Saturday, January 29, 2011

Chocolate on Chocolate Cake to Celebrate 100 Years!

A few years ago, I made a cake for my friend Adele's wedding reception at her home in beautiful Greenfield Center, New York.  She lives on a gorgeous stretch of the Wilton-Greenfield Road, surrounded by horse pastures and old, classic homes.  Recently, she asked me if I would make the cake for her mother's 100th birthday celebration.  What an honor!  Of course, I said yes.  I had suggested a pretty white cake with golden flowers, and Adele assured me that her mother was much too cool for anything so typical.  No, her mother loves chocolate, so chocolate cake and chocolate frosting it is, with colorful flowers to match her mother's vitality.  How many of us are fortunate to experience our parents living to such an age?  Very few, and I am thrilled to play a small part in this family's happy celebration.  I baked the cakes Thursday night and planned to have it completey finished last night before I went to bed, but...  I was tired, so I decided to get up very early, at 6:00 a.m. to allow plenty of time to frost and decorate the cake.  Well, I woke up to the sun (lovely sun!) shining through my bedroom window blinds, and realized I had never set my alarm!  It was 7:30 a.m., and I had so much to do before delivering the cake to Adele's house at 11:00 a.m.  I broke the tasks up into manageable pieces, giving myself a  half hour for this, fifteen minutes for that (fantasizing that I was participating in a Food Network cake competition!), and unbelievably, I pulled it off and pulled into Adele's driveway at exactly 11:00 a.m.!  (I always work best under pressure!)

Here's a photo journal of a special cake for a very special mother's birthday. Enjoy it, and have a lovely weekend!

No, not a Mickey Mouse cake...

Part of the 14" base

Chocolate Frosting Fixings

Naked Chocolate Cake!

Flowers in the making

For the greenery...

Taa Daa!!!!

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Anatomy of a Decorated Cake

Today I bring you the A-Z of a decorated cake.  This cake was for a baby shower for a relative of my friend Barb McDonough.  It's pretty simple, and I've posted the photos to my Picasa web album, so this may be the shortest blog posting I've ever written!  Facebook friends have already seen it.  Follow the link below to the "Anatomy of a Decorated Cake!" -- Enjoy!

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Boneless Chicken Wings

Chicken wings are the quintessential football food, often served in pubs and sports bars.  Originally popularized in Buffalo, New York, they've become a huge hit all over the country (though, we do have trouble finding them when vacationing on the coast of North Carolina).  My family likes a pizza/wing combo for those nights when we throw caution to the wind and deliberately ignore calories and fat (not very often).  You can get that wonderful pub flavor at home, too.  This recipe for boneless chicken "wings" is one many people will find easy to prepare.  It is based on a recipe I found at (link below), but I've modified it a bit.  It calls for frying, deep or otherwise, though for less damage these can be baked in a hot oven as well. Boneless wings are neater and easier to eat than the real thing, and they're made with all white meat, which is a plus. 

oil for deep frying OR a preheated 450 F oven

1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1 egg
1 cup milk
3 skinless, boneless chicken breasts, cut
into 1/2 inch strips
1/4 cup hot pepper sauce
1/4 cup butter (or, if you're watching fat calories, a good-quality butter substitute). 

Celery sticks
Blue Cheese dressing (a must!)

Heat oil in a deep-fryer or large saucepan to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C) or preheat oven to 450 degrees F.  Combine flour, salt, black pepper, cayenne pepper, garlic powder, and paprika in a large bowl. Whisk together the egg and milk in a small bowl. Dip each piece of chicken in the egg mixture, and then roll in the flour blend. Repeat so that each piece of chicken is double coated. Place on metal (uncoated) wire rack (sprayed with cooking spray) over a cookie sheet so the air can circulate to reduce excess moisture before frying (or baking).  Refrigerate breaded chicken for 20 minutes.

If frying:  fry chicken in the hot oil, in batches  Cook until the exterior is nicely browned, and the juices run clear, 5 to 6 minutes a batch.

OR bake for 20 minutes on prepared cookie sheet (sprayed with vegetable spray or lined with parchment paper) at 450, flipping chicken half-way through at 10 minutes.

Combine hot sauce and butter in a medium microwavable bowl. Microwave sauce on high until melted, 20 to 30 seconds. Pour sauce over the cooked chicken; mix to coat.

Serve with celery sticks and blue cheese dressing.

Original recipe from

Sunday, January 16, 2011


I'm not ready to put my crock pot away just yet.  It has another comfort-food job to do, but this time it's not for dinner.  This time, the crock pot is charged with making an exceptionally delicious and equally simple dessert:  Chocolate Pudding Cake.  This is not a typical cake so much as a gooey-melty-cakey concoction that demands a scoop of vanilla ice cream as soon as it is spooned out of the crock.  The cake ingredients are mixed together and placed in the crock pot, and then another mixture of brown sugar, cocoa powder, and hot water are mixed together and poured over the top BUT not stirred in.  What happens in the crock pot (while you are obliviously doing other things, or nothing!) is magic as the two layers come together to create a cake on top, floating on a pool of what can only be described as hot pudding-like fudge.  I was telling my ex-husband about this recipe a few years ago, and he said that one of the nurses he worked with brought it in regularly as a treat for her co-workers, crock pot and all.  She plugged it in and it cooked during their shift! Imagine working with that wafting through the air! I won't be doing that (sorry, Admissions folks) but I will be making it one very cold night and it will certainly chase the chill away. 


Cake part:
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup sugar
1/3 cup cocoa
2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 cup milk
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 tsp. vanilla extract

Hot fudge part:
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup cocoa
1 1/2 cups simmering hot water

Spray interior of crock pot with vegetable spray.

Mix together all of the cake ingredients in a large bowl. Beat with wooden spoon until smooth. Spread in the bottom of the crock pot. 

For the hot fudge part:  in a medium bowl, mix the cocoa and brown sugar. Add the very hot water. Stir until completely combined and gently pour over cake batter in crock pot.  Cover.

Cook with crock pot set on HIGH for at least 3 hours, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean.  Turn off crock pot.  Allow to cool down (de-hot, actually) for 30 minutes.  It will still be nice and warm.

Serve in bowls with vanilla ice cream and sauce from the bottom of the crock pot spooned over top.

Photo to be added when it comes out of the crock!

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Crock Pot Chicken and Dumplings

It's January 15, and MINUS FOUR DEGREES FARENHEIT outside in zip code area 12850!  This is the heart of comfort food season, and I've been researching recipes for an ultimate comfort food, chicken and dumplings.  My crock pot has been on the shelf for a while, so today I'm going to pull it out and crank it up for this recipe, an easy version of the classic with a number of my own changes incorporated.  (Use low-sodium versions of the soups and stocks if you prefer.)


2 tablespoons butter, melted

2 lbs. boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut in 1" chunks (easier to cut if it's partially frozen)
salt, pepper, garlic powder
1 large white or yellow onion, diced
1 large white potato, peeled and diced
1 stalk celery, diced
1 can cream of chicken soup
1 can cream of celery soup
1 cup chicken stock
1/4 cup white wine (optional)

2 cups frozen peas and carrots
2 tablespoons flour mixed with 1/4 cup water (slurry) to thicken
1 can refrigerator biscuits, quartered, and tossed with 1 tablespoon flour seasoned with a little salt and pepper

Season cut up chicken with salt, pepper, and garlic powder.

Start with crock pot set to "High" setting.  Place butter in bottom of crock pot.    Add seasoned chicken, diced onion, celery, potato, soups, stock, and wine.  Add just enough water to cover.  The remaining ingredients will be added later.  Decide how long you want it to cook -- six to eight hours on low, or four to five hours on high.

After cooking for the designated time, stir in peas and carrots.  Stir in slurry of flour and water.  Place seasoned biscuit quarters over top of ingredients in crock pot.  Cover and continue to cook at the high setting for about 45 additonal minutes or an hour until the biscuits are completely cooked through.

Photo credit:

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Banana Walnut Bread

On this day that seemed to be a snow day for everyone else,  my office mates and I made it in to work.  We drove from near and far to get there when other schools in the area were all closed.  We all waited for the morning notification that there might be an official snow day, but it didn't come so we all went out into the storm and found ourselves, finally, at work.  My drive in was OK, a little slippery here and there, but I took it slow and easy.  I needed gas for my car and stopped at Stewart's and got $7.00 worth of gas - all the cash I had in my pocket.  The town roads near my home were slippery but by the time I got to the county roads I felt a little less stressed driving.  Other people in my office came from distances too, and we were all glad to see each other.  One woman in my office, Kyle, decided to give herself a break and avoid driving in this weather, and called a taxi to bring  her to work today.  Unfortunately, the taxi driver didn't take Kyle's advice and attempted to drive up East Avenue hill toward North Broadway.  Anyone who knows the area knows that East Avenue hill is to be avoided during a snow storm.  The cab ended up in a ditch and Kyle decided to leave the cab behind and walked the rest of the way to work.  From our offices, we watched all day as the storm slowed, and eventually, just before evening fell, the sun tried to poke out.  I captured that rare, bright moment on my cell phone's camera. 

My trip home from work was even more precarious than the ride in.  If I had been just seconds ahead of myself, my car would have been in a collision with the car that barely missed me as I was headed south on Middle Grove Road.  A car approaching the Grange Road intersection with Middle Grove Road never stopped at all.  As I approached the intersection, the car just kept going and crossed in front of mine, missing me by just a few feet.  I was going about 30 miles per hour and her car just flew through the intersection.  I applied my brakes but lightly because I didn't want to spin out.  I was OK and kept going.  In my rear-view mirror, I could see that her car spun and ended up in a snow bank on the other side of the road.  I realized I was just seconds away from a bad collision, and I was very grateful, and very careful, the rest of the way home.

Tonight I am baking a banana walnut bread for my office mates, and will bring it into work with me tomorrow.  It is made with a familiar batter of no particular recipe, just one I've made up and adapted over the years.  It made enough batter to fill a bundt pan and two mini-loaf pans.  I'm hoping it comes out as well as it usually does.  I think my friends at work deserve a nice loaf of banana bread after the challenges we had just getting to and from work today!  It's in the oven right now and it smells great already.

BANANA WALNUT BREAD  (bundt cake size)

Grease/flour or spray 12-cup bundt pan.
  • 4 over-ripe bananas
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup milk soured with 1 teaspoon vinegar (or 1/2 cup buttermilk)
  • 4 eggs
In mixing bowl, mash bananas well.  Add oil, sugar, vanilla extract, and sour milk and mix until very well combined.  Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.
  • 3 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt

In a separate bowl, stir together dry ingredients.  Add to the wet and mix until well combined.
  • 1 cup chopped walnuts
Stir in chopped walnuts.

Pour batter into prepared pan (leaving at least an inch space at top) and bake for 50-60 minutes or until cake tests done (when knife or skewer comes out clean after it is inserted in the center).  Mini-loaf pans take about 30 minutes - test for doneness.    Cool in pan for 15 minutes (no longer), turn out onto cooling rack.  Wrap when completely cooled.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

A Slow, Snowy, Saturday Morning

It seems like every Friday night when I plan to sleep in the next morning, I wake up early and have to get out of bed.  Once I'm awake, I'm awake and just can't seem to luxuriate in those extra hours of Saturday morning relaxation.  Perhaps I'm too programmed to get up and get going, which I see as a personal short-coming.  Saturday-morning sleepers are to be envied.  Oh, to fall back to sleep, resume a dream, and wake up long after the day has started.  I guess those mornings are better suited to teenagers who really do benefit from sleeping in.  Since my teenage years are many decades behind me, I'm better off putting these early morning hours to good use:  what better than taking a few minutes to put in a little blog time?

The photo on this post was taken this morning, from my living room window (she says with a little bit of accomplishment, from my cell phone!).  It looks like we have a good 10-inches of the white stuff, so far, with predictions that it will continue to snow throughout the day and into tonight.  Fortunately, it is a light, feathery snow, falling so slowly that my eyes can follow individual snowflakes as they descend.  It's really very pretty (though by March I will surely detest the sight of even one snowflake).  This is our first big snowstorm of the season.  We were spared the post-Christmas snowstorm that crippled New York City and much of the east coast.  Snowstorms are fine if you don't have to go anywhere.  My long ride home from work last night was tricky and the closer I got to our country home, the worse it became.  I was very glad to pull in to the driveway, make it all the way up, and get out of the car!

As I posted on my facebook page, I greet this snowed-in weekend with gratitude.  Since before Christmas, every day has been busy.  This is the first day that I've had nothing to do and nowhere to go, and that feels good.  I have to de-Christmas my little home, which will take longer than you might think because I have so much to put away.  Last week, my son-in-law Bill took one look at my table-top Christmas tree and said "I can't believe how many ornaments you have."  My reply:  "Wait 35 years, and you'll have a lot of ornaments on your tree, too."  In addition to the tree, there are garlands of greenery, Victorian houses, Christmas blankets and pillows all to be packed up and stored until 11-months from now when it won't seem so long since they've been displayed.  My father was right, the older you get, the faster time goes.  My sister Patsy and I comment on that all the time.  Remember when the thought of a year away seemed an eternity?  Well, eternity seems in fast-forward mode these days!  It's good to take some time to slow down.  My day will be spent quietly here and not-so-quietly downstairs with little Henry and Peter, and I hope that time goes very slowly.  I want to enjoy every second of their baby- and toddler-hood, since I was so busy with my own little ones that their childhoods flew by much too quickly. 

I hope you have a slow, relaxing, and enjoyable weekend!

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Grand Marnier Cheesecake for Katie's Birthday

Today is my daughter Katie's 33rd birthday.  Happy Birthday, Katie!  Between caring for two little boys (the youngest just eleven weeks old) and preparing to dig in to her legal career, she's beyond busy.  This girl (woman!) needs a party!  When I asked Katie what she would like for her birthday cake, she responded that she didn't want birthday cake at all, but would love to have a cheesecake for her special day.  She suggested a Grand Marnier cheesecake, since she had a small bottle from Christmas, still unopened.  Last night I made my favorite New York Cheesecake (based on the recipe on the back of the Keebler Graham Cracker Crumbs box, and tweaked with Grand Marnier) and it came out beautifully.  I look forward to celebrating Katie's birthday tonight with my little grandsons Henry and Peter (Hank and Pete!).  Here's the recipe in case you'd like to make it for your next special occasion!

Grand Marnier Cheesecake

2 cups graham cracker crumbs
3 tablespoons sugar
4 oz. butter, melted

4 8 oz. bricks of cream cheese, softened
1 1/3 cups granulated sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
4 large eggs at room temperature
1 cup sour cream (regular or light)
1/4 cup Grand Marnier

Cake pan filled with very hot water - place on lower rack of preheated oven.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.

In 9" -10" springform pan lightly sprayed with cooking spray, mix crumbs with sugar and melted butter until thoroughly combined.  Press firmly on bottom and 2/3 of the way up sides of pan.  Place in freezer while you mix up the filling.

In large mixing bowl, beat cream cheese with sugar.  Add vanilla and cornstarch and mix well.  Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.  Beat in sour cream.  Mix in Grand Marnier.

Pour filling into chilled crust, leaving about 1/2-inch space at top of pan (if you have extra batter, save it for a small cheesecake in a little pan or muffin cups).  Spread filling evenly to the sides of the pan.

Bake in middle rack of oven (over lower rack with pan of hot water) for 1 hour fifteen minutes.  Turn oven off and crack door for about an hour.  Remove from oven and cool completely.  Remove side of springform pan.  Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Monday, January 3, 2011

A Happy Birthday...

Jeff with his nephew, Henry, 2008
Today is my son Jeffrey's 40th birthday.  Yep, 40.  To say I was a young mother is an understatement.  I have only been officially baking his birthday cakes for the past eight years.  It's a nice story, and if you are new to my blog you may not know it.  I'm happy to share.  Today is a day for celebration, and I share his birthday story with you here.  Just follow this link to learn a little bit about my inspiration and why I bake birthday cakes...

Happy Birthday Jeff.  The real gift is having you in my life.  I am so grateful!