Monthly Archives: May 2014

Fruit Bowl

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When I have a dinner party, I like to cook and prepare everything myself. If someone wants to bring something I’m happiest with wine and fruit. I think that’s a great hostess helper. So I suppose for me Sangria would be a bonus! You know, fruit in the wine! Many years ago I invited a family for dinner and when asked what they could bring I said “how about fruit?” What a surprise when they showed up with a tremendous bowl filled with a small can of fruit cocktail in the wee bottom. When she handed it to me she said, “I’m not really a good cook!” I thought that was the funniest thing I had ever heard.

So how do you make a nice presentation when serving fruit? Well if you’re truly not a cook and find the whole thing overwhelming, buy three different color grapes and put them side by side in a nice bowl or glass pie dish with the green grapes in the center. Another way is to make a fruit salad with different color fruits of various textures and sizes. Then you can put it in a pretty bowl and mix it all together. Just make sure the bowl size is appropriate to the amount of fruit you plan on using. However, I have never been big on the fruit salad; I prefer to separate the fruit by like kind. I think presentation wise it looks really pretty that way, and I like the idea of being able to select whichever fruit you like the best.

My sister Francine makes a beautiful fruit tray. People often ask her to bring that when she is invited to their home. One of her tricks is the type of tray she uses. It’s a large Lucite tray with divided removable containers that sit on top. It makes it easy to put the similar quantities in each container making for a nice balanced fruit platter. For my first anniversary she bought me one as a gift and I use it often and think of her every time I do.

What can you do if you don’t have a beautiful tray to serve it on? First, cut your fruit in similar shapes and sizes. Use a large shallow bowl and place like fruit together. Then disperse the fruit so that no two same colors are sitting next to one another. It’s a simple idea yet look how beautiful it is! If you like to serve yogurt or cream cheese dip you can place that right in the middle. Enjoy!

In Honor of Friday… A Rice Krispie Treat is Born!

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Several years ago I was a group leader at a day camp in Long Island, New York. Every Friday was bring your counselors a treat day. Friday morning you would see all the group leaders emerging from their cars carrying boxes of doughnuts, or big bags filled with something special from the local bakery. It was something we did to say thank you for all of your hard work and remind us that the weekend was coming! The first couple of weeks I did the same thing. I would stop early in the morning with my boys complaining in the backseat that we had to leave earlier then usual.

Then one Thursday night I was really stressed at the thought of stopping by Dunkin’ Donuts in the morning. When you work at the camp your children don’t take the bus, they go with you in your car. So before and after camp, I was the bus driver for my 2 boys and at that time they were 3 and 7 years old. It was tough enough to get them out of the house let alone early to stop at a bakery. Even though it was summer and camp, it was still my job and I had to be there on time. And yes, I could have picked it up the day before but that’s not me. I like things fresh, fresh, fresh!

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So that Thursday night I looked through my house to see what I had on hand… Rice Krispies, marshmallows, and butter – yippee… that’s how a Rice Krispie treat was born – I was saved! I added extra marshmallows, coated them with m&ms on top and voila – a delicious treat. I have to admit I was a little nervous bringing in my pan of something homemade. What would they think? Would it be as good as a doughnut? Would they think I was cheap? It was Better than I had expected! They went crazy over them and were gone by lunch time. I should mention our lunchtime was 10:40 and we called it brunch! The weeks that followed included homemade cookies, cupcakes, and brownies. Over the years, I had some great counselors, but that first year, was special. Maybe because the camp was all new to me, maybe because it was summer, or that I have two boys, but I really loved those girls. They worked tirelessly, and were devoted to the children in our group. Here they are below, three beauties inside and out – Deanna, Stephanie and Amanda.

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Anyway, I got such rave reviews from the girls every Friday that the counselors in the bunk next door asked their group leader why she didn’t bake for them. I often found them sneaking into my bunk for a treat! This began the friendly competition to see who would top who with the best baked goods. It was so much fun for us and our counselors. Word spread through the camp and there were more group leaders bringing in brownies than doughnuts! I guess one person really can make a difference in the world!

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Fast forward 12 years and my youngest son is now a sophomore in high school. Last night was the end of the year baseball banquet and the JV team was in charge of bringing in dessert for everyone. I planned on making cupcakes, which I did and will post in a couple of days. At the last minute a couple of people cancelled and I thought we might need an extra dessert. I looked in my house to see what I had on hand… Rice Krispies, marshmallows, butter, melting chocolate, sea salt, vanilla, and mini m&m’s… that’s how a Rice Krispie treat in 2014 is born – I was saved!

8 cups Kelloggs’s Rice Krispies cereal
6 cups marshmallows (I like to use mini’s but whatever you have on hand will be fine)
1/4 cup butter
2 teaspoons good vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon pink sea salt

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For the topping
2  1/2 cups good quality chocolate melts (I use Merkens, or Ghirardelli)
1 cup dark chocolate chips (I use Ghirardelli double chocolate chips)
1 bag mini m&m’s (or other candy you might like)

Line a 14 x 11  x 2 – inch cake pan with wax paper and lightly coat with cooking spray. Set aside. You could use a 12 x 9 if that’s all you have. The treats will just be thicker.

In a large pot melt the butter over low heat. Once the butter has melted add the salt, vanilla and marshmallows and stir until melted, stirring as needed. Remove from the heat and add Kellogg’s Rice Krispies cereal stirring gently until well coated.

Pour it into the prepared pan and either use a buttered spatula or your hands to evenly press the mixture into the pan.

While it is cooling, now is the time to melt the chocolate. I use the microwave method when I need something quick and easy. I pour the chocolate melts and chips into a glass bowl and put it in the microwave for 30 seconds at a time on medium power, stirring after each time. It took about 1 minute and 30 seconds for most of the chocolate to melt. With my recipe, since I’m combining both chips and candy melts, you don’t want it to melt the chocolate all the way you need to temper it a little bit. That means bringing it back to temperature slowly. So on your last check from the microwave, when there are still some bits of whole pieces of chocolate, it’s time to take it out. The warmth of the chocolate will melt the rest of it. I like a combination because I like the texture of the candy melt for this, but the added dark chocolate taste of the chip.

Pour the chocolate evenly over the rice mixture. With an offset spatula or spoon, spread the melted chocolate evenly over the pan. Let it sit for about 5 minutes then sprinkle the m&m’s over the top. Use as many or as little as you like. I used about 3/4 of a bag on this batch. A smaller pan will require less.

Let cool completely. When cool, lift it out of the pan with the wax paper. I like to spray a sharp knife so that I get a nice smooth cut and then I cut into 2″ squares. This recipe makes about 30 treats. Enjoy!

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My name is Maya and I like it Just Fine

When I met Maya Angelou in Barnes and Noble on 86th street in NYC in 1996, she was standing in front of me on line. My son was 18 months old and holding a little board book that he loved entitled Corduroy’s Birthday. It was the first book he selected for himself. At that time, Sesame Street was our number one favorite program. As I stood there, trying to come up with something profound to say to this amazing Poet, Teacher and Inspiring Writer, all I could think of was the Name Song she sang on Sesame Street. There was one line that stuck in my head and played over and over until I mustered the courage to say something to her. If you know me, you know I sang the verse! “my name is Maya and I like it just fine” to which she smiled and said “it is a very catchy song you know.” I did know!

I had just finished reading I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings about a year prior so I could have mentioned that. I could have said something I heard her say on the Oprah Show changed my life. Instead, this was the first thing that popped into my mind. I told her that and she said, “I am glad to leave an impression on the young and hope by hearing that song they are happy with themselves. Everyone should be proud of their name, who they are and where they come from.” I stood there in awe. I was glad this is what I chose to say.

My blog is a cooking blog. It is also my journey in life as a Brooklyn girl to a Florida girl back to NY and landing in Ohio. It is a blog that I hope when you read it, makes you want to come back and hear what I have to say. Along the way I will share things I love, and don’t love whether it is cooking related or not. I will also share things that have changed my life in hope that it will touch you in some way. Today I share with you someone whose words impacted my life.

“I am a Woman Phenomenally.  Phenomenal Woman, that’s me.”

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

“You may not control all the events that happen to you, but you can decide not to be reduced by them.”

“My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor, and some style.”

“My great hope is to laugh as much as I cry; to get my work done and try to love somebody and have the courage to accept the love in return.”

“Try to be a rainbow in someone’s cloud.”

“I’ve learned that you shouldn’t go through life with a catcher’s mitt on both hands; you need to be able to throw something back.”

“We may encounter many defeats but we must not be defeated.”

“You are the sum total of everything you’ve ever seen, heard, eaten, smelled, been told, forgot – it’s all there. Everything influences each of us, and because of that I try to make sure that my experiences are positive.”

“One isn’t necessarily born with courage, but one is born with potential. Without courage, we cannot practice any other virtue with consistency. We can’t be kind, true, merciful, generous, or honest.”

“Love recognizes no barriers. It jumps hurdles, leaps fences, penetrates walls to arrive at its destination full of hope.”

“Nothing can dim the light which shines from within.”

“When people show you who they are believe them – the first time.”

~ Maya Angelou

I am posting this to honor the life of Maya Angelou, may you rest in peace.

 

Mother’s Day 2.0 – Baking Chocolate Babka!

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My mother wasn’t big on what she called Hallmark holidays. She believed that everyday should be mother’s day, just as much as she believed everyday should be children’s day and father’s day for that matter. If you think about it, she was right. Why celebrate someone you love only one day a year? Aren’t they special everyday? Do we need a card company to remind us to be nice to our mothers? I’m not suggesting bringing your mother flowers everyday, or making her breakfast in bed in every spare moment, and having dinners out every Sunday, but when you really think about it, it’s not that difficult just to do something nice for those we love.

What does this have to do with babka? Well, everything. I don’t like gifts on “mother’s day” – flowers yes, gifts not so much. I like spending time with my family; that’s my gift. This past Sunday, not the “official mother’s day” was my mother’s day. My son Ethan titled it Mother’s Day 2.0 – an upgraded version so to speak! We didn’t all sit down to breakfast together, I wasn’t served breakfast in bed, and yes, I did the dishes! What made it my day was that everyone did something with me and planned a day for us to be together. This started with making babka with my older son Jarred. I’m pretty sure he will be the one to carry on the family recipes and for that I’m extremely glad.

Babka is an Eastern European sweet yeast bread that is classified as a coffee cake. If you live in the northeast or you’re a Seinfeld fan you know there are 2 kinds of babka – a chocolate babka and a cinnamon babka. Check out this clip from Seinfeld with Jerry and Elaine, it’s truly a classic! Chocolate babka is the more popular of the two. In the show, they describe the cinnamon babka as the lesser babka, which in all honesty I don’t necessarily agree with. Chocolate is my favorite so we decided to try that one first. I have always thought it was difficult to make – turns out, the toughest part is waiting for the dough to rise! My friend Marcy makes babka all the time and now I know why! So here’s the recipe and be patient; enjoy a nice cup of coffee while you’re waiting.

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Recipe for the Yeast Dough (makes two 8″ loaves)

1/4 cup warm water plus 1 teaspoon sugar (around 110 degrees)
1  1/2 tablespoons active dry yeast (or 2 packages)
1/4 cup sugar
2  1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon salt (I used pink sea salt)
1 stick butter melted
2 extra large eggs (at room temperature)*
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 large egg for the egg wash (this will be brushed on before the streusel is added)

*eggs should always be room temperature when baking. You can put them in warm water for about 5 minutes if you forget to take them out ahead of time. Doing this will help the eggs blend well with the room temperature butter.

In a measuring cup add 1/4 warm water and 1 teaspoon sugar. Sprinkle in the yeast and stir. Set aside for about 5 minutes until the yeast has bubbled and created a foam on top.

While the yeast is blooming you can put the dough together. In a medium size mixing bowl add all the dry ingredients and stir with a fork to combine. In a separate bowl mix the eggs, butter and vanilla. Add the wet ingredients to the dry including the yeast. I kneaded the dough in the bowl for just a couple of minutes to combine. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and place it in a warm spot to rise until double in size (about 1 hour or maybe a little more).

While the dough is rising, put together the filling and streusel topping below.

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Chocolate Filling

1 stick butter softened (not melted)
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1/2 cup sugar
pinch of salt

2/3 cup good quality mini chocolate chips

In a small bowl, sift the cocoa into the sugar and salt. Mix in the butter until well blended, cover and set aside. The chips will be sprinkled on top of the filling. Please note: If the mixture is too soft, put it in the fridge to firm up. It should be the consistency of easy to spread peanut butter.

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Streusel Topping

1/3 cup butter melted
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract (or almond extract)
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt

In a small bowl, sift all the dry ingredients together. Add the melted butter and extract, stir with a fork until combined and crumbs form. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside.

Once the dough is doubled in size, punch it down, take it out of the bowl and place on a well floured surface. Split the dough into two pieces using a knife or dough scraper. Make sure you have enough flour on the board so that when you roll out the dough it doesn’t stick. Roll out one piece of dough into an 8″ x 12″ rectangle, it should be about 1/8″ thick.

With a spatula, spread 1/2 the chocolate filling mixture and then sprinkle 1/3 of the miniature chips on top.

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Starting at the bottom edge, roll the dough into a tight log. There are many ways to form a babka, you can fold the log in half and twist it, you can cut it into pieces and place them on top of each other, or even make it like monkey bread. For my first time out, I thought simple was best and kept it in a log. Place the log into an 8″ x 4″ aluminum loaf pan that has been buttered generously or sprayed with canola oil. Repeat this process with the second piece of dough. Now they are ready for their second rising. Place plastic wrap on top and place in a warm place for another hour or more.

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Preheat your oven to 350 degrees with your baking rack in the center of the oven. After the second rising it should be almost double in size. Now it’s ready to brush with egg wash, do this very lightly as you don’t want them to deflate. Sprinkle each with 1/2 the streusel mixture and place in preheated oven. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes or until lightly brown on top. If they are browning too much, place a piece of foil on top.

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A Day in Brooklyn… Sal’s Pizzeria

At first you might wonder how this classifies as one of my favorite things on a food blog. It won’t take you long to see why.

In 1989 I moved back to Brooklyn for a few years and shared an apartment with my sister. I’d have to say they were really fun years, probably some of the best in my life. We lived on Court Street in what is known as the Cobble Hill/Carrol Garden’s area. Back then, the neighborhood was rich in Italian culture and walking home from the train at night from the hustle and bustle of the city was like really coming home. You could pass by the fish store and the owner would wave to you from the window, Jim or Andy from the fruit market ran out to tell you what came in fresh that day, and the smell of bread from the many bakeries permeated the air in the street.

Saturday was laundry day and my sister and I would walk a few blocks to the laundromat put our clothes in a machine and walk across the street to Sal’s Pizzeria for a couple slices of pizza while we waited for the clothes to wash. In my mind, this is some of the best pizza there is. My sister and I love pizza, always have but it has to be really good pizza. Back then no one worried about eating too many carbs, or food allergies, or about eating dairy – you just ate and enjoyed. In addition to their pizza, the pasta is so fresh and light – don’t even get me started on how delicious the eggplant parmesan is!

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In April, we were in NY and had what we called a “Brooklyn day” with my sister and her kids. We try to do that whenever we can. Each time we do, having a slice at Sal’s is a must. Sal’s son John is the owner now. Both of his parent’s have since passed away. The restaurant was opened in 1957 and his father bought it in 1970 when John was just 10 years old. He told us how cool he and his siblings thought it was that they owned a pizza place. They would go there after school, eat there, do their homework there, then he and his brother and sister helped serve dinner. He still lives around the corner. This guy is the salt of the earth and whenever we go back to Brooklyn and eat at his restaurant (which is every couple of years) he always remembers us and that is something special; especially since we haven’t lived there in over 20 years.

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Going there really is like coming home. The pizza is just as delicious now as it always was. While the area around his restaurant has changed, the high quality and integrity of their food remains the same. On this visit we sat in the extension of his restaurant, Mama Maria’s named after his mother. We ordered a delicious black kale salad with pine nuts, and wish I had the recipe for the dressing – one of the best salads I have ever had! Of course we had to have pizza so we ordered a plain cheese pie. In addition to that we had the bruschetta pizza filled with sweet teardrop tomatoes and garlic. My son ordered fettuccine Alfredo that was so light and fresh with just the right amount of everything. Finally we had to have a cannoli but sadly found out that it’s no longer on the menu. It was his mother’s secret recipe. Instead he offered us tiramisu – who could say no to that? It was light, creamy, and had just the perfect hint of cocoa, espresso and cinnamon.

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Now we are into the next generation of our family. As you can see, they love it as much as we do and always look forward to going back. With the changing landscape of Brooklyn, Sal’s Pizzeria is a refreshing historic gem. I only hope the gentrification of this area can appreciate what they have and support him. I know I’m doing my part all the way from Ohio!  Sal’s Pizzeria/Mama Maria’s 307 Court Street, Brooklyn, New York. 718-852-6890