Sunday, February 13, 2011



I've got a crush on you, sweety pie
All the day and night time, hear me sigh
I never had the least notion
That I could fall with such emotion

Could you coo, could you care
For the cottage, we two could share
The world will pardon my mush
Because I've got a crush on you
- George Gershwin, 1930

Valentine’s Day. (cue to sigh deeply, languidly). Ideas flit through my mind; I slip on the heart-shaped rose-colored glasses and look out onto a world painted in romance. Cupids flutter in front of my love-hazed gaze and the scent of rose petals and springtime whirl and twirl around in the warm breeze kissing my skin. Ah, Valentine’s Day. I am led to believe by those willing to convince me that this day is no day at all, that if I surrender, give in to the commercial greed and false proclamations of so many admen, I somehow put our love at risk, laugh at the seriousness of the glue that holds our couple together, relinquish our passion to someone else who dares dictate how and when we declare our love. The sceptics surround me on every side, closing in, yet I glance up and smile sweetly, nodding in apparent agreement all the while dreaming velvet and lace dreams of my leading man.

Gustav Klimt, The Kiss, 1907-1907

But no. I am a romantic at heart, yes I am. And any excuse, real or imagined, to express my love is perfect. Any reason to offer some token of how I feel is good enough for me. And to receive an armload of flowers, feminine carnations, plump, voluptuous peonies, passionate tulips in all of their old-world beauty, delicate springtime blooms coyly revealing their pastel innocence and, yes, that old traditional favorite, roses, the most romantic of them all, well, of course I would never say no. Or place a tiny box in the palm of my hand, one single never-ending circle of silver nestled deep inside layers of crisp tissue paper, or slip a bracelet onto my wrist and snap the clasp closed in a gesture that binds us together forever. Wrap me in your arms and tell me that the day means nothing to you at all, that no one can put limits or restrictions, obligations or rules on the expression of your feelings. Tell me that you desire me every day and you need no one at all to hand you an opportunity to show me just how much. But recognize this day with a gift or a sign, no matter how small, just because you know what it means to me, a single sentimental gesture to acknowledge the expectation that flutters in my heart, and I promise you that in return I will agree with you about the nothingness of Valentine’s Day every single day for the rest of the year.

Ah, Valentine’s Day. Who knows just precisely how or when or where you began, who proclaimed this as the day of love, billets doux, sweet nothings, gentle whispers and fervent glances. Did Mark Antony need Valentine’s Day to pull Cleopatra into his lustful embrace? Did Romeo need Valentine’s Day to inspire him to declare his passion for the young Juliet hovering breathlessly above in the moonlight? Did Valentine’s Day stir Napoleon’s amour for Josephine or elicit Darcy’s throwing himself at Elizabeth’s feet? No, I dare say not. It is true that one does not need this day to be a lover, to express desire, to recount unhesitatingly, ardently, passionately our undying love. No, not at all.

Edvard Munch, Kiss on the Beach, 1921

And as far as famous lovers go, we may be more Lucy and Ricky, our couple that quirky balance of fiery and comical, or George Burns and Gracie Allen, a little bit like some zany old-fashioned sitcom, or even Julia and Paul Child, playful and creative and standing out from the crowd like two rare and exotic creatures, more intellectual than glamorous, more ordinary than star crossed, more frivolity and heartfelt emotion than dark, brooding vamp and suave Casanova, but whoever or whatever the influence, we have never needed Valentine’s Day as a pretense to offer each other gifts, pop open the Champagne or snuggle up together. Yet…. yet… there is still something about Valentine’s Day that stirs up my womanly desires, lights the fire within, brings out the fluttering young girl in me again.

Like a faded romance novel or timeworn love story, I want him to smother me with kisses, shower me with baubles and sentimental gewgaws, I want to feel his soothing caress and his warm breath on my cheek as his love washes over me. No exuberant display of emotion is necessary, not even diamonds and rubies are required, just his loving glance, my hand in his, a gentle squeeze, a careful, graceful acknowledgement of my frivolous desire to be pampered on this of all days and then we can move on to all the rest of the days of the year.

Roy Lichtenstein, Kiss V, 1964

And for him I offer my heart, my love on a plate: rich, decadent Chocolate Pound Cake more like a mousse than a cake, cool, very dense, more than moist, infused with cherry, dotted with fruit, whispering of espresso. I carefully place one thin wedge on a plate, besprinkle the dark cake with a dusting of powdered sugar, slather it with Mascarpone Whipped Cream, barely sweetened and delicately flavored with vanilla, add a few cherries, maybe a shower of candied rose petals and I offer him such bliss, spoil him with such opulence, pamper him with such sensual pleasure that, as he cleans his plate, savors the final crumbs, places his fork delicately on the plate, he looks at me with eyes afire and whispers…”Happy Valentine’s Day, my love.”

With Mascarpone Whipped Cream and Kirsch Cherries

1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 cups flour
½ tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
2 Tbs instant espresso powder
3 sticks (1 ½ cups, 345 g) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
3 cups sugar
5 large eggs
1 cup milk
¼ cup kirsch, juice from jarred cherries or coffee (for a coffee-chocolate version) *
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup drained jarred cherries, if desired, and extra for serving

* For my version, I used 2% fat low-fat milk and juice from the jarred cherries.

Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C). Butter and flour a 10-inch tube pan or Bundt pan. I placed my tube pan on a piece of aluminum foil as my pan tends to allow batter to seep and ooze out the bottom before it sets.

Sift together the cocoa, flour, baking powder, salt and instant espresso powder.

Cream the butter and the sugar together in a large mixing bowl on low speed until combined and then increase mixer speed to high speed and beat for 3 – 5 minutes until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating to combine after each addition.

Combine the liquids in a measuring cup. Beat the dry ingredients into the batter in 3 additions alternating with the liquid in 2 additions, beginning and ending with dry and just until combined. Gently fold in the drained cherries, being careful not to over mix.

Pour into the prepared pan and bake for about 1 hour and 20 minutes or until risen and set. Cover the cake about halfway through the baking if browning too quickly. Allow to bake for a bit longer if necessary. The cake will seem set when slightly pressed but a skewer or tester inserted deep in the cake will come out a bit wet.

Remove the cake from the oven to a cooling rack and allow to cool for 20 – 30 minutes in the pan. Very carefully unmold the cake and allow to completely cool before serving. It is even better if prepared the day before serving.

Serve with the Mascarpone Whipped Cream and a few extra drained cherries that have been soaked in a couple of tablespoons of kirsch, if desired.

Can be flavored with kirsch, if desired

1 cup (250 ml) heavy whipping cream
1 tsp vanilla
1 – 2 Tbs kirsch to taste, optional
1 – 2 Tbs confectioner’s/powdered sugar, to taste
2 Tbs mascarpone, softened to room temperature

Beat the heavy cream, the vanilla and the kirsch if using on medium speed for 1 minute. Gradually add the sugar as you beat, starting with 1 tablespoon. Add the softened, creamy mascarpone and beat until blended and the cream is fluffy, thick and soft peaks form, about 3 minutes. Taste and add more sugar if desired.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011


Tender Chestnut Bundlet Fondants with Chocolate Ganache


Is it Spring yet? If they can’t bring me snow then it might as well be spring. I glance out the window and up into the steely skies and wonder if it is as chilly out as I imagine it is or is it only cold inside this old, rambling apartment? We are still eating soup every single night for dinner, and how cozy it is! The young dudes have a surprising three week vacation so are here at our house every single day working, working, working late into the night. I love the noise and bustle, the chatter of youthful voices, the bouncing excitement of Marty as he attempts hourly to insinuate himself into the all-male crowd. JP and I enjoy a salad at noon then sneak into the kitchen in the early evening to prepare our soup and cheese platter (are we Old Folks now?), making a quick getaway, leaving the kitchen open to the guys. Bowls of spaghetti with pesto, hunks of cheese and entire loaves of bread fuel their young bodies and minds, the clatter of silverware, pots and pans and laughter drowned out by the music blaring from the tiny kitchen radio perched atop the shiny red shelves. Happy is this mother when she hears the rush of the tap water and the cheerful jabbering as the young dudes wash the sink full of dishes, leaving a clean kitchen for me to find the following morning.

And three complete weeks of a houseful of twenty-somethings means that I can bake and bake to my heart’s content. I peek my head around the corner of the bedroom door and ask “Cake?” as three pairs of eyes turn towards me and light up! The fourth pair of lovely brown eyes rolls heavenward in annoyance and disgust at his mother once again pushing cake and cookies at his friends, yet aren’t the rest of them thrilled with the offerings of dessert and snack? I push open the door and walk in unasked, unannounced, platter of cookies or cakes held aloft as Marty prances around my feet, and simply place the plate on the edge of the desk, smile and leave. They glance nervously in Clem’s direction, wondering if they can partake and enjoy without his disdain, without feeling as if they are abetting the opposition, in cahoots with his baking mom, stepping over into enemy territory. Yet hours later after they have all packed up and headed home, I go to collect the cake platter and find it empty. “Was it good?” I wonder aloud. “Yes,” he answers grudgingly, loathe to admit that what I have baked was enjoyed by one and all, including himself.

I have said it before and I stand by my former statements: I am not one who enjoys making tiny things: cookies are my bane, and no matter how much I love grabbing a handful and nibbling on a stack of great, moist, chewy cookies, one after the next, while curled up with a good book, the making of them is highly overrated: It is hard, time-consuming work demanding an entire afternoon with nose stuck to the oven window, the most unforgiving of all baked goods. Those, like myself, who are easily distracted or wildly undisciplined multi-taskers are hopeless cookie burners. Cupcakes are not my piece of cake, truth be told, fussy and feminine, less enticing than a thick slice of cake where all the dense, moist, chocolaty goodness is there for all the world to see, offering itself up to you openly, unfalteringly, not coy like the cupcake all wrapped up in a paper casing, hidden under an overpowering slather of icing, never giving you the choice of how much you are allowed to eat. Yet…yet, once in a while the right recipe comes along or just the situation in which a tiny this or an individual that is somehow just perfect! Tiramisù molded in perfect rounds and served up on single dessert plates, one per person, is sexy indeed, giving each guest the feeling of luxury and being pampered by the offering of something so gorgeous, rich and voluptuous, so personal. Single glasses of thick, creamy puddings, panna cotta or crème brulée are delightful, grab one out of the refrigerator any time, day or night, and indulge without disturbing the others. And individual tiny Bundlet cakes, the most attractive shape like something royal, popped out of the pan, baring itself and all of its goodness to the world unhampered by paper wrappings and drizzled with a sensuous draping of velvety smooth, glistening chocolate ganache. Now that is worth the effort!

So as the boys work, I bake and I tiptoe into the room where they are working in a haze of youthful energy and passion and carefully and silently place a platter of meltingly smooth fondants before them. A fondant is simply a cake so moist and tender that it melts in the mouth, so light and ethereal it disappears in a flash, fading into a sweet afterthought. The chestnut flour gives these cakes a rather strange yet intriguing, addictive, nutty yet deeply earthy flavor, a perfect pairing with the deep bittersweet chocolate ganache, subduing the sweetness of the cake just so, adding a chocolate zing to the chestnut just so, making a wonderfully luxurious, absolutely intense, complex, irresistible combination.

My individual Chestnut Fondant Bundlets and mini-cupcakes with Chocolate Ganache are just perfect for this month’s Monthly Mingle, created by our own lovely, talented Meeta of What’s For Lunch, Honey? This month hostess with the mostess is my wonderful friend Astrid of Paulchen’s Foodblog and her theme is Small Bites… just like my cakelets!

I would also love to share this with Ivonne of Cream Puffs in Venice for Magazine Mondays. This recipe is based on Fondant Châtaigne-Chocolat found in French Saveurs février 2011.

If you haven’t decided on that special dessert to offer your beloved on Valentine’s Day, I have two wonderful ideas on Huffington Post Food, a luxurious, sexy Tiramisù and a rich, decadent Flourless Chocolate Truffle Torte. Two amazing ways to say « I Love You ».

Chestnut Fondant Bundlets with Chocolate Ganache

Makes 12 mini Bundt cakes + 24 mini cupcakes
- or – 24 mini Bundt cakes – or – 24 cupcakes

(5.3 oz,150 g) chestnut flour
1.8 oz (50 g) cake flour
7.7 oz (220 g) sugar
¼ tsp salt
7 oz (200 g) unsalted butter
4 large eggs, separated
7/8 cup (200 ml) milk
Butter for greasing the tins, paper casings for lining muffin tins

Chocolate Ganache:

3.6 oz (100 g) bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped
½ cup (125 ml) heavy cream

Prepare the ganache by bringing the heavy cream to a boil in a small saucepan and then pouring it over the chopped chocolate in a heatproof (Pyrex) bowl. Stir until the chocolate is completely melted and perfectly smooth. Leave to cool at room temperature.

Prepare the Chestnut Fondants:

Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C). Generously butter the Bundtlet tins and line the muffin tins with paper casings.

Melt the butter in a small saucepan over low heat, removing from the heat when the butter is almost but not quite melted. Stir off of the heat until all of the butter is melted. Put aside to cool a bit.

In a large mixing bowl bowl, sift the chestnut flour with the cake flour then stir in the sugar and the salt. Whisk to combine.

Add the egg yolks to the dry ingredients and whisk, adding the butter as you blend. Add the milk and whisk until everything is well blended.

Using an electric mixer or beaters with very clean beaters, whip the whites until stiff peaks hold. Using a spatula, fold the beaten whites into the chestnut cake batter in thirds until the whites are completely blended in and no white chunks are visible. Do not overfold or you risk breaking the whites and losing the air.

Carefully fill the tins with batter filling up almost but not quite to the rims. To make this easier, you can either use a soup ladle or pour the batter into a large glass measuring cup with a spout or lip.

Bake the Bundlets for 20 minutes until puffed, set and just golden. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for about 5 minutes or so in the tins before carefully lifting or turning them out onto cooling racks to cool completely.

Before serving, drizzle the cooled chocolate ganache (thick but still pouring consistency) over the Bundlets and cupcakes.

If you prefer, you can fold about a cup (100 g) of mini chocolate chips into the batter instead of glazing with the ganache.

Thursday, February 3, 2011


My father wanted a bar. Big, dark chocolate wood top, cool black leather front and faux-Spanish metal finishings. Very late-60’s chic! Dad, ever the true engineer, designed his dream bar and commissioned a local woodworker to build it to his very precise specifications. Yes, this beautiful bar would fit perfectly in the corner of his newly closed-in, decorated and outfitted back room with its floor-to-ceiling dark wooden paneling, wall-to-wall red carpeting, faux-Zebra skin sofa and the grooviest of grape chandeliers dangling from swags of gold chains and spreading a warm, hazy glow across the room. And the day it arrived, with much expectation and even more ado, we excitedly ran outside to watch them unload that beauty and carry it into the house! Except, engineer is as engineer does, and the bar, that monstrosity, would not fit through one door of the house! So, of course, they proceeded to remove the plate glass front window so they could push the bar through and into its new home!

My parents’ own tidy Swinging Sixties lifestyle consisted of weekend cruises to the Bahamas and neighborhood buffet parties, the women dressed in brightly-colored satin party pajamas and shimmering pastel lipstick, the men burgundy banlon polo shirts and sleek knit slacks, hair slicked back with Brylcreem. Photos snapped of smiling couples in cruise ship cabins or up on deck holding fancy glasses of colored cocktails with tiny umbrellas and tissue paper fruit on toothpicks dancing gaily above the rim, bringing home straw dolls and baskets with Nassau scrawled across the front in brightly-colored stitching. Memories of long white gloves and dangly earrings, sugary sweet cocktails or Tom Collins from a mix, their libation of choice, party platters of deli meats or finger foods and games of Twister in that same back room all blend together in bright contrast to mom typing or doing the wash, dad working under the hood of the car or reading Life Magazine while watching the news at 6 o’clock.

My parents weren’t drinkers and, well, that bar was never finished, never covered with faux-leather fabric or edged in metal molding, and years after my father passed away when my mom decided to update the décor of the back room, we decided to part with his beloved bar, its bare plywood front staring at us miserably, accusingly from the corner of the room, no way to hide its nakedness. That old wooden bunker was piled high with gadgets and gifts never opened, memories of other people’s vacations, baskets of birthday cards and bank calendars, now-empty plastic deli party trays and bric à brac that had found no other home. It all ended up being scattered throughout the house, wherever there was space, or thrown into the bin, unopened cellophane cracking with age, the feeble whine of stuffed animals begging for mercy as they headed towards the same sad demise. We crouched down behind in the dark and pulled out all the bottles of whiskey and Kahlua, wine and bourbon that had never been opened, never drunk all those years ago, bottles dusty, labels faded, signs of a lifestyle more played at than lived, and drinks saved for another occasion, forgotten about and left to their musty conclusion.

No, my parents were never drinkers and neither was I, watching and learning, having little interest in getting drunk on cheap beer behind the high school football bleachers or Champagne on New Year’s Eve. From high school to college, I watched, and experimented, but never understood the attraction to keg parties and great goblets of that golden, grainy beverage, the magical nectar of students everywhere. Going to State U, where, when beer wasn’t being guzzled, parties whirled around huge bowls of punch spiked with who knew what, whatever was on hand and could be purchased on the cheap, and flavored with the sweetest of fruit cocktails, the easier to swallow great quantities of the stuff. The ever-present scent of coconut oil, visions of gaudy flowered shirts and the comfort of flip-flops dressed up those years in the Sunshine State, between golf courses and studying outside by the swimming pool. Key West-themed parties, blenders whirring, strawberry daiquiris sipped through straws, piña coladas and margaritas drunk to Jimmy Buffet and Tom Petty, fingers licking off barbecue sauce and spicy dip. Sweet hints of the islands, surfboards tucked under arms, was the tipple of choice, the exotic flavors of coconut, lime and berries, heady with tequila and rum.

Then I moved north to my Ivy League school, where Hawaiian shirts were replaced by button downs and polos, shorts and baggies with chinos, flip flops for loafers and searing heat and bright sunshine with a snowy, gray winter. Odd college chants for the team filled the crisp, chilly Autumn air, “Ha ha hoo hoo we’ve got more Nobels than you!” in the centuries-old stadium, straw hats and likenesses of our own favorite Quaker, Ben Franklin, became the norm, heavily endowed buildings in red brick standing majestically around a stately green and dinner parties, elegant and worldly, tomes of Mastering the Art of French Cooking pulled from shelves and studied as seriously as any economics handbook. Beer, yes, that old college standby, was never very far, but now corks were pulled from innumerable bottles of red and white to accompany platters of duck and asparagus and chocolate tortes. Sips of candy sweet raspberry, orange or chocolate-flavored liqueurs, oh so sophisticated, or so we thought, followed these meals or punctuated an evening with the girls or a date.

My move to Europe and marriage to a Frenchman amid the popping of corks and the ppffffssss of Champagne, bubbles tickling my nose and making me giddy, has me seeing the world through wine colored glasses: a glass or two of Muscadet, Quincy, Bordeaux or Anjou with every meal is the norm, traditions infused with the intoxicating juice of the vine. And meals are followed by strong, burning gulps of grappa or eau de vie, invigorating whiffs of prune, poire, raisin, Mirabelle. Or splashes of Amaretto, Sambuco or Cognac, just a hint, in a demitasse of café, just enough to infuse it with an earthy heat, a bite of heavenly bliss, an eye-opening kick of the devil’s tipple. No drinker, I tend to smile sweetly and shake my head no at anything that strong as I tap the rim of my wine glass indicating that a drop or two more of that wouldn’t be looked at askance. Yes, I’ve learned to savor and taste, understand and appreciate this ambrosia of the gods, the fruit of the vine, Bacchus’ delectable nectar. As for the stronger stuff, well, I prefer to bake.

Limoncello, Amaretto, rum or Grand Marnier, whatever the liquor I am more often than not to be found measuring it out and drizzling it in batter or cream, ganache or filling than drinking it out of a tiny crystal glass. I’ve added it to mascarpone filling, brownies, cake and even bread, and now I’ve stirred it into delicate, ethereal, silky Panna Cotta, adding a rich, vibrant orange flavor, not quite as sweet as fresh juice, a luxuriously sophisticated version of this gorgeous dessert.

It is with great pleasure that I announce 2011 Food and Wine Blogger Indaba, the South African Food and Wine Bloggers’ Conference to be held on February 20 in Cape Town, and that I will be leading a workshop on food writing with my friend and talented writer Jeanne of CookSister! Don’t miss it, book now!

The Plate to Page team is thrilled to let you know that we now have a stunning venue for our second Plate to Page workshop in Tuscany, Italy the weekend of October 28 – 30, 2011 and we are offering you a sneak peek at Il Salicone! And don’t miss the latest guest poster on the Plate to Page blog, my lovely friend and very talented writer Lael Hazan, who shares her story of how she found her voice to write. Read her touching story in A Writer’s Journey.

Looking for a sweet little something with which to woo the chocolate lover in your life for Valentine’s Day ? Try my Flourless Chocolate Truffle Torte, my Valentine’s Day recipe on Huffington Post Food.

Last but not least, Life’s a Feast has been nominated for a Blogger’s Choice Award 2011 in the category Best Food Blog and I am absolutely thrilled and honored! Please take just a few minutes to hop over to the Life’s a Feast page on their site and vote for Life’s a Feast! Thank you so very much!


2 cups (500 ml) heavy cream
2 Tbs + ½ tsp (35 g) sugar
2 – 3 Tbs Grand Marnier *
1 ¼ tsps (6 g) unsweetened powdered gelatin
Finely grated zest of one orange, preferably pesticide free, optional

* 2 Tbs will give you a lovely subtle taste of Grand Marnier, 3 Tbs the flavor will be more pronounced but still delicious.

Place the heavy cream, the sugar and the Grand Marnier in a medium saucepan. Stir in the grated orange zest if adding. Sprinkle the powdered gelatin over the top and gently stir it in with a fork or whisk. Allow to sit for 5 minutes to soften the gelatin. At the end of the five minutes the gelatin will look like tiny yellow translucent splotches on the surface.

Place the saucepan over low heat and slowly and gently whisking, allow the mixture to heat up just to the boiling point. Watch carefully as this only takes a few minutes. Once it starts to boil (it may just foam around the edges), remove from the heat and, whisking, make sure that the yellow spots have disappeared completely: this means that the gelatin has completely dissolved.

Very carefully pour the hot liquid into 4 serving glasses (I use a soup ladle or I pour it into a pyrex measuring cup with a spout). Cover the glasses or bowls with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator – ideally over night – to firm up.

I poured a Pomegranate jelly over two of the Panna Cotte and although it was tasty, the Panna Cotta was definitely better without it, simply on its own. If you like, serve this with some fresh raspberries or sliced fresh strawberries.


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