Monday, September 29, 2008

Birthday #35

Well the birthday has been and gone, and so has the accompanying existential crisis. I know that I'm not the first person to ever hit 35, but Damn! how did it happen so fast? And how did it happen to me? Inside I still feel like I'm 16, although Hubbabubba always says 12 is more accurate, but those stray gray hairs are now being joined by a whole bunch of buddies, it's not as easy for Mommy to be Mommy after a late night of merriment, and I think I need glasses. The worst part of "maturing" is the realization that I will not live forever. Of course I always knew this in my head, but now I know it in my heart. So I better get a move on, and start doing all the things I want to do, and have been pushing off for when I "grow up".
Hubbabubba brought me one step closer to finally learning French with the Rosetta Stone language program as a birthday present. My birthday dinner at David Burke and Donatella in NYC, was another thing that I had been wanting to do for a while. And even though it completely burnt our budget to a crisp, it was well worth it. The space is gorgeous and bright and whimsical. The atmosphere was upscale, yet not in a snobby New York City Foodista kind of way. The room was at full capacity but it felt convivial rather than crowded. And the food...It deserves it's own paragraph.
I started with a tomato and burrata salad, and let me tell you the tri-colored tomatoes and creamy fresh burrata cheese rocked hard in it's kicky vinaigrette. I then had the cod which was served with corn kernels dressed in a herby type dressing. The fish was great, but with the corn it was like a miracle in my mouth; small explosions of crunchy sweetness. Deep breath, Rachel.... We ordered a bunch of sides; the asparagus with the truffle emulsion was most memorable, but the green beans tempura were pretty awesome too. I consider dessert "me " time, so you know I wasn't skipping anything despite my full belly, which was tightly corseted into my sexy 1950's halter dress (it was my birthday). Their famous dessert is a cheesecake lollipop tree, which I dutifully ordered. It was whimsical, beautiful, mmmmmm-ness, which I already am planning on copying next time I have a big party (probably holiday time). Little balls of cheesecake dunked in chocolate covered in various toppings - sign me up.
One of the great things about being part of a couple is that with a little planning and coordination, you can usually try everything you're interested in on the menu. Hubbabubba is always a great orderer, so I really had a wonderful cross section of the menu. I had fun. And have decided my developing wrinkles aren't wrinkles just laugh lines.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Hopeful Honey Cake

Not to sound like Chicken Little, but goshdarnit! The sky is falling! It is a gray and gloomy day, and the rain has soaked the bottom of my jeans. The national news is as ominous as the weather. And tomorrow is my birthday. Being a Celebrationist this should be cause for...celebration, but I'm having a bout of the gettin' old blues. I am trying to scrounge for some sweet hope. Monday is Rosh Hashannah, jewish new year, and with a new year comes fresh starts and blank slates. Perhaps this will be the year I master French, learn to cook Indian food, have at least a dozen adventures with the kiddles, and at least one romantic weekend with Hubbabubba. Who knows all that a new year can hold?
So now I think a Honey Cake is definitely in order. This is not my grandmother's well-worn recipe, it's based on an old Dutch recipe I discovered somewhere along the way. It is earthy and sweet and spicy and contains all the hope I feel for a happy new year.

Honey Cake
1 c. firmly packed brown sugar
3/4 c. room-temp Earl Grey tea
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 c. orange blossom honey
2 eggs
2 1/2 c. all purpose flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1/4-1/2 tsp. nutmeg
1 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground cloves

Preheat oven to 350F. Grease 2 loaf pans. Mix all the ingredients together well. Pour batter into prepared pans and bake for 35-40 mins, or until toothpick comes out clean.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

you like me, you really like me....

diamond_award.png (image)

I started keeping this blog in February. Being a lifelong "diarist" I feel like I really found a great medium. It's a way for me to write about my life and times through food. Being a mom, a chocolatier, and an ardent Celebrationist, I spend a lot of time in the kitchen.
Upon venturing out into the great blogosphere, I encountered truly a brave new world, with so much talent and ability. It's almost overwhelming. My humble little blog is just that, it's a way for me to record my days and the dishes that ensue, basically it captures the flavor of my life. So when Alexa from awarded me with this, I was totally flattered and super-grateful.
Alexa is so talented in so many ways. Her food is always impeccable and adventurous and her photography is crystalline and beautiful. And that she checks out my blog is a huge compliment!

So without further ado- I will set about to pass along this award to other bloggers who I think are fab. Spreading the love- that's what it's all about, right? Man! She is prolific and tireless and uber-talented. Half the time I'm stopping myself from licking the monitor her food looks that good. Lisa's posts are sheer pleasure to read. I love her experimentation. Love how much she loves chocolate. I love her recreation of recipes from old cookbooks. I love her pictures. Love it all. HILARIOUS! I am always entertained whenever I check out this blog, and the fact that her food is amazing- makes her a true force. Always a fun visit. Katie's creations are inspirational. From her posts you really get the picture of a well rounded person. She's like this at 14, I can only imagine how unstoppable she will be as she gets older. Because I have a soft spot for mid twentieth century Americana, and because she recreates those recipes so well, and faithfully, and with a nice touch of humor.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Cookie Comforts

What in the world is going on? Every time I switch on the TV or radio the news goes from bad to badder. Worse case scenarios are now realities. It all just makes me want to shove my head under my pillow, curl up, and sleep it all off. So I do the next best thing- bake cookies- sweet, warm, homey cookies. Cookies that are soft and chewy and taste of a mellow autumn day. Cookies that are as comforting as a cup of cinnamon tea, and will go perfectly with that cup.

Cinnamon Oatmeal Cookies
Preheat oven to 350F. In mixing bowl beat 1 1/2 c. packed brown sugar and 1 c. butter until fluffy. Mix in 1 tsp. maple extract and 2 eggs until well blended. Beat in 2 c. flour, 1 tsp. baking powder, and 1 tsp. cinnamon. Scraping bowl until well combined. Stir in 2 1/2 c. oats. Drop dough onto cookie sheets by the heaping tablespoonful. Bake for 15 mins. or until light golden brown.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Good 'n Ugly Blueberry Scones

Yesterday I picked up a carton of beautiful juicy blueberries from my local farm market. Visions of those scrumptuous drop scones that I thoroughly enjoyed during my morning coffee breaks in Lake Placid skipped merrily through my mind. Oh, I had such good intentions. I would combine half a block of cream cheese with the butter crumbs for creaminess, 1 tsp. of cinnamon for a little earthiness....I scooped the batter onto the baking sheet, and with a loving glance anticipated the new best friend my morning coffee would surely have.
Twenty minutes later I was forced to greet my blueberry drop scone...pancakes. Oh the dissappointment, and the chagrin. These scones look like something only a baker could love. They taste pretty good. But with food, especially baked goods, appearance matters.
Well at least I have another recipe for my fantasy cookbook inspired by advertisements from my youth. "Good 'n Ugly Blueberry Scones" based on the "So good 'n ugly!" commercial for Fruit Bars ("Look so ugly gonna make you shout, taste so yummy gonna knock you out..." lines that would make Shakespeare proud...).

Monday, September 15, 2008

Sweet 'n Spicy Nut

Excuse me as I indulge a dusty memory for a moment: When I was in school I took a semester of Playwriting. The culmination of the course was the production of a completed script. My script was titled: "Hannah of the Salted Variety", it was basically a thinly veiled "account" of my life and times in a small liberal arts new england college and the angst that ensued. Hardly a masterpiece, rather self indulgent, sometimes amusing, on the whole a bit of a bore.
The high point of the script (and I mean that literally) is an argument Hannah and her male roommate have, he claiming that all women are "nuts" and the difference is that some are plain, some are honey roasted, and others are salted....Hannah being of the salted variety.
Why I bring this up now? Tonight I'm making a salad utilizing slices of juicy ripe pears, a tangy pomegranate vinaigrette, and I thought a batch of sweet 'n spicy walnuts would go wonderfully.
These walnuts have just a hint of the heat cayenne pepper endows. They are sweetened by maple syrup and brown sugar, kicked up by a pinch of cinnamon, and for just a suggestion of saltiness a pinch of salt.
I'm thinking sequel. Hannah 15 years on, a few kids, living the bourgeois dream. "Hannah of the Sweet 'n Spicy Variety"?

Sweet 'n Spicy Nuts
Grease a baking sheet and preheat oven to 325F. Combine in bowl 1 c. walnuts/pecans , 2 tbsp. maple syrup, 1 tbsp. packed brown sugar, pinch of salt, generous pinch of cayenne pepper, and a dash of cinnamon. Mix until nuts coated. Spread on baking sheet- place in oven bake for .about 15 minutes until golden and bubbling.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Book Club Eats

Last night it was my turn to host book club. I'm always excited when it's at chez moi. It had been a while since we all got together due to our respective summer schedules, and last night seemed to be just what we all needed; no kids, no partners, yes chocolate and yes wine.
One of my favorite things to do when hosting a party or event is to put together the menu. I haul out my cookbooks and foodie mags and go through them in bed while listening to my ipod trying to get ideas. This is my way to rewind and relax-everyone's got their something-right?
I wanted the menu for this gathering of wonderful yet slightly stressed-out women to be, of course, delicious but also a little decadent and luxurious. Kind of like a back-to-school celebration.
In last month's Bon Appetit I came across two recipes that I knew would be great as hors d'oeuvres along with the ubiquitous cheese platter. A slow roasted tomato creation called Pomodori al Forno and Wild Mushroom Crostini. The Pomodori was outstanding and worth the slow-roastin' effort. The recipe called for ripe plum tomatoes, but I used ripe tomatoes on the vine instead, with soft goat cheese it was flavor exuberance. The mushrooms were also delicious but subtle, more like a supporting actor to the star, which was a Meyerberg goat's milk cheese with garlic and chive used as a base. I made a vinaigrette that I mixed into the mushrooms for additional flavor. I don't know if I'll include the vinaigrette next time- maybe let the mushooms sing alone.
The pasta Aglio Ollio was appreciated along with a simple mixed leaf salad dressed in a simple herb vinaigrette (that I also used for the mushrooms). But dessert was when the healing began. Inspired by of our family trip to Vermont I baked a Brown Sugar Chocolate Chip Pound Cake with Maple Espresso Glaze (Bon Appetit 10/07) and served my treasure trove of Vermont chocolate. We discussed the book (The Divide by Nicholas Evans), our lives, ate, drank, and were very merry - pretty good for a school night.

Pomodori Al Forno

Heat oven to 250F. Pour 1/2 c. olive oil into a glass baking dish. Slice up 2 lbs. of ripe tomatoes (4-5) that are halved lengthwise and seeded. Arrange tomato slices in dish. Drizzle with another 1/2 c. olive oil. Sprinkle with approx 1 tsp. dried oregano and 1 tsp. sugar and 1/2 tsp. salt. Bake for 1 hr. Turn tomatoes over and bake for another hour. Layer tomatoes in a bowl scattering 2 minced garlic cloves and 2 tsp. minced Italian parsley over. Pour reserved oil from baking dish over tomatoes. Let stand at room temp. until ready to serve.

Wild Mushroom Topping

Melt 3 tbsp butter in large skillet. Add 12oz. sliced wild mushrooms (I used oyster and shiitake) and 2 tsp. fresh thyme. Saute until browned. Serve at room temp.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Blintz Toast Casserole

With apologies to Alexa, the super-gracious talent behind Artsy-Foodie (, I decided to go with a blintz french toast casserole for this morning's brunch. I was tinkering with the idea of going chocolate, but ultimately convenience triumphed. Casserole French Toast can be assembled the night before and popped in the oven 45 minutes prior to your guests arrival. Definitely a boon when you only have an hour before the people arrive and the house is in usual weekend state of disarray. There is much I have to learn in life, but one lesson I have mastered is to have the food prepared before the guests arrive. Or at least in the oven. I've had parties where I spent half the time in the kitchen making fresh panini's or sizzling potato latkes. And it's really no fun and no fair to miss your own party.
This recipe combines the idea of a cheese blintz with french toast, talk about fusion food. I used half a teaspoon of orange oil in the cheese filling, next time I'll use vanilla. The cherry sauce was slightly tart- which I loved, but Hubbabubba suggested a tad more sugar (a tsp. more perhaps?).

Blintz Toast Casserole
Soak about 12 good sized slices of challah bread in a a mix of 7 eggs, 1 c. milk or half and half (if you want to be really indulgent), 1/2 c. maple syrup. In the meantime in a medium bowl combine 1 c. ricotta cheese, 1 c. cream cheese, 1 c. sour cream, 1/2 c. powdered sugar, 1/2 tsp. orange essence (it makes me feel better to say I used lowfat cheeses). Cover bottom of casserole pan with a layer of egg soaked challah. Spread cheese filling over challah and top with rest of challah slices. Refrigerate overnight.
Cherry Sauce: Empty a thawed package of pitted sweet dark cherries into saucepan with 1/2 c. water and 1 tsp. almond extract and a few teaspoons of sugar. Heat until boiling and then let simmer for 10-15 mins. until syrupy.
Next morning place in 350F oven until challah turns golden.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

What I Did On My Summer Vacation

For me, one of the best things about taking a trip is coming home. That's not to say that the trip wasn't wonderful- it was. But home is pretty close to heaven after a dusty week on the road- camping and hiking and exploring with kiddles and hubbabubba.
The Adirondacks region of New York is where this adventure begins. Up on top of Whiteface Mountain we saw an inspirational 360 degree view. Hiking along the river at Ausable Chasm wasn't too shabby either. The Wild Center was great as well, with interactive exhibits that had the kids riveted. Camping in the evening was high on the kiddles list of fun things- especially at campfire time, which came complete with cuisine de camp- franks and beans, and roasted marshmallows for dessert. We were told repeatedly how lucky we were with the weather, as it had been quite a soggy summer. And we were lucky- the days were just great, not too hot, nice 'n dry, and gloriously bright. The sunshine was gentle and joy-inducing.
Over the weekend we treated ourselves to a stay in an authentic and rustic Inn- right in the heart of Lake Placid, a town that hosted the winter olympics twice ('32 & '80). The restaurant fare was decent and filling, although none too earthshattering. I did make one delicious discovery in Lake Placid and that was at the Bluesberry Bakery. Every morning I began my day with a fresh baked scone or a muffin or a chocolate croissant. All were scrumptious-though my favorite was the blackberry scone, stuffed with fat juicy fresh blackberries which were picked at the height of the season. It was as good as a fresh baked drop scone gets.
Every morning I would stroll Munch down to the Adirondack chairs set right at the shore of the lake, toting my decaf and yummy baked item, and sit with him and watch the ducks on the lake and the kayaks and canoes glide by. I don't get more mellow and serene than I was there.
Truth is I needed those morning coffee breaks with Munch by the Lake to restore my patience and perspective. Camping with the kiddles was definitely fun- but also challenging and exhausting. Hubbabubba and I felt like 24 hr. caregivers working side by side, so while it wasn't really much of a romantic getaway- it was a bonding experience.
After we had thoroughly explored the Adirondacks, we moved onto Vermont. I lovermont. Partially because I love New England, but also because it's such a cool state- with so much to offer the nature enthusiast as well as the food lover.
Burlington was the site for one of the best restaurant meals I've ever enjoyed. Smokejack's on Church Street. Thankfully, hubbabubba and I had the good luck to stumble upon this absolute gem. The space is clean and light-filled and casually elegant. We were greeted at the table by a basket of warm cinnamon mini muffins, which the kiddles (and let's be real, I) promptly devoured. I ordered Munch a bowl of potato soup, fortunately for me he was too enamored with the muffins to give the soup any time. Wow! it was so good, made with locally grown potatoes and half-pint scallions- creamy and seasoned just right. It left my mouth feeling the slightest hint of heat. This was the beginning of a beautiful meal.
Hubbabubba ordered a seared yellowfin tuna salad that was bright green and tangy and fresh. I convinced big boy kiddle to order the savory grilled bread and roasted garlic sandwich- made with locally made carambozola cheese and olives. He was not dissappointed, and the few bites I negotiated were a grilled cheese lovers dream come true. Kiddlette's Mac 'n Cheese with caramelized onions and crunchy crust, makes me want to be a better cook. Bliss. Joy. Revelation. My french toast made with thick slices of Red Hen Bakery bread and embellished with maple mascarpone whipped cream and Vermont maple syrup (duh)- sent my tastebuds into jubilant rapture. Smokejack's was good American comfort food, made with the finest locally made and grown ingredients, in a bold and flavorful manner. We left the restaurant happy- that's what a great meal at a reasonable price does-right?
Still chasing the sugar buzz, I prompted us all onto the Ben&Jerry's Factory tour in Waterbury, which ended in good-sized samples of Imagine Whirled Peace ice cream for all. I've always had a healthy appeciation for Ben & Jerry's good stuff- they really did change the way people viewed ice cream and their mission is admirable. It's something I'd like to do with my fledgling chocolate business- fresh ingredients, natural flavors, fun concepts all mixed in to make a yummy socially conscious dessert.
Speaking of chocolates (which I do a lot of), I conducted a brief chocolate tour during our stay in Vermont. A visit to Lake Champlain Chocolates in Burlington kicked it off. Again, they utilize locally produced ingredients to magnificent ends. Their dark chocolate bar is what I grope for in my monthly bout of chocolate fever. In Stowe I purchased a few things from Laughing Moon Chocolates- which I haven't sampled yet, but will defintely report back with the results. That's if my little chocolate gnome and sweets fairy don't get to it first.
We camped along the LaMoille River at a really beautiful campsite. Hubbabubba was psyched to be able to fish just feet from out tent. I was psyched that we were camping on grass instead of the dirt (I did laundry twice during this trip- we all got so grimy so quick). Our campsite was just outside a small town called Morrisville. We had lunch one day in town at a cute little eatery called the Bee's Knees. The place is done up in campus cafe chic: Funky eclectic decor, mismatching furniture, local artist's work on the wall, folk music playing on the sound system, hairy legs and all, good and cheap food. Again the kids had mac 'n cheese- made with local cheddar- very tasty. I had a spicy udon noodle salad- made with thick slabs of silken tofu, a variety of locally grown greens, scallions, crunchy red peppers, udon noodles all doused in a spicy and peanutty sauce. Good stuff. Hubbabubba had the Damn Good Vegetarian sandwich, and said it deserved it's title. He also ordered a bottle of Blueberry Pop from a local soft drink company. So awesome in it's blueberry effervescence- we ordered 2 more for the road.
Alas, all good things must come to an end- who said that? Shakespeare? Hemingway? or anyone arriving at the end of a great meal? On the way back home- we stopped at the Norman Rockwell Museum for some good solid Americana, as if we needed more. I know my Art History professors from days of yore would scoff, but there's something so simple and corny- yet true about his illustrations. Kinda warms your heart, especially after a week of camping and family togetherness.
Now we're home. Big boy kiddle started his first day of Kindergarten by getting on a yellow school bus this morning. I cried as I walked back to the house. The trip was a great end to our summer, but now I need a vacation.