Tag Archives: Cooking

Cooking Up a Storm, Italian Style

My children have an uncanny knack for coming up with the perfect gifts for me. For my birthday this year, my son and daughter-in-law surprised me with a day-long cooking class, and I was delighted.

In what seems like another lifetime ago, I was intensely into cooking. In fact, I had a catering business of my own for several years and when the business grew I added a partner, my friend Alyse. We named our company Fête Accomplie.

We catered both residential and corporate parties, almost always on the weekend, and since we were moms with young kids this worked out well. We got to spend the weekdays with our family, and our husbands took over on the weekends when we had catering jobs.

It was tons of fun. But eventually the physical demands became too great and we sadly agreed to disband the business and went on to less backbreaking careers. I sometimes still miss the catering days, but my back thanks me for moving on.

Now, with the kids grown and out of the house, I don’t cook nearly as much. Consequently, my skills have gotten rusty.

Cooking is still a passion of mine.

So I was excited at the prospect of  learning some new techniques and recipes at Walnut Hill College’s Restaurant School cooking class.

Cooking Up a Storm, Italian StyleThe class was just six students — a perfect size, I think — and we were set up in working spaces in the industrial kitchen similar to what you would imagine being in most large restaurants. Chef started out by giving us an overview of Italian regional cuisine.

Cooking Up a Storm, Italian Style

Then each of us was given a recipe to prepare, under Chef’s tutelage. At the end of the day we dined on an incredible Italian buffet in the school’s cafe that really makes you feel like you’re not in Kansas anymore.

Cooking Up a Storm, Italian Style

I chose a recipe with lentils because I know my son and daughter-in-law like them. Cotechino is a pork sausage made in the Modena region of Italy. If it is unavailable, you can substitute a garlic sausage in this recipe.

Cotechino with Lentils and Balsamic

3 T. olive oil
2 oz. pancetta, brunoise (in small dice)
2 T. shallot, diced
1/2 c. onions, medium dice
1/4 c. celery, medium dice
1/4 c. carrots, medium dice
1 clove garlic, minced
2 c. lentils, rinsed (any color will do but the red looked really pretty)
1 c. red wine
2 c. brown stock (if you don’t have it, use unsalted beef broth)
1 lb. cotechino or garlic sausage
1/2 c. balsamic vinegar, lightly reduced

Heat the olive oil in a large saute pan. Render the pancetta over medium-low heat until golden brown, about 10 minutes. Add the shallots and saute for one minute.

Cooking Up a Storm, Italian StyleStir in onions, celery, carrots and garlic and saute an additional minute.

Cooking Up a Storm, Italian Style

Add the lentils and combine thoroughly.

Cooking Up a Storm, Italian Style

Add the red wine and cook down til almost dry. Add the brown stock and bring to a boil. Turn down to a simmer and cook lentils til firm and about halfway cooked. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Put lentil mix in a casserole dish and top with sliced cotechino (or crumbled garlic sausage, if that is what you are using).

Cooking Up a Storm, Italian Style

Cover pan and put in a preheated 350 degree oven. Cook approximately 15-20 minutes.

While that is cooking, reduce balsamic vinegar by half in a small saucepan with a pinch of sugar.

When the casserole is done, sprinkle with the reduced balsamic and serve.

Cooking Up a Storm, Italian StyleMy review? Molto bene! It is earthy, full of flavor and if you close your eyes you can imagine savoring it, accompanied by a hearty red wine, in an outdoor cafe in Bologna.

Mangiamo! And thank you, Marina and Evan!
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Book Buzz: Burnt Toast

Some kids dream of being a doctor, an airline pilot, a teacher.

Me? I wanted to be a farmer.

Like a country mouse in the city, I felt out of place in our suburban neighborhood. My destiny was to live on a farm, of that I was certain. A farm with horses and cows and chickens, where I would get up at the crack of dawn to milk the cows and muck out the stalls. I would gather eggs from the hen house and bring them to my mother (Maw) who would scramble them up for a hearty breakfast with homemade biscuits and strawberry preserves to top it off.

I begged my parents to ditch the suburban nonsense and move to the country. Also? We needed to grow our family. Look at any farm family, I told them. You need a passel of kids to help with the chores. So we needed to adopt a few, and a big sister would be much appreciated. They listened patiently, but it was only cute for so long. When my beseeching disintegrated into petulant whining they either changed the subject or sent me to to my room.

A life on the farm was not in the cards.

Burnt Toast

However, my fascination with farm life has remained strong, and that’s why I enjoyed reading “Burnt Toast Makes You Sing Good: A Memoir of Food & Love from an American Midwest Family.”

Burnt Toast Makes You Sing Good

Author Kathleen Flinn, who has written two previous books on her fascination with the culinary world, including the New York Times bestselling memoir, “The Sharper Your Knife, the Less You Cry,” has penned this homage to a childhood short on luxuries but long on farming, love … and home cooking.

Good cooks and food enthusiasts run in Flinn’s Swedish and Irish family, and this memoir is chock full of anecdotes related to the joy of eating. From foraging for morels to fishing for smelt and preparing Grandpa Charles’ chili, each chapter is a page of Flinn’s childhood, recounted with charm and a sense of fun.

I was amazed to learn how voluminous a family farm operation can be. From the bounty of their garden Flinn’s mother canned 80 quarts of applesauce, 120 quarts of tomatoes and 80 quarts of peaches each year. And that was just the beginning.

Because money was tight in those early years, her mother learned how to stretch a dollar while making wholesome, tasty food for her growing brood. Flinn has compiled many of the family favorites and each chapter ends with a recipe, such as this one for Apple Crisp.

Apple Crisp from Burnt Toast Makes You Sing Good

If you’re wondering why the title is “Burnt Toast Makes You Sing Good,” it refers to Flinn’s grandmother’s phrase used to get a picky child to eat. Grandma Inez had other memorable quotes, like this:

Grandma Inez from Burnt Toast Makes You Sing Good

I’ve already tried one recipe and can’t wait to try more. I made these rolls this week and they were a big hit with my husband. They are best hot from the oven with a dab of butter.

No-Knead Yeast Rolls from Burnt Toast Makes You Sing Good

Aunt Myrtle’s No-Knead Yeast Rolls

Makes 2 dozen

1 package (1/4 oz.) active dry yeast
1/4 c. warm water
1/4 c. vegetable shortening
1 1/2 t. salt
2 T. sugar
1 c. boiling water
1 large egg
3 1/2 c. all purpose flour

Dissolve the yeast in the warm water and let sit 10 minutes.

In a different bowl, combine the shortening, salt, sugar, and boiling water. Let cool slightly. Add the dissolved yeast, egg and flour and mix well; the dough will be slightly sticky. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and chill the dough for at least two hours and up to 24.

Coat a muffin pan with cooking spray. Pinch off dough and fill each muffin slot about 1/3 full. Brush the tops with melted butter. Let rise for about two hours in a warm place, until doubled.

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Bake the rolls for 20 minutes, or until they rise up firmly and are slightly browned. Let cool slightly before removing from the pan. Store leftovers in an airtight container.


Maybe I’ve still got some of the farm girl in me. I’m hankering for some homemade strawberry preserves to go with those rolls. I’m going to learn how to make it myself.


I am delighted to be able to offer a copy of “Burnt Toast Makes You Sing Good” to one of my readers. Please leave a comment below and the winner will be contacted next week. Only US addresses eligible.

Disclosure: I received a copy of “Burnt Toast Makes You Sing Good” from Viking and Penguin Books for an honest review. Which this is.

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Apple Pie and Turning 25

apple pie

On the eve of her 25th birthday, my daughter called to say she bought the ingredients to make an apple pie.

Actually, she needed some guidance. Although she had watched me many times over the years, she had never made one completely on her own.

My daughter is a beautiful and accomplished young woman: smart, savvy, self-confident. But she is insecure about her culinary skills.

With several generations of excellent cooks preceding her, she frets that she lacks the cooking gene, but I have assured her that I wasn’t interested until I was in my early 20s and that women in our family are hard wired to be good cooks.

“So you think the gene will kick in soon?” she has asked doubtfully.

When she comes home for a weekend visit, she finds a recipe for us to make together. As we cook side-by-side, I explain cooking techniques and she listens intently.

Back in her tiny New York apartment, she experiments with simple recipes and proudly texts me photos of her creations.

“Bravo!” I respond. “You’re doing great.”

So when she announced her plans to bake a pie, I encouraged her to make it easy on herself and buy a pre-made pie shell. But no, she was determined to do it all herself.

We went back and forth several times, both texting and talking on the phone. She wanted to know how to cut butter into the flour to make the small pebbles needed for a flaky crust. How far do you roll out the dough? How do you get it in the pie pan? Is it OK to refrigerate it while cutting up the apples?

more text

Before I went to bed, she sent me the photo of the final product. It looked terrific.

apple pie

Happy 25th birthday, my darling daughter. I wish you the sweetness of 100 apple pies today and every day of your life.


This morning my husband stood in front of the open refrigerator, pushing aside leftover lasagna and bags of grapes. And sighing.

“What’s up?” I asked.

“I really could go for a piece of your apple pie,” he said.

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Yeasty Cloverleaf Rolls

Midlife Boulevard is hosting a bloghop today on favorite recipes. Scroll to the bottom to find more yummy ideas for the holidays.


It is likely I inherited my fondness for baking from my maternal grandmother. Of the six sisters in her family, Nana was without a doubt the most proficient and prolific baker, and her tiny apartment in Squirrel Hill was redolent of the intoxicating smells of freshly baked breads and desserts.

Since she lived across the state, Nana’s week-long visits came only a few times a year, and my brother and I looked forward to them with great anticipation. After a warm welcome with hugs and kisses and the requisite exclamation of how big we had gotten, Nana would unpack her suitcase, slip an apron over her dress, and make herself at home in the kitchen.

She liked to help my mother prepare meals, or just sit at the kitchen table and chat, but the time when she really sprang into action was in the wee hours of the morning when everyone else was fast asleep.

Nana would wake up around 4, throw on what she called a “house dress” and slippers, and noiselessly make her way down the darkened steps to the kitchen. With barely a sound, she gathered the ingredients she needed–yeast, flour, sugar, nuts and raisins—and got to work.

By the time we came downstairs for breakfast, the dough she  had prepared was already into its second rising.  Bowls of all sizes, covered with dishtowels, were scattered everywhere: on the dining room table, on top of the console TV, on window sills, anywhere that was warmed by the early morning sun and would hasten the rising of the dough.

She produced masterpieces: bagels, onion rolls, sticky buns, coffee cakes, mandel bread, cookies and pastries that filled the house with the most delicious aromas. We couldn’t resist sneaking a few while they cooled on racks, giggling when she pretended to be angry. Nana would pack up dozens of these goodies and put them in the freezer so that we wouldn’t have to go without until her next visit.

She was happy when we wanted to help, and gave us small pieces of leftover dough to make gingerbread men with raisin eyes. I watched as she kneaded the dough, adding sprinkles of flour to take away the stickiness. She let us give the dough a “spanking” to deflate it for a second rising.

When I was a young wife and mother, I took up making my own bread, remembering the lessons I had learned by watching my grandmother. I knew how to rhythmically knead the dough, fold it, give it a quarter turn, and knead it again, over and over until the stickiness was gone and the dough was shiny and supple.

Nana always let me know she was proud of me, and my college graduation, wedding and birth of my children were all highlights in her life. But I think she was secretly thrilled when I mastered my first challah.

I often feel her looking over my shoulder as I sprinkle yeast over warm water, add a pinch of sugar, and breathe in the delicious yeasty aroma.

baked cloverleaf rolls

Cloverleaf Rolls

1 packet active dry yeast
¼ c. warm water
1 c. milk
¼ c. sugar
¼ c. margarine or butter
1 tsp. salt
1 egg
3-4 c. flour
poppy seeds or sesame seeds, optional

Heat the milk in a saucepan over low heat until warm but not simmering. Stir in the sugar, margarine and salt and set aside until cooled. It can still be somewhat warm.

Sprinkle the yeast over the warm water and let it sit for 5-10 minutes until it has proofed (bubbling and changing shape).

When the yeast is ready, beat the egg in another bowl and then add the yeast and milk mixture.

Add flour, ½ c. at a time, and stir, making sure there are no clumps of flour left. Add enough flour to make a smooth dough, but be careful not to add too much or the rolls will be dry. Knead the dough briefly on a floured surface.

Place dough in a greased bowl and turn once to make sure it is greased all over. Cover with a clean dishtowel and let rise until doubled in bulk, about two hours. You can tell it has doubled if you poke a finger in it and the indentation stays there.

Punch the dough so it deflates and place it on the floured surface. Divide the dough into 36 pieces and form each piece into a ball. Place three balls in a well-greased muffin cup, and repeat until all muffin cups are filled.

Cover again and let rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk, about one hour.

Brush with a little melted butter. You can sprinkle the rolls with poppy seeds or sesame seeds if desired.

Bake in a preheated 400 degree oven until golden, 12-15 minutes. Best served warm.

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Have You Met Your Internet Friends IRL (In Real Life)?

I’ll have an order of excitement with a side dish of anxiety, please.

That about sums up the way I feel as I prepare to meet a group of women whom I have only known through social media. What should I wear? I will most certainly try on a dozen outfits before settling on the one that is best for dinner at a wonderful restaurant in New York City. What will they think of me? Will it be awkward?

Back in the olden days when social media was not yet called social media and the Cooking Channel was but a twinkle in a TV executive’s eye, I discovered by chance a group of women on the Internet who shared my passion for cooking.

While surfing the net (does anyone still say that?) I stumbled upon this friendly bunch and stopped to say hello, and received a welcome the likes of which I hadn’t seen since the Welcome Wagon showed up on our doorstep 15 years ago.

plate of cookiesIt was glorious to find others who, like me, had a proclivity for hoarding a massive quantity of recipes, who waxed rhapsodic over the latest Martha Stewart cookbook. Our virtual water cooler was an online message board monitored by the early morning television show, Good Morning America, on which one could post questions, comments, and start a conversation about cooking.

My culinary coterie became as treasured to me as their tried and true family recipes were to them.  My morning ritual now included coffee and conversation with women from across the country. We talked about what we were making for dinner and discussed great Thanksgiving Day menus. We chatted about decorating birthday cakes and the best chili recipes. At Christmastime we had a virtual cookie exchange. recipes, index cardsI still have all those recipes.

Before too long, our range of topics expanded as we got to know each other better.  We commented on events of the day, both around the world or in our own homes. We faced off on political issues, talked about parenting challenges, infertility, our many pets, sickness, graduations, mother-in-law issues. All the things you would share with friends.

After a couple of years, we decided we had to meet IRL. About eight of us traveled to Chicago and spent a fantastic weekend together. We talked and talked and talked and then talked some more. We had fabulous meals at different restaurants. We even took a pie crust cooking lesson at a local kitchen store. The best thing was that we never felt like this was the first we had met.

The GMA board was ultimately disbanded, but thanks to Facebook, many of us have stayed in touch, like you do with old friends who live far away but still hold a place in your heart.

So tonight, I will go home and start the fruitless process otherwise known as picking out an outfit to wear Thursday evening.

I do have butterflies, but more than that, I truly am psyched to meet 15 fabulous women whom I’ve come to know and admire through blogging. Fifteen women who consistently amaze me with their talent, writing ability and sense of humor. All of this without ever having spoken to or seen them.

Until it happens Thursday. IRL.


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Our Thanksgiving ‘Must Have’ with the Funny Name

Do you have a Thanksgiving recipe that is sacrosanct, one that your family will not let you waver from, or — perish the thought — omit from the menu? In my family it’s a festive jello mold that is the heralded star of the show.

Our Thanksgiving 'Must Have'

Jello mold? you ask with a raised eyebrow. That ghastly relic of which surely no one on the Food Network would dare speak? A hideous affront to gourmands of all persuasions? The slut of 50s cuisine, if you will — indiscriminate, always available, and dolled up with mini marshmallows, canned peaches or Maraschino cherries, whispering, ‘take me, I’m easy’.

But wait. Our Thanksgiving favorite deserves some respect. Made with cherry jello and studded with fresh cranberries, chopped walnuts and celery, it can be made wayyyy in advance and forgotten about until the turkey is being carved. With just the right balance of sweet, tart, and crunchy, it is a perfect accompaniment to the meal. I usually double the recipe to serve 12-14.

I don’t know what age I was when my mother first made this dish. But I can totally imagine my gastronomical rapture upon tasting the first forkful. Henceforth known as Leenzil’s Thanksgiving Salad, it has been on my family’s table ever since.

Thanksgiving, menu, holiday, jello, eating, gastronomy

My mother submitted Leenzil’s Thanksgiving Salad to our synagogue’s cookbook under my name years ago. This is a photo of that page.

Oh, and the Leenzil part? That was my dad’s nickname for me.

Happy Thanksgiving, and bon appetit!

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Gobble Gobble

Word geeks like me get a kick out of the Oxford English Dictionary’s (OED) additions and deletions to our lexicon. This morning on my Twitter feed I found the shortlist for 2011’s word of the year, along with OED definitions (thanks @mashable), and among them are:

  • Bunga bunga: Used in reference to parties hosted by the former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, at which various illicit sexual activities were alleged to have taken place.
  • Clicktivism: The use of social media and other online methods to promote a cause.
  • Crowdfunding: The practice of funding a project or venture by raising many small amounts of money from a large number of people, typically via the Internet.
  • Gamification: The application of concepts and techniques from games to other areas of activity, for instance as an online marketing technique.
  • Tiger mother: A demanding mother who pushes her children to high achievement using methods regarded as typical of Asian childrearing.

FYI, retweet and sexting were added to the dictionary in August, and earlier this year, the terms LOL, <3 and OMG.

So this got me to thinking, as this Thanksgiving holiday weekend comes to a close, what items might the OED have missed? Here are some of my ideas.

  • Bloatulism: That feeling just beyond exquisitely full that borders on nausea
    related: CranBeriBeri
  • L-tryptophantasy: imagining that the dishes will be washed and put away when you wake up the next morning
  • OccuPyCrustNow: Sitting around the kitchen table picking at the last crumbs of the apple pie
  • BlackFridaySaturdaySunday: When only black clothes, preferably with lots of elastic, will suffice
  • NordStromboli: Craving Italian food after a tough day at the mall
  • WeAreThe99% Fat-Free: Swearing off carbs for the rest of one’s life. Or until the December holidays.
  • WeightWeightDon’tTellMe: Stepping on the scale while covering one’s eyes
  • Maaloxandbagels: our Sunday brunch menu
  • FingerClickinGood: no more leftovers; ordering Chinese takeout online

What say you, OED?

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