Monday, July 1, 2013

Chocolate Hazelnut Cake

I love sipping red wine while nibbling on chocolate and was scheming for ways to get my father-in-law to try it during our recent wine tasting. He’s a skeptic of all things sweet, so I wanted to make a hazelnut cake and decided to try a version of the Chocolate Hazelnut Cake I found on Red Star to Lone Star.

I backed off of the sugar when I made it and announced ‘I backed waay off the sugar when I made this.’ It worked for me, the mother-in-law and my handsome rocket scientist (MHRS), and according to MHRS it was a hit with Dad as well.


To do over I think I would use a dark chocolate with cocoa content closer to 70% than the 54% I used this time, and keep the sugar at 2/3 to 3/4 cup. The dark chocolate with reasonable sweetness and the crunch of hazelnut was so delicious! Aaaand had the desired effect of working with a nice glass of cab sav as well as my afternoon coffee the next day… oh, and as far as baking goes – not my forte – this is a totally approachable recipe : )


Chocolate Hazelnut Cake

Breakfast, coffee break, red wine sipping, picnicking... whatevering! this is a great, crowd-pleasing choice


1 1/3 c hazelnuts, chopped
2 T flour
2/3 - 3/4 cup sugar
1 stick butter, softened
5 large eggs (I put in a quart container with warm water for 5 min)
6 oz dark chocolate, melted and cooled
1/4 tsp fine sea salt
pinch coarse sea salt or maldon flakes (option, if you're a salted-chocoholic like me)
powdered sugar to garnish, optional optional -looks nice but don't use if you're feeding my father-in-law


- heat oven to 350 degrees and toast hazelnuts in a single layer on a sheet pan, about 3 - 5 minutes
- process hazelnuts, flour and about a quarter of the sugar in a food processor
- beat butter and remaining sugar together
- add yolks one at a time until each is incorporated
- add hazelnut mixture and chocolate
- in a separate bowl whip egg whites and 1/4 teaspoon sea salt to stiff peaks
- gently fold egg whites and chocolate hazelnut mixture together by thirds at a time
- pour into greased or sprayed 9-inch springform pan and bake for 45 - 50 minutes until a toothpick comes out clean
- cool completely on a wire rack and then unmold

I adapted this recipe from the one I found on Red Star to Lone Star.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Mason Jar Picnic Salads for Fourth of July

Soooo I try not to follow trends too much and I personally think it’s hard to drink out of a mason jar without dribbling on myself, but there is no denying that aside from preserving, the good old mason jar has it’s very practical uses. And this time of year with boating, picnics and Fourth of July entertaining they’re perfect for these portable salads.

Fourth of July Mason Jar Salads

I make them days in advance and then they fit in a cooler easily for lunch out on the water or just in the back yard. It’s hard to say what the genesis for jar salads is, but certainly a major champion and tester of them is appropriately named If you need tips she has got it down to a science!

I made a lighter and leaner red pepper vinaigrette… in part because we were doing a wine and cheese thing the other night and I didn’t want a dressing that was too assertive with the vinegar messing with my Pomerol if you know what I mean. So it’s healthy, with the red peppers and olive oil and come to think of it, could be even more so with cider vinegar.. that’s what I’ll do next time! It’s also easy on the calories, easy to make and very wine-friendly.

You have to separate the lettuce from the dressing in the bottom with something… in this case I used chopped cucumber tossed with lemon zest and then put luscious lettuce from my farm share. I dropped a few flakes of Maldon salt in there because I wanted it to be slightly seasoned, but salting ahead will wilt the lettuce. Just a few of the large Maldon flakes kind of mind their own business. Put in the fridge days ahead and then it’s effortless entertaining when everyone’s ready to eat. Give them a shake and dig in. Homemade Roasted Red pepper Vinaigrette


Roasted Red Pepper Vinaigrette

Prep Time: 5 minutes

A large hothouse cucumber and this vinaigrette recipe are just about right for six 12-ounce, wide mouth mason jars. I used pomegranate molasses because I tend to have the Persian Version on hand, but honey will be great too.


1 12-oz jar roasted red peppers (whole peppers)
1 clove garlic
1 1/2 Tbsp balsamic or apple cider vinegar
splash red wine vinegar
3 Tbsp olive oil, or more to taste/desired consistency
salt and cracked black pepper to taste


- puree peppers, garlic and balsamic or cider vinegar
- taste and add splash of red wine vinegar for desired acidity
- turn blender on low and stream in olive oil
- season and prep your picnic!


Foodie Friends Friday
Thursday, June 27, 2013

The Perfect Little Picnic… Sandwich

My mother-in-law feels these are a brilliant Italian version of the crowd pleasing ham biscuits she grew up with in Virginia, and she is right right RIGHT!

ok, let’s settle down now… The hubby, his folks and I were scheduled to do a suppertime cruise last night with wine and cheese, so I started by buying some savignon blancs and a Pomerol : )  special treat time!

It happened on land because this is not ideal boating picnic weather..

Potomac River Storms 2013

It got so exciting that the hobie cat we keep tied down to an anchor in the sand was lifting it’s starboard hull (in this pic the left side of the boat) and threatening the noisemaking nightclub downwind… we should probably rethink our polite anchoring next tornado warning. but I digress

Hobie Cat Blowing Away in Storm

I collected six cheeses because I don’t really know my in-laws’ tastes for triple creme, sharp, stinky, herby, earthy, like-it’s-from-a-stall kind of cheeses, but then on top of that, I remembered I had on hand some bresaola lovingly made by the kind and gentle hands at Red Apron Butchery! So I had no choice but go pick up some robiola cheese and fresh country bread.

And the result was of course luscious… and so easy to achieve after all of the care from the bakers, the cheesemakers and the buthcers (sorry no candlestick maker this post ; ) Try to follow me here: Slice bread and schmeear robiola (ab 2.5 oz for these two large slices of bread but I won’t unfriend you if you wanna put more)…

Robiola on Country Bread making bresaola sandwiches

… then top with about 6 small slices of bresaola on each piece, top with another slice of bread and cut into shareable pieces…

robiola and bresaola sandwiches perfect picnic sandwich

who am I kidding? There will be none of these by the time I get home, but for a cook, that’s always good news : )

Monday, June 24, 2013

Roasted Red Pepper Soup with Crab

This is so simple and so luxurious that I almost want to offer a money back guarantee to get you to try it this summer or early fall. It was so easy that I made my handsome rocket scientist taste to see if I was missing anything and he assured me it was great at first attempt.

The inspiration was a cup of soup at my friends’ restaurant, Mickey’s Family Crab House in Bethany Beach, DE. I got immediate encouragement to ‘test and blog’ this… imagine a well sated, soon to be furloughed engineering dude.

Mickey's Crab House Roasted Red Pepper Bisque  So I did, and quickly learned this recipe has a primo effort to results ratio… and that it’s good big or small, hot or cold, with crab meat, a dollop of creme fraiche or a shot of Sambuca.

Roasted Red Pepper Bisque with Crab

And while I know this will be in frequent rotation here, of course it’s always great to just take a ride to Mickey’s and enjoy the magic there : ) Roasted Red Pepper Soup with Crab


Roasted Red Pepper Soup with Crab

Yield: 2 - 4 servings as large bowls or as demi starters

Prep Time: 10 minutes

Cook Time: 15 minutes

Total Time: 25 minutes

This is bright for summer, would be great with fall crab meat, and could be a stunning starter to a holiday meal. A healthy, versatile keeper for sure.


2 cloves garlic, sliced thinly
1/2 tsp fennel seeds
1 - 2 Tbsp olive or coconut oil
1 12-oz jar fire roasted red peppers, drained (I used whole ones with a touch of the char on them)
2 cups vegetable stock
1/2 tsp worcestershire sauce (omit for vegetarian version)
salt and freshly cracked black pepper to taste
6 - 8 oz crab meat


- in a small to medium sauce pot heat the oil over moderate heat and add fennel and a small pinch of salt
- after about a minute, add garlic and saute a minute to 90 seconds more until garlic is just softening
- add peppers, stock and worcestershire and increase heat to get a boil
- reduce heat and simmer for about 15 minutes
- remove from heat and allow to cool a little, because hot stuff in a blender can perform like the classic high school volcano science fair
- puree in a blender and return to the pot over very low heat
- adjust seasoning... the restaurant girl in me was tempted to finish off with a touch of cream or small pat of butter, but I (my husband) ultimately decided it was great as it was
- ladle into bowls or mugs or demitasse cups and garnish with crab meat


Thursday, June 20, 2013

The Best Vodka Sauce

SRS Logo

Today’s recipe hails from a fun recipe swap hosted by Hungry Little Girl blogger, Jutta and I gotta say it was a good time. I was assigned someone else’s website to stalk. Sanctioned stalking, I like it!

I received the url for my recipe swap partner’s site and off I was cruising Bernadette’s Rants From My Crazy Kitchen. I grew envious immediately!  She’s got tons of followers and actually started publishing her recipes and rants on Facebook, which I think is so interesting because I have anxieties at the thought of creating a Chefinista Facebook page. So I got some great blogging inspiration on the side with my Vodka Sauce.

After some envious cruising I chose the Vodka Sauce recipe because it has a great balance of healthier ingredients along with the right dose of decadent ones. I also knew my husband would love it.

It’s also so easy. Prep and saute some onion and garlic, add your tomatoes and vodka and let simmer. Then add that decadent-ness I mentioned….

Best Vodka Sauce Recipe

It is deeelicious!

Pasta and Shrimp with Vodka Sauce

I was a little short on the Parmesan but it was rich and thick as it was. Bernadette also suggested using heavy cream rather than light and increasing to two cups. I decided on heavy cream but found the 1 1/2 cups to be enough. I served it over wheat penne with broccoli and had some spiced, steamed shrimp on hand. Over the next few days I saw my husband dousing everything from eggs to baked potatoes with the leftover sauce. It’s some good litmengob!

Pasta with Vodka Sauce



1 29 ounce can tomato puree
1 28 ounce can crushed tomatoes
1/2 of a small can of tomato paste
1 1/3 cup chopped onion
2 tablespoons minced garlic
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh oregano
2 teaspoons chopped fresh parsley
1 teaspoon chopped basil
1 cup vodka
1 cup shredded parmesan cheese
1 1/2 cups light cream


- In a large pot saute onions in butter and olive oil until just beginning to soften, add garlic and cook one more minute
- Add in the tomato puree, crushed tomatoes, salt, sugar and vodka, bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer covered for about 45 minutes
- After 45 minutes, stir in the herbs and cheese and continue to stir until cheese is melted. Stir in the cream.

- Spoon over anything!






Thursday, June 13, 2013

Homemade Fresh Lemonade

It was a dark and stormy night. and then there was lemonade. Homemade Fresh Lemonade

It appears that we are in Derecho Season here in the midatlantic, which has me frequenting my house in Maryland to keep an eye on any weather related excitement there. Here is a pic from the back yard… contact me if interested, it’s a great house for entertaining, conveniently just outside DC with almost an acre of waterfront! Maryland Waterfront Home for Sale

So I’ve spent a couple of nights there which means in the morning I’ve no choice but to get egg sandwiches at my favorite sandwich shop there. Silesia carryout. They make killer bbq sandwiches too. Silesia Carryout Ft. Washington Maryland great bbq sandwiches and breakfast

A little place with a top notch wine shop next door, all owned by a family that’s been in the area for generations. And it’s one of the only places that still brews fresh iced tea. Don’t believe me?

Silesia Freshly Made Iced Tea

Either it’s new or somehow I forgot, but when I stopped by for the first time in a couple of years they also had freshly made lemonade and I couldn’t help but sweeten my XXL iced tea with some, and it was by far the best Arnold Palmer I’ve ever had!

Freshly Brewed Iced Tea and Homemade Lemonade Silesia Freshly Made Lemonade










and what a breakfast!…  Egg and Cheese Sandwich on Wheat with Arnold Palmer

Sooo satisfied was I, that I decided to make some lemonade when I got home. This is the full on, straight to the hips version. A once or twice a year version… if you blew your sugar wad on mini cupcakes and need a more figure friendly recipe, here’s a low-cal Lemonade Recipe with Xylitol Zested Lemons for Homemade Lemonade

As for me, I used a mediocre weight lifting session and swim to justify a little more of the real deal. It started with zesting lemons. I thought it might be easier to peel them, but after a few awkward peels I went to my trusty microplane. I can bang it out with that microplane. Hold it vertically with the grater facing away from you and the bottom planted on a cutting board. Then run the lemon up and down twice vertically, rotate slightly and continue until it’s zested. You can get really rolling with it.  Lemon Zest for Lemon SImple Syrup

In it goes to it’s final lemon zest resting place for the lemon simple syrup….  Lemon Simple Syrup Recipe

I did double so I have some left over and ready for another batch of lemons. Lemon Simple Syrup

I let it cool while I juiced lemons, then mixed that business together and added cold water til it tasted like really good lemonade. I chilled it in time to go for the season’s first sailboat ride. Hobie Catamaran Sailing Potomac River

It was really comfortable on the water, but bringing the boat in was hot as #$*!, so this iced down carafe of lemonade looked like manna from heaven. Fresh Lemonade on the Beach

Brian gazed upon me as though I were Cindy Crawford in the Pepsi commercial as I walked over with our icey lemonades. Cindy Crawford Pepsi Commercial

oh well, at least he got a refreshing beverage.

Kristin Irani Chefinista on the Beach Hobie Cat with Homemade Lemonade


Homemade Fresh Lemonade

Yield: about 1.25 to 1.5 quarts

Once or twice a summer it's nice to remember what fresh, sweet lemonade tastes like. For another favorite make some iced tea and sweeten it to your liking with the lemonade for an Arnold Palmer.


7 - 8 lemons, about half zested and all juiced (should have a little over a cup of juice)
1/2 cup sugar plus 1/2 cup water for simple syrup
4 - 6 cups water


- combine sugar, 1/2 cup water and lemon zest in a small sauce pan over medium high heat, stirring occasionally until sugar is dissolved (I doubled this and am saving half for the next batch of lemonade)
- remove from heat and allow to cool
- strain syrup and discard zest
- combine simple syrup and lemon juice; add water to desired sweetness
- spike with vodka (optional)

Friday, June 7, 2013

OC Tri Ocean City Swim

A good friend of mine is dain bramaged. He had an oopsy on his motorcycle about 6 years ago and wound up in a coma for long enough that I was able to drive up and visit him several times at Johns Hopkins. Because a small oopsy is all it takes to go from motorcycling to brain trauma, of course you otta wear a full head helmet and be careful out there.

Anyway, since he came out of the coma he’s put in hours and hours of speech therapy and physical therapy, brain therapy, therapy therapy until a few years ago he asked me to join him in his first post-coma mini triathlon. Us beforehand…

Mini Triathlon


I think that overly bright smile on me was a case of nerves. The drunken look on Corey’s face is drain bamage. He sounded drunk too ; )

Well since then Corey’s left me in the dust and finished a 7.5 mile swim across the base of the Potomac River last week! He’s also somehow managed to organize a major event in Ocean City this summer and I’m going to do my first open water swim for one mile. He and a few other crazies will be doing nine miles!! In between is the three-miler. Check it out and join us because the dollars got to the JH Brain Trauma Research Center!

Swim Ocean City logo


Tuesday, June 4, 2013

A Fabulous Farm Wedding

Mothers often describe a phenomenon of forgetting the pain of giving birth, and though doubtful, I’m hoping that phenomenon will apply to my Aunt and Uncle after throwing this wonderful party.

hay bale cocktail tables

After all, while caring for dogs cats and horses my Aunt gave birth to a son and then twins! And now one of those twins, Seth was celebrating a wedding reception on his parents’ Eastern shore farm in Maryland. It was an elegant down home DIY event with home cooking, home grown flower arrangements, a last minute frenzy and of course a smattering of animal adventures.

DIY Wedding Flowers

I drove up a couple of hours before most guests were arriving and there was last minute mulching.

Spring Wedding Day

Tulips on the farm

Then of course I went straight to check out the tent.

Farm Wedding Tent

Seth cut up a fallen tree to make tabletops out of hay bale cocktail tables. Loved it!

Rustic Wedding Decor DIY Wine Bottle Votive

And DIY’d some cool (and windproof) wine bottle votives. When I used hay bales at the tailgate contest it turned out to be such great seating, so I immediately loved when I saw the layout of the dance floor.

Rustic Wedding Tablescape Dance Floor and Hay Bale Seating

Also, turns out Seth is a machine when it comes to food prep. Here is just some of what he had prepped – enough for 200 people, and this isn’t even the main kitchen! I made some salads while his brand new wife Brittany tried to persuade him to get dressed as guests arrived.

DIY Wedding Food Prep

But he was still busy handling a metric ton of various meats in a smoker he fashioned from a can and a construction site lockbox. Whatever works I say, there was some gooood sshhtuff coming out of that contraption!

Groom Smoking Wedding Food

Everyone did their part. Here Tally the huntress contributes a small, mutilated rodent of questionable origins.

Talie finds Dead Animal Before Wedding

Efforts truly payed off and the farm was gracious and graceful and oozed its bucolic charm.

Spring Day on the Farm

Pond and Canoe











Even the wedding cake was homemade! She baked the layers and froze them, pulling out the day before to assemble and ice. They left it here on a kitchen table rich with history for many of us until later to carry it out. I was happy to run by and snap a shot when I was going back in for a jacket.

Homemade Tiered Wedding Cake

After a last push to get the food into the tent we got almost everyone dressed and ready to get the party started.

Bride and Groom2

Look at that hair!

Going to Wedding Tent

Brittany made these outrageously adorable menu cards for the buffet. I might have to plagiarize these…

super cute menu cards Cute Buffet Signs








creative DIY wedding buffet

There were cocktails…

Rustic Wedding Cocktails …a glorious sunset

Sunset on the Farm Pond

dinner, dancing, and as you might suspect, merriment

Farm Wedding Dancing





.. and then there were iffy fireworks out on the pond. Exciting to some, but this is about my speed at the intersection of large group entertaining and pyrotechnics so this’z all I got in the pyro photo collection.

Rustic Wedding Votives


Leftovers must have lasted a week (this was a third of them), but not Seth’s decadent Chicken and Garlic Confit. That had to be done in a day.

Reception Leftovers

Bikini season schmikini season, I will be making this very, very soon and hoping that some day we’ll have another extravaganza ; )

chicken confit recipe


Seth's Chicken and Garlic Confit

Written as I learned the recipe from Seth. For those of you who like more exacting measurements, I will post again after testing here.


chickens quartered
about 16 garlic cloves per whole chicken
olive oil
kosher salt


- season chicken pieces with salt and sear over high heart to brown the skin, working in batches if necessary
- add to a casserole dish with garlic cloves; things can be packed tightly
- add enough olive oil to almost cover the meat
- cover and bake at 350 degrees


Thursday, May 30, 2013

Top 10 Reasons to Make a Skinny Frappuccino

Okayfine, there’s nothing intrinsically healthy, organic or cheffy about a frappuccino real, fake, skinny or otherwise. They’re not even cool anymore… for as popular as Starbucks has become (it’s said they have lunar expansion plans), what was once an irritating predictor of upward mobility has become another fast food addiction, but by another price tag. Folks for whom a $4 and 400 calorie coffee is completely unreasonable are lining up.

But my concerns about mankind and the moon aside, I want me some! And whether or not you know it, you want you some.  As I regularly gaze upon my coworker’s daily, ginormo caffeinated celluliter in a cup, I am as yet unready for bikini season (which begins ooofficially in two days). So thoughts of making a homemade buzzy milkshake with lowcal sweetener seem entirely worthwhile… to me anyway, but in case you still wonder if it’s worth dirtying that blender you bought for green drink I offer…

Top 10 Reasons to Make a Skinny Frappuccino

10. An almondmilkshake with a stimulant is an ‘Energy Shake’

9. It’s 5 am somewhere

8. We may not be the first to do it,but it’s still not a cake pop or kale chips

7. We’re fluent in Madeupitaliano

6. Huh, a worthwhile non-alcoholic frozen drink

5. Whipped cream, in moderation, but whipped. cream.

4. It’s a good antidote to the wine slurpy (write for further details)

3. RedBullccino is disgusting

2. The term frappuccino must get major hits on Google

1. Because we want to be rich and skinny like Bethenny Frankel

skinny frappucinos


Skinnied Down Frappuccino

Yield: 2-4


1 cup double strength coffee, chilled
1 cup almond milk (or whatever light milk you're into)
2 packets or about 2 tsp of lowcal sweetener, I use Stevia
3 Tbsp sugar free caramel sauce
2 cups ice
1 cup or so whipped cream, I usually do fresh by hand - good for the triceps


- combine the coffee, milk, sweetener, and 2 tbsp caramel sauce in a blender
- add ice and blend until smooth
- pour into glasses, top with a little whipped cream and drizzle with a bit of remaining caramel sauce


Sunday, May 19, 2013

Coconut Panna Cotta is Some Good Eating

The current cooking contest at FOOD52 is a challenge to use coconut. I decided to do a cross between sweet and savory and knew I wanted to use avocado and chocolate. So I came up with Coconut Panna Cotta with Avocado Mango Salad with a chocolate vinaigrette and it is goooood.

It’s also easy and made ahead… you heat coconut milk and coconut cream, combine with gelatin and whipped cream and pour it into molds, ramekins or a pan to set and that’s it. Then you can ‘taste test’ your whole way down the end of the pan.

coconut panna cotta in pan

Unmold or lift pieces out with a spatula and put on a plate. Top with salad (and strawberry brunoise (teeny tiny dice) if so inclined) and drizzle chocolate vinaigrette.

coconut panna cotta with chocolate vinaigrette


devouring coconut panna cotta


Coconut Panna Cotta with Avocado, Mango and Chocolate Vinaigrette

Yield: about 8 servings


13.5 oz coconut milk (1 can)
15 oz cream of coconut (1 can)
1 cup heavy cream, whipped
2 packets gelatin, bloom in 5 Tbsp water

2 avocados, medium dice
2 mangos, medium dice
3/4 cup strawberry brunoise (optional)
4-5 limes, juiced
4 Tbsp olive oil (the good stuff)
1.5 oz semisweet chocolate, chopped
pinch sea salt
pinches Maldon salt


- combine coconut milk and cream in a sauce pan and heat until just bubbling at the edges; remove from heat and cool over bowl of ice water
- whisk in gelatin and whipped cream
- pour into molds or a pan and refrigerate until set, about 2 - 4 hours

- Melt the chocolate in the microwave at about 20 second increments, stirring; allow to cool slightly
- Whisk chocolate into lime juice (reserving a tablesoon or two), add a pinch of sea salt and whisk in olive oil slowly to emulsify
- Toss avocado and mango with reserved lime juice
- to plate, unmold or place piece of panna cotta on the plate, top with avocado and mango salad, garnish with strawberry brunoise and a cordon of vinaigrette; finish with a sprinkle of Maldon salt

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