Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Life with a Few Cookies Thrown In

Those of you who read this blog on a regular basis (I bow down in gratitude to all of you) know that I write about more than just recipes. I’m notorious at poking fun at myself  because I think everything is better with a dose of humor. I’ve had lots of fun sharing things like fruit flies in my garage and rats in my backyard.

When describing my blog to those who aren’t “in the know,” I usually make the comment that it combines a slice of life with a slice of cake.

So yes, I am going to give you that recipe I promised you in the last post for Raspberry-Filled Shortbread, but not before I give you another one of those little slices of life.

It has to do with one of those marathon walks that Henry and I embark upon most every weekend. (Well, usually … but we’ve been out-of-pocket for the last six weeks, what with mobile wedding cakes, other travel and moving Eric to a new apartment in Philly). We set out recently, resolute that we could persevere, even in 95-degree heat. We forgot how hard it is after a long hiatus.

We slogged it out for about four hours (no, I’m not kidding) then finally caved and decided it was time to stop for some nourishment (that would be air-conditioning, Greek salad and a glass of wine – for me, anyway). We were hot, sweaty and looked ridiculous, but we didn’t care. Places we stop usually get this and seat us far, far away from other patrons. This is generally a good call, lest they run off their other customers.

We stopped at a mediocre Irish pub. It wasn’t our place of choice (that would have been Leon’s Full Service), but we knew we needed to stop. I ordered that wine.

Unbeknownst to me, the one waitress in the place was doing shots with folks who were seated behind me. I know this because Henry had an unobstructed view. Next thing I knew, she was approaching our table while trying to balance at least four glasses in her hands.

She attempted to set my wine in front of me. It was like slo-mo. I saw it slip out of her hand and could do nothing but watch as it sloshed all over my chest, my lap and my iPhone. Really???

Guess that’s what I get for imbibing in the middle of a walk when I probably should’ve been drinking Gatorade. To her credit, she was mortified and offered to bring me a dry T-shirt. I demurred, but she insisted. I ended up with three T-shirts.  Guess guilt can be a pretty powerful weapon!

I looked at Henry. “This is blog-worthy,” I said.  Even though I got to change my shirt, the bottom half of me was still wine-soaked and I’m sure I smelled like an alcoholic mess on the rest of the walk home.  Gotta wonder what the neighbors thought!


1 pound (4 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
4 egg yolks
2 cups granulated sugar
4 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt (I used kosher)
1 12-oz. jar seedless raspberry jam
1/2 cup confectioner's (or non-melting) sugar

Line a 13 x 9-inch baking pan with heavy-duty foil to overhang sides.  Butter or grease foil well.

Place the butter into the bowl of an electric mixer and cream well, scraping down bowl at least once.  Add the egg yolks and mix well.

In a medium bowl, stir together the granulated sugar, flour, baking powder and salt.  Add to the butter/egg mixture and mix on medium-low speed until just incorporated and dough starts to come together.  Turn dough onto a floured surface and form into 2 ovals.  Wrap each one in plastic wrap and freeze at least 2 hours or preferably overnight.

When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350-degrees.

Remove 1 package of dough from the freezer and coarsely grate (I used a box grater).  P1ace on bottom of the prepared pan and press down lightly to form a bottom crust.

Stir jam to loosen and spoon over the dough.  Use a small spatula to spread evenly within 1/2-inch of the edge all the way around.

Remove second package of dough from the freezer and grate.  Sprinkle it over the raspberry jam and press lightly to form a top crust.  Bake until light golden brown, about 40 minutes.  Remove from oven and cool on a baking rack.  When cool, remove foil and cut.  Dust with the confectioner's (or non-melting) sugar.

Yield:  12 to 16 bars, depending upon how you cut them

Butter?  No such thing as too much.


*  I know I seem to post a lot of shortbread recipes, but get over it.  Shortbread rocks!

*  I served these with that scrumptious Lemon Mouuse I told you about in the last post, but they are pretty wonderful all on their own.  They're not bad for breakfast, either!

Saturday, August 20, 2011

The Dagger Quick

A long time ago and far, far away, we were much younger and had two small boys.  Occasionally we wanted to get away from it all (doesn't every parent?) and escape for a random weekend. We were lucky enough to convince one of the kids' teachers to take on the task of staying with them while we were off pretending to be adults. 

That teacher was one Brian Eames, who continues to educate, inspire, enlighten and motivate kids.  He is married to the fabulous Jesica and they have three amazing boys.  Guess all the times they babysat Eric and Andy didn't dissuade them from the challenges of male offspring.

I won't drag this out (for once).  It was Brian's dream to write a children's book and so he did.  (Do you know the odds of writing a book and getting it published Just ask Kathryn Stockett, whose best-selling/now-made-into-a-movie book "The Help" was rejected 60 times).  Brian didn't have that problem.  Simon and Schuster decided that "The Dagger Quick" was worthy of publication.  Go Brian!

It was my great pleasure to host a dinner here recently to celebrate Brian's achievement.  It was a hot summer night, so I went with beautiful, cool salads and and easy menu that we could all enjoy while sitting around and basking in his success.  It was a lovely evening and I think my dessert was the perfect ending.

(As an aside, this recipe is from William Poll Caterers in NYC.  It was reprinted in the NY Times by Alex Witchell in her column "Feed Me.")


1 cup egg whites (from about 7 extra-large eggs)
2 cups confectioner’s sugar
½ cup fresh lemon juice (from 5 – 7 lemons)
1 cup light corn syrup
3 cups heavy cream
Candied lemon peel for garnish (recipe follows)
Softly whipped cream for serving, if desired

Bring 2-inches of water to a boil in the bottom of a double-boiler. In top of the double boiler, combine egg whites, confectioner’s sugar and lemon juice. Place over the boiling water. Using a large balloon whisk, whisk mixture vigorously until smooth, airy and very thick, about 5 minutes. Add corn syrup and whisk just until smooth. Remove from heat.

Transfer the mixture to a large mixing bowl. Cover and refrigerate for 1 hour. Remove from refrigerator and add heavy cream. Using an electric mixer, whisk until thick enough to hold stiff peaks, about 2 minutes. Place in dessert cups or bowls and refrigerate until ready to serve. These can be made a day ahead and will hold in the refrigerator if covered with plastic wrap.

Top with candied lemon peel and (if desired) a dollop of whipped cream before serving.

Yield: about 9 cups (18 to 24 servings)

In the interest of full disclosure, I was the recipient of some fresh shiso leaves the day I made this, so I cut them into a chiffonade and  used them aa a part of the garnish on top.  You could substitute fresh basil, or you could just omit anything green altogether.


2 large lemons
2 cups granulated sugar plus more for coating

Using a vegetable peeler, remove peel from lemon in vertical strips. Be careful to remove only the zest and not the white pith underneath, which is bitter.

Place the lemon strips in a saucepan and add 2 cups of water. Bring to a boil, then drain off water. Do this three times, then pour into a strainer to drain peels.

Place 2 cups of water into the pan and add 1 cup of water. Whisk to dissolve sugar, then add peels and bring to a boil over medium heat. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer uncovered until peels are tender and translucent, about 10 minutes. Drain peels and let cool.

Place enough sugar to coat peels into a small bowl. Add peels and toss to coat. Remove peels one at a time, shaking gently to remove excess sugar and place on a baking rack to set up. When dry, store in an airtight container. They will keep for a week or two.

You can use them as they are, or slice into julienned strips. 

*  I served this with Raspberry-Filled Shortbread and it was a perfect partner.  Will post that recipe next.

*  Brian was kind enough to sign our copy of his book.  He wrote "For Liz and Henry - who showed us that great sons can be raised."  I cannot imagine a greater compliment.

*  Thanks to all of you who read this blog.  It's been two years now.  I appreciate all of you.

Friday, August 12, 2011

E-Z Bake

Did you have one of those Easy-Bake Ovens when you were a kid? I did (of course) and I still remember those minuscule round baking “pans” and those miniature boxes of cake mix. Fortunately my baking skills have improved immeasurably since then, but the silly thing definitely helped me develop my baking chops.

(btw, the first picture of that little kid in this link looks exactly like I did back then – bad bangs and all!)

Flash forward a few hundred years, and my Easy-Bake has been replaced by double convection ovens. And, while I would never let a box of cake mix grace my kitchen, I’m not adverse to “easy-bake” recipes. So when my good friend and cooking companion SW called recently about getting together to make bread and homemade mozzarella, I was on it like a duck on a junebug (we say that kind of weird stuff down here in the South).

We’ll talk about the cheese in another post; for now I want to tell you about the bread. It’s not a new recipe – it came out a few years ago and generated a lot of buzz at the time. When SW told me that’s what we were making, my heart sank. No-Knead Bread? Food snob that I am, I eschewed it when it debuted (even though I clipped the recipe) and never deigned to make it. I explained that to my friend, who looked at me like I had lost my mind.

“You don’t get it,” he said. “It’s not about the recipe. It’s about the baking method.”

Now, normally I would stick to my guns, but I totally trust SW when it comes to all things culinary. (Don’t tell him I said that). He knows his way around a kitchen like nobody’s business and I know enough to listen when he has something to say. As usual, he was right.

In the spirit of sticking to something E-Z, I am giving you the no-knead recipe. In addition to no-knead, it’s a no-brainer and it’s quite good. But the real gift is the baking method, which you can use for any yeast bread you can think of. It produces a lovely round of bread that will stand up to anything you can buy in your local bakery or grocery store. Trust me!

NO-KNEAD BREAD  (from Jim Lahey of Sullivan Street Bakery in NYC)

3 cups all-purpose, unbleached flour, plus more for work surface
1/4 teaspoon dry active yeast
1 1/4 teaspoons salt (I used kosher)
Cornmeal, for dusting

In a large bowl, combine flour, yeast and salt.  Add 1 5/8 cups of lukewarm water and stir until blended.  Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let dough rest at least 12 hours or preferably 18 at warm room temperature, about 70-degrees.

Dough is ready when its surface is dotted with bubbles.  Lightly flour a work surface and place dough on it.  Sprinkle it with a little more flour and fold it over on itself once or twice.  Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rest about 15 minutes.

Using just enough flour to keep dough from sticking to work surface, gently and quickly shape dough into a ball.  Generously coat a cotton towel (not terry cloth) with cornmeal and put dough seam-side down on towel.  Dust with a little more cornmeal then cover with another cotton towel and let rise for about 2 hours.  When it is ready, dough will be more than doubled in size and will not readily spring back when poked with a finger.

At least 30 minutes before dough is ready, heat oven to 450-degrees.  Put a 6- to 8-quart heavy covered pot (cast iron, enamel, Pyrex or ceramic) in the oven as it heats.  When dough is ready, carefully remove pot from oven.  Slide your hand under towel and turn dough over into pot, seam side up.  It may look like a mess, but that is okay.  Shake pan once or twice if dough is unevenly distributed; it will straighten out as it bakes.  Cover with lid and bake 30 minutes.  Remove lid and bake another 15 to 30 minutes, until loaf is beautifully browned.  Cool on a rack.

Yield:  1 (1 1/4-lb.) loaf

*  Don't be like me.  Read the recipe before you start this process.  That's because you need to plan ahead as this needs AT LEAST 12 hours of standing time.  Duh!

*  Yes, I realize that the amount of water called for is 1- and 5/8 cups.  This is not a typo.  Just do it.

*  SW, I bow down to you in gratitude.  Kitchen Super-Hero, oh yes you are!

Thursday, August 4, 2011

On a Roll

Brace yourselves.  This is going to be the longest post in history.

Those of you who are my Facebook friends are well aware of what's been going on with me and why I haven't posted anything recently.  To make a veeerrry long story short, I agreed some months ago to make a wedding cake for my son, Andy's best friend Jermaine (and his lovely bride Megan, whom we love like a daughter).  Now, that doesn't sound too daunting, does it?  I mean, it's only cake!

Well, yes.  But did I mention that the wedding was taking place in New Orleans and I live in Atlanta?  As usual, what was I thinking?

My catering instincts kicked in and I spent tons of time plotting my course.  As any good caterer knows, you can NEVER trust that the kitchen you're working in will have anything you need, so it's imperative that you bring EVERYTHING, even down to the potholders and paper towels.  I can do that.  Check. 

Arrghh, but the thought of baking all of those cake layers in a foreign kitchen did not sit well with me.  Too much margin for error.  Since the wedding was taking place on a Saturday, I wondered if I could bake the layers on Tuesday.  If so, it meant we could load up everything in the car on Wednesday and drive to New Orleans, leaving me with Thursday to make the frosting and Friday to assemble the thing.  (Sorry, Henry - there goes your fantasy of taking an old-fashioned Amtrak trip.  You get to drive your packed-to-the-gills car for 7 hours instead).

I spent several months testing recipes.  I knew Hummingbird Cake would hold its moisture, but I was wary of the nuts in it, as some folks are allergic.  Besides, I found out that they turned blue after three days.  Fail.  Then I tried Red Velvet, but it just didn't do anything for me and I wanted something a little more special than the usual accompanying cream cheese frosting.  Lemon-Poppyseed?  It didn't hold up, as the crumb was too fine and the cake dried out.  I also tried a basic yellow cake from a wedding cake book I purchased.  Way too dry for my taste.  Another fail.  Uh-oh.  It was now a week from B (that would be baking) - Day.

The lesson here is that sometimes you have to get out of your own way and do what you know best.  I turned to my favorite cream cheese poundcake and cha-ching!  The cream cheese and butter worked together to hold in the moisture and frankly, it was better on Saturday than it was on Tuesday.  Alrighty, then.

If you are one of the two people who read this blog, then you know I have a perverse sense of humor.  So I will just cut to the chase, without being politcally correct.  The groom is black.  The bride is white.  With that in mind, what could possibly be better than a marble cake?????  My apologies if any of you are offended, but I knew it was the perfect cake for the perfect couple.  I doubt that all of the 130 people at the wedding got it, but for those of us that did, it made us smile.  C'mon, a little humor never hurt any of us!


1/2 lb. unsalted butter
1/2 lb. cream cheese
3 cups granulated sugar
1 teaspoon sea salt
6 eggs, at room temperature
3 cups sifted cake flour
1 tablespoon vanilla extract

6 oz. bittersweet chocolate (not unsweetened), melted and cooled slightly

Preheat oven to 325-degrees.  Butter two 8-inch cake pans and line with parchment paper.  Butter parchment well and set aside.

Cut butter and cream cheese into pieces and place in the bowl of electric mixer.  Cream well, scraping down bowl, then add sugar and salt.  Continue beating for 10 minutes, scraping down bowl several times.

Reduce mixer speed to medium and add eggs one at a time.  Incorporate each egg before adding the next.  When all eggs are added, increase speed to high and beat for 1 minute until mixture is no longer grainy. 

Reduce speed and add flour.  When just incorporated, add vanilla and blend briefly.  Remove from mixer, and use a spatula to combine by hand.

Remove 1/3 of the batter to a medium bowl.  Add the melted chocolate and fold with spatula until blended.

Divide the non-chocolate batter between the 2 prepared pans and spread evenly.  Drop 1/2 of the chocolate batter over each pan with a large spoon in dollops.  Use a knife to gently swirl in the chocolate batter.

Rap each pan sharply on the counter to remove air bubbles.  Bake for 25 - 30 minutes or until a cake tester comes out clean.  Let cool slightly, then remove from pans onto a wire rack to cool completely before frosting.

Yield:  One (1) 8-inch, two-layer cake

I made the recipe X 12 in order to end up with 4 tiers plus
5 sheet cakes (a caterer's trick - make extra sheet cakes that can be cut in the
back of the house then served to the guests).

Once I got the cake part figured out, I turned my attention to the frosting.  To me, this thing screamed out for chocolate frosting to enhance the chocolate swirls in the cake.  My favorite recipe is incredibly good but it is also extremely temperamental as it's loaded with butter.  Given the heat and humidity in New Orleans, I nixed that idea.  I guess I could have done the standard butter, cocoa and powdered sugar routine, but that just didn't have the finesse I wanted.  The wedding cake book I mentioned had a recipe for making frosting by combining chocolate and sour cream.  That looked promising.  Until I tried it.  Yuck.  That stupid book failed me twice, so I threw it away!

Once again, I went back to what I know.  There is a local Boston bakery chain which is owned and operated by Judy Rosenberg.  She published a book in 1991 titled "Rosie's All-Butter, Fresh Cream, Sugar-Packed Baking Book."  Now with a name like that, how could anything in it be bad?  One of the best things in it is her recipe for chocolate frosting.

This is another one of those recipes I am embarassed to give you because it's so elementary.  It has just three ingredients and it is a total breeze to make.  All you need are your three ingredients and a blender.  I know, I know - you are going to read this recipe and say "no way."  Oh, but resist your impulse and try it out.  You will be stunned at the result.  It's rich, shiny, chocolate-y, it holds its shape and it is absolutely fabulous.  Trust me.

After  Isplit and  frosted the tiers, I placed them in the refrigerate to set up.
Heaven forbid they should slide!


6 oz. unsweetened chocolate
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons evaporated milk (not sweetened condensed milk)
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar

Melt chocolate in a double boiler over simmering water.  Cool slightly.

Meanwhile, blend the evaporated milk and the sugar in a blender on medium speed for 10 seconds.  Add melted chocolate and blend on high speed until thick and shiny, about 30 - 60 seconds, depending upon your blender.  The blender's sound will change when the frosting has thickened.

Spoon frosting into a bowl and let sit at room temperature for at least 30 minutes, then cover with plastic wrap until ready to use.

Do NOT refrigerate, even if not using for several days.  It will keep in a cool, dry place.

Yield:  1 1/2 cups or enough for a 2-layer cake

Is that frosting gorgeous or what?

Sheet cakes.  As usual, I erred on the side of too much.
The kitchen and waitstaff were happy campers.

Now for the fun stuff.  The wedding reception was held at a local barbecue joint.  Gotta love that, and the barbecue was awesome.  Even better?  The name of the place! 

We scouted the place out a few days before the wedding.  We also visited the kitchen where I would be making the frosting and assembling the cake.  It became immediately clear to me that we needed wheels.

In a perfect world, we would have ready access to a rolling cart.  Yeah, right.  So we headed to Walmart (haha, when was the first time I ever shopped there?) with Henry bitching the whole time about how it was going to cost a ridiculous amount of money to purchase something suitable. He forgot he was dealing with Liz Lorber.

I hit the ground running in that cavernous, disgusting place and immediately got my hands on a rolling television stand.  The posted price was $39.99, but when I got to the cashier, it rang up at $19.99.  Way to go, Liz!  Now we had to deal with the scary part - ASSEMBLY REQUIRED.  As a veteran of building more IKEA furniture for my kids that I care to acknowledge, I'm pretty good at it.  But Henry?  Not so much.  And of course, it was his job to deal with it since I had to work on the cake.

He managed to put it together, but not without a lot of moans, groans and "oh shits."  I could have done it in half the time!

Then it was time for the rubber to meet the road (ouch).  Time to transport the cake.  Oy veh.

Naked on the now-assembled TV stand

Please be careful, Matt and Henry!

In the car.  I sat next to it during the trip to Squeal.
I don't think my leg has woken up yet.

Long story short (well, not really), the cake made it to the reception and was enjoyed by all.  Even by me.  Now that's saying something!