Monday, January 30, 2017

Light in the Midst of Darkness....Happy Birthday, Sheila!


 January is such a long and dreadful month around here.  All of the holiday festivities have long since been over and all we are left with is dreary, gray days- make that short, dreary, gray days and long, dark, cold nights.
  But there is at least one exciting, fun day to look forward to, for some celebration during all this cold, darkness.  It's my friend, Sheila's birthday.
  Sheila is exuberant, bubbling over with energy and enthusiasm.  She is kind and thoughtful and perhaps best of all, she puts all of these qualities into action.  Just recently, she pulled her car to the side of the road during her busy workday of sales and travel to jot down lovely thoughts and sentiments about each one of her friends and close family members.  Then, instead of keeping these musings to herself, she sent each one of us a copy, neatly typed out, for us to read and cherish. I received mine in the mail the other day.  A complete surprise and the perfect antidote to these often depressing January days.  Thank you. xo.
  So, in order to properly celebrate our beautiful friend Sheila, Ava and I constructed this cake.  It all began simply as a moist, rich chocolate cake frosted with white buttercream.  I thought we might decorate the top with a few crumbles of crushed candy, maybe just along the edge to give it some panache.  But somehow that idea just wasn't enough.  Instead, we opted to mimic Sheila's overflowing, generous personality by putting an abundance of crushed Reece's Peanut Butter Cups and Kit Kat's between the cake and frosting layers.  And on top, well, the top is over-the-top and speaks for itself!
  Happy Birthday, Sheila!  Thank you for all of the light you bring into our lives!


Chocolate Cake with Vanilla Buttercream
(adapted from

Makes one 2 layer 8 inch cake


for the cake 
1 3/4 cups sugar
1 3/4 cups flour
1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda 
2 large eggs
1 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup canola oil
3/4 cup boiling water

for the frosting
1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup Crisco
3 cups powdered sugar
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
approximately 3 tablespoons whole milk

optional toppings:
Kit Kat's 
Reece's Peanut Butter Cups
white and dark chocolate chips

for the cake:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease and line the bottoms of two 8 inch cake pans with parchment or wax paper.  Grease the paper.
In a large mixing bowl, combine all the dry ingredients.  Combine all wet ingredients except boiling water in another bowl.  Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and stir to combine.  Whisk in the boiling water.  Pour the batter into prepared pans and bake until a toothpick inserted comes out clean.  Begin to check cake around 28 minutes.  Once cake is cooked, remove from oven and allow to cool in pans for 10 minutes.  Loosen edges and invert onto racks to continue cooling for at least 1 hour before frosting.

for the frosting:
Using an electric mixer, cream together butter and Crisco.  Add the powdered sugar, salt , vanilla and milk as needed for desired consistency.
Frost cake as desired and add crushed candy to inner layer. Top cake with broken pieces of candy, white and dark chocolate chips, etc.  Keep in a cool place until ready to serve.


Thursday, January 19, 2017

#TBT "Make your own fun with these spicy numbers" Falmouth Bulletin, January 17,2008

 Another #TBT.  This one from January, 2008.  I am still finding myself getting bored at the end of every January, here on Cape Cod.  I guess it's comforting to know that I haven't changed all that much over the years!  
P.S. You may notice some changes in the bio notes...those were the days!

 Make your own fun with these spicy numbers
The Falmouth Bulletin, January 17, 2008

“I don’t want to hear you moping around anymore. You need to make your own fun.” Val said in a firm and slightly annoyed tone as I dragged my slouchy teenage self around the house complaining that there was nothing to do. “Make your own fun.”Sticks in my mind as one of the phrases Val invented and used so often that it made us roll our eyes and groan whenever we heard it. The expression eventually became a cliché that my sister and I now recite to our own children. She was right, of course. We had to be creative and “Make our own fun” to amuse ourselves back in the late 1980’s which turned into some hysterical memories that friends and I laugh about today.
January can still make me feel like that bored, depressed teenager listening to Morissey and The Cure up in my room with the music so loud my father had to blink the lights in the stairway to get my attention as I couldn’t hear his shouts of “Turn it down!” over the lyrics I was wallowing in at the time.   The “Winter Blues” has always started for me on New Year’s day.  It continued in my 20’s, when all of my friends would curl up on the couch in my tiny apartment, unshowered and hungover after ringing in the new year to waste the day watching bowl games endlessly into the evening. Not much of a football fan and a desire to be clean excluded me from their entertainment.  Since hangovers require food to tame them, I decided back then to occupy myself by cooking and serving my grateful friends a buffet of my wildest inventions. Now, party planning is one of my favorite things and winter time is the best time to throw one to break up the monotony around here.
Whether it’s a small gathering or a larger group, the party doesn’t need to be elaborate. Some of the best times incorporate casual fun and a loose theme.  I prefer to let the food and drink be the back bone, decorate with a few items and add some music that fits to finish it off. (I’m thinking of a “Latin Fiesta” to highlight my“Spicy Turkey Chili”.) I follow Val’s recipe for a memorable occasion with these simple rules:
  1. Fill your house. Invite all of your friends. If the house gets to crowded, or warm, it’s never too cold to have the party spill outside.
  2. Decide how much food and drink you need and double it. This way the party can go on for hours. Send leftovers home with friends or have them for lunch the next day.
  3. Incorporate only a few new recipes with old standbys. Don’t make yourself insane trying to make things you never tested before just because they fit a theme. Even if the mix of food is slightly odd, you’ll be more relaxed if you prepare what you know.
  4. Lose the idea of perfection.When your guests arrive, have fun and enjoy yourself. Often, a party mishap makes for a great story later.
  5. Andrea’s Tip: (Val would never!) Relax, leave the dirty mess until the next morning.
I had to think hard to recall what we actually did to make our own fun. I remember prank calls before  caller i.d. and driving around town aimlessly in my best friend Jenny’s tan Chevy Chevette while we tape recorded ourselves talking and using our own made up names for things and people. Dying my hair a new color was good for an afternoon and a surprise every time. (It never comes out the same color as the photo on the box.) Dressing up in bizarre outfits with hair and make-up to match always lead to uncontrollable laughter: the kind that drives adults crazy just listening to it. We could play “Mad Libs” for hours, inserting colorful words and phrases our parents would never approve of. Sometimes I wish I had the time and the freedom today to do some of the fun things I did in the past. On second thought, I’ll take my grown-up life instead with my new found made up fun.

(Serves 8-10)
2 1/2 pounds ground turkey meat
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon pepper
2  medium onions, chopped
2 large carrots, grated
2 cloves garlic, smashed and chopped
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
4 teaspoons chili powder
2 teaspoons paprika
2 teaspoons cumin
1 bay leaf
1 (14.5 oz.) can low sodium chicken broth
2 (14.5 oz.) cans diced tomatoes
1 (28 oz.) can crushed tomatoes
1 (15.5 oz.) can black beans, rinsed and drained
2-3 chipotle chilis in adobo sauce (to taste), chopped
Open beans, drain and rinse thoroughly, set aside.
Spray a large skillet with cooking oil. Heat to medium high, add the turkey meat and sauté until just cooked, breaking up any large pieces. Add salt and pepper. Transfer to crock pot.
Lightly spray the same skillet with cooking oil and heat to medium high. Add the onion, sauté for 5 minutes until it starts to soften. Add carrots and garlic and sauté for another 5 minutes. Add all spices: cayenne pepper, chili powder, paprika, cumin and bay leaf. Saute for another 2-3 minutes and add this mixture to crock pot.
Turn the heat to high and add ½ can chicken broth to  skillet and deglaze scraping all bits of meat, etc. Once broth boils, add to crock pot. Add both tomatoes, black beans and chilis to crock pot. Mix all ingredients thoroughly. Cook on high for 1 hour to let all the flavors meld. Keep chili on low throughout the party. Set up garnish bar adjacent to chili and let your guests create their own bowls.
cheddar cheese, grated                                   green onions, chopped
sour cream                                          fresh cilantro, chopped
pickled jalapenos, chopped                 tortilla chips
black olives, chopped

Serves 8 -10
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, diced
8 jalapeno peppers, seeded and chopped
¾ cup oil packed sundried tomatoes, drained
6 garlic cloves, smashed and chopped
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon pepper
1 ½ cups dry white wine or champagne
6 oz. Monterey jack cheese, grated
12 oz. Velveeta cheese, chopped into small pieces
1 large bag tortilla chips
*optional: assorted vegetables for crudite: raw carrots, celery, cucumber, broccoli, etc.
Place sundried tomatoes in a food processor. Process until chopped fine but not yet a paste. Set aside.
Pour oil into a large, heavy bottom sauce pan, heat to medium then add onions and jalapeno peppers. Cook for 5 minutes until ingredients start to soften. Add sundried tomatoes and garlic.  Cook for an additional 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Add wine, turn heat to medium high and reduce slightly.  Return heat to medium low and add cheeses. Stir mixture until all cheese is completely melted. Place in fondue pot or small crock pot to serve immediately accompanied by tortilla chips and/or crudite.

Makes 1 16 oz drink
ice cubes
1 ½ oz. gold or silver tequila (I like Sauza Tequila)
½ oz. triple sec
½ oz. Chambord
3 small lime wedges
1 cup sour mix or margarita mix
1 tsp coarse Kosher salt
Fill a pint glass to the top with ice. Add tequila, triple sec and Chambord. Squeeze the juice from 2 of the lime wedges into the mixture. Top off with sour mix or margarita mix leaving 1/4 inch at top of glass. Shake until mixed thoroughly or pour back and forth into another glass to mix all ingredients well. 
Spread salt onto a small plate. Using the last wedge of lime, rim the margarita glass and place glass upside down in salt so that it coats the edges of the glass.
Pour mixed drink into margarita glass and enjoy!
*Author’s note:  My husband, Rob is the mixologist in the family. I never know what I want to drink, so he concocts things for me to try. I think this is one of his best, yet!

Andrea Norris now has her hair dyed professionally and makes her own fun in East Falmouth. She is currently writing a cook book about her mother, Val’s delicious food. For more recipes, go to:
Rob Norris can be found delivering mail during the day and on weekend nights, mixing drinks at PI Pizza Bistro on Davis Straits in Falmouth.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Snowbound for the Weekend

  It has honestly been one of the best weekends on record.  But it could have gone horribly the other way.  A really bad way.  After some treacherous snowfall on Friday morning and a brief interlude of afternoon sun, the forecast called for up to 18" to fall on Cape Cod beginning Saturday morning and not stopping until sometime early Sunday.  O.K. I can do a light, steady snowfall.  But when the weather people start taking about Nor'easters and heavy winds, I just want them to shut up.  Val called to let me know her own grim interpretation of the radar and reports.  I wouldn't let her talk about it, either.  I implore you, don't mention such words and phrases should they actually come to pass.  I don't mind being snowbound for a brief amount of time, but please oh please don't let the power go out.  How else will I blow dry my hair in the morning?
  I have a gas stove, so I can still cook a grilled cheese or heat up some soup.  I stockpile plenty of candles and high powered flashlights with fresh batteries.  We have board games and heavy blankets.  I did all the laundry ahead of time.  There are drawers full of clean socks and underwear.  But I really hate it when there is no electricity.  It makes me feel helpless and little bit crazy, too.
    I am happy to report that Mother Nature cooperated with my wishes and prayers.  Sure we got hammered with snow but at least all the creature comforts remained in place.  All that was left to do was cook, bake, eat and catch up on some movies I have been longing to watch.
    Sunday at dawn revealed the end of the snowfall.  One big, puffy white blanket covered the neighborhood streets and  trees.  And the plows had already cleared our side road.  All that was left to do was dig ourselves and the cars out just in case we needed (I mean, I needed) a quick getaway.  We already had plenty of manpower in the form of well fed children. Ava had her trusty friend Lola sleep over for the night.  Two silly just about teenage girls goofing around, adding a bit of energy and fun. I fired up the oven and cooked bacon and my favorite biscuit recipe.  Plenty of butter, jam and fluffy scrambled eggs made it to the table, too.  I cleaned out our stash of hot chocolate and plopped a ball of marshmallow fluff into each mug.  Those kids should be able to shovel snow for days on the breakfast they ate this morning.

     After the shoveling and sweating through our winter gear in spite of the below freezing temperatures and windchill, I was happy to let Rob take Declan out sledding and the girls headed off to Lola's house down the street to "help" brush off the cars and possibly shovel before complaining that they were cold and wanted to go inside.  What else could I do at that point except bake some bread?  Not just any bread.  The kind that takes some babysitting.  Watching out for the right moment to form the loaves and place the dough into the pans and then to wait until it rises again for a slow bake in the oven until perfectly browned, their scent wafting through the house, thankfully masking the smell of bacon from this morning.

     As the sun sets, I'm already thinking about Monday morning, getting organized and ready for the week ahead.  The laziness of the past two days will soon be behind me and I'll be back into the madness of our daily schedule.  As I look through the photos on my phone of the kids having fun in the snow, I'm glad we had this weekend.  I got to bake, eat snacks, drink wine and finally watch "Hundred Foot Journey".  (The book is much better but the movie is still worth seeing.)  The house stayed warm, and the kids will be back at school tomorrow.  Being snowbound for just Saturday and half of Sunday is a perfect amount of time to relax and perhaps catch up on those activities that always get put aside.  And best of all, my hair looked awesome all weekend.

Fancy Biscuits
(makes about 15 large biscuits or 24 regular sized)

4 cups flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
12 tablespoons butter (ice cold), cut into small pieces
4 tablespoons cream cheese (cold), cut into small pieces
1 3/4 cups cold buttermilk
coarse sea salt and pepper for tops of biscuits
jam and butter for serving

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
Combine flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a large mixing bowl.  Cut in butter and cream cheese using a pastry cutter or 2 knives  until  mixture resembles coarse meal.  Stir in
 1 1/2 cups butter milk until mixture just comes together.  Do not over mix or biscuits will be tough.  
Scrape the dough onto a lightly floured board.  Pat dough into a rectangle and roll out with a floured rolling pin until dough is about 1 inch high.  Cut out biscuits using a biscuit cutter or a floured knife.  Place biscuits onto parchment lined baking sheets.  Brush tops with remaining 1/4 cup buttermilk and sprinkle with coarse sea salt and pepper.  Bake for 12-15 minutes until edges of biscuits are golden brown.  Remove from oven and serve warm with butter and jam.

Val's Oatmeal Bread
(Makes 2 loaves)

4 1/2 -5 cups flour
1 cup rolled oats
2 pkgs yeast
1 teaspoon salt
2 1/4 cups skim or lowfat milk
1/4 cup molasses
3 tablespoons butter

In  a large bowl, combine 3 cups flour, rolled oats and salt.  In a medium sauce pan, heat milk, molasses and 2 tablespoons butter over low heat until the butter just melts. (115-120 degrees).  Remove 1/2 cup of warm milk mixture and add yeast to proof.  (Wait 5-10 minutes to make sure yeast becomes puffed and bubbly on surface.)  Combine dry ingredients with all wet ingredients (including yeast mixture) in a stand up mixer fitted with dough hook.  Add more flour until mixture becomes a sticky dough.  Scrape side of bowl to combine all ingredients.  Turn dough out on floured surface and knead for 4-5 minutes, adding more flour as needed to prevent dough from sticking.  Place in a greased bowl, turn once to grease surface.  Cover and let rise until doubled in size (about 45 minutes).  Punch down and turn out onto lightly floured board.  Cut in half and let rest for 10 minutes.  Shape into loaves and place in greased pans.  Cover, let rise until doubled in size (about 30 minutes).  Melt remaining tablespoon of butter and spread over loaves.  Bake in 375 degree oven for 35-40 minutes.  If loaves brown too quickly, cover lightly with tin foil.  Remove from oven.  Turn out of pans onto wire rack and cool completely before slicing.  Store in airtight bags.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Snacks and Bubbly...Happy New Year!

Delicious, comforting snacks and sweets for a celebration or even to remedy a hangover...
Happy New Year 2017!

Ava and I got up early yesterday to make a Buche de Noel.  So what that it's a week after Christmas?  This cake is fancy and is meant to be "oohed" and "aahed" over before sharing it with a group of appreciative sweets lovers like us. 
New Year's Eve (as well as any upcoming cold night in January) calls for delicious, decadent treats and bubbly drinks for all.  What could be more rich and delicious than a big pot of cheese fondue?  All the accoutrements are easy to find at any local supermarket.  When you get them home, just artfully arrange them on some reclaimed wood.  Everyone has an old cutting board laying around. 

I found the recipe for this beautiful citrus salad a few years ago.  It's easy and elegant and can be made ahead of time.  The perfect counter point to all that rich, melty cheese.  (Btw, it's from the book, Sunday Suppers by Karen Mordechai which is on my wish list.)

Don't forget the bubbly.  Proseco.  You will need a few bottles.  Because it goes with everything and everything goes with it. Let the kids taste it.  Then they will be happy with the sparkling cider you picked up at the supermarket with the baguette for the fondue.
Find your Scrabble board. Everyone can play.  Make teams of young children partnered with grandparents.  (So that you won't have to play with your own kids and end up fighting with them.  All parents need a break by the end of Christmas vacation.) Pour more bubbly and slice some cake. Have the reigning champion keep score.  That's you, Val.

Have fun, chill out and remember, that the new year, new beginnings and lot's of fun and adventure await all of us in 2017!

Leftover Cheese Fondue
(makes enough for 8 with fixings!)
2 teaspoons cornstarch
2 tablespoons, plus 1 cup Proseco
16 oz. cheese (brie and Jarlsberg make a nice combo) 
1 garlic clove, halved
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1/8 teaspoon pepper
1 baguette loaf, cut into cubes, each cube having some crust
other suggested accoutrements:
sliced ham, salami
steam broccoli flourets
roasted potatoes
Dijon mustard 

Create a slurry with the cornstarch and 2 tablespoons Proseco.   Cut the brie into small pieces and grate the Jarlsberg.
Rub inside of medium saucepan with the cut side of the garlic.  Also rub the inside of the fondue pot with the cut side of the garlic.  Over medium heat, bring the 1 cup Proseco and lemon juice to a boil.  Reduce heat to low and stir in the cheeses.  Blend the cornstarch and 2 tablespoons Proseco slurry into the cheeses and stir for a couple of minutes until the mixture is smooth and thick.  
Transfer to a fondue pot over a flame and season with pepper.  Serve with bread cubes, other accoutrements and fondue forks.