Saturday, August 29, 2009


A little over two years ago, we sold the 85-year-old home we had lived in for 20 years. We moved into a wonderful new home, just a mile away, that had things I had never experienced before (like a garage). The move was also a wonderful opportunity to get rid of all the stuff we had accumulated (I will not go into what the basement looked liked. Suffice it to say that the changing table we used for my sons, now aged 27 and 25, was still buried down there).

So we simplified things and moved into a "clutter-free" zone. I really enjoy knowing where everything is and that the useless stuff is at a minimum.

And did I learn my lesson? Ya think??? Well, basically I have, but sometimes I still get a few bad urges. Like last year when I was in our local hardware store and saw that beautiful Mario Batali orange pizza pan.

Of course I bought it. And then felt compelled to spend the next few months making every kind of pizza known to man. I clipped a recipe from our local paper for a sausage and burrata pizza. Burrata? What's that?

The recipe allowed that it is similar to fresh mozzarella. "Okay," I thought. "I'll just pick some up at Whole Paycheck." Haha, was I in for a surprise! The stuff was NOWHERE to be found. I didn't waste to much time worrying about it though, and just bought fresh mozz instead. Worked just fine.

Then last spring I found myself in South Beach, sitting outside an Italian cafe on Lincoln Road for lunch with my husband (that would be Henry with the lack of hair). Burrata was on the menu. I ordered it.

It showed up with some gorgeous tomatoes, extra-virgin olive oil and a sprinkling of sea salt. I cut into what looked like a piece of fresh mozzarella and all of this creamy goodness came oozing out from inside. It was astonishing. It was delicious. It was addictive. I grudgingly gave a (small) taste to Henry. His reaction was similar to mine: holy shit!

As I mentioned before, it's hard to find. It's imported from Italy and isn't readily available. It also has an extremely short shelf life. I found it at Murray's Cheese in New York City (the most amazing cheese shop - don't miss the place if you visit the city) but even they don't have it all the time.

But they had it this week. It's now sitting in my fridge and we are about to enjoy it. It's $10.99 for a container (buy two) and overnight shipping is only $9. A bargain, if you ask me. Here's the link:

And don't blame me if you become addicted.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Teddy Kennedy

You might not have agreed with his politics, but we all mourn his passing. May we all live our lives with such passion, commitment and "human-ness."

Rest in peace, Senator Kennedy.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Summer Food

I love summer entertaining. I mean, what's not to like? It's easy, casual and you get to wear shorts. You can even go barefoot and pull your hair back in a ponytail (well, not if you're bald like my husband, Henry. You get my point, however). It also requires nothing more than marinating some chicken in olive oil, rosemary and lemon juice and throwing it on the grill. Top it off with some lemon-pepper-shallot butter (1 stick of butter, juice and zest of 1 lemon, 1 chopped shallot, salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste) and it becomes really memorable.
Then all you need to do is shuck a few ears of corn, drop them into boiling, salted water, cover the pan, turn off the heat and it's ready whenever you are.
Next? Thickly sliced gorgeous summer tomatoes, seasoned assertively with salt and freshly ground pepper. You can guild the lily if you like, with stuff like fresh basil, olive oil, pesto or fresh mozzarella but none of that is really necessary since your tomatoes are really, really ripe and juicy and can easily stand on their own merit. (Of course, all bets are off if you can get your hands on some fresh burrata, but that's another post, since I just ordered some online today!)
Now all you need is dessert. Here's my solution: I call it Like Watermelon for Chocolate. It's cool, it's refreshing, it requires NO HEAT OR BAKING (essential for summer food) and it's delicious. It's also ridiculously easy.
So what are you waiting for? Go ahead and invite the neighbors for dinner in the backyard this weekend!

Like Watermelon for Chocolate (adapted from "Verdura" by Viana La Place)
4 cups cubed watermelon
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup cognac or brandy
Best quality bittersweet chocolate bar
Place watermelon in a shallow dish. In a small bowl, combine sugar and brandy. Stir until sugar is dissolved, then pour over watermelon. Refrigerate until very, very cold - at least 3 hours.
To serve, use a slotted spoon to place watermelon into individual serving glasses (well, alright, if you are me, you will add some of that good boozy liquid also). Serve with slabs of good chocolate.
Serves 4 (or two, if you live in my house)

Friday, August 21, 2009


We are headed out to dinner tonight with friends. Turns out that two of them are celebrating birthdays and one couple is celebrating an anniversary. My friend Bess thought it might be fun to go out for dinner (Rathbun's!), then celebrate at her house afterwards with cake and champagne.

Cake? Oh yeah, I am SO there. Not for eating it (see previous blog entry), but for baking it. Bring it on!

Naturally I volunteered. Bess immediately (like, she didn't even hesitate) accepted. Oy vey! What have I gotten myself into? I'm dealing with 8 people here. Who likes what? Who doesn't like what? Should I go the chocolate route? Vanilla? Caramel? Citrus? What about cupcakes?

And here's another problem: my cake decorating skills SUCK. No kidding. You're probably wondering how in the heck I managed to work in a bakery. Well, I'll tell you how. I got by because I had friends there! Anytime a cake needed to be decorated, they stepped up to the plate (no pun intended) and covered my sorry ass. Sandee, Dorothy, Carla and Michael -- you know who you are!

So here's what I did in the end. Ina Garten (gee, have I mentioned her before?) has a great recipe for a sheet cake. It's really, really good. So I made it in the half sheet pan she recommended (if you don't have one, you can buy it at Costco or Sam's) and then proceeded to deviate from her instructions and go it on my own. Uh-oh. What was I thinking?

Turns out what I was thinking ended up being pretty damn good. I cut the cake into thirds, layered it with a caramel filling, then frosted it with Ina's chocolate icing. Turned out gorgeous and it tastes good, too (I know this because I consumed a fair amount of both the caramel filling and the chocolate icing. Who needs the actual cake, anyway?) And I actually screwed up my courage, dragged out the pastry bag and decorated the thing. Woo Hoo!

And when we cut into it later tonight, it will taste great. Helped, of course, by all of the wine and champagne we will have consumed beforehand.....

Ina Garten's Birthday Sheet Cake (adapted slightly)
2 1/4 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
3 cups granulated sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
6 extra-large eggs, room temperature
1 cup sour cream, room temperature
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
Zest of 1 lemon
3 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour
1/3 cup cornstarch
1 teaspoon baking soda

Preheat oven to 350-degrees. Butter a 12x18x1-1/2-inch sheet pan. Line with parchment and butter again.

Cream butter, sugar and salt in an electric mixer until very light and fluffy, about 8 minutes, scraping down sides of bowl several times. Reduce speed to medium-low and eggs, 1 at a time, then the sour cream, vanilla and lemon. Mix well, scraping down bowl as needed.

Sift flour, cornstarch and baking soda. Add to the butter mixture in thirds, with mixer on low speed until just combined. Finish mixing by hand as you do not want to overbeat or cake will be tough.

Pour batter into the prepared pan and level it with an offset spatula. Rap it once on countertop to remove any air bubbles. Bake for 25-30 minutes or until top is golden and a toothpick comes out clean. Remove from oven and let cool to room temperature.

Caramel Filling (adapted from Southern Cakes)

3 cups light brown sugar
1/2 cup unsalted butter
7 tablespoons cream or half-and-half
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

Combine all ingredients in a medium saucepan. Place over medium heat and bring to a boil, stirring constantly. When mixture is boiling, reduce heat so that it bubbles gently. Cook for 7 minutes, stirring often. Remove from heat and let cool 5 minutes.

Stir briskly with a wooden spoon until filling cools down and thickens. This could take anywhere from 3 to 6 minutes.

Use as soon as it reaches spreading consistency. If it becomes too hard, warm gently over low heat and add a tablespoon or two of cream or half-and-half until filling softens again.

Ina's Chocolate Frosting

24 oz. chocolate chips (I used Ghirardelli 60% cacao)
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature

Place chocolate chips and cream in a heavy saucepan and place over medium-low heat. Stir frequently, until chocolate is melted and mixture is smooth. Remove from heat and add the corn syrup and vanilla. Blend well, then set aside and let cool to room temperature. When completely cool, place in the bowl of an electric mixture fitted with a whisk attachment. Add softened butter and whisk on medium spped for 2-3 minutes until thickened and ready to spread. Use immediately.

To Assemble Cake:
When cake is completely cool, loosen edges with a knife or spatula and turn out onto large cutting board. Trim edges on all sides (you can eat these yourself and no one ever has to know which is of course the other reason why I know this tastes good) to make an even rectangle. Cut crosswise into thirds (my finished pieces measured 11 x 5/14 inches).

Place first layer onto platter, bottom side facing up. Spread with caramel filling. Repeat with second layer, working quickly before filling hardens. Top with third layer, bottom side facing up.

Put a big dollop of chocolate frosting on top then use an offset spatula to bring it down over sides in order to cover. Continue this process until cake is frosted completely. You can smooth the top and sides and decorate as desired, or you can just go for the "natural" look. Either way, you can't go wrong!

This cake will serve approximately 8 - 10 people.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Miss you, Dad

I come by my food addiction honestly. At age 83, my mom cooks incessantly. I'm not kidding. She is always making food for someone who is ill or malnourished or something. I think she just looks for people who are in need so she can cook. Oh yeah, and she entertains constantly. She's always throwing cocktail parties for her q-tip friends. They drink a lot of wine, too. Go Mom.

But the heart and soul of my food addiction comes from my Dad. Next week marks the 11th anniversary of his passing. I still miss him. But I rejoice in my wonderful memories. My dad never forgot a meal. You could ask him what he ate on September 18, 1968 and he could probably tell you. He loved to cook, too. He developed his own recipe for Beef Bourguignon which is kind of interesting, given the revival of that dish today thanks to Julie and Julia. Of course, his called for a can of golden mushroom soup which embarrasses me to even tell you, but whatever.

He once went to Galatoire's in New Orleans and had a dish involving eggplant and crabmeat. He loved it and immediately recreated his own version. Several months later, Bon Apetit (yeah, he was an avid reader back in the day) published the restaurant's recipe. He tried it but decided that his own version was much, much better. He called it "Stuffed Eggplant a la Edwin."

And then there is the crab story. Being from Baltimore, he loved nothing better than steamed crabs. So one day we went to the local farmer's market and bought several big boxes of live crabs. We took them home and then Mom and I decided to go shopping, leaving Dad to deal with all of those clawing, energetic crustaceans.

You can guess what happened next. As he was transferring the boxes of crabs to the back yard (headed for the big pot of boiling water waiting on the grill), the bottom dropped out. Can you say "Jail Break?" The things went everywhere! Even by the time we got home, my dad was still trying to coax them out from underneath the shrubbery. I'll bet some of them are still rejoicing today that they were spared from our feast that night.

His last name was Cromwell. Guess it's only fitting that, some years ago, Henry and I traveled to London and stood gazing upon the statue of Oliver Cromwell just outside Parliament. I knew immediately that I was a direct descendant. Two words: THUNDER THIGHS!

Here is his recipe for barbecue sauce. It's the best. Make it, marinate your chicken in it for as much time as you can, then throw it on the grill. Use medium heat, as it will caramelize quickly.

Here's to you, Dad!

Ed Cromwell's Barbecue Sauce

1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup chopped sweet onion
1/3 cup water
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
2 teaspoons worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon dried mustard
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Heat oil in a saucepan. Add onion and saute for 3 minutes. Add remaining ingredients and simmer for 20 minutes over low heat. Cool, then use to marinate chicken.

(Note: because I am Jewish and so I always cook way too much in terms of quantity, I always double or quadruple this recipe. But hey -- that's just me).

P.S. the book in the picture was his favorite barbecue book. It is stuffed with his recipe clippings also. It makes me happy to look at it from time to time.......

Sunday, August 16, 2009

My Favorite Cookie Recipe (well, one of them, anyway!) (Buttery Oatmeal Lace Cookies)

There is a story attached to this recipe. It comes from my wonderful Aunt Ann who is now in her eighties. She hates to cook. She won't even make brewed coffee in the morning - instant is okay in her book. And she will readily tell you she is not a baker!

Maybe not, but these cookies are simply the best! They were my Dad's favorite cookie. The ingredients are simple, the method is about as easy as it gets, but this recipe is proof positive that sometimes the whole is greater than the sum of its parts (if you have ever made Ina Garten's Portobello Mushroom Lasagne from "Barefoot Contessa at Home", then you know exactly what I am talking about). If you don't have the book, download the recipe from the Food Network at

Make a batch tonight (the cookies, not the lasagna). You probably already have the ingredients on hand. Roll into 1/2 teaspoon-sized balls, place on a tray and freeze. When completely frozen, store in a plastic freezer bag in one layer. These can go directly from the freezer into the oven, so bake off as many as you need, keeping extras in the freezer so you will always have them available to feed your addiction!

4 oz. unsalted butter
1 cup granulated sugar
1 egg
3 tablespoons unbleached flour
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup quick-cooking oats

Place butter in a saucepan and melt over medium heat. Remove from heat and stir in sugar. Blend well, then add remaining ingredients. Chill dough for at least one hour.

Preheat oven to 350-degrees.

Using a ½ teaspoon measure, scoop out dough in that amount and roll into balls. Place on a baking sheet lined with a Silpat or with parchment. Space cookies at least 2 inches apart as they will spread.

Bake cookies for 8-10 minutes until just golden. Do not overbake, as they will continue to brown. Remove from oven and let sit for 3 minutes. Using a large spatula, remove cookies to cooling rack and cool completely.

Yield: approximately 4 ½ dozen 2-inch cookies

Friday, August 14, 2009

Cake Lady, Part 2

I wrote in the last post that I don't bake and ship my "amazing chocolate cakes" to our troops with ANY expectation (EVER) of receiving any kind of thanks. I mean this very sincerely.

Of course, guess what happened next? The day after that post, I received a handwritten card and a letter from Lt. W. who was the recipient of my five boxes last month. Talk about timing!

Our men and women over there have so much responsibility. They are fighting for us and our country while doing their best to stay alive and uninjured. They are apart from their families and loved ones. As a commanding officer, Lt. W. is also responsible for those who serve under his command. I can't even imagine what it must be like to carry that kind of responsibility. And with all of that, he still found both the time and the inclination to sit down and write a letter of thanks to me. I don't have the appropriate words to describe how humbled I am by that.

So there is no recipe in this post. Instead, I choose to share a few of Lt. W.'s words:

"Every one of us sends their appreciation to people like you who have not forgotten about us over here. We appreciate everything you do. Remember, no act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted. I hope that maybe one day we can all live peacefully and in great harmony."


Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Cake Lady

This is not a political blog. If I want that kind of debate, I need look no further than my own kitchen table. So I am not going to share what I think about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan - except to say that I wholeheartedly support our deployed soldiers who are sacrificing so much to serve our country.

I do a lot around this issue. Through a non-profit group called Soldiers' Angels, I have "adopted" many soldiers overseas. I volunteer at the VA Hospital here in Atlanta. I also write letters on a weekly basis to soldiers who have been injured (thus far, I have sent over 700 - what a sad statement). But the happiest thing I do is bake for our troops on a monthly basis.

Here's how it works: every month I receive the name of a commanding officer or soldier "in charge" then I send over whatever I wish to bake. My recipient distributes the baked goods throughout the company or platoon so that everyone gets to enjoy a taste from home. Over 125 of us do this each month so it amounts to a lot of homemade treats!

It's not quite as easy as it sounds. First there's the issue of customs. You have to fill out a detailed form for each box and the only way you can ship it is to take it in person to the post office. And then you wait... and wait... and wait. Nine times out of ten, there is only one postal clerk (oh, but wait - this isn't a political blog!) One time though, I was in there with my five boxes and there was a long line behind me. The lone postal clerk announced to the line that he was processing home-baked goods to send to our troops. Everyone in line broke out in applause!

The biggest hurdles are timing and heat. It takes at least a week for a box to arrive over there and the heat can be deadly. M & M's survive quite well but chocolate chips? Not so much. And no matter how well-wrapped it is, odds are that it won't be fresh by the time it arrives.

Voila! Enter mason jar cakes. Sterilize jars in boiling water, air-dry, spray with cooking spray, fill halfway with cake batter, bake, screw on sterilized lids and rings, let them seal and there you go. The things will stay fresh for MONTHS! Not that they will last that long once they get over there...

So every month I send 24 "Amazing Chocolate Cakes." They're good, too! Damn good, actually. WSB-TV here in Atlanta came over and did a segment about this and they couldn't get enough of them!

The only thing is, I can't figure out the frosting part. So I send the canned stuff. Oh well, I guess if you are stuck over there in Iraq or Afghanistan, you're not going to be too picky. Still, I'd like to find an alternative. I've read a couple of recipes where you make a topping and then pour it over the warm cakes before sealing them. Think I will test that soon. I'll let you know how it turns out.

I have received some amazing letters, emails and even flags flown over missions in Iraq and Afghanistan, dedicated to "Cake Lady." You don't do this for thanks, but it brings you to your knees when you get stuff like that. Click on the Cake Lady photo above and read some of the comments - this was a group in Afghanistan last year. Just yesterday I received an email from a nurse who took care of the wounded in Germany. She tasted one of my cakes that ended up there. She's home, but now her daughter is in Afghanistan. She wondered if I would be willing to send some cakes to them. I am humbled by that (and of course I am baking them tomorrow).

I did the math yesterday. I've been doing this for two years. That means I have sent 576 cakes and 288 cans of frosting so far. I had no idea. Sometimes I even surprise myself......

So here's my "Amazing Chocolate Cake" recipe. It makes a great hostess or holiday gift. If you don't want to bake it in mason jars, then just use it like a regular cake batter and bake in your pan of choice. You're on your own for the frosting, though!

Amazing Chocolate Cake (In a Jar)

3 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour
3 cups granulated sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup unsalted butter
3/4 cup water
2/3 cup cocoa
3/4 cup buttermilk
3 eggs
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 325-degrees.

Sterilize 12 (1 pint) straight-sided, wide mouth canning jars by placing them in a pot of boiling water for 10 minutes. Remove with tongs and set aside on a clean towel to dry and cool. Spray each jar well with cooking spray. Place lids and rings in the water and boil for 10 minutes. Turn off heat and keep them in the hot water until ready to use.

Combine flour, sugar, baking soda, cinnamon and salt in a large bowl. Set aside.

Combine butter, water and cocoa in a saucepan. Place over medium heat and cook until butter is melted, stirring frequently. Pour into the bowl with the flour mixture and blend with a wooden spoon or whisk. Add buttermilk and blend, then and eggs and vanilla and stir well to incorporate.

Place 1 cup of batter into each prepared jar (I use an ice cream scoop for this). Batter should come up to the middle of each jar. Wipe any batter from rim of jars with a damp paper towel. Place jars on a baking sheet and bake for 45-55 minutes or until cakes have risen (test with a cake tester or press top with fingertip - if it doesn't give, then cake is done). Carefully remove from oven.

Make sure jar rims are clean. If they aren't, the jars will not seal properly. While jars are still hot, place lids on jars and screw rings on tightly. It's okay if cake has risen above the top of the jar. Just press it down with the lid and screw ring on. The cakes will shrink as they cool.

Let covered jars cool on the counter until you hear a "ping" sound as they seal. If you miss the "ping", wait until jars are cool and press on top of the lid. If the center of the lid doesn't move at all, then it is sealed.

Yield: 12 cakes
(Note: recipe can be easily halved)

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Double Vanilla Ice Cream with WHAT?????????

In the embryonic stages of this blog, I'm gonna fess up. Here it is, folks. I RARELY EAT DESSERT. Now don't get me wrong, it's not that I don't like it or anything (I mean, what's not to like?) but there are two factors in play here. One is my never ending battle to actually become a skinny cook (which of course will never happen) and the other is my lifelong addiction to salt.

Yup, I'm a salt kinda girl. I'm the one who has an esoteric assortment of the stuff in my pantry. In fact, I just pulled everything off the shelf so I could take inventory. Here's what's on hand:

Bolivian Rose Andes Mountain coarse salt
Truffle salt
Alaea - Coarse Hawaiian pink salt (my fave)
Fleur de Sel (flower of salt)
Cyprus Black Lava Mediterranean black salt flakes
Ocean Smoked Gray sea salt
Murray River Australian Flake salt
Hiwa Kai Gray sea salt
Diamond Crystal kosher salt

Believe me now? I probably should have been a member of the deer family. Just think about all of those salt licks out there! Oh, and please don't tell my doc (hope she doesn't read this) or she might make me mend my evil ways.

I know you are probably thinking that I am deranged. You're probably also wondering where the hell I am going with this. Here's the answer: Double Vanilla Ice Cream with Olive Oil and Fleur de Sel.

My dear friend Charlene made the mistake of telling me recently that she was headed to Float-A-Way Cafe for dinner. (If you live anywhere near Atlanta, this is where you must eat. Trust me on this one). The minute she said it, I was reminded of their amazing house-made, soft serve ice cream. They serve it with a selection of toppings, but the one that sends me over the edge is the version with extra virgin olive oil and Fleur de Sel.

Let me make myself clear. I do not eat dessert. Give me a stinky cheese any day. But this???? Put it in front of me and I will lick the bowl clean (what was that I said about deer?) If I ever find myself on death row, this is what I will eat for my last meal (ok, so truffled asiago fries might be there also but that's another post).

So I decided to make it at home. Even though I worked for the geniuses who own Float-A-Way, I did not have their recipe. What I did have, however, was their concept which I happily attribute to them.

When you are making vanilla ice cream at home, there is little difference in the basic ingredients - sugar, cream, milk or half-and-half, eggs and vanilla. So that's what I started with. And then I remembered that canister of vanilla sugar hiding in the depths of my pantry (for the uninitiated out there, it's just granulated sugar into which a vanilla bean or two has been buried and left to "cure" for as long as you can stand not to use it up quickly). Mine had been left to languish for about nine months. I will tell you now that it added a big "WOW" factor to the finished product.

My recipe follows. It was pretty damn good, if I do say so myself. In fact, I will go so far as to say that it's worth the purchase of an ice cream maker if you don't already have one. Mine is a Cuisinart, not overly expensive and certainly not high-tech. Any idiot could make it work, so I suppose that's why I purchased it :)

Of course, we live in the real world and I'm not deluding myself that you will rush out and buy an ice cream maker of your very own. So use store-bought vanilla if you must, but make sure it's the very best quality and let it soften before you serve it, okay?

Double Vanilla Ice Cream (with Olive Oil and Fleur de Sel)

2 cups heavy cream
1 cup half-and-half
3/4 cup vanilla sugar
pinch of salt (I used Kosher)
6 egg yolks (I used farm fresh eggs, but any large egg will do)
2 teaspoons vanilla paste (you can find this at Whole Foods or online)
Extra-virgin olive oil (I used Colavita, but use whatever you like)
Fleur de Sel

Place cream, half-and-half, sugar and salt in a saucepan over medium heat. Stir frequently until sugar is dissolved and mixture is warm but not simmering.

Meanwhile, place egg yolks in a heatproof bowl and stir them together with the vanilla paste.

Slowly pour about 1 cup of the warm cream mixture into the egg yolks, whisking to blend. Then pour this back into the remaining cream/half-and-half mixture. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until mixture reaches a temperature of 165-degrees (use an instant read thermometer for this). Eggs will coagulate at 180-degrees, so do not let it get to that point.

Remove from heat and strain into a bowl. Do not use a fine-mesh strainer. You want something that will catch any egg that has cooked but will also let the specks of vanilla strain through.

Refrigerate until chilled (at least 2-3 hours) or place bowl into a larger bowl of ice and stir occasionally until cool, about 45 minutes. Then place in ice cream freezer and freeze according to manufacturer's directions.

When the ice cream is ready, scoop into dishes or glasses (it's better if ice cream is softened). Drizzle a spoonful of extra-virgin olive oil over the top of each one and sprinkle with Fleur de Sel to taste. You will immediately be transported to Nirvana.

This makes about a quart of ice cream.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Liz & Julia, Part 2

This was our menu for Julia:

Spiced Pecans

Charleston Style Pickled Shrimp

Cheese Wafers

Country Ham and Melon

Smoked Trout with Cider Cream Sauce

Creole Oyster Soup

Grilled Breast of Duck with Bourbon Sauce

Wild Rice and Pecan Pancakes

Sauteed Kale with Garlic

Salad of Greens with Jerusalem Artichokes

Warm Rhubarb Pie with Vanilla Ice Cream


Paul Cheneau Blanc de Blancs Brut

Rully Bland 1988, Maison Jaffelin

Chateauneuf du Pape, Clos de L'Oratoire 1986

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Liz & Julia

Julia Child lives! Well, sort of, anyway, thanks to Meryl Streep's brilliant portrayal of her in the movie "Julie & Julia" which opens in theaters tomorrow. If you haven't yet read the book by Julie Powell upon which this film is based, run, don't walk to get yourself a copy. It's hysterical. You will laugh your toukas off!

So Julia is everywhere these days. PBS is even running old episodes of her TV series "The French Chef." Wow, maybe this really is the second coming or something!

And so amid all of this hoopla, here's the thing: I met Julia Child. Hell, it's better than that. I COOKED FOR JULIA CHILD! And no, I'm not making this up. Here's how it happened.....

It was March 13, 1990. The IACP (International Association of Culinary Professionals) was holding its annual meeting in Atlanta. A series of dinners to be held in private homes throughout the city was planned. Conference particpants could choose which dinner they wanted to attend. I had volunteered to plan, create and execute one of those dinners with my friend Kay Goldstein (who owned the catering firm Proof of the Pudding at the time). The event was to take place at a magnificent home in Buckhead, perched high upon a steep hill (keep this in mind for later). We decided it would be an informal, seated dinner featuring contemporary regional foods.

I arrived early that morning, my crappy minivan (the kids were young in those days, need I say more about the condition of the thing?) loaded with food, supplies and catering equipment. I parked next to the house at the top of the hill. All the better for unloading. Once inside, we started prepping, setting up and cooking.

4:00 pm. The phone rings. Kay answers and chats briefly with the caller. She then hangs the phone up and screams "JULIA IS COMING TO DINNER!!!!!!!" Holy shit!

6:00 pm. A shuttle bus arrives with our 30 dinner guests. It stops at the base of the hill. The guests have to schlep all the way up the hill - and that includes Julia who was in her 80's at the time. She gamely headed up with the other guests, barely breaking a sweat. (We, of course, were horrified, kicking ourselves for not providing her with an alternative). I'll tell you though, if she was bothered at all by it, she never let it show.

7:00pm. The guests are seated and the first course is served. By now, I am out on the adjacent terrace, grilling duck breasts for the next course and sweating profusely. I'm a little concerned about grilling them to the proper doneness and getting it all done in a timely fashion. Please, oh please, let them linger over their first course so I can manage to pull this off!

I'm bent over the grill, turning the damn things when suddenly I'm aware of a looming presence next to me. It's holding a cocktail, too. And then that trill......"Soooooooooo, what are we cooking?"

OMG. It was Julia. She had calmly left her seat at the table and wandered over to see what I was doing. OMG. SHE WAS WATCHING ME COOK! OMG. And then she asked me where I had gone to culinary school. OMG. Because of course, I hadn't and I couldn't think of a good response so I just came out with it. "Oh," she said. "Well, I have never thought one has to go to culinary school to be a good cook." Thank you, Julia.

After a few more pleasantries, she returned to the table and dinner commenced. The evening progressed nicely, we were quite pleased with our food and all went well. Before we knew it, it was time for our guests to depart.

We accompanied everyone to the front door. By some amazing stroke of luck, I ended up walking out next to Julia. She complimented me on the dinner and I walked out the front door with her to see the shuttle bus waiting down the hill at the base of the driveway. I saw her hesitate ever so slightly.

I looked at her. I looked at my crappy minivan that was parked right next to us since I had forgotten to move it down the driveway. I looked at her again. "Julia," I said, "can I give you a lift down the hill?"

Folks, she didn't hesitate. She was in that van like a flash! And so, I drove her slowly down the hill, never wanting that moment to end........

But of course, it did. I didn't ever want to sell than van, though. And we found out later that the reason she selected our dinner was because it was the only one that was seated. Oh well. I think she had a good time anyway. We sure did!

Wednesday, August 5, 2009


Bear with me, please. Gotta figure out a better format for recipes. It didn't post as I wrote it.

I'll figure this out, right?

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Summer Gazpacho

Ah, summer produce! Just returned from a week at Kiawah Island. It was heaven! Biked a lot, hung out at our pool and the beach, no make-up, no bra and ... well, you get the idea. (Lots of good summer drinks, too but we won't go into that now). The best part was the wonderful farm stand (Rosebank Farms) right around the corner. Local peaches, tomatoes, corn, okra and gorgeous fresh flowers. Oh yeah!

So first up: gazpacho. This recipe is adapted from one I got years ago from my good friend Scott Peacock. It's good the first day, but even better on the second when it is thoroughly chilled and the flavors have had a chance to blend. Oh, and don't even THINK about using a food processor for this, folks. Seriously. It's supposed to be kinda chunky.

Summer Gazpacho

1 cucumber
*4 small yellow local cucumbers
3 small sweet local onions
1 red onion
2 yellow peppers
2 red bell peppers
6 stalks celery, leaves included
6 scallions
4 large heirloom tomatoes
2 hot peppers (jalapenos or whatever you like), minced
8 cups vegetable or tomato juice (preferably organic)
2 1/2 tablespoons Kosher salt
2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 teaspoons tabasco or hot sauce
Sour cream or yogurt for serving

Use a large chef's knife to chop cucumbers, onions, peppers , celery, scallions and tomatoes. Vegetables need to be finely chopped, but still just a bit chunky. Stir in hot peppers, vegetable juice, salt, pepper, olive oil, balsamic vinegar and hot sauce. Taste to adjust seasoning. Let chill and serve when very cold, topped with a dollop of sour cream or yogurt.

This ended up making about 4 quarts (yeah, I always make too much). Feel free to halve the recipe, although gazpacho never lasts too long around here. I have been known to eat it for breakfast.....

*substitute 1 regular cucumber if you can't get the small, yellow local ones.
Oh, and one final comment. Never, EVER make this when tomatoes aren't ripe and at their peak of juiciness! There's a reason why it's called "Summer Gazpacho."