Thursday, July 30, 2009

Hats Off in Saratoga July 31 and August 1!



Saratoga is the summer place to be tonight and tomorrow night as the Hats Off Music Festival happens downtown. I’m providing information from the Hats Off site here, with the following link (http://www.saratoga.org/visitors/hats-off-music-festival.asp) to take you anywhere you want to go during the festival. This is a great event and showcases a lot of local talent. I’d like to especially direct you to the NEXT GENERATION STAGE (Saturday night) performing at Eddie Bauer and featuring, among others, Zac Rossi and Maggie Doherty.


If you hope to grab a bite while you’re on Broadway, there are a number of good options. Every place will be busy, so be prepared to find a spot early or wait a while. I recommend Wheatfield’s, Lillian’s, and Forno Tuscano. My friend Cathi and I stopped at Wheatfield’s last year during H.O., and while we had to wait a while, we were seated in a reasonable amount of time. If you would rather be out listening to music than sitting in a restaurant, order drinks and appetizers to share and go get a cone later!

Take a look at what’s being offered, and have a great time!
Hats Off Music Festival

Friday, July 31 and Saturday, August 1 2009
Featured music includes everything from Jazz to Rock, Indie to Barbershop in downtown Saratoga Springs.

Featured musical lineup:
Collamer Lot...................Bourbon Renewal (Fri), Acoustic Circus (Sat)
Post Office.....................The GTO's (Fri), Jeff Strange (Sat)
Adirondack Trust Co........Sirsy
Caroline Street................Slick Fitty
Lillian's............................High Definition Band
Division Street.................April Marie
Eddie Bauer....................Racing City Chorus (Fri)
Eddie Bauer....................Next Generation Stage Sat featuring new young local talent Maggie Doherty & Zack Rossi, Jenn Guay, Rachel Matthews and Rachel Van Slyke (Sat)
Ben & Jerry's:.................."Collar City Records" stage featuring Matt Loiacano

Location: Collamer Parking Lot
BOURBON RENEWAL (Fri)
George Fletcher's Bourbon Renewal has been an in demand live blues act throughout the Capital Region since its inception in 2004. Fletcher has performed with music greats such as Commander Cody, Curt Smith (Tears for Fears), John Sebastian, Larry Hoppen (Orleans), the Coasters and many others. He has also opened concerts for Ray Charles, Bo Diddley, Spin Doctors and many others. Learn more about the band by visiting www.georgefletcher.com.
ACOUSTIC CIRCUS (Sat)
Juan Calzada, Corbin Daugherty & Dr. James Looby are Saratoga Springs’ own, a Jam and Caribbean influenced power acoustic trio presenting an energetic performance that could headline anywhere.

Location: Saratoga Springs Post Office
GTOs (Fri)
The GTO’s perform “Good Time Oldies” in the street corner, doo-wop, Acappella style of the 50’s and 60’s. Favorite tunes include “Blue Moon,” “Come Go With Me,” “In the Still of the Night” and many others. You are sure to want to sing along.
JEFF STRANGE (Sat)
Singer/Song writer JEFF STRANGE was a founding member and fifteen year veteran of internationally known Irish folk band Donnybrook Fair, whose 1980 album release Tunnel Tigers received airplay in both Ireland and England, as well as the United States. He was also a longtime member of the New York Capital Region’s most popular band, The Newports.

Location: Adirondack Trust Co. Drive-Through
SIRSY: FIERY, SULTRY, SOULFUL INDIE POP THAT ROCKS
SIRSY is fronted by the charismatic Melanie Krahmer... a girl with a "stunning voice capable of a lion's roar & a floaty whisper" ... “with the lungs of a teenage athlete & the growl of a 60-something blues singer". Krahmer is also the drummer, playing a full drum kit, STANDING UP, bass (on a keyboard with her drum stick), Ian Anderson-esque flute solos and melodica, too! Sharing the stage is co-writer, Rich Libutti, on guitar. Libutti also plays piano, bass (live on a keyboard at his feet!), & even the occasional snare part (with his feet!). Playing 250+ shows/year nationally, SIRSY's shared the stage w/Maroon 5, Third Eye Blind, Lifehouse, Collective Soul, Blues Traveler, Cheap Trick, Grace Potter, & more!

Location: Caroline Street
SLICK FITTY
50's & 60's cover songs, 50's & 60's inspired originals,
“Hot Rodded,” for all generations to enjoy. Music of yesterday with an awesome modern sound.

Location: Lillian’s/Cantina Parking Lot
HIGH DEFINITION BAND
A versatile High Energy Party Band specializing in “fun”! An unforgettable blend of guitars, keyboards, harmonies, horns & percussion. Performing the songs of yesteryear to the songs of today.

Location: Division Street
APRIL MARIE
April Marie has been performing in the Capital District for over 15 years. She specializes in Jazz standards and songs from her two CD's, "The Fire in You" & "Somethin'". Her performance schedule can be found on www.albanyjazz.com

Location: Rip Van Dam Hotel Porch
RACING CITY CHORUS (Fri)
They are the ambassadors of a-capella;” Saratoga's own long-time favorite
all-male vocal group with Barbershop style.

Location: Eddie Bauer
NEXT GENERATION STAGE (Sat)
A cross-section of twenty-somethings that represent the rich musical heritage of Saratoga County:
- Jenn Guay is a lifelong resident of Saratoga Springs and a graduate of Skidmore College
- Rachel Mathews is a native of Clifton Park and attends Flagler University in St. Augustine, FL
- Maggie Doherty is a native of Saratoga Springs and attends Hofstra University in Hempstead, NY
- Zac Rossi is a native of Saratoga Springs and a graduate of SUNY Oneonta
- Rachel VanSlyke is a native of Saratoga County who now resides in South Carolina, where she frequently tours the South Eastern US on her bicycle!

Location: Ben & Jerry’s
COLLAR CITY
www.collarcityrecords.com "Collar City Records offers a curated look at the Capital Region music landscape by selecting and releasing important local albums. Heartfelt, unique, honest songs from a very special group of musicians."


Link to the Hats Off site here: http://www.saratoga.org/visitors/hats-off-music-festival.asp


Photo by Jeannie Eddy

In search of the perfect vanilla yogurt


I was a yogurt eater in 1971 when most people looked at me like I was crazy. I bought a Swiss-style yogurt then, and enjoyed it. Over the years, yogurt choices have improved and I’ve gone through phases. There was a time when Yoplait Custard Style was an exclusive favorite, until I discovered I could have had a dish of ice cream for the same calories! Then I switched to other low-fat, non-fat, artificially sweetened yogurts, only to give those up because I don’t care for the overly-sweet taste and the artificiality of it all. I just want to find one good, thick, creamy, naturally sweetened vanilla yogurt that I can toss with some berries and a good granola and be happy. Is that too much to ask?

To that end, I have tested some previously un-tried yogurts, and the search continues. It’s a consistency thing with me. I don’t like anything that resembles curdles (blech). No whey! I want something smooth, shiny, and almost scoop-able. Recent taste trials included Stonyfield Farm Vanilla (nope) and Brown Cow Vanilla (OK, still not there). At my brother Danny’s recommendation, I looked for something called Aussie, couldn’t find it, and found Wallaby instead – could that be what he meant? Well, the taste was fine, nice vanilla flavor, but the consistency was more like yogurt soup. Not buying that one again.

I used to strain plain or vanilla yogurt to make “yogurt cheese” as a cream cheese substitute in low-fat cheesecake recipes, or as a sour cream replacement for dips or baked potatoes. I’d take a large container of yogurt and strain it overnight in a colander lined with coffee filters. The bowl was placed in the refrigerator and the top of the colander and bowl were covered in saran wrap. The next morning the yogurt had the consistency of a soft cream cheese, ready for whatever recipe I had in mind. I never thought once about just eating it that way. I’m realizing now that a strained vanilla yogurt, Greek style, might be just what I’m looking for. I’ll give that a try and keep you posted!

Photo credit: http://img.timeinc.net/recipes/i/recipes/hl/van-lemon-berry-parfait-hl-1193349-x.jpg

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Opening Day at Saratoga Racecourse


When Saratoga Race Course opens for the season, there’s a lot of talk about how the city comes alive with all the associated excitement due to social goings-on and increased tourism, business and traffic.

For local residents, the change to our community is measurable in the simple things, like how long it takes to drive from one end of Broadway to the other, and many of us devise alternate routes for six weeks. While traffic is high on the list of locals’ complaints, I welcome much of what comes with racing season. During this late summer run, the vitality of our downtown is palpable. Sometimes it’s nice to get a new perspective on our home town by “playing tourist” and taking a day to experience Saratoga the way our visitors do – breakfast at the track, a stroll down Broadway going in and out of shops, lunch outside a restaurant under a canopy watching the world go by, maybe a visit to the Racing Museum. We full-time residents take a lot for granted here in Saratoga Springs. How many of us have enjoyed all it has to offer?

The New York Racing Association’s on-line Media Guide (found at www.nyra.com) devotes pages 13-16 to Saratoga Race Course, and its page on the history of Saratoga reads:

“Thoroughbred racing has no finer setting than Saratoga Race Course, named one of the world’s greatest sporting venues by Sports Illustrated. For six weeks every summer, the past comes alive in the historic grandstand as fans experience not only the best in racing, but the unmatched ambiance and charm of historic Saratoga Springs.”

The article continues:

“Already famous for its mineral baths, Saratoga held its first thoroughbred meet just a month after the Battle of Gettysburg. Staged by gambler, casino owner, ex-boxing champion and future Congressman John “Old Smoke” Morrissey and beginning on August 3, 1863, the four-day meet drew thousands of locals and tourists who saw Lizzie W. defeat Captain Moore in the best-of-three series of races…Emboldened by the success of the first meet, Morrissey promptly enlisted his friends John R. Hunter, William Travers and Leonard Jerome to form the Saratoga Association. Its first responsibility was the construction of a new, permanent grandstand on the current site of Saratoga Race Course. Across the street, the “old course” became the barn area known as Horse Haven, with the vestiges of the original track still encircling the stables.”

And later:

“Today, looking over the jam-packed backyard and grandstand on any sunny summer afternoon, it’s hard to fathom that racing at Saratoga once teetered on the brink of extinction. In the early 1960s, there was a movement to conduct summer racing exclusively at the new and modern Aqueduct Racetrack. But in 1962, New York State Governor W. Averill Harriman, who owned Log Cabin Stud, signed “The Harriman Law,” which mandated a minimum of 24 race days at Saratoga every year.”

From the New York Bred website, I found this:
An 1863 description of the track could still be written today:
". . . The main street of the place is a wide and handsome one. It is chiefly composed of hotels which are very large, well adapted to the comfort of summer visitors and no doubt well kept. We soon learned that all the hotels were full . . .The race course is well situated and quite near enough to the town. You can stand in the stable doors and look over a rich cultivated valley, many miles in width, to purple hills curtained with light summer haze far beyond."

My own personal connection to Saratoga Racecourse is that if it weren’t here, I wouldn’t be here. Not in terms of existing, but in terms of location. My father’s father, Valerian O’Farrell, and his family spent every summer in Saratoga Springs. Valerian O’Farrell was a famous New York City detective and loved the horses. There’s a lot of information about him now on Google, and, if you’re interested, you can do a search or read a little about him here: (http://query.nytimes.com/mem/archive-free/pdf?_r=1&res=9C00E3DD1131E233A25755C2A9619C946096D6CF).

My father had such fond memories of his own childhood summers in Saratoga that he and my mother decided to raise their family here. He used to take us, all seven children, to the backstretch and introduce us to people—horse owners, trainers, and track workers—his father had known. We’d be given carrots and told to open our hands flat to feed the horses. I was always afraid I’d lose a finger, but it was exciting and a special time in our lives.

Had it not been for the track, my family would never have arrived here, and my life would have played out very differently. I think of that almost every time I drive by the racecourse’s beautiful grounds on Union Avenue, aware that my family’s personal history is intertwined with that of this historic place, and knowing that my father, too, was grateful for the connection.

Photo credit: http://www.racing.saratoga.ny.us/postcards/pc18.jpg

NYBred quote: http://www.nybreds.com/racing/trackhistory.html

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Chip News and an Old Story for Saratoga Springs!


There’s exciting chip news for the Saratoga Springs area, and I’m not talking technology. Nope, t his is old-fashioned chip making at its finest – thin slices of potatoes cooked the same way they were when the original chip was invented in Saratoga Springs in 1853.

I found this press release on prlog.org (link below), announcing the reintroduction of Saratoga Chips. It’s very interesting and I’m guessing you’ll like it, so here goes:

Saratoga Specialties Company has reintroduced “Moon Brand Original Saratoga Chips” to the gourmet snack food market.
Already available in supermarkets, specialty stores and historic venues.

Saratoga Springs, New York, (July 15, 2009): In an unstable economy, two local families joined forces to reintroduce an 1853 Saratoga Springs original that gave birth to the “Snack Food Industry” as we know it today.

The idea came to them back in January while they were researching the history of Saratoga Springs. They discovered the fact that the potato chip was invented at Moon’s Lake House in Saratoga Springs back in 1853. It baffled them why The Original Saratoga Chips were invented here but no longer sold. Moon Brand Original Saratoga Chips were sold commercially all throughout New England from 1853 to the mid 1920’s when Herman Lay and others simplified the name to ”Potato Chips”, and mass marketed them to the nation. Sadly, Moon Brand Original Saratoga Chips fell into obscurity and have largely been forgotten along with the historic story and the potato chips undisputed origin in Saratoga Springs, New York.

While diners at many restaurants and eateries across the nation can order “Saratoga Potato Chips” as a “fresh made” alternative to French fries, Saratoga Specialties Company makes them available to the retail grocery store consumers.

Dan Jameson and Paul Tator have reintroduced the Moon Brand Original Saratoga Chips in a reproduction of the original packaging the pair found at the Saratoga Springs History Museum in the Canfield Casino. “This was a real find for us, the Original Moon’s Lake House Take-out Box”, said Danny. “The box was in real bad shape, it took months to restore it”’. After researching many stories of the methods and recipe used, the chips are made in individual batches by artisans just as they were originally. “One of the most important aspects of our business model is that we wanted every detail on the box “then” to be true “today”. The “Moon Brand” trademark, the company name and location, the chip inside, everything”, explained Paul.
Saratoga Specialties Company is committed to working with other local businesses within the community for all their business needs. They believe that the nation’s economic recovery will come from small businesses like theirs and by utilizing local businesses for their business needs, they are doing their part to reignite the nations economy.

Due to the overwhelming positive response, Saratoga Specialties Company now has future plans on opening a fully operational combined manufacturing and warehousing facility in the area that will bring manufacturing and delivery jobs to the region. Moon Brand Original Saratoga Chips are available for purchase at area Hannaford’s, EBI Beverage, Minogue’s Beverage, Impressions of Saratoga, Compliments to the Chef, Roma’s, Mango’s Deli, The Candy Company, Saratoga Springs History Museum, National Racing Museum and many other specialty stores throughout the capital district.

More information at: www.originalsaratogachips.com

Photo credit: http://blog.timesunion.com/tablehopping/files/2009/07/moon-chips.jpg

Link to article: http://www.prlog.org/10286408-saratoga-specialties-company-has-reintroduced-moon-brand-original-saratoga-chips-to-the-market.html

Monday, July 27, 2009

Zucchini Everywhere? Ratatouille and Chocolate Zucchini Cake!


No matter how few zucchini plants a gardener grows, there always seems to be an over-abundance of the prolific vegetable. People bring brown bags full of zucchini to work, offering them to anyone who will take them! These unwanted zucchini can be turned into wonderful dishes. I had a neighbor who used to beg for my garden’s zucchini blossoms, and I had to be sure to give her the “male” blossoms because once their job was over, well, they could be dismissed. She’d batter the blossoms and fry them in olive oil, evoking memories of childhood in her Italian family.

We grilled zucchini over the weekend. My daughter sliced it in ¼ inch slices lengthwise, and drizzled it with olive oil. I grilled it on both sides, just until each side had nice grill marks. Sprinkled with just a little salt and pepper, it was delicious “as is.” You don’t have to do a lot to zucchini to enjoy it, but it plays nicely with a lot of other vegetables and ingredients.

This post features recipes for Ratatouille Stew and Chocolate Zucchini Bread (more like cake). Both are highly-rated, adapted from Eating Well, and will make great use of the many zucchini sitting on your back porch (or in a brown bag on your desk), waiting to be appreciated. Here the zucchini is granted the honor it deserves!

Ratatouille Stew
Makes 10 side-dish servings (5 main-dish)

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 onions, coarsely chopped
2 red and/or yellow bell peppers, seeded and diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 teaspoons fennel seeds, crushed (I'd leave this out!)
1 medium eggplant, diced
2 large zucchini, diced
6 medium ripe tomatoes, coarsely chopped (you can substitute canned)
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh basil
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh thyme
Salt & freshly ground pepper to taste
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh parsley

1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
2. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a Dutch oven over medium heat. Add onions and bell peppers; cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables begin to brown, 8 to 10 minutes. Add garlic and fennel seeds; cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 1 minute more. Transfer the vegetables to a large bowl.
3. Add 1 1/2 teaspoons oil to the pot. Add eggplant and cook, stirring frequently, until browned in places, 7 to 8 minutes. Transfer to the bowl with the vegetables.
4. Add the remaining 1 1/2 teaspoons oil to the pot. Add zucchini and cook, stirring frequently, until browned in places, about 5 minutes. Add tomatoes, basil, thyme and the reserved vegetables and bring to a simmer. Cover the pot and transfer to the oven.
5. Bake the ratatouille, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are tender, 35 to 45 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Serve hot or at room temperature. Garnish with parsley before serving.

Chocolate Zucchini Bread
(makes 2 loaves)

1/2 cup chopped walnuts (1 3/4 ounces)
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup whole-wheat flour
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa, preferably Dutch-process
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 1/2 cups sugar
3/4 cup unsweetened applesauce
1/4 cup canola oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 ounce unsweetened chocolate, melted (or 1/3 cup melted semi-sweet chocolate chips)
2 cups grated zucchini (1 medium)

1. Preheat oven to 325°F. Coat two 8 1/2-by-4 1/2-inch loaf pans with cooking spray.
2. Spread walnuts in a pie pan and bake until fragrant, 5 to 7 minutes. Set aside to cool.
3. Whisk all-purpose flour, whole-wheat flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a large bowl.
4. Whisk eggs, sugar, applesauce, oil, vanilla and melted chocolate in another large bowl until blended. Add to the dry ingredients and stir with a rubber spatula until just combined. Fold in zucchini and the reserved walnuts. Spoon the batter into the prepared pans, smoothing the tops.
5. Bake the loaves 55 to 60 minutes, or until the tops are golden and a skewer inserted in the center comes out clean. Let cool in pans on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Invert onto rack and cool completely.

Photo credit: http://www.nowhiningdining.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2009/02/zucchini_img_8322_.jpg

Sunday, July 26, 2009

One-of-a-Kind Restaurants, In Every Town


On one of our first dates, Russ and I went to Balloons, a restaurant on Washington Street in Auburn, New York. Established in 1934, Balloons had a reputation as a great steak house. If you walk in the door today, it seems not much has changed since the restaurant's early days. It's a place where everyone seems to know everyone, a central-New York Cheers of sorts. Jim, the bartender, greeted us last night by saying "Hello Professor" to Russ and "Hi sweetheart, where have you been?" to me. He notices when it's been a while, and that's always nice. The waiters (all waiters) wear balloon print ties. The walls are time-stained pine panels, heavily decorated in sports pennants, caricatures, and photos of famous or loyal patrons from eight decades of business. With the exception of the flat-screen TV over the bar, it's as if the world stood still mid-20th century and nothing has changed. Noticeably absent, now, is Tony, a popular and beloved waiter who worked at Balloons since its earliest days. Tony passed away a couple of years ago, and his presence is certainly missed. Russ talked with him often, and discovered that Tony used to come to Saratoga in the summers, and reminisced about dining at DeRossi's restaurant on Beekman Street (now Gotchas). Like DeRossi's in its prime, Balloons has the exclusivity of being one-of-a-kind, not something that chain restaurants, no matter how consistent or reliable, can ever provide. Every town has their own version of a DeRossi's or a Balloons. In my not-so-humble opinion, such restaurants are treasures, with local history and character, and should be considered before choosing the chain near the highway.

Remembering that date twelve years ago, Russ ordered Chicken Parmesan and I ordered Chicken Balloons. Russ's dinner arrived, and the cheese was melted perfectly over his chicken. He said his heart was just like the cheese - melted! OK, as schmaltzy as that sounds now, it sounded great then, and the memory brings a smile to my face.

Last night, Russ ordered Rattlesnake Pasta, an abundant dish with sauteed vegetables. linguini, and chicken in a spicy alfredo sauce. Of all the nights he's ordered it, he's only finished it three times. It was not to be last night -- he took a good amount home with him. I ordered Millenium Chicken. Nine years later, it's still on the menu, and it was fantastic. Millenium chicken is pounded and sauteed chicken medallions with shrimp in a champagne cream sauce, with very thinly sliced mushrooms, artichoke hearts, and ribbons of sun-dried tomatoes. The flavor combination was just right and I will attempt to duplicate this one at home.

I love to go to Balloons. When I go there, even after months away, it's as if I never left. I can't wait to walk in that door again, and for Jim to say "Hello sweetheart!"

Photo credit: http://www.balloonsrestaurant.net/

Next blog: What to do with all that zucchini: Ratatouille, and a chocolate zucchini cake (thanks, Val, for the suggestion!)

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Grillin' Time - Hamburgers


It’s grilling season. If you’re a vegetarian or otherwise non-meat eater, you probably won’t be interested in what follows. Or, you can read on for fun and then just bring your own veggie burger to the next party, like my brother Steven does. No missing a barbeque just because he doesn’t eat barbeque!

This is about meat. Specifically, hamburgers.

All seven of my readers (!) know I love Ina Garten, a.k.a. The Barefoot Contessa. Must admit I’m a BC groupie, for her cookbooks and her show. This post is about Ina's burgers. I won’t pretend for one second that the recipe that follows is health food. I also won’t say you shouldn’t try it. Myself, I’m a hot dog girl—well done to the extreme, toasted bun, cheap yellow mustard and relish—but now and then a burger hits the spot. If you are one who likes to indulge occasionally in a great burger, you’ve gotta give this one a go. Here, you mix two types of ground beef with other simple ingredients (including additional fat from egg yolk and a slight pat of butter!). But before you lambaste me with the greasy side of the spatula, you should know that the result earned a respectable four stars out of five by the ninety-six enthusiastic burger reviewers on the FN site: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/ina-garten/real-hamburgers-recipe/index.html. (Make sure to check out reviewers’ comments – they always add their own little tricks to personalize a recipe, and some may appeal to you.)

You can use this recipe as is or take the basic idea and change it up to your liking. I’ve even heard of using a few ice chips, instead of butter, in the center of the burger to keep it moist and juicy.

The Barefoot Contessa’s Real Hamburgers
(makes 10-12)

Ingredients

• 2 pounds ground chuck
• 1 pound ground sirloin
• 3 tablespoons steak sauce (recommended: Crosse & Blackwell) – that’s Ina Talking, I like Heinz 57 or A-1 just fine
• 6 extra-large egg yolks
• 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
• 3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
• 4 tablespoons cold unsalted butter
• 12 hamburger buns

Directions

Carefully mix the meats, steak sauce, egg yolks, salt, and pepper with the tines of a fork, but do not mash it. Lightly form each hamburger and lightly press into a patty shape. Make an indentation and put a thin slice of butter inside each hamburger, making sure the butter is entirely encased in the meat.
Heat a grill, broiler, or saute pan and cook the hamburgers for 3 to 5 minutes on each side until almost done. Remove to a plate and cover with aluminum foil. Allow the hamburgers to rest for 5 minutes and serve immediately on buns.

Photo credit: http://www.panix.com/~clay/cookbook/images/hamburger02.jpg

Jeanne McGeehan Cella's Iced Tea


I’m named for my Aunt Jeanne. She will be ninety in October, my mother’s youngest sister. Virginia and Jeanne McGeehan were “Irish twins,” born less than a year apart, in 1918 and 1919. The youngest daughters in a family of six children, they grew up loving each other and were devoted sisters until my mother’s death at age eighty-three in 2002. It’s been sad for us, not having our own mother anymore, but whenever we hear Aunt Jeanne speak, we hear a bit of our mother in her voice. I love that. They were very much alike. Aunt Jeanne is a lovely and gracious lady. She lives in a pretty red house with a beautiful yard with gorgeous flower gardens (tended by son Jim) in Danbury, CT. You’d never guess she’s almost ninety – she is fit and sharp and until recently, when she was feeling better, consistently did one hundred sit ups a day! She has never driven a car, and I believe one of the reasons she’s so fit is due to the walking she’s done all her life. Aunt Jeanne’s been having physical challenges lately, with back problems that make navigating a little bit difficult right now. She received a good report from the doctor yesterday, though, and her back is on the mend.

Aunt Jeanne is a very special lady, and she is my Godmother, a role that seemed to carry more significance when she was given the honor a generation ago. Her husband, Uncle Eddie, passed away almost twenty-five years ago, and was my Godfather. They were a devoted couple, and she still wears her wedding and unique engagement ring, a beautiful pearl. When I was married, it could get confusing when we’d visit them at their home in Danbury: Jeannie and Gene Eddy visiting Aunt Jeanne and Uncle Eddie! Maybe that’s why we didn’t name a son “junior” – it would have only added to the confusion! The parents of eight children, six sons and two daughters, Jeanne and Eddie did a great job. They raised fun-loving, intelligent, and caring kids (who grew up to be terrific adults), and with my parents’ seven children, the only families we could visit and tolerate the crowd were each other! They used the same names for their kids, too. Both families have a Michael, a Jeanne, and a Virginia! (Back then, children’s names weren’t exclusive within a family!)

To this day, as cousins we maintain close relationships despite being raised hundreds of miles apart. The Cella kids were raised in New Rochelle, NY, where my Mom grew up, and we were raised, for the most part, in Saratoga Springs. For the summer, we’d “trade” kids for weeks at a time. Steven would go there and Ginna would come here. Anne would go there, and Jim would come here. It was something we always looked forward to and some of our happiest memories are of summers spent with our cousins. Last summer we had an O’Farrell/Cella/McGeehan family reunion at my sister Anne’s house in Saratoga Springs, and most of the Cella “kids” (as well as McGeehan and McCormick cousins) along with their kids and Aunt Jeanne were able to make it. It was over too soon, though we have happy memories and photos of that special day.

Aunt Jeanne has always made the best iced tea. At the beach house in North Carolina last summer, I tried to duplicate it every day. If I’m in a restaurant and order iced tea, I always measure it by Aunt Jeanne’s. Most don’t match it, but once in a while, I take a sip, and I am transported back to her kitchen on Elm Street. There I am, my seven-year old chin resting on the cool surface of her enamel-topped table, the one with the silverware drawer, watching her scurry around to feed her family and the surplus kids from ours.

I called Aunt Jeanne yesterday morning to say hello, see how she’s feeling, and to ask for her iced tea recipe. She said she doesn’t make it much any more because no one wants the sugar she puts in it. Well, I want her iced tea, sugar or not! It was so good to talk with her. I'm looking forward to a road trip to Danbury soon, to spend some time with this lovely lady.

Aunt Jeanne’s Iced Tea:

Place a pot of water on the stove.
Add six teabags.
Bring to a boil and turn off the heat.
Leave it for an hour or so.
Pour it into a pitcher.
SQUEEZE the tea bags to get every last drop (she emphasized that)
Stir in 3 scoops sugar
Add cold water to fill the pitcher.

Add a couple slices of lemon.

With love, I raise my iced tea glass to you, Aunt Jeanne!

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Curried Chicken Phyllo Triangles


My fear of phyllo dough is right up there with a still-unreasonable fear of yeast dough. It seems a silly hesitation, since I’ve seen it used often and successfully on cooking shows. How difficult can it be? It seems no one makes it from scratch anymore. From what I’ve witnessed, you thaw out a package, unfold something, maybe give it a roll with a rolling pin, stuff, fold, crimp if necessary, and proceed. It’s not rocket science. So why have I waited so long to enter the world of phyllo? Silly me. The recipe below is perfect for the first experience. It’s not as easy as a chicken pot pie where you just lay a square of phyllo dough on top and throw it in the oven. This one takes a little bit of origami-like folding, but it is simple enough to guarantee success.

This recipe comes to me from Deborah Lewis, now a professor at St. Lawrence University, who, with her husband, taught at Skidmore College for a short time after being dislocated from their beloved New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. In a previous life, Deborah ran a successful catering company, and she is a wonderful cook. If you are planning a get-together and want to serve an elegant appetizer that combines sweet with savory, try Deborah’s recipe. Here’s her story:

“One of my favorite recipes is Curried Chicken Phyllo Triangles. I came up with this recipe during my career as a caterer in the 1980s (Capers Catering out of Durham, NC) and it was always a smash hit at parties. It’s slightly sweet and also a bit hot-and-spicy. This dish is also somewhat lighter than many hot hors d’oeuvres. Unfortunately, we served it so much that after going into the restaurant business, my partner never ate this dish again. Another memory associated with this dish is of meeting my husband for the first time. He was brought by a mutual friend to a party I was throwing in graduate school, but was on a health kick at the time and refused to even try the Triangles. Not a good beginning! We didn’t have our first date for five years. Our joke is now that I married him so he’d have to eat my food forever.

I do not cook using “proportions” so the following needs to be assembled according to common sense.”

Curried Chicken Phyllo Triangles

Ingredients:
Boneless, skinless chicken breasts, fat removed, cut in bite-sized pieces
Cream cheese (regular
Scallions OR red onions OR shallots, chopped
Peeled tart apples, chopped bite-sized OR green seedless grapes, halved
Sliced almonds OR pistachio nuts, chopped coarsely
Phyllo dough, thawed
Butter (for sautéing and more, melted, to brush on phyllo)
Salt, curry powder (Spice Island); cayenne pepper to taste

Preheat oven to about 400.
Heat a couple of tablespoons of butter in a large frying pan until melted.
• Sauté scallions and chicken until chicken is cooked through. Do not overcook.
• Add fruit and nuts and stir for a couple of minutes until fruit is just hot through.
• Add enough cream cheese to coat the ingredients lightly when melted.
• Season to taste. Remove from heat.
To assemble:
• Unroll thawed phyllo dough on lightly floured, large cutting board or smooth surface.
• Cut two sheets at a time, lengthwise, into strips about 3 inches wide.
• Using a pastry brush, lightly brush the surface with melted butter.
• Place a couple of tablespoons filling (not too much) in the bottom corner of the dough.
• Roll the phyllo up as you would a flag so that when finished, you have a triangular “package.”
• Brush the top lightly with a little more butter.
• Continue until filling is used up.
• Bake on lightly buttered cookie sheet for about 15 minutes or until lightly brown.

Serve immediately. Eaten as finger food.

Tomorrow's blog: My Aunt Jeanne McGeehan Cella's delicious iced tea -- story and recipe!

Photo credit: http://images.google.com/imgres?imgurl=http://www.diabeticcooking.com/food_shots/1/124/12483.jpg&imgrefurl=http://www.diabeticcooking.com/DCRecipes/Printable/095/2580001095.htm&usg=__0Bs5d1X8VEqXzO21O6dHLzP4CB8=&h=255&w=200&sz=7&hl=en&start=12&tbnid=WrHY2SNEDgOuLM:&tbnh=111&tbnw=87&prev=/images%3Fq%3Dphyllo%2Btriangles%26gbv%3D2%26hl%3Den%26sa%3DG

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Tyler Florence's Potato Salad



Summer means barbeques and salads. Around here, the usual offerings are macaroni and potato salads, baked beans, and maybe ambrosia of some kind. My mother-in-law, Marylou, makes the best potato salad, and while I don’t have her recipe, I do have one that reminds me, very much, of hers. Even though her son and I were divorced years ago, she says I’ll always be her daughter-in-law, and I love her for that! The secret to her delicious salad is either vinegar or pickle juice, and I’m not sure which. I had a friend, Judy, who makes a wonderful potato salad. She coated the just-drained potatoes in an oil and vinegar combination. Then the potatoes were allowed to cool completely overnight, with the remainder of the ingredients added the next day. The vinegar/pickle juice adds a bit of tang which gives the salad a distinctive oomph.

Tyler Florence’s recipe for potato salad has a 5-star rating among the 75 reviewers of this recipe on the Food Network website. They loved it, though some mentioned cutting down a bit on the mayo. My recommendation is to mix in half the mayo and if it seems to need more, add it. For some of the more exotic ingredients in his recipe, you can change it up to use dry dill (a little bit of a dry herb goes a long way) and whatever onion you have on hand, or leave out the capers and scallions if they're not available. Use his recipe as a foundation and make it your own.
A few words about Tyler: He’s pretty. And he’s a great cook. That’s about all you need to know.

My daughter Katie put his cookbook on her wedding registry, and I don’t think it had anything to do with his recipes! (Sorry Kate – busted!)

Tyler Florence’s Potato Salad from the Food Network Website:

• 2 pounds small Yukon gold potatoes
• 2 large eggs
• Kosher salt
• 1/2 bunch sliced scallions, white and green parts
• 2 tablespoons drained capers
• 2 cups mayonnaise
• 1/4 cup Dijon mustard
• 1/4 cup finely chopped dill pickles with 1/4 cup juice, about 2 pickles
• 1/2 small red onion, chopped
• 2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
• 1/2 bunch dill, chopped
• 1/2 lemon, juiced
• Freshly ground black pepper
• Extra-virgin olive oil, for drizzling

Directions

Put the potatoes and eggs into a big saucepan of cold salted water. Bring to a simmer. After 12 minutes remove the eggs with a slotted spoon and let cool. Continue cooking the potatoes until a paring knife poked into them goes in without resistance, about 3 minutes longer. Drain the potatoes in a colander and let them cool.

Reserve some scallion greens and capers for garnish. Meanwhile, stir together the mayonnaise, mustard, pickles and their juice, onion, remaining scallions and capers, parsley, and lemon juice in a bowl large enough to hold the potatoes. Peel the cool eggs and grate them into the bowl. Stick a fork into the potatoes and lift them 1 at a time out of the colander. Break up the potatoes by hand into rough chunks, add them to the bowl and toss to coat with the dressing. Season, to taste, with salt and pepper. Drizzle with a little olive oil before serving.

Photo credit and original recipe can be found on the Food Network website: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/tyler-florence/potato-salad-recipe/index.html

Photo of Tyler Florence: http://images.google.com/imgres?imgurl=http://www.womansday.com/var/ezflow_site/storage/images/wd2/content/entertainment/celebrities/q-a-with-chef-tyler-florence/474697-2-eng-US/Q-A-with-Chef-Tyler-Florence_full_article_vertical.jpg&imgrefurl=http://www.womansday.com/Articles/Entertainment/Celebrities/Q-A-with-Chef-Tyler-Florence.html&usg=__30lzZfB_DcWnKwzr8TkhDfe3xj4=&h=384&w=324&sz=39&hl=en&start=16&tbnid=mN0F4BnTZcTgKM:&tbnh=123&tbnw=104&prev=/images%3Fq%3DTyler%2BFlorence%26gbv%3D2%26hl%3Den%26sa%3DG

Monday, July 20, 2009

Discovering a Theft




1. Midnight, downtown, Saturday night: Get in your car and realize that the overhead light has been turned off.
2. Notice the forgotten and now stale package of gummy peach slices from April that had been stowed in your center console has been found and ripped open, its contents strewn about.
3. See that your purse, left under the passenger seat, is on the seat, dumped out.
4. Acknowledge that your car has been broken into and your wallet and other items have been stolen, but you’re not quite sure what.
5. Drive directly to the police station.
6. Speak with the officer on duty and report what you do, and do not, know about the circumstances.
7. Go with the officer to your car and look everything over. Open the tailgate and tell the officer, with embarrassment, that everything seems fine back there, that it actually looked like this before the theft. The back of the station wagon, filled with baking supplies and evidence of a transient life, likely scared the thief away.
8. Try to remember exactly what was in your purse in the first place.
9. Fill out a form for the FBI in the event of identity theft, and receive a voucher for a no-fee replacement license.
10. Remember as you drive home that your camera was also in the purse, and it’s gone, along with precious photos you won’t get back.
11. Figure out how you’ll survive without your debit or credit cards until they can be replaced. Tell yourself you’ll deal with the medical and dental insurance cards on Monday.
12. Go on-line to see if there’s been any activity on your cards.
13. 1:00 a.m.: Send your credit union an on-line message about the theft, because they only answer the phone during business hours.
14. Take the dog for a walk and figure out how to address this problem in the morning. The dog poops on a neighbor’s yard and you don’t have a bag. Go get a bag to scoop up the poop and think out loud that this is symbolic for the way this night, if not recent life, has gone.
15. Go to bed though it is hard to sleep. You wake up feeling stupid and vulnerable for leaving your car’s sun roof open just enough.
16. Sunday morning: decide that you’re going to have a good day. Take your $9.00 in quarters and buy a little bit of gas for the car, and take a ride in the sunshine with that notorious sun roof wide open.
17. Sunday evening: Tonight’s the night to let your sister buy that dinner she’s been promising you. Acknowledge that most of the difficulty with the theft is the loss of valuable gift cards, the replacement of credit and i.d. cards, and the inconvenience of having to make all those calls. That can wait until Monday morning.
18. E-mail your boss to tell him what Monday morning is going to be like. He writes back and generously says to do what I have to do to get the world back in order.
19. Monday morning: drive to the police station to get a replacement voucher for the replacement license, since you can’t find the original.
20. Go to DMV where the woman who calls “Number 17” is actually very friendly and happy to help. I was the only one there and there was no sign of people holding numbers 16 or 18, but I took my deli-tag to the counter none-the-less! (Note to self: always go to DMV on a Monday morning.)
21. Temporary replacement license in hand, go back to work where you’ll spend the rest of the morning on the phone, getting your world back in order.
22. Have lunch with your friends, grateful for the simple things, as if nothing has happened.

photo credit: http://www.bikegifts.net/prodimages/wallet_lg.jpg

Sunday, July 19, 2009

A Fair Day, A Not-So-Fair Night


It started out as a lovely day yesterday with my daughter Katie, her husband Bill, little Henry, son Jeffrey, Kate's father-in-law Richard, and her friend Allison. We went to the Saratoga County Fair (in Ballston Spa) at dinner time and enjoyed not only Fair Food but going in and out of many exhibits as well. Henry, now 14 and a half months, loved seeing the baby pigs, the cows, and the quarter horses. Like my mother, I'm fascinated by people and "gaping" is a less than polite past-time but I do it! Very interesting how many shapes, sizes, and variations there are among the human species! A county fair is a great place to gape. We wound our way through the fair, all of us wanting something different to eat. I settled on my fave, hot dogs, but others enjoyed Indian food, gyros, fried dough, burgers, pizza, a kabob or two, coffee and ice cream. Later, there was a stop at a fudge stand where a candy apple and taffy were purchased, too. It's interesting, this eating-your-way-through the fair practice. Individually, none of us was particularly gluttonous, but collectively, it really was an embarrassing amount of food consumed! Earlier in the day, I'd hear Bill just suddenly announce "Fair food!" as he worked. He was looking forward to it for a long time! The aroma of peppers and onions wafts through the air like gastronomic incense -- the lure to the fair's culinary offerings a huge part of the whole experience. Of course, the fair is about so much more than food, and I took some incredible pictures of lit-up rides and colorful vendor carts set against the backdrop of a twilight sky. I had a great shot of Henry on Bill's shoulders, a Ferris wheel in the background. And I took a number of shots of Katie with her friend Allison, who is leaving to live in Texas in a week.

One way to arrive at the Saratoga County Fair is to wind your way up Prospect Street to the parking areas. Much of Prospect Street is a very steep hill and the traffic was lined up as far as I could see ahead of and behind my car. I drive a standard, and, mid-way up the hill, there was a guy on a motorcycle behind me. I strained to balance the clutch and the gas, and realized that something was beginning to smell really bad. It was my over-strained clutch. I stalled once, scaring the motorcyclist, I'm sure. He veered out of range, to potentially save his own life should I not handle the clutch appropriately, a real possibility! I revved it back up and kept moving forward, and finally found a parking spot not too far from Gate 3, but that smell stayed in my car long after the fair was over. It's not a nice smell.

Later that night, I spent a few hours in beautiful downtown Saratoga. I parked and locked my car, and left the sunroof open a bit to try to get rid of that bad clutch smell. I locked my pocketbook and wallet in the car. When I returned to my car, it was obvious it had been broken in to. The contents of my glove box and center console were strewn about, and someone had rifled through a bag in the back seat. My pocket book, left under the front passenger seat, was on the seat and dumped out. My wallet was gone. My camera, including those lovely shots from the fair, was gone. Gift cards I'd been waiting to redeem (until I'm in the new house) were stolen along with credit cards, my debit card, medical i.d. cards, my license. The whole kit and caboodle. I was at first really mad but then sad because I love my camera and can't get those photos back again. I immediately drove to the police station where I was treated with respect and concern. The officer was going to go investigate the area where my car was broken in to, and I signed a form for the FBI just in case anyone steals my identity (which, if they do, they'll wisely return promptly because it is of little value to anyone but me). And now there's the dealing of it all, and the feeling of vulnerability. Someone has my license, the one with the good picture, damn it. My cards, my information. I feel as though someone is looking in on my life, and there's nothing I can do about it. Because there's nothing I can do about it, I'll let go of this anxious feeling and try to have a good day. I have $9.00 in quarters until this all gets straightened out. The sun is shining. I have a quarter tank of gas in my car. I'm going to go for a ride and enjoy the day!

Photo credit: FLIKR Saratoga County Fair, Google Images

Friday, July 17, 2009

Finally, summer: Wiawaka


Anyone who lives in the Northeastern U.S. can tell you that we've been waiting for summer to start. The Fourth of July came and went, the corn has grown from knee-high to over your head, and it's rained incessantly. Yesterday, I took the afternoon off to go to Wiawaka on Lake George, and I am SO glad I did.

Wiawaka was founded in 1903 by philanthropists Katrina Trask and Mary Fuller as a place of refuge and retreat for the women who worked in the collar factories in Troy. Just minutes away from Million dollar beach and the bustle of downtown, Wiawaka's cluster of Victorian cottages and lodges sits upon a hill overlooking the southeastern curve of Lake George. Little has changed to the property since that time, and for a modest fee anyone can go there today for an afternoon or a week, or longer, as a modern-day escape from everyday life. There are cultural programs and creative seminars, but I go, mainly, to spend some time in the sun with friends, have a picnic lunch on the dock, and swim. On this afternoon, I participated in an inspirational sculpting session with Catherine's sister Pam, and Pam's best friend Liz. We were handed lumps of clay and each of us fashioned a unique mini-sculpture all our own. After that, we headed for the dock to enjoy the late-afternoon sun. One afternoon at Wiawaka soothes the soul and suddenly it feels so much like summer! Big boats like the Horicon and Minnehaha pass by in very close proximity as their passengers wave to those of us on the dock.

My friend Catherine treated me to dinner, all offerings home made. Last nights choices were meatloaf (or quiche), mashed potatoes, mushrooms sauteed in white wine, peas and herbs from their garden, and a salad, and three pies--blueberry, banana cream, or chocolate cream. Catherine, Pam, Liz, and Alice joined me on the porch of the main house for dinner, all of us in our own wicker rocking chairs sharing a meal and enjoying our summer evening together.

It was a lovely day.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

There's always room for Jell-o, isn't there?


You’ve heard the call, “Soups on!” You walk into the dining room and grab a plate, napkin, and silverware, prepared to dig in to the buffet. You’re ready because you skipped lunch, and you see a nice green salad, shrimp, lasagna, dinner rolls, maybe a sliced turkey or ham, and think, “This will be good. Glad I waited to eat.” And then you see it. There it is, right in the middle of the table, jiggling with every footstep within ten feet of the table. It’s green, of course—or orange, or red, maybe yellow. You look closely. It’s a circular tube of speckled transparency. What’s in it? It sits on a platter, curly lettuce peeking out from underneath. There’s a blob of something opaque occupying its center core. The blob might be white, or pink. Is it sweet? Is it sour? Who knows? You look up. She’s there, the aunt who made this, her eyes set on your plate, her round face beaming with pride. “Have some of Auntie’s Jell-o salad! Go on.” She’s watching. Anticipating. You have to take a slice, or is it a scoop? How do you cut this?

We have all, I believe, come face-to-face with the ubiquitous Jell-o mold. We have memories, fond or otherwise, of this buffet staple. Some have passed it by as a matter of practice. Others are intrigued, if not afraid, and bravely dive in. I prefer my Jell-o in its basest form, with nothing floating in it. Maybe a squirt of whipped cream on top. I don’t put vegetables in my ice cream or chocolate cream pie. Why would I float them in another dessert? And if I’m given the option, I prefer no Jell-o at all. Others disagree. Some are fascinated by this versatile salad/dessert ingredient.

For those who fear the Jell-o mold, Jen writes: "My mother is a fabulous cook, and loves to try new recipes, so she often rips potentials out of magazines. When I had just started going through my divorce, she was trying to make things that would remind me of good times in my life--French recipes to remind me of Paris, southern dishes as a shout out to numerous road trips, etc. I walked into her house one day to find her furiously cooking away. She said, 'I'm so excited about this one, you're really going to love it! The recipe's on the table.' I started reading and burst into tears/laughter. What in the world made her think I'd want a Jell-o mold that would ‘remind the diner of dill pickles and mint jelly?!’ Turns out she was making the pork dumplings on the reverse side of the page, but we still laugh til we cry every time someone mentions Jell-o!”

My high school friend Cindy writes of her experience:
“My grandmother use to make orange Jell-o, at least it tasted orange, but looked more like an amber color. She would some how float many different kinds of fruit in it. They always reminded me of specimens in jars at science lab .She would then spread orange tinted whip cream on top. This was the best part—it was real whip cream. EVERYONE raved when she brought it. I fondly remember scraping dishes after dinner, only to find out everyone else was grossed out by it too. I guess no one had the heart to tell her because whenever she came to dinner or we went to her house.....THERE IT WAS, right in the middle of the dinner table. That was so many years ago but I still remember that yucky taste it left in my mouth. We all loved her dearly. Rest in peace Grandma Hoag.”

Another good friend, Michelle, provided the inspiration for this post. She was speaking of her family’s traditional version—it was green—and generously shares their unique (maybe not?) recipe here. She tells of the relative who brought this salad to every single family dinner. She remembers liking it a lot as a kid, and isn’t sure but thinks she might still like it. If this recipe brings back fond memories of your family’s unique Jell-o salad, try it. I’m watching. Go on!

Michelle’s Family Jell-o Salad:

1small package lime Jell-o
1 c. crushed pineapple, drained
1 1/2 c. cottage cheese
1 1/2 - 2 tbsp. horseradish
1/2 c. salad dressing (recipe to follow)

Make Jell-o according to package directions. Partially set. Mix in pineapple, cottage cheese, and horseradish. Fully set. Serve with dressing.

Dressing:
Combine mayonnaise and ketchup to taste.

A thought:

This reminds me of a “salad” (very loose interpretation, it’s much more like dessert) I made when my kids were growing up. It consisted of instant pistachio pudding (yes), drained crushed pineapple, cool whip, and fruit-flavored mini-marshmallows all smooshed up together to create “THE GREEN STUFF” which, believe it or not, was requested at family functions! The idea of it both repulses and intrigues me to this day, and if it were on the buffet table, I’m pretty sure I’d take a spoonful!


If you’re interested in the “history of the wiggle” as Kraft Foods describes it, check out this link: http://brands.kraftfoods.com/jello/explore/history/

Photo credit: http://images.google.com/imgres?imgurl=http://www.atticshoppe.com/images/metalware/js18971150.jpg&imgrefurl=http://www.atticshoppe.com/metalware/metalware.htm&usg=__DHKyS1FSlnh95fe1FDOnM9hr4UI=&h=158&w=150&sz=6&hl=en&start=200&tbnid=C4_RvR-gJYHhEM:&tbnh=97&tbnw=92&prev=/images%3Fq%3Djello%2Bmold%26gbv%3D2%26ndsp%3D

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Beet, Walnut, and Gorgonzola Salad


My daughter Meghan waited tables for a while at Eartha’s Restaurant, a long-time Saratoga Springs eatery (formerly Eartha's Kitchen) that closed its doors for the final time a couple of years ago. On occasional cold winter nights, I’d briskly walk from my apartment on Franklin Street, down Broadway and through Congress Park to the warmth of the small but elegant restaurant on Court Street. Hesitant to go back out into the cold, I would sit for a while, order my favorites from the appetizer menu, and visit with Meghan while she worked. Eartha’s menu was lovely, and I especially enjoyed the pureed red pepper soup. For dessert, the crème brulee was outstanding. My favorite appetizer there, though, was a beautiful salad of beets, gorgonzola, and toasted walnuts on a bed of spring greens. Eartha’s dressed the salad in a beet vinaigrette, something I’d never had before, but loved. The crunch of the walnuts, the cool creaminess of the cheese, and the sweet and sour of the beets with their vinaigrette all harmonized so beautifully that I can’t tell you what part of the salad I liked best – it was a whole, happy salad experience!

In searching for a recipe for this special salad’s communion of flavors, I found a great example at bigoven.com. Big Oven is a terrific site, which seems to cater to professional chefs, but the enthusiastic amateur cook (like me) can find plenty of inspiration as well. It’s my new favorite web wonderland of food exploration!

Click on the icon below to discover Big Oven’s recipe for Beet, Walnut, and Gorgonzola Salad:


Beet, Walnut and Gorgonzola Salad

Photo credit: http://images.google.com/imgres?imgurl=http://www.vancouverseedbank.ca/catalog/images/chioggia_beets.jpg&imgrefurl=http://www.vancouverseedbank.ca/catalog/index.php%3Fmanufacturers_id%3D25&usg=__YLEhfwOxL8FK-TvsjX0arkVgZP4=&h=374&w=397&sz=54&hl=en&start=15&tbnid=6WrdjO9l7fY3dM:&tbnh=117&tbnw=124&prev=/images%3Fq%3Dbeets%26gbv%3D2%26hl%3Den%26sa%3DG

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Nabisco's Famous Chocolate Wafer Ice Box Cake


This recipe falls under the categories of nostalgic desserts, quick-n-easy, and pretty food.

My mom wasn’t a baker. Every once in a while she made a dessert we loved, like Jell-o, or Junket Rennet Custard (in chocolate, vanilla, or strawberry – does anyone remember that?), or sliced bananas with milk and sugar. Most cakes in our home were sliced right out of a Freihofer's box (and we loved them). A mother of seven, she didn’t love cooking or baking, and always said her favorite thing to make was reservations! Still, she made dinner every night and we always enjoyed her meals. To this day, I've never had a better tuna casserole than the one my mom made. Putting out a dinner every night for a family of nine was no easy task, and baking was not part of her repertoire. When my sisters and I decided to try our hands at baking, our mother and the rest of the family were thrilled! One recipe she did encourage me to try was the Nabisco Ice Box cake, a simple 1-2-3 step assemblage of a dessert that wowed our family. Its elegant presentation belied the fact that it was just about the easiest thing to put together. Made with just two ingredients, Nabisco’s Famous Chocolate Wafers, and whipped cream, this dessert was just what the doctor ordered on warm summer evenings. It is cake and whipped cream and cold and refreshing all in one. Plus, it’s beautiful.

These wafers can be hard to come by. You may have to search the higher shelves of grocery stores to find them, or ask to have them ordered since they’re not the biggest sellers. Once you do get a hold of them, stock up. These wafers are a precious commodity! If you can’t find them, you can make variations of this recipe. I’ve seen versions with graham cracker squares instead of chocolate wafers, with coffee-tinted whipped cream, all dusted in cocoa powder, resulting in a tiramisu-like concoction. Then there’s a lemon version with lady fingers. But for my tastes (which always run toward chocolate), this classic can not be beat!

Nabisco Ice Box Cake

1 package Nabisco Famous Chocolate Wafers
2 pints of heavy or whipping Cream, beaten with 1/2 cup confectioners sugar and 2 tsp. vanilla extract to taste (Make sure you have a large, chilled bowl and chilled beaters. You might have to make it in two batches.)

Spread each wafer with enough whipped cream to generously coat one side, and assemble frosted layers together to form a log on a large serving platter. Once they’re all stacked together on their side, spread the entire log of lusciousness with whipped cream. Let sit for four hours or overnight to allow the wafers soften up to a cake-like consistency. Slice on the diagonal to reveal a beautiful, striped dessert. This definitely qualifies as pretty food.

Tomorrow's post: Beet, gorgonzola, and toasted walnut salad.


Photo credit: http://images.google.com/imgres?imgurl=http://www.kraftfoods.com/images/recipe_images/FAMOUS_Chocolate_Refrigerator_Roll.jpg&imgrefurl=http://ths.gardenweb.com/forums/load/recipex/msg1017034317865.html&usg=__bxpU63B-b_XqblxSJsqVGkql-GY=&h=204&w=307&sz=18&hl=en&start=4&tbnid=C_5ldBrC7TSYfM:&tbnh=78&tbnw=117&prev=/images%3Fq%3Dnabisco%2Bice%2Bbox%2Bcake%26gbv%3D2%26hl%3Den%26sa%3DG

Monday, July 13, 2009

Blueberry Cream Cheese Coffee Cake Squares


As promised: more from Christina Putnam and the Meadow Hill Bed and Breakfast in Middle Grove, New York! She writes of my then 11-year old son Joe's adventures picking wild blueberries from up in "the horseshoe," an area of undeveloped land with an unpaved road that circled around at the top of our neighborhood. The "horseshoe" is now occupied by newer homes and paved roads, but once upon a time it was a place of exploration and adventure for the children of our little neighborhood called Fox Hollow Estates. Christina has a great photo of Joe that I'll add to this post later (after my next visit to the B&B). Christina writes:

"Summer is my favorite season of the year. Partly because of strawberries and blueberries. They seem to make just about everything better.

A favorite line from the 70's movie Yellow Submarine had the Beatles commenting to the Big Blue Meanies, "I didn't know you were Blueish".

It is great to be Blueish. There is an image clear in my mind of the Adirondack Baker's son, Joe Eddy, smiling hugely, with his faced bruised with what looks like a deadly purple pox. He had, in fact, gone wild blueberry picking in the yet-to-be developed woodsy area of our country neighborhood. I don't think many blueberries made it home, but the berry picker was sure pleased with himself. Fortunately, I had my camera to catch his joy!

Today I made Blueberry Cream Cheese Coffee Cake Squares. This is one of those great recipes that freezes so well. You can thaw it a little and cut however many sguares you wish to serve and put the rest right back in the freezer in a good zip lock bag. This is an important feature because if you thawed it and served just part of it, you you be cutting a little piece and eating it all day long. I KNOW this to be true.

The cake is very light and tender and very moist. I use square aluminum cake pans and break this recipe into two parts. Cover with plastic wrap when cool and place in a good ziploc freezer bag until you wish to thaw and serve."

Here we go: Blueberry Cream Cheese Coffee Cake Squares

1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 1/4 cups sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon of dried grated lemon peel
2 cups of all purpose flour
3 teaspoons of baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup of milk
1/4 cup water
2 cups of washed fresh blueberries that have been tossed with 1/4 cup of flour ( I do this in a ziploc bag)
1 8 ounce package of cream cheese that has been diced in cubes about 1/4 to 1/2 inch in diameter
TOPPING:
1/4 cup all purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon of grated lemon peel
2 tablespoons of cold butter

In a large mixing bowl cream the butter and sugar. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in the lemon peel. Combine the 2 cups flour, baking powder and salt. Add flour to the creamed butter and sugar mixture alternately with the milk and water. When nicely combined, fold in the cream cheese cubes and then the floured blueberries. Pour into two greased square baking pans. Topping: Using a pastry blender or a fork blend the sugar, flour, lemon peel and cold butter until crumbly and streusel like. Spoon on top of the cake batter. Bake the cakes for 35 to 40 minutes at 375 degrees. Cool completely, cover top with plastic wrap and place in a ziploc bag for freezing.

Christina Putnam
Meadow Hill B&B

Tomorrow's post: Do you remember Chocolate Wafer Icebox Cake? Come back and read about it tomorrow!

Photo credit: http://media.rd.com/rd/images/rdc/books/eat-to-beat-high-blood-pressure/Blueberry-Swirl-Coffee-Cake-af.jpg

Friday, July 10, 2009

A Poet's Gift: Carolyn Forche's Seafood Risotto


One of the greatest blessings of working where I work is the exposure to brilliant writers. For a few years, I was fortunate to work with noted poet Carolyn Forché. I found her to be a vibrant woman who was effusive in her love of family, friends, students, and colleagues. Because she was commuting between Saratoga Springs and her home in Maryland, I had never become aware of her love of cooking. When I was writing a paper on women and food memories, she shared this lovely recipe for seafood risotto. Carolyn writes a recipe the same way she writes poetry, with a lyrical flow and vibrant imagery. With gratitude to Carolyn for her very generous contribution to my paper and for her friendship, I offer you her recipe for Seafood Risotto:

“In the summer of my twenty-seventh year, I lived in the village of Deya on the island of Mallorca in Spain. I was translating the work of poet Claribel Alegría, who was living in a house called “Can Blau Vell” on a cobbled street opposite the “torrente,” a rushing stream banked with morning glories. In Deya I learned to prepare seafood well for the first time: to clean squid and “gambas,” (shrimp) and to sauté them quickly in a little olive oil, then toss with sea salt, pepper and lemon, while the sea-wind of the Mediterranean washed through my kitchen. I cooked with the blue-shuttered windows open, so that I could hear the goat bells clanking up and down the goat-paths, and could smell the lemons ripening in the orchard below us. Paella, a rice dish prepared variously around the Mediterranean was quite a feast, but took hours to prepare, and so we only made it once or twice. Paella was cooked in a large flat pan that resembled a frying pan with small handles. One was supposed to let the rice be still, so that it would toast on the bottom, and there would be a nice crunch to the rice. I was supposed to be translating and writing poetry, so instead of paella, I improvised. This recipe evolved during those afternoons when I longed for the elaborate paella but had no time. Now this risotto has a place in my heart on its own. It is unusual risotto, in that it begins with a sofrito of onion, tomato, garlic and paprika, much like the base for paella, but it is simpler, and can be assembled in a half hour or so. Any seafood (squid? mussels?) can be imagined for this risotto, but I like the combination of shrimp and bay scallops. You can garnish this with slices of lemon. It’s nice with a salad of mesclun and vinaigrette and a sparkling sauvignon blanc. When I prepare this, the scent of the torrente’s morning glories returns, and I am twenty-seven years old again.”

Ingredients:
3 T. Olive oil
½ c. Yellow onions or shallots, finely diced
1 Whole tomatoes, seeded and diced
1 clove Garlic
1 t. Sweet paprika, or, preferably, Spanish smoked paprika
Course salt and crushed pepper
1/3 c. White wine, dry
1 c. Shrimp broth (boil shrimp shells in 2 cups water and reduce)
5 c. Chicken broth (low sodium, organic if possible)
1 ½ c. Arborio rice
½ lb. Bay scallops
½ lb. Medium or Large (U-24) shrimp, cleaned and de-veined
½ c. Flat leaf parsley, loosely packed, chopped
1 pat Unsalted butter

Sauté the onions in the olive oil until golden (not brown), about ten minutes on medium low. Add crushed garlic and sauté for one minute. Add diced tomatoes and sauté for at least fifteen minutes, until you have what is called a “sofrito,” or base. Mixture should be rich. Add paprika. Add rice and coat with sofrito base. Then, little by little, perhaps a cup at a time, add the broths, stirring almost constantly, allowing the rice to absorb the liquid. With the last cup of broth, add the shrimp and scallops. Cook for five minutes until shrimp are pink. Add the parsley and pat of butter and mix together. Serve. (4 servings)

You can read more about Carolyn Forché and her poetry here: http://www.blueflowerarts.com/carolyn-forch%C3%A9

Next post: More from Meadow Hill B&B! Plan ahead for company - blueberry cream cheese coffee cake squares that you can bake and serve or freeze for another time. It thaws beautifully.

Photo credit: http://1.bp.blogspot.com/_FmSe8MvNf7Q/RgmKtOjNT6I/AAAAAAAABmY/Fn-2CA4DitE/s200/Carolyn+Forch%C3%A9.jpg

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Meadow Hill Gingerbread


Christina Putnam, a retired art teacher, and her husband Phil, a contractor, are owners of Meadow Hill Bed and Breakfast in Middle Grove, New York, just outside Saratoga Springs. Their beautiful home is one they built themselves, and a tribute to their many talents. The Putnams are gracious hosts, and offer beautiful rooms and wonderful breakfasts to their very happy guests.

Christina writes:

"This recipe is from Christina Vollmer who was the town librarian in Cazenovia for all of my childhood. I am named after her. She had a sister. The two of them lived in a sweet little white house on Linklaen Street. Her sister was Marrianna. Christina was known as the "food" sister and Marrianna was known as the "flower" sister as she could make anything grow. The Vollmer sisters had a huge cast iron stove in their kitchen which warmed the house, heart, and soul. The brand name embellishing the stove door was HAPPY THOUGHTS. The most wonderful treats came daily out of Happy Thoughts. Popovers which melted in your mouth were a special favorite of mine. This gingerbread is wonderful and brings me happy thoughts of my dear adopted 'aunties.' It uses white sugar to make a pretty and tasty top and was used sparingly as it was rationed during WWII."

Ingredients:

½ c. Sugar
½ c. Butter
1 Egg
1 c. Molasses
2 ½ c. Flour
1 ½ t. Baking soda
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 t. Ground ginger
½ t. Ground cloves
½ t. salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Cream together: sugar, butter, egg, and molasses. Sift together: flour, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, and salt. Add the sifted dry ingredients to the creamed sugar, shortening and molasses mixture and stir. Gradually stir in one cup of hot water. Pour into a greased and floured rectangular cake pan. Sprinkle some additional sugar on top. Bake at 350 degrees until an inserted toothpick comes out clean. Your kitchen will smell great! Serve plain, with lemon sauce or with whipped cream.
Delicious!

Here's a link to the Meadow Hill B&B website!:http://images.google.com/imgres?imgurl=http://www.meadowhillbb.com/sitebuildercontent/sitebuilderpictures/house_619x150.jpg&imgrefurl=http://www.meadowhillbb.com/&usg=__4KQ24k0w13Y0eaGKb_jyKp9ChW0=&h=150&w=619&sz=24&hl=en&start=4&tbnid=l2L5IYHggyttiM:&tbnh=33&tbnw=136&prev=/images%3Fq%3DMeadow%2BHill%2BBed%2Band%2BBreakfast%2B12850%26gbv%3D2%26hl%3Den%26sa%3DG

Photo credit: http://www.meadowhillbb.com/sitebuildercontent/sitebuilderpictures/house_619x150.jpg

upcoming posts: A Poet's Risotto and baking for a three-cake weekend!

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Marmalade


Some of life's most precious gifts come from the kitchen, in the form of memories and tradition. This story comes from my friend Margo, who writes about the memory of her grandmother's marmalade. Margo shared this with me a few years ago, when I was writing a paper on recipes and family traditions for a course for my masters degree.

Granny's Marmalade

"This morning, as I was rushing to get some breakfast for Kassy and myself before the mad dash out the door to daycare and work, I was reminded of one of my earliest, and longest running memories, of Granny. All I did was toast some bread, but when I looked in the refrigerator, I pulled out a pot of marmalade, the one I was given early in the spring, and needs to last me until next January. I don’t think it’s going to make it that far.

Kassy asked me, 'What are you putting on your toast, is it rhubarb?'

'No, it’s marmalade,' I replied.

'Oh,' said she, 'I don’t like that.'

'Well,' I responded, 'I happen to LOVE marmalade, and when I was a little girl, about your age, it was one of the things I remember best about going to visit Granny.'

I did love when we’d go to visit Granny when she lived in Ohio. Part of the magic was probably in part due to the fact that because it was an eight-hour trip, or more, we only got to go for special occasions. I remember being there for Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter holidays over the years. As Laura and I reached our teen years, and were a little more independent, we flew out for a school vacation or so.

Granny would always wait up for us, even though it was usually the middle of the night by the time we finally arrived. She still does, whenever someone visits her. So we’d walk in through the kitchen, and past the breakfast table, where the marmalade sat on the lazy Susan. Just the sight of it made me want to hurry up and go to sleep, so I could wake up and put it on my toast first thing in the morning.

I remember eating the toast with marmalade at the breakfast table, I believe there was a bench along the back wall, under the window. The sun would stream brightly in the window. Granny never refrigerated the marmalade, which made it particularly sweet. I would use a spoon to try and pick out all the crystallized pieces of jelly, and they would crunch on my toast (which is another story itself, Granny makes the most wonderful bread) and tasted something like rock candy."

Here's a great recipe for marmalade:

SURE JELL Marmalade

4 cups prepared fruit (buy about 4 medium oranges and 2 medium lemons)
2 ½ c. water
1/8 tsp. baking soda
1 box SURE JELL Fruit Pectin
½ tsp. butter or margarine
5 ½ c. sugar, measured into separate bowl

Bring boiling-water canner, half full with water, to simmer. Wash jars and screw bands in hot, soapy water; rinse with warm water. Pour boiling water over flat lids in saucepan off the heat. Let stand in hot water until ready to use. Drain jars well before filling.

Remove colored part of peel from oranges and lemons using vegetable peeler. Cut into this slivers. Mix the peels, water, and baking soda in large saucepan. Bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium-low; cover and simmer 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the fruit and juice. Cover and simmer an additional 10 minutes.

Stir pectin into prepared fruit in saucepot. Add butter to reduce foaming. Bring mixture to full roiling boil (a boil that doesn’t stop bubbling when stirred) on high heat, stirring constantly. Stir in sugar. Return to full rolling boil and boil exactly 1 minute, stirring constantly. Remove from heat. Skim off any foam with metal spoon.

Ladle immediately into prepared jars, filling to within 1/8 inch of tops. Wipe jar rims and threads. Cover with two-piece lids. Screw bands tightly. Place jars on elevated rack in canner. Lower rack into canner. (Water must cover jars by 1 to 2 inches; add boiling water if necessary.) Cover; bring water to gentle boil. Process 10 minutes. Remove jars and place upright on towel to cool completely. After jars cool, check seals by pressing middles of lids with finger. (If lids spring back, lids are not sealed and refrigeration is necessary.)

SURE JELL marmalade recipe available at: http://fitdv.myrecipefriends.com/recipe/7852.html?PHPSESSID=e07d6ce31ad3cbc72e4db5363359e847

Photo credit: http://eatscotland.visitscotland.com/Repository/userfiles/orangemarmalade.jpg

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

A few words about Michael Jackson

After it was all over, I watched parts of Michael Jackson’s memorial service at the Staples Center in L.A.

I was feeling kind of numb about the service—not particularly sad, yet not apathetic—for a number of reasons, until I saw his daughter speak so bravely about her beloved father, and that’s when I mustered some emotion for his family. Regardless of whatever else is being said, three children have lost their loving father, and that is the tragedy we’re witnessing. I believe that we’re a fickle bunch, we humans, who fall out of love with stars when their reputations are blemished. I’m as fickle as the rest. Like many of his fans, I’d like to move on, but I’m just not able to forget the testimony. I do realize he was found “not guilty” but the testimony from children during his trial was so compelling, I can’t help but believe there was some validity to it. Michael Jackson lived a life full of controversy with serious allegations, charges, a trial, and expensive financial settlements. His odd friendships with young boys and older women indicate to me that he was a lost soul, and that he didn’t know, outside of the entertainment world and his immediate family, where he fit in. He was a handsome and healthy young man, and his compulsion to change his appearance indicated a deep-seeded unhappiness with his own reality. How sad that he couldn’t find the same joy in his being that all his fans realized. The saddest part of this whole story, for me, is the loss of genius and unfulfilled legacy that might have been realized not only had he not died, but had he not been living a life of virtual exile for the past decade. The tapes of his final rehearsals were exciting and full of promise. I am curious to see if his children have inherited his talents. I hope so, but I also hope the world is “a better place” for them.

Michael Jackson’s family, friends, and fans loved him despite the controversies. To me, he was an entertainer, a brilliant one, no doubt, who was mired in personal difficulties and always trying to make up for all that he never realized in childhood. My children were born in the 70s and 80s and grew up on his music. I was born five years before MJ and also grew up, in a way, on his music as well as the music of The Beatles, the Beach Boys, Chicago, Simon and Garfunkle, and many others. My uncle was the associate producer of the Ed Sullivan Show, and I remember the excitement when The Jackson Five performed. Michael Jackson’s music is woven throughout the memories of my teenage and early adult years.

The spectacle of his memorial service is appropriate given his significant contribution to the music industry. Musically, he is on equal footing with Frank Sinatra, Elvis, and The Beatles. From early childhood, it was clear that he was more than gifted. His voice was a perfect instrument and his dance skills were unparalleled. Even Fred Astair never moved the way Michael Jackson could. It seems hypocritical to me, though, to canonize a man who was certainly flawed, and who might have preferred to be thought of as a regular guy than an icon. He never could be a regular guy, not after all the fame, money, and isolation. I think he wanted a better life, and to be a better man. His song “Man in the Mirror” might have been his cry for personal redemption: “I’m talking ‘bout the man in the mirror. I’m asking him to change his ways.”

No matter the reality of his life, it’s clear that he was truly loved and I wish him, and his family, the peace and healing in death that he was not able to experience in his living years.

For Dessert or Breakfast: Claufutis!


At lunch today my friend Sue shared some beautiful cherries from her little brown bag, and it reminded me of a dessert I made a long time ago: claufutis.

A claufutis is a French bread-type pudding, baked in the oven and featuring seasonal fruits. It can be served for dessert or for breakfast. I first made claufutis when my children were in high school and we hosted a French foreign-exchange student, Paul, one of a group of twenty or so who visited the Saratoga Springs area for a few weeks that summer. There was a pot-luck dinner reception in the high school cafeteria, and I thought it’d be nice for the students to have a taste of home.

It wasn’t the most French-American of experiences for Paul or for my kids. Paul was really an Irish national whose parents lived primarily in Canada but had been working in Lyon, France for a few years. Nonetheless, in the exchange-student lottery, Paul was assigned to us – an Irish-descended family of a single mother with teenagers. It worked out well and we enjoyed getting to know Paul and all his friends. I must say it was interesting listening to Paul speak French with an Irish brogue!

Paul was an interesting character. Slim with glasses and a Harry Potter-type physicality, he was mesmerized by my American daughters and their friends. He loved Wendy’s for fast food (the Wendy’s in Canada were far superior to the one on Congress St. in Saratoga Springs, we were told). I packed his lunch every day and he was completely repulsed by the tuna salad sandwiches I’d prepared. He had never heard of putting mayonnaise on fish and once he said that, it sounded odd to me, too! From then on, I gave him lunch money.

Our families had a lot of fun with our student guests, taking trips to Boston (all the historical hot spots, Quincy Market, the Boston Aquarium) and also to New York for all the requisite points of interests: museums, a Broadway show, a ferry ride across the Hudson River, and a memorable visit to the United Nations. It was a wonderful summer of cultural exchange for our kids and for the visiting students, and the most memorable times, I think, happened when they were just being kids, hanging out, swimming, and enjoying backyard meals together.

The Food Network’s Emeril Lagasse has a highly-rated recipe for claufutis. You’ll find my adaptation below, and Emeril’s original by following this link: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/emeril-lagasse/cherry-clafoutis-recipe/index.html :

CLAUFUTIS

• 4 eggs
• 1 cup sugar
• 1 vanilla bean, split in half (or one teaspoon real vanilla extract – my substitution)
• ½ tsp. almond extract (my addition – goes nicely with cherries)
• 1 tablespoon brandy (if desired – not necessary)
• 1 cup flour
• 1 1/2 cups milk
• 1 pound stoned cherries

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease an oval ovenproof dish about 13 inches long. In a mixing bowl, whisk the eggs and 1/2 cup of the sugar. Scrape the vanilla bean and add the pulp (or extracts) to the egg mixture. Stir in the brandy (if using) and flour. Whisk in the milk to form a smooth batter. In a mixing bowl, toss the cherries with the remaining sugar. Place the cherries in the ovenproof dish. Pour the batter over the cherries and place in the oven. Bake for 40 to 45 minutes or until the cake is sponge like. Remove from the oven and cool for 5 minutes before serving. Serve the claufutis warm. Garnish with powdered sugar for breakfast. Serve with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, or a dollop of whipped cream, for dessert.

A claufutis is a great way to get the most from the abundance of summer fruits showing up at farm stands over the next few weeks. You can switch out fruits/spices/flavorings to take advantage of whatever fruit is available, but cherries are classic.


Photo Image: http://www.food-info.net/images/clafoutis.jpg

Monday, July 6, 2009

Five-Star Peaches with Balsamic Cherries


Are you looking for a fast and fabulous summer dessert? Here's one that has earned five stars!

As I've stated in previous posts, I'm a HUGE Ellie Krieger fan. Her book, The Food You Crave, is my all-time favorite cookbook. This recipe gets a five-star rating from reviewers on the Food Network website. Like all the recipes Ellie Krieger publishes, it's delicious and incredibly healthy. To read the recipe and reviews on-line (and to check out other fabulous healthy recipes) go directly to the source: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/ellie-krieger/peaches-with-balsamic-cherries-recipe/index.html

Ellie Krieger's Peaches with Balsamic Cherries

1/2 pound cherries, halved and pitted
2 tablespoons sugar, plus more to taste
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 pound peaches, sliced

Directions

In a small saucepan, stir together the cherries, sugar and balsamic vinegar, and place over a medium heat. Bring to a boil and continue to cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.

In a medium bowl toss the warm cherries and syrup with the sliced peaches, add more sugar to taste and serve.

Tomorrow's blog: More cherries! I'm posting a recipe for the French classic dessert ~ Claufutis! Be sure to check back!

Photo credit: http://www.1st-art-gallery.com/thumbnail/121241/1/A-Still-Life-With-Peaches,-Plums-And-Cherries.jpg

Friday, July 3, 2009

July 4, 1985


We secured our vantage points early. There were a lot of parents with little children, all wanting to see. It was just after 9 p.m. Normally, these kids would have all been asleep by then. We had a spectacular view of the fireworks, reflected in the windows of the tall buildings surrounding the Empire State Plaza in Albany. We could feel the rumbling power, though it was conspicuously quiet despite the explosions happening just a few blocks away from the parents’ room in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit at Albany Medical Center. By day, and on other nights, this room was refuge for parents staying with critically ill children. That’s why we were there. On this night, it was a place to forget, for a few moments, how fragile life had become for all of us.

Gene and I stood with Meghan, then five years old, tethered to her I.V. pole. Her head had been shaved for surgery and later wrapped in bandages, with the exception of a little ponytail up on top (think Pebbles Flintstone). The nurses wanted to save some of her pretty dark brown hair. She was awed by the fireworks, just as she had been for the few Independence Day displays she’d witnessed in her young life. As we sat in the darkened room, the children’s faces literally lit up with each burst of light. There were the typical “ooohs” and “ahhhs” you’d expect on any other 4th of July, though this was a unique holiday, one I wished had turned out very differently, and one that would undoubtedly stay with all of us forever.

We’d arrived at Albany Medical Center just after midnight three days earlier. I accompanied Meghan in the ambulance (the longest ride of my life). Gene drove with friends to meet us there. Meghan was stable and awake, immobile, her head and body strapped to a flat board. She was still wearing her polka-dotted bathing suit from earlier the day before, when we’d taken the kids to the Spa pool and planned a backyard barbeque afterwards. There was a compress on her head where the golf club had made impact. It was a terrible accident. A neighbor friend had been playing with his dad’s golf club and she walked right into the swing. The staff at Saratoga Hospital’s emergency room arranged for her transfer to Albany, but we had to wait four hours for the ambulance to be available. She required brain surgery. I was holding her hand and talking to her. She was hungry and wanted pizza. I was grateful she was irritable, assuring me that, for now, her vitality was intact.

The doctors would perform surgery to remove skull fragments from the frontal lobe of her brain. We waited and prayed in the hospital’s chapel. The sun came up in that way that stings your eyes after crying, and one of the surgeons came to find us. Meghan had done well through the operation and would be asleep for a number of hours. She woke up around 10 a.m., in her own nook in the larger sphere of nooks in the PICU. She was alert and talking, asking for pizza. We’d been told that her injury might cause memory loss. I found her to be the same child she’d always been – curious, feisty, demanding – and I was relieved.

Gathered around us that 4th of July night were many children: a baby with Downs Syndrome and leukemia whose grandparents had assumed legal custody; a little boy recovering from a coma after a near-drowning incident in his grandparents’ pool; a lovely eight year old girl who survived, with a broken back, the car accident that claimed her mother’s life; a young girl with severe, uncontrollable seizures; a nurse holding a young toddler, abandoned by her parents after a long and expensive illness, and who called every nurse “mama.”

I sat with Meghan and watched her, despite all she’d been through, filled with joy at the spectacle before her. I remember being acutely aware, just then, that while something terrible had indeed happened, how truly fortunate we were.


Photo credit: http://www.albany.com/images/fireworks-albany.jpg

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Ice Cream Cake!


It’s party time. So you’re looking for an impressive dessert for the 4th of July. If you’re the host or not traveling far, consider an ice cream cake. You don’t have to go to the freezer section or buy one of those expensive pre-made jobs. You can do this yourself! This cake is so simple; it’s embarrassing when you get all the compliments! Flavor combinations are limitless, but some of my favorites are:

Chocolate cake with coffee ice cream
Chocolate cake with mint chocolate chip ice cream
Chocolate cake with chocolate swirl ice cream
Chocolate cake with black raspberry ice cream
(Are we sensing a pattern here?)

Other options:
White or yellow cake with sherbet
White or yellow cake with strawberry ice cream
Yellow cake with butter pecan ice cream
Marble cake with chocolate ice cream

You get it – take your personal favorites and combine for a custom-made dessert!

______________’s Ice Cream Cake
(Your name here)

1 recipe for an 8” cake OR 1 cake mix
½ gallon ice cream, softened at room temperature for about five minutes
1 pint heavy or whipping cream
1 tsp. vanilla
¼ cup confectioner’s sugar


Bake an 8” round, 2 layer cake from a mix, or half a scratch recipe for your favorite cake.
You’ll need one of the layers for this cake. Freeze the other for the next spectacular dessert – perhaps a trifle! OK - make sure you line the cake pan with parchment or wax paper, cut to fit. Spray the lined pan and sides with cooking spray. This makes for easy removal when cooled.

After the cake comes out of the oven, let cool for 15-20 minutes and remove from pan to cool completely on rack.

Wash pan and line with saran wrap, allowing an 8-inch overhang all the way around. Spoon ice cream (whatever flavor you prefer) into the pan, pressing down and allowing it to soften a little more until the pan is full to the rim with packed ice cream. Seal it up with the overhanging saran wrap. Place in freezer to firm up.

Let cake and ice cream freeze for about four hours or longer.

Remove cake from freezer. On serving plate, slice in half horizontally. Remove ice cream from freezer and unmold. Take frozen disc of ice cream and place between two layers of cake. Loosely cover and return to freezer. After making icing, remove from freezer and frost quickly. Back into the freezer to freeze hard, uncovered, until serving time. Wrap and freeze any left-overs.

Make icing:
Option 1: Whip heavy cream with 1 tsp. vanilla and ¼ cup confectioners sugar until medium-stiff peaks form – so that it can be spread and holds its shape.

Option 2: Mix one container of thawed Cool-Whip with 1 small package of vanilla pudding mix prepared with just one cup of milk. Fold pudding into Cool-Whip until completely blended.

Photo credit: http://www.nr-gize.com/flag%20fireworks.jpg