Sunday, December 28, 2008

Sweet Surprise- A New Caramel Christmas Cookie

“Do you say: care-a mel or kar-muhl,” asked the grocery store checker as she scanned my package of candy?

“Hmm, I say cara- mel.”

“No, no. It’s car-mel, just two syllables,” said the bagger, a hard-working high school student.

“Well, whatever…Don’t you just love them?” I asked.

“Oh my yes,” gushed the checker. “They are sooo good, but, you know, most people buy caramels at Halloween.”

“Well, I found a new cookie recipe (in Rachael Ray’s magazine) and I’m trying it for Christmas.” So, I went home and baked a batch.

About an hour later I heard from my teen-age daughter, “Mom, why haven’t you made these before? They are the best ever.” And I have to agree. The round white cookies are definitely chewy, yet melt in your mouth with a delicate buttery-nut taste. They remind me of what I call Russian tea cakes, but have a velvety oozing center with a hint of pecan pie.

Every year I try a new recipe or two at the holidays and usually discard them in favor of traditional favorites. But, this new cookie recipe (below) is a keeper.

And here’s a photo of Laura baking her batch of sugar cookies for a cookie exchange party.

Pecan Caramel Surprises
With thanks to Rachael Ray
Rachael Ray Magazine, December 2008-January 2009 issue
With additional hints from Debi

1 cup pecans (3 ½ ounces)
1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1 stick (4 ounces) unsalted butter, sliced
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup flour
24 soft caramel candies, unwrapped
¾ cup confectioners’ sugar

1. Using a food processor, finely chop the pecans with 1 tablespoon sugar for 20 seconds or until ground. Transfer to a bowl.

2. In the food processor, pulse the butter, remaining 1/3 cup sugar and the vanilla until combined, scraping the bowl occasionally. Add the flour and pulse again to combine. Stir into the pecan mixture.

“At this point the batter does not really hold together, but don’t worry. You will use your hands to form balls around the caramels.”

3. Position the racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven and preheat to 325 degrees. Line 2 cookie sheets with parchment paper.

4. Roll about 1 tablespoon of dough into a ball. Press a caramel into the center, and then roll to enclose the candy. “Add a little more dough if needed.”

5. Repeat with remaining dough and place balls 2 inches apart of the cookie sheets.

6. Bake until lightly colored, about 13-15 minutes.

7. Let cool about 10 minutes and carefully dredge in the confectioners’ sugar.

8. Dust again with confectioners’ sugar before serving.

Makes: 2 dozen exactly

The cookies keep well at room temperature, covered with plastic wrap.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Teen Holiday Party: How to Have Grinchy Fun

Grinchy Green Deviled Eggs & Seuss Spirals

Done gingerbread houses and Nutcracker teas,

Candy cane reindeer and trim-a-trees.

Gone neighborhood caroling, hosted family gatherings,

Two open house buffets and brunch on New Year’s Day.

Dr. Seuss claims the “who’s” like Christmas a lot,

But this Mom is beginning to think she does NOT.

“Why, for 50 some years I’ve put up with it now.”

I must stop this holiday madness from getting to me… but how?

Last year I faced the ultimate seasonal challenge. My 16-year-old cornered me with the standard, “But Mom…You’re invited to all those Christmas cocktail parties and events for the little kids. There’s nothing for me to do.”

I hesitated a moment and prayed for inspiration. “Homework?” Best not suggest that. “Laura,” I finally said, “I think you’re right.”

Traditional holiday parties often leave teens feeling bored and left out. So, I thought and I thought… and then I got an idea, a truly wonderful awful idea. Why not cater to teen moodiness by granting them a Grinch-themed party?

Like millions of others, I’m fond of the mean one and his dog, Max, who live on Mount Crumpit. No matter how overwhelmed I am by shopping, baking and decorating, I always steal a moment to watch the animated classic- The Grinch. Like Dickens Christmas Carol, the story renews my flagging spirit.

“Laura, invite your friends over and have them dress as “who’s,” I finally said. “They can wear silly stripes and polka-dots.”

“Think scarves and ear-muffs, patterned rain boots, blinky earrings-- the zanier, the more Seussical, the better.”

“Use that old artificial tree and decorate it with pink, purple and orange balls. Make it lopsided and lean the star way off the top, then add multi-colored candy canes. Hang garland and lots of tinsel around the house.”

“Okay, Mom,” she said. I understood; okay meant she truly liked the idea. And it came as no surprise that her girlfriends, did as well. Teenagers adore dressing up and experimenting with make-up and this party allowed them to go overboard.

A trip to the dollar store got us started and held costs to a minimum. We recreated Who-ville’s decorative flair with gaudy swags and tacky wreaths. We strung popcorn and bought felt antlers for our faithful dog, Wrigley.

My husband rented a Grinch costume and appeared at the party to carve the roast beast, which was actually a turkey breast. The girls roared with delight.

To my astonishment, my daughter volunteered to help prepare simple but fun-food. Green eggs and ham were a thought, but Laura doesn’t eat ham; so we served deviled eggs with the yolks tinted Grinch green, colorful veggie dips, appetizer pinwheel spirals, curly pasta salad and candy kiss brownies. The punch (see recipes below) proved so popular that I had to refill the bowl three times.

One of my daughter’s friends, said, “Mrs. Lander, the food was so good that I ate a lot; but it was healthy -- wasn’t it?”

Well, actually, it was, but they didn’t need to know.

Emily, another friend, told me she was impressed with the arrangement of swirling sweets. That, too, was easy- I just placed a red and white striped candy kiss on top of each brownie slice and arranged them on a multi-tiered server.

Activities included watching the animated TV classic, followed by the movie, How the Grinch Stole Christmas. The girls exchanged inexpensive gifts, placed in a sleigh piled high with packages, boxes and bags. Music CD’s, earrings and nail polish were popular. They sat around talking and even singing (but they didn’t do it standing hand-in-hand).

And, well, my heart grew with love and happiness that night; watching this hard to please crowd enjoying themselves – at a basic home-based party. The Grinch saved my Christmas season.

On her way out the door Lyndsey summed it up, “Tonight was great Grinchy fun.”

Laura’s planning to bring back the party next year and I am thrilled. Except this time, I’m going to figure out how to get “you-know-who” to help with the clean-up.

Grinch Party Recipes

Who Welcome Punch - or Blood Orange Punch

32 oz. container 100 Percent Pure Fresh Blood Orange Juice - chilled (We used Noble, which is very concentrated)

64 oz. Sparkling Mineral Water- chilled

12 oz. can Lemon-Lime soda

Fresh Cranberries

Mix all 32 ounces of blood orange juice with double (64 oz.) of sparkling mineral water and one can (12 oz.) of lemon-lime soda.

Sprinkle fresh cranberries on top; they will float in punch bowl.

Add additional ice, if desired.

Optional- For a more festive drink, place one neon “litecube” in clear glass cup or stem. .

Seuss Spirals - or Spinach Pinwheel Tortilla Appetizers

1 8 oz. package low fat cream cheese

¼ cup sun dried tomatoes packed in oil

¼ cup scallion, just the green tops, finely chopped

3-4 large size spinach tortillas

Food coloring (red or yellow)

With an electric mixer, beat one package cream cheese until softened.

Add sun dried tomatoes and minced scallion.

Mix together, adding salt and pepper to taste.

Tint with a few drops of food coloring- we chose red – to make the mixture pink.

Spread the cream-cheese mixture, thinly covering the tortillas shells.

Roll up jelly-roll style.

Wrap in waxed paper and refrigerate – up to 1 week ahead of party.

One hour before serving, remove and slice the rolls into ¼” rounds.

Place on a serving plate that will accent the colors.

Grinchy Green Deviled Eggs

1 Dozen Hard Boiled Eggs cut in half (To save time, buy already boiled and peeled eggs)

¼ - ½ cup Mayonnaise (reduced-fat or regular)

1-2 Tablespoons Sweet Pickle Relish

1 teaspoon (or more) Mustard

Salt, pepper, paprika

Green Food Coloring

Pop out the egg yolks, place in a bowl and mash with a fork. Stir in mayonnaise to desired consistency, pickle relish, mustard salt, and pepper to taste. Some people like a firm consistency, others a softer, gooey filling.

Add a few drops of green food coloring to make vibrant green color.

Stuff the egg whites with filling using a spoon or pastry bag.

Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Before serving, sprinkle lightly with paprika.

Can be made a day or two ahead of time.

For detailed instructions on how to make deviled eggs, see

Tri-Color Curly Pasta Salad

1 16 oz. box Rotini pasta

½ - 1 cup Creamy salad dressing

Finely cut vegetables of your choice – yellow, red and green pepper, olives, carrots, broccoli, zucchini, scallion or onion

Cheese cubes cut from rectangular cheddar cheese blocks (To save time, purchase cheese cut in cubes)

Cook spiral pasta according to directions on the package. Drain and place in a deep bowl. Add cut or sliced vegetables of your choice and mix. Add creamy salad dressing and mix lightly. Finally add cheese cubes, stir and chill in refrigerator until ready to serve.

Cindy Lou’s Dippety Do

Fresh vegetables cut up to bite-size pieces.

Tint your favorite dip with food coloring (We made ours orange.)

Serve in a hollowed out green, red or yellow pepper.

Teen girls are always counting calories, so a vegetable tray is a must for any party.

Roast Beast

Roast a turkey breast and slice thinly or use a spiral sliced ham. Provide an assortment of small sized rolls and deli-breads such as rye, whole wheat, pumpernickel, multi-grain and white. Serve with a variety of condiments, including mustard, cranberry relish, mayonnaise or chutney.

Heartfelt Desserts

Bake an array of colorful Christmas cookies, some in heart shapes- as the Grinch’s heart grows in the story. You can also try brownies with mint frosting drizzled with melted chocolate or spiral candy kisses. We also placed dishes of fun-shaped candies such marzipan, multi-color candy canes, gum drops and M & M’s around the table.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

St. Lucia Surprise – SILK

Fine Dining at Coconut Bay Resort

Never been to an all-inclusive resort, and frankly, wasn’t expecting much from the food. “Mon,”as they say on the island, was I surprised by Coconut Bay Resort in St. Lucia.

Arrivals are greeted with a glass of champagne. Nice touch.

First evening, I chose a roti from the buffet, something I always order at the Soggy Dollar Bar in the BVI’s. The folded wrap is traditional Caribbean food: curried chicken and potatoes, perhaps green pepper and carrots within a thin shell similar to a tortilla. The dish is usually served with chutney, a green salad and plantains. Yum, that roti, along with a pina colada, put me in a laid-back mood.

Next morning I found a lavish self-service breakfast. Who wouldn't be happy with fresh fruit, ham, bacon, sausage, eggs any style, including a casserole similar to the one I make on Christmas morning? Pancakes, waffles, French toast, breads, Danish, bagels, croissants, hot and cold cereals, OJ and coffee or tea were also available. More than needed.

Later, my group went to one of the two onsite reservation necessary restaurants. Guests call to book a table, those with children must be finished by 7:30, or opt for the buffet. We chose Bellagio’s, the Italian Restaurant and I confess I feasted on insalata, mushroom ravioli, and tiramisu. La bella notte.

Sunrise brought a planned hike up the Gros Piton (2,619 feet to be exact). The resort packed goodies to eat enroute (you must start early due to the heat) and an apple saved me about half way up. I struggled to climb to the top—but once there--what a panorama.

Assured that I’d burned a couple thousand calories, I felt I’d earned the right to eat anything I wanted. So, I relaxed and reveled on the beauties and diversity of St. Lucia and then consumed a spectacular meal at SILK, another restaurant on the all-inclusive plan.

Honestly, I’ve never chopsticked my way through better Chinese- anywhere, and that includes Chinatown in San Francisco. I started with hot and sour soup, a bowl of joy: tangy, with a spicy kick, unlike watery Won-Ton. Threads of burnt umber laced the broth presented in a charcoal colored bowl with a small flower floating in the center. The soup was as luxurious as cashmere or the restaurant’s name-- Silk.

Crispy chicken wings appeared next, exploding with heat but not fire. No way to eat these fried morsels except finger licking.

My entrée, a trio of sesame beef kabob, sweet and sour chicken and garlic shrimp, was artfully presented in a hollow bamboo container, accompanied by a mound of steaming rice. The shrimps were tender, succulent and garlicky. This dish alone would demand a return visit, if Coconut Bay were in my hometown

Dessert starred Chocolate Delight, a double-wide dark cocoa truffle, the consistency of ganache, which melted on my tongue with momentary bitterness, then burst into semi-sweetness. Just one bite was all that was needed to end an eventful day and our soiree.

Other meals included a cheeseburger at the outdoor poolside grill and a western themed supper around the moonlit deck. The hotel staff danced the two-step and boot scootin’ boogie like pros. Apparently GI’s stationed on St. Lucia during WWII introduced country music and the residents adopted the western sound into their culture.

My recommendations: Anyone going to St Lucia should dine at Silk. I’d also encourage a hike at least half way up the Gros Piton for the photo worthy view. If you can’t manage the difficult terrain, drive to the lighthouse at sunset. And if you are fortunate enough to stay at Coconut Bay during a full moon, you’ll bask in one of the most romantic places on the island.

Coconut Bay Beach Resort & Spa, St Lucia


West Indian Chicken Roti Recipe

As Adapted by Debi Lander from A Week at Sandcastle

Roti Filling

2 pounds boneless chicken thigh meat

1 Tbsp curry powder

1 Tbsp oil

1 small onion

2 cloves minced garlic

1 small green pepper

1 small red pepper

1 sprig thyme

2 pounds peeled and cubed potatoes

2 Cups water

2 cans drained chickpeas

Heat oil in saucepan and fry curry powder for 1 minute, stirring constantly. Cut up chicken and season with salt and pepper. Add chicken to curry powder and cook for 3 to 5 minutes more. Add all the other ingredients and continue to simmer. Stir frequently until potatoes are soft and sauce is thickened. Spoon into Roti skins and fold like an envelope. Serve with mango chutney.

Roti Skins

2 ½ cups flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

2 Tablespoons butter

¾ cup water

1 cup oil

½ teaspoon turmeric

½ teaspoon cumin

Salt to taste

Mix flour, baking powder and butter.

Add water, turmeric, cumin and salt.

Knead to form soft elastic but not sticky dough.

Cut into 6 pieces.

Roll dough out thinly, brush on oil and sprinkle on a pinch of flour.

Fold in half, then a quarter, then roll into a ball.

Let sit for 10 minutes.

Roll dough out again and place on a hot griddle.

Brush on oil as needed and turn frequently.

Remove roti and clap with both hands until pliable.

Fold and place on waxed paper.

Stuff with roti filling and serve or reheat later.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Mrs. Wilkes Boardinghouse Restaurant

Savannah, Georgia

Every weekday, hungry folks wait in line for a table in Mrs. Wilkes Dining Room. By 11:30, the crowd snakes around the corner of brick paved Jones Street, in heart of Savannah. No reservations are taken and no credit cards accepted.

Mrs. Wilkes restaurant was legendary, long before John Berendt’s, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, hit the bestseller list. His story included references to the boardinghouse food and my husband and I wanted a sample.

Being just a party of two, were quickly called to the front of the line. By tradition, the restaurant seats and serves family style; so this was our lucky day.

We entered a ground level room with a low hanging ceiling, giving it a cozy close feel, like dining at grandma’s house. Oilcloth covered tables were laden with so many side dishes, I lost count. In front of me rested bowls of lima beans, coleslaw, yellow squash, black- eyed peas, pickled beets, mashed potatoes and gravy. Next to Jay, an bevy of containers were brimming with beef stew, barbequed pork, succotash, collard greens, corn bread stuffing (called dressing in the South), mashed sweet potatoes, creamed corn, macaroni and cheese, tomato and okra gumbo and biscuits.

The server filled glasses with sweet iced tea and took orders from non-southerners who desired the unsweetened version or water. But our attention turned to the high-piled platter of fried chicken being presented. This entree was still sending off currents of hot steam and, I believe, made some folks drool.

The poultry gleamed golden brown, lightly breaded, not greasy. Without hesitation, customers, really more like guests, began politely digging into the feast. And, no wonder Jim Williams (of the famous book) had food from Mrs. Wilkes delivered to his prison cell. This chicken oozed finger licking goodness, as should a James Beard Award winner.

Seated with us were friendly strangers: a retired couple traveling the USA in their pick up truck, another retired couple who had piloted and flown in on a small plane, just to have lunch at Mrs. Wilkes, and a third couple from Arizona, vacationing in the historic city.

We quickly got to know each other while consuming delicious mouthfuls and trading opinions on the meal. The offerings were passed a second time; but only one or two took extras. I considered a spoonful of the yams, a sweet intriguing mingle of spices and raisins. I just had to ask about the recipe and was told it included coconut.

Before long, dessert was served, a small dish of creamy banana pudding, finishing the yummy, but hardly heart-healthy, banquet.

Traditionally all diners at Mrs. Wilkes carry their own plates to the kitchen. Then they pay in cash on their way out. The luncheon costs sixteen dollars, a bargain that lasted me the rest of the day.

Mrs. Sema Wilkes was a dearly beloved woman who passed away in 2002 at age 95. She took over the boardinghouse in 1943 and worked hard to maintain it all those years.

Her great-grandson Ryon Thompson now manages the establishment, along with help from his mother, Mrs. Wilkes granddaughter, and her husband. They keep about 200 long-term customers and tourists happy by preparing the original, time-tested menus and recipes.

The cuisine is not gourmet, and it never intended to be. But, you can’t find a more authentic home-cooked southern spread anywhere. Mrs. Wilkes Dining Room is an unpretentious and cherished Savannah shrine worthy of a visit and, however long, a wait in line.

If you go:

Mrs. Wilkes Dining Room is located in the historic district.

107 West Jones Street, Savannah, Georgia

912 232 5997

Here is a perfect Thanksgiving recipe from Mrs. Wilkes Boardinghouse Cookbook. In fact, Mrs. Wilkes used to say, “a lot of people buy my cookbook just to get this recipe.” Add me to that list.

Sweet Potato Soufflé

4 pounds sweet potatoes, pared and sliced

1 ½ cups sugar

2 eggs

½ cup raisins

Grated rind and juice of 1 lemon

½ teaspoon cinnamon

½ teaspoon nutmeg

½ cup evaporated milk

½ cup chopped pecans

½ cup butter or margarine, melted

½ cup shredded coconut

Miniature marshmallows

Place the potatoes in a pot and add enough salted water to cover. Cook until tender. Drain. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Mash and whip the potatoes. Add the remaining ingredients (except marshmallows) and mix well. Pour into a greased casserole dish. Bake for 30 minutes. Remove from the oven and cover with marshmallows. Return t the oven and continue cooking until brown. Serves 8. (Except if you have as many side dishes as Mrs. Wilkes, it will likely serve more!)

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Halloween Mummy Hot Dogs

I made mummy hot dogs years ago when Laura was little, but resurrected the recipe for my grandson’s birthday party. Kids love them and so do adults. Best of all, you can use any kind of hot dog- turkey, kosher, fat free, vegetarian or all beef.

Just open a package of hot dogs; rinse and pat dry.

Unroll a carton of refrigerated crescent dinner rolls, keeping two triangles together to form a square. Roll dough to eliminate perforations and cut into thin strips.

Wrap the dough strips around the hot dogs, leaving a space for the mummy’s face.

Place on a cookie sheet and bake in a 350-375 degree oven until the rolls just begin to turn light golden brown, around 13-17 minutes.

Remove from oven and use a toothpick to create mustard eyes- or ketchup eyes.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

The Brownie Bake-Off

Duncan Hines versus Ghirardelli

I volunteered to take three dozen brownies to a volleyball tournament. Now, I could have baked them from scratch, but I didn’t. I had two boxes of mix in the pantry, each calling for the exact same ingredients, so decided to have a bake-off.

First, I stirred up the Duncan Hines Chocolate Lover’s Brownie Mix with Walnuts, choosing the additions for fudgy brownies. Then, I prepared the mix of Ghirardelli Chocolate Walnut Brownies. I baked both on the same shelf in the oven, each in 8 x 8 inch pans.

The result: Ghirardelli won in all areas.

Batter: I licked the spoon before baking and the Duncan Hines seemed to have some undissolved sugar.

Appearance: When I removed the pans from the oven, the Ghirardelli mix had a smooth, semi-gloss sheen. The Duncan Hines had a rough looking texture.

Presentation: After cooling, both desserts cut easily but the Duncan Hines seemed a bit dried out, especially around the edges. The serving portion of each brand held together, even after I took a bite.

Taste: What really matters, of course, is taste. The Ghirardelli brownies had a rich, dense chocolate flavor which was moist and chewy. However, neither brand were the real heavy, homemade type. The walnuts in both were plentiful and crunchy. Perhaps the quality of the chocolate in the Duncan Hines was not as good as Ghirardelli.

Score: I give Ghirardelli a thumbs up and high five! For ease of preparation, these can't be beat. I'll definitely buy the brand in the future.

Disclaimer: I must admit my homemade Layered Mint Brownies are still the all time favorite, although they do require a lot more time and effort. Here's the recipe if you want to make really special brownies.

Debi's Layered Mint Brownies

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2 (1-ounce) squares unsweetened chocolate

½ cup butter or margarine

2 eggs

1 cup sugar

½ cup all-purpose flour

½ cup chopped walnut or pecans

1 ½ cups sifted powdered sugar

3 Tablespoons heavy cream

¾ teaspoon peppermint extract

2 drops green food coloring

2 (1-ounce) squares sweet baking chocolate

2 Tablespoons butter or margarine

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Melt unsweetened chocolate and ½ cup butter in top of a double boiler or in the microwave; cool.

Combine eggs and 1 cup sugar, beating until light and fluffy; stir in flour, nuts and cooled chocolate. Spread into a greased 9 x 9-inch baking pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 25 minutes. Cool on a wire rack.

Combine powdered sugar, 3 tablespoons butter, heavy cream and peppermint extract. Stir in food coloring and beat until smooth. Spread evenly over the baked layer; cover and chill at least 1 hour or until firm.

Melt sweet chocolate and 2 tablespoons butter in double boiler or in microwave. Stir in vanilla and drizzle over the frosted layer. (My drizzles go all over, more like splattering.) Cover and chill 1 more hour or until firm.

Cut into 1 inch squares.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

The Strange Case of the 20 Nutmeg Recipe

Add 20 Nutmegs??

According to, a simple typo in a Swedish magazine led to four people being poisoned. Actually they developed symptoms like dizziness and headaches. Seems a recipe for apple cake was posted, and "Instead of calling for two pinches of nutmeg, it said 20 nutmeg nuts were needed."

I happen to like nutmeg but a little goes a long way. I can’t imagine anyone grating 20 nutmegs and folding all that into a batter.

But, speaking of apple cake, here is one of my favorite recipes, a perfect seasonal treat.

Jewish Apple Cake

3 cups unsifted flour
2 & ½ cups sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
4 eggs
1/3 cup orange juice
2 Tbsp. vanilla
3 tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. salt

6 very thinly sliced apples, no skin
2 Tbsp cinnamon
6 Tbsp. Sugar

Mix together flour, sugar, oil, eggs, salt, orange juice, vanilla and baking powder to make the batter.

In another bowl, mix the apples with the cinnamon and sugar.

Pour half of the batter into a greased and floured tube or bundt pan,
Top with half of the apple mixture.
Repeat with remaining batter and top with apples.

Bake at 350 degrees for 90-120 minutes, until top is crusty.

Serves 8-12

Thursday, July 17, 2008

July Corn Chowder

There's a bright golden haze on the meadow,
There's a bright golden haze on the meadow,
The corn is as high as an elephant's eye,
An' it looks like it's climbin' clear up to the sky.

Oh, what a beautiful mornin',
Oh, what a beautiful day.
I got a beautiful feelin'
Ev'rything's goin' my way.


I love summer food, especially corn on the cob. Fact is, I love corn off the cobb, too. Corn souffle, corn cakes, corn relish- whatever. I must be a little corny!

Well, the other day I learned the neatest trick while watching the Today Show. The chef cut the corn off the cob right into a Bundt pan. The corn cob rests in the center hole and the deep cake pan catches all the kernels as they are cut away. Brilliant.

I had to try it. Worked great, so I decided to make my favorite corn chowder. Here’s the lowfat recipe. Amazingly there is no cream in the soup, but it looks and tastes like a cream based calorie laden dish. Enjoy.

July Corn Chowder
Serves 8

1 chopped onion
6 cups (approximately 12 ears) fresh corn kernels, with any milk collected
3 cups chicken stock
½ cup finely chopped red bell pepper
½ teaspoon fresh rosemary
½ teaspoon dried thyme
Dash cayenne pepper
Salt & pepper to taste
1 tablespoon fresh basil- for garnish

Preheat a large, heavy saucepan over medium heat. Spray it well with vegetable or olive oil. Saute the onion about 5 minutes, until clear. Add 4 cups of the corn and saute 5 more minutes, until it softens a bit. Add 2 cups of the chicken stock and cook until the corn can be easily mashed- about 20-30 minutes.

Transfer the contents to a blender (I do this in 2 batches). Puree until smooth. Return the puree to the saucepan and lower the heat. Add the bell pepper, rosemary, thyme, pepper and remaining 1 cup of chicken stock and 2 cups of corn. Stir and cook for 10-15 minutes, until thick and creamy.

Garnish with chopped basil when serving.
The soup is equally good the next day.

Original recipe by Rosie Daley, from the cookbook In the Kitchen with Rosie. Alfred Knopf publishers, NY 1994.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Harry's Old Place

Harry’s Old Place
3751 Cypress Gardens Road
Winter Haven, FL
Telephone 863 324-0301

“Harry in the Bag” is the specialty of the house at Harry’s Old Place, a tasty restaurant in Winter Haven, FL. Start with a grouper filet and cover with a mixture of crushed pecans and crushed Ritz crackers. Then add, as the waitress said, “ various seasonings.” She would not divulge which ones.

My guess is some Old Bay, chili powder, paprika, pinch of cayenne, salt and pepper. Place in a brown bag and cook in the oven.

It is served on a plate with the bag torn open, a lemon wedge on the side. While my photo doesn't look terribly appetizing, the fish is moist with a spicy zip. Quite yummy.

Harry’s is an eclectic place with driftwood sculptures, tiffany lamps, fish weathervanes, a skinless wooden canoe, glass buoys, and the bottom half of Santa climbing up a pole.

Hmm, Harry himself looks a bit like ole St. Nick.

For my attempt:
I took some Ritz crackers and pecans, crushed them, and added the seasonings I mentioned above. I slathered the top of a salmon filet with a very thin coat of mayonaise and sprinkled on the crumb topping. I baked the filet at 350 degrees and was delighted with result. Even daughter Laura commented with a thumbs up!

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Italian Pocket Coffee

Caffeine Candy to Go

On my recent trip to Italy I discovered a fantastic new product -- Pocket Coffee. Why these scrumptious little nuggets aren't availble in the US is beyond me. Perhaps Starbucks lobbied against their import?

My group had just finished lunch and had no time to linger over a cup of café when we were handed packets of Pocket Coffee. Opening the wrapper I found a bite sized dark chocolate candy filled with expresso. Yes, liquid coffee. The piece brought an intense burst of mocha latte, with a hint of nutty tang.

First time testers agreed the tiny treat was marketing genius. “Curiously crunchy,” said Amanda Castleman, “I wasn’t expecting that.”

“I like that it’s more chocolately than coffee,” announced Anne Clippinger.

“But it’s too sweet for me,” cried Monika Jones. Most thought Pocket Coffee was a perfect blend of sugar and caffeine to go.

The candy, produced by Ferrero, sells in European grocery stores but not in the US. However, I found you can order it online from Not available during the summer months, when the chocolate coating might ooze the liquid center. And heed taster Dave O’Sullivan’s warning, “Take them in one bite or you might ruin your shirt.”

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Spring Fling Restaurant Review ~ Atlantis

Start with two parts Disney – a theme park with amazing rides, wide-eyed, energetic kids, fatigued parents and a sprinkle of fairy dust. Add three gallons Sea World, including moray eels, spiny lobsters, moon jelly fish, and lots of shark. Stir in fresh Bahamian conch and simmer under the sun. Before serving, add a shot of Las Vegas, a pinch of cruisin’ attitude, and for extra zip - a few drops of dark rum. You’ve got Atlantis Chowder.

Or maybe I should call it Marketing Mania Gumbo. The mega-resort on Paradise Island, Bahamas is brash and bawdy; a game show set ready for action…and kids love it. For the most part, adults do, too.

Yes, it’s man-made and very commercial, but there’s a quiet, chic side at The Cove and the Mandara Spa. However, most guests book the vacation for the water park and slide into fun.

Culinary interests? Atlantis offers a cornucopia of eateries. I expected high prices, but ouch, a few will soak your wallet. Eleven dollars for two bagels to go, no coffee, got me a bit percolated.

We arrived at the resort around 7:30 PM and wanted just a casual bite. Harborside Marina was suggested, but the lines looked like octopus arms swirling out restaurant doorways. We had to change clothes to get into elegant Café Martinique and their classical French cuisine. A pianist and vocalist added a soothing touch to the subdued ambiance. By the time my scrumptious sea bass arrived, I had forgotten the mayhem outside.

Next night we garnered reservations for Chop-Stix, a dimly light Chinese spot. Laura liked the pot stickers but her Sesame Chicken looked and tasted like my Chicken with broccoli, only hers was minus the greens.

Casa D’Angelo provided a memorable pasta night with almost sinful gnocchi. Creamy melted cheese, fresh herbs and little pasta nuggets popping with flavor.

For Thursday night, I’d made reservations at the Café at the Hall of Great Waters weeks in advance. When we arrived the hostess explained that our table was being set-- pointing to one close to the glass ocean wall. We were asked to wait by the aquarium and would be called.

So, we ogled groupers the size of Volkswagen bugs and eagle rays that weighted 1,200 pounds. When I turned back toward the restaurant, another family was being seated at “our table.” “That was not YOUR table,” said the maitre d’ as he led us up a level to a table directly behind the piano.

“Not here,” said my husband, so we ended up closer to the sea life, but bordering the open courtyard. Not great, but at least we had a view.

Jay ordered a gin and tonic, which came with a slice of lemon. He requested a lime. “, “No problem,” said the waiter, but we had to keep asking, over and over. We tired the water server, the bus boy and the waiter- again. Blimey!

Eventually Jay decided to just drink the cocktail, sans lime, and then was asked if he wanted a refill. He declined; ordered wine by the glass, which came AFTER his mostly uneatable dinner. He requested mashed potatoes (No problem, sir) and got polenta and undercooked salmon that was barely warm.

Laura and I order Shrimp Scampi prepared tableside. The sous chef looked bothered by the process and kept saying he was adding chives, while clearly it was chopped parsley. Must admit though, the scampi tasted tangy and fresh.

After his unpleasant meal, Jay simply asked for bill. He paid (a mandatory 15% gratuity) and we left, not feeling like complaining. But the next day I stopped by, and a call was placed for the manager. Instead of apologies and offers to make amends, I got poor excuses and was told they always prepare their salmon as described!

Skip the Café at the Hall of Great Waters.

Our last night, dining at Bobby Flay’s Mesa Grill proved 180 degrees opposite. The impeccable service couldn’t have been improved. Lorenzo, our waiter, was magnificent. The menu of spicy Southwestern dishes with Caribbean flair made choices difficult. Try the Sixteen Spice Chicken with caramelized mango-roasted garlic sauce. Yummy.

Murray’s Deli, a traditional NY style diner, was a no-frills choice for breakfast. They also offer some salad and sandwiches on a carry-out basis.

For more casual eating, go very early or late to Bimini Road at the Marina. They swirl delicious Mango Smoothies and the All-American burger is … a good burger.

We ate lunch at the beachside bars, surprisingly finding a saucy warm chicken wrap. Thankfully I ordered a Bahama Mama to help cool the spicy hot.

And a trip to the Caribbean is never complete without the frozen concoction of Margaritaville . Too bad my waistline is not wasting away.


Bobby Flay’s Sixteen-Spice Chicken Breast

For the chicken:
3 tablespoons ancho chile powder
3 tablespoons pasilla chile powder
3 tablespoons ground cumin
3 tablespoons ground coriander
3 tablespoons ground ginger
2 tablespoons garlic powder
2 tablespoons onion powder
1 tablespoon allspice
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon ground cloves
1 tablespoon ground fennel seed
1 teaspoon chile de arbol
3 tablespoon brown sugar
2 tablespoons kosher salt
2 tablespoons coarsely ground black pepper
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Boneless chicken breasts (8-ounces each, skin on)
Canola oil

Combine spices in a bowl. Rub chicken breasts on skin side with rub.

** Debi’s comments
I’m not sure how the restaurant cooked the chicken, I roasted mine in the oven and it turned out great. But just to experiment I’m going to try pan frying next time

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

A Tale in Two Cities: St. Patrick's Day ~ Dublin & Belfast

Even though I’m not Catholic, we celebrate St. Patrick’s Day —it’s my son, Steve’s birthday. Why, we’ve even gone to Ireland to celebrate—twice.

Back in 2000 Steve took a job in England. So, Jay and I and Laura, our then 9-year-old daughter flew to Dublin arriving in the morning mist. Lush, velvety green hills enveloped us, making it obvious why this country is called the Emerald Isle.

Our taxi was forced to drop us blocks from our hotel; the holiday parade was swarming all over the streets. I felt self-conscious and out of place as I rolled my luggage down the sidewalk to St. Stephen’s Green. There, at last, was our hotel.

Like so many other grand dames, The Shelbourne, boasts a special room for high tea and a reading room with leather chairs, which, to be honest, reeked of cigarette and cigar smoke. The hallway leading to our room included a few steps and some odd turns, making me realize the building had been renovated numerous times.

But the place had an ambiance most welcoming and, on this day, most festive. Families reunited and embraced distant relatives and good friends. Children scooted under foot and furniture and no one minded.

By the time we freshened up, the parade had passed and the crowds were off in the pubs for lunch. We joined them, but the lines now snaked out onto the sidewalk. While we waited, we discovered buffet presentations were the only choice of the day. That became a problem because Laura was not familiar with the culinary offerings. She turned her nose up at Irish stew, corned beef and cabbage, leeks and mutton. Surely the Irish cooked something she liked, but we didn’t find it that day.

By evening Steve, of course, was ready to party but our young one was ready for bed. Jay and I took turns in the hotel bar meeting Steve and mingling with Irish girls and gents, their complexions as pale and smooth as creamy butter. The accents were distinctive to our ears, and charming. And oh, their glorious auburn hair was pretty enough to evoke poetry.

We raised a glass to Jay’s ancestors (his Mother is the former Patty McCormick), Dublin, Steve, you name it; but before long also gave into sleep. Not what you’d call a St. Patrick’s blow-out.

I have to admit I was surprised that the holiday centered on family, not drinking. I also recall the men wearing real shamrocks on their lapels, no tacky fake flowers. And no green hair, face paint, leprechaun hats or other exaggerated décor. And certainly no green beer. A good friend and a pint of Guinness were enough.

Next day we visited St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin Castle, and walked down to the trendy Temple Bar area, crossing over a bridge on the River Liffey. Thankfully Laura found an acceptable item on the menu – salmon.

We met chatty locals in stores, pubs and restaurants and whomever we asked for directions or assistance, always answered us with kindness. We departed with endearing memories and vowed to return

And with the luck of the Irish, in 2005 we nabbed an incredibly low airfare to Belfast. Steve was not with us on this trip but we toasted his birthday as we landed-- early on St. Patrick’s Day. This time we arrived at our hotel before the parades started.

In fact, this was the first year, since the end of the "Troubles,” that Belfast even sponsored a St. Patrick’s Day parade. It wasn’t a big event, but the mood was electric and a feeling of unity filled the air.

The concierge suggested lunch upstaris at the Crown Liquor Saloon. Built in 1828, this pub is now maintained by the National Trust of Northern Ireland and features an ornate Victorian atmosphere: gilded mirrors, old black and white photos, a tin ceiling and gas lights.

We ran into a group of Scottish ladies from the Highlands who told us they gather annually, but always in a different Irish city. They were imbibing in grand style and had donned hats, supplied when “a drop of black,” or Guinness was ordered. Our waiter gave Laura one, too. Lunch was better than our offering five years earlier. We devoured “Champ,” a mashed potatoes, cheese and chive combination.

Later I met a local woman who overheard my American accent. She stopped me just so she could welcome me to Belfast. I liked that.

We squeezed downstairs through cough producing smoke into a room crammed as tight as Times Square on New Year’s Eve, and just as noisy. Everyone turned toward a telly to cheer The Gold Cup horse race. This is a lengthy steeple chase race through mud filled ponds, over hedges and across green fields. Strangely (at least to me)the horse in the lead lost his hockey, but ran on. Rather wild compared to our Kentucky Derby.

We hired a "black taxi" as I wanted to see the West Belfast Political Wall Murals. First we rode to Shankill Road, the Protestant side. Here, working class row-homes were painted with large scenes. Our driver pointed out the jail and courthouse, which had to use an underground tunnel and just one judge (no jury) for the safety of all those on trial.

Then he drove us to the nearby Catholic side, Falls Road. Here we saw a mural of Bobby Sands, who went on a hunger strike until his death. We also saw Remembrance Park, a peace memorial.

Our driver/guide spoke poignantly and explained that Belfast had made great progress since the 1995 peace agreement. He claimed he grew up fearing bombs and was told not to talk to certain children or adults. He realized this was not a good way; but simply understood that it was the way.

Now he was proud of Belfast, all the economic growth, tourist interest and unification. He thanked us for coming and asked us to spread the word. We left feeling grateful for the opportunity.

Dinner that night at Michael Deanes Brasserie was one of the best meals of our trip. We ate fresh fish, delicately cooked along with gorgeous looking vegetables and scrumptious braised potatoes. I recall Laura commenting on the improved cuisine. The upstairs restaurant, much fancier, has earned Chef Michael Dean a Michelin star; the only one given in Northern Ireland.

Next day we drove off to see the Antrim Coast- stopping at Carrifergus Castle, the Carrick-a-rede Rope Bridge, and the Giant’s Causeway. As the sun was fading we managed to get in a quick peek at the ruins of Dunluce Castle, which sits at the very edge of an imposing cliff.

We found both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland to be magnificent. The people are friendly and welcoming and best of all, always ready to tell a story. Even better is to sit and share the tale over a drink in the pub, followed by foot stomping music. And the food these days is a far cry from just meat and potatoes. As Laura says, “It’s not great, but pretty tasty.”


I was going to share a recipe for Champ, but I came across something similar called Colcannon. I just couldn’t resist the recipe because it included a poem about the dish. Now how often do you find such a treat?

Did you ever eat Colcannon
When t'was made with yellow cream,
And the kale and the praties blended
Like the picture in a dream?
Did you ever take a forkful
And dip it in the lake
Of heather-flavoured butter
That your mother used to make?

Colcannon or Irish Smashed Potatoes

2 cups Green cabbage, shredded
2 cups cooked and mashed potatoes
¼ cup green onions, sliced

Dash of pepper

Heat ½ inch of water to boiling. Stir in the cabbage, cover and return to boil. Cook 5 minutes, drain. Fold into the prepared mashed potatoes, along with the onions and pepper. Dot with butter and sprinkle with parsley. Serves 4.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

The City That Made Me Indulge

Mardi Gras or Fat Tuesday is a feasting day before Lent; indulgence before penance. The weeks leading up, known as Carnival, are celebrated with parties, masked balls, parades and calorie dense food. It’s a time to be a bit naughty—and so I had good reason to devour New Orleans’s finest fare.

My husband and I, along with good friends- the Granfield's, make an annual pilgrimage to the Big Easy -- Jay and Gary belong to a krewe and ride in a parade. Our itinerary always includes a visit to Arnaud’s Restaurant in the French Quarter. The 90-year-old landmark features a Creole menu and a reputation that never disappoints.

We start with gulf shrimp covered in a spicy Remoloude sauce, just on the edge of too hot.

Then move on to Pommes Soufflé- a house specialty, served as an appetizer or a side. Forget heart health because this dish, a fancy version of French fries, involves frying the potatoes TWICE. They magically puff up to look like helium-filled fingers, except toddler sized. If that's not enough to clog the arteries, they are served with Béarnaise sauce.

Warning -Don’t try making these at home, unless you have an industrial deep fat fryer. The second frying calls for the oil to be 450 degrees.

Entree suggestions include Trout Almondine, Pompano en Croute, Roast Louisiana Quail Elzey – filled with Foie Gras mousse or Filet Charlemond- steak with more Bearnaise sauce. This year I chose Veal Tournedos, covered in wild mushroom gravy, simply melting on my tongue.

Dessert is the finest show in the city (and need I mention, there are many competing shows). Café Brûlot requires an expert and head waiter, Charles Abbyad, performed the honors. The cinnamon citrus coffee mixture, prepared tableside, smells better than any Starbuck's. There is no need for dessert, but if you are inclined (and I was) Bananas Foster can’t be topped.

During my group’s weekend escapade, we also consumed spicy Po’Boys at Felix’s, (mine was soft-shell crab), enjoyed a succulent steak at Emeril’s NOLA restaurant, and munched beignets at Café du Monde.

Café du Monde, is a no frills coffeehouse, the place I most look forward to revisiting. Their beignets are world renowned and coated my black jeans with powdered sugar, unquestionably worth the whitewash. You never know who- Rod Stewart- or what you will see- like a lady clad ONLY body paint who sat down to order!

And, of course, we squeezed into crowded Pat O’Brien’s to down their signature cocktails called hurricanes. They were called that before Katrina, but like the wicked storm, these drinks can wreck havoc. Sip, don’t drink and sing along with the dueling pianos.

Yes, Mardi Gras put an end to calorie counting. Indulge in the Big Easy, she’s never been better. As of Ash Wednesday-- I gave up unhealthy fare- right?

From Arnaud's Restaurant Cookbook by Kit Wohl; Pelican Publishing Company, 2005.

1 whole orange with a continuous curl of peel, studded with cloves*
Two-inch stick of cinnamon
6 whole cloves
3 Tablespoons slivered orange peel
¼ cup slivered lemon peel
3 sugar cubes
½ cup brandy
2 Tablespoons Curacao, Grand Marnier or Cointreau
3 cups, hot strong coffee
Long fireplaces matches

*Cutting the orange peel in one intact piece takes practice. Have about a half dozen oranges available.


In advance, prepare the orange, peeling only the skin and membrane, avoiding the inner white pith. Stud with cloves.

In a copper bowl, chafing dish or saucepan, combine the cinnamon, cloves, slivered orange and lemon peel and sugar cubes. Place over medium heat and crush together with the back of a ladle.

Add the brandy and Curacao to the ladle and light with a long match. Spear the orange with a long fork. Slowly pour the flaming brandy onto the peel, so it drizzles down the spiral into the bowl. Stir thoroughly and simmer, stirring to dissolve the sugar.

As the flames begin to die out, gradually add the coffee. Ladle into cups, leaving the spices behind.

* At home, this dish is a two man operation. Always make sure your work area is clear to avoid catching anything else on fire.

For more information about Arnaud's Restaurant:

Monday, January 28, 2008

Mushroom Memories

As a Boomer, I claim Ozzie and Harriett, the Beaver and Donna Reed as friends. I whirled away countless hours hula hooping and can recall Jackie Kennedy’s and Priscilla Presley’s bouffant hair styles.

The 50s lifestyle of the Palmer family, my parents, two older brothers and me, smells of times past, perhaps with a pinch of Silly Putty. Our castle was a one-bathroom house and we owned one family car because Mom didn’t drive. We ate dinner together every night when Dad came home from work. And we didn't know anyone who owned a dishwasher.

Thanksgiving, Christmas and summer vacations were spent at my grandparents in Pittsburgh, PA. Since we lived in Virginia, the drive took about six hours. I’d be squeezed into the middle back seat; an unfortunate decision because I often got car sick riding up and down the mountainous back roads. You’d think somebody would have figured that out but…

I’d arrive looking pasty and feeling olive drab. My maternal grandmother, named Bub, thankfully had the remedy - - homemade mushroom soup. Her concoction bore no resemblance to Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom, a staple my Mom used in tuna-fish casserole.

Almost as short as a Munchkin, my four feet ten inch Bub ruled as queen of her kitchen. Seemed she always wore an apron and was fixing a meal. She’d start by soaking dried mushrooms and simmering marrow bones to make beef broth. Then she’d add gobs of fresh sliced mushrooms, diced carrots, some chopped celery, onion and homemade noodles. A spoonful of the silken broth, with a hint of sweet and sour, produced a heavenly cure.

We smile when we remember her apricot cakes, really more like bite-size breakfast rolls or cookies. She’d make sweet yeast dough, roll it out and cut into rounds. Then she dropped a spoonful of apricot filling in the middle, folded the dough in half, pinching and sealing the edges. She washed each cake with beaten egg, and baked it until golden brown. Just breathing in the foamy aroma of the yeast baking made our mouths water. And, like the old commercial, no one could eat just one.

My grandmother died back in 1966 and my Mom could never duplicate the mushroom elixir, though she did manage the apricot treats. My soupy attempts were dismal failures, weak and bland.

However, about fifteen years ago I came across a “new” cookbook, Entertaining by Martha Stewart. Inside I found a recipe for mushroom soup from Martha’s Polish mom, Martha Kostyra. While not an exact copy, the smell and consistency of her ingredients elicits dear memories of my little grandmother’s big kitchen and hearty soup.

Most families have a favorite dish that defines their holiday dinner. For the Kostyra family, it’s Polish mushroom soup. Martha’s mother made this hearty soup with dried borowik mushrooms—a pungent Polish variety—dried shiitakes, and fresh button mushrooms.

To preserve the flavor of the dried mushrooms, store them in an airtight container and let them soak in water before using. You can substitute dried cèpes or porcini mushrooms for the borowick mushrooms.

Martha Kostyra’s Polish Mushroom Soup
Serves 8 to 12

5 to 6 ounces (about 4 to 6) dried mushrooms such as Polish borowik or cèpes
12 large dried shiitake mushrooms
3 quarts beef stock
5 medium ribs of celery, chopped
2 large onions, chopped
5 carrots, chopped
1 pound white button mushrooms, sliced
2 tablespoons parsley, finely chopped
2 tablespoons dill, finely chopped
1 tablespoon coarse salt
1 cup orzo
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons flour
1 cup sour cream
Table salt and freshly ground black pepper

1. Rinse the dried mushrooms. Place mushrooms in 2 cups of cold water, and soak for at least 4 hours or overnight.

2. In a large pot, bring the stock to a simmer. Add the celery, onions, and carrots. Strain the dried mushrooms, reserving the soaking liquid. Add the strained soaking liquid to the soup. Chop the hydrated mushrooms into 1/4-inch pieces slightly larger than the diced vegetables, and add to the soup. Add the sliced white button mushrooms.

3. Cover, and cook the soup until the vegetables are tender, about an hour. Bring the soup to a boil. Stirring constantly, add the orzo. Reduce the heat to a gentle boil, and, stirring occasionally to prevent the pasta from sticking, cook until the orzo is cooked through, another 6 to 8 minutes.
4. Meanwhile melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Add the flour, and cook, stirring constantly until smooth, 3 to 5 minutes. Remove 1 cup of the broth from the soup, and add to the roux, whisking constantly until slightly thickened and free of lumps. Stir the thickened liquid into the soup. Add the chopped parsley and dill.

5. Finish the soup with sour cream: Add 1/4 cup of the thickened soup to the sour cream. Whisk until smooth. Add the sour cream to the soup, whisking constantly until it is well incorporated, about 3 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

My Grandmother didn’t add dill, instead she threw in a little saukerkraut- Debi