Friday, December 31, 2010

Buttermilk Biscuit Sandwiches

I am a sucker for biscuits baked with butter and full fat buttermilk.  And being a baker, I love working the dough; the smell of the butter and flour, the feel of the dough coming together as you knead it, and then watching the beauties rise in the oven.  Ahhhhh, not much comes close to this.  Except maybe eating them.

This recipe is from the January issue of Food and Wine, courtesy of Peels restaurant in NYC. It's a cinch to bake the biscuits and even easier to put the sandwiches together. Fry up some eggs, add a slice of smoky country ham, and sliced or crumbled sharp cheddar and voila, there's your sandwich.  The recipe gives you the option of adding raspberry jam to the biscuits before compiling the sandwich, and I must admit this sounded a little strange, but the sweetness of the jam with the savory flavor of the ham, egg, and cheese was delicious.  

These biscuits were as good as any I've enjoyed in self-proclaimed biscuit-famous restaurants and making them at home was very satisfying. I foresee these biscuits being used as platforms for little strawberry shortcakes or a delightful chicken salad lunch.  Or hot out of the oven slathered with Bellini Jam (a delicious concoction of peaches and Prosecco) from Stonewall Kitchens.

I am making Chocolate Pumpkin Tiramisu for tonight's festivities. If it turns out as luscious as it sounds, I'll be back tomorrow with the recipe for you.

By the way, if you need a fabulous drink for your New Year's Eve celebrations, try this Pomegranate Martini. The recipe comes from and they are absolutely delightful!

Happy New Year, dear readers.  May 2011 bring you good health, happiness, and of course, good food!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Two Hour Chicken (or the perfect excuse to skip a holiday party)

With all the holiday hub-bub going on, you might just want a quiet dinner at home one night. I've got the perfect meal for you right here. A cinchy baked chicken, cozy mashed potatoes, a side dish so easy and tasty you are going to want to make it part of your regular repertoire, and two great cookie recipes that you can wow your friends with.

The chicken dish was created by the late writer, Laurie Colwin, however, I picked it up via The New York Cookbook by Molly O'Neill. It is simply called "baked chicken," but we lovingly refer to it as "two-hour chicken." The recipe calls for two broiling chickens (quartered), however, I always make it with bone-in breasts. A fragrant mixture of Dijon mustard, garlic, fresh thyme, and cinnamon is brushed on the breasts, topped with fresh seasoned breadcrumbs. Fresh breadcrumbs are definitely worth the little bit of extra effort for this recipe - it really makes a difference. Arrange the chicken in a baking dish, top with a few pats of butter, sprinkle with paprika and in it goes for 2-1/2 hours. What emerges on the other side of the clock is the most delicious, moist, flavorful breast of chicken I've come across in a long time. Crunchy outside, tender and juicy inside.

Perfect side dishes: the aforementioned mashed potatoes, which I'm sure you've got your own terrific recipe for, and one which you may not be as familiar with -- a mixture of cabbage and onions sauteed with butter and olive oil, seasoned with salt and pepper. This is a hearty winter vegetable that fits well with the chicken but is also a great companion to any number of braised dishes, such as brisket, or a nice pot roast. A nice alternative to the these sides would be buttered orzo and sauteed spinach.

For dessert, two cookies from last week's excellent NY Times holiday cookie articleCardamom Crescents and Shortbread Jammers. The crescents are so light they are almost ethereal, and the cardamom essence is heady.  The jammers (love that name) are made with a delightful little shortbread cookie dough and topped with a preserve of your choice (I used raspberry). 

So there you have it! An easy meal for this hectic time of year when you need a night off from the holiday party circuit. 

Stay warm and eat well!

Print Chicken Recipe Here
Print Cabbage and Onions Recipe Here
Print Cardamom Crescents Recipe Here
Print Shortbread Jammers Recipe Here

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Dinner for a Cold Winter's Night

When I was a child, my aunt Millie made the most delicious Pasta Fagiole. Pasta Fagiole is really nothing but a pasta and bean peasant soup but without just the right seasoning, the end result could be blandly flavored water. Not so with aunt Millie's version. Hers was full of flavor, thick with tiny Ditalini pasta and rich white cannellini beans. A care package of this soup was the perfect antidote to the bone chilling weather outside.

I never got the recipe for her soup and until today never tried to make it. But in the December issue of La Cucina Italiana, in a story titled "In From the Cold," they featured this dish, among other warming selections.  It was blustery today in New Jersey. Just the perfect day for Pasta Fagiole. The La Cucina Italiana recipe is very different in that it contains pancetta and crumbled sausage (not typical).  I wasn't sure how this would affect the soup (and my fond memories), but I really liked these new variations. It made the soup much heartier and I used hot chicken sausage so the addition of a little spice really bolstered the overall flavor. It's a delicious, simple, one pot meal that comes together in about an hour if you use canned beans (which I did). Although the recipe calls for dried beans, none of my local stores carried them; I don't think it diminished the dish at all using canned beans.

I served it with grated Parmigiana Reggiano, a drizzle of olive oil, fresh parsley, and homemade fennel tarralles (old-fashioned Italian savory cookies). This is not my aunt Millie's Pasta Fagiole, but on a cold night it warms me up just like hers used to.

Our dessert tonight also came from La Cucina Italiana, by way of the wonderful pastry chef, Karen DeMasco. I'm sure many of you are fans of Nutella, the chocolate hazelnut spread from Italy. Strangely enough, I had never sampled it but when I read DeMasco's recipe for Nutella Sandwich Cookies, I was more than intrigued. She combines an oatmeal cookie batter with Nutella for a crisp, buttery, nutty cookie that would be fabulous on its own.  But then she sandwiches a tablespoon of Nutella inbetween to make an incredible cookie (move over Oreos!). A sprinkling of Demerara sugar on top before baking adds just a hint of sweet and crunch.

The cookies are a cinch to make, but the batter is very dry so it doesn't roll easily. I also think I would make them much thinner next time as this is alot of cookie in one sitting!  But oh so delicious!  

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Thanksgiving Potpourri!

Happy Thanksgiving, dear readers!  I've got so many cool things to tell you about that I thought potpourri was a fitting title.
First I must tell you about a wonderful (somewhat unconventional) alternative to cooking a turkey for the holidays. Based on an article in the NY Times a few weeks ago, we took the plunge and ordered a smoked turkey from Greenberg's Smoked Turkeys in Texas.  Look at that gorgeous bird! When it arrived snug in its' shipping box on Tuesday, we immediately refrigerated it until Thursday morning. Served at room temp, the only prep necessary was carving and plating. The smoky essence that filled the house was intoxicating! And moist? Even the white meat (which generally holds no interest for me) was luscious.  Greenberg's has been in business since 1938. A family-run operation to this day, they will sell about 200,000 birds this holiday season.  Most of their business is from repeat customers, and they can now count us among them.

I also want to tell you about a dessert I made for the holiday. A friend was bringing traditional pumpkin pie so I wanted to do something a little different, but still using pumpkin. I took a cue from my Italian heritage and modeled a dessert on the classic Tiramisu. Taking vanilla cake and layering it with a mascarpone pumpkin pecan frosting proved a delicious twist (frosting recipe here) on the usual T-day holiday desserts.  A generous spoon of fresh whipped cream completed the picture.

Next: the good folks at Pom Wonderful were kind enough to send me some samples of their pomegranate juice to sample.  I don't know about you, but I have not had the opportunity to try pomegranate juice. With the holiday, I haven't had a chance to be too creative with the juice, but I did come up with a delightfully refreshing drink mixing Pom Wonderful, orange juice, and a splash of seltzer over crushed ice. It is absolutely delicious, and I'm sure adding a shot of vodka to the mix would make a wonderful cocktail. And the red-orange hue is very festive.

On Tuesday, before starting our T-day preparations, we took a ride to Drew's Bayshore Bistro in Keyport, NJ. This restaurant has been on my list for a long time, given their bent toward all things Cajun.  But after they got a glowing review in the Times a few months ago, I knew I had to get there.  Of course, securing a reservation on a summer weekend at a Jersey shore restaurant proved near impossible.  But Tuesday of Thanksgiving week?  No problem!

A small, simply decorated restaurant that you enter via a bar area with an open window into the kitchen; we were greeted warmly and shown to our table.  Drew's is BYO and our wine was opened and served immediately after being seated (one of my restaurant pet peeves is letting guests languish at the table without pouring the wine). We started with Sweet Potato Empanadas filled with spicy Andouille sausage and served with a delicious fruit chutney.  For mains, we totally enjoyed the Crawfish Etouffee and the Pork du Jour, which was a good-size chop (perfectly cooked) served with cheese grits and fresh vegetables.  As one who has enjoyed grits in a few Southern locales, I can pleasantly say that Drew knows his grits!  We will definitely be back!

And saving the best for last, The Cook's Tour got a mention this weekend in JerseyBites! They liked my "Cows Outside" post from a few weeks ago and linked to it. JerseyBites is a New Jersey-centric web site focusing on all the cool food-related things found in the Garden State. Needless to say, I was thrilled!

Hope you all had a marvelous holiday weekend. Drop me a line and let me know what wonderful holiday treats filled your "horn of plenty" this week.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Cows Outside

Took a late autumn road trip today to Bobolink Dairy and Bakehouse in Milford, NJ. It was a spectacular day here - sunny, 65 degrees - the perfect day to head to the country. I've wanted to visit Bobolink Dairy for quite some time to sample their grass-fed cow's milk cheeses and wood-fired breads, but just never seemed to get there.  Today, with the top down on the convertible, we breezed along Routes 80, 287, and 78 to the rolling hillsides of Hunterdon County.  Once you get past the crowded highways, New Jersey has some beautiful back roads. 

We arrived at Bobolink just as Geb was starting a tour - lucky us!  There was a group of about 30 people who followed Geb for an hour all around the farm, learning about the organic process of raising grass-fed cows, using the milk to create delicious artisanal cheeses, meeting the cows up close, and sidestepping cow patties along the way.  Bobolink is set on 185 beautiful acres of pristine New Jersey farmland and the cows lucky enough to call this home get to live out their days roaming the pastures.

After the tour, visitors sample the cheeses and rustic breads (now if they only had a vineyard on the property, this would be the perfect afternoon!).  We sampled 5-6 cheeses and bought the "Jean Louis" to bring home (we were told that the owner of Bobolink apprenticed with the late, world renowned chef, Jean Louis Palladin, and named this cheese after him).  

Along with the cheese, we bought their rustic Rosemary Epi (which we promptly tore into the minute we got in the car), the hearty Baby Rye bread, a delicious Garlic and Pork Fat Ciabatta, and for tomorrow morning, a delectable Cranberry Walnut Breadstick (yeah, I might have gone a little bit overboard on the breads...). 

Once home, we had a tasting of the cheese accompanied by a dollop of raw honeycomb from the Savannah Bee Company. The pairing of the creamy cheese with the essence of wildflowers in the honey was divine. A fruity Malbec completed the picture.

Living 20 minutes from NYC, we don't get much in the way of quiet here.  So standing in the midst of the pastures and the almost past-peak autumn foliage, I was repeatedly struck by the sound of quiet. There was a soft breeze in the air picking up nature's beautiful scent, an oakey wood fire burning not too far away, and there were cows outside. Let that picture fill your mind for awhile - it's good for what ails you. 

Friday, October 22, 2010

Maialino, NYC

This is the third Danny Meyer restaurant I've eaten in this year. The first two being Blue Smoke (fabulous BBQ) and The Modern (within the elegant confines of the Museum of Modern Art). Both were wonderful. I have not yet dined at the flagship, Gramercy Tavern, or Eleven Madison Park; I expect those will also live up to the Danny Meyer standard of fine food and top-notch service. But in my humble opinion, Maialino is outstanding. Maybe it was the warm, gracious, never intrusive service, combined with exquisitely prepared dishes. Or maybe it was the fact that I was celebrating my birthday on a once-in-a-lifetime date (10/10/10) surrounded by fabulous friends. Maybe it was the perfect, early autumn night in New York City. Who knows? 

For those of you unfamiliar with the Danny Meyer restaurant empire, Maialino (translation: "little pig") is Danny Meyer's homage to the rustic Italian trattorias he experienced as a youngster in Italy. We purposely arrived a bit early to the restaurant, which is tucked into a corner of the Gramercy Park Hotel (an Ian Schrager property), to enjoy a cocktail at the bar before dinner. Passing by the bread station on the way to our table, I was mesmerized by the beautiful, hearty loaves ready on standby for delivery to tables. A basket brimming with three different breads was sent almost immediately upon seating. It was hard not to taste all of them but I had to save myself for the approaching meal. 

I, of course, had studied the menu on-line in advance (many times) in preparation for the event and had my meal all planned. But I was thrilled when our server announced a special appetizer of fresh porcini mushrooms. It is almost impossible to get fresh porcini outside of Italy, but October is the season for porcini and Maialino had them. Sliced roughly, sauteed lightly, seasoned with just coarse sea salt and lemon, we were transported back for a short while to beautiful Firenze. Those are the beauties in the picture at the top of the post. A delicious Villa Simone Frascati was the perfect accompaniment for the mushrooms.

And just like in Italy, the next course had to be pasta. Maialino makes all their pasta in-house, and it shows. We chose three to share and there was not a strand left when all the plates had been passed. We sampled the perfect al dente Tonnarelli Cacio e Pepe (Pecorino and Black Pepper), the silken Pumpkin Ravioli, and the Bombolotti alla Norcia (Sausage & Chard “Al Modo Mio”). All were incredible.

But the highlight of the meal was yet to come. The restaurant's namesake dish was a must. They present the prize to you before finishing it off and then it arrives in all its glory - roast suckling pig served over seasoned potatoes and onions. Juicy, fragrant, with velvet shards of meat, covered with the crispiest pork skin you've ever had. And all of it sitting in juices so luscious we were fighting each other to soak hunks of that glorious bread so not one drop would be lost! Bottles of Fattorio di Sotto Rosso de Montalcino from the hills of Tuscany, earthy and not overly fruity, went down so easily with the pork.  

Needless to say, on a night of lovely excess, we went overboard on Maialino's fantastic desserts: Vin Santo and Biscotti, Olive Oil Cake and Vanilla Bean Mascarpone, and Crostato di Cioccolato (chocolate and almond tart), with espresso and cappuccino all around.

I am not prone to gushing, and I have eaten in some great restaurants (including a Michelin starred venue in Vienna), and this has to be one of my top five all time best dining experiences.  So was it the food or the service or the company? Was it the magic of New York? Was it the auspicious date? Who knows? No need to dwell on unanswerable questions. Whatever it was, it will be very hard to replicate. 

2 Lexington Avenue
New York City

Saturday, October 9, 2010

UPDATED 10/12: Cowboy Cookies

Update: I made these again yesterday and tweaked the recipe slightly. As mentioned in the original post, I was going to swap out the pecans for pistachios, which I did.  But I also added a few sprinkles of coarse sea salt on the top of each cookie before baking. These cookies were good before but now they are WOW!

Somehow (don't ask me how), this recipe is attributed to George and Barbara Bush...but since this is not a political blog, we won't go any further down that road.

I can see why they may have gotten the name "Cowboy Cookies." They are mighty hearty and could come in very handy on those long, lonely trips on the open range (yeah, ok, like I know anything about that being from New Jersey). These are not delicate, genteel cookies. Take a bite - we're talking COOKIE. Oats, chocolate chips (I used Ghiardelli dark chocolate chips), toasted pecans, coconut.  They are made with bread flour which gives them a little more heft, but it's sifted so these are not heavy at all. 

I've made them twice in one week (they were a big hit at my day job) which should give you some idea of how good they are. The second time, I added dried cherries just because I could and I thought they needed something fruity. My husband has requested a batch with pistachios instead of pecans so that's next on deck. 

I got the recipe from a site sponsored by GE Monogram Appliances called All in Good Food. 

If you're the outdoorsy, ride the trails, take a hike type, these would be perfect in your backpack.  If you're the get in my comfy chair and read a good book type, these would be great with a strong cup of coffee.  Either way, you can't miss. Thanks, Barb.

Cowboy Cookies

3/4 Cup Sugar
3/4 Cup Brown Sugar
1 1/2 Sticks Butter - Softened
2 Eggs
2 tsp Vanilla
1 1/2 Cups Bread Flour
1 tsp Baking Powder
1 tsp Baking Soda
2 tsp Cinnamon
1/2 tsp Salt
1 1/2 Cups Chocolate Chips
1 1/2 Cups Oats
1 Cup Coconut
1 Cup Pecans - Toasted

  1. Cream the butter and sugars together until creamy
  2. Add the eggs and vanilla and mix well
  3. Stir together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon and salt
  4. Add the flour mixture a little at a time until combined
  5. Add the chocolate chips, oats, coconut and pecans and mix until combined
  6. Scoop and bake at 400 until done - about 11 minutes

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Chicago, Chicago...

Are you humming that song in your head (Chicago, Chicago, that wonderful town...)?  I am, ever since last weekend when I fell in love with that city all over again.  It had been quite a few years since my last trip there and I'm happy to say it has not changed all that much (which is a good thing). I had read somewhere that Chicago was one of the most popular cities for Labor Day travel and trust me, it was packed. But that didn't deter me from doing a fair bit of sightseeing and, more importantly, eating well.

Dinner the first night was at The Publican, a really cool restaurant in the Fulton Market area. They seat you at long, communal tables unless you specify a private booth. The menu isn't huge but I liked the fact that you could order small (tapas-like) plates or the traditional appetizer, entree, etc. We opted for the small plates so we could try a variety of dishes. To start us off, we ordered the tasting of aged hams (I never pass up aged hams): Serrano from Spain, Country Ham from Benton, Tennessee, and LaQuercia Rossa from Iowa. I had heard for years about the incredible quality of hams from LaQuercia and was thrilled to be able to try it. The trio was served with hearty, house made bread served with an incredibly delicate goat butter sprinkled with sea salt. Each ham was unique and delicious.

For our next course, we ordered Yellowtail Crudo served with Trinidad Peppers, Pistachios, and Cilantro - the Yellowtail melted in your mouth. At the time, they offered Fried Clams from Maine served with spicy tartar sauce and oh-so tender eggplant. The clams were fat, sweet, and juicy - as good as I've had at some of my favorite roadside stands in coastal Maine. Seeing as how we should probably have some vegetables, we ordered the Green Beans sauteed with Chile Flakes and Crispy Shallots - fabulous!

Dessert (pictured above) was delicious Pecan Cake served with Sauteed Apples and Pecan Ice Cream, alongside French press coffee. 

Everything about dinner at The Publican was top-notch. If you are in Chicago, don't miss it!

My next foodie stop was at Xoco, the Rick Bayless Mexican street food spot. Since this was a last-minute trip, I could not get reservations at Frontera Grill or Topolobampo but I was determined to eat at one of his restaurants (Xoco does not take reservations). They open at 7am for breakfast and lunch starts at 11am. We arrived about 12:30pm and found a 45 minute wait (I happily got in line). It is kind of a strange system, though. You place your order at the head of the line, but the hostess doesn't let you order until she knows there is a table available. There is quite a large menu, ranging from delicious guacamole and "just made" chips to wood-burning tortas or tortas from the griddle to salads and side dishes. After much deliberation (and plenty of time to review the menu), we decided on the Milanesa: Crispy Gunthorp chicken, black beans, artisan Jack cheese, pickled jalapenos, tomatillo-avocado salsa, and the Ahogada: Golden pork carnitas, black beans, tomato broth, spicy arbol chile sauce, pickled onions.  They offer beer and wine by the glass, in addition to freshly made ice tea and lemonades. Our two lunch dishes were wonderful - the chicken in the Milanesa was tender, moist, and crisp with just the right amount of pickled jalapenos and salsa.  The pork dish was in a fabulous, spicy chile sauce that if left to sit for a few minutes soaked the bread perfectly. So even though we ordered way too much food and were pretty stuffed, of course, I could not pass up dessert. Especially when it was house-made Mexican vanilla soft serve ice cream! If there were soft-serve ice cream like this at my local Carvel, I'd be there every day! Rich, creamy, with flecks of vanilla pods - it was heavenly. You can order the ice cream with crumbled bits of Mexican chocolate or bacon streusel. I was dying to try the bacon streusel but I was already OTL (over the limit) with food consumption and there were still many meals to come. I did not leave, however, without purchasing two Pecan Shortbread cookies (more to come on that later).  Below is a photo of the Ahogado Torta.

Although we were staying at a lovely boutique hotel (The Talbott, about a block off Michigan Avenue), that offered breakfast, we wanted to try some of the local breakfast restaurants. One morning, we hopped the train to the Belmont area and had a delicious breakfast at Ann Sather's, a Chicago institution. Started in the early 50s as the Chicago version of a diner, Ann Sather's offers the Swedish take on breakfast: Swedish pancakes with Lingonberries (where else can you get lingonberries besides Ikea?), Salmon Omelette with Fresh Dill, etc. Along with every egg order, you get two sides (they are hearty eaters in Chicago!). We couldn't pass up the world-famous warm cinnamon rolls, which really were delectable. 

Another morning, we had a great breakfast at Yolk, a hip diner with three locations. Only open for breakfast and lunch, they offer many variations on eggs, a multitude of pancakes and French toast, fresh-squeezed juices, and great coffee. My personal favorite was the creamy oatmeal with plump golden raisins, sliced bananas, and brown sugar. 

One evening we had a light dinner at Cafe Spiaggia, with a view high over Michigan Avenue. I enjoyed a terrific Pomegranate Kettle One Citrus Martini served alongside crisp Parmesan Flatbreads.  Dinner was a delicious, tender Veal Rib served with creamy lentils and zucchini.

Cafe Spiaggia is the slightly casual off-shoot of Spiaggia (right next door), which is more formal (and an Obama favorite).  

And what visit to Chicago would be complete without pizza?! On our last night, kind of tired from three whirlwind days of sightseeing and eating, we didn't feel like getting dressed up or venturing too far from the hotel. The hotel concierge, Gene, recommended Pizano's, right around the corner. Now, I've sampled Chicago deep dish pan pizza on previous trips to the Second City and was not all that thrilled, so I was less than anxious to spend my last opportunity for Chicago eats at a pizza parlor. But it was close by so we figured "why not?"  I'm here to tell you that I am now a convert to Chicago pizza - but thin crust Chicago pizza (who knew there was such a thing?). First off, I must tell you that I loved the atmosphere at Pizano's. This is a working class, small bar/restaurant on State Street that has been there for years. Populated with families, couples, groups, we were greeted with a 30-45 minute wait. But here is another Chicago restaurant with a strange ordering system. They encourage you to "pre-order" your pizza. We couldn't quite grasp this idea, but went along with it and ordered "Pat's Brickhouse Special," thin-crust sausage and mushroom. They write your order on a tiny slip of paper and stick it in the reservation book. We were sure we'd never get our pizza!  Thirty minutes later, they called our name, showed us to a table, and a very friendly waitress came over fully knowledgeable about our order. Another 15-20 minutes went by and out came a fabulous pizza! The waitress told us that when you pre-order the pie, they half-bake it, and when you sit down, they finish it off. Not the most conventional system, but it seems to work. I loved this pie! The crust was buttery, the sausage and mushrooms were flavorful, and the whole pie was perfectly crispy (see photo below). Pizano's is a must for Chicago thin-crust pizza.
After scarfing down almost the entire pie, dessert was not an option. But that's only because I knew waiting back at the hotel was the Pecan Shortbread cookie from Xoco. A quick detour to the Starbucks on the corner before heading back, for a Vanilla Latte to accompany my cookie, and I was in dessert heaven. This cookie was moist, rich, buttery, packed with ground pecans, and a sprinkling of sugar on top. 

This might just be the perfect cookie... I wish that I had bought more to bring home with me. Hmmm, sounds like a good excuse for another trip to Chicago.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Plum Coffee Cake

It's that time of year again.  The dreaded end of summer - goodbye to the easygoing, laid back, whatever goes, kind of attitude. Goodbye to fabulously sweet local corn from our favorite purveyor in Chestnut Ridge, NY.  Goodbye to no jacket or sweater needed. 

But lest you think this is going to be one downer of a post...Hello, Italian Prune Plums! These delicious little plums herald the changing of the guard from summer to fall and they appeared last weekend at our local farm stand - I scooped up a container and raced home. I could always make my September stand by, Freida's Viennese Plum Cake, but I was craving something more coffee-cake-y. 

I found the perfect recipe on-line (where else?) in a Times-Picayune article from 2007, titled Plum Cake with Crumb Topping (Pflaumenkuchen mit streusel).  I am a sucker for anything "mit streusel." 

It couldn't be easier and it's got a great batter that you work with your hands. After refrigerating the dough for one hour, you are ready to add the plums, the streusel, pop it into the oven, and you're 30-40 minutes from warm, moist, luscious plum cake (put the coffee on!). It keeps very well covered with plastic wrap in the refrigerator for about one week.

I know you'll be breaking out the grill this weekend for the Labor Day festivities; try adding this recipe in for your dessert course. If summer has to go, at least the transition to fall can be delicious.
Print Recipe Here

As a side note, I'm off to Chicago this weekend and I'm sure I'll have some fabulous food and restaurant reports for you when I return. I've got reservations at Cafe Spiaggia and The Publican, and now I've just got to score a table to Frontera Grill - wish me luck! 

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Cherry Peach Cobbler

Hello!  It's been a long, long time since we've chatted. I have been somewhat preoccupied with some issues at my day job which prevented me from giving proper focus to all of you. But I'm back now. I hope you'll forgive me - I brought you a lovely Mandevilla flower from my garden. And, by the way, the oven issue has been resolved so I can really start cranking out glorious late summer baked goods!

Last weekend I made a luscious Cherry Peach Cobbler as the ending to a lovely planked salmon dinner. The recipe called for just peaches, but I had a box of delicious Washington State cherries and couldn't resist throwing them into the mix. The original recipe (Cornmeal Drop Biscuit Peach Cobbler) is from the fabulous Southern food writers, Matt and Ted Lee, and the buttermilk and cornmeal biscuits are just lighter than air. 
This dish really wants for nothing, but if you happen to have a little whipping cream, or even a scoop of rich, vanilla ice cream to serve alongside, it would be even more heavenly. 

Print Recipe Here

Friday, July 23, 2010

Fig and Raspberry Brulee

When my husband came home with a box of gorgeous fresh figs the other day, I was thrilled. I really wanted to come up with a recipe that was quick and easy and that could be a perfect dessert for a weeknight dinner.  I scanned the Internet and found this great little recipe that fit the bill. 
It's so easy I am just going to type out the recipe here for you.  Line the bottom of individual ramekins with raspberries. Next, add a layer of creme fraiche or sour cream. On top of this, add the fig slices (I used one, but feel free to add more). Sprinkle some brown sugar on top and throw it under the broiler for a few minutes (watch it carefully!) until the sugar begins to caramelize.  Voila!  Instant, delicious, easy dessert.  The brown sugar gets nice and crunchy and the play of flavors between the raspberries, figs, and sour cream is just luscious. 

Because it was a very simple recipe, I didn't copy it to Evernote (a cook's best friend for clipping and saving recipes) so I, unfortunately, cannot attribute it to anybody. Hence, I don't recall the recipe title, but since it is made in individual portions and you caramelize the sugar, I thought "brulee" fit nicely.  Whatever the name, the output is delicious.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Best Friend "Ice Cream!"

This is going to be a posting of a different sort.  Today I bring you "ice cream" for your best friend -- your dog!  Partly because I've got a very simple and delicious (at least my dog thinks so) recipe, and partly because my oven is broken and I can't bake anything!  I am going through serious baking withdrawal here, people.  There are countless cobblers, crisps, tarts, crostata, buckles, grunts, slumps, cookies, and cakes of all sorts calling to me and I cannot get to them.  For someone who loves to bake, this is a serious crisis.  The good news is that the repairman was here yesterday and the parts have been ordered so hopefully I will be back in the swing of things very soon!

My dog, Duncan (known to his legion of fans everywhere as "The Dunky"), goes absolutely bonkers when I even go near the freezer now.  His little doggie mind leaps immediately to "ICE CREAM FOR ME!!!"  Well, most of the time I am not going to the freezer for him, but when I do, he is ecstatic!  Truth be told, this isn't really ice cream (as I'm sure you have figured out by now), it's frozen yogurt (please don't tell Duncan).  

You'll see in the picture at the top of the post, I've repurposed used (washed) Ciao Bella sorbet cups but you can use plain, old Dixie cups.  I've clearly marked it with a "D" (for dog or, in our case, Duncan) so we don't accidentally eat his ice cream.  Not that it would be a bad thing because there is absolutely nothing in here that humans couldn't eat.  But Duncan would not be too happy with us if we depleted his stockpile of doggie ice cream.

So if you've got a doggie in your house, whip up a batch of this frozen treat.  He or she will undoubtedly become your new BFF (as if they weren't already).

Doggie "Ice Cream"

16 oz vanilla yogurt
2 TB peanut butter
1 very ripe banana, mashed

Spoon the yogurt and peanut butter into a blender.  Whip until well mixed.  Add in a handful of blueberries and the banana.  Whip all together.  Pour into cups and cover (if using the Ciao Bella cups, use the provided covers; if not, cover with aluminum foil).  Pop into the freezer. When ready to serve, microwave on high for 20 seconds to soften.

Print Recipe Here

Friday, July 2, 2010

Red, White, and Blueberry!

In case you're not aware, New Jersey ranks second in the nation for blueberry production.  Remember, although I know at times it's hard to tell, we are not known as the Garden State for nothing.  So I felt it was my duty as a NJ resident, to bring you a recipe today that highlights the state's proud agricultural heritage.  If you'd like to read about the history of the commercial blueberry crop in NJ, click here.

I went to one of my time honored, favorite bakers, Dorie Greenspan, for inspiration.  And, true to form, she did not disappoint.  Dorie's Blueberry Breakfast Cake is a winner - not just because it's packed with delicious, fresh (NJ) blueberries, but also because it is so darned easy and effortless to make!  The basic recipe is great on its own, but Dorie conveniently supplies a streusel topping recipe in case you'd like to give it a little more oomph.  I wanted to try it "naked," and it's just fine that way, but I did find myself wanting some of the brown sugar/buttery/walnut combo that defines a good streusel

I'm keeping this post short and sweet today so I can get this recipe out in time for you to add to your weekend baking list.  I may be back later in the weekend with something else luscious, but if not, here's hoping you have a terrific July 4th holiday!

Blueberry Breakfast Cake (Dorie Greenspan)

1-1/2 C flour
2 t baking powder
1/4 t baking soda
Pinch each salt and cinnamon
1 stick unsalted butter
1/2 C sugar
1/2 C brown sugar
2 large eggs
1/2 C buttermilk
1 pint fresh blueberries

1.  Preheat oven to 375 F. Butter a 7x11" baking pan.  Whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon.

2. Using a mixer, beat the butter and sugars until smooth. Add eggs one by one and beat for 1 minute. On low speed, mix in half of the flour mixture, the buttermilk, then the rest of the flour mixture. Gently stir in berries. Pour into baking pan.

3. Bake 40-45 minutes. Cool before cutting. Serves 12.

Print Recipe Here

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Blue Smoke, NYC

Had a fabulous meal at Blue Smoke Saturday night. Blue Smoke, if you are not familiar, is part of the Danny Meyer empire of NYC restaurants. It had been on my list for a long time, and since my husband is a huge BBQ fan and it was his birthday, I thought this was the perfect excuse (like I ever need an excuse for venturing to a great restaurant)! 

No party is complete without proper cocktails, eh?  We arrived early so we could spend some time at the bar and what you see above is a perfect Mojito (him) along with a sublime Blood Orange Margarita (me).  The bar was packed but a band of attentive bartenders kept everybody happy. We ordered the Warm BBQ Potato Chips with Blue Cheese Bacon Dip as a proper accompaniment to our drinks.

Seated now, we prepared ourselves to be amazed by dinner, and it did not disappoint.  I ordered the Texas Salt and Pepper Beef Ribs, which were succulent, smoky and delicious. 

Barry indulged in the Sampler Plate: Memphis Baby Backs, Kansas City Spareribs and Texas Beef Ribs, only instead of the Texas Ribs he substituted the Pulled Pork.  The KC Spareribs were superb - juicy, spicy, and in a terrific sauce.  The Pulled Pork was amazing - tender, just vinegary enough, and probably the best I've ever had (and I've had great examples in North Carolina where it's their stock in trade).   We ordered three side dishes: Braised Collard Greens with Bacon, Hush Puppies with Jalapeno Marmalade, and Baked Pit Beans with Pork. I am not a huge fan of collards, but Barry was thrilled with it.  The hush puppies were outstanding - light and full of deliciously corny flavor with a not too spicy marmalade.  The beans were smoky and creamy.

True to form, the legendary Danny Meyer service was evident last night. The wait staff is friendly (without being overbearing), water glasses are quietly refilled without asking, drinks come when ordered, and all while the house is fully committed.  It's a sad commentary that this is the exception rather than the rule, but most restaurants cannot pull this off.  

To finish the meal, we thoroughly enjoyed the Key Lime Pie, a just tart enough, creamy custard served ice cold in a honey graham crust.  

NYC has an abundance of celebrity chefs and restauranteurs but they don't always live up to the hype.  Blue Smoke does.  Next on my Danny Meyer checklist: Maialino, his tribute to the summer he worked in Italy and without fail ordered "maialino" (roast suckling pig) every night for dinner.  All I can say is,  "andiamo!"

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Good Saturday Morning Muffins!

Actually, these are Good Any Morning Muffins. I just happened to make them on a Saturday but they would be a terrific weekday muffin because the cool thing about this batter is that you whip it up the night before, let it chill out in your refrigerator over night, and then it's ready to go when you're ready to go!  Even better, is the fact that this batter can sit for two weeks in the refrigerator.  Now, I haven't tested it for two weeks but the good folks at King Arthur Flour have and I think they are pretty trustworthy.  

The batter goes together very easily (as with most muffin mixes, no electric mixer is needed) and it's loaded with all sorts of good things for you: 3 cups of bran cereal (I used a combination of All Bran buds and twigs), buttermilk, raisins, etc.  I added raw pumpkin seeds and chopped walnuts for a little crunch (definitely a good move).  I thought about adding some flaked coconut, but thought that might be one toke over the line for tastes and textures.

And so when I woke up extraordinarily early today (even by my internal clock) and hungry, my first stop was the kitchen to preheat the oven (even before boiling the water for coffee). I loved that the batter was ready and waiting in the refrigerator and all I had to do was spray a few of the muffin cups, scoop 1/4C of batter into each well and pop them into the oven. What could be easier than that?  Well, maybe eating them!  After approximately 20-25 minutes, they were ready. I let them sit for a couple of minutes, then added a dollop of Italian orange marmalade, sat down with the Saturday edition of the NY Times, and took a bite. I am always a bit hesitant when making a new muffin recipe because there is the chance they will turn out dry and heavy.  But not these - these were moist and delicious with a wonderful chewy texture.  I had to strongly resist eating another.

So if you've got some house guests for the holiday weekend, or just want an easy, delicious breakfast treat waiting for you in your refrigerator, try these.  I've dubbed them Saturday Morning Muffins, but you may just consider them Every Morning Muffins.  

Print Recipe Here

Monday, May 17, 2010

Pastry Heaven

I have been waiting for this day for a long time - specifically, a bright, sunny, warm Sunday. Just right for an early morning ride down the Garden State Parkway to the Flaky Tart Bakery in Atlantic Highlands.  For months, I've had a little scrap of paper with the bakery address sitting on my desk staring at me - as if to say, "come on, already - let's go!" Today was the day.

And worth the wait it was.  What luscious treats await inside this petite store!  Everything looked fabulous, from the traditional Crumb Cake to the gorgeous Coconut Cake

I had read somewhere that Flaky Tart had cracked the code on scones - no dry, hard hockey pucks here - so when I spotted the Chocolate Cherry Scones perched on the display stand, I knew one of them was going home with me.  But I also noticed that they offered Ham and Gruyere Croissants so I figured a little protein was in order before my pastry indulgence. 

There is only a little counter with a few stools alongside the front window of the shop so we gathered up our purchases and headed to the car. There, we ripped into the croissants - flaky, buttery layers with a delicious pocket of ham and gruyere cheese tucked inside. This took me back to the quintessential croissants I sampled in Paris a few years ago. 

On to the main show: the scones!  I somehow managed to wait until we got home to try them.  Poured another cup of my favorite "Hair Bender" coffee from Stumptown Coffee Roasters and headed to the deck.  This scone was so moist with fat, juicy cherries and rich chocolate morsels (photo below).  Totally satisfying and so indulgent - just me in the warm sun with my coffee and fabulous scone - ahhhhhh.
But wait, there's more!  After a lovely Sunday evening dinner at a local restaurant (Nicola's in Totowa, NJ), we bypassed the restaurant desserts because waiting at home from the Flaky Tart was a Bavarian Cream Brioche and a Chocolate Macaroon Kiss.  Just saying the names of these pastries makes my little baker's heart skip a beat!  
The Brioche (shown above) was beautiful - rich, flavorful brioche dough with a sprinkling of crystal sugar on top and the delicate Bavarian cream center - unbelievable!

But the jewel in the crown was the Chocolate Macaroon Kiss.  Now I've had great macaroons before - indeed, the King of all macaroons (IMHO) at Maison du Chocolat in Paris.  But this, this was a mound of wonderful coconut shreds topped with a kiss of chocolate. When you bit into the hard chocolate shell, a ganache of soft, dark, rich chocolate melted out onto the coconut to create the most wonderful taste sensation in your mouth.  This was pure pastry heaven.

It's probably a good thing that the Flaky Tart is not too close to me, it could be dangerous. But so worth the trip on a beautiful Sunday in New Jersey and sometimes a little pastry indulgence is a good thing.

The Flaky Tart
145 1st Avenue
Atlantic Highlands, NJ
no web site