Lemon Poppyseed Cake


When I was little, I used to spend my summers with my grandparents in New York getting spoiled rotten and loving every second of it. My grandmother and I would build our day around chores, cooking and watching soap operas. Our favorite was As the World Turns; we were hooked and made no apologies for it.  Over the summer they brought in teen plot lines, and even though I was nowhere near being a teen, I knew a good tale when I saw it. I never watched during the school year, but when I’d return to New York the following June, there my TV friends would be, almost exactly where I left them, with perhaps a day or two—a week, at best—having passed in their fairy tale lives. Within a day, I would be fully caught up and I’d settle in as though I hadn’t been gone for 9 months. Hopefully you see where this is going (I really hope you do, because my train of thought has gotten derailed a bit as I’ve travelled down memory lane…). I know I haven’t been around and that you’ve all gone on with your lives, but I hope you’ll play a little soap opera time warp game with me and pretend that only a day or two has passed since we last talked food and fun.

So. Where were we? Yes! I was traipsing around the globe, feeling very adventurous and worldly. My last trip before summer was to Ireland for a wedding. Now let’s pause here to say that there is a backstory to me flying to Ireland for 72 hours to go to the wedding of a man I met once (on St. Patrick’s Day!) located in a town that was 7 miles from the edge of nowhere. While that story, in retrospect, is somewhat as fraught with drama and tension as a plot line on The Young and the Restless, to tell it would take us on the kind of detour that we’d need a bottle of Maker’s Mark to navigate, so let’s just get to the food. I found myself in County Westmeath on a misty Friday afternoon at a lovely old mansion overlooking mile after mile of greenery (I was slightly disappointed that there was nary a field of heather, nor could anyone tell me where I could see one, but there you have it). At any rate, the first best surprise of the event was that after the ceremony we were all ushered into a beautiful atrium where they were serving tea and scones! Like in actual tea cups and with bowls of clotted cream and everything. I found this to be the most charming thing I’d ever seen, especially at a wedding, to the point that I made a fool of myself taking pictures of teacups and plates (the good thing about being the only American somewhere is that you always have an excuse for borderline behavior. “Oh, that random girl that none of us know who’s taking pictures of cups? She’s AMERICAN… [wink wink].”).

The second best surprise was the wedding cake. I have come to expect disappointment when it comes to wedding cakes, because they tend to be all looks and no taste.  This seems unfair to all involved since most likely we, as guests, have gone through every minutiae of wedding details with the couple, including the tasting, and then we don’t get anything remotely resembling the deliciousness we were promised (not that I go to weddings for the food. Ahem). Much to my happiness, though, there was a lemon poppyseed cake which, again, upped the charm factor of this wedding. It was a bold move; poppyseeds are not the fan favorite anywhere (I don’t think…?) and with a pound cake consistency, it had the potential to be dense. But, as one of my dinner companions said, the cake was “gorgeous.” I’d never in my life heard someone describe the taste of food as gorgeous before and that–along with the jet lag and Jameson’s–just about knocked me off my chair.

I wanted to recreate that cake long before I even finished eating it, but it took another two months before I got it together to make one for a friend’s birthday. She’d requested a fruit filling, so I found a recipe for a berry compote that I decided I’d put in between the layers of cake and on top. Gorgeous, isn’t it?

Yeah, that’s just about where the gorgeousness ends,unfortunately. While the berries were tasty (it’d never occurred to me to use thyme with fruit), the cake was dry and had so little flavor it was almost a crime against lemon cakes everywhere. I was disappointed, not only because I’d baked it for a friend, but because I’d really wanted to bring that bit of Ireland back with me.  The trip, like the cake, was so unexpected and lovely and just right, that to be able to return to the magic of that time just by whipping up a dessert would have been glorious.  But, the cake didn’t work, literally or figuratively (and I realize that was a lot of pressure on a little baked good (and a hefty dash of wishful thinking), but have you ever found me to not take things to levels previously unknown?).

I recently decided to try again, this time using a recipe I had long before the disastrous one, but completely forgot about.  I added poppyseeds and gambled on using lemon extract, because have you seen the price of lemons lately?  The result was–dare I say it–gorgeous.  It was moist and light and I love the texture that the poppyseeds added.  As a bonus, the lemon extract made it taste fresh with a slight tartness and lemon growers everywhere are going to have to survive without me from now on (and I’ve used bottled lemon juice as a replacement in other recipes and didn’t like the results. You purists out there can send me cash for real lemons, if you want).  I didn’t add the berries this time, since they were out of season, but I’ve included the recipe below because it’s worth trying.

As I put this cake together, I couldn’t be farther from where I was when I bit into that wedding cake in Ireland. I was a little lost then, a little disconnected from myself–nothing was quite working no matter how hard I tried and how true my intentions were. My failed attempt at my friend’s cake was how I’d been feeling for several months presented on a platter.  It’d be unfair to stress out this new lemon poppyseed cake with the pressure I placed on the other one, but I won’t lie, the success of this cake makes me feel like maybe-just-possibly-let’s-keep-our-fingers-crossed I’m back.  The fact that it was a recipe I had tucked away waiting for the right moment makes me think I was never really gone in the first place.  Either way, it’s good to be home….

Lemon Poppyseed Cake (adapted from Barefoot Contessa Parties, by Ina Garten. I used her lemon cake recipe as the base; my notes in red)

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Tiramisu–A Variation


Well then.  Sometime toward the end of last year, I decided that 2011 would be the year of adventure.  I am not a risk taker by nature, but I decided–somewhere between surviving a partial bike ride down the side of volcano and one too many cocktails–that I needed to do a bit more with life, because, well, this is the only chance I get at it.  I’d read a book that was really terrible, but had one really good line in it about finding ways to say yes instead of reasons to say no.  That resonated with me, because–being an essentially risk averse person (read: lawyer)–before the word “maybe” is out of my mouth, my mind has come up with 73 scenarios as to why something may not be a great idea.  It’s pretty hard to jump on the adventure bandwagon when your go-to response is no, right?

All this to say that I decided that I needed to change into more of a yes! that sounds fun!! person and so far this year, I’m doing a stellar job if I do say so myself (one good thing about being Type A is that when you set your mind to something, you’re always aiming for that gold star…).  The upside is that since January, I’ve been to Morocco, NYC, Los Angeles, Monterey, Cozumel and just got back from Ireland last night (hello, jet lag!).  Yeah, I don’t recognize myself either.  The downside is that I was home for only one full week in April, much of which was spent looking for a fabulous fascinator, which dramatically cuts down on the cooking going on chez moi.

I did manage, though, to whip up a wee dessert a couple of weekends ago, which I’m going to suggest you tuck away for those moments when time is not on your side but you need something decadent and impressive.  I’ve wanted to make tiramisu since I took that culinary boot camp last fall and I vaguely remembered from the class that it was one of those things that could be put together quickly and left to its own devices before serving.  That, and I had half a container of mascarpone left from my polenta adventure.  Always helps when you have a main ingredient on hand.  The one thing I did not have was the lady fingers and while my mind was swirling with visions of rum and cokes (I’d just gotten back from Cozumel) and rolling fields of heather (I had just bought my ticket to Ireland), I couldn’t for the life of me think where in all of the city of Chicago I could find them.  I also didn’t have enough time to go here, there and everywhere looking for them, so I decided that I’d substitute another cookie.  Lucky for me, I was standing in Trader Joe’s when I made that decision and decided to snag some ginger crisps and call it a day.

Unlike my other experiments, this one actually worked! Shocking, I know.  It couldn’t have been easier to put together (the recipe called for instant espresso, but I just used really strong coffee) and the crisps worked well after I decided to add several layers.  I loved the spice that the ginger added to the recipe, and truth be told, I liked my version better than the traditional because I find that lady fingers can get a bit soggy and heavy, whereas the ginger crisps soaked up the mascarpone filling without becoming mushy.

I’ve promised myself that I’m home for a good stretch now, and I’m looking forward to being back in the kitchen whipping up fun items, taking pictures and posting.  What can I make for you?

Tiramisu–A Variation

  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons brewed espresso (I used very strong coffee)
  • 4 ounces mascarpone cheese
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 tablespoon of vanilla extract
  • 12 tablespoons heavy whipping cream
  • gingerbread crisps

Combine water and 3 tablespoons of sugar in small saucepan and bring to a boil to melt sugar (I did this in a measuring cup in the microwave).  Remove from heat and add espresso.

Put mascarpone, sugar and vanilla in large bowl and beat with an electric mixer until smooth (I misread this and added the syrup (above). Really didn’t make a difference, but I suppose one should follow the directions?).  Add heavy whipping cream and beat until mixture is thick and fluffy.

Break ginger crisps in half and add about 3 layers in the bottom of each ramekin.  Add a couple of tablespoons of espresso syrup.  Spread half of the mascarpone mixture over top.  Continue with second layer of ginger crisps, syrup and mascarpone mixture.  Chill for 1 hour (you can also do a day ahead).

Peppermint Patty Brownies


Do you ever have one of those moments when you realize that it is very possible that you are someone else’s crazy? Like, when you have to dig deep and say, “Self, you are about to become the punchline in someone’s ‘Oh my god, I used to know this crazy girl who…’ story if you don’t stop acting so, well, crazy.” ? I was (am?) there yesterday.  I asked someone a question that as the words were coming out of my mouth, the logical, non-Sybil side of me was screaming, “STOP TALKING!!! STOP. TALKING. RIGHT. NOW!!” but it was out and there was nothing I could do but own it and try to move on.  Yikes.

What this has to do with food is really nothing other than I decided to bake some brownies to occupy my mind (because I’ve never made brownies from scratch before so I thought it would be a good project) and try to bring myself back to a place that’s a little more Zen and a little less whirling dervish.  Baking has a calming effect on me mainly because I have to concentrate on measuring ingredients out and setting up bowls and not overmixing or underbaking and it’s hard to think about random acts of nuttiness as you are trying to get egg whites to reach a perfect peak.  For a very long time I’ve wanted to make brownies with Peppermint Patties in them because I love brownies and I love Peppermint Patties and so, why not?  I realized that putting them at the bottom of the pan would likely not be a good idea, so I decided to do a layer of brownie batter followed by a layer of Peppermint Patties and then topped by a layer of batter.  Keep in mind that I was watching the end of Kings of Pastry while I was thinking about this, so inspiration was running high.

It’s doing this–making up recipes–that makes me realize that I really have no idea what I’m doing in a kitchen, despite having taken classes and made my way through boot camp.  So when the original recipe called for 2 cups of sugar, I had to pause and try to figure out how to account for the fact that I was adding Peppermint Patties to the mix.  And then would that change the consistency of the brownies? And would the middle of the patties melt and harden and become inedible? And should I cut back on the chocolate? AND……! And before you knew it, I’d forgotten all about my moment of crazy the day before since I had now spiralled down into an abyss of culinary kookiness.  But unlike my other bout of WTF?, I was the only witness and could easily conceal all evidence if need be.

After a bit of tweaking and doubling the baking time, I have to admit to being pretty happy with my experiment.  They’re a little crisper on top than I’d normally like, but the center is moist and fudgy and I cut them so there’s a Peppermint Patty in each square.  The sides (which are usually my fave part of a brownie) were much too crunchy, so I had to cut them off.  I’m not sure if that had to do with lining the pan with foil or that I had to bake much longer than recommended (I think the suggested pan size is too small).  But the absolute best part is that I was completely distracted, which is exactly what I wanted (more than I wanted a whole pan of warm brownies, which says a lot).  I feel better, I can think back on what was said without cringing and calm has returned to my world.  But…there’s one lingering thing nagging at me.  If being in a kitchen can make me this happy so quickly, what the *$)#%& am I doing sitting in an office all day….?

Peppermint Patty Brownies (adapted from Gourmet, October 2003)

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Chocolate Chip Crisps


I always think that the worst part about the holidays being over, other than my credit card statement, is that the treats just end.  And there’s no weaning period, either.  You leave work in December slightly overwhelmed by the chocolate and candy on every desk and come back in January and there is nary a goody to be found.  Not even a Lifesaver or a broken candy cane.  After being on a sugar high since Halloween, it’s kind of harsh to give up the sweets so suddenly.  And it adds to the winter blahs, too, no?

I’d planned to whip up another Hawaiian treat for you so you’d forget that the forecast is cold, followed by frigid and rounded out with a little dear-lord-I-think-the-inside-of-my-nose-has-frozen for the next 7 weeks, but I was craving something comforting and chocolate laden and not too terribly bad for me (as hard as it is to imagine, that combination does exist!) to ease me into the new year.  Luckily, one of Santa’s elves delivered these crisps in my stocking and it took every ounce of self-control I had not to eat the whole bag in one sitting.  Twenty minutes later I said to myself, “Self, it is Christmas and you have suffered in overheated stores and ruined new boots in the snow in order to spread holiday cheer to others, so if eating an entire large Ziploc bag of crisps would warm your soul, go for it.” And so I did.  With a glass of milk that may or may not have had a shot of Kahlua in it.  Why do I admit these things to you?! 

Anyhoo, they are as easy as they are delicious and the hint of curry is a nice addition to the standard cookie happiness.  I think I would up the curry a bit more next time, but I like a little spice.  The original recipe called for pistachios, which I obviously avoided, but I think just about any nut would work here.  Get creative! What’s the worst thing that could happen? You have to eat a tray of test crisps all by yourself?  If that’s the low point of winter, I’d say we’re off to a good start…

Chocolate Chip Crisps (adapted from Paul Grimes’ Pistachio Dark-Chocolate Crisps in Gourmet, December 2007)

  • 1/2 stick unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 6 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon curry powder
  • 1 large egg white
  • 2 ounces fine-quality bittersweet chocolate, chopped (I used Nestle semi-sweet chips)
  • [1/2 cup of chopped nuts of your choice]

Preheat oven to 350°F with rack in middle. Line a large baking sheet with parchment.

Blend butter, brown sugar, flour, vanilla, salt, curry powder, and egg white in a food processor until smooth.

Glue parchment down with a dab of batter in each corner, then spread remaining batter evenly into a 14- by 10-inch rectangle (1/8-inch-thick) on parchment with spatula. Scatter chocolate and nuts evenly over batter, then bake until firm and golden-brown, 18 to 20 minutes. Transfer, still on parchment, to a rack to cool completely. Remove from paper, breaking into pieces.

Christmas Treats


I have a friend who is a terrible regifter.  There is nothing wrong with regifting; I’ve done it myself on occasion (never to you or one of your presents though! NEVER! How could you even think that?!?).  The key to regifting is to remember who gave you what and never make the regift seem as though that’s exactly what it is.  I mean, if you have a known dislike of scented candles, don’t go and give someone a set of pine scented tapers that you received. It’s going to be obvious that you didn’t purchase that.  But, if you get something that you already have one of, or that doesn’t fit and you really can’t return, I say regift away in good faith!  This friend, though, has not only regifted me something that I have given her (can you seriously imagine??), but has regifted me something that is so hideous that you know someone regifted it to her at some point.  There was likely a chain of this particular gift dating back to the late 20th century that I had to break.  I couldn’t, with a clear conscience, give it to anyone else (even a work grab bag), yet I couldn’t throw it away because it was a gift, as horrid as it was… So it sits in my closet taking up valuable shoe space.  I wish I could tell you what it is, but I need to protect the regifter here.  Don’t be that person this year.

Anyhoo, I bought many ingredients over the last couple of days to make all manner of Christmas goodies, but truth be told, the transition from sunny Hawai’i to bitter cold Chicago has taken its toll.  Tears have been shed as I watched the weather report while eating from a bag of chocolate chips intended for chocolate covered pretzels.  But this is where the regift is totally acceptable.  I’ve listed below some of my fave recipes from Christmases past so that you can make a list, hit the stores and be ready for Santa or other guests that may drop in unexpectedly.  You can thank me by promising to have a happy, joyful, restful, food-and alchoholful Christmas.  Merry Merry to you!

Chocolate Covered Oreos are my favorite go-to easy dessert year round.  Adding crushed candy canes kicks them up a holiday notch.

Sugar and Gingerbread Cookies are two of Santa’s favorites, so if you haven’t been all that good this year I’d commit these recipes to memory ASAP.  The vanilla cream is addictive, so be careful.

Would it really be Christmas without a fruitcake?  In a perfect world, you would have started soaking yours in rum around Easter, but give your guests a shot of Appleton’s on the side and they’ll be happy.

Speaking of rum, a little goes a long way in this egg nog.  Unless you’ve had a really stressful shopping experience; then you may as well do it up a bit.  I won’t tell.

If you’re feeling like really ramping up the decorating, try making red velvet cupcakes and adding a little green food coloring to the icing.  I don’t know, for some reason it looks really cute in my head.  It could be that I’ve had a bit too much of the spiked egg nog mentioned above…

Growing up, Christmas breakfast was almost as important as Christmas dinner in our house.  These cinnamon rolls are hella labor intensive, but also hella delish and impressive, so get started on making Santa’s good list for next year and have these ready.  Otherwise, doughnut holes or blueberry muffins will definitely hit the spot after all the presents have been unwrapped.

You deserve a break today, and it’s not at McDonald’s.  After all the shopping and wrapping and making chit chat with cousins you (a) see once a year and (b) don’t actually like, relax with a Come Heather Look, brought to you by the letters G-I-N and the friendly folks at St. Germain.  Don’t say I never gave you anything…

Pumpkin Pie Brulée


Oh kids!  Did you think that I’d forgotten about you? Did you worry that I wouldn’t come up with a little Thanksgiving something to complete your holiday table?  Probably not, because if you’re like me, you are so ridiculously overwhelmed by the fact that Thanksgiving is TOMORROW for crying out loud, that you have precious little room to think about anything else.  For the love of all things good, where is the time going??  Remember that one time when I said that I’d have all of these new and exciting things for you? Yeah.  About that… I really truly do, but life came at me fast over the past couple of weeks and things got a bit sidetracked (apologies in advance for a pictureless post.  Fingers crossed that I can get them up this afternoon. You know, after I actually bake the pies and all…).  And then I’m (knock on wood) going on a bit of a holiday next week (Hawaii! Woo hoo!).  I promise that after I disconnect the Mai Tai drip, I will be back in full force.  Please stick around, ok?  You all make me happy and I’d like to return the favor.

Even though I haven’t actually made the pie for this Thanksgiving yet, it is my go to Turkey Day dessert, so I can completely stand behind it.  A couple of years ago, I decided to mix things up a bit and try something else, and you know how that turned out.  It was kind of like when you have your very best friend for years and then the new girl comes to town and she seems like the perfect person to be your new best friend and even though you know better you ditch the old best friend for the new one and she totally stabs you in the back and steals your boyfriend.  And then you have to go begging your old friend to take you back.  Not that that ever happened to me, but you get the point (I hope.  It’s early and while this all makes sense in my head, I worry that it’s not translating).  At any rate, the pie is relatively easy as pies go, but I’m going to say go ahead and use a pre-made crust, because who has time to cut butter into flour and all that other crazy at this late date (and if you do have the time, god love you and please stop by my house with some fresh dough).  I will also suggest that you pick yourself up a handy blow torch to make the brulée topping, because putting it under the broiler is a little iffy and who doesn’t like to have some fun with a blow torch around the holidays? If you do go the broiler route, be sure to cover the edges of your crust with foil so there are no burnt bits.  Oh! And a little whipped cream never hurt anyone.

Since I’ll be making duck, I can’t help you out on the turkey part, but in case you need some ideas for sides, check out the posts on cranberries, roasted sweet potatoes, cornbread stuffing and corn goodness.  All are super easy and delicious, which is exactly what we need as the holiday madness descends.  I, of course, wish you a lovely Thanksgiving, filled with happy times and enough leftovers for a midnight snack…

Updated: I decided to do mini pies and the first time around worked well.  Just bake on a cookie sheet for about 25 minutes, chill and do your bruleeing before serving.  The second time around for a party, I bruleed and then transported, and the sugar melted and there was no turning back to the crunchy sugar coating I’d perfected before I left home.  Lesson learned: carry a blow torch with you at all times.  So, I have to give this 3 stars, because while it’s tasty as can be, the inability to be able to rely on it turning out right each time is too much for my baker’s heart to handle…

Pumpkin Pie Brulée (courtesy of Bon Appetit)

  • 1 15-ounce can pure pumpkin
  • 3/4 cup plus 4 tablespoons sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 1/4 cups whipping cream
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • Pinch of ground cloves
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 375°F. Roll out dough on lightly floured surface to 12-inch round. Transfer to 9-inch-diameter glass pie dish. Fold overhang under and crimp decoratively. Pierce dough all over with fork. Freeze 15 minutes. Line crust with foil; fill with dried beans or pie weights. Bake until sides are set, about 12 minutes. Remove foil and beans. Reduce oven temperature to 350°F.

Whisk pumpkin and 3/4 cup sugar in large bowl to blend. Whisk in eggs, then cream, spices, and salt. Pour filling into warm crust. Bake pie until filling is set in center, about 50 minutes. Transfer pie to rack; cool 30 minutes. Chill until cold, at least 2 hours and up to 1 day.

Preheat broiler. Sprinkle pie evenly with 2 tablespoons sugar. Broil until sugar melts and begins to caramelize, turning pie for even browning, about 1 minute. Let pie stand until topping hardens, about 20 minutes. Sprinkle pie again with remaining 2 tablespoons sugar. Broil again until sugar browns, about 1 minute. Refrigerate pie until topping hardens, about 30 minutes. Serve or keep refrigerated no more than 2 hours longer.

Flaky Pie Crust Dough

Yield: Makes one 9-inch crust

  •  1 1/4 cups all purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 5 tablespoons chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 1/4 cup chilled solid vegetable shortening, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 2 tablespoons (or more) ice water

Whisk flour and salt in medium bowl to blend. Add butter and shortening. Rub in with fingertips until very coarse meal forms. Sprinkle with 2 tablespoons water. Toss until moist clumps form, sprinkling with more water by teaspoonfuls if mixture is dry. Gather dough into ball; flatten into disk. Wrap in plastic and chill at least 1 hour. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Keep refrigerated. Soften dough slightly at room temperature before using.)

Caramel Apples


Before I got braces, I really really wanted them.  I also wanted glasses and a cast (preferably arm, but I would have made do with a leg).  I’m sure any therapist worth his or her $200 an hour fee would tell you what I really wanted was attention, even in the form of teasing and taunting, but because I went to a school full of nerdy people–even the coolest kids crammed around our old school Apple computers and played Oregon Trail at lunch–having braces and glasses would barely have gotten me noticed.  Unfortunately, thanks to all the carrots I ate, my eyesight was 20/20 (although I did try to fail an eye exam, but took it too far and had a very alarmed school nurse thinking I was legally blind) and I was never adventurous enough to break an arm, but luckily my teeth were a mess.  I’m sure there was a bidding war in the back of the orthodontist’s office to fill my mouth with metal.  I mean, at one point there was talk of breaking my jaw to align my teeth.  So, months before turning 14 I got my wish for braces and they were all I hoped for.

That is, of course, until I was approaching my 16th birthday.  What almost 16 year old wants braces?? I threatened to remove them myself if Dr. G didn’t take them off for me.  I even convinced the man to up the ante in the months leading up to my birthday by removing the wires and giving me a mouth guard to speed up the process (I, of course, did not think of the fact that the mouth guard would prevent me from talking, which I’m sure is why he went for it.  Luckily I only had to wear it while I slept). 

Anyhoo.  The braces came off days before my 16th birthday and the first thing I wanted was a caramel apple.  Obviously they were verboten while I had braces, but even before I’d never been able to eat one right off the stick, because my top and bottom teeth didn’t meet in the middle (you thought I was kidding about how crazy they were, didn’t you??).  I always had to cut them up, which really defeated the purpose.  So, I wanted to bite into a caramel apple and drink sugary drinks and eat Cheetos to my heart’s content.  I was totally foiled though, because my birthday is in July and there was nary a caramel apple to be found.  But I kept my dreams alive and at the first whiff of fall I went in search of caramel to make my own batch of apples.  This is where the shininess of youth starts to color your recollections, because as I remember it all I had to do was melt the caramel, dip my apples in, let them cool and voila! Happiness at my fingertips. 

This go round? Not so much.  First of all, there were no sticks in the bag of caramel like I remember, so I had to schlep to Michaels (usually a happy experience, but I was on a mission) and then it took me forever to actually get them in the apples.  As for the melting of the caramel, I admit that I didn’t follow the package directions completely–I used a double boiler instead of melting it down–but I really don’t remember nearly getting third degree burns while dipping the apples.  Melted caramel is hot, kids! You heard it here first.

In the end, an apple covered in caramel is never a bad thing, no matter the process to get there, so hopefully they’ll make your Halloween to-do list.  As for my teeth, they’ve shifted a bit (I actually went to talk to Dr. G about it last summer and he was SALTY. Like I had done his good work a disservice.  He retired soon after…). I still don’t wear glasses and have no desire for a broken arm or leg any longer.  My need for attention, though, has grown significantly…

Caramel Apples

  • 1 bag Kraft caramels
  • 5 apples
  • lots of patience

We’re going super simple on the recipe today.  Follow the directions on the back of the bag of Kraft caramels.  Don’t be foolish (like me) and try to invent your own.

Peach Kuchen


Following all good memoirists who now put disclaimers in bold typeface all over their books thanks to James Frey: the following story is based on my recollection of certain events.  All conversations are as I remember them and effort has been made to lay out the facts in chronological order, although some liberty may have been taken solely for the purpose of moving the story forward.  All names and defining features have been changed, except in the instance of the peach kuchen (a type of cake with fruit), because that’s the star of the story.

Senior year of college, my two best friends–Marie and Jenny–and I decided that it would be a good idea to share a house on campus.  The fact that all three of us are still alive to tell about it really does not do justice to how hard it is to live with your two best friends, another new friend (Lily) and a very angry cat while writing a thesis and in the throes of about 17 different college romances (spread out among us. Seriously! Who do you think I am??).   We were all writing a thesis, but Marie’s was due first semester, while Jenny, Lily and I had all year.  This meant that while Marie was busy being the queen of footnotes and index cards, the rest of us were free to gallivant for the first 3 months of the school year.  It also meant that when we’d get home from a party, Marie was still up working and we’d try our best to be quiet as we tipsyly made our way to bed. 

One Saturday afternoon, Jenny’s mom came up from New Jersey bringing with her a cooler full of food for us–lasagnas, bread, soup and desserts.  Being the poor starving students we were, we ate about 2/3 of the food she’d meant to have last at least 2 weeks.  We were clever enough to store a lasagna in the freezer and put away most of the desserts, except for the peach kuchen.  I think we decided we’d devour it the next day for breakfast after a night drinking watered down amaretto sours (because we were nothing if not classy).

That night, Jenny, Lily and I headed out to parties, leaving Marie behind to work on her key to Phi Beta (which she got!). The next morning Jenny and I are in the kitchen making coffee, while Marie was reading the Sunday NYT.  I suddenly remember the kuchen.  The bright light of the morning seemed a bit more mellow with the thought of homemade pastry. 

“Jenny!! We have kuchen! Pull it out!”

“Why are you yelling? It sounds as though a freight train is running through my head.”

“That’s why we need the kuchen, babe.  Hand it to me and I’ll put it in the oven to warm.”  Jenny’s head disappeared into the refrigerator and I hear a muffled voice.

“It’s not here.  Did you freeze it?”

“No, I put it on the bottom shelf last night. Just keep looking.  You can’t be that hungover.”

“I’m telling you there’s no kuchen in here. There’s milk, a half eaten lasagna, some rotten lettuce and condiments. No kuchen.”  It’s at this point that Marie’s little voice pipes up.

“Um. I have to tell you something.”

“Hold on a second. We’re on the hunt for the missing kuchen.”

“Yeah. Um. About that.  I ate it.”  I stop pouring coffee and look out over the kitchen island to the dining room where Marie is sitting.

“What do you mean you ate it? Like you had some of it? Who cares. Where’d you put the rest, though?”

“No, no. I ate the kuchen.” Now Jenny’s head has popped out of the fridge and she’s staring at Marie like she’s speaking another language.

“You ate an entire kuchen? By yourself? In one night? Who does that?”

Marie looks stricken, but is trying really hard not to laugh.  “No. I mean, yes. I ate the entire kuchen.  But it’s not what you think.”

“What I think is that you ate an entire kuchen, Marie. BY YOURSELF.  How am I wrong?”  This from Jenny, whose head looked like the freight train may come rumbling out at any minute.

“Ok. Technically, I ate the entire kuchen by myself. But listen to what happened!  I was working and you all were gone and I was sitting there and I remembered the kuchen.  So I went and I got a slice.  And then I went back to work.  And it was taking me a lot longer to finish this chapter that I need to get done to keep on schedule and so I made some tea and remembered the kuchen and so I had another slice.  And then it got later and I got more tired and I thought some sugar would help, so I got another slice and then…. Well then the slices started to add up and it was gone.” 

It was at this point that the tears started rolling down my face I was laughing so hard.  I could barely breathe, but managed to ask, “So your plan for staying up all night was to inhale a whole cake?  At what point did you figure out that that wasn’t the best idea?”

“Um… after it was gone and I realized I’d have to tell you guys what I did.”  By now Marie’s head is down on the table and all I can see are her shoulders shaking from laughter.  “I’m sorry, but the good news is that I finished my chapter.”

“Well, thank goodness for that,” piped in Jenny, who was not seeing the same humor.  “God forbid a kuchen my mom slaved over was sacrificed for no reason!”  This got us started laughing again as Jenny stormed out of the kitchen.

“Jen!! I’ll make you another one! I promise! I’ll get the recipe from your mom. Don’t be mad.”  But Jenny was already in her room, door slammed and didn’t hear.  Her dramatic exit started us laughing again.

“Marie.  Really. Did you eat the whole thing?”

“I did. And it was good. I’d do it again.”

Present day: Marie and I are still friends and still laugh over the kuchen.  We’ve lost touch with Jenny (not over the kuchen episode, although I’m sure that didn’t help) and we miss her and her mom’s baked goods.  I don’t know if Marie ever made Jenny a make up kuchen, but I saw fresh peaches yesterday and I knew I had to give it try.  Since I’ve never actually tasted one, I have no idea if this is real deal, but just getting to tell this story is dessert enough….

Peach Kuchen (adapted from allrecipes.com)

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Pineapple Panna Cotta


You’ll be happy to know–because I know you think about me and my happiness a lot–that my absence from the blog has more to do with too much gallivanting and nothing at all to do with my lack of enthusiasm for cooking and the like.  Granted, not much has been made chez moi lately, but I hope you’ll understand that we only get a few really lovely months in the Chi and I have to take full advantage.  Since you’ve heard from me last, I’ve been to NYC and fallen in love (with the city. Although you Big Apple boys certainly could give the Chitown boys a run for their money!), eaten out for just about every meal, started fencing lessons (oh, what I wouldn’t give to be able to relate that crazy to a food post! But no one seems to want to go to Medieval Times with me…) and contemplated many a farmer’s market, but settled for a good book at an outdoor cafe instead.

Obviously, the 90 degree heat and 100% humidity mean only the very coolest of things can be consumed.  A friend sent me a recipe for panna cotta back when snow was covering most of the city, so I didn’t give it much thought, but now is the time!  This dessert is light and creamy–kind of the skinny cousin to a custard–and since it plays well with fruit, you can take full advantage of the blueberries, strawberries and blackberries that are at their peak during the summer. 

I think this is the shortest post ever, but it sort of fits with how simple this dessert actually is.  Plus, I have a pool to go sit by, a sparkly drink to sip and a beautiful day to enjoy.  Forgive me?

Pineapple Panna Cotta (adapted from Food & Wine, March 2010)

  • 1 cup 2% milk
  • 1/2 cup sugar (I would reduce this next time)
  • 2 teaspoons plain powdered gelatin
  • 2 tablespoons cold water
  • 1/3 cup low fat sour cream (3 ounces)
  • 1-1/2 cups low fat plain Greek yogurt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 cup crushed pineapple (canned), drained
  • 4 tablespoons pineapple juice

In a medium saucepan, heat the milk and sugar over low heat until the sugar dissolves.  Meanwhile, in a small bowl, sprinkle the gelatin over the water and let stand until softened.  Scrape the gelatin into the warm milk and cool completely.

In a large bowl, whisk the sour cream, yogurt, pineapple juice and vanilla. Whisk in the milk.  Put a tablespoon of crushed pineapple in the bottom of glass and pour panna cotta over.  Refrigerate until set, about 3 hours (or overnight).

Remove from refrigerator and top with crushed pineapple.  Serve immediately.

Ice Cream Sandwiches


So I have a confession: I’m not a huge fan of ice cream.  I know, catch your breath.  Ready to move on?  I mean, I certainly wouldn’t say no to a bowl of mint chip if offered, but it’s not my favorite thing in the world.  A pint can safely sit in my freezer from one season to the next without fear of being attacked with a serving spoon and subjected to chick flicks.  I think it’s partly because I am always always cold, and the idea of eating something frozen just makes me shiver and sets my teeth on edge.

Cookies on the other hand are likely to be my downfall.  As I think I’ve mentioned a time or 1000, I love oreos more than I like most people (have you tried the new mint ones? HEAVEN!).  Big chewy chocolate chip cookies are comfort on a plate.  I really don’t think you can ever go wrong with oatmeal raisin and a glass of milk.  Even a sugar cookie will do in a pinch. 

So every year, my neighborhood has a book fair with book sellers and readings and all types of nerdy events and I always have an ice cream social.  I chose ice cream because I think a cookie/cupcake social sounds strange.  I started doing it the first summer I lived in the neighborhood because I wanted to be of the fair without actually being at the fair (basically, I wanted be a part of it without having to be in the crowds).  Now it’s become an annual party where my friends come over and I make ice cream sandwiches and have all of the fixings for sundaes (sprinkles, maraschino cherries, m&ms, whipped cream) and root beer floats.  All of this is accompanied by cupcakes and brownies and pink lemonade.  Basically it’s a sugar fest, with a few books thrown in for good measure.

The ice cream sandwiches are always the belle of the ice cream ball, because they are two delicious things put together and really, how can you go wrong?  The trick is to bake the cookies and freeze them as soon as they cool a bit.  This will keep them from bending and breaking when you’re spreading the ice cream. Wrap the sandwiches in wax paper and let them refreeze so that they won’t start melting right away as your guests (or you) devour them.  You can get really fancy and add sprinkles or mini chocolate chips around the edges.  Really, the possibilities are endless.  Which is what I’m hoping this summer will be: endless and full of possibilities…

Ice Cream Sandwiches

This is pretty self-explanatory, no?  Take a cookie, spread some ice cream, top with another cookie, wrap in wax paper, let freeze a bit (if you can stand the wait), enjoy!

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