April 28th, 2016

Strawberry-Rhubarb Custard Cake


It’s been a long while since I’ve made a big beautiful delicious cake, but the stars aligned last week. Gigi’s “double nickel” birthday and our “last—for a little while” community potluck fell on the same day: April 21st.

Time to celebrate changes and celebrate BIG.


Yes, our community potluck is taking a hiatus. For almost 7 years, we’ve been gathering on the third Thursday of each month, sharing good food and fellowship. Things are changing in our household a bit faster than we anticipated. Our home of 16 years is under contract and we will soon be moving. This is not completely unexpected. We are building a smaller home (fit for our down-sized life!) and had always planned to sell.

Just not this fast.

But when the right person comes along with the right offer, well, you do the right thing.

And this means shift our gears and start packing. There’s one hitch:construction on our new home won’t be complete until late fall, like after Thanksgiving. Our plan? Put our stuff into storage and find a “Svaha” place to live.

Do you know the word “Svaha?” It’s a native American term that means the undefined place between two defined places, like what occurs between the flash of lightning and roll of thunder. The unknown in-between. Who knows where we’ll end up? Guess we’ll be gypsies.

Enough about change and moving and gypsy possibilities—let’s get to the heart of the post, this marvelous cake. The cake itself gets its richness from butter, eggs and Greek yogurt in the batter.


You spread both custard and fruit sauce onto each layer, which seeps into the cake, making it exceptionally moist and delicious. I got the idea, and first made this confection using Florida strawberries while we were in DC for Easter. Everyone loved it.

I baked it again for our potluck-birthday-farewell feast, this time doubling the recipe for a towering dessert, and pairing local berries and rhubarb in the fruit sauce.

Raves around the table, my friends!


If you don’t relish the puckery taste of these ruby stalks (rhubarb is actually a vegetable), try ’em with strawberries. It could change your ways.

As potlucker Rhonda noted, “I can’t believe it. I ‘m making friends with rhubarb.”


The Cake (makes a grand 4 layer cake)
1 pound butter, softened
2 cups sugar
8 eggs
1 cup Greek yogurt
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon fiore di sicilia (optional)
4 cups all-purpose flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt

2 10 inch cake pans (or springform pans)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line the cake pans with parchment and coat with butter or baking spray.

Cream the butter and sugar together. Beat in the eggs, one at a time. Then beat in the Greek yogurt and extracts.

In a separate bowl, sift together the dry ingredients—flour, baking powder, soda and salt.

Beat the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients, mixing into a smooth batter.
Divide the batter between the two cake pans.

Bake for 40-45 minutes–until top is golden and set.

Remove and cool on a baking rack.


Strawberry-Rhubarb Sauce
1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 cup water
1 pound rhubarb, washed and chopped (like celery)
1 quart strawberries, washed, capped, and coarsely chopped

Place a 2 quart saucepan on medium heat. Pour in the sugar, cornstarch and water. Stir well until sugar and cornstarch is dissolved. Add the chopped rhubarb. Bring to a simmer, stirring occasionally. Cook for about 5 minutes, then stir in the strawberries. Cook for another two minutes, stirring well.

Remove from heat and allow to cool.

Cover and refrigerate until ready to assemble the cake. (This cane be made ahead of time.)


1 quart half-and-half
1/2 cup sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla
3 tablespoons cornstarch
4 egg yolks, beaten

Pour the half-and-half into a 2-quart saucepan. Stir in the sugar, vanilla and cornstarch. Place on medium heat. Stir constantly, making sure the sugar and cornstarch are well dissolved.
When small bubbles form along the rim of the pan, remove from heat.
Add a small amount of liquid to the egg yolks and beat well.
Pour the egg yolks into the saucepan. Place on low heat. Continue stirring (I use a whisk or wooden spoon) Mixture will thicken, and coat the back of a spoon.
Remove from heat and allow to cool.
Cover and refrigerate until ready to assemble the cake. (This can be made ahead of time.)

Chantilly Cream
3 cups heavy cream
1/3 cup powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla

Place the ingredients into a chilled mixing bowl. Whip until soft peaks form. Cover and refrigerate until ready to ice the cake.


Split both cooled cakes in half, creating 4 layers.

Spread the first layer with strawberry-rhubarb sauce, followed by custard. Top with another cake layer and repeat this process until all four layers are spread with sauce and custard and stacked.

Place into the refrigerator for an hour to set up.

To finish the cake: cover sides and top with whipped cream. Garnish with fresh strawberries and flowers, if you like. Serves 20-25.


Posted in Desserts, Fruit, Recipes | 19 Comments »

April 27th, 2015

Bill’s Birthday Pie, no cheating!


Bill’s favorite dessert is banana-coconut cream pie–and I make it for him every birthday. It combines two of his best-loved ingredients in a lush pudding, mounded in a flaky crust.

In the past, my method was what you’d call the cheater version, a trick that I stumbled upon years ago when I was deep in nightmare catering world. (um, like serving two concurrent dinner parties of 150 and 300 guests, after assembling 230 box lunches and feeding a crew meal of 60 for a music video.)


I discovered that if you mix half-and-half instead of milk, along with glug of vanilla into instant pudding (I know, I know, blasphemy, how could I?) and stirred it thoroughly for 5 minutes, that it transformed (really, almost instantly!) into a remarkably smooth, rich and luscious pudding.

However, I’m not deep in nightmare catering world. (glory be.)

So I’m sharing the bonafide silken version. The version where you stand over a saucepan with a whisk and a wooden spoon, stirring, stirring. The version where you remember when you stood alongside your Nana, watching, watching, as she did the same. And you mustered all the patience that a child has, waiting for the mixture to thicken, waiting for the bubble and burp, waiting for that moment when you’d get to lick the spoon and clean out the pot.



One reason this pie is great: I place a handful of shredded coconut on the bottom of the pie shell before blind-baking it–while doubling (somewhat) as pie weights, the coconut toasts up beautifully.


1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons very cold butter
3-4 tablespoons ice water
1/3 cup shredded coconut

Place flour, salt, and cold butter pieces in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a chopping or pastry blade. Pulse until the butter is cut into the flour and resembles little peas. Add the ice water, 1 tablespoon at a time, with the motor running. The dough will gather into a ball.

Remove and form the ball into a slightly flattened disc shape. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Dust the counter with flour. Roll out and place into a pie pan. Crimp the edges. Prick the surface with a fork. Sprinkle with shredded coconut.

Place on the center rack and bake for 15 minutes, until crisp and lightly browned.
Remove and cool completely before filling.


Reason 2: Two egg yolks, whisked with half-and-half, sugar, and cornstarch, then added to the warming milk, make this pudding creamy-dreamy. I like to use part raw sugar and part granulated for deeper flavor.

SILKEN VANILLA PUDDING adapted from Cooking Light
2 cups whole milk
2 teaspoons vanilla (or scrape a vanilla bean)
2/3 cup sugar (can split it half demerara sugar/half granulated white sugar)
3 tablespoons cornstarch
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 egg yolks
3/4 cup half-and-half
knob of butter (optional)

Pour milk in a heavy, non-reactive saucepan. Add vanilla (or scrape seeds from vanilla bean.)
Gently warm on medium low heat.

In a large bowl, add both sugars, cornstarch, and salt. Whisk together. Add half-and-half and egg yolks to this mixture. Whisk thoroughly to combine well.

Add about one cup of the warmed milk to sugar mixture, stirring constantly with a whisk. Pour the mixture back into the saucepan. Bring to just under a boil–still stirring. This could take a few minutes. Once the pudding begins to bubble and pop, cook for one more minute, then remove from heat. Whisk in a knob of butter until it is fully incorporated if you like.

Spoon pudding into a bowl. If you wish to chill it quickly, place bowl in a large ice-filled bowl for 15 minutes or until pudding cools, stirring occasionally.

Cover surface of pudding with plastic wrap; chill.


chilled vanilla pudding
2-3 ripe bananas
1 pint heavy cream, whipped with 3 tablespoons powdered sugar + 1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup toasted coconut

Put about half of the pudding into the baked and cooled pie shell. Slice the bananas (about 1/4 inch thick) and layer into the pie. Add remaining pudding. Top with banana slices. Cover with whipped cream. Sprinkle toasted coconut over the top. Cover and chill.

Serves 8-10


And, just for fun:

1 3 ounce package instant vanilla pudding
2 1/2 cups half-and-half
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla

Dump the instant pudding mix into a large bowl. Bury the box in recycling.
While whisking, slowly add the half-and-half. Continue to stir for about 4 minutes.
Add the vanilla, and stir for another minute.
Cover and chill. Slink off and feel guilty. Then fill the pie, top with whipped cream and serve.
Smile sheepishly when someone asks for the recipe.


Posted in Desserts, Recipes | 17 Comments »

May 4th, 2014

Ebinger’s Legendary Blackout Cake

Cooking April 26145-001

My cousin Cathy emailed me a few weeks ago, with a link to a story on NPR that stirred vivid memories for both of us. It told of a special dark dark chocolate cake that was the signature dessert of a beloved and long-gone bakery, Ebinger’s.

If you grew up in one of the New York boroughs before 1972, no doubt you were familiar with the Ebinger name. The family bakery opened on Brooklyn’s Flatbush Avenue in 1898; over its three-quarters-of-a-century life span, that 1 grew into a chain of 50 dotting neighborhoods throughout Brooklyn and Queens.

Cooking April 262-001

Our grandparents were Ebinger devotees. Whenever Cathy and I went to visit them at their Jackson Heights apartment, we knew we’d be treated to something special that Nana had purchased from the extraordinary bakery: Crumbcake showered with powdered sugar. Butter-rich danish. Yeasted almond rings. Chocolate domed cupcakes. Mocha buttercream torte with its name elegantly scripted across the top.

We’d gather around the dining room table in the morning for warmed coffeecake and milk. In the evening, after dinner, we’d enjoy a slice of one of the Ebinger cakes, sometimes with a scoop of ice cream. In between, that dining room table served as a stage for our art projects. I have a dim memory of us crafting fancy paper hats; Cathy remembers me scrawling “Felix the Cat” (my fave cartoon character at age 7) allover the hat rim.

Cooking April 266-001

When Ebinger’s shuttered in 1972, (overexpansion, then bankruptcy) it left a rift in Nana’s world. She had no choice but to buy from the competition, Entenmann’s, and it simply wasn’t as good. Our subsequent visits were always marked with Nana’s lament of Ebinger’s demise, as she served up pieces of the less wonderful confections.

Cooking April 269-001

Ebinger’s most famous, and universally longed-for dessert is the Blackout Cake–so-called for its deep dark chocolate flavors, its name further harkening to the wartime blackouts of the ’40’s. The three-layer beauty is distinguished with a rich pudding filling, bittersweet chocolate frosting, and a fourth layer that is crumbled to coat its top and sides.

NPR included a link to the recipe, as published in the New York Times in 1991. It’s been deemed the original. (although I have since found other, slightly different ones, while perusing the ‘net.)

Cooking April 2618-001

Cathy and I decided to make it—in part, nostalgia, in part, curiosity–next time we got together. Lucky for us, that opportunity soon arrived.

While not difficult to make, you need to allow at least two hours for the project. (For some secrets to great cake baking, check out this link at Cooking Light: 10 tips to ensure the desired results.)

There are three parts to the recipe, with many more steps. Cathy’s husband John, I’m happy to say, documented the process while we cousins collaborated. Cathy whipped up the batter with her old school electric hand-held. I stirred the pudding until it burped and bubbled. We chopped and melted a mound of Belgian chocolate, whisking in as much butter for the silky icing. So much chocolate! So much butter!

Cooking April 2669-001

And, when the time arrived–cake layers, cooked filling and frosting all sufficiently cooled–we assembled.

Cooking April 2671-001

It occurred to us that the curious crumbled layer could have been the result of a split layer gone awry: cracking and falling apart. Perhaps the Ebinger baker could not bear the waste, and created the distinctive crumb coating instead. Ingenious!

Cooking April 26111-001

When at last we sliced and served the cake, (after a marvelous meal, celebrating both Cathy’s and Bill’s birthdays) Cathy glimpsed a snippet of the past, of eating the Blackout cake with Nana at that dining room table.

Post-dessert verdict: What an indulgence. We decided that the name applied to the food coma you enter after eating a piece. Yep, you could black out.

Cooking April 26136-001

Serves 12 to 16

1/2 cup unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
3-4 tablespoons boiling water
2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped
3/4 cup milk
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened slightly
2 cups sugar
4 large eggs, separated
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon plus 1 3/4 teaspoons unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
2 cups boiling water
3/4 cup plus 1/2 teaspoon sugar
1 ounce bittersweet chocolate, chopped
4 tablespoons cornstarch dissolved in 2 tablespoons cold water
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons unsalted butter

12 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1/2 cup hot water
1 tablespoon light corn syrup
1 tablespoon vanilla extract


Preheat the oven to 375 F. Butter and lightly flour two 9-inch round cake pans.
Place the cocoa in a small bowl and whisk in the boiling water to form a paste.

Combine the chopped chocolate and milk in a saucepan over medium heat. Stir frequently until the chocolate melts — about 3 minutes. Remove from the heat. Whisk a small amount of the hot chocolate milk into the cocoa paste to warm it. Whisk the cocoa mixture into the milk mixture. Return the pan to medium heat and stir for 1 minute. Remove and set aside to cool until tepid.

In the bowl of a mixer, cream the butter and sugar together. Beat in the egg yolks, one at a time, and the vanilla. Slowly stir in the chocolate mixture. Combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Using a spatula or a wooden spoon, slowly add the flour mixture to the chocolate mixture. Fold in until just mixed.

In another bowl, whisk the egg whites until soft peaks form. Using a spatula, gently fold the egg whites into the batter.

Divide the batter between the prepared pans. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 35 to 45 minutes. Cool the cakes in the pans on racks for 15 minutes. Gently remove the cakes from the pans and continue to cool.

Combine the cocoa and boiling water in a small saucepan over low heat. Stir in the sugar and chocolate. Add the dissolved cornstarch paste and salt to the pan and bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Boil for 1 minute. Remove from heat and whisk in vanilla and butter. Transfer the mixture to a bowl, cover and refrigerate until cool.

Melt the chocolate in a heavy-bottomed saucepan set on medium heat, stirring until smooth. Remove from the heat and whisk in the butter, one tablespoon at a time.

Whisk in the hot water all at once and whisk until smooth. Whisk in the corn syrup and vanilla. Cover and refrigerate for up to 15 minutes before using.

Use a sharp serrated knife to slice each cake layer horizontally in half to form four layers. Set one layer aside.
Place one layer on a cake round or plate. Generously swath the layer with one-third of the filling.
Add the second layer and repeat. Set the third layer on top. Quickly apply a layer of frosting to the top and sides of the cake. Refrigerate for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, crumble the remaining cake layer. Apply the remaining frosting to the cake. Sprinkle it liberally with the cake crumbs. Refrigerate for at least one hour before serving.



Cooking April 26141-001

Posted in Chocolate, Desserts, Recipes | 21 Comments »

June 18th, 2013

Some of Dad’s Favorites


Bittersweet Chocolate Pudding with cocoa dusted whipped cream


Maple-Mustard Glazed Salmon Steaks, roasted golden cauliflower, Brussels sprouts and sweet onions, scallion-jasmine rice

Always start with chocolate—then work backwards.

That’s my rule, when it comes to making my dad his special Father’s Day lunch. At a spry 87 years, he doesn’t want any thing, but a well-prepared meal capped by a deep dark decadent chocolate dessert insures a happy day for the man.

First I decide on his chocolatey treat, before formulating the rest of the menu. Sometimes I make mousse; sometimes, pots de cremes. Last year, I made chocolate sorbet.

This year, I chose something treasured from his past: chocolate pudding.

For many years, his mother, my Nana, would make chocolate pudding from scratch. She would make it in big batches–chilled in a pretty crystal bowl or served in individual ceramic crocks–at least once a week when he was growing up, a tradition she continued when she came to live with us.

My sisters and I knew we’d have to be patient—puddings take an eternity to make, by a child’s sense of time. But that patience would be rewarded with the pot and spoon–which we attacked, greedily running our fingers along the pot’s sides and bottom to lap up every delicious smidge. And licking that spoon ( the prize–who would get the spoon?) like it was a great chocolate lollipop.


Chocolate pudding is uncomplicated: essentially milk, sugar, very good bittersweet chocolate, and a little cornstarch for thickening. Vanilla, coffee, creme de cacao, raspberry coulis: any other enhancements are up to you. The beauty of the pudding is in its basic premise: a delivery of creamy smooth chocolate comfort, easy-peasy to make.

The rest is all about hovering over the saucepan, stirring with diligence to insure that smooth texture, waiting for the pudding to bubble and burp. And by an adult’s time sense, it doesn’t really take that long. Maybe 15 minutes.

While the pudding cools, you can whip up the rest of the meal–beginning with the maple-mustard glaze for the salmon steaks.


Simple components: country-style Dijon mustard whisked with maple syrup, balsamic vinegar and a splash of orange juice. It does wonders in a short time, imparting dark tangy sweetness to the fish. You can marinate the salmon for as little as 20 minutes, or several hours (more time is better).

I’ve had this recipe, courtesy of Cooking Light, bookmarked for quite some time, and earlier this year, my friend Faith over at An Edible Mosaic made a variation on the theme with chicken.

I’ve made it on three different occasions–a grilled fillet flaked onto toasts for cocktail party, whole roasted fillets for a large buffet dinner, and now these steaks for Dad.

The combination works really well-a bit of an update on those honey dijon tastes. Maple syrup comes across less sweet, with more complexity. You may use a smooth Dijon mustard, but I like the pop of the mustard seeds, especially when heated. This is a recipe whose elegant result belies its simplicity.


To round out the plate:


I found this pretty golden cauliflower at Smiley’s booth at our Nashville Farmers Market. With a cooler start to our spring, it’s been nice to have some of these cruciferous veggies available in June. My dad is not a big eater of vegetables, but he loves onions and (oddly) anything from the cabbage family is tops in his book.


We’ve talked before about the ubiquitous roasting of vegetables–how it transforms the cauliflower into something crispy and sweet, the way the petals of Brussels sprouts become light caramel chips.


3 tablespoons maple syrup
3 tablespoons coarse grain Dijon mustard
2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon orange juice
1/4 teaspoon cracked black pepper
1/4 teaspoon sea salt

olive or canola oil
4 5-6oz. salmon steaks

Place the maple syrup, coarse grain mustard, balsamic vinegar and orange juice into a mixing bowl and whisk until blended. Stir in salt and pepper.

Place salmon steaks into a large zip lock bag. Pour in the marinade/glaze. Seal and refrigerate. Marinate for a couple of hours.

Prepare outdoor grill, broilerpan, or stovetop grill pan with a little oil. Heat.

Sear salmon steaks–about 6 minutes per side. Baste with reserved marinade. When the fish flakes easily with a fork, remove from heat.

Serves 4


6 tablespoons turbinado sugar
4 tablespoons cornstarch
pinch sea salt
2 3/4 cups 2% milk
2 tablespoons strong coffee
2 teaspoons vanilla
6 oz. bittersweet chocolate (70%) chopped

1/2 pint heavy cream
2-3 tablespoons confectioners sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla

1 tablespoon cocoa–to dust over the whipped cream

Whisk sugar, cornstarch and salt together in a heavy-bottomed medium saucepan.* Turn on heat to medium. Slowly pour in milk, whisking constantly, followed by coffee and vanilla. Stir-stir-stir! Over 15 minutes time, the mixture will begin to thicken, coating the back of a wooden spoon. When the rich chocolate mixture begins to burp and bubble, remove from heat. Keep stirring.

Using a heat-proof spatula, spoon and scrape the pudding into individual ramekins. Allow to cool slightly before refrigerating. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and chill for a couple of hours. ( If you don’t want “pudding skin,” press plastic wrap directly onto the pudding surface.

Before serving: whip cream and dollop onto puddings. Dust with cocoa powder and serve.

Makes 6 individual ramekins.

*Many recipes call for using a double boiler, which I applaud–this works beautifully. But I will make just as smooth a pudding using my heavy-bottomed stainless steel saucepan on medium low heat, and that diligent hover-and-stir.


Who wants to lick the spoon?

Posted in Chocolate, Desserts, Fish/Seafood, Gluten Free, Recipes, Vegetables | 24 Comments »

December 29th, 2011

A Fine Beginning and Ending: Winter Salad and Trifle


This is the composed salad that we serve every Christmas Eve. Tradition!


This is the Chocolate Mousse Trifle that we served this Christmas Eve–destined to become a tradition.


Hello Friends,

I hope that your holidays have been merry, and that good things loom on your horizon in the new year. As we make our exit from 2011, a bit of a roller coaster year in our household, I’ve been thinking about cycles: beginnings and endings. There’s a life to everything–relationships, jobs, homes—and when one cycle ends, it lays the foundation for a new, often better cycle. In the meantime, there’s that odd place “in between” where one cycle is ending and the other has yet to take hold. Uncertainty can be uncomfortable. It’s a great life lesson, likely to repeated again and again, recognizing endings, forging new beginnings, and surrendering to What Is, in the moment.

I don’t mean to wax all philosophical–this is, after all, a food blog. But we all experience changes–big and small—and life filters into the world of food! Bill recently had a health scare, potential cancer, and he lost his job of 23 years. That he learned both things side-by-side one recent afternoon (“You are cancer-free” from his doctor, post-biopsy, to “We need to discuss your departure date” in a voice message from his manager.) puts a stark perspective on what is really important, what is indeed a blessing.

With big change inevitable in 2012, I know that we’ll all land on our feet–just like our new cat, Sid. In the meantime, I’m sharing two recipes from our holiday dinner, a great beginning: Composed Winter Salad with Brown Sugar Vinaigrette and an amazing ending: Chocolate Mousse Trifle.

Come the new year, I’ll still be cooking, blogging, and staying connected. Always good things in the kitchen and the garden!

Best wishes to you all. As always, thank you for visiting Good Food Matters.





12 oz. Bittersweet Chocolate
6 T. Strong Coffee
2 T. Vanilla
2 T. Creme de Cacao
2 T. Creme de Cassis
2 sticks Unsalted Butter, softened, cut into pieces
8 Eggs, separated
1/2 cup Sugar

1 package Savoiardi (firm Italian ladyfingers)
Heady Dipping Liquid: 1/2 c. Strong Coffee, 2 t. Vanilla, 4 T. Rum

Whipped Topping Garnishes:
2 cups Heavy Cream, divided
1/2 c. Confectioner’s Sugar, divided
1 T. Vanilla
2 T. Cocoa Powder

In a heavy 2 qt. saucepan under low heat, melt the chocolate and coffee together.
Whisk in the vanilla and liqueurs. Then, stir in the butter, one chunk at a time, until it becomes smooth and shiny. Remove from heat.
Using an electric mixer with a balloon whisk, beat the egg yolks and sugar together until the yolks become really pale yellow and thickened, almost triple in volume. This will take several (at least 5) minutes. The yolks will cling to the whisk.
Check your chocolate mixture; it should be warm, but not hot.
Beat it into the thickened egg yolks; the mixture will seem like chocolate mayonnaise.
Pour this into another large mixing bowl.
Clean and dry your mixer bowl and whisk. Beat the egg whites until stiff and glossy. Fold about ¼ of the whites into the chocolate mixture to lighten it, then fold in the remaining whites.

Select a pretty glass bowl. One by one, dip the ladyfingers into the coffee-rum mixture and line the bottom of the bowl. Spoon in a layer of mousse. Repeat with another layer of dipped ladyfingers, then more mousse until bowl is filled.

Whip one cup of cream with vanilla and 1/4 cup confectioner’s sugar. Set aside. Whip remaining cup with 2 T. cocoa powder and 1/4 cup confectioner’s sugar.

Smooth the vanilla whipped cream over the top of the trifle. Pipe rosettes with the cocoa whipped cream. Garnish with chocolate shavings, chopped toffee, hazelnuts, or berries, if desired.

Refrigerate for at least 4 hours before serving.

Serves a crowd! (12-16 servings)


Citrus Fruits: Clementines and Ruby Grapefruit
Marcona Almonds
Maytag Blue Cheese
Assorted Lettuces

Brown Sugar Vinaigrette


(aka Southern Sweet-Sour Vinaigrette)
4 T. White Balsamic Vinegar
2 T. Grapefruit Juice
1 t. Celery Seed
1 t. Paprika
1/4 cup Demerara Sugar
1/4 piece of a medium Onion
2 t. Dijon Mustard
1 t. Salt
1/2 t. Black Pepper
1 cup Olive Oil

Place all of ingredients EXCEPT the olive oil into a food processor fitted with a swivel blade. Pulse until the onion is pureed into the mixture. While the processor is running, pour in the olive oil slowly. It will incorporate nicely into the vinaigrette. The dijon will keep the dressing emulsified.


Sid is living the good life!

Posted in Chocolate, Desserts, Recipes, Salads | 23 Comments »

February 7th, 2011

Hearts of Dark Chocolate


Because my mom’s birthday is one week before Valentine’s Day, I always like to make her a dessert that captures both Birthday and Valentine Spirit.

For her–and for me—this means Dark Chocolate.

Each year, I seek to create that perfect chocolate delivery system-
a divine dessert that has both depth in nuanced flavors–
and lightness,
a dreamy melt on the tongue that reveals its complexities in layers.

One time, I made her fluffy mousse in martini glasses and for her 80th, it was that Amazonian multi-chocolate layered cupcake.


This year, I decided to use these Le Creuset heart-shaped crocks, and make chocolate pots de cremes. I had some compelling contenders in my pantry—gifts from the holidays that included an 80% bittersweet bar from France, a lustrous Italian “Venchi” that makes a bright crack when you break off a piece, and some fine Ghiradelli Cocoa.


Working with chocolate, I have learned about its receptivity. That different varieties combine well, and flavor profiles can be pushed by introducing fruits, extracts, liqueurs, coffee, caramel, cream, pepper, spice, salt. Its enjoyment is enhanced by these many layers of possibility.

But, it all begins with good quality chocolate–hard and glossy bars that, depending on the where their cacao beans were harvested, fermented, roasted, and blended, will impart pure pleasure.

We are fortunate that there are so many available in the marketplace!


Pots de cremes are rich custards, oven-simmered in hot water baths.

Here’s what I know:
They are not difficult to make. The ingredient list is not long. Assembly time goes quickly. Baking time is under an hour. They improve as they cool, refrigerate, and therefore can be made up well in advance of serving.

For these pots de cremes, I laced the chocolate mixture with some strawberry preserves. Not a lot–just a couple of tablespoons to add a nice berry note. It seemed like the right red thing.

I also used brown sugar, sparingly, as a dark sweetener for the cocoa. Feel free to improvise here. Some espresso would be good. Or a glug of creme de cacao. Or some orange zest—citrus is sublime with chocolate.


If you don’t have these (dare I say darling!) heart-shaped crocks, don’t worry. You can use white ceramic ramekins, or small souffle cups instead. I will tell you that I was very pleased with these LeCreuset baking pieces–not just for the sweet shape, but also for their convenient lids.

The pots de cremes must be covered while they bake. Instead of fitting pieces of aluminum foil over each ramekin, I could simply use the heart-shaped cover.


When they emerge from the oven, you’ll notice a sheen, and a little surface cracking. They will be fairly firm–a little middle jiggle–but that will set up in cooling.

Before serving, whip up some heavy cream, scarcely sweetened with confectioners sugar, and garnish. Fresh strawberries would be pretty too–but since my dad hates fresh strawberries (they have “googies” but that’s another post–) I couldn’t use them here.


And, if these weren’t for my mom, I’d scoop up a spoonful and show you the deep creaminess of the custard. In a perfect chocolate world, this could be your heart’s desire.

Oh, my.



(and Happy Birthday, Mom!)


2 Cups Half-and-Half
6 oz Bittersweet Chocolate (can be a mixture of chocolates, like 4 oz of 70% bittersweet and 2 oz semi-sweet)
1 T. Cocoa
2 T. Brown Sugar, divided
2-3 T. Strawberry Preserves
2 t. Vanilla
pinch Salt
4 Egg Yolks

In a saucepan on medium heat, warm the half-and-half. Stir in the chocolates, cocoa, 1 Tablespoon brown sugar. Continue stirring until the chocolate is melted throughout, and the cocoa powder is incorporated into the mixture. Remove from heat and stir in strawberry preserves, vanilla, and a pinch of salt. Set aside.

In a separate bowl, beat the egg yolks with the remaining tablespoon of brown sugar. Slowly pour the cooled (as in tepid) chocolate mixture into the beaten yolks. Beat well. Pour this into your ramekins. This will fill 4 8 oz containers.

Cover the ramekins with foil and place into a bain marie (water bath)

Bake in a 325 degree oven for 50-55 minutes. The pots de cremes will be set up, with a little jiggle. Uncover and allow to completely cool before refrigerating.

Serve with a dollop of lightly sweetened whipped cream.


Posted in Chocolate, Desserts, Recipes | 21 Comments »

December 22nd, 2010

Two for “2” Italian Cream and Red Velvet Cake


Gifts! More Gifts!

It’s just days before Christmas, and the hustle is on to fill in the missing pieces of the present-puzzle. I have to navigate with care getting those last minute goodies, and quell those did-I-get-enough-maybe-I-should-get-just-one-more-thing feelings.

Whew. Stop! There’s more the enough.

As we like to say in the South, there’s Gracious Plenty.

But I didn’t want to forget you this season. Wouldn’t think of it! You’ve been so nice to come along with me on these little culinary forays. And, since this is the Two Year Anniversary of Good Food Matters, (whoo-hoo! we are 2!) it seems only fitting that I offer you not one but two cakes. Please. Yes, you deserve them.


This first cake, the lavish Italian Cream (sometimes called Italian Wedding Cake) has so many delicious elements–lemon zest, toasted pecans, shredded coconut–that combine to create a complex cake with terrific texture. People who do not like coconut like this cake. Layers are light, a little spongey–thanks to eggs that are separated, whipped, and folded throughout the batter.

I hadn’t made one in a long time, and remembered this tip, in preparation: Do not overbeat the egg whites—you want soft peaks that will fold with ease. Stiff egg whites will result in stiff (tough!) crumb. But otherwise, this is a simple recipe, elegant under a coat of lemony cream cheese. Enjoy.


And then there is the Red Velvet Cake, the Enigma. It elicits an initial Shock of the Red, and speculation of what its flavor could be.

It’s a flavor that has nothing to do with its color, (eek! red food dye!) and cannot truly be described as chocolate or vanilla, even though cocoa and vanilla extract are recipe ingredients.

Buttermilk and vinegar make major contributions to its alluring tang.

Created at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in the 1920s, Red Velvet was popular for its regal crimson layers. In the times of scarcity that soon followed, Red Velvet was preferred over chocolate cakes for its modest use of cocoa. Sometimes beet juice was used as a coloring agent. The butter roux icing mimicked whipped cream. Somewhat.

It never made sense to me that I should like this nebulous concoction, but it has a beguiling je ne sais quoi.

Once, I thought I had pinpointed its mysterious appeal. I was leveling the tops of some Red Velvet layers, which left some thin slices behind. I slathered them with the icing, and rolled them up to eat. In this fashion, the Red Velvet reminded me of a cherished childhood treat, like a “Yodel” or a “Devil Dog.” Hmmmmm. Somewhat.



1 cup Butter, softened
2 cups Sugar
5 Eggs, separated
2 cups All-Purpose Flour
1 teaspoon Baking Soda
1 cup Buttermilk
2 teaspoons Vanilla
1 teaspoon Lemon zest
½ teaspoon Salt
1 ½ cups shredded Coconut
1 cup chopped toasted Pecans

3-8” or 2-9” cake pans, spray coated, bottoms lined with parchment

Cream butter and sugar together. Beat in egg yolks, buttermilk, vanilla and lemon zest.
Sift flour, baking soda and salt together and beat into mixture. Fold in coconut and pecans. Whip egg whites until soft peaks form and gently fold into batter.

Divide batter between the cake pans.

Bake in preheated 325 degree oven for 20-25 minutes.
Cool, remove from pans, and frost with cream cheese icing.
Garnish with toasted coconut and pecans.

1 1b. softened cream cheese
½ lb. softened unsalted butter
1 T. Vanilla
1 T. Lemon Juice
2 plus cups Powdered Sugar (to taste!)

Cream the butter and cream cheese together until smooth. Add vanilla and lemon.
Gradually add powdered (confectioner’s) sugar, a cup at a time, until you reach desired sweetness.


¼ lb. softened Butter
½ c. Canola Oil
1 ½ c. Sugar
2 Eggs
3 T. Red Food Coloring
3 T. Cocoa
1 t. Vanilla
1 c. Buttermilk
2 ½ c. All Purpose Flour, sifted
½ t. Salt
1 t. Baking Soda
1 t. Vinegar

Cream butter, oil, sugar, and eggs together. Make a paste of cocoa, food coloring, and vanilla, and beat into mixture. Beat in buttermilk and flour alternately, then add salt, baking soda and vinegar.

Pour batter into 2 -9” or 3-8” buttered and floured cake pans and bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 30 minutes, if in 9’ pans, or 24 minutes, if in 8” pans. Allow to completely cool before frosting.

4 ½ T. All Purpose Flour
1 ½ c. Milk
1 ½ c. Sugar
2 t. Vanilla
12 T. softened Butter (1 ½ sticks)

Stir flour and milk together until lumps are removed, and cook in a saucepan over medium heat. Simmer, continuing to stir, until thickened. Cover with plastic wrap (so that it will not get a “skin”) and allow to completely cool.

Cream butter, sugar and vanilla together. Beat in cooked milk/flour mixture until fluffy. Icing will become whipped cream-like.


Have lovely holidays, and we’ll gather again soon. x Nancy

Posted in Desserts, Recipes | 25 Comments »

May 4th, 2010

The Strawberry Special

bills 60th b-day cake

Life is full of cycles and surprises.

Of late, my family circle has been experiencing a birthday cycle of the zero years, the “round birthdays,” as friend Lee calls them. It began with Madeleine’s 30th last September, followed by
my mom’s 80th in February, and now, gasp, Bill’s 60th.

For a man who 1. needs nothing and 2. is rather chagrined at the sound of …utter it in low, almost inaudible tones…Sixty, this particular birthday presented a bit of a challenge.

How to make something new…different…memorable?
A bonafide surprise party , that hadn’t been done for the man!

We did manage to pull it off, no easy feat. I had Bill convinced that while I had planned to give him a dinner party at our home on his actual birthday–a Monday—too many friends were unable to come that night. Jenn had to study for an exam, for starters. Wendy and Jim had to meet up with the relatives from Tupelo, no getting out of that.

” We’ll do it Friday, instead, when everyone can come. You don’t mind, do you?” I said.

A shake of the head. No.

“Roger invited us to the Indian restaurant,” I continued. “It’ll be fun.”

A smile and a nod.

Everyone was instructed to show up at said Indian restaurant at 6pm, with cars parked out-of-sight and a toast or a roast in hand. We’d arrive at 6:15.

It all worked like a symphony.

In the meantime, I had to furtively make this singular cake that ended up showcasing two of Bill’s faves: strawberry and chocolate.

To be truthful, I had started out to make a fresh strawberry cake, which would have been perfectly delicious in and of itself. But, then I remembered a lone layer of chocolate cake in the freezer—wouldn’t that be scrumptuous sandwiched between two strawberry ones?

Sometimes I surprise myself.

slice of strawberry cake

slice of strawberry cake

The strawberry cake is simple to make—and perfect timing:local berries are just now coming in. It is especially nice with cream cheese icing, recipe found here. If you add a chocolate layer, some chocolate ganache icing, and strawberries in syrup spread over the dense cake will push it over the top.

strawberry cake ingredients

Strawberry Cake
3 c. fresh Strawberries
11/2 c. Sugar
1 c. Butter, melted
1 c. Milk
1 t. Vanilla
2 1/2 cups All Purpose Flour, sifted twice
1 T. Baking Soda
1/2 t. Salt
4 Eggs

2 9″ cake pans

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Pulse strawberries in a food processor fitted with a swivel blade until pureed.
In a mixer, whip together strawberries with sugar, milk, vanilla. Beat in eggs., then flour, baking soda, and salt. Pour in melted butter and beat well. Pour into 2 (” cake pans that have been coated and lined with parchment. Bake for 25 minutes. Remove, cool on racks.

strawberry batter

upright strawberry cake slice

overhead strawberry cake

Post Script: What a difference a week can make: Nashville and surrounding counties have all been inundated by drastic rainfall–over 15″ in only two days. We had a flooded basement-about 8″ of water in Bill’s studio, but got it pumped out. Many, many friends have experienced much worse. A flood of historic proportions affecting unlikely, unforeseen places. All kinds of surprises in life—and all best thoughts to those who lost so much.

Posted in Chocolate, Desserts, Recipes | 21 Comments »

February 10th, 2010

Fascinating and a little different: chocolate zucotta-domed chocolate cake

joanies cale

Wheeeee! This crazy, verging on Mardi Gras, merry-go-round of chocolate decadence, this Amazonian cupcake, was my creation for my mom’s 80th birthday–just celebrated Sunday. Its ingredients were inspired by her abiding love of chocolate in its myriad forms, and its wack-a-doodle look was inspired really, by her joyous take on life.

My mom has always had boundless energy and interests: watercolor artist, art and music teacher, girl scout leader, bowler, bridge player, NYTimes crossword puzzler. She turned her wedding dress into curtains, turned our garage into a craft cranny workshop, turned every picture in the house upside down to see if my dad would notice.

The little string of phrases underneath her senior picture (from the 1948 annual “The Crusader” Mary Louis Academy–an all girls Catholic high school in Jamaica, Long Island, New York) , particularly the last one, always makes me smile:

“pretty as a picture…plays a solid saxophone….laughing brown eyes…

…Fascinating, and a little different.”

Yes, ma’am. To honor this fascinating-and-a-little-different person, I made two cakes into one. The base was a triple-layered sour cream chocolate cake: dark, dense yet moist. The domed top was a chocolate-mousse filled zucotta–incredibly rich yet light: a spectacular (and simple) dessert alone.

From the Italian zucotto for “Skullcap”, a zucotta is a ladyfinger lined, mousse-filled bowl. When chilled and inverted, it makes a cool dome shape that can be further embellished with a smooth coating of ganache.

When placed atop an already over-the-top dessert it became a wild monument to chocolate: a monument whose assembly nearly ended in disaster . The dome almost toppled mid-flight before its precarious three-tier landing. And then, the construction reminded me of a thatched beehive hut we visited in Ethiopia. Yes, this creation was shaping up to be a contender for Cake Wrecks.

Be assured, there is much that can be remedied with more frosting, a long cake spatula, and a pastry bag filled with cocoa whipped cream. And the notion that, when something is meant to be ostentatious, More is Better.

The recipes that follow will make 1 large zucotta–which will serve 12-15, and 1 10″ layer cake to split or 2 9″ layers. Either Zucotta or Sour Cream Chocolate Cake is Lovely-Lovely by itself—you don’t have to go All Fascinating and Little Different if don’t want to!

giant cupcake cake

Chocolate Zucotta

one 4 qt. glass bowl
2 pkgs. plain Ladyfingers

9 oz. Bittersweet Chocolate, coarsely chopped
12 T. unsalted Butter, cut into small pieces
4 T. Espresso, or strong Coffee
2 T. Vanilla
3 T. Creme de Cacao liqueur
6 Eggs, separated
1/2 cup Sugar
1 cup Heavy Cream, lightly sweetened and whipped

Line the bowl with plastic wrap, with ends coming over the sides.
Then, line the interior of the bowl with ladyfingers. Brush with creme de cacao and set aside.

In a heavy 1 qt. saucepan under low heat, melt the chocolate and coffee together.

Whisk in the vanilla and creme de cacao. Then, stir in the butter, one chunk at a time, until it becomes smooth and shiny. Remove from heat.

Using an electric mixer and balloon whisk, beat the egg yolks and sugar together until the yolks become really pale yellow and thickened, almost triple in volume. This will take several (at least 5) minutes. The yolks will cling to the whisk.

Your chocolate mixture should be warm, but not hot.
Beat it into the thickened egg yolks, and pour into another large mixing bowl.
Clean and dry your mixer bowl and whisk. Beat the egg whites until stiff and glossy. Fold the whites into the chocolate mixture.

Fold in whipped cream. Pour mixture into lined bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 4 hours, or overnight.

When well-chilled and set, unmold onto a platter or plate. Skim-coat with chocolate frosting and/or Cover with chocolate ganache. Decorate with fresh strawberries, whipped cream.

Chocolate Ganache
1 cup Heavy Cream
1 cup Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips
1 t. Vanilla

Heat cream gently–to a simmer. Stir in chocolate chips and vanilla. Stir until melted and glossy. Remove from heat. While warm, but not hot, pour over the zucotta. Chill and serve.

lining the bowl

I used a 4 qt. glass bowl, with a diameter similar to the cake. Short on time, I used packaged ladyfingers, although I have recipe posted here for them, if you’d like to make them yourself.

filled zuccota

This filling is similar to my basic wonderful chocolate mousse, although this recipe has whipped cream folded into the batch.

unmolded zuccota

After this sets up—-overnight is best—-it unmolds quite easily.

coated dome

Here, I “skim-coated” the zucotta with some sour cream chocolate frosting, left over from the cake. It’s now ready for the dark chocolate ganache.

Sour Cream Chocolate Cake
2 oz. Unsweetened Chocolate
1/2 cup chopped Bittersweet Chocolate
1/2 cup Cocoa
2 sticks Unsalted Butter
2 cups Sugar
1 cup Coffee
1 cup Sour Cream
1 T. Vanilla
3 Eggs
2 t. Baking Soda
1/2 t. Salt
2 1/2 cups All Purpose Flour

In a microwaveable bowl, place the first 5 ingredients and heat for about one minute–until chocolate and butter is melted. Remove, stir, and heat again for another 1/2 minute, so that sugar is dissolved.

Stir in coffee, vanilla, and sour cream. Beat in eggs, one at a time.

Sift flour, soda, and salt together. Beat into wet mixture.

Pour batter into greased 10″ cake or springform pan or 2 9″ cake pans.
Bake in 350 degree oven 35-40 for the 10″/25-30 minutes for the 9″.

Cool. Split 10″ cake to frost.

Sour Cream Chocolate Frosting
1 1/2 cups Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips
1/4 cup strong Coffee
2 sticks softened unsalted Butter
1 t. Vanilla
1 cup Sour Cream
3 cups Confectioners Sugar

Melt chocolate chips and coffee together–stir until smooth.
Beat softened butter with vanilla. Beat in sour cream, cooled (but not hard) chocolate. Beat in confectioners sugar, one cup at a time.
Taste for sweetness and adjust.

cutting into the cupcake

Crazy-Messy, and Oh-So-Good. Voted best cake ever—and best party ever—by the River Rest residents….

Posted in Chocolate, Desserts, Recipes | 16 Comments »

September 8th, 2009

Madeleine’s Mocha Fudge Torte

The Zero Birthdays are the BIG ones—there’s something about marking off the decades, these milestones, that stirs the ethers. Memories are conjured. People bubble up from the past. Karmic ties either unravel, or tighten. (We prefer unraveling…)

In a way–as a matter of reflection of life and times past–the event is as significant to family members and friends as it is to the birthday person. Herself.

This past weekend we celebrated my daughter’s 30th Birthday.
We threw a big wild wonderful party. With LOTS of family, friends, food.
And Gypsy Music. Dancing.

And this magnificent Mocha Fudge Torte.

When I first asked my daughter what kind of cake would she like, she told me she’d have to think about it and get back with me. A couple of days passed when she called,

“Momma, you used to make this really good chocolate cake that had coffee flavored icing. Sometimes you soaked the cake with a raspberry liqueur.”

“Ah! The Mocha Fudge Torte!” I said. I had totally forgotten about it. And, yes, sometimes I did brush some Chambord liqueur onto the layers. I recalled the little round bottle with the royal gold plastic banding and plastic gold crown top—so 1980s!!!!

“Yes! That’s what I want.”

This is such a delicious cake; how could I have forgotten it? The coffee cream cheese icing alone is divine enough to eat in great spoonfuls. Oddly, it’s about the only recipe where I use instant coffee. Trust me, this is what it takes to get that rich coffee flavor while still maintaining the integrity of the frosting. The Chambord is truely not critical to the cause. Madeleine and I sampled it on a piece of leveled cake while I was assembling, and decided it was frou-frou.

Three types of chocolate go into the batter.

Mix the batter by hand, if you like. I love being low-tech when I can.

I actually prefer making the cake in one deep pan, and then splitting the layer. The cake seems moister that way.


2 oz. unsweetened chocolate
½ cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
½ cup cocoa
2 sticks butter
2 cup sugar
1 cup strong coffee
1 cup milk
1 Tablespoon vanilla
3 eggs
2 ½ cups flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
parchment paper to line 1 deep 10 inch springform pan, or 2 9 inch cake pans
baking spray

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Cut parchment paper into circles (trace around the cake pans). Lightly spray inside of cake pans, line with parchment and spray again.
Place both kinds of chocolate, cocoa, sugar, butter, coffee, milk, and vanilla in a microwaveable bowl and heat in microwave for 3 minutes. Stir, and repeat if chocolate is not melted. Stir until smooth and sugar is dissolved.
In a separate bowl, sift the dry ingredients together.
Whisk eggs into chocolate mixture, one at a time.
Finally mix in the dry ingredients.
Pour into cake pan(s). If using one 10 inch springform, bake in the middle of the oven for 35-40 minutes. If using two 9 inch cake pans, bake in the middle of the oven for 25 minutes.
Cool. Remove from pans. If using 10″springform, split the layer in half.

I rarely measure confectioners sugar, or vanilla, or the instant coffee—these are approximations that I think will work. I always add a little, and then sample, and then adjust.

12oz. softened Cream Cheese
4 oz. (1 stick) softened Butter
2 cups Confectioners Sugar
2 Tablespoons Instant Coffee dissolved in
1 Tablespoon Vanilla

Dark Chocolate covered Espresso Beans (optional garnish)

Using a mixer, cream the butter and cream cheese together. Add confectioners sugar and
dissolved vanilla-coffee syrup. Beat well, and taste for coffee flavor and sweetness.
Adjust if necessary.

The Assembly
A Lazy Susan and long flat spatulas help the cause! Level the cake, by slicing off the little rounded top. Place a mound of frosting in the center of the first layer and spread out to the edges. Place second layer on top. Place another mound of frosting on the top, spreading out to the edges, and smoothing over the sides. Slowly rotate the lazy susan, while holding the spatula in place to bring the frosting evenly around the cake. Set in refrigerator to set up before decorating.

Note: I doubled my recipes for both cake and icing for my daughter’s cake to make it extra BIG with three layers (and the fourth layer is in the freezer…)

Posted in Chocolate, Desserts, Recipes | 11 Comments »