My Last Meal

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I’m not dying nor on death row. My last meal is something I’ve occasionally thought of, especially while enjoying favorite foods or dining at a fabulous restaurant. Or I’ll see a beautiful meal on a food blog and think, “That could easily be my last meal!”

It’s not a morbid thing in my mind. My last meal is a happy, celebratory thing, because if I could plan my last meal, then I’d also have the ability to eat and drink like there’s no tomorrow, cause there wouldn’t be. It would be a day-long meal of happy eating and drinking.

Upon rising, I would enjoy coffee, as I have for decades. My day never starts without espresso. Maybe with a croissant with butter and seedless raspberry jam.

Two perfectly-cooked soft-boiled eggs.

Chicago pizza. From Giardano’s, cause they deliver.

Next would be warm, boiled, fresh potatoes with unsalted butter and slices of Fontina or Taleggio or Morbier. Or all three.


Then mimosas with my two daughters.

An everything bagel with lox and cream cheese. And I’d eat the whole bagel.

A baked Brie with a cherry chutney, and good bread.

I’d stop for some fresh spring radishes spread with unsalted butter and coarse salt.

Lasagna. No, make that pastitsio. Or both.

I’m not big on sandwiches, but my last day-long meal would have to include a BLT. Good uncured bacon, garden-fresh summer tomatoes, and lettuce.

Chips with fresh salsa, spicy queso, and guacamole. And a Pacifico.

Paté. My mother’s recipe. Or foie gras, medium-rare, served on grilled bread.

Pasta Trapanese. Or maybe Puttanesca. Let me think. With a favorite pinot noir.

There would have to be a full raclette spread, with at least 6 friends.

Fire-grilled octopus. Maybe mixed with other fire-grilled seafood, but lots of octopus. And squid.

Then my husband’s burger, made by him, served on a brioche bun, toasted with butter. With lots of ketchup and mustard. Eaten with my husband.


A glass of Sauternes.

Roasted chicken, just out of the oven, cooked to perfection. I will eat it right out of the roasting pan.

Dim sum. All of it. Except chicken feet.

Last but definitely not least – a cheese platter, with all of my favorites old and new.

I’m not a big dessert eater, but I do love ice cream. I’d eat so much of it that I’d need a blanket to warm myself up!

And there would be lots of port. Or sherry. Or both.

So all of this is unlikely to happen, but maybe the point is, we can enjoy our meals like they are our last meals? Each and every one? Not to the point of gluttony, of course, 😬

The French have it figured out. Aperitif. Long lunches. Fabulous food. Wine. Hors D’oeuvres. Dinner. Often with friends. Definitely with family. Dessert. Dégustation.

A croissant or crème caramel isn’t viewed by the French as calories or with guilt, unlike us Americans. It’s about enjoyment and moderation. My mother, at age 91, still enjoys chocolate every day, and a cookie.

Let’s enjoy our meals. You never know – one will be our last.

Amarena Cherry Cake

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I always have Amarena cherries on hand, because my husband loves Manhattans, and I put them in his cocktail. I’ve also used them in sangria, but never baked with them. Until now.

If you buy Italian Amarena cherries, via Amazon, the beautiful jar has a recipe attached for a cake using them, along with this terrible photo. It looks like my grand daughter made this cake!

My cake definitely turned out prettier, and more what this cake is meant to look like!

On the left, below, are the cherries I order from Amazon. Trader Joe’s also sells these cherries.

It’s challenging to describe Amarena cherries. They’re almost candied, but not really. They’re not as sweet as a Maraschino cherry. And they come in a lovely cherry syrup. They would be wonderful on ice cream, or topped on buratta!

I’ve also seen Amarena cherries in biscotti, at the blog Marisa’s Italian Kitchen. I cannot wait to make those!

Amarena Cherry Cake with Chocolate
Cake with Amarena Cherries and Chocolate

200 grams Amarena cherries, drained
2 tablespoons of the syrup
8 ounces butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup white flour
1/2 cup fine-grained cornmeal
1 cup powdered sugar
3 large eggs, separated
4 ounces semi-sweet chocolate, finely chopped
1/4 cup Grand Marnier liqueur
2 teaspoons baking powder
Pinch of salt

Sift together flour, cornmeal, baking powder and salt; set aside. Beat butter with powdered sugar until light.

Beat in egg yolks, one at a time, until each is fully incorporated. Beat in orange liqueur and the syrup. Stir in the dry ingredients.

Beat the egg whites to a soft peak; fold in gently. Fold in the cherries and chopped chocolate until just incorporated.

Bake in a greased and floured 9” cake pan (loaf pan) at 375 degrees for approximately 65-70 minutes. (I baked mine at 350 degrees and removed it after 45 minutes.)

I’m sure by now you know that this cake is exceptionally good. How could it not be with these cherries and chocolate together?!

Warmed up, served with unsalted butter, was heavenly.

In the photo of the recipe, shown below, the name of this cake is plum cake. I consulted my friend and Italian cooking expert Stefan, from Stefan Gourmet, to help explain why it’s called plum cake when there are no plums.

“It is not necessarily a cake with cherries that is called a plum cake in Italy. Any cake that more or less follows the “quatre quarts” recipe is called a plum cake in Italy.

Originally, a plum cake is any cake that has dried fruit in it, like prunes or raisins. The word “plum” is used loosely. In Italy, plum cake is thought of as a recipe from England. I believe that nowadays a plum cake is usually called a fruitcake in England.

In Italy, the name plum cake is used for any cake that is rectangular and has flour/sugar/butter/eggs as the main ingredients.

A cake in Italy that is rectangular with flour/sugar/butter/eggs plus cherries would probably be called a plum cake, or more completely a “plum cake alle ciliegie” (literally: plum cake with cherries).”

I hope that helps! It’s still a little confusing to me. This photo shows part of the recipe.

Quatre Quarts Gateau

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My mother, who just turned 91, has a scale that I used to love playing with as a child. I knew it wasn’t a toy, but I just liked weighing random items and gradually adding weights until both plates balanced perfectly. I was always nerdy.

Weighing ingredients makes so much more sense than measuring to me. I’d rather weight 4 ounces of chopped nuts, than use a measuring cup, especially with a critical ingredient.

In any case, the reason I mention this ancient scale (sorry Mom!) is because this cake recipe is based on one weight alone – the weight of eggs. There are four ingredients in this cake – eggs, butter, sugar, and flour, and the weight is the same for all four ingredients. The recipe is called Quatre Quarts, meaning four quarters.

These days, digital scales make weighing ingredients a breeze. So I’m making this cake using my small kitchen scale, just like in the “old” days! It brought back wonderful memories of my mother making the cake over the years.

Quatre Quarts Gateau

4 eggs
Unsalted Butter
Sugar
Flour
1/2 teaspoon vanilla powder, optional

Preheat the oven to 350 F.   Butter and flour a deep 8 inch loaf pan. 

Weigh the eggs in a small bowl after you’ve removed the weight of the bowl. My eggs weighed 192 grams, or about 6.7 ounces.


Then weigh out the 192 grams of butter, sugar and flour.

Melt the butter in a sauce pan or microwave (carefully).   When it begins to melt, remove it from the heat and let it cool. 

Using an electric hand mixer, beat the eggs and sugar for 5 minutes in a medium mixing bowl.

Add the flour and mix just until it’s incorporated. I also added some vanilla powder.

Then add the cooled butter. Using a rubber spatula, make sure the batter is smooth.

Pour the mixture into the prepared loaf pan and bake for 10 minutes. Reduce the oven to 300 degrees F and the timer to 45 minutes.

Turn off the oven completely and set a timer for 10 minutes.

The cake should be cooked through the middle; I always use a cake tester to make sure. But if you see a puddle of soft cake in the middle, don’t even bother opening your oven to test the cake. It needs more time.

There should be some slight browning around the edges, but not much. Remove the cake from the oven and let sit for 15 minutes. Then remove the cake from the loaf pan and let it cool on a rack.

You can tell the cake texture is much like a pound cake. If you prefer a lighter texture, separate the eggs and after the egg yolks have been well blended with the sugar and butter and after the flour is combined, fold in beaten egg whites.

Note: There are other options for flavoring other than vanilla extract or powder or even scraped vanilla beans. You can use an extract like sweet orange oil or lemon zest. But I wouldn’t add a liqueur or anything volume of something liquid that will offset the ratio of the ingredients.

This cake is very delicate in flavor. I’ve never toasted it but I bet that would be good, with some added butter of course.

It’s perfect for an afternoon tea-time snack, a morning treat with coffee, or even an sweet evening nibble with a glass of sherry.

Mimi’s Christmas Biscotti

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I’m not the first person to come up with the festive combination of dried cranberries and pistachios. They’re red and green, which, of course, is all about Christmas and the holiday season.

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Biscotti are twice-baked cookies. They’re first baked in flat logs, then sliced and baked again to dry them out.

I’ve always loved making different variations of biscotti, because they lend themselves to limitless variations. Because of that, I wanted a cookie base I could depend on, and this is my recipe for that base.

To it you can add dried cranberries and pistachios, or any other fruit and nut combination.

I’m going to type up my recipe as it was published in a local cookbook called “Cooking by the Boot Straps” – A Taste of Oklahoma Heaven Cooked Up By The Junior Welfare League of Enid, Oklahoma. I was honored that they included a few of my recipes in their book, which was published in 2002.

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So here’s the recipe:
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Mimi’s Biscotti

Cookie Base:
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3 eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 1/4 cups flour

Fruit and Nut Additions:
1 cup chopped dried fruit
3/4 cup coarsely chopped nuts

Beat the butter in a mixing bowl until creamy. Add the sugar, baking powder and baking soda. Beat until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs and vanilla until smooth. Add 2 cups of the flour and beat just until combined.

Fold in the dried fruit and nuts with a wooden spoon. Chill, covered, 4 hours or overnight.

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Divide the dough into 2 equal portions. Place 1 portion of the dough on a hard work surface. Use a small amount of the remaining scant 1/4 cup of flour to shape 1 portion of the dough into a log approximately 2 inches in diameter.

Arrange the log along the long side of a baking sheet sprayed with nonstick cooking spray. Repeat the process with the remaining portion of the dough.

Pat each log into a rectangle about 1/2 inch in height.

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Place the logs in a preheated 350-degree oven. Bake for 20 minutes or until light golden brown and slightly firm to the touch. Do not over brown. Remove from oven.

Reduce the oven temperature to 250 degrees and let the cookie logs cool for about 10 minutes.

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Slide the logs on to a cutting board using a metal spatula. Cut each log diagonally into 1/2-inch slices. My kids always begged for the “rejects,” which are the ends and any broken biscotti!

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Arrange the slices cut side down on a baking sheet.

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Dry in the oven for 30 minutes; turn. Dry for 30 minutes longer. Both sides should be hard and dry.

If necessary reduce the oven temperature to 200 degrees and dry for 1 hour longer. Remembering that you are drying the cookies, not toasting them.

Remove to a wire rack to cool completely. Store in re-sealable plastic bags. May freeze for up to 1 month.

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You may use dried cranberries, dried cherries, dried apricots, dried blueberries, dark or golden raisins as well as coconut and crystallized ginger for the chopped dried fruit.

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For the nuts, they all work – almonds, walnuts, pistachios, brazil nuts, pecans, pine nuts, and hazelnuts.

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Be creative. Try cherry almond, cranberry pistachio, golden raisin pecan, hazelnut apricot or your favorite combinations. You may also add cinnamon, poppy seeds, sweet citrus oil, citrus zest and any extracts.

Makes 5 dozen biscotti.

Gingerbread Liqueur Verdict

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Let me start out with my verdict for home-made gingerbread liqueur: Fabulous, Delicious, and Magnificent!

I first strained the liqueur to remove the ginger and the other goodies.
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It’s very brown.
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To test it out, I decided to make two drinks. First, a room temperature cocktail, although ice can be added, and a hot toddy using coffee.

1. Creamy Gingerbread Cocktail

To make one:
3 ounces gingerbread liqueur
1 teaspoon vanilla syrup
4 ounces 1/2 and 1/2
Sparkling water

Place the liqueur, vanilla syrup and the 1/2 and 1/2 in a cocktail glass.

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Then add the sparkling water, about 4 ounces at least, depending how strong you want the drink.
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It’s kind of like an alcoholic gingerbread-flavored Italian soda.
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You can really taste the gingerbread flavors. And I don’t even love gingerbread! My husband said it was the best drink he’s ever had.

I especially like the addition of the vanilla. In fact, I’m now wondering why I didn’t include a vanilla bean in the gingerbread liqueur.

note: You could also add some vodka to this cocktail; I just don’t like really strong drinks.

2. Café Liégeois on Crack

To make one:
1 teaspoon good espresso powder, or 1 cup good, hot coffee, freshly brewed
3 ounces gingerbread liqueur
Vanilla ice cream

Place the espresso powder in a heat-proof cup and add hot water. Give it a stir, then stir in the liqueur. Using a scoop, add ice cream.
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I was quite generous with the ice cream. And boy, did it start melting fast.
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And, almost completely melted.
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What a fabulous, creamy hot toddy. The addition of the coffee with the gingerbread liqueur is outstanding. Creme de cacao would also be a wonderful addition to either of these drinks. So many drink ideas, so little time….