Springing into March and Maple Syrup Time

“March is a month of considerable frustration – it is so near Spring and yet across a great deal of the country the weather is still so violent and changeable that outdoor activity in our yards seems light years away.” – Thalassa Cruso (known as “The Julia Child of Horticulture”, 1909-1997)

While waiting for the March Lion to turn into a Lamb, for the snow to melt and the ground to thaw, consider baking one of the three cakes below (taken from “The Food52 Cookbook” by Amanda Hesser & Merrill Stubbs, 2011).

Maple Yogurt Pound Cake 

maple cakeIngredients:
1/2 cup Grade B Maple Syrup
3/4 cup yogurt, preferably whole milk
3 large eggs
1/4 cup sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 tsp. lemon zest
1 & 1/2 cups flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 cup vegetable oil


  1. Heat oven to 350 degrees F and generously butter a 9x5x3-inch loaf pan.
  1. In large mixing bowl, whisk together the maple syrup, yogurt, eggs, sugar, vanilla, and lemon zest. In a separate bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, and salt. Add to the wet ingredients and stir just to incorporate. Add the oil and fold gently until the oil is absorbed into the batter. Make sure not to over mix the batter.
  1. Pour the batter into the prepared loaf pan. Place the pan on a baking sheet in the oven and bake until a tester inserted into the center comes out clean, about 50 minutes. Cool the cake in the pan on a rack for 5 minutes. Cut around the sides of the pan to loosen the cake. Turn the cake out onto the rack, then turn it upright on the rack and cool completely. Serve with fresh sliced strawberries and fresh whipped cream!

maple pound cake

Faulknerian Family Spice Cake with Caramel Icing

Ingredients for cake:
1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup shortening (yes, shortening)
3 cups sugar
5 large eggs
3 cups flour
2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground mace (don’t leave this out)
1/2 tsp. ground allspice
1/2 tsp. ground cloves
1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 cup plus 2 tbsp. whole milk
1 tsp. vanilla extract

Ingredients for caramel icing:
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1/3 cup heavy cream
2 cups confectioner’s sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract

Instructions for cake:

  1. To make the cake, heat the oven to 325 degrees. Grease and flour a tube pan and set aside. Using an electric mixer, cream together the butter, shortening, and sugar until light and fluffy.  Add the eggs one at a time, mixing until smooth.
  1. Sift together the dry ingredients, twice. Add the dry mixture to the creamed mixture, alternating with the milk. Add the vanilla. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 1 hour and 15 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Cool in the pan on a wire rack for about 10 minutes, turn out of the pan, and allow to cool completely on the rack.

Instructions for caramel icing:
In a medium saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat and stir in the brown sugar and cream. Remove from the heat and stir until smooth. Return to the heat and bring to a boil for 1 minute. Let the mixture cool, and then beat in the confectioners’ sugar and vanilla. Ice the cooled cake.

Lemony Cream Cheese Pancakes with Blueberries

1 & 1/2 cup flour
1 tbsp. sugar
1 tbsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
Pinch of salt
2 large eggs, separated
1 cup buttermilk
6 ounces cold cream cheese, cut up
1 tbsp. melted butter, plus additional for the pan
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 tbsp. lemon juice
Zest of 1 large lemon
1 & 1/2 cups fresh blueberries
Honey, maple syrup, or jam, for serving


  1. In a medium bowl, mix together the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. In a separate bowl, whisk together the egg yolks and buttermilk. Add the cream cheese and mix until it has separated into uniformly small lumps, about the size of large cottage cheese curds. Stir in the milted butter, vanilla, lemon juice, and lemon zest.
  1. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients, then stir to combine. In a medium bowl, whisk the egg whites until stiff but not dry; fold them gently into the batter.
  1. Heat a griddle or cast-iron pan over medium-high heat until a drop of water sizzles. Lower the heat to medium and butter or oil the pan. Drop the batter into the pan by 1/3 cupful’s, making sure not to crowd the pancakes. Once the batter has spread, drop in the berries. (You might want to drizzle some batter over to cover them.) These need to be cooked a bit longer than you might expect; they won’t bubble as quickly or as much as plain pancakes. Turn down the heat if necessary to keep them from overbrowning and let them puff up their full extent after you turn them, which will take 2 to 3 minutes. Serve with honey or maple syrup or jam.

ATG’s Winter Waldorf Salad

Waldorf salad recipeAs a tribute to the historic Waldorf Astoria Hotel on Park Avenue in New York City, currently under renovation with plans to reopen with condominiums, we’re featuring our own recipe for a winter Waldorf Salad, along with a few more “official” recipes. A healthy addition to any meal, or even a meal unto itself, we hope you enjoy!

Waldorf Salad

Ingredients for the salad:
1 head of Romaine Lettuce
1/4 – 1/3 cup of Roasted Salted Pecans
1/4 – 1/3 cup of fresh bite-sized chopped Parmesan Cheese
1/4 -1/3 cup dried cherries and cranberries, roughly chopped (we use Mariani brand)
1/2 of bite-sized large apple (we use Cripps Pink or any crisp firm winter apple)

Ingredients for the dressing (Sweet & Sour):
1/2 cup heavy cream or whipping cream
1/3 cup sugar
1/6 cup Colavita Champagne Wine Vinegar
1/2 tsp. salt

Make dressing and refrigerate for 30-60 minutes. Prepare salad in a beautiful winter-inspired serving bowl. Pour desired amount of dressing on salad and toss.

Today’s Official Recipe for Waldorf Salad*  (taken from here)

Ingredients for the walnuts:
2 cups walnut halves
1 egg white
1 tbsp. of spice mixture (paprika, cayenne, coriander)
1 cup sugar

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Combine the walnuts and egg white. Add spice mixture and sugar and mix until evenly coated. Spread nuts in an even layer on baking sheet and roast for 15-20 minutes being careful not to burn.

Ingredients for the dressing:
1/2 cup plain yogurt
1/2 cup crème fraîche
3 tsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice
Fresh ground White Pepper
1/4 cup Walnut oil
1/&1/2 tbsp. minced Black Winter Truffles (optional)

Combine the yogurt, crème fraîche and lemon juice until thoroughly mixed. Then add the oil and pepper and truffles, if desired.  Set aside.

Ingredients for the salad:
1/2 cup celery
2 large Granny Smith apples, unpeeled
2 large Gala apples, unpeeled
2 dozen red grapes, halved lengthwise
1/2 cup micro greens or celery leaves

Julienne the celery and apples into matchstick-size strips and gently fold the dressing into the apple mixture. To assemble salad place the apple/leaves mixture on plate and scatter grapes and walnuts and serve.

*Just exactly what the recipe for the original Waldorf Salad was seems hard to come by, but it is attributed to the famous maitre d’hotel Oscar Tschirky or “Oscar of the Waldorf” in 1893. Whatever it was, it seems it was a much simpler salad than what it is today with only apples, celery possibly grapes and a mayo dressing. There are many different versions claiming to be the original.

The following two recipes are as close to what could have been the original:

Original Waldorf Salad (version I)

6 tbsp. mayonnaise (or plain yogurt)
1 tbsp. lemon juice
1/2 tsp. salt
Pinch of freshly ground black pepper
2 sweet apples. cored and chopped
1 cup red seedless grapes. sliced in half
1 cup celery, thinly sliced
1 cup chopped, slightly toasted walnuts

Original Waldorf Salad (version II)

2 celery ribs
1/2 cup red grapes
1/2 cup walnuts
2 apples
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup sour cream
1 lemon

For Lillie Belle and All Dogs Great & Small

Dog quotes
Lillie Belle

“Dogs’ lives are too short. Their only fault, really.” – Agnes Sligh Turnbull, American Novelist (1888-1982)

“Until one has loved an animal, a part of one’s soul remains unawakened.” – Anatole France, French Novelist (1844-1924)

Anyone who has loved and lost a dog will appreciate Lucy Dawson’s sketches in her book, Dogs Rough & Smooth, originally published in 1937.

Dawson (1870-1954) was a popular British illustrator known for her paintings and sketches of a variety of dog breeds and was commissioned by the Royal Family to paint the Queen Mother’s favorite Corgi, Dookie. The book, her second of dog sketches following Dogs As I See Them, was republished in 2016 with a foreword by Susan Orlean, an author of several books including Rin Tin Tin and a contributor to several publications, including the New Yorker, Smithsonian Magazine and the New York Times.

Below are some excerpts from Ms. Orlean’s heart-felt words in the foreword, which acutely capture the space that a dog holds in our lives, their power “to be deeply present,” and the paw-dugged-hole left in our hearts when they pass away.

Ms. Orlean references her own dog, Ivy, and her obsession with taking Ivy’s picture as a way to capture her eternally:

“Most of all, what my pictures don’t capture is the astonishing quality Ivy and all dogs possess: the power to be deeply present. Even when Ivy is asleep in a room at the other end of the house, she is still noticeably in residence.”

Lucy Dawson“A house without a dog is a static space. A house with a dog somewhere in it is a house on alert, just moments from bursting into activity, especially if the dog hears the refrigerator open. Anyone who has lived through the death of their dog knows too well the suffocating quiet of a house without one. The first time you come home to the empty house, it aches with hollowness and silence, and the phantom concert of dog noises – those now-absent tail thumps, nail clicks, and tag jingles – just about breaks your heart.  My millions of dog snapshots don’t portray that strange, marvelous experience of coexisting with one of these creatures.”

“Ivy has wandered over while I’ve been writing this. The afternoon light is now buttered and honeyed….[t]his is why I keep taking her picture, in the vain but eager attempt to keep her with me forever.  She [Lucy Dawson] gave me the one thing that we all dream of, that our dogs will be eternal, and in her drawings, these dogs are. They snooze and sit and play and romp in the dreamtime of memory, of art – as alert and lively and full of heart as if they could walk out of this book right now and curl up on the sofa beside me.”

Chicken Piccata, Parmesan Smashed Potatoes, and Chianti for a Cold January Night

Inspired by all of the warm-lighted, cozy and down-home, family-run Italian Cafes we seem to stumble upon when traveling about, below is a simple recipe for one of our favorite Italian chicken dishes along with three elegant chiantis to create an “Italian Cafe” meal at home during the cold month of January.

Chicken Piccata (taken and slightly adapted from Ina Garten’s Barefoot Contessa)

4 split (2 whole) boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 large eggs
1 & 1/2 cups dried bread crumbs
3 tbsp. unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice, lemon halves reserved
1/2 cup dry white wine
Sliced lemon, for serving
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Chopped fresh parsley, for serving

Chicken piccata recipe

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Place each chicken breast between 2 sheets of parchment paper or plastic wrap and pound it out to 1/4-inch thick. Sprinkle both sides with salt and pepper.

Mix the flour, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper on a shallow plate. In a second plate, beat the eggs and 1 tablespoon each chicken breast first in the flour, shake off the excess, then dip in the egg and bread-crumb mixtures.

Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large sauté pan over medium to medium-low heat. Add 2 chicken breasts and cook for 2 minutes on each side, until browned. Place them on the sheet pan while you cook the rest of the chicken. Heat more olive oil/butter in the sauté pan and cook the second 2 chicken breasts. Place them on the same sheet pan and allow them to bake for 5 to 10 minutes while you make the sauce.

For the sauce, wipe out the sauté pan with a dry paper towel.  On medium heat, melt 2-4 tablespoons of the butter and then add the lemon juice, white wine, the reserved lemon halves, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Boil over high heat until reduced by half, about 2 minutes. Off the heat, add the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter and swirl to combine. Pour sauce over the chicken that has been finishing off in the oven, sprinkle with fresh parsley and garnish with a few thinly sliced lemon wheels.* Serve with whipped mashed potatoes and fresh crisp peas!

*When I first made the sauce for this dish I felt it was way too lemony and so over time I added less lemon and a little more butter which helped to smooth out the sauce into a more balanced tasting finish. And so, my advice is to experiment a little with the portions of lemon to butter to wine that suits your tastes the best.

Parmesan Smashed Potatoes* (taken from Ina Gartner’s Barefoot Contessa)

3 pounds red potatoes, unpeeled
1 tbsp. plus 2 tsp. kosher salt
1 & 1/2 cups half-and-half
1/4 pound unsalted butter
1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper

Place the potatoes and 1 tablespoon of salt in a 4-quart saucepan with cold water to cover. Bring to a boil, lower the heat, and simmer covered for 25 to 35 minutes, until the potatoes are completely tender. Drain.

In a small saucepan, heat the half-and-half and butter.

Put the potatoes into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment and mix them for a few seconds on low speed, to break them up. Slowly add the hot cream and butter to the potatoes, mixing on the lowest speed (the last quarter of the cream and butter should be folded in by hand). Fold in the sour cream, Parmesan cheese, the remaining salt, and pepper; taste for seasoning and serve immediately. If the potatoes are too thick, add more hot cream and butter.

I have also included a recipe for Polenta below as a yummy winter warm comfort food that also goes well with the Chicken Piccata.

*Want more mashed potato recipes? Check out this post by Olivia Rose from My King Cook for the 15 Best Mashed Potato Recipes: “How to Make Mash Potatoes and Make it Less Stressful…

Polenta (taken from The Fine Arts Cookbook II, The Museum of Fine Arts Boston, 1981)

1 cup stone-ground cornmeal
5 cups cold water
1 tsp. salt
1 & 1/2 cups very sharp cheese, grated
1 small jar pimientos chopped
1/2 tsp. pepper, freshly ground
1 tsp. oregano leaves
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
1 tbsp. butter

Place corn meal in top of double boiler. Gradually add 1 cup cold water and salt and stir until blended. Cook over direct heat, stirring constantly until the meal is well blended. Remove from direct heat and place over boiling water in the double boiler. Add gradually 4 cups of cold water.  Stir constantly until mixture is well blended and begins to thicken. Reduce heat and simmer gently, stirring occasionally, for 30 minutes. Add grated sharp cheese, pimentos, pepper, and oregano. Cook until cheese is melted. Butter a deep casserole or soufflé dish and pour the mixture into the dish. Top with grated Parmesan cheese and dot with butter. Bake at 375 degrees F about 25 minutes or until golden brown.

Sailing “Close-hauled” Into Summer

sailing quotes Ahh, summer…there is nothing more inspiring than the majestic beauty of a sailboat sailing offshore, making its way into a welcoming harbor filled with beautiful white boats on a sunset-splashed summer evening.

It brings forth dreams of heroic adventures on the high seas and imaginings of far-away paradisiacal places with “palm-green shores” and ancient ports with cargo ships unloading their treasures of “emeralds, amethysts, topazes, cinnamon, and gold moidores” (as John Masefield describes in his poem “Cargoes”), all bathed in the magical golden hues of summer.

The idea of sailing is the ultimate romantic longing – glistening waters, brilliant sunsets, and a solitude that drenches the soul in the wonder, mystery and power of the natural world.

But, as I learned in a recent sailing adventure – with a departure date that was pushed back by the winds and rain of a tropical storm, adding an unexpected dramatic element – sailing is a lot of work. Both physically and mentally demanding, it takes a steady, patient and experienced captain to trim the sails, chart the course and navigate the changing winds and swelling waters.

The quotes below speak to man’s instinctive longing for All Things Nautical and to his adventurous spirit, as Herman Melville once wrote, to “sail forbidden seas, and land on barbarous coasts.” They also celebrate the skill of sailors who bravely captain their boats safely through the storm and calm of unpredictable seas.

As Nicholas Monsarrat* once wrote: “Sailors with their built in sense of order, service and discipline, should really be running the world.”

Sailing Quotes:

1. “Never in my life before have I experienced such beauty, and fear at the same time.” –Llen MacArthur, Sailor

2. “The pessimist complains about the wind; the optimist expects it to change; the realist adjusts the sails.”  –William Arthur Ward

3. “O Captain! My Captain! Our fearful trip is done, the ship has weathered every rock, the prize we sought is won, the port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting.”  –Walt Whitman

4. “To insure safety at sea, the best that science can devise and that naval organization can provide must be regarded only as an aid, and never as a substitute for good seamanship, self-reliance, and sense of ultimate responsibility which are the first requisites in a seaman and naval officer.” –Admiral Chester W. Nimitz

5. “That’s what a ship is, you know – it’s not just a keel and a hull and a deck and sails, that’s what a ship needs. But what a ship is…really is, is freedom.” –Captain Jack Sparrow

The next three quotes are taken from The Sea and the Wind that Blows, Essays of E.B. White, 1934:

6. “Waking or sleeping, I dream of boats – usually of rather small boats under a slight press of sail.”

7. “Men who ache all over for tidiness and compactness in their lives often find relief for their pain in the cabin of a thirty-foot sailboat at anchor in a sheltered cove. Here the sprawling panoply of the home is compressed in orderly miniature and liquid delirium, suspended between the bottom of the sea and the top of the sky, ready to move on in the morning by the miracle of canvas and the witchcraft of rope. It is small wonder that men hold boats in the secret place of their mind, almost from the cradle to the grave.”

8. “If a man be obsessed by something, I suppose a boat is as good as anything, perhaps a bit better than most. A small sailing craft is not only beautiful, it is seductive and full of strange promise and the hint of trouble.  If it happens to be an auxiliary cruising boat, it is without question the most compact and ingenious arrangement for living ever devised by the restless mind of man – a home that is stable without being stationary, shaped less like a box than like a fish or a bird or a girl, and in which the homeowner can remove his daily affairs as far from shore as he has the nerve to take them close-hauled or running free – parlor, bedroom, and bath, suspended and alive.”

inspirational sailing quotes

9. “Sometimes we are lucky enough to know our lives have been changed, to discard the old and embrace the new and run headlong down an immutable course. It happened to me…on that summer’s day when my eyes were opened to the sea.” –Jacques Yves-Cousteau

10. “All of us have in our veins the exact same percentage of salt in our blood that exists in the ocean, and, therefore, we have salt in our blood, in our sweat, in our tears. We are tied to the ocean. And when we go back to the sea whether it is to sail or to watch it we are going back from whence we came.” –John F. Kennedy, Newport dinner speech before America’s Cup Races, Sept. 1962 

11. “Confronting a storm is like fighting God. All the powers in the universe seem to be against you and, in an extraordinary way, your irrelevance is at the same time both humbling and exalting.” –Francois LeGrande

12. “I kept moving along the deck, backward and forward,
until the waves ripped the sides from her keel and left it
bare, and they snapped the mast from its socket; it shattered
against the keel, but there was a leather backstay
still hanging upon it.  I took it and used it to lash
the keel and the mast together, and sitting astride them
I was carried along on the waves by the furious winds.” –Homer, The Odyssey

13. “The planning stage of a cruise is often just as enjoyable as the voyage itself, letting one’s imagination loose on all kinds of possibilities.  Yet translating dreams into reality means a lot of practical questions have to be answered.”  –Jimmy Cornell, World Cruising Handbook

14. “There is, one knows not what sweet mystery about this sea, whose gently awful stirrings seems to speak of some hidden soul beneath…” –Herman Melville

15. “Any fool can carry on, but a wise man knows how to shorten sail in time.” –Joseph Conrad

famous nautical quotes

16. “There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes.” –Old Norwegian Adage

17. “My soul is full of longing, for the secret of the Sea, and the heart of the great ocean, sends a thrilling pulse through me.”  –Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

18. “There are some things you learn best in calm, and some in storm.” –Willa Cather

19. “Some years ago – never mind how long precisely – having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world.” –Herman Melville, Moby Dick

20. “There are three sorts of people; those who are alive, those who are dead, and those who are at sea.” –Old Capstan Chantey attributed to Anacharsis, 6th Century BC

21. “You can sit here in my cockpit and argue philosophy, politics or religion all week long and in the end it doesn’t matter. None of it matters a whit. What matters, what really matters, is that we sailed today and now we sit here with a full belly, a drink in our hands and friends to share it with. And Life is good, this I know.” –Tim Fuhrmann, Sailor

sailing sayingsAlso enjoy these five songs to set sail with:

  1. This is the Sea” by the Waterboys from the 1985 album
  2. I am Sailing” by Rod Stewart from his album Atlantic Crossing 1975
  3. Catch the Wind” by Donovan from the album What’s Bin Did and What’s Bin Hid, 1965
  4. Into the Mystic” by Van Morrison from his album Moondance, 1970
  5. Southern Cross” by Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young from the album Daylight Again, 1982

*Nicholas Monsarrat (1910-1979) was a British novelist known for his sea-faring stories, especially his novel The Cruel Sea, which, as Goodreads describes, tells “the story of the British ships Compass Rose and Saltash and of their desperate cat-and-mouse game with Nazi U-boats in the North Atlantic during World War II. First published to great acclaim in 1951, The Cruel Sea remains a classic novel of endurance.”

The ‘Key’ to Key Lime Pie

best key lime pie recipeThe Key Lime* – different from Persian or Tahiti limes that one typically sees in the grocery store – was introduced to the Florida Keys during the 1830s by Henry Perrine, a diplomat and botanist who discovered the plant in Mexico.

It is little surprise, then, that the combination of refreshing limes and sweet condensed milk, which was also invented around the same time, eventually evolved to become Florida’s State Pie.

In fact, it was only on a recent trip to Florida that I discovered just how many varieties there are to Key Lime Pie – and how delicious the perfect one can truly be. From light and fluffy to a heavier custard-like filling, one quickly develops a discriminating palate for a dessert that is offered in just about every restaurant in the state.

The absolute best Key Lime Pie I sampled was a perfectly textured and flavored whipped cream/graham cracker crust creation at A12 Buoy in Fort Pierce, an all around excellent seafood restaurant. I have been on a mission to recreate it ever since.

In the meantime, the two recipes below are very satisfying. One is made with a graham cracker crust, the other with a flour crust; one with just cream and eggs, the other with condensed milk and eggs. Enjoy!

Also: check out Kermit’s Key West Key Lime Shoppe in Key West, voted one of the best Key Lime Pie makers. You can purchase one of their pies online at www.keylimesshop.com along with a variety of other items, such as Key Lime Soap and Key Lime Cookies.

*Key limes are smaller, have a more intense flavor and are considered sweeter than other types of lime. They also have a thinner rind and more of a yellowish color compared to other types of lime. They are sometimes referred to as a “bartender’s lime” because of the enhancing flavor they give to alcoholic drinks such as margaritas.

Key Lime Pie (adapted from several different recipes)

Ingredients for the crust:
2 cups crushed Graham Cracker crumbs
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup ground almonds
6 tbsp. melted butter

Ingredients for the filling:
4 egg yolks, lightly beaten
1/2 cup sugar
1/3 cup Key Lime juice
2 & 1/4 tsp. grated Key Lime rind
1 & 1/2 cups whipping cream

Instructions for the crust:
Preheat over to350°F.  Combine all of the above ingredients and press into the bottom and  the sides of a 9-inch pie plate.  Bake in oven for approximately 8-10 minutes being careful not to burn.

Instructions for the filling:
Mix egg yolks, sugar and lime juice in top of double boiler. Cook over simmering water until mixture coats the back of a spoon, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat. Stir in grated rind. Refrigerate until mixture thickens, but do not let it become stiff.

Beat cream to soft peaks. Fold into lime filling. Spoon into baked crust and refrigerate, covered, for 24 hours. Serve with fresh whipped cream on top.

Key Lime Pie with a Flour Crust (taken from fine cooking.com)

Ingredients for the crust:
6-3/4 oz. (1-1/2 cups) all-purpose flour
½ tsp. table salt
3 oz. (6 tbsp.) chilled unsalted butter, cubed
2 tbsp. chilled vegetable shortening, cubed
2-1/2 to 3 tbs. ice water

Ingredients for the filling:
2 14-oz. cans sweetened condensed milk
2 large egg yolks
1 cup fresh lime juice (from about 4 regular limes)
2 tbsp. finely grated lime zest (from about 2 regular limes)

Ingredients for the garnish:
1 cup heavy cream
2 tsp. granulated sugar
1 lime, zested into thin strips

Put the flour and salt in a food processor; pulse to combine. Add the butter cubes and pulse until they’re the size of extra-large peas (about 10 quick pulses). Add the shortening and continue pulsing until the largest pieces of butter and shortening are the size of peas (10 to 15 more quick pulses). Sprinkle 2-1/2 tbps. of the water over the flour mixture and pulse a few times until the mixture just begins to come together. It should look rather crumbly, but if you press some between your fingers, it should hold together. (If it doesn’t, sprinkle on another 1/2 tbps. water and pulse a few more times.) Dump the crumbly mix onto a lightly floured surface and press the dough into a 1-inch-thick disk. Wrap in plastic and chill for 30 minutes.

On a lightly floured work surface, roll the dough into a round that’s 1/8 inch thick and 12 to 13 inches in diameter. Drape the dough around the rolling pin and ease it into a 9-inch pie pan. With kitchen shears, trim the overhang to 1/2 inch. Fold the overhang under and crimp it to build up an edge. Prick the crust with a fork in several places. Cover with plastic and refrigerate for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, position an oven rack on the middle rung and heat the oven to 350°F.

Grease one side of a sheet of foil with cooking spray, oil, or butter. Line the pie pan with the foil, greased side down, and fill it with pie weights or beans. Bake until the edges of the crust look dry and start to turn golden, 25 to 30 minutes. Carefully remove the foil and weights; continue baking until the entire crust is deeply golden brown, another 15 to 20 minutes. Let cool on a rack.

Instructions for the filling:
In a medium bowl, whisk the condensed milk, egg yolks, lime juice, and grated zest. Pour into the cooled pie crust and bake at 350°F until just set, about 30 minutes. The center may still be a bit jiggly. (Use an instant-read thermometer to double-check the doneness; the center of the pie should be at least 140°F.) Let the pie cool thoroughly on a rack and then cover with plastic and refrigerate to chill completely, at least 3 hours but no longer than a day.

Just before serving, whip the cream and sugar until stiff peaks form. Spread the cream on top of the pie, garnish with the strips of lime zest strips, and serve.

Late Spring, Early Summer: The Perfect Time for an English Trifle

“A dessert typically consisting of plain or sponge cake often soaked with wine or spirits (as brandy or rum) and topped with layers of preserves, custard, and cream.” – Merriam-Webster dictionary

English trifle recipeI can still remember the first English Trifle I tasted years ago. Its soft airy whipped cream, comforting creamy pudding, fresh sweet berries and crumbly texture made for one memorable, heavenly dessert.

Having scoured my cookbooks (this was pre-internet) for an English Trifle recipe, but failing to find one that reflected the culinary vision I had in my baker’s mind, I set out to create my own.

I had just read Frances Mayes’ 1996 memoir Under the Tuscan Sun, in which she shared a Lemon Cake recipe that I had made, served with fresh strawberries and whipped cream. Deliciously moist and fresh, I decided to make my first trifle with her lemon cake in place of the more typical ladyfingers and sponge cake that one finds in traditional English Trifle recipes.

After all, there truly is nothing better than using homemade vanilla pudding or even tapioca, fresh whipped cream and a trio of berries – strawberries, raspberries and blueberries.

Refreshing and light, the English Trifle makes the perfect summer dessert for cookouts, barbecues and family get-togethers. It’s also a fun patriotic dessert for the Fourth of July with the layering of the red berries, the white whipped cream/pudding/cake, and the blueberries.

We hope you enjoy!

English Trifle Recipe

Lemon Cake (taken from Under the Tuscan Sun by Frances Mayes, 1996)

1 cup (2 sticks) butter, room temp.
2 cups sugar
3 eggs, room temp.
3 cups flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
1 cup buttermilk
3 tbsp. lemon juice
Grated zest of 1 lemon

Cream together 1 cup of sweet butter and 2 cups of sugar. Beat in 3 eggs, one at a time. The mixture should be light. Mix together 3 cups of flour, 1 teaspoon of baking powder, 1/4 teaspoon of salt, and incorporate this with the butter mixture alternately with 1 cup buttermilk, (In Italy, I use one cup of cream since buttermilk is not available.) Begin and end with the flour mixture. Add 3 tablespoons of lemon juice and the grated zest of the lemon. Bake in a nonstick tube pan at 200 degree for 50 minutes. The cake can be glazed with 1/4 cup of soft butter into which 1 & 1/2 cups of powdered sugar and 3 tablespoons of lemon juice have been beaten. Decorate with tiny curls of lemon rind.

Vanilla Pudding (taken from The Joy of Cooking by Irma S. Rombauer, 1931)

Hint: Be patient with the pudding, it takes a lot of time and constant stirring to keep it smooth and creamy and to keep it from burning.

2/3 cup sugar
3 tbsp. cornstarch
1/8 tsp. salt
3 cups whole milk
3-4 large egg yolks
2-3 tbsp. butter
1 & 1/2 tsp. vanilla

In medium heavy saucepan mix together thoroughly the sugar, cornstarch, and salt and gradually stir in, making sure to dissolve the cornstarch, 3 cups of whole milk and then whisk in the egg yolks, and then the butter. It is important to stir constantly to keep lumps from forming and to keep from burning the pudding. Cook, on medium heat stirring constantly until the mixture just comes to a simmer. Reduce the heat to low; stirring briskly, bring to a simmer and cook for 2 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in the vanilla. Let cool for several minutes and then place plastic wrap on top to keep the top from forming a film. Let the pudding cool thoroughly before using.

Easy English Trifle recipe

To assemble the trifle:

The cake and pudding
1-2 cups sliced strawberries*1 cup raspberries
1 cup blueberries
Several cups of fresh whipped cream
Raspberry jam
Round trifle dish

Instructions for the trifle:
To begin, cut cake into 2-3 inch squares and spread raspberry jam on one side. Arrange neatly on the bottom of the trifle dish and then begin the layering first with pudding, then berries and then the whipped cream. Continue layering to the top finishing with the whipped cream. Decorate the whipped cream with either cake crumbs or berries. Refrigerate for at least 6-24 hours (I found that it tasted best after refrigerating overnight.)

*You can combine all of the berries together in a bowl for the layering or you can layer the berries separately for a more orderly and patriotic looking finish.

Springing Green With “All Things Asparagus” and Sweet Spring Dream Cookies

“I look forward to the spring vegetables because the season is so short. Mushrooms, edible foraged herbs, wild leeks, early season asparagus.” – David Chang

“The first thing to look at is the tip of the spear or the bud. It should be tightly closed and erect, not open and droopy. The hue of green asparagus should be fresh, bright, and with no hint of yellow. White asparagus should be a clear, even, creamy color. The stalk should feel firm and the overall look should be dewy. Although asparagus, like nearly everything else, is now marketed through most of the year, it is freshest in the spring, from April to early June.” – Marcella Hazan, Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking (1992)

Spring, like life, is short.

Celebrate the sprouting of Spring with the recipes below for “All Things Asparagus”, the ultimate Spring vegetable.

For something sweet, enjoy a recipe for Drömmar Swedish “dream” cookies.

asparagus recipes

Fried Asparagus or “Asparagi fritti” (taken from The Classic Italian Cookbook by Marcella Hazan, 1973)

12 spears of crisp, fresh asparagus
2-4 tbsp. butter
1 egg, well beaten
1 cup fresh bread crumbs
Salt and pepper to taste
A few squeezes of fresh lemon juice

Snap off the bottoms of the stems of the asparagus, leaving a stalk about 4 to 5 inches long, including the tips. Remove all the tiny leaves below the tips and wash the asparagus thoroughly in cold water. Pat dry with a towel.

Heat the butter in a skillet over medium heat. When the butter is melted, dip the asparagus in the beaten egg, roll it in the bread crumbs, and slide it into the skillet, doing just a few stalks at a time so that they are not crowded in the pan. Spring with salt and pepper and a few squeezes of fresh lemon juice. When the asparagus has formed a crust on one side, turn it and when it has formed a crust on the other side, transfer with a slotted spatula to paper towels to drain. Sprinkle lightly with salt and serve immediately. Serve immediately and Bon Appetito!

Cream of Asparagus Soup (taken from The Silver Palate Cookbook by Julee Rosso & Sheila Lukins, 1982)

4 cups chopped yellow onions
8 tbsp. sweet butter
2 quarts Chicken Stock
2 pounds asparagus
1/2 cup heavy cream
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Cream of asparagus soup recipe

Melt butter in a large pot and simmer the onions until very soft and golden, about 15-20 minutes, stirring often.

Add the chicken stock and bring to a boil.

Meanwhile, trim the tips from the asparagus and reserve.  Cut about 1 inch from the butt ends of the asparagus spears; remove the rough woody ends.  Chop spears into 1/2-inch pieces and drop into the boiling chicken stock, cover, reduce heat, and simmer for 45 minutes, or until asparagus is very soft.

Purée soup in blender and return the puree to the pot, add the reserved asparagus tips, and simmer until they are tender but still firm, 5 – 10 minutes.  Stir in cream and season with salt and pepper.

Asparagus En Croute (taken from The Silver Palate Cookbook)

12 slices good quality white sandwich bread
1/2 pound Jarlsberg or other Swiss-type cheese
1/2 cup prepared Dijon-style mustard
12 asparagus spears, cooked
4 tbsp. melted sweet butter

Roll slices of bread as thin as possible with a rolling pin; trim crusts. You will have pieces of bread 3-3 & 1/2 inches square.

Lay squares out on a work surface and cover with a damp towel for 10 minutes.

Cut cheese into fingers, more or less the size of the asparagus spears.

Spread each bread square evenly with mustard. Lay an asparagus spear and a strip of cheese on each bread square and roll up. Place seam side down on a buttered baking sheet.

Brush rolls with melted butter. Bake in the upper third of a 450 degree F oven for 10 minutes, or until brown and bubbling. Serve immediately.

Asparagus Champagne Risotto (adapted from Everyday Pasta by Giada De Laurentiis, 2007)

3 cups chicken broth
12 asparagus spears, cut diagonally into 1-inch pieces
2 tbsp. unsalted butter
1 shallot, finely chopped
3/4 cup Arborio rice or medium-grain rice
3/4 cup champagne
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper

In a medium saucepan, bring the chicken broth to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer the broth. Blanch the asparagus in the chicken broth for 2 minutes. Remove the asparagus with a slotted spoon. Set the asparagus aside and keep the chicken broth at a low simmer.

In another medium saucepan, melt 1 tablespoon of the butter. Add the shallot and cook until tender, about 3 minutes. Add the Arborio rice and stir to coat in the butter. Continue toasting the rice, stirring constantly, for about 3 minutes more. Add the champagne and simmer until the champagne has almost evaporated, about 3 minutes. Add 1/2 cup of the simmering broth and stir until almost completely absorbed by the rice, about 2 minutes. Continue cooking the rice, adding the broth 1/2 cup at a time, stirring constantly and allowing each addition of broth to absorb before adding the next, until the rice is tender but still firm to the bite and the mixture is creamy, about 20 minutes total. Remove from the heat.

Gently stir in the asparagus, the remaining tablespoon of butter, the Parmesan, salt, and pepper.

Drömmar (Dream Cookies) (taken from the Wall Street Journal, March 2016)

7 tbsp. butter, room temperature
1/3 cup plus 1/2 tbsp. sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 & 1/3 cups unbleached cake flour
1/2 tsp. baker’s ammonia (can substitute 1/2 tsp. baking powder plus 1/2 tsp. baking soda)

Beat butter, sugar, and vanilla on medium speed until light in color, about 5 minutes. Sift flour and baker’s ammonia into bowl. Beat again until just fully combined, about 30 seconds. Be careful not to over beat.

Shape dough into 20 balls and place them on a parchment-paper-lined baking sheet or lightly greased sheet. Bake at 350 degree F until cookies puff and crisp but do not color, about 15 minutes. The cookies should have no, or very little, coloration and should crack slightly during cooking. Remove cookies from oven and let cool completely before eating.

A Perfect Spring Read for a “Break” from the World

The transition from winter to spring is never an easy overnight happening. It can be a time of slow adjustments – a waking up of the senses to the soft light and intoxicating freshness of the spring air. It is the only seasonal transition where the body and soul yearn for a restorative break from the previous season’s grip.

Shepherd's Life James RebanksWith a feeling as if the world is in upheaval, spinning away from the light and into the darkness of chaos, confusion and conflict where incompetent leaders have “lay waste [their] powers”, the need for a spring “break” this year of 2016 seems all the more necessary.

“The world is too much with us”, William Wordsworth once wrote in a poem that speaks to the importance of the restorative powers of nature for the body and soul:

“The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers…
…the winds that will be howling at all hours,
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers,
For this, for everything, we are out of tune…”*

An antidote for a time when “we are out of tune”, when all in the world seems to be “howling at all hours” and when our bodies and soul groan their way through the seasonal transitioning, is James Rebanks’ book The Shepherd’s Life: Modern Dispatches from an Ancient Land (2015), referred to as a “James Herriot for modern times.”

A modern-day shepherd raising a family of shepherds, Rebanks is “the first son of a shepherd, who was the first son of a shepherd himself.” The ancient land that he lives and writes in is the pastoral land of William Wordsworth and Beatrix Potter in England’s northern Lake District, where he takes the reader through “a shepherd’s year, offering a unique account of rural life and a fundamental connection with the land that most of us have lost.”

It is a place where “life is ordered by the seasons and the work they demand”, which hasn’t changed for hundreds of years. And it is a story, Rebanks writes, “of a family and a farm, but it also tells a wider story about the people who get forgotten in the modern world. It is about how we need to open our eyes and see the forgotten people who live in our midst, whose lives are often deeply traditional and rooted in the distant past.”

Helen MacDonald, prize-winning author of H is for Hawk, another book about retreating from the world after the death of her father, refers to it as a “bloody marvelous” book.

Marvelous it is for the rare opportunity it provides the reader to experience the soul soothing tranquility of living and working “in tune” with the natural rhythms of nature’s seasons in a landscape that was, as James Rebanks writes, created by “nobodies”:

“My grandfather was, quite simply, one of the great forgotten silent majority of people who live, work, love, and die without leaving much written trace that they were ever here. He was, and we his descendants remain, essentially nobodies as far as anyone else is concerned. But that’s the point. Landscapes like ours were created by and survive through the efforts of nobodies.”

He continues: “This is a landscape of modest hardworking people. The real history of our landscape should be the history of the nobodies.”

Below are a few more treasures from the book:

“There is no beginning, and there is no end. The sun rises, and falls, each day, and the seasons come and go. The days, months, and years alternate through sunshine, rain, hail, wind, snow, and frost. The leaves fall each autumn and burst forth again each spring. The earth spins through the vastness of space. The grass comes and goes with the warmth of the sun. The farms and the flocks endure, bigger than the life of a single person. We are born, live our working lives, and die, passing like the oak leaves that blow across our land in the winter. We are each tiny parts of something enduring, something that feels solid, real, and true. Our farming way of life has roots deeper than five thousand years into the soil of this landscape.”  (p.15)

A list of things Rebanks’ shepherd grandfather taught him while growing up, learning, and working by his side:

“We don’t give up, even when things are bad.
We pay our debts.
We work hard.
We act decently.
We help our neighbors if they need it.
We do what we say we will do.
We don’t want much attention.
We look after our own.
We are proud of what we do.
We try to be quietly smart.
We take chances sometimes to get on.
We will fail sometimes.
We will be affected by the wider world…
But we hold on to who we are.”

*Full poem:
“The World is Too Much With Us”
by William Wordsworth (1770-1850)

The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon;
The winds that will be howling at all hours,
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers,
For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
It moves us not.—Great God!
I’d rather be A pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
Or hear old Triton blow his wreathèd horn.

Happy Sweet Spring Desserts

“Nothing is so beautiful as Spring…[w]hat is all this juice and all this joy? A strain of the earth’s SWEET being in the beginning…” – Gerard Manley Hopkins from the poem “Spring”

Spring dessert recipesNothing is more perfect than a slightly sweet, light, ethereal dessert after dining on a plateful of pasta at an old-world Italian restaurant on an early spring evening.

You could say that the Italian dessert “Panna Cotta” is like tasting a bit of spring itself in all of its lightness, sweetness and silky, creamy freshness. A simple pudding-like dessert, Panna Cotta (which literally means “cooked cream”) originated in Northern Italy, where “the earliest recipes mention simmering the cream with fish bones (the collagen would set the cream).”

Panna Cotta is referred to as the “purest of the Italian spoons desserts” and when achieving the proper consistency and texture, should be silky smooth and just firm enough to hold its shape when plated (quotes taken from here).

Below are three variations of Panna Cotta to experiment with, along with two other spring dessert recipes, one for Banana Cake and one for a Lemon Cake. Enjoy!

Panna Cotta (taken from Russ Parsons, Los Angeles Times Food Editor)

2 tbsp. water
1 tbsp. powdered gelatin
2 & 1/2 cups heavy cream
1 & 1/2 cups whole milk
5 tbsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

Place water in a small bowl and sprinkle the gelatin over the top. Stir to distribute, and set aside to soften, 2-3 minutes.

Wipe the insides of 8 (one-half-cup) ramekins with a light coating of neutral oil and set aside. Half-fill a large bowl with ice and add enough water to make an ice bath and set aside.

In small saucepan, combine the cream, milk, sugar and bring to a simmer over medium heat.  Remove from heat and whisk in the softened gelatin and the vanilla.

Set the saucepan in the ice bath (making sure the top of the saucepan is well above the surface of the water) and whisk until the mixture is lukewarm. Rub your fingers together – there should be no grit from undissolved sugar or gelatin.

Ladle mixture into the oiled ramekins and chill at least 4 hours or overnight.

About 10 minutes before serving run a thin-bladed knife around the inside of the ramekin. Dip the ramekin briefly in a bowl of hot tap water, and then carefully invert onto a serving plate.

Panna cotta recipes

Panna Cotta (adapted from blog.italian-connection.com)

2 cups heavy cream
2 cups milk
2 heaping tbsp. sugar
1/4 tsp. vanilla extract
1/7 ounce of unflavored gelatin

Dissolve gelatin in 2 tablespoons water for 2-3 minutes. In medium saucepan heat cream, milk, and sugar and heat gently. Remove from heat and stir in the gelatin and the vanilla extract and stir until thoroughly combined and begins to thicken. Pour into custard cups or ramekins and chill for 3-6 hours.

Panna Cotta (taken from Mark Bittman, How to Cook Everything)

3 cups cream
1 package (1/4 ounce) unflavored gelatin
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 cup sugar

Put 1 cup cream in a medium saucepan and sprinkle gelatin over it; let sit for 5 minutes. Turn heat to low and cook, stirring, until gelatin dissolves completely.

Add remaining cream and sugar to gelatin mixture and heat gently, just until sugar dissolves; add vanilla and then pour mixture into 4-6 small custard cups. Chill until set, about 4 hours.

Sunny Lemon Cake (adapted from Ann Romney, The Romney Family Table)

Ingredients for the Cake:
2 cups flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 & 1/2 cups sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 tbsp. lemon juice
Finely grated zest of 1 – 2 lemons
4 eggs, plus 2 egg yolks
1 cup buttermilk

Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt, and set aside.  In a separate bowl, beat the butter on medium-high for 1 – 2 minutes, or until smooth.  Gradually add the sugar, beating until light and fluffy, about 3 – 5 minutes.  Add the vanilla and lemon oil or zest and continue to beat.  Add the eggs and yolks one at a time, beating well after eat addition and scraping the bowl frequently.  Reduce speed to low and add the flour mixture alternating with the buttermilk in 3 additions, beginning and ending with the flour.  Mix until the batter is smooth and well blended.

Spread batter into prepared pan and bake 45 to 50 minutes, or until toothpick comes out clean.  cool the cake in the pan for 10 minutes and then remove from pan.  Drizzle warm cake with Lemon Glaze.

Ingredients for the Lemon Glaze:
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
1 tbsp. rum (or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract)
Finely grated zest of 1/2 lemon

In a small bowl, combine the sugar, water, rum or vanilla extract, and lemon stirring until the sugar dissolves. Drizzle the warm cake with the glaze. Let cake cool completely before serving.

Banana Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting (taken from The Fannie Farmer Cookbook)

Ingredients for the Cake:
1 stick of butter, room temp.
1 & 1/2 cups sugar
3 eggs room temp. to be separated
1 cup mashed banana (about 3 med-size banana)
1/2 cup buttermilk
2 cups flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
1 cup finely chopped pecans or walnuts

easy banana cake recipe

Instructions for the Cake:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour 9×13 baking dish or two 9-inch round cake pans. Cream the butter and then add sugar and beat until smooth. Separate eggs placing egg whites in bowl to be beat.  Add egg yolks, mashed bananas and buttermilk to butter/sugar mixture and combine thoroughly. Beat egg white in separate bowl until stiff but moist and fold into mixture. Sprinkle chopped nuts on top of batter and gently fold in. Spread evenly in prepared pans and bake for 30-35 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean. Remove from oven and let cool.

Ingredients for the Frosting:
8 ounces cream cheese, room temp.
4 tbsp. butter, room temp.
2 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted if lumpy
1 tsp. vanilla extract

Instructions for the Frosting:
Combine cream cheese and butter. Add 1 cup confectioners’ sugar at a time mixing thoroughly, and then stir in the vanilla. Spread on flat 9×13 cake or use to make a layer cake with the 9-inch pans.

See also more light, airy and sweet Spring recipes.