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!

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

Empty Nest – HA!

Remember how sad I was when I thought I was going to be an empty nester?  Then how I instantly adjusted due to the cleanliness factor?

Milena and Andy on plane.cropped JPG.JPG

Kids — they never really leave. But you love them anyway. (My kids never take normal pictures.)

Well, things change pretty quickly around here. Now it’s my son, who is here temporarily while he finds the right place to live. Since this is southern California, where homes are totally out of reach for anyone making less than 200,000 a year, and rents are sky high, a move takes serious consideration and research.

I’m totally OK with it.  First of all my son leaves less hair in the bathroom than my daughter, leaves no beauty products on the counter, has the dishes done when I get home, and only borrows my socks occasionally, but, sadly, they’re never the same afterward.

On the down side, he offers absolutely no beauty tips, has no earrings I want to borrow, has completely different taste in music than I do, goes through espresso and coffee like water, and could probably eat an amount equal to his own body weight if money was no object. They’re tied in the leaving lights on department, but it’s a small price to pay for having kids you like, as well as love.

This is parenting in 2017 and I’m OK with it. As my parents used to say, “As long as we can help, we’ll do whatever we can,” and God knows my parents helped me! So, I’ll always do the same for my kids.

The other perk of my son being here was his stuff was all over my living room, I mean really all over it.  After my initial horror, I found a silver lining — all the crap in the room rendered it unclean-able!  It was the perfect excuse to spend the last two weeks binge-watching, Stranger Things, which is like a fabulous combination of X Files and E.T. with some ’80s video games thrown in.  I was totally hypnotized, and if you haven’t seen it yet, you should. It’s worth paying the 9.99 to Netflix, per month, for two seasons of that one show.  Normally, I try to iron while watching TV, but it was so engrossing, that I could hardly iron for fear I’d miss something. That’s a pretty big statement from a woman who generally loves English period dramas.

The other things I’ve been doing are:  getting back to the gym, writing, and cooking — not in that order though, which is why I needed the gym.

Mushroom soup

This soup is as good as it looks.

 

I just made some wonderful Cream of Mushroom soup that I haven’t made in years! And it’s as good today as the first time I made it more than 20 years ago. I got the recipe from the LA Times, back when they used to have a great Food Section.  Now, you’re lucky if you get one or two recipes in their Saturday section. I am including the recipe at the end of this post, it’s perfect with leftover turkey sandwiches.

But first, take a good look at that bowl of soup. Notice the cool table runner it’s on?  It was made by my friend Dawn, a Key West artist, who was lucky to have a home left after Hurricane Irma.  She returned to a find a place she hardly recognized. The roof was partially torn off, the walls covered in mold, the enclosed porch gone and all the landscaping they’d worked so hard on, all gone. In fact most of the trees in the neighborhood that made it such a lovely place were gone too.

I asked her how I could help her,  and since she is not one to request charitable help, she said I could ask you to like her Facebook page. Here’ a link to it:  Heliographics Facebook Page so, please, click on the link and like it.

And if you have a moment, (and she didn’t say I could do this but I’m doing it anyway — hey, what are friends for?) Please check out her website: Heliographics.com.

Good table runner.JPG

My Autumnal table runner- I’ve washed this thing dozens of times and it still looks great!

Her stuff is really gorgeous, hand drawn, and perfect, for  a home in a tropical climate like Florida, California, or Hawaii. She also does temperate prints of beautiful ferns and wildlife she finds in the Adirondacks in the summer. She’s done art for:  Ocean’s Edge Hotel in Key West, the Jupiter Island Club Spa in Hobe Sound, Florida, the Marker Hotel in Key West, and her designs there were featured in Forbes Magazine. She gives kayak tours in the Keys, and is one of the most thoughtful, talented, adventurous souls I know.

So, please check Heliographics out, or like her Facebook page, or order something and help out someone who is recovering from a hurricane. I know she’ll appreciate it and you’ll get some gorgeous art in return.

Now, finally, here’s the Cream of Mushroom soup recipe.

good close up.JPGCream of Mushroom Soup from the Los Angeles Times

1 pound of mushrooms

1/3 cup finely chopped shallots

1/2 cup unsalted butter

1/2 to 3/4 cup flour

5 cups hot chicken stock

Chopped fresh thyme

1/2 cup dry or sweet Sherry or Port wine

1/2 cup whipping cream

Salt, pepper

Finely chop 1/2 of the mushrooms. Slice remaining 1/2 mushrooms. Saute shallots in 1/4 cup butter, until tender, but now browned.  Add chopped mushrooms and saute until tender. Do not brown.

Add flour 3/4 cup for a thicker soup. (I just used a heaping 1/2 cup) and stir with wooden spoon until a smooth paste has formed. (This is never a smooth paste for me because it tries to stick to the pan and the mushrooms don’t leave it smooth. Just keep scraping the bottom of the pan so it doesn’t burn and stick. Reduce heat and cook, stirring 3 minutes. (I actually turned on the timer for this part.)

Gradually stir in the hot chicken stock, stirring constantly with a wire whisk. Bring it to a boil and simmer ten minutes.

Saute sliced mushrooms in the remaining 1/4 cup of butter in a separate pan. Season to taste with thyme (I used about 1 heaping tablespoon of fresh thyme) and add Sherry. I used 1/2 Sherry and 1/2 port wine. Cook until liquid is reduced by 1/2.

Add sliced mushrooms to simmering soup and continue to simmer 10 minutes. Add cream and season to taste with salt and pepper. Makes 6 to 8 servings.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Centodue Anni!

Bernie's Lemoncello.JPG

Bernie’s Limoncello

 

My brother Bernie called me last night. He said he was making Limoncello. I love that he and my brother Bob still do that kind of thing. It’s proof they haven’t lost their Italian-ness. The label with my dad’s photo on it is one of Bob’s wine labels.

Bernie was peeling lemons as we talked, and I wanted to watch, so we Face-timed, and it was almost as good as being there. I watched his big hands peeling the lemons and it was like sitting in the kitchen with both of my parents at once. My dad’s strong bricklayer hands combined with my mom always making something in the kitchen.

IMG_2759

Lemon Cheesecake Squares

 

He asked me if I remembered that today was my dad’s birthday, and, of course, I did. My dad would have been 102 today. We always used to say Cent’anni when we toasted, hoping he would make 100 years…but, sadly he did not.  But, I’ll toast to 102 (Centodue) today in his honor.

I’ll bet Bernie was making Limoncello to honor dad, because my dad loved lemony things. Bernie and I got talking about lemons and Limoncello and recipes (we cannot talk without recipes coming up)  and how Lemon  Meringue Pie, Lemon Cake, Lemon Squares, Lemon Ricotta Cookies, and all things lemon were my dad’s favorites. Then we veered toward Chicken Piccata…and that’s when I realized I was going to have to share some lemony recipes and a story of torture you may not have heard yet.

I was an expert at tormenting my dad when I was a child. He loved lemony things but couldn’t eat an actual lemon. If you asked him to, his face would pucker up in such a sour expression.  I used enjoy torturing him by fishing lemons out of the iced tea and eating them in front of him just to get him to pucker up. He always did it, as if on cue and I would laugh hysterically.

Children are evil that way.

I miss that sweet man every day, and even though our conversations toward the end were mostly repetition, there was something reassuring about hearing him say the same things he said time and again like, “Don’t worry, we’ll get through it,” or “Stay tough,” or “Keep your nose to the grindstone, you can do it.”

My dad was the taskmaster. When there was work to be done, you did it until it was finished. Period. Not even a discussion.

Mom was fun personified, which is why I am such a mess. Half the time I’m disciplined and half the time I just want to have fun.  This does not make for a simple career path. But it’s good for blog writing, which I consider 99 percent fun.

So, Happy Birthday Dad. You are always with me in my thoughts, actions, and DNA. You’ve made me at least half of what I am today and I am so grateful for you. You are the reason anything ever gets accomplished in my life. I love you forever.

Mom, I love you forever too, but for very different reasons.

Single Lemon ricotta

Lemon Ricotta Cookies

To honor Dad, here is Bernie’s Limoncello Recipe – (if you make it – just remember one ounce will knock you out like a prizefighter). Also a link to my Really Good and Easy Lemon Cheesecake Squares Recipe, a link to my Lemon Ricotta Cookies Recipe, and a link to a Williams Sonoma Chicken Piccata Recipe, which is absolutely delicious! I used it when I catered a wedding last January and it was a huge hit.

Bernie’s Limoncello

Peel only the yellow off 14 lemons

Place the peels in a large glass container

Add 2 liters of grain alcohol

Add two cinnamon sticks (these are optional)

Let the mixture sit for 30 days.

Then strain it into a clear container and add 2 liters of distilled water and sugar to taste.  put a cork in it and put it in the freezer before serving it.

Fran’s Really Good and Easy Lemon Cheesecake Squares

Lemon Ricotta Cookies

Williams Sonoma Chicken Piccata

 

 

A Pretty Perfect Weekend

Well, I seem to be surviving the departure of my daughter.

At first, I wondered if I’d ever be alone because right after my daughter left, my son came and visited for a couple nights, but I was alone last weekend, which left time for an old friend to come and stay over and for me to finally clean my daughter’s room the way I’ve been dying to clean it for — oh about four years.

So, after maniacal cleaning on Saturday, I got to relax with Allegra. Then we got up, read the paper, had lattes, went to breakfast and I came home to a house that was still clean. I was so happy, I left to go to the mall and bought a couple little things I needed.

Then I went to see the movie, Victoria and Abdul, and for the first time in my life I actually admitted (without someone coercing me)  that I am a senior citizen to get the stinking discount. Senior citizen is defined as 60 at this theater — what kind of crap is that? It was always 65 and now suddenly, timed to make me feel older and more decrepit, it’s 60. C’est la vie. My minor irritation was overruled by my happiness at saving three bucks.

Then I got myself popcorn and thoroughly enjoyed the movie. Afterward I came home to a house that was still clean, and made some wonderful pasta for myself because, hey, it was Sunday!

If you’re noticing a theme here, it’s because I’ve spent so much time cleaning that I never really had much time to do what I wanted to do, but I can see things leveling out now and I’m very OK with it.

Plus, I have a wonderful, simple pasta dish for you to try.  It was pasta with a fresh tomato sauce with shallots, fresh basil and a little cream and mushrooms. I was going to just have the mushrooms as a side dish at first, but they were a great addition to the pasta, so I went for it. It’s good either way. I remember watching someone make this simple sauce probably 30 years ago and I remembered it for its simplicity and its wonderful flavor.

Then I got to sit, eat and watch Netflix. Relaxation in my clean house was so great, I sat there beaming. It reminded me of being in my 20’s, making myself a great meal, then soaking in the bathtub with a glass of wine and thinking, man, life is great.

It was then, and still is.

Pasta with Fresh Tomato, Shallots, Basil and CreamGreat cu pasta

1 large red tomato

2 medium shallots thinly sliced

2 Tbsp. olive oil

1 Tbsp. butter

1/4 cup whipping cream

6 medium basil leaves chopped

6 large mushrooms

2 Tbsp. butter for the mushrooms

1 Tbsp. Fresh parsley finely chopped

2 Tbsp. port wine

1/2 lb. pasta of your choice

Salt and pepper

Fill a pot with water for pasta and heat it to boiling. While the pasta water is heating, heat another small pot with water and let it boil.  Take the large tomato and submerge it in the boiling water for about 30 seconds.  Remove the tomato and peel it. Then cut the tomato in half – width wise and squeeze the seeds out. Once the seeds are mostly out, chop the tomato into small pieces, less than an inch in size and set them aside.

In a saute pan heat the butter until melted and add the mushrooms until they have given off their water. Add the port wine and cook for another 5 minutes. Then add parsley and set aside.

Next, heat the oil and butter.  Add the shallots and saute until translucent. Add the chopped tomatoes, mix together with the shallots and saute for about 5 minutes. The tomato will give up some juice. When the juice has cooked down a bit, smash some of the tomatoes with your fork and add the chopped basil, then add the whipping cream and cook 2 to 3 minutes.

While you are making the sauce,  boil the pasta until done.  When cooked, drain most of the pasta and put it into the pan with the sauce, add the mushrooms and mix together thoroughly.  If you like your pasta with lots of sauce, then don’t add it all. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Serve with grated Parmesan or Romano and chow down!Good CU pasta.JPG

 

 

 

Tomato Fever

Summer in Pennsylvania meant stepping downstairs to a kitchen table overflowing with tomatoes.  It taught me to both love tomatoes and wonder when they were going to take over the household and squeeze me out of my room.

My father could never plant less than 20 tomato plants. Our cousin Tony would start seedlings and bring them over, then dad would go buy plants, then someone else would bring plants, so every August, tomatoes covered the basement kitchen table. Yes, basement kitchen table, because in our Italian household, one kitchen was never enough.

Even in the last two years of my dad’s life when he couldn’t plant tomatoes or dig anymore, he supervised. He wasn’t strong enough to help, so he stood in the living room’s picture window, looking out across the grassy backyard, watching me digging in his garden. I remember my hands wrapped around the wooden handle of the hoe on a sweltering July afternoon. I felt compelled to weed around all the tomatoes –grabbing the clumps of weeds with my hands and tossing them aside. I was hot, sweaty and exhausted. I  looked up and he was standing there giving me the OK sign with his hand. Nothing pleased him more than seeing his kids work their guts out. Continue reading

The Days of Spatula Licking are Almost Over

This week, I baked cookies because someone at work asked me to. I’m pretty easy. All you have to do is flatter me by telling me my cookies are the best you’ve ever had and I’ll bake for you too.

I also baked because one of my young co-workers lost his dad to a sudden heart attack a few weeks ago and the pain is still so raw for him that it breaks my heart. So, baking his favorite chocolate chip cookies couldn’t hurt.

Miss Milena

She had the whole thing licked clean before I could even take the picture.

As I was in the kitchen baking, my daughter was on the comfy, sage colored couch in the living room working on a paper for school. I was cleaning off the beater, wondering if she’d want to lick it like she used to when she was a kid. I hesitated, thinking she might not go for it, then offered it to her. She happily took it like she did when she was three. Continue reading