Thursday, April 17, 2014

A Very Sweet Shower

Last week, I had the great pleasure and honor of baking for the bridal shower of my son's future wife--and my future daughter-in-law--Laura.


Laura's mom, Marcia (who also happens to own that wonderful cooking school I'm always bragging about: Laurel Run Cooking School), graciously hosted this lovely event at her home in the style of an elegant, Downton Abbey-themed luncheon. Thirty ladies. One bride-to-be. And lots and lots of fun!


As a surprise for Laura, Marcia recruited a stately gentleman friend of hers to dress up in a period costume as the show's butler, Mr. Carson, to serve all the guests. He offered them lemon water, Champagne, and Pimm's (a traditional English summer drink).


Marcia's menu consisted of a wonderful variety of delicious hors d'oeuvres, including two different crostini: with blue cheese and roasted grapes, and with brie and cherry sauce. The other two included smoked salmon and wrapped cocktail franks. She also served homemade quiche and green salad with strawberries and almonds.

As for my desserts, here's what I made:

Mini Cream Puffs

Chocolate Pots de Creme

Madeleines (recipe from my cookbook, In the Kitchen with Cleveland's Favorite Chefs)

Coconut Macaroons

Fresh Strawberries with Sweet Dipping Cream

French Macarons with Hand-Painted Flourishes


And for the favors...

Chocolate-Dipped Meringue Heart Cookies (recipe from Three Tarts Bakery in NYC)

The funny truth is, I initially wasn't going to make the coconut macaroons. I felt I had enough other desserts. But after making a quadruple recipe of the pots de creme, which called for a total of 16 egg yolks, I suddenly had 16 egg whites staring me in the face with nowhere to go. So I bit the bullet and decided to make the macaroons after all (along with the meringue hearts that also called for egg whites).

And wouldn't you know it? Those macaroons were the hit of the party!

So, dear reader, here is the recipe I'd love to share with you today. It's simple. It's unique. And it's simply, uniquely delicious. Enjoy, everyone!

Coconut Macaroons

Makes 12 servings


  • 1 3/4 c. sugar
  • 5 1/4 c. unsweetened shredded coconut
  • 7 egg whites
  • Pinch of salt
  • 2 T. unsalted butter, melted
  • 2 t. vanilla
  • 4 oz. semi-sweet chocolate
  • 1/2 t. Crisco shortening


  • 1. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. In a large bowl, using your hands, mix together the sugar, coconut, egg whites, and salt. Add melted butter and vanilla, then combine well. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour.
  • 2. Moisten palms of hands with cold water. Roll 1 T. of the coconut mixture in palms, squeezing tightly together 2 or 3 times to form a compact ball. Place the ball on a clean surface and, using a spatula, flatten one side at a time to form a pyramid shape.
  • 3. Place pyramids on a prepared baking sheet about 1" apart and bake at 350° until edges are golden brown, about 15 minutes. Leave on baking sheet on a wire rack to cool completely.
  • 4. Place chocolate and Crisco in a small heat-proof bowl and set over a pan of simmering water. Stir occasionally until melted. Dip either top or bottom 1/2" of each pyramid in the melted chocolate. Set each dipped macaroon on a cooled baking sheet to allow chocolate to harden.


Unsweetened shredded coconut can most easily be found in natural food stores. To make the fancy shapes shown, use a pastry bag with a large star tip to pipe shapes before baking.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Hot Dog for Haute Dogs!

I recently got a sneak peek of a brand new cookbook that, truth be told, isn't even out yet! But I was extra lucky to get an advance copy, and boy, let me tell ya, it's really, truly, unbelievably awesome!

Haute Dogs: Recipes for Delicious Hot Dogs, Buns, and Condiments by blogger Russell Van Kraayenburg is a natural extension of his impressive, award-nominated blogs: Chasing Delicious and The Boys Club.

This book is chock full of interesting information, lush photographs, and unique food combinations. It is certainly not your ordinary cookbook about your ordinary food topic, my friends. Oh, no. Russell first gives us the history of this all-time favorite. Then he delves into the basics, including details about ingredients, cooking methods, and assembly.

Then--for the best part of all--he goes on to give us tons and tons of twists on the dog, from traditional to modern and everything in between. Yes, he even includes recipes for making your own homemade hot dogs, wieners, frankfurters, and sausages. And yes, he also includes recipes for homemade buns, condiments, sauces, and toppings. What more could you ask for?

Author Russell Van Kraayenburg

Just in time for BBQ season, I strongly urge you to check out this book for yourself, either by pre-ordering it as a paperback or Kindle version (Quirk Books published it) or by getting it from your library. Your hot dogs will never be the same!

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

"Fat Doug" Does It Again

Michael Symon is probably one of the little more well-known chefs in my book. (Ok, let's be honest, he's probably THE most well-known chef in my book.) And that comes as no surprise since he's been a national culinary icon for many years now.

What also comes as no surprise is that he and his talented B Spot restaurant team recently beat out more than 25 other chefs from across the county for an unprecedented fourth "People's Choice Award" at this year's popular Amstel Light Burger Bash held in Miami Beach, Florida, as part of the prestigious Food Network South Beach Wine & Food Festival.

Rachael Ray presenting Michael Symon his first-place award

"The B Spot team knew that competition would be fierce," says Michael. "So we went back to our roots with the 'Fat Doug,' topped it with delectable Castello Creamy Havarti cheese, and produced a truly delicious burger. Winning [this award] for the fourth time was a thrill and an honor!"

Michael's iconic winning entry, which actually made his B Spot eatery quite famous, is more accurately described as a "meat-on-meat" burger. How so? But perhaps even more pressing, what exactly makes this burger so incredibly special?

No need to fret, my friends. Now you can find out for yourself by trying Michael's recipe -- straight from the maestro chef himself. Enjoy it. And feel free to pass it on and on and on. (You're welcome.)

Courtesy of Michael Symon
Makes 4 servings


½ head Napa cabbage, shredded
½ clove garlic, minced
½ small red onion, sliced thin
½ jalapeño pepper, minced
3 tablespoons champagne vinegar
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
1 tablespoon sugar
1½ teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon spicy mustard

½ pound ground sirloin
½ pound ground brisket
½ pound boneless short ribs (or 1½ pounds ground beef)
½ pound pastrami, sliced thin
4 slices Castello® Creamy Havarti cheese
1½ tablespoons butter, melted
4 brioche or egg buns
Salt and pepper

  1.  Mix all slaw ingredients together and refrigerate for one hour. Mix all the meat together really well and form into four equal size patties, season with salt and pepper. Grill the patties over high heat, 3 to 5 minutes per side.
  2. Put 4 piles of pastrami in a pan over medium heat. After 2 minutes, top each pile with a slice of Castello® Creamy Havarti cheese, remove from pan when the cheese has melted, set aside.
  3. Pour butter into the pan. Toast buns—cut sides down—for about 2 minutes or until toasted to your liking.
  4. Place slaw on bottom half of bun, top with burger, pastrami and cheese, then cover with top bun and serve.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

A "Love"ly Day

Happy Belated Valentine's Day, everyone! I hope you all had a really special day that included at least one sweet gesture from that special someone in your life. Personally, I enjoyed several sweet gestures from my loved ones.

First, my husband came through on Valentine's Day morning (with the not-so-secret help of our youngest daughters) by giving me a card.

But this was not just any card, mind you. It was a card from Papyrus (a division of American Greetings, where I now work part-time as a Marketing Editor). And it was a card that might have just as well been designed just for us.

You see, my husband has always had a dream of taking a cross-country trip out West on a BMW motorcycle (which he does not own, yet). I said I'd go with him, but I also kidded that since I don't rough it so well, I would definitely need a side cart with a shield (to avoid getting bugs in my teeth), a cup rest (for my beverage), a reading stand (for my favorite magazine), and headphones so I could communicate with him. He said ok to everything except he couldn't guarantee that his headphones would work. (Very funny, I tell him.) So you see, this card was absolutely perfect. (I especially love the heart-shaped mirrors, don't you?!)

Second, my  husband took me to see a movie at the theater.

Granted, it wasn't a romantic comedy (which would have been my first choice, had he only asked). But hey, beggars can't be choosy. You see, going to the theater is a rare treat for us. Not because we don't enjoy going to the movies. But because they've become so friggin' expensive! We figure we could see about 7 times as many movies by just renting them from Redbox. (Boy, do we sound cheap. But factor in the cost of popcorn and maybe even a couple pops, and suddenly that number rises even more dramatically!)

However, every once in a while, for a special occasion, going to see the big screen is a treat for us. And coincidentally, the cinema we went to just got remodeled. So we got to sit in large, cushy, uber-comfortable recliner seats. We're now spoiled for life.

When we finally got back home, there were a dozen beautiful red roses waiting for me. (Again, another not-so-subtle helping hand from our daughters.)

Frankly, I think there are few things that shout "I love you" more than red roses. 'Nuf said.

Then last, but certainly not least, our daughters made us dinner. It was a meal that was totally impressive. Purely decadent. And believe it or not, entirely healthy and low-cal. (I know, that sounds like an oxymoron, but it's true!) In fact, it was only 7 total Weight Watchers points (for anyone who's counting). But there's no way, no how, that anyone would've guessed...because it was simply that delicious!

The main course was Asparagus-Goat Cheese Risotto (6 points/serving).

And dessert was Cupcake Brownies (only 1 point/serving thanks to a secret ingredient; but I cheated and added some whipped cream on bad).

I had the most wonderful Valentine's Day. Hope you did, too.

Now if you'd like to duplicate this fabulous dinner--whether you're watching your weight or not--here are the recipes. Enjoy to your heart's content!

Serves 4

Creamy, rich, decadent, and divinely satisfying, this is one low-calorie risotto recipe that will be certain to impress. A hint of tangy goat cheese and asparagus puree combines to create a heavenly risotto that is surprisingly low in points.



  • 1 lb asparagus spears, ends trimmed
  • 1/2 small onion
  • 3/4 cup Arborio rice
  • 2 tbsp light butter
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 cups fat free chicken broth (or vegetable broth if you want to keep it vegetarian)
  • 1/4 cup white wine
  • 2 oz goat cheese
  • Salt and pepper to taste


1. Place rice in a medium sized bowl and add just enough water to cover it. Let sit for at least 5 minutes. Drain, reserving the water it soaked in, and set both aside.

All photos by Adrianna Adarme

2. Cut the tips off of the asparagus, and place both the tips and remaining spears into a pot of simmering water. Let cook for 5 minutes, then drain and place the tips in a separate bowl, and set aside. Place the spears into a food processor. Process the spears until smooth.

3. Set a large, nonstick skillet over medium high heat. Melt butter, then add in onions and garlic. Sauté for just 1-2 minutes, then add in the rice and toast it a bit, stirring frequently, for about 3 minutes.

4. Stir in the reserved rice water and the wine, and cook until the liquid is absorbed, about 3-4 minutes.

5. Turn heat to a medium simmer and add in broth, 1/2 cup at a time, stirring constantly, until liquid is absorbed, about 3-4 minutes. Continue this step until all broth is used and rice is tender and of a creamy consistency.

6. Stir in the asparagus puree and the goat cheese until well combined. Season as desired with salt and pepper.

7. Mix in the asparagus tips, and cook for just another minute until the asparagus tips are heated through.

Preparation time: 15 minute(s)
Cooking time: 20 minute(s)
Diet type: Vegetarian
Diet tags: Low calorie, Reduced fat
Number of servings (yield): 4
Culinary tradition: Italian
Calories: 242
Fat: 7.5g
Protein: 8g
Entire recipe makes 4 servings
Serving size is about 1 cup
Each serving = 6 Points +
PER SERVING: 242 calories; 7.5g fat; 35.5g carbohydrates; 8g protein; 3g fiber

Serves 12 (but only if you can stop at 1 per person!)

3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup brown sugar, plus
1 tablespoon brown sugar, firmly packed
3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup unsweetened applesauce
1/2 teaspoon cider vinegar
1 1/2 teaspoons margarine, melted
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract


1. Preheat the oven to 350°.
2. In a bowl, stir together flour, brown sugar, cocoa, baking soda and salt.
3. In a second bowl stir together remaining ingredients.
4. Pour water mixture over flour mixture and stir until batter is smooth.

5. Pour into a nonstick 12 hole muffin tin coated with cooking spray, filling until half full.

5. Bake until toothpick inserted in center of cupcake comes out clean, 18 to 20 minutes.
6. Remove from oven. Let stand 5 minutes then turn out onto rack to cool.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Sweet Recipe Straight from Paris--Just for You!

If you're a dedicated reader of this blog, you already know that I took the trip-of-a-lifetime to Paris recently. (Read about it here.)

But what you might not know is that I had every intention of taking a cooking class while I was there. On making flaky, buttery croissants, to be more specific.

I did my research. I picked the perfect school in the very heart of the city (La Cuisine Paris)...with the perfect instructors (who teach in English)...and the perfect class (revealing the secrets of making croissants). Except the class was sold out.

La Cuisine Paris Cooking School at 80 Quai de l'Hotel de Ville in the center of Paris 

An instructor demonstrating the art of croissant making

Student results are magnifique!

So I wrote to the owner, Claire, and asked if she'd let me know of any cancellations. She did better than that. She added on another class just for me. Problem is, she e-mailed me on the same day we left for Europe...and I never got it in time.

Can you even begin to imagine my horror--and epic disappointment--when I got back home and saw that e-mail?!?

Anyway, I wrote back to Claire and apologized. Profusely. She was so sweet and said she understood. But I still felt absolutely horrible. (Hey, wouldn't you?!)

We went back and forth a few times with e-mails, and before I knew it, Claire agreed to share one of her favorite dessert recipes with you, my readers. It's for a decadent mini French chocolate cake that she calls Fondant au Chocolat. (Don't you just love the sound of it?) It's actually a little similar to a molten lava cake. Only better.

Fondant au Chocolat served alongside cherry compote

So here you go, folks! Straight from Paris. Just for you.

(Note: All ingredients are in grams, which is very European. In fact, it is a much more accurate means of baking. Use a scale, switch over to the metric measurements, and you'll be hooked forever!)


Courtesy of La Cuisine Paris
Serves 4

200 grams dark chocolate, 64%
220 grams butter
4 eggs
160 grams sugar
120 grams flour
8 squares of the same chocolate as above


  1. Preheat your oven to 375 degrees F.
  2. Line your molds (either glass custard cups or ceramic ramekins) with butter and cocoa or flour.
  3. Melt all the chocolate in a double boiler, then add in the butter. When all has melted, remove from double boiler and allow to cool.
  4. Beat eggs and sugar until pale and fluffy, then incorporate the flour, mixing with a spatula.
  5. Mix the egg/sugar mixture into the chocolate mixture.
  6. Fill your molds half way. Top with one or two pieces of chocolate, then cover with the rest of the batter.
  7. Bake for 7-10 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Ode to Judy Rodgers...and her famous roast chicken recipe

Last month, the culinary world lost a great chef. A remarkable chef. A trail-blazing chef. Her name was Judy Rodgers And she was only 57. Way, way too young.

The late Judy Rodgers
(photo: Zuni Cafe)

But even in her short 57 years, she managed to accomplish an awful lot. Much more, in fact, than even she ever thought possible. In fact, she was never anything but humble about her fame.

I can surely rave about her background. (She attended Stanford. She trained under Michelin-starred chefs in France and Italy, as well as under the great Alice Waters of Chez Panisse. She eventually took over the kitchen at Zuni Cafe on a run-down street in San Francisco back in 1987. And she quickly turned it into one of the greatest restaurants of her generation.)

I can also brag about her many coveted awards. (Awards like "Best Chef in the U.S.," "Best Restaurant in America," and "Best Cookbook of the Year" -- all bestowed by the prestigious James Beard Foundation.)

But what I want to do most is share the singular famous recipe that she will be forever known and loved for: a simple roast chicken cooked in a wood-fired oven.


This roast chicken has been on the menu at Zuni for decades (since 1987, to be exact), and they sell more than 350 each week! It's spectacularly delicious. It's iconic. And it's unquestionably legendary, just like Judy herself.

So here's the original recipe (with instructional video) below, folks! You owe it to yourself to give it a try. Judy would have loved to know you did.

Judy's secret tips:
#1 - Always use small organic, antibiotic-free chickens.
#2 - Cure the chicken for up to three days in the refrigerator.
#3 - Use high heat.
(photo: Kim Kulish)

Serves 4

One 2 3/4-pound organic, free-range chicken
4 thyme sprigs
4 small garlic cloves, lightly crushed and peeled
2 teaspoons fine sea salt
Freshly ground pepper
Bread Salad with Currants and Pine Nuts, for serving

1. Using your fingers, gently loosen the skin from the chicken breasts and thighs. Stuff the thyme and garlic under the skin and spread in an even layer. Sprinkle the salt all over the chicken and season with pepper. Cover and refrigerate for at least 24 hours.

2. Preheat the oven to 500°. Preheat a large cast-iron skillet in the oven for 5 minutes. Put the chicken in the skillet, breast side up, and roast for 30 minutes. Turn the chicken breast side down and roast for about 15 minutes longer, or until the juices run clear when a thigh is pierced. Transfer the chicken to a board and let rest for 10 minutes; carve.

3. Skim the fat from the juices in the skillet. Arrange the bread salad with currants and pine nuts on a platter and top with the chicken. Pour the juices over the chicken and serve.


1 tablespoon dried currants
1 tablespoon warm water
1 teaspoon red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons champagne vinegar
1/2 cup plus 2 1/2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Fine sea salt
Freshly ground pepper
1/2 pound stale Italian-style ciabatta bread, cut into large chunks
1 tablespoon pine nuts
4 scallions, thinly sliced crosswise
3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
4 cups lightly packed small arugula leaves or baby red mustard greens

1. Preheat the oven to 450°. In a small bowl, soak the currants in the water and red wine vinegar until plumped, 10 minutes. Drain.

2. In another small bowl, combine the champagne vinegar with the 1/2 cup of olive oil and season the dressing with salt and pepper.

3. On a rimmed baking sheet, toss the bread with 2 tablespoons of the oil. Bake for about 5 minutes, until lightly toasted. Let cool, then tear the bread into bite-size pieces. In a bowl, toss the bread with three-quarters of the dressing and let stand for 30 minutes.

4. Meanwhile, in a pie plate, warm the pine nuts in the oven for 2 minutes. In a skillet, heat the remaining 1/2 tablespoon of oil. Add the scallions and garlic and cook over moderate heat until softened, about 2 minutes; transfer to a large bowl. Add the currants, bread, pine nuts and the remaining champagne vinaigrette and toss.

5. Spoon the bread salad into a shallow 1-quart baking dish. Cover loosely with foil and bake for about 15 minutes, until heated through. Uncover and bake for a few minutes longer to dry out the top and brown the bottom. Transfer the bread salad to a platter, toss with the greens and serve.

1 - The Chicken; 2 - The Roasting; 3 - The Bread; 4 - The Greens

 Video on how to make Judy Rodger's famous roast chicken

Friday, December 27, 2013

Featuring: Hot Cocoa Station & Mini Bundt Cakes

I don't drink coffee. Or tea. Never have, never will. But...

I love, love, love hot cocoa any time of the year!

I love the taste. I love the creaminess. And I love the comfort it brings. Ahhh....

So when it was my turn to bring in refreshments for our weekly after-Mass get-together at my parish (St. Peter's in downtown Cleveland; pssst, I happened to design the website), it was a no-brainer to host a Hot Cocoa Station.

You may have your own special occasions to want to put together a Hot Cocoa Station, including:
  • Family birthday party
  • Bridal or baby shower
  • Progressive dinner stop
  • Girls' or guys' night out
  • After-ski, -sledding, -tobogganing, or -snowball fight party

Now, anyone who's ever been on Pinterest knows you can make these stations as simple or fancy as you'd like. They've made appearances at home parties as well as wedding receptions! But this time, I wanted to keep it low-key. No fuss, no muss.

Since we were all in the holiday spirit, I decided to go with a tray that displayed mini marshmallows (both plain and peppermint), whipped cream, chocolate sprinkles, ground cinnamon, and candy cane stirrers. And since I couldn't help myself, I also added a cute chalk-art sign that I put into a small frame. (You can find the free printable here to download yourself.)

I made my own homemade hot cocoa using whole milk (of course!) and Starbucks Classic Hot Cocoa Mix, which I picked up at my local Costco.

Then, what better dessert to go with hot cocoa than coffee cake? I decided to make mini bundt-cake versions so it would be easier for people to pick up and eat with their hands. So I settled on two versions: Cinnamon Swirl and Too-Much-Chocolate.

For the Cinnamon Swirl, I simply used a delicious shortcut: Pillsbury Quick Bread. But for the chocolate version, I used my daughter's favorite recipe, which just can't be resisted. (For a video how-to, click here). Hope you enjoy!

Makes 1 (12-cup) bundt cake or about 32 mini bundt cakes
Adapted from 

1 (18.25 ounce) package devil's food cake mix
1 (5.9 ounce) package instant chocolate pudding mix
1 cup sour cream
1 cup vegetable oil
4 eggs
1/2 cup warm water
2 cups semisweet chocolate chips


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. In a large bowl, mix together the cake and pudding mixes, sour cream, oil, beaten eggs, and water. Stir in the chocolate chips and pour batter into a well-greased 12-cup bundt pan or several mini bundt pans (like this one or this one).
  3. Bake for 50-55 minutes, or until top is springy to the touch and a wooden toothpick inserted comes out clean. Cool cake thoroughly in pan at least an hour and a half before inverting onto a plate If desired, dust the cake with powdered sugar. 

Happy holidays, everyone!

Sunday, December 15, 2013

All Set with Food Gift Sets!

By the time you're reading this, Christmas will be just around the corner. And if you haven't finished all your shopping yet, you're probably in panic mode right now.

Not to fret.

Besides the homemade gift ideas I shared with you here and here, I have a few more unique ideas to share with you. And of course, they have everything and anything to do with food!

Take a closer look at my dozen ideas below. They're all food sets. Match them up with the interests and tastes of your recipient, or perhaps look at these sets as being a unique culinary experience you'd like to share.

All the sets below are from Sur la Table, but you can easily put together your own from your very own sources, making it as fancy or cost-efficient as you'd like.

For example, cull the items from either an upscale gourmet shop (such as Sur la TableWilliams-Sonoma, or Dean and Deluca)...a specialty online food and cookware retailer (such as JB Prince, Chefs Catalogue, iGourmet, or popular discount store (such as Target, Walmart, Dollar Tree, or Amazon)...or your own backyard (such as an estate sale, neighborhood grocery store, homemade item, or even regifted item).

These sets are fun...interesting...and very useful!

So, here we go!