Friday, September 16, 2016

Trick or Treating on the farm in Michigan (and a recipe for a Chocolate Chocolate Chocolate Cake!)

A boy very proud of his clown costume
in the backyard of Babcia's house
on Florida Street in Detroit.
Trick or Treating on the farm in Michigan on October 31 can be dicey. The weather might be cool and comfortable or there may be rain, and even snow flurries! Carrying my pillowcase in full costume on my bike was tortuous but the rewards were worth the effort. A couple of Baby Ruths, a few Butterfingers and a Clark Bar or two, and I was in seventh heaven. Chuckles Fruit Slices were good as a change-of-pace, especially the cherry flavor. Chunky chocolate squares with Brazil nuts, cashews, and raisins were my absolute favorite, but not often found in a Halloween treat bag. Cookies, apples, and popcorn balls were a major disappointment.

Halloween started at school where we dressed as saints. St. Aloysius was my go to saint, because he was usually pictured in a simple priestly outfit—I used a brown blanket and an old lacy tablecloth. I do remember marching around the block at school in my priestly attire, but I don’t remember getting treats.

A couple of years we went trick or treating with my cousins who lived in town. On one of those jaunts I might have worn my clown costume. It is the only costume I remember wearing, and it is the only costume to survive in my childhood pictures. I loved that costume even if the mask smelled of glue and was really itchy!

I still enjoy Halloween and watching the little kids faces as they come up the driveway. There is a mixture of fear and delight with the little ones. I even enjoy tossing a candy to their big brother and sister who have the unenviable job of taking their siblings out for the night. For a couple of hours, I will relive a small piece of my own childhood and remember the excitement of dumping out a sack full of delectable treats on the kitchen table and having first chance to snare a couple of favorites for my own personal stash.

I served a variation of the following dessert at Second Sunday Brunch in September, 2016. This version is a perfect dessert when you are having folks over for dinner. It is easy and quick to prepare and it looks fantastic. The Duncan Hines Decadent Triple Chocolate cake mix is a new one for me, but it is really good with ribbons of fudge chocolate running through it. 

The easiest decadent cake you can make!
Nutella should also be in this picture!
Decadent Chocolate Fudge Cake with Whipped Cream and Fresh Strawberries

1 package Duncan Hines Decadent Triple Chocolate Cake Mix
3 large eggs
1 cup water
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 cup of Nutella
1 cup (half pint) heavy whipping cream
2 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar
3 cups fresh strawberries, rinsed, hulled and sliced
1/4 cup sugar


Bake cake mix as directed in one 9-inch pan. Cool to room temperature.

Spread Nutella on top of cake.

Whip cream with confectioner’s sugar. Spread whipped cream on top of Nutella.

Sprinkle sliced strawberries with sugar about 15 minutes before serving. Drain strawberries of excess juice and spread on top of whipped cream.

Note: You can easily change up this recipe by using fresh mixed berries (blackberries, raspberries and blueberries) in place of the strawberries.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Butterfinger Chocolate Chip Cookies

I saw the bag of Butterfinger Bits in the baking section at Publix the other day and bought a package, not with any plan in mind, but just because I thought they might find a way into one of my recipes. I adapted a chocolate chip cookie recipe, cutting down the amount of sugar and adding some peanut butter and came up with this recipe. They are really good!

Butterfinger Chocolate Chip Cookies

This recipe for Butterfinger Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies makes about fifty cookies...if you can wait for all of the cookies to be finished baking!!

3 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup butter, softened
1/3 cup smooth peanut butter
1/2 cup white sugar
1 cup packed brown sugar
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons hot water
1 1/2 cups semisweet chocolate chips
1 package (10 oz.) Butterfinger Baking Bits or 1 1/4 cups chopped Butterfinger Candy Bars


Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Sift together flour and salt. Set aside.

Cream together the butter, peanut butter, white sugar, and brown sugar until smooth. Beat in the eggs one at a time, then stir in the vanilla.

Dissolve baking soda in hot water. Stir into batter.

Stir in flour and salt mixture until combined.

Stir in chocolate chips, milk chocolate chunks and nuts (optional).

Allow to chill in refrigerator for about 2 hours or overnight.  

Remove from refrigerator. Allow to come back to room temperature. Shape into 1 inch balls and place on a sheet of parchment paper on a cookie sheet.

Bake for about 10 minutes in the preheated oven, or until edges are nicely browned.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Baked Bean Casserole in the French Style (Cassoulet)

I recently entered a recipe contest sponsored by Mimi's Cafe. Mimi's is a national chain, with a restaurant in Fort Myers. John and I went there and liked it a lot. Mimi's serves American "cafe" dishes with a French twist in a cozy, French-style atmosphere. I didn't win the contest but I think the recipe is terrific and decided to share it here.

The cassoulet cooks in one pot.
When I thought about the theme of this contest, I immediately envisioned comfort food that would appeal to both American and French culture and I quickly settled on a baked bean dish. In France, that would be the cassoulet, a hearty dish of duck and pork and beans; in America, the dish would feature a more tomato-based dish with some type of pork as the main meat. I combined the essence of both to make my own American version of cassoulet with chicken as the main meat accented with fresh Polish pork sausage and bits of ham. Since this was to be an American dish with a French accent, I cooked the beans with a more traditional tomato-based sauce.

This will make a great evening supper as soon as the weather begins to cool.
The hardest part of making this dish was the ten ingredient limitation. I had to make some hard decisions about what to eliminate. I made the assumption that salt and pepper were ingredients, so I had to come up with alternatives. The sausage and ham provided the salt and Herbs de Provence gave the dish it’s unique flavor. Garlic was essential so the flavor came from the fresh Polish sausage and the fire-roasted tomatoes with garlic.

Baked Beans in the French Style (Cassoulet)

3 tablespoons olive oil
4 bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs
4 links fresh Polish sausage (about 16 ounces), cut in half
1 medium onion diced
2 teaspoons herbs de Provence, divided
1 8 oz. package ham cubes
1 15.8 oz. cans Northern beans
1 14.5 oz. can diced fire-roasted tomatoes with garlic
4 tablespoons tomato paste
1 cup unsweetened white grape juice

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Heat oil in 4 quart Dutch oven on top of stove. Sauté Polish sausage in oil until browned. Put into colander and drain. Sprinkle chicken thighs with 1 teaspoon herbs de Provence. Sauté thighs until lightly browned. Set aside on plate. Sauté onions until golden, about 5 to 7 minutes.

Drain beans and add to Dutch oven. Stir in sausage, ham cubes, diced tomatoes, tomato paste, white grape juice, and remaining herbs de Provence. Tuck chicken thighs into beans. Cover and bake for about 1 hour. Remove cover and bake for an additional half hour until top is crusted over.

Remove from oven and allow to rest for about 15 minutes.

Serve with toasted slices of French baguettes with garlic butter.

Prep time: 30 minutes
Bake time: 90 minutes
Rest time:  15 minutes

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Easter 2016

Polish and Ukrainian Easter Eggs (Pysanki) on my Easter Table.
I enjoy displaying my pysanky (Easter Eggs), some Polish, most Ukrainian, a couple new this year. In my early 20's I bought the dyes, the beeswax, and the stylus, and created several eggs of my own. Some were in the traditional style, but I also branched out and did some modern designs as well. The process was very tedious, painstaking, and time-consuming. Sadly, I lost my entire collection in one of my moves overseas. I could never create them again today; my hands are not still enough to make the tiny straight lines and my eyes would never be strong enough to keep everything straight. Today, I simply enjoy collectingpysanky and add a few to my collection every year. Every area in the Slavic world has their own style of eggs, I wish I could find samples of all of them.

Home-made shrink-wrapped pysanky on my Easter table.

Preparing "pysanky" Easter eggs.
I've also discovered a neat trick for simulating pysanky on my Easter table. You can buy psyanky "sleeves" wrap them over hard-boiled eggs, dip in boiling water for about 5 seconds and you have instant pysanky! You can't save them, but they sure do look pretty on an Easter table.

I bought my package of sleeves online from the Polish Art Center in Hamtramck, Michigan. Here is the link:

When we visited my grandmother in Detroit for Easter in the 1950s and 60s, we would always have cake after our traditional Polish breakfast of Easter soup. There would always be Polish poppy seed coffee cake, sometimes a cake made by my Aunt Hattie in the shape of a lamb and covered in coconut, or, my favorite, a cake from Sander's Bakery in Detroit. It would be a yellow cake with "buttercream" icing garnished with finely crushed hazelnuts. The icing was very light and smooth. A "nest" of green-colored coconut with a couple of chocolate malted milk Easter eggs would complete the cake.

Sander's No Butter, No Cream "Buttercream" Easter Cake!
My mother saved a recipe for the icing she found on the "Bob Allison's Ask Your Neighbor" radio program which still, after 50 years, is on the air in the Detroit area. Click here to go to their website. What's interesting about the recipe for the buttercream icing is that it does not contain any butter or cream! I've tweaked the recipe for the cake by adding orange zest and flavoring, and sometimes I substitute toasted sliced almonds in place of the hazelnuts, but the icing itself is always the same recipe.

Sander’s Easter Cake with Buttercream Icing

1 package Duncan Hines butter yellow cake mix

2 teaspoons grated orange rind

1/2 teaspoon orange flavoring

2 cups hazelnuts

Toast hazelnuts and remove skins. Chop finely in a food processor.

Bake cake as directed on the package adding the grated orange peel and flavoring to the batter before beating.

When cool, frost with Sander’s Buttercream Icing.

Gently pat hazelnuts on the side of the cake.

If desired, decorate with a “nest” of coconut dyed green and candy Easter eggs or jelly beans.

Refrigerate for at least 4 hours or overnight.

Sander’s Buttercream Icing

1 stick margarine

1/2 cup Crisco shortening

1 cup sugar

2/3 cup milk, lukewarm

1/2 teaspoon vanilla

Cream together the margarine and Crisco shortening. Add sugar, and then gradually add milk.

Beat on medium high speed for at least 15 minutes. For about the first 14 minutes the mixture will be very watery until suddenly the icing will congeal. Continue beating for a few minutes or until the icing is smooth.

Chill the icing for about an hour before icing the cake.

Note: If you can't find hazelnuts, sliced toasted almonds may be substituted instead.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

My Wedding--It began with Polish Polka practice and ended with Pinochle!

I married my partner, John, on December 26th, 2015. I wanted a Christmas wedding, with all the decorations still up, lights lit, and colors of red, white, and gold abounding. I got my wish!
I love this picture. Sometimes simple is the best!
We had the wedding at St. John the Apostle MCC Church in Fort Myers, Florida. The church was awash in red poinsettias. We added two red and white floral arrangements to flank the altar. Pastor Steve Filizzi performed the ceremony. Wonderful friends served as attendants.
John and I at the altar after our wedding service.
The flowers from Cape Coral Florist were beautiful!
A picture of the wedding party.
We are truly blessed to have great friends!
One of the cookie trays.
There weren't any left at the end of the evening!
Cutting the "cakes." We had five! All different.
They came from Fresh Market in Fort Myers and were delicious!
Blake Becker was our caterer.
His friend, Nicole, was his assistant and bartender.
Blake's food was out of this world good!!! And he is a great friend!
 I made a side dish of Polish Hunter's Stew (Bigos) and kielbasa. I also made the cookies that were served and given as favors to take home in little gingerbread houses. 
We never danced the polka at the reception, but we did end the evening with a couple of rousing hands of pinochle at the hotel where relatives were staying.
How we spent our honeymoon--
after the reception playing pinochle with the family!
My sister, Felicia, joined, us later.
It was a magical day! I am so happy that John and I had the opportunity to join our lives together from now to eternity!
Our friends, Kurt and Jack, gave us this ornament.
It is very special!
Feel free to post a comment below.