Category Archives: Cooking

Escarole and beans

  • A friend and I went to the farmer’s market last weekend. I found the most glorious head of escarole. I remember my Gramma Grace making ‘scarole’ back in the day. You’d never  have gotten me to touch it. But, seeing that gorgeous head of escarole made me want to try making Gracie’s old recipe.

I had absolutely no idea what was in it, but I do remember how it smelled. Lots of garlic. I trusted my inner palate and, whoa, Nellie! It was divine.

Very simple: sauté a chopped onion in olive oil. Once it’s translucent, add a head of escarole. Once it’s all wilted and soft (about three or so minutes) take it off the heat. In another pan, sauté a can of white beans (any kind) along with the starchy water in olive oil, add garlic (lots) a tbsp of chicken base paste. Once that’s heated through and sticky, add the escarole into the pan of beans. Let it all meld together about five minutes on a low simmer. Take it off the heat, add a splash of lemon and a good fistful of grated cheese. Done! Filling, nutritious and inexpensive. Not to mention yuuuuum.



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Food of the Gods

Sugared-Grapes-from-This-Silly-Girls-Kitchen-main I made these for Book Club last night. They were so insanely good, I’m making them again for Free Float Wednesday. So simple.

Marinate seedless grapes in a dry-ish prosecco overnight, in the fridge. Drain. Toss them in sugar and set them on a plate so that they’re only a single layer. (If you pile them, the sugar turns to syrup.)

Crunchy, sweet, wine-y deliciousness. Perfect for summer. Enjoy!


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Chocolatiest chocolate ice cream

  • The texture is the thing! I have made lots of ice cream in the last few weeks, and they have all been awesome. This, however, makes all the others shyte in comparison. The egg yolks are key. Absolutely worth the extra effort.


2 cups unsweetened cocoa powder

2 cups heavy cream

2 cups whole milk, 2% works too

8 egg yolks

1 1/4 cup granulated sugar

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Put cocoa powder and 1 cup milk into a sauce pan, whisk over medium heat until incorporated. Add cream and the rest of the milk. Bring to a simmer stirring occasionally. Remove from heat. In a separate bowl, whisk egg yolks and sugar until the color of the yolk lightens. Temper cream mixture into egg mixture a little at a time, until about 1/3 of the cream mixture is incorporated. Pour it all back into the remaining cream mixture, and return to a low heat. Cook and stir until it thickens, reaching a temperature of about 170°. Pour into a clean container and let sit at room temperature for 30 minutes. Add vanilla, whisk it up, and set it in the fridge for 6 to 8 hours or overnight.

Use whatever ice cream maker you like.

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My House Smells Amazing

Mmmmm…my whole house smells like the best meal you’ve every had at your Nonnie’s house. Some friends are coming over for dinner tonight, and I’m making macaroni and gravy. Not pasta and sauce, mind you. That’s an entirely different thing.

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macaroni and gravy


pasta and sauce

See the difference?

In my Southern Italian, Northern NJ world, macaroni was macaroni. There was no “pasta” when I was growing up. I’ve since come to define the difference as such: macaroni is the dried product, while pasta is the thing you find in the refrigerator case, or make fresh. The internet disagrees with me. It says pasta is the dough, and what you make out of it comes in many shapes and sizes, and they’re all called pasta. It also tells me that macaroni is a particular shape–the elbow kind usually found in macaroni and cheese. Tell this to my Grandma Grace, or my Nonnie. They’d look at you like you had spaghetti growing out of your ears, hit you with the wooden spoon, and tell you to put the water on. As it is, they can only roll over in their graves.

In my Southern Italian, Northern NJ world, gravy has meat in it. It cooks for hours and hours and hours. Low and slow. You use regular olive oil, canned tomatoes, and dried herbs (oregano, basil, garlic) because fresh would never hold up. You need the kind that will lovingly, languidly give up all those essential oils. Fresh herbs would lose all their flavor long before the meat became fall-apart tender. Garlic can go bitter. After letting it barely simmer for three, four hours, you add a bit of red wine, a knot or two of butter, let it simmer another fifteen minutes and take it off the heat to spend the next couple of hours melding all that deliciousness into the zesty, hearty, unbutton your pants because you’re definitely having seconds dinner later on.

In my Southern Italian, Northern NJ world, sauce* is typically made with all fresh ingredients, because you’re not cooking it for more than half an hour. Sauce is lighter, more delicate, and loves to slather itself all over clams, shrimp, scallops. It likes vermouth or white wine better than red, and extra virgin olive oil better than the regular kind, or butter. Though, lets be honest, there’s really nothing on the planet butter can’t make better. In this kind of sauce, you can add a little lemon to impart that acidic zing, a zing you’d never notice in gravy’s ponderous deliciousness.

Sauce is far more versatile. It’s a better vehicle for creativity. It allows other ingredients to shine, while keeping the starring role. “Oh, wow,” you’ll hear. “Are those capers? Do I taste fennel?”

Gravy is a powerhouse. It shares the limelight with no one. It’s that thing you long for on cold winter nights, or after a long day doing yard work. No one is going to remark on all the layers of flavor, or your subtle use of thyme. There will be a lot of grunting, plate licking, and bread dipping, though.

I’m aware that my Southern Italian, Northern NJ versions of gravy and sauce aren’t everyone’s, but I am curious to know what yours is, if you care to share.

*Sauce doesn’t have to be tomato based, but this is the one I’m talking about. 


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Johanna’s Hot Cocoa

This is for ONE cup of cocoa, which is never enough. Double, triple, quadruple as you see fit.

Melt 1 tsp butter in a saucepan. Add to it 5 ounces of good milk chocolate (you can use any chocolate, but the darker the chocolate, the more you might need to add some sugar.) Stir until melted and creamy.

Stir in a splash of vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg–all, none, or some. Personally, I love a little sprinkle of cinnamon and a dash of vanilla.

The milk to cream ratio is 2:1, so 1/2 cup milk to 1/4 cup cream.

Stir constantly or the chocolate settles and sticks to the bottom. Once it’s warmed through, pour into mugs. Top with whipped cream, maybe marshmallows or crushed peppermint sticks.

Enjoy! Before hot cocoa weather is behind us.




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Almond Joyful Cake

Almond Cake

  • 1 1cups granulated sugar
  • 3cup almond paste (not marzipan)
  • 10 ounces unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 6 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 14teaspoon salt

(Double the recipe if you want a two-tier cake)

  1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.
  2. Line the bottom of a 9-inch cake pan with parchment paper, or butter the pan and dust it lightly with flour.
  3. Beat together the sugar and almond paste until the paste is finely broken up. A mixer works best–easier on the arms. 🙂
  4. Add the butter and beat for a few minutes until light and fluffy.
  5. In a separate bowl, stir together the eggs with a fork; slowly add it to the batter as you beat.
  6. Add the vanilla.
  7. Whisk together the flour, baking soda and salt.
  8. Stir the dry ingredients into the batter until incorporated–no more.
  9. Transfer the batter into the prepared cake pan and bake for about 1 hour, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
  10. Cool completely before icing.

Chocolate buttercream icing

Simplest thing in the world. A one pound box of confectioners sugar, a stick of SALTED* butter at room temperature, at least a half cup of powdered baking (DARK**) cocoa, (more, depending upon how chocolaty you want it) and 1-2 tablespoons of milk.

Cream the butter, add the sugar and cocoa a little at a time (so it doesn’t puff up in your face) and the milk a few splashes at a time. You want it stiff enough to hold a peak, not so stiff that it tears your cake apart when you ice it.

I usually double the recipe, because I like lots of icing.

After the cake is iced, while the icing is still tacky, sprinkle the whole thing with coconut flakes.


*If you don’t use salted butter, add about a quarter tsp when you cream the butter.

**You can can use regular baking cocoa, but it is a very sweet cake, and the dark offsets the sweet a little better, to my palate.


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Roasted Garlic Paste


Before you say, “I can get that in the grocery store.” No. No you can’t. Not this. I tell you now, it’s worth the little bit of effort to have on hand, because, as we all know, garlic makes everything better.

Roasted garlic has a much more mellow flavor. The caramelization is key. The natural sugars get pulled out, browned and gorgeous. The flavor, while more mild, is concentrated. Though the kind of roasted garlic–jarred or in a tube–found in the grocery store has that golden brown look, the stuff used to preserve it kills that subtle flavor and ruins the texture. Sometimes, believe it or not, that coloring is artificially added.

Roasted garlic adds an amazing finish to mashed potatoes, mushrooms, sauces of all kinds, in dips. A little goes a very long way, and you’d never want to use this in something that has to cook a long time. Roasted garlic will lose most of what makes it so yummy if cooked over a(nother) prolonged period of time.

Added bonus of roasted garlic! It’s less apt to cause heartburn in those sensitive to it.

The above picture is about a pint, and represents a dozen whole heads of garlic. Doesn’t seem like much, I know, but this will last me at least three months.

Very simple to make:

12 heads of garlic. Whole, with papery skin left on, though you should take off the stuff that’s flaking.

place them on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper*, points up (like you’d plant any bulb) and drizzle with a little olive oil.

put it in the oven at 350 for about an hour; then take it out and let it cool.

The bulbs will be very squishy. *This is why the parchment paper is very important! Some of the sugars from the garlic will be crackled and brown like caramel under the bulbs. You want that stuff! Save it to add to the paste.

Now, the tricky part; extracting the paste. There are all kinds of ways to extract the now-roasted garlic. The easiest way I’ve found is to separate all the cloves and line them up on another sheet of parchment paper, all facing the same way. Cover with another sheet of parchment paper, and then roll (one way only!) the paste out with a rolling pin. It gets a little sticky, but it’s easy to scrape all the yummy paste off the parchment paper.

Once the paste is in a container, add the caramelized bits, a little salt and about a tablespoon of olive oil, stir it all up and store it in the fridge. Though the natural preservative qualities of garlic, olive oil and salt make it unnecessary, garlic is plant matter and will break down. Storing it in the fridge keeps the flavor, longer.

Never freeze it!

Want an amazing, wintry soup? Saute a small onion and a handful of sliced mushrooms in a little butter. Add 3-4 cups chicken stock (or vegetable,) a heaping tablespoon of the roasted garlic (more or less to your taste.) Bring it to a simmer–never a boil! Take it off the heat, stir in about 1/2 cup of cream. Salt and pepper to taste. Divine.



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Feeling Culinarily Accomplished

What did I do Sunday? Here, let me show you.

Fifty pounds of plum tomatoes made twenty-two jars of sauce, plus enough for the really outstanding clam sauce I made that evening. It took four hours, including the clam sauce. It was fun! And I feel accomplished, culinarily speaking.


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Basil and honey shrimp

This was killer.

Rice first: Jasmine rice. easy peasy. I sauteed carrots and scallions in olive oil and garlic and stirred them into the cooked rice. Set aside and keep warm.

Sauce next: I don’t do measurements, but I’ll estimate. Three big tablespoons of macerated, fresh basil (I used the kind you get in the produce department in what looks like a toothpaste tube. Works great. No fuss.) Measurement AFTER it has been macerated. Two tablespoons fresh lemon juice, at least three cloves of garlic, a teaspoon of honey and a tablespoon or so of olive oil. Salt to taste. Whisk it together and set it aside. DO NOT HEAT IT!

Last, the shrimp: Coat two dozen large shrimp in corn starch and flour. Flash fry them crispy.

Plate the rice, shrimp on top, and then drizzle the basil sauce over the shrimp. It’s light and herbaceous but strong in flavor. Too much will overwhelm.

This sauce would be killer on any fish, pork or poultry. I’d even try it on beef! So simple, yet so delicious. If someone invented this before I did, I’ve been missing out on it for way too long.







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For you foodies

Oy, what I made last night. Speck e mozzarella involtini di pollo (involtini=rolled, pollo= chicken. Now doesn’t it sound way better in Italian?) It was extraordinary.

Frankie D and I visited his nephew and his family in Milford, PA last weekend. Lovely little town. It reminds me of Cape May. It also happens to be the home of Fretta’s Italian Food Specialties. The tiny store by itself is worth the trip. Drying sausage and sopressatta hanging everywhere, porcetta, scamoza, pancetta, marinara sauce, soups, pastas and more–all either house made or imported. For Frankie D, it’s better than Home Depot.

We bought a bunch of stuff, but two things smacked me in my culinary-brain–speck, and scamorza. Speck is a Tyrolean ham, a kind of super-concentrated proscuitto. Scamorza is smoked mozarella. The play of smoke and spice and sweet begged to be made into an involtini.

Involtini: I filleted the chicken nice and thin, layered the speck, then the cheese, and rolled it up nice and tight. A little egg wash, a dip in bread crumbs, and a quick fry–in olive oil, of course–just to get a crust. I put it in the oven at 375 for about forty minutes. (The Hollandaise sauce, I will admit, came from Trader Joe’s. It’s light and creamy and lemon and I’ve never made a better Hollandaise myself. Note–it would have been just as good without the sauce.)

Potatoes: russets, cubed small. Olive oil, garlic, salt and paprika. Into the oven at 375 for about an hour. Take it out, give it a stir, and a squeeze of lemon juice. Toss on a little parsley and put it back into the oven for about five minutes.

Broccoli: simple sautee in olive with garlic and salt. Make sure you get a little caramelization going.

I’m a good cook, but I have no technique training. I don’t use recipes. Every night is like an episode of Chopped, without the gross ingredients. From my first pot of sauce (gravy,) my culinary know-how has been the result of a good palate, and trial and error, same as I learned how to mother (sorry, Jamie!) write, and do just about everything I do. Sometimes my attempts end up less than stellar. And sometimes, they’re so far beyond what I ever expected, it balances the failures out. Like this one.


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Hollandaise sauce. Roasted lemon and parsley potatoes and sauteed broccoli on the side.

photo 3


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