Monday, October 2, 2023

A Rhine River Cruise

Welcome to Amsterdam!

Happy Fall, Dear Readers!

I hope this finds you well. I have been delinquent in my writing, but I’m back with a blockbuster review of a fabulous trip I took in September.

Have you ever dreamed of visiting fairytale castles, sailing scenic waterways, savoring delicious local European foods and luscious wines? If so, then settle in, and read along as I take you with me on the trip I just returned from on AMA Waterways.

My friend, LK, and I did “boatloads” of research on river cruises for months before deciding on AMA. Of course price was a factor (all cruise lines charge a supplement for single/solo guests that I was not keen on paying), but I was also very interested in a cruise line that was highly rated for food and wine. I also did not want to pay extra for excursions, as some companies make you pay for the more in-demand excursions. Luckily, AMA hit all the criteria. 

We began in the beautiful city of Amsterdam, which cannot be beat for museums and art (except for maybe Paris). We spent two glorious days in this very walkable city, taking in the van Gogh museum, the fabulous Rijks Museum (with its’ famous old Masters priceless art), and the very moving Anne Frank House

Charcuterie at Cafe de Klepel
One of the terrific sommeliers at Cafe de Klepel
Dessert at de Klepel

What about the food, you ask? Have you met me? I am all about the food and we had some great meals! On my previous visit to the city, we found an incredible wine bar/restaurant and I knew I could not be in Amsterdam and not visit Cafe de Klepel. I made a reservation the minute their system allowed, and booked two seats at the bar. The folks who run de Klepel make you feel as though you are a guest at a fabulous party in their home. They are friendly, thoroughly wine-knowledgeable, and fun! They offer a set menu of either three or four courses that changes daily, with wine pairings if you like (but, of course!). We began with a Kir Royale (creme de Cassis and champagne), then put ourselves in their capable hands for wine throughout the dinner. A first course charcuterie plate with terrific rustic bread and perfectly softened, salted butter whetted our appetites for what was to come. The next course was deliciously smooth chicken liver in broth with crunchy chickpeas, followed by the best duck breast I’ve ever had. Dessert was a lovely pistachio cake topped with creme fraiche in a tangy berry sauce. And because I was feeling no pain and somewhat emboldened, I asked our server if they had any cookies! She said, “of course, we have cookies,” and reappeared with four delicious, little chocolate cookies - the perfect sweet ending. If you find yourself in Amsterdam, get yourself a bar stool at Cafe de Klepel, you will have a grand time.


The next day we boarded the AMA Serena, but not before the cruise line took us all on a sightseeing tour of the famous canals. I must say this canal tour was much more interesting than the one I did in 2018, where I was so bored, I watched the entire Harry & Meghan wedding on my phone! As part of the canal tour, we visited the famous windmills of Holland, sampled (and bought to bring home) incredibly delicious Dutch Gouda cheese, and found out how wooden shoes are made (of which I had no idea previously!).

It is impossible to relay all of the the great experiences we had on AMA for those seven days, but I will give you the highlights:

My cabin aboard the AMA Serena
One of the many castles along the Rhine

  • Beautiful, well-appointed cabins
  • Professional, friendly (but not too) service from everyone on the ship
  • Waiter service at every meal (more casual “to go” options were also available) - no buffets.
  • Delicious locally-sourced food, always with a vegetarian option.
  • Wonderful bread and pastries, all baked on-board.
  • The AMA Serena also offers an exclusive “Chef’s Table” restaurant with more upscale, gourmet dinners and wine pairings. We were lucky enough to go twice and it was outstanding!
  • Terrific bar service with all-inclusive wine, beer, cocktails at every meal (some higher end spirits came with a very nominal fee)
  • Interesting daily excursions provided by local guides (all included, no extra cost).
    • The one exception, IMHO, was the trip to Siegfried’s Mechanical Music Museum in the lovely town of Ruedesheim. I found this to be a very weird place crammed with a collection of old mechanical, musical instruments (some with creepy dolls). Of course, it didn’t help that it was probably near 100°F in the building and the tour guide had an incredibly annoying voice. But some of the other travelers seemed to enjoy it.
  • Fabulous scenery, as you would expect, along the Rhine River. The villages of Cologne (where we thoroughly enjoyed their famous Kolsch beer, along with terrific bratwurst!), and Heidelberg (with the spectacular Heidelberg Castle) were beautiful.
  • My favorite stops were Strasbourg, France, also known as the Venice of France, for its many canals; and our last stop in Lucerne, Switzerland, which was absolutely stunning (the chocolates, oh, the chocolates!).

Perfect rack of lamb onboard 

Gorgeous Lucerne!

Building lasting friendships!

Kugelhopf in Strasbourg!

The "Venice of France."

You may be wondering what the demographic was of some of our fellow cruisers. Prior to the trip, I was concerned it might be an older crowd, but I was pleasantly surprised to see a very wide range of ages - from mid-thirties, to early 80s, with most people in the 50-70-ish group. On the first day, we met two charming couples who we became fast friends with and shared many meals and laughs with! 

Of course, I took way too many pictures, but I’ve tried to add a few of the best ones here, for your viewing pleasure. 

If you are considering a river cruise, I highly recommend AMA Waterways, but do your research. There are alot of river cruise companies, offering itineraries and budgets to match every traveler. You may also want to consider using a travel agent - a good travel advisor is invaluable.

Have a great week!

Thursday, July 6, 2023

Georgia Peach Poundcake


Greetings, dear CT readers!

I hope your summer is swell so far! 

It’s that time of year again where I start to obsess over the best of the season - Georgia peaches, Jersey corn and tomatoes. In my book, there’s nothing better, especially when paired with fresh mozzarella, homegrown basil, and all washed down with a lovely Chenin Blanc. For me, it’s the perfect summer lunch or dinner. There’s really no recipe needed for this - use the best produce you can find and create your own delicious summer-on-a-plate.

Peach Poundcake

But this post is all about poundcake, specifically, peach poundcake. Each year when I get my shipment of peaches from The Peach Truck, I think long and hard about the how to get the most out of my 13 peaches. Of course, I love just eating them out of hand, standing over the kitchen sink, sweet peach juice running down my chin, or sliced over morning cereal, or in the dish above. But I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t also use them in a baked item. A few years ago, I made this fabulous Peach Coffee Cake with Pecan Streusel - wow, definitely a winner! 

This year, I wanted something a bit simpler and found this terrific poundcake from NY Times Cooking. What makes this even more special is the peach glaze drizzled over the top while the cake is still warm. The whole cake just works perfectly - it’s not too sweet, but has all the elements you’d expect from a poundcake - a moist, buttery texture perfect with a cup of coffee. It really doesn’t need it, but if you are so inclined, cut a thick slice, toast it, and spread a bit of salted butter over it - heaven! Or gild the lily, hit it with a dollop of whipped cream and serve for dessert after a summer dinner. Anyway you look at it, you cannot go wrong.

Hope the rest of your summer is happy!

Peach Poundcake

(NYT Cooking)


1 C unsalted butter (2 sticks), melted and cooled to room temp, plus more for greasing the pan.

2-1/2 C AP flour, plus more for dusting the pan.

3 medium, ripe, red-hued peaches (about 1 pound), pitted 

1 TB fresh lemon juice

3 large eggs, plus 1 large egg yolk, beaten

1-1/2 t vanilla extract

1 C unsifted confectioners’ sugar, plus more as needed

1-1/2 C granulated sugar

2-1/2 t baking powder

3/4 t Kosher salt


  1. Heat oven to 325°F. Lightly butter and flour a 9x5” loaf pan and set aside.
  2. Dice 1 peach into 1/3” pieces. Pat the pieces dry with a paper towel and set aside.
  3. Add the remaining 2 peaches and the lemon juice to a food processor or blender, and blend on high until completed puréed. Measure out 1 leveled cup of the purée and transfer to a mixing bowl along with the melted butter, eggs, egg yolk, and vanilla. Whisk to combine and set aside.
  4. Completely scrape down the sides of the food processor, and make the icing using the small amount of puréed peaches still remaining. Add 1 cup of the confectioners’ sugar to the remaining peach purée in the food processor and blend on high until combined. The icing should be thick but thin enough to drizzle. Add more confectioners’ sugar to thicken or a splash of water to thin, as needed. Cover and set aside until it’s time to ice the cake.
  5. In a large mixing bowl, add the flour, granulated sugar, baking powder and salt, and whisk to combine. Pour the peach mixture into the flour mixture, and whisk well until the batter is thoroughly combined, then fold in the diced peaches. Transfer the batter to the loaf pan, spread evenly to the edges, and bake until crusty and golden brown on the top and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, 75-80 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for 10 minutes before transferring to a wire rack.
  6. Stir the icing a final time and spread on top of the warm cake, allowing the extra icing to drip down the sides. Cool the cake to room temp. Slice and serve, or wrap tightly with plastic wrap and store on the counter for up to 3 days.

TIP: use the boldest-colored peaches you can find, as their skins will lend blush to the glaze. However, you can also peel the peaches, if you mind the specks of skin.

Wednesday, March 29, 2023

A Duo of Date Recipes

Whole-Wheat Date Bread
Growing up, my mom often made a date-nut bread that she served with soft cream cheese. We ate this in a variety of settings — as a mid-morning snack, an after-school treat, or sometimes as a simple dessert after dinner. The way I enjoyed it most was as a sandwich - two small slices of the bread smeared with the cream cheese (always Philadelphia!). 

Somehow I forgot about this bread, that is perfect for any occasion. It is made with dates, nuts, and other healthy ingredients, and it is sure to become a favorite among your friends and family. The recipe I used recently is from the NY Times Cooking site and developed by Melissa Clark. It’s made with whole wheat and all-purpose flours, yogurt or buttermilk (I used buttermilk), and EVOO. I added chopped walnuts because I love crunch, and a bit of grated orange zest to brighten it up.

Chocolate Chip Energy Bites

On the other end of the date spectrum, is a terrific, little energy ball from Virginia Willis. This couldn’t be easier and is a wonderful addition to your healthy routine. Virginia’s original recipe calls for the addition of 1/4 cup of dark chocolate chips, but as I am not a chocolaholic, I left them out of the second batch. Most people will probably want to keep the chocolate chips in the recipe. And for anyone following a Weight Watchers plan, these tasty little treats are only three points. I keep them in the fridge so they are nice and chill. These would be great to bring along on a hike or a picnic, or add them to a lunch box. You can’t go wrong with these!

From Medical News Today, here are some of the benefits of dates:

In addition to tasting great, dates contain protein, vitamins, and minerals. They are also:

  1. High in polyphenols. Polyphenols are antioxidant compounds that can protect the body from inflammation. Dates contain more polyphenols than most other fruits and vegetables.
  2. Alternative to empty-calorie sweets. Dates can satisfy a person’s sweet tooth while also providing essential nutrients, such as vitamin B-6 and iron.
  3. High in fiber. Just ¼ of a cup of dates provides 12 percent of a person’s daily fiber requirement. Fiber helps a person feel fuller for longer.
  4. High in potassium. Dates are high in potassium, which is an electrolyte the body needs for good heart health. Potassium also helps to build muscle and proteins in the body.
  5. Great for substitutions. People can replace the sugar, chocolate chips, or candies in baking recipes with dates to ensure they are eating natural sugars instead of refined sugars.

Chocolate Chip Energy Bites (Virginia Willis)

To a food processor, add 1/2 cup dates, 3/4 cup pecans, a pinch of salt, a dash of cinnamon, and a few drops of vanilla. Pulse these ingredients, then remove mixture from processor and transfer to a small bowl. Add 1 tablespoon of ground flax seeds, 1/4 cup of dark chocolate chips and stir to combine. Use your hands or a small scoop to form the balls. Makes about 12 energy bites.

Monday, March 6, 2023

My Favorite Irish Soda Bread!

No need to reinvent the wheel, as they say! They also say, when you've got a good thing, go with it, so I am re-upping this post from 2021 with my favorite Irish Soda Bread recipe.

Wednesday, February 22, 2023

Panera Kitchen Sink Cookies

Greetings, Cook’s Tour Readers!

I hope you are all well. I apologize for the lack of posts in the last couple of months. I’ve been a bit overwhelmed since December; what with somehow contracting Covid right around Christmas, then packing up and moving to a new home at the end of December, and finally, hand/wrist surgery in early January (which, of course, rendered me unable to type or write) - whew! But I am seeing the light at the end of the proverbial tunnel, as I am almost finished with my physical therapy and able to type for a little bit at a time. And last week I threw caution to the wind and decided to bake some cookies! I was so missing baking and the act of “bake and release” to friends and co-workers. 

Speaking of co-workers, one of them gifted a bag of these incredible cookies to all of us at Christmas. Please don’t judge, but I am not a huge chocolate chip cookie person. I find most of them “meh.” But not this one. I took one bite and immediately asked John for the recipe. What made this different was the melded flavors of chocolate (of course), caramel, and pretzels! What?! That’s what hooked me - the buttery caramel, and the salty pretzel crunch - wow! Now this was a chocolate chip cookie I could get behind!

When he brought in a copy of the recipe a few days later, I was surprised to see it was the famous Panera Kitchen Sink cookie. I’ve only been to Panera a handful of times for lunch but never ordered the cookies. I guess I really missed out. 

So you may already be on the Panera Kitchen Sink cookie bandwagon, but if not, here is the recipe. I made these a bit smaller than the recipe calls for because I don’t like huge cookies, but you do you. 

As I write this, it’s almost 50 degrees at the Jersey shore in mid-February so I am optimistic (and so hopeful) that spring is right around the corner. I saw daffodils sprouting the other day, always a good sign. 

If you make these cookies (or any other baked good), try Dorie Greenspan’s practice of “bake and release” and spread some joy. Hope you have a great day!

Panera Kitchen Sink Cookies


1 C butter, melted

2 t vanilla extract

1-1/2 C light brown sugar

1/2 C granulated sugar

2 large eggs

2-1/2 C AP flour

2-1/2 t baking powder

1/2 t salt

3/4 C bits of broken pretzels

1 C caramel bits

1 C chocolate chips

Flaky sea salt for sprinkling


Preheat oven to 350°F.

With a stand or hand mixer, beat melted butter, sugar, and vanilla until butter is cooled and mixture has lightened a bit.

Add eggs, one at a time, and mix.

Stir in flour, baking powder, and salt into butter mixture until incorporated.

Fold in broken pretzels, caramel bits, and chocolate chips.

Using a large scoop (3 TB) scoop dough (NOTE: I used 1 TB of dough), and drop onto baking sheet. Leave about 2” between cookies (they spread).

Flatten slightly and top with a sprinkle of sea salt. You can also top with a few additional chocolate chips, pretzels, or caramel bits.

Bake for 10 minutes. Edges should be just starting to take on color and center should still be soft and puffy looking.

Cool on cookie sheet for 5 minutes before moving to rack.

Keep stored in airtight container, or freeze (they freeze very well).

Recipe (as originally written) yields about 30 cookies.