix to blend. Using your fingers (or a fork or pastry blender), cut in butter until evenly distributed and there are no chunks. Stir in oil, apple juice concentrate and nuts; toss well until evenly moistened and clumpy.

Remove the foil from the baking dish and scatter the topping evenly over the apples. Bake uncovered until the topping has browned and the fruit is soft and bubbling, about 30 minutes more. Let cool for at least 15 minutes before serving.

Recipe and Photo Credit: