Monthly Archives: March 2010

Fruit Buckle


A buckle is a wonderful and easy dessert that I’ve made several times for family and friends.  It can be made with many different fruits including plums, pears, apples, blueberries, blackberries, etc…  According to James Beard’s Simple Foods, a buckle is another New England word for a cobbler.  Buckles or cobblers, whichever you prefer to call them, are an old dessert that the first colonists used to make.  Since milled flour and sugar were not always in hefty supplies, many people used what was in supply – – i.e. fruit.  Fruit was used to “bring much-desired sweetness to a family meal.”  The buckle that I most recently made was with golden delicious apples.  However, I’ve made this buckle with pears and plums as well.  It’s best to use whichever fruit is in season.  Apples would be best in fall, while any sort of berry would be delicious in the summer.  This dessert is simple to make and is sure to wow your guests.

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 c flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 cup unsalted butter at room temp
  • 1 cup sugar plus 1 tbsp
  • 2 large eggs at room temp
  • 1 lb fruit
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  • confectioner’s sugar for dusting

Directions:

  1. Preheat over to 350 degrees.  Coat a 9” round cake pan with cooking spray or parchment paper
  2. In a bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt.
  3. In another bowl, beat together butter and 1 c sugar until pale and fluffy
  4. Add the eggs one at a time beating well
  5. Add the flour mixture and mix well
  6. Spread the batter in the pan
  7. Poke the fruit into the batter, placing them close together
  8. Mix the cinnamon and 1 tbsp sugar and sprinkle over top
  9. Bake for 50-60 minutes or until the top is golden
  10. Let cool completely and lightly dust with confectioner’s sugar



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CulinAerie: An Evening Spent with Julia Child

For Christmas this year, my husband gave me a gift certificate to the cooking school CulinAerie in Washington, DC.  The first class that I decided to take was a French cooking class based on Julia Child’s autobiography entitled My Life in France.  CulinAerie opened about 14 months ago and is an amazing, sparkling-new facility that one can look into while standing outside on 14th street.  There are rows of metal tables that seat 4 people — each spot is adorned with its own cooking utensils and ingredients that will be used for that particular class.  Overhead, there are flat screen TVs that allow students to watch the instructor who is at the front of the class.

One of the chefs and owners of CulinAerie is Susan Holt.  Ms. Holt is a classically trained chef from L’Academie in Maryland.  She was also the former chef at French haute restaurant 1789 in Washington, DC.  The classes are 3 hours long and in my opinion, are well worth the price of admission.  Since the classes go from 6:30-9:30pm, Chef Holt had already prepared a dish for us to sit and eat while we listened and watched as she demonstrated how she prepared the dish.

The dish that Chef Holt had already prepared for us was stew of white beans and cabbage with duck confit.

She discussed how she had prepared the dish including how she had even prepared her own rendered duck fat to prepare the confit in.  The purpose of storing the duck confit in rendered fat is obviously to give it an extreme boost of flavor.  It’s also to prevent any bacteria from growing on the confit since there is no water or air that can get in.  Chef Holt also let the students in on a tip about why food at many fine dining establishments taste so good — because the food, more often than not, is rendered in some sort of fat.  As a result of this rendered fat, stew of white beans and duck confit was extremely flavorful and made me happy to be a carnivore.

The second dish that the students prepared was called Chicken Marengo and is actually a very old recipe — it happened to be Napoleon’s favorite dish.  For all you chicken lovers who want a chicken dish that is new and exciting, but easy at the same time, this is the perfect dish.  We used bone-in chicken breasts.  Chef Holt explained that chicken with bones-in are so much more flavorful since they help to hold the flavors and juices in.  She even commented that boneless chicken breasts are not in fact natural, since there’s a lot of prep that goes into actually getting the bones out and then putting the meat back together again (something to think about for all you die-hard boneless chicken breast fans).  The best part about cooking this dish was the fact that the students got to eat it afterwards!

The last dish we made is called Reine de Saba or Queen Sheba cake.  This cake is a chocolate cake with chocolate glaze made from butter, bittersweet chocolate, strong coffee, almond extract, etc…  I’m not a huge chocolate fan.  I like to eat chocolate cake with vanilla frosting, but never chocolate together.  I never acquired that chocolate tooth like so many people have.  However, this cake is remarkable!  You can’t eat a lot of it because it is indeed rich, but just a few bites and you instantly will enter a food coma.  We didn’t serve this cake with anything else, but I think it would be wonderful with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.  Even making the chocolate cake, but with a raspberry glaze would be mouthwatering as well.

CulinAeria is a wonderful place to take a cooking class.  They offer numerous classes on different cooking techniques, cuisines, etc… You will leave extremely happy and full, but also more knowledgable about food.  They even have a volunteer program — they need people who will help them prepare the ingredients and food, set up the tables, clear the tables, and even help the students out.  In return for your services, you will get a free meal cooked by the chef after all the students have left, get the free recipes from that night’s class, and even get to listen to the Chef’s lecture.  Free meals cooked by a renowned chef as well as free culinary knowledge from experts?  Say no more… I’m in!

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Zeppole

March 19th is La Festa di San Guiseppe or St. Joseph’s Day in Italy.  Since my husband and I are both Italian, I decided to make some zeppole in honor of our heritages.  Zeppole are tiny doughnut holes that are fried and covered in sugar.  They sometimes have a custard or jelly filling in the middle.  I made plain zeppole and rolled them in cinnamon sugar and confectioner’s sugar — a recipe my mother-in-lawlor sent me.  I used a small cookie scoop and my zeppole came out larger than the zeppole you see at Italian festivals and street fairs.  I would recommend using a small melon baller if you want to make your zeppole smaller.  Regardless of the size scoop you decide to use, this recipe makes amazing zeppole that are slightly crunchy on the outside, but oh so sweet and chewy on the inside.  Enjoy!

Ingredients:

  • 1 15 oz container ricotta cheese
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 Tbsp vanilla
  • 1 1/2 c all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 c sugar
  • 2 Tbsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • Vegetable oil for frying
  • 1/2 c confectioner’s sugar
  • 1/2 c sugar
  • 2 Tbsp cinnamon

Directions:

  1. Beat the ricotta cheese on medium speed until smooth.  Add the eggs and vanilla and beat until combined
  2. In a separate bowl, mix the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt and add to ricotta mix.  Beat on low speed until just combined
  3. Let the batter stand for 30 minutes
  4. Meanwhile, heat the vegetable oil, about 2 inches deep, to 365 degrees
  5. Using a small-sized cookie scoop or melon baller, drop the balls of dough into the oil and cook for 2.5-3 minutes or until golden brown, turning once
  6. Remove the zeppole with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels
  7. Repeat with remaining batter and allow to cool completely
  8. Combine the sugar and cinnamon in a brown paper bag and put the confectioner’s sugar in another bag.  Shake the zeppole in the sugars alternating between the confectioner’s sugar and the cinnamon/sugar mixture.  Makes about 3 dozen

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St. Patty’s Day Half-Moon Cookies

I made these half-moon cookies for a “small group” of girls last night.  Instead of merely using the traditional chocolate and vanilla frosting, I decided to make a mint frosting in lieu of St. Patty’s Day.  These cookies came out moist and the mix of mint and chocolate frosting tasted like a cross between a thin mint girl scout cookie and a peppermint patty.  For those of you who do not know what a half moon cookie is, you most likely call them by their other alias which is black and white cookies.  After a little research on the subject, I found a few interesting facts that all you history buffs would appreciate!

Half-Moon cookies originated in Utica, NY in the 1920’s at Hemstrought’s Bakery when Harry Hemstrought, a former architect, opened the bakery.  Half-Moons are actually different from the black and white cookies that are prevalent in the NYC/Tri-state area.  While the NYC cookie is a vanilla cookie with fondant frosting, half moon cookies can come in either chocolate or vanilla cake.  One side of the frosting is a dark fudge icing, while the other side is a white buttercream frosting.  Hemstrought’s also made full vanilla moons (yay for all us vanilla fans!) and coconut moons with either a chocolate or vanilla cake base.  Sadly, Hemstrought’s is no longer open, but you can find delicious half-moon cookies (both chocolate and vanilla cake) in Syracuse, NY at places like Harrison’s bakery or Green Hills Farms.  Enjoy!

Ingredients:

  • 1 c sour cream
  • 1 1/2 c sugar
  • 3/4 c Crisco/shortening
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 3 c flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 3 3/4 c confectioner’s sugar
  • 1/2 c melted butter
  • 1 1/2 tsp skim milk – add as necessary
  • 1/2 tsp mint extract
  • 1 tsp cocoa powder
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract (divided)
  • 12 drops green food coloring

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350
  2. On medium speed, beat the sugar, eggs, Crisco, milk, and vanilla until incorporated
  3. In a separate bowl, combine the flour, salt, baking soda, and baking powder
  4. Add the dry ingredients to the sugar mix and beat until thoroughly combined
  5. On a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper, place the cookies 2 inches apart using a 2” round cookie scoop.  For smaller sized cookies, use a smaller cookie scoop
  6. Bake for about 10 minutes or until golden brown
  7. Allow to cool completely on a wire rack
  8. Meanwhile, in another bowl, mix the confectioner’s sugar, melted butter, and milk until a smooth consistency forms.  Add more milk if frosting is too thick
  9. Divide frosting into 3 small bowls
  10. Add 1/2 tsp of vanilla to the first bowl and add another 1/2 tsp of vanilla and 1 tsp of cocoa powder to the second bowl
  11. In the third bowl, add the mint extract and drops of green food coloring.  Add extra drops for a darker color
  12. Frost one side of the cookie and allow to dry completely
  13. Frost the other side of the cookie and allow to dry completely
  14. Store in an airtight container.  This recipe makes about 15 large half-moon sized cookies

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Authentic Irish Soda Bread

My mother-in-law’s dear friend Ann hails from County Clare, Ireland, and she was kind enough to share her Irish Soda Bread recipe with me.  The recipe is a family recipe that Ann’s mother and grandmother used to make from memory, so when Ann came to NY, she decided to write this recipe down for future use.  This bread is easy to make and is extremely versatile – – you can eat it plain or you can toast it with butter and jam.  This bread freezes well too, so make an extra loaf for future use (my mother-in-law and I baked 5 loaves yesterday!)  Thank you to Ann and my mother-in-lawlor for sharing this recipe with me!

Ingredients:

  • 3 1/2 c flour
  • 1/2 c sugar
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 TBSP caraway seeds (optional)
  • 1 c raisins
  • 1 egg
  • 1 c buttermilk
  • 2 TBSP butter

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Mix the flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and caraway seeds.
  3. In a microwave safe bowl, melt the butter for 10 seconds.
  4. Add the egg, raisins, and buttermilk to the butter and mix well.
  5. Add the egg mix to the flour mix and mix until incorporated.  If too sticky, add flour to make dough workable.
  6. On a floured surface, knead the dough for 1 minute.  Form the dough into a loaf and place in a greased 9 x 5 pan.
  7. Bake the bread for 1 hour or until golden on top.

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Eating More Veggies: Lentil Soup

My husband and I recently decided that we eat too much meat.  Beef, chicken, pork, seafood – – you name it, we eat it.  So here’s the plan, we’re going to try to eat meat 3-4 times a week.  The other 3-4 times a week we’ll be eating vegetarian dishes.  Pasta is a great option on a night when you don’t feel like cooking.  It’s quick and easy.  Not one for canned sauces, I usually saute garlic, onions, and red pepper in olive oil, pour over the pasta and top with parmigiano cheese when I want a quick meal.  However, you can only eat so much pasta before you get sick of it.  Thus, I’ve been using my slow-cooker.

It’s easy to use and wonderful to come home from work to have your dinner ready and waiting for you.  I made a basic lentil soup that came out hearty and flavorful.  As soon as I opened our front door I could instantly smell the sweet aromas of onions, garlic, and bay leaves.  Served with some crusty bread, it was a quick and easy meal that left us satisfied and content.  This is the perfect meal on a night during the middle of your crazy week when you don’t have a lot of time or energy to cook!

Ingredients:

  • 1 c lentils
  • 1/2 head of cabbage roughly chopped
  • 1 carrot diced
  • 1 small onion diced
  • 1 celery stalk diced
  • 2 gloves of minced garlic
  • 4 c chicken broth
  • 4 c water
  • 2 bay leaves
  • salt & pepper to season

Directions:

  1. Add all the ingredients to slow cooker and cook on low 6-8 hours
  2. Remove bay leaves
  3. Season with salt and pepper
  4. Serve warm with crusty bread

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Vaso’s Kitchen: Restaurant Review

If you’ve recently pulled into a parking lot of a house that has a giant pig on its roof with a sign that says  ” A Dixie Pig Bar-B-Q,” then you’ve reached the Greek restaurant Vaso’s Kitchen on the outskirts of Old Town, Alexandria.  When the Greek owner of Vaso’s kitchen opened up the restaurant back in 2005, she was unaware that the giant pig sign, from it’s former glory days as a BBQ joint, was a historical one.  Because of this, Vasiliki Volioti had to keep the giant pig on the roof.  Today, the pig sign has become notoriously associated with this Greek neighborhood hot spot.

We went to Vaso’s on a Saturday night at 7:30 with no reservations.  The place was completely booked, but the Greek-looking host told us to take a seat at the tiny L-shaped bar and have a drink.  We found seats at the bar, even though that was crowded too, and ordered our drinks.  I asked for a glass of the house white, and the bartender listed two wines I do not recall.  The one that I do recall and ordered was a “Greek white.”  Nothing sweet or dry about this wine.  It was purely refreshing — I could just picture burly Greek men hauling columns around Athens, building the Parthenon in between sipping on this wine during respites.  We waited about 10 minutes and were warmly greeted at our table by our teenage waiter.

He recited the specials for the night, all from memory, and left us to ponder over the menu.  The menu is a melting pot of American, Greek, and Italian fare.  For the appetizers, there’s everything from chicken wings, to spanakopita, to fried calamari.  The same goes for the entrees:  BBQ ribs, basked moussaka, eggplant parmigiana, etc…  Vaso’s also has a list of “specials” on their menu.  Ask your waiter which specials are being offered that night.  I opted for the seafood marinara while my husband chose the shrimp stuffed with crabmeat.  Not really Greek food, but the descriptions sounded satisfying nonetheless.

The waiter brought us a basket of bread with olive oil to dip it in.  The dark green color and strong flavor of the olives instantly told my taste buds that this was indeed Greek olive oil.  Shortly later, we were brought a crisp house salad with an Italian vinaigrette dressing.  We finished that just in time to be greeted by our generous-sized entrees.  The seafood marinara consisted of a heaping pile of mussels, claims, calamari, scallops, and shrimp – – All dolloped on top of linguine with a red sauce of white wine, garlic, olive oil, Italian herbs, and tomatoes.  My husband’s jumbo shrimp had been  stuffed with lump crabmeat and then baked in the oven with a lemon, butter, and white wine sauce.  I was ever so happy digging through my pile of fresh seafood, but my marinara was rather disappointing – – a bit lacking in flavor and a little too runny for my taste.  But the fact that I couldn’t finish my entree and needed a doggy bag still made me elated to think that this would be my next day’s lunch.  The jumbo shrimp stuffed with crabmeat were succulent and had the perfect symmetry of butter and lemon.  There was not a whole lot of talking going on while we were eating as a result of the wonderful meal.  However, it gave me time to look around and see all the other guests enjoying their meal just as much as I was.  Like the perfect marketing ploy, a foursome across from us was just getting their dessert while I was still digging my clams out of their shell.  Seeing their oohs and ahhs made me instantly excited that I too would be ordering baklava for dessert – – thanks to them.

The baklava was average compared to our entrees.  It was a perfect presentation of how baklava should look; layers of phyllo dough with pistachio nuts and honey oozing out.  However, it was rather bland and a bit dry.

Overall, if you want a cozy, neighborhood feel with solid entrees and friendly service, Vaso’s Kitchen is the perfect spot.  A moderately priced place – – good on a Saturday night when you want to eat away last week’s worries and look forward to tomorrow’s leftover lunch.

Vaso’s Kitchen

1225 Powhatan Street,

Alexandria, VA 22314

(703) 548-2747

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