Another Carrot Cake Victory

Bob and Debra

Debra Deyan with her late husband, Bob after winning the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Audio Publishers Association.

Today, my friend Nicol Zanzarella (audiobook reader and actress extraordinaire) and I decided we needed to take our friend Debra Deyan, owner of Deyan Audio, out for a belated birthday lunch. Deyan Audio records audiobooks and has won so many Audie Awards (the audiobook equivalent of the Oscars) it’s almost unfair.  Deb and Nicol are amazing, and two of the most driven, dedicated people I know, so getting together with them is always a treat for me.

I decided to surprise Deb with “Fran’s Clearly Superior Carrot Cake” for Deb’s birthday because it’s her favorite.  We went to a  restaurant in Burbank called Market City Cafe. As soon as we walked in, the waitress was so sweet, she asked if she could put the cake in the refrigerator for us!  How many places do that? Usually they give you the stink eye for not buying their dessert!

Then we sat on the patio and talked for a few hours, which was wonderful.  As we were wrapping it up, our fabulous waitress (I think her name was Alexa, but I could be totally wrong)  got the cake out and put the candles on it for me. (All I had was the 22 left from my daughter’s birthday, so I brought them because who doesn’t want to be 22 again?)

Fran's Carrot Cake

Fran’s Clearly Superior Carrot Cake, it’s almost healthy!

Alexa brought it out lit and ready to go.  (I’m so mad I didn’t get a photo of any of this!) So, since our waitress was so nice I told her she could have a slice.  She was eating it in the back where another server saw. She asked if he wanted a bite, and he dismissed it, saying his grandmother’s was the best.

She gave him a bite anyway, and he became a convert. He liked it so much, he came to our table and said, “Who made the cake?” I said I did and he said it was better than his grandmother’s, but he would never tell her that. Honest to God, for a baker that is the highest compliment you can get!

Then, because we were sitting outside, a woman walking past, who apparently had just eaten there, asked if it was the restaurant’s cake. We said no, then she asked if she could have a piece. (Gutsy, but kind of funny!) Then Alexa asked if I would share the recipe and if she could have a piece to take back to her boyfriend. It was kind of like a feeding frenzy, minus the sharks. I wondered who else might come along and want some.

I took the opportunity to hand out a few of my blog business cards, where my carrot cake recipe lives, and enjoyed basking in the warmth of cake adulation. When you get fantastic feedback on something you’ve made — it feels like applause and totally makes your day. I completely understand why my mother loved it. It was her moment on stage, every day.

Maybe that’s why I cook so much, I’m just starved for attention. Well, today I got it and it was great! The link to Fran’s Clearly Superior Carrot Cake is above, but in case you missed it, I’m posting it again. There seems to be a demand.

Fran’s Clearly Superior Carrot Cake

(This would never exist if it wasn’t for Donna Tunno’s Award Winning Carrot Cake recipe, with which I took some liberties.)

Carrot cake recipes

Donna’s neatly printed card, smeared by many bakings, then my adaptation underneath.

2 c. flour

2 tsp. baking powder

2 tsp. baking soda

2 tsp. cinnamon

1 tsp. salt

1 cup chopped toasted pecans (Toast about 10 min at 350, but watch them carefully, so they don’t burn. As soon as they’re aromatic, take them out.

3 c. grated carrots (press them down with your hand so they’re densely packed but not totally squished)

1 20 oz. can drained, crushed pineapple (process it if you don’t want small chunks of pineapple in your cake but I like the small chunks)

3/4 c. canola oil

2 c. sugar

4 eggs

1 cup toasted finely chopped pecans to press on the sides of the cake (These MAKE the cake!)

I always toast my pecans first, toasting them adds a whole new layer of flavor – trust me! That way they have time to cool before adding them to the batter. I toast them whole, then chop the ones I put in the cake by hand, so they’re not too fine. I put the second cup of toasted pecans in the food processor and finely chop them and set them aside.  Then, I put my pineapple in a strainer and let it drain.  Then I peel and process my carrots, then set them aside. (This cake is some work, but the accolades are worth it.)

Combine all dry ingredients:  flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and cinnamon in one medium bowl.  Combine oil, sugar, eggs and drained pineapple in second large bowl.  Add dry ingredients to the oil mixture. Blend in carrots and pecans.

Flour and grease two 9″ cake pans and divide batter into pans.   Bake at 350 for 40 min to an hour (test with toothpick starting at 40 min.) And here’s a tip from a friend whose cakes were always so moist. After you take the cake out of the pan, wrap it in plastic wrap, so ask it cools, it retains the moisture. This cake is moist anyway, but that makes it even more moist

If you make cupcakes, they only take 20 minutes, but test them with a toothpick first. If it comes out dry, your cupcakes are ready. Donna’s recipe is for a bundt cake, but I like baking two layer cakes because of the additional cream cheese in the middle. Once the cake is cool, ice it and press the chopped toasted pecans all around the sides.

Fran’s Cream Cheese Frosting 

1 8 oz. package of Philadelphia Cream Cheese

1/2 c .butter

1 lb. confectioners sugar

4 Tbsp. half and half or whipping cream

Pinch of salt (to taste)

1 to 2 tsp. vanilla

Bring cream cheese and butter to room temperature.  Mix well in an electric mixer until fluffy.  Add confectioners sugar, vanilla, half and half and salt. Be sure to taste to see if there’s enough salt.  When thoroughly combined, apply to cooled cake.  Then decorate with dots and enjoy!  So what if the kids laugh!

Buck the Bleep Up

Last week I was at work getting coffee,  talking about wanting to lose weight with a co-worker. I was saying how frustrating it was that I haven’t been successful. She’s one of my favorite co-workers. She leaned over to me smiling and said, “Sometimes Miss Fran, you just have to buck the f__k up,” which made me laugh so hard I almost spit.  She would know, she’s been a single mom for years.

But it’s so true. My half-hearted attempts at losing weight fail because I’m not pushing myself hard enough, and I know it. Simply put, I eat too damned much and haven’t been exercising enough.

It’s so easy to blame everything and everyone else, but if I really wanted to lose it, the weight would be off.  My life is everything I’ve created it to be up to this point. If I don’t like it, only I can change it.  That’s both liberating and depressing, if you really stop to think about it.

Stupid discipline — it was my father’s forte, but apparently isn’t mine. I have it in spurts. I even went running last night just to prove I could do it.  So, I’m attempting to hone more discipline so I can drop this 10 pounds I’ve gained since I started working at a job where all I do is sit and write.

IMG_7725.JPGIn keeping with my new ninja-like determination, I’m trying to create healthy lunches like the one I had today.  It was made of farro, zucchini, green onions, and sundried tomatoes, sprinkled with a little Parmesan cheese.

Farro is an ancient grain that apparently has great health benefits and has been hip for a while after falling out of favor for a few hundred years. In 1/4 cup of uncooked farro there are 7 grams of protein, 160 calories, no cholesterol, 3 grams of dietary fiber, no fat and no sugars! It’s really good and kind of chewy, and filling.

Trust me when I tell you, I will never become one of those obnoxious people who forces her health crap on you because she’s seen the light. I’ve had people do that to me with food, religion, alcohol, you name it and it drives me nuts. My blog will always contain healthy stuff and trashy stuff because life is no fun if you don’t let loose every once in a while.  Be good and take care of your health, but when you do decide to have something trashy,  REALLY ENJOY IT!!! Then go back to being good again. I live by the good 90% of the time, bad 10 percent of the time motto. It keeps me mostly sane, even if I am usually 10 lbs. overweight.

And when you can make something like this Farro Zucchini dish, that tastes good and is good for you, well that’s proof there is a God, and she likes to eat too!

closer shot of farro.JPGFarro with Zucchini, Green Onions and Sundried Tomatoes

1 cup farro

2 cups water

1 Tbsp. olive oil

1 bunch of green onions chopped in 1 inch pieces

2 small zucchini, cut lengthwise in half, then chopped into 1/2 inch pieces

8 sundried tomatoes, choppped into small strips (I get big jars of sundried tomatoes at Costco and they are great!)

Parmesan or Romano Cheese

Farro cooks much like rice. Just put the farro in a pan with twice as much liquid and add a pinch of salt. Let it come to a boil, then let it simmer until it’s tender (about 20 minutes).  When it’s done, set it aside

In a medium skillet, saute the onion, and zucchini in the olive oil about 5 to 7 minutes, or until slightly golden on the sides.  Then add 1/2 of the farro (save the other half for the next night!) to the zucchini-onion mixture.  Toss to mix and add the sundried tomato pieces to the mixture. Mix thoroughly, and pour into a bowl. Sprinkle with Parmesan or Romano and serve.

You can also add chopped parsley, or chopped black olives, feta cheese, or whatever sounds good to you. I made it again with leeks and zucchini and it was fabulous! I’m sure whatever you choose it will be good!

 

 

 

Better Than Any Other Tiramisu!

I

I’ve been cooking for over a month, but haven’t perfected anything for a while. Sometimes cooking magic happens the first time I make something and I can blog about it right away.  But usually, I make it and it’s not quite as amazing as I know it could be, so I have to make it again, then tweak it and make it again and again before I can write about it.

homemade pasta.JPGLike the homemade pasta I made a few weeks ago. It was good, but too thick and needed salt. I wanted to make it like my Aunt Milena from Italy did. So I rolled it out by hand, but I lacked the million pasta rolling experiences my Aunt had, so it was not a masterpiece. I should have rolled it on the pasta machine in my cupboard that’s been patiently waiting for me for years.  It was good, but not great – who knew homemade pasta grew when cooked? So, back to the drawing board on that one.

EggplantAnd I made some really good Chinese eggplant with red peppers and Sweet Chili Sauce, but I wasn’t sure the photos did it justice. This one is easy, just saute a couple of chopped Chinese eggplant and a couple of chopped red peppers in canola or peanut oil in a large skillet or wok. (I used canned roasted peppers because I was out of fresh and they worked OK –not as crisp, but still good flavor. (You could add onion too, if you want.) To help them cook, add a few tablespoons of water or chicken broth. When cooked, add salt and pepper and pour in about 1/4 cup of Sweet Chili Sauce (you can get it in the Asian section)  and stir to combine, then serve. It’s really good!

Beef BourgignonThere was the Beef Bourgignon recipe I got from the Barefoot Contessa on Food Network’s website, that was a lot easier than it sounds. (Why does everything French sound hard?) It was delicious! My son devoured it. You can click on the above link and get it. I changed nothing in it! You usually can’t go wrong with the Barefoot Contessa.

Maybe that’s my problem, I don’t have a catchy name yet. I’ll start thinking about that. The Cooking Divorcee? Pastry Princess? Feel free to send your ideas.

broccoli soupThen there was the cannoli, which did make it to a post. (I’m still happy about that little trip back to childhood!) Then there was the Cream of Broccoli Soup, which was good, but I think I lost the recipe to it. If I don’t write it down immediately, it goes poof!

broccoli leek quicheAnd tonight I made a Leek and Broccoli Quiche.  But I think I went too heavy on the veggies and not enough on the egg filling, so I want to make it until it tastes like the ones I had in Paris. Their crust was so buttery and their filling, so creamy, I honestly thought I would die from happiness.  The only two places here in L.A., I’ve tasted one to equal that was at the La Brea Bakery and a place called the Coffee Commissary. There’s one in Kenneth Village in Glendale, and one on Olive Ave. in Burbank. Their quiche is fantastic!

Tiramisu.JPGAnd then there was a Tiramisu I made for my friend, Camilla’s birthday, and even though that dessert saw it’s heyday in the 80’s, I’ll put that recipe up against anyone’s.  It’s really good. It’s another one so delicious, I only made two minor tweaks.

So, since I only give you my tried and true recipes, you’re getting my Tiramisu recipe. It’s a great Easter dessert.  I’ve made it many, many times and it’s really good, even if Tiramisu isn’t terribly hip anymore.  Maybe we can bring it back. Plus, I promise to perfect the others.

This recipe was from my favorite Italian place in LA in the 80’s. It was called, Chianti. It was on Melrose Avenue. There was a Cucina side that had big black and white linoleum squares on the floor and casual seating, where you’d go for lunch, and a Ristorante side with deep leather booths, that was more formal, where you’d go to propose.

The food was just delicious. No matter what you got, it was always excellent. It’s closed now, but I found this recipe years ago and it’s my go-to one for Tiramisu. (Tiramisu means pick me up in Italian because of the espresso.) I still get requests for it today.

Chianti Tiramisu

6 Egg yolks (I know this freaks people out, but I’ve made this dozens of times and no one’s ever gotten sick.)

1 1/4 cups sugar

1 1/4  cups mascarpone cheese

1 3/4 cups whipping cream, whipped to form soft peaks (Use heavy cream for a less runny dessert)

2 1/4 cups cold espresso coffee (the original recipe called for 1 3/4 cups but I always run out when I make it, so I increased it by half a cup and it works great.

4 tablespoons of brandy

(The original recipe called for two tablespoons of grappa and two tablespoons of brandy, but I’m not a grappa fan, so I use all brandy.)

48 ladyfingers (I never count, I just use them until the thing gets put together Just buy a large package. You’ll have some left over, but that’s not a bad thing. They’re great dipped in your latte in the morning.

Powdered, unsweetened chocolate for topping

Take your whipping cream and beat it into soft peaks (the stiffer you make it, the less runny your dessert will be).

In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream yolks and sugar until smooth and a lighter color. Add mascarpone and mix on low speed two minutes. Fold in the whipped cream and reserve.

In a medium, flat-bottomed bowl, combine coffee and brandy. Dip the ladyfingers in the coffee mixture about 1 to 2 seconds, letting some coffee drip out, then place them on the bottom of a 10 X 15 inch platter, or a round glass bowl. They get soggy quickly, so don’t dawdle. I use a round glass bowl that’s at least 8 inches deep because it looks so beautiful in there and you can get more layers that way.

Put enough in to make a bottom layer, then pour some of the cream on top, and do it again, with another layer of coffee-dipped ladyfingers, then more cream, repeating layers until you leave about two inches left at the top.

Then take a package of ladyfingers and cut them in half and push the cut end slightly into the top layer around the edges, so you create a border of ladyfingers. Then take your chocolate powder and sprinkle it on top, being careful not to get it on the ladyfingers.  Wrap it in plastic wrap and place it in the refrigerator, and serve chilled. If you want to get fancy, you can pipe dollops of whipped cream in front of the ladyfingers and put chocolate covered coffee beans on each dollop.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cannoli Teleportation

My mother visited me last night.  Well, maybe not physically, but she was definitely here, because I went back to being a 9-year-old tasting her homemade cannoli at Christmas time in our flour covered kitchen.

But this time it was me making the cannoli.  I am a very novice cannoli maker and was spurred into a cannoli frenzy because I promised my friend Debra I’d bring them to a dinner tonight.  I’d only made cannoli shells one time before and they were kinda meh. That was four years ago,  but I tried again last night.

Mom's recipe

I love the fact that her recipe is written on a notepad from my brother Bernie’s Insurance company.

It was a challenge because I had two recipes, one I’d written down myself, probably with input from Angelina Belculfine, my mom’s best friend and the most amazing baker. The other one was in my mom’s handwriting. I actually have it framed on my dining room wall because it’s a classic. Mom was adorable, but not terribly accurate, so I wasn’t sure whether her teaspoon meant tablespoon, etc.  But I mostly trusted her and just went for it.

I wasn’t going to eat a cannoli tonight because I’m not getting any thinner, but how could I bring them tomorrow without knowing how they’d taste? Clearly, that wouldn’t do, so I filled the smallest one, and dusted it with powdered sugar.

Cannoli beauty shotI’m certain mom was beaming because it tasted just like hers.  I ran upstairs and made my son try it and he thought it was pretty awesome too.  So, once again, through food, I was teleported to 1965 and very happy to be in my mom’s New Brighton kitchen with powdered sugar all over me.

If you’d like to be teleported to 1965, here is her recipe.

Mama Tunno’s Cannoli 

2 1/2 cups Flour

1 Tbsp. sugar

3/4 to 1 tsp. salt (this was one I wasn’t sure of. She’d written 1 tablespoon, but I think she messed up the writing so I erred on the side of caution)

1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon Butter Flavor Crisco (Plain Crisco works too)

2 eggs

3 oz white wine

(One additional egg beaten in a separate cup for making the cannoli stick together)

Mix together the flour, sugar, and salt. Once combined, add the Crisco, mixing it with your fingers. Once it’s pebbly, like pie dough add the eggs and wine.  Mix well with your hands until combined. Wrap dough in plastic so it doesn’t dry out.

In a large skillet or deep fryer, pour about 40 oz of canola oil. Heat it to 375 degrees.

Lightly grease the outside of 6 metal cannoli tubes.

Dough being cut.JPGWhile the oil is heating, roll out the dough to pie crust thickness, or slightly thinner, about 1/8 inch. With a rolling cookie cutter, cut a circle in the dough about six inches in diameter. Wrap it around the cannoli tube and where it overlaps, rub some of the beaten egg to seal the cannoli shell together. (I just sat the tube on the dough and rolled around it, eyeballing how much dough I would need. It doesn’t need to overlap too much — that was my mistake with the first several I fried.

Cannoli frying.JPGThen carefully place the covered tube into the hot grease. Let it fry for about 3 to five minutes or until it’s golden brown. Carefully remove it from the pan. You can cook a few at once, but I didn’t do more than three, so I could keep an eye on them.   Once the tubes have cooled enough to touch, gently remove the metal cylinders, grease their outsides and make more cannoli until the dough is all used up.

Cannoli Filling

(My mom used Citron in hers, but I’m not a fan, so I don’t. You Cannoli purists out there can hate me if you want for that.) Feel free to chop a little up and put it in if you like it.

For the White fillingTwo containers.JPG

1 32 oz container of Galbani Ricotta (This is the absolute best for cannoli. It’s smooth and not gritty!)

3/4 to 1 cup powdered sugar

2 to 3 good sprinkles of cinnamon

2/3 cup of mini chocolate chips

With an electric mixer, whip together the ricotta, the powdered sugar and cinnamon. When it it mixed and nice and creamy, stop whipping and add the mini chocolate chips. Then separate the filling into 2 parts. Use 1/2 to make the chocolate filling.

For the Chocolate Filling

1/2 of the white filling

1/2 cup chocolate chips melted

2 Tbsp whipping cream

Melt the chocolate chips in the microwave or on the stovetop and and add the whipping cream. Mix together until smooth, then blend it into the 1/2 white filling.

Cannoli to be filled.JPGNow comes the fun part. Find 2 clean plastic Ziplock bags. (Or, if you’re advanced, use your pastry bags.) Fill one with chocolate filling and one with vanilla. Snip off one end of the plastic bags and use them to  Squirt the ricotta filling into separate ends of the cannoli.  Sprinkle with powdered sugar and serve. Do not fill until ready to serve because they get soggy.

If you like, you can dip the ends into chocolate chips or pistachios, but I like them plain.  Enjoy!

But be sure to change your shoes before you bake, I didn’t and now mine are a floured mess – just like Mom’s always were!Foured shoe and pantyhose.JPG

 

 

 

 

 

Valentine’s Day Pastry Puffs

On this day back in 1974, my college friends and I decided we were sick of seeing lucky girls getting roses delivered to them willy-nilly, while we got nothing. So we held a Valentine’s Day Sleep-A-Thon.

My friend and resident artist, Dawn created fabulous posters for our doors that said anyone could participate, in the VD Sleep-a- Thon.  All you had to do was sleep through the day so you didn’t have to witness the floral onslaught. Only problem was, we had to miss class to participate, and we were good girls, so it never quite took hold the way we imagined.

Now, that I’m older, still alone, but much wiser, instead of coveting someone else’s roses, I go buy myself flowers and chocolate. Why wait for something I’m perfectly capable of buying myself?

Close up DPP.JPGIn fact, now I celebrate Valentine’s Day with abandon. I even bake for it, and one of my favorite things to make is a Danish Pastry Puff. I usually make it as a breakfast or brunch item.

It’s a buttery pastry crust topped with another layer that’s almost like a cream puff in texture but flavored with almond extract, then covered in icing and sprinkled with almonds.

It’s an easy recipe I got from my brother, Bernie, who had a food column years ago called Top Fork.  He used to go around sampling food at different restaurants then write about it.

(It’s a sickness — Tunno’s can’t help it, we’re always either eating, cooking , or talking about food.)

ITop Fork Column saved his clipping from all those years ago and every time I make a Danish Pastry Puff, I use it. It’s easy, buttery  deliciousness!

Here’s the original recipe for Danish Puffs, handed down via my brother, who got it from his ex-neighbor Martha May, who got it from her eighth grade Home Economics teacher, Wealthie Crawford, who entered it in a national bake-off and won a prize.  I love how recipes make the rounds. And let’s hear it for one nationality embracing the food of another.  It’s what makes the United States so totally cool. I swear food is the true route to world peace.

I tried a variation on it with Brown Butter Frosting and it was very good, but I like the almond too. Usually Puffs take the form of rectangles, but for Valentine’s Day you can shape them like hearts.  Enjoy them and have a Happy Valentine’s Day whether you’re alone or a couple!

Danish PuffsCropped shot Brown butter

Crust

1 cup flour

1/2 cup butter

3 Tbsp. cold water

Mix together ingredients and spread into two rectangles (or hearts) on an ungreased cookie sheet.

Filling or Topping

1/2 cup butter

1 cup water

1 tsp. almond extract (for the brown butter puff, delete the almond extract)

1 tsp vanilla extract

1 cup flour

3 large or extra large eggs

Put 1/2 cup butter and 1 cup of water in a medium size sauce pan and bring it to a boil. Add 1 tsp. of almond extract and 1 tsp. vanilla. Then remove from heat and add 1 cup flour immediately. Beat by hand until smooth, then beat in three eggs, one at a time until smooth. Spread on top of crusts and back at 350 degrees for 45 to 60 minutes or until golden brown. Let cool.

Vanilla Frosting for Puffs with Almond FlavoringPuff Beauty shot.JPG

2 Tbsp. butter

1 1/2 cups powdered sugar

1/2 tsp vanilla

2 Tbsp. half and half

Dash of salt

Melt the butter and add the powdered sugar. Add the vanilla, the half and half, and salt, to taste. Pour over the cooled puff and sprinkle with nuts. You can use sliced almonds or chopped walnuts.

Brown Butter Frosting (You will see God when you taste this)

1/2 cup butter

3 cups powdered sugar

1/8 tsp salt

1/3 cup plus 1 Tbsp. half and half

Melt butter over low heat in a saucepan until melted. Continue stirring until butter turns a golden to medium brown. Be careful not to burn it. It should smell wonderfully fragrant. Once browned, remove it from the heat and add the powdered sugar and half and half, stirring with the whisk until smooth. Then drizzle over the cooled puff and sprinkle with chopped walnuts.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Celebrate Groundhog Day with Cherry Cranberry Crisp!

Edited GroundhogGroundhog Day is near and dear to my heart. Maybe it’s because I grew up in Pennsylvania where Punxatawney Phil was a pretty big deal. There’s another reason, which embarrasses my brothers when I talk about it, so you’ll just have to read my Groundhog Day blog post from two years ago where I explain it all. Be forewarned — it involves sex.

Since there is no official dessert for Groundhog day, I’m making one up. Cherry-Cranberry Crisp – it has all the flavor of cherry pie filling with the tartness of cranberries, and tastes great with vanilla ice cream.  It’s perfect for that bag of cranberries you still have in the freezer and it can double as a President’s Day dessert too! George Washington and Abe Lincoln would have loved it and I’m fairly certain serving it can bring about world peace.

If you don’t have a bag of cranberries in the freezer, this is a good excuse to go buy some. Some stores still have fresh ones, but frozen work fine too.

close up cherry cran crispI found this recipe years ago in an ad for Comstock cherry pie filling. It was for Cherry Cranberry Pie, but is even easier and very tasty as a crisp, so that’s what I make when I need a quick dessert. And this recipe makes enough crisp topping for two pies, so you can just save half in the freezer for the next time you feel like baking a crisp.

I was doing fairly well on my New Year plan to eat less dessert, but this dessert nipped that right in the bud.

Cherry Cranberry Crisp

Crumble Topping

1 cup flour

2 cups whole, uncooked Quaker Oats

1 cup light brown sugar

1 1/2 tsp Cinnamon

1/2 tsp salt

1 stick melted butter (not unsalted)

Mix together dry ingredients, then add melted butter with fork, stirring to make sure all ingredients are combined.  It should look pebbly. This is enough to cover two pies or crisps.

cherry cran closeupSet the topping aside and mix together:

Cherry Cranberry Filling

1 can of cherry pie filling

2 cups of fresh or frozen cranberries rinsed

3/4 cup of sugar

2 Tbsp corn starch

Thoroughly mix together, pie filling, rinsed cranberries, sugar and corn starch in a large mixing bowl. Then pour them into a buttered, deep dish pie pan or casserole dish.  Sprinkle 1/2 of the topping over the cherry cranberry filling, just to cover it. Don’t make the topping too thick. Freeze the other topping for later use.  Bake at 350 for one hour to an hour and 10 minutes, or until filling bubbles.  If topping starts looking too brown, cover it lightly with a piece of foil.

Serve warm with vanilla ice cream. Share with friends and strangers and watch world peace ensue.

 

 

 

Why People Drink

Being responsible is no fun at all. No wonder people drink.

I’m sorry I’ve been away so long, but I’ve had taxes to prepare for, outside writing projects, exercising, cleaning and ironing to keep up on, and more.  Sometimes I wish I wasn’t so friggin’ ambitious. But the ambition comes partly because

a. I have no spouse to handle my domestic chores.

b. I’m fairly certain I won’t have enough money to retire comfortably — ever — so I keep at it, because being forced into the labor pool at 90 doesn’t sound good.

And I drink more now too. It’s definitely responsibility’s fault.

It’s only about half a glass of wine (when I cough up the $2.50 for what’s almost Three Buck Chuck now) then I put canned peaches in it and pretend it’s dessert. It’s not Cherry Cranberry Crisp, but it does smooth out the rough edges after a long day.

That’s one of the plusses of having grown kids. You don’t have to be quite as sober anymore, and it’s a good thing because, when your kids are older, it’s preferable to be a little incoherent.

I did take some time out to cook though, and thanks to my friend Dawn, the amazing Key West artist at Heliographics,  I got another wonderful recipe you’ll have to try. It’s called Mojo de Ajo, which literally translates to: Sauce of Garlic.  Man, is it good!

Best MojoIt’s basically garlic sauteed in olive oil, with salt, chili pepper flakes and lime juice. I used it on sauteed chicken, but Dawn says it’s really great on fish. My daughter’s boyfriend,  who grew up in Mexico, says it’s always served with fish down there.

I even used some of the leftover Mojo de Ajo as the oil in the pan when I sauteed some fresh spinach last night and it was great. It had a limey zing I liked. I owed you a good, easy recipe and this is it.  I’ll bet it would be good with other veggies too.

If you have any great, easy recipes, feel free to write and tell me about them. I’m always looking for delicious recipes. They’re my favorite way to spread love in the world and they may be the only true path to world peace. Proof will come in my next blog when I share my Cherry-Cranberry Crisp recipe.

In the meantime, I will try not to let being responsible interfere with staying in touch with you.  You all mean the world to me. Happy New Year!

Mojo de AjoCU mojo

1/4 cup olive oil
3 T. garlic minced (about 4-6 cloves)
Cook garlic in oil until it’s soft then add:
3 T. lime juice
1/2 t. salt
1 t. red pepper flakes (I just did a sprinkle because I have a wimpy stomach.) But you can always sprinkle the red pepper flakes on as you eat too.
I cooked two, pounded chicken breasts in butter and olive oil in a skillet on the stovetop. Then served them with the Mojo de Ajo poured on top.
Dawn served this on sauteed Yellowtail Snapper but it came with this chicken recipe:
Saute in olive oil: Strips of onions, green pepper, and boneless skinless chicken thighs sliced about 1/2″ thick. Cook pieces until browned. Season with salt & pepper.
Pour sauce on top. Serve with warm tortillas, avocado, cheese, sour cream, tomatoes etc.

 

 

 

A Holiday Message in My Favorite Christmas Carol

Good King Wenceslas looked out
On the Feast of Stephen
When the snow lay ’round about
Deep and crisp and even

This is my favorite Christmas song, but I could never listen to it without getting teary eyed.

Brightly shone the moon that night
Though the frost was cruel
When a poor man came in sight
Gath’ring winter fuel

The story always touches me no matter how many times I hear it…

“Hither, page, and stand by me,
If thou know’st, telling
Yonder peasant, who is he?
Where and what his dwelling?”

Sire, he lives a good league hence,
Underneath the mountain
Right against the forest fence
By Saint Agnes’ fountain.”

“Bring me flesh and bring me wine
Bring me pine-logs hither
Thou and I shall see him dine
When we bear them thither.”

Such goodness is a beautiful thing to witness…in a song, or in your fellow man.

Page and monarch, forth they went
Forth they went together
Through the rude wind’s wild lament
And the bitter weather.

“Sire, the night is darker now
And the wind blows stronger
Fails my heart, I know not how
I can go no longer.”

I could never get past that stanza without crying after my mom passed away. The part about the failing heart got me every time.

She’s been gone almost 26 years – you’d think I’d be over it by now. And missing her made me question my tradition of offering my baking to others as a gift.  I started asking myself why I do it, thinking maybe it’s an old custom and not necessary – other people don’t do it.

Then I played the song again and in the King’s lines, I heard my mom’s message…

“Mark my footsteps, my good page
Tread thou in them boldly
Thou shall find the winter’s rage
Freeze thy blood less coldly.”

And I knew that I should’t quit, but boldly follow in Mom’s footsteps because she created a beautiful tradition. She showed me the way to treat friends, family, co-workers, even strangers.

In his master’s step he trod
Where the snow lay dinted
Heat was in the very sod
Which the Saint had printed

Those were some pretty warm foot prints to walk in.

Therefore, Christian men, be sure
Wealth or rank possessing
Ye, who now will bless the poor
Shall yourselves find blessing.

Generosity of spirit never goes out of style.

I wish you all a beautiful Christmas. May you find joy in whatever the day brings, Drop your expectations and just accept what happens – it makes for a much happier time. And hang on to your traditions — they are priceless.

 

 

Granola Cluster Cookies –Even Your Healthy Friends Will Love Them!

Each winter my mother and I sported a light coat of flour from December first to the 25th. My mom flew into a baking frenzy and I was recruited to grease pans, sprinkle sugar on hot fried twists of lemony dough, and run up and down between our upstairs and downstairs kitchens like lightning for whatever mom needed  because she always said, “Honey, you gatta da fresh a legs.”

Once I remember her saying, “Honey go getta me da ting dat goes inna da ting I use to beat uppa da stuffa.” And I brought her back exactly what she needed – the beaters for her mixer.  My dad looked at us incredulously and said, “How the hell did you know what she meant?” I shrugged my shoulders and said, “I don’t know, I just knew.” My mother smiled knowing we had a baking shorthand that transcended the English language.

This year I’m trying to get it all done before I go back to Pennsylvania and I’m relying on  legs that are not quite as fresh as they were 50 years ago to get me through.

I love bringing cookies to work and to friends for the holidays.  Just being in my kitchen, baking in the evening when it’s dark outside reminds me of those childhood Decembers when condensed water in the corners of windows turned into tiny ice crystals. I’d stand at the big picture window  in the dining room, looking out on the frozen backyard and knew I was lucky to be warm and cozy, baking with my mom.

I miss her more this time of year than any other because she was like the spirit of Christmas present — large, laughing, joyful, always giving, and ready to sample every treat that came her way. Everyone, from neighbors, to friends, to the nuns at school, even the mailman, got a sample of Mama Tunno’s cookies.

Keeping that tradition alive makes me feel like our floured fingertips touch every December. And I swear, I am going to bake her banana cookies this year, and give you the recipe because they are awesome dipped in a hot cup of coffee. It’s a dough wrapped cookie filled with a mixture of chocolate, raisins, walnuts, nutmeg and cinnamon, that is awesome.

Each year I also swear I’ll expand my repertoire, then never do it.  (Apparently, I do a lot of swearing this time of year.) But, I actually did try two new cookie recipes this baking season. One was a success, the other was just meh. The success was a fantastic, sweet treat even your health conscious friends will love, called the Granola Cluster Cookie.  My daughter found it on the Bon Appetit website, which she and I both love. Their cooks  are really laid back and fun. You just want to hang out with them.

edited granola cluster.JPGThe Granola Cluster Cookie is made of pecans, almonds, pepitas, coconut and some oats, and it’s held together with egg whites beaten with sugar. I truly couldn’t stop eating them — they’re that good. And I just made another batch with hazelnuts instead of pepitas and they were even better!

But when they tell you to bake them on parchment, they aren’t kidding. They really stick to  the pan and removing them results in some broken cookies, so definitely use parchment, or wax paper in a pinch. And wait until they’re cooled to remove them or you’ll have cookie casualties.

The meh one was the Swig Sugar Cookie.  Apparently, they’re so good people stand in long lines for them in St. George Utah, but the recipe I found on a blog was not worth the effort. They were too sweet, without the balance of salt. I’d read that the sour cream in the icing made them different, but to me, it didn’t and I added a lot more sour cream to see if I could salvage it. I saw a different recipe,  on a Food blog called, The Recipe Critic, and it looked more promising with more salt and sour cream in it, but I have no more time or money to waste on recipes, so for now, I’m sticking with Gramma Ev’s Sugar Cookies as my undisputed favorite sugar cookie.

So, if you’re still looking for a great holiday cookie, I’m posting the recipe for the Bon Appetit Granola Cluster Cookies. This should satisfy your health conscious friends, who want a cookie they can eat with little to no guilt. And they’re really easy to make!

Russian Teacakes.JPGBut, what’s life without a decadent, sweet treat every now and then? So, I’m also posting one  of my, oldie but goodie, favorite Christmas cookie recipes — Russian Teacakes.

My mom called them Butterballs because they’re so buttery they just melt in your mouth.  She loved these cookies at first taste, but she didn’t have a recipe to replicate them, so she tried inventing a recipe. It didn’t work out well, and my brother Bernie, nicknamed mom’s attempt “Cannon Balls.”  Mom laughed it off, but gave up on improvisation.  Years later, my sister-in-law- Patty, gave me a great recipe she had in one of her Polish cookbooks, and I’ve been making them for years. I always lightly toast the pecans before I add them, they’re much better that way.

And, even though I’m usually worried about what I eat, at Christmas, I go with mom’s slogan, “Oh honey, you gatta try dis, ittsa so good!” You only get one life, enjoy it a little. We can all go back on the diet in January.

Granola Cluster Cookies

1 1/2 cups pecans

1 cup sliced almonds (I didn’t have any, so I chopped whole almonds)

1 cup unsweetened coconut flakes

3/4 cup pumpkin seeds, (pepitas) or hazelnuts — they are awesome!

1/2 cup old-fashioned oats

1/2 tsp. Kosher salt

3 Tbsp. virgin coconut or extra virgin olive oil , melted (I used coconut)

2 large egg whites

2/3 cup sugar

Preheat oven to 325°. Toss pecans, almonds, coconut, pumpkin seeds, oats, salt, and oil on a rimmed baking sheet and bake, tossing once, until coconut is golden and mixture is fragrant, 10–12 minutes. Let it cool.

Whisk egg whites in a large bowl until foamy. Gradually add sugar, whisking until mixture is thick and opaque. Add nut mixture and fold to coat evenly.

Drop ¼-cupfuls of mixture onto a parchment-lined baking sheet, spacing evenly. (This recipe made two batches for me — about 24 cookies). Bake cookies, rotating baking sheet halfway through, until edges are golden, 15–20 minutes. Wait until the cookies are cooled before trying to move them, they are fragile and will fall apart if they aren’t cool enough.

 

Russian Teacakes

1 cup soft butter

1/2 cup confectioners sugar

1 tsp. vanilla

2 1/4 cups flour

3/4 cup finely chopped nuts ( I use lightly toasted pecans, but walnuts work too)

Additional 2 cups confectioners sugar to roll cookies in.

Mix butter, powdered sugar and vanilla thoroughly. Blend flour, and salt and stir into mixture. Mix in nuts, wrap in plastic wrap, and chill. Heat oven to 400 degrees. (If I leave the dough in the refrigerator overnight, it gets really hard, so I zap it in the microwave for about 15 seconds, and it’s easier to work with.) Roll chilled dough into 1 inch balls, and place them on an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes and while warm, roll them in confectioners sugar. Let cookies cool and roll them in sugar again. Makes about 4 dozen.

 

If It Isn’t Broken, Don’t Fix It

I always worry that I’m not experimental enough in the kitchen. I find a good recipe and then stick with it for the rest of my life.  This worry was spurred by a friend once comparing me to another friend who cooks.  She said, “You’re a great home cook, but ______, well he’s a chef.”

My pride was wounded, but I understood. The friend who she was talking about is a fantastic cook and loves to experiment in the kitchen with whatever the latest food trends are. If they don’t sound good to me, I don’t. So, black pepper never makes it into my ice cream and I’m OK with that.

But this year, I figured my rosemary with garlic and butter under the skin turkey was getting old, so I thought I’d try something new.  I went with a Pancetta Sage Turkey recipe I found in Bon Appetit. I almost did a recipe with lemon rind, Italian parsley and saffron but decided I didn’t want to spend 12 bucks on saffron.  So I did a twist on my rosemary butter and added a little lemon rind to it instead.

Know what?  My guests preferred the rosemary turkey over the pancetta sage, which is too bad because the pancetta sage turkey was a lot of work!

And this year I didn’t stuff my turkeys. I got two smaller ones instead of one larger one. I think I prefer a larger bird than two smaller ones and I miss the stuffing in the bird.  So, lesson learned. If it isn’t broken, don’t fix it.  My family loves turkey with rosemary, garlic butter under the skin, so that’s what I’ll make.  But the lemon rind was a nice additional touch of flavor.

And the winner of the Annual Cutthroat Tunno Pie Competition is my nephew Chris. Yes, Chris again.  Clearly, he is putting crack in his pies, because everyone says they are absolutely the best.  One day, I will drug him so I can extract the secret to the pie and share it with you! Chris came in first, my big brother Bernie came in second and Nate, (my, I’ll make my own damned trophy) great nephew from my blog two years ago came in third.  C’est la vie. It was evenly split among the generations. (I had reported it incorrectly earlier, and thank God, Donna set me straight. No fake news here!)

However, I did try a new pie crust recipe and it was good. Not sure if it was better than my mom’s recipe, but it was definitely tied. The thing I discovered was that using a food processor when making a pie crust is absolute genius, takes one fourth the time and makes a flakier crust!

But one thing that I never see in any article about pie crusts is information about how to protect your crust from burning, especially if you have a deep dish apple pie,  because they take long to bake.  I use a Mrs. Anderson’s pie crust shield and it works like a charm. That is a link to Bed, Bath and Beyond, but you can get them at Amazon too. Both places have them for 5.99.  They also have an adjustable one, you can cut to size if you don’t make a deep dish pie size. They’re a little more expensive, but they are all worth it!

Here is the pie crust recipe. I found it in a Los Angeles Times article by Noelle Carter.

Flaky Pie Dough

1 Tbsp. sugar

1/4 cup water

2 1/4 tsp. cider vinegar

2 1/4 cups flour

1 tsp salt

4 Tbsp cold shortening or lard

1/2 cup (1 stick) cold butter cut into 1/2 inch cubes

Ice water if needed

Egg White for brushing crust

(The recipe in the Times said to chill everything, the blades for the processor, even the flour, but I didn’t and mine turned out fine.)

Mix together the sugar, water and vinegar until sugar is dissolved and put it in the refrigerator to chill.

Mix the flour and salt in the food processor. With the machine running, add the shortening and butter. Pulse until it resembles small pebbles. Add the vinegar water and when it starts to come together, stop the machine.  Remove the dough. If it needs additional water, add a little ice water to make it hold together. Then wrap it in cellophane and put it in the freezer for a few minutes to chill.

Remove and roll out on a lightly floured surface.