Tag Archives: Decadent Desserts

29 Cakes for 29 Years: Mocha Cake Recipe

February 2013

To say I like planning theme parties is an understatement, so when I decided to have an Amélie Themed Anniversaire, I crafted many small, film-inspired details (that perhaps were mostly apparent to me?). One of those details was the birthday cake…or cakes, rather. Combine the espresso and chocolate flavors from Amelie’s waitressing job at Café Des 2 Moulins with the opening credits, in which little Amélie bites raspberries off each of her fingers, and you have the inspiration for my birthday cake tradition!

Cake Side View

Chocolate Espresso Cake with Coffee Glaze & Mocha Buttercream

Note About Size: In order to get 29 little cakes, I doubled the recipe and used a large, sheet pan, but your everyday dessert craving or small get together probably doesn’t call for that much cake. However, your everyday dessert craving or small get together probably does call for a rich chocolate dessert with the bold accent of espresso. The recipe below is for two, 9″-round, cake layers.    

Coffee Glaze

Coffee Glaze


1/4 cup raw cane sugar
2 Tablespoons boiled water
1 Tablespoon instant espresso powder or instant coffee granules


Combine the raw sugar, water and instant coffee in small bowl. Stir until sugar and coffee are dissolved.

Raspberry Garnish Cakes

Mocha Buttercream Frosting


1 bar (4 oz.) Dark Chocolate Baking Bar, melted

2 teaspoons instant espresso powder or instant coffee granules
3 Tablespoons organic heavy cream

1 cup (2 sticks) organic, unsalted butter, softened
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon salt
3 cups organic powdered sugar


Dissolve instant coffee in cream.

In a separate bowl, beat butter, vanilla extract and salt in large mixer bowl for 3 minutes.

Beat in melted chocolate until blended, scraping occasionally. Gradually beat in powdered sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in coffee mixture, 1 Tablespoon at a time, until desired spreading consistency.

Birthday Cake Assembly 01

Chocolate Espresso Cake


5 oz Ghirardelli dark chocolate chips, melted

2 cups whole-wheat pastry flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 cups organic, packed light brown sugar
1 cup (2 sticks) organic, unsalted butter, softened
4 organic large eggs
2 Tablespoons instant espresso powder or instant coffee granules
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 cup organic buttermilk


Preheat oven to 350º F. Grease and line two 9-inch-round baking pans with wax paper.

Combine flour, baking soda and salt in small bowl.

Beat brown sugar, butter, eggs, instant coffee and vanilla extract in large mixer bowl for 3 minutes.

Gradually add melted chocolate and continue beating for an additional minute.

Beat flour mixture into creamed mixture alternately with buttermilk. Pour into prepared pans.

Bake for 33 to 38 minutes or until wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean.

Cool in pans on wire racks for 10 minutes. Run knife around edges of cakes. Invert onto wire racks; remove wax paper. Cool completely.

Brush coffee glaze over cake layers.

Spread Mocha Buttercream Frosting between layers and top of cake.

29 Cakes For 29 Years (A Birthday Cake Tradition)

February 2013

There is something about a celebration that calls for layers of cake, and there’s something about me that thought my own birthday called for a mini, layer cake for each year of life! I’m not old by any means, but that is a fair bit of cake! However, this layer cake tradition of mine continued (as did my twenties for a little bit longer).


That last candle was a bugger! If you’re curious why I called upon a garden gnome for candle-blowing-out assistance, this should explain it. Recipe to follow in a subsequent post.

Homemade Chocolate Pudding & Whipped Cream

January 2013

I enjoy watching my mom move about the kitchen. She has dog-eared magazines and books full of recipes, but her intuition is really what guides her through most meals. When I’m home, I mostly want to watch and admire my mom, but sometimes I find myself craving the kitchen action as well. This Christmas, I moved from the spectator seat to the center of the action. In the midst of the chocolate melting and the cranberries popping, I lost track of the mixers (and my mom for that matter). Once I was able to track down my mom, she pointed me to the freezer.

Freeze Mixers for Whipped Cream

She had put the mixer blades in the freezer! Brilliant! When making whipped cream, a cold temperature is a baker’s best ally, but depending on the age and efficiency of your mixer, a long round of whipping can create some excess heat. I usually chill my mixing bowl in the freezer, but here was one more easy tip for the magical [shhh to all those super science geeks who may scoff at my childlike wonder for this] process of transforming cream into delicious whipped cream! Since you’ll be making so much whipped cream from scratch, you might as well make some chocolate pudding too!

Chocolate Pudding

Chocolate Pudding


2 1/2 cups whole milk, divided
1/2 cup raw sugar
1/3 cup natural cocoa powder

4 teaspoons cornstarch
3 large egg yolks (local/free-range)
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon fine salt


Put 2 cups of the milk, the sugar, and the cocoa in a nonreactive saucepan. Bring to a simmer, over medium-high heat. Remove from the heat.

Meanwhile, whisk the remaining 1/2 cup of the milk, cornstarch, salt, egg yolks, and vanilla in a bowl.

Gradually whisk the hot milk into the egg mixture. Return to the saucepan and cook over medium-high heat whisking constantly, until the pudding comes to a full boil.

Reduce the heat to maintain a simmer, and continue whisking until thick, about 2 or 3 minutes more.

Pour the pudding into 4 jam jars. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 4 hours or ideally overnight until set.

Just before serving pour the cream into a chilled bowl. Whip the cream with a whisk or a hand held mixer, and continue beating until soft peaks form. Take care not to over-beat the cream or it will be grainy. Serve each pudding with a dollop of whipped cream on top.

Maple Whipped Cream


1 cup organic heavy cream
1 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 Tablespoon maple syrup


In a chilled bowl, use chilled mixers to beat the heavy cream until soft peaks begin to form. Add the vanilla and maple syrup and mix until just incorporated. Keep chilled until ready to serve.

Merry Christmas To All and To All Chocolate Cake!

December 2012

Wouldn’t it be convenient if all family disconnects and misunderstandings could be resolved in the time it takes a television family to reach the moral of the episode? Factoring in commercial breaks, the route from the heartbreaking to the heartwarming moments would be a mere twenty minutes. But life is not a conveniently timed sitcom, and despite emulating her dance moves, I am no Stephanie Tanner.

Cake and Fixings

The longer route very well may be the difficult route and the route dampened by tears, but it may also be the route that leads to growth and change. Sometimes the bitter tears of sadness give way to the sweeter tears of happiness. If that transformation lasted only twenty minutes, would we cherish the change in the same way? Would long awaited words have the same treasured ring?

Snowy Whipped Cream

The holidays can be difficult. We do not choose our families, but we can choose to fight with them or fight for them. This holiday was bittersweet for me. I shed many tears of sorrow before feeling inklings of hope and seeing glimmers of change in all of us. While the sadness swirled inside me, I swirled chocolate into a rich liquid. I separated eggs and watched with wonder as the clear, viscous egg whites began to form snowy mountain peaks. I listened for the popping of cranberries. I whipped cream until it too formed beautiful snowy trails around the chilled mixer blades. While all my emotions stirred, I stirred a batter to share with the ones I sought to love in a more meaningful way.

Christmas Cake Slices

Much like taking the long routes for growth and change, taking the long route in baking delivers a more treasured reward. There isn’t a fast track to opening someone’s guarded heart, nor is there a fast track to a dessert prepared by heart and hand. Should you be crying with sadness or crying for joy, I hope the layers of this dessert, each lovingly prepared, will remind you of this- the journey may be long, but the dedication will make the culminating bite all the richer, all the sweeter and all the more satisfying! Merry Christmas to all and to all chocolate cake!

Christmas Night

Flourless Chocolate Sunken Souffle Cake
With Cranberry-Orange Compote & Whipped Cream & Toasted Coconut


8 Tablespoons coconut oil
12 oz dark chocolate (68 – 72%), chopped
1 1/4 cup raw sugar
6 large local/free-range eggs, separated
1 1/2 Tablespoons fresh orange zest
1 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt


Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.

Grease one 9-inch round springform pan with coconut oil.

Combine the chocolate and coconut oil in a small saucepan over low heat. Stir until melted.

Remove from heat and set aside to let cool briefly.

Whisk together the egg yolks.

Once the chocolate mixture is about room temperature or just barely warm, gradually pour the egg yolks into the chocolate mixture, whisking continuously.

Stir in 3/4 cup sugar, the orange zest, ground cinnamon and salt.

In a separate bowl, whip the egg whites until soft peaks form.

Add the remaining 1/2 cup sugar and continue to whip just until stiff peaks form. Do not overmix or lose your sense of wonder when watching the peaks form.

Stir a third of the egg whites into the chocolate mixture. Then, fold in the remainder of the egg whites just until there are no more visible streaks. Be careful not to overmix.

Immediately pour the batter into the prepared pan.

Bake for 30 to 35 minutes until the top of the cake is dry, but do not let the cake crack. Remove the cake from the oven. The middle should still be a bit underbaked, but the cake will continue to set as it cools.

Place the cake on a wire cooling rack and let cool completely before unmolding.

Cranberry-Orange Compote


1 Tablespoon orange zest
12 oz fresh cranberries
1 cup local wildflower honey
1/4 cup fresh orange juice
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract


Combine zest, cranberries, honey, juice, and vanilla in a medium saucepan.

Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until cranberries have burst and sauce has thickened, 5–10 minutes.

Serve the sauce warm over the cake.

Whipped Cream


1 cup heavy cream, chilled
1 teaspoon vanilla
Swirls of honey and maple syrup to taste


User a mixer to beat the cream. As it starts to thicken, add the vanilla, honey and maple syrup. Continue to mix until soft peaks form. Keep chilled until ready to serve.

Putting It All Together
Last but not least… toast up some shredded coconut. Slice a piece of the cake, top with a spoonful of the warm cranberry-orange compote and a dollop of whipped cream and a sprinkling of toasted coconut! Serve with a glass of this egg nog and a cinnamon stick stirrer for a flavorful measure!

An Anniversary Dinner at Cure

November 2012

“What do you want to do tonight?” I asked my special one in the morning.
“Well, I don’t really want to plan anything becaaaause… we have an 8:30pm reservation at Cure!”

On the list of “Best News to Hear Before Going to Work,” being surprised with plans for a dinner date at Cure ranks very highly! Being surprised with an anniversary dinner at Cure is even better yet!

Seat at the Kitchen

We local foodies have been praising Cure left and right, but it’s always encouraging to see a deserving establishment receive national recognition. Bon Appetit (one of my trusted favorites!) listed Cure as one of the nominees for best new restaurants of the year (#15 of 50). That most certainly calls for a toast! I’m sure there were rounds of campari to celebrate!

Pain d'epice

Foie Blonde and Veal Short Rib Terrine
pain d’epices, persimmon curd, whipped lavender oil, pomegranate, pea shoots, orange

Salumi and Kitchen

calabrese, duck speck, chicken rillette, lardo


Kitchen Scene

For a relatively small space, Cure offers so many experiences from a table for two, to seafood and drink pairings, to hog butcherings and at long last [for me], the heart of it all- dining directly in front of the kitchen. Sitting at the kitchen is like watching a show during dinner. The team really shines, with each person performing his or her role while still having fun, and it’s that fun factor that makes the front row seats especially worthwhile. Why wouldn’t you want to see passionate talent and joviality combine to produce the prettiest plates from a creative menu?

Kale and Mushroom

Veal Cheeks
apple cider, bacon, chestnut- cippolini risotto, crispy maitake, royal trumpet  mushrooms, crispy collard greens, fine herbs

Squid Ink Spaghetti Florentine

Squid Ink Spaghetti Florentine
Taleggio creamed spinach, parmesan, fried garlic, golden crumb, egg

Quality Control

Panna Cotta

Roasted Red Pepper- Vanilla Bean Panna Cotta 
burnt fennel meringue, fennel marmalade, olive caramel, tomato jam, white balsamic zabaglione, candied hazelnuts

Dessert Remains

I don’t have to dissect the meal’s rich flavors, the creamy textures or the bursts of pepper in an unexpected course because everything was eye-closing, mouth-poised, enjoy-every-morsel good. Nor do I have to say I told you Cure was good, legitimately good. Cure is my very own Pittsburgh food blessing, and now it’s a beacon to the outside world; Pittsburgh’s food scene is really evolving for the best… the best of the year, in fact!

Butternut Brownies & Window Views

October 2012

How does the window delight in the season?

The winter window tries to protect our needs for sleep and nestling and hibernation. The winter window offers a curtain of darkness to keep us in a slumber, but the world forces us to push beyond the curtain to face the day. As the light emerges, we may catch quiet views in slow motion- a creek slowly flowing or neighbors slowly trudging.

Before long, spring breezes against the window, and it opens. The window stretches and awakens, perhaps creaking as it moves. The changes are not immediate but rather like a song filled with anticipation in its chords. The spring window shows more light, shows the neighbors as they too stretch and emerge from the more dormant months. The window sings with the birds and the bicycles and the children who play until the evening light slips away.

The window boasts in summer! The summer window is a full expression. Hot breezes, humming fans, active streets, and the rattling glass of an electrified sky.

Those warm breezes grow colder and begin to carry leaves until the window must close. The window grows quiet, but there is still pride in the dampening view it frames. The window is a hushed pause. It is a painting of bright hues in stark contrast with an interior darkness. The window is a temporary collector of condensation, the effect of cooling fall flavors…

Chocolate Butternut Squash Brownies


1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
8 oz. Ghirardelli 70% cacao chocolate, chopped

4 large eggs (local/free-range)
1 1/2 cups organic raw sugar
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

2 cups almond flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt

1 1/4 cup local butternut squash puree
3 Tbsp. olive oil
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves


Preheat the oven to 350 F and spray a 9″x9″ cake pan with nonstick spray.

In a small saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the chocolate and remove from heat. Let sit for a few minutes, then stir until smooth.

In a large bowl beat the eggs, sugar and vanilla for 3-4 minutes, until thick and pale yellow.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt

Add the dry ingredients to the egg mixture and beat until just combined.

Put one third of the batter into another bowl. Stir in the squash puree, oil, cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves.

Stir the chocolate mixture into the remaining batter and spread a little more than half of it into the prepared pan.

Top with the pumpkin mixture, then drop large spoonfuls of the remaining chocolate mixture on top. Swirl a knife through both to create a swirled effect.

Bake for 40 minutes, until just set and starting to pull away from the sides of the pan.

My First Ever Wedding Cake (Part I): Proposals & Preparations

September 2012

Let me tell you about a woman I admire. She is intelligent and dedicated, as exhibited by her collection of degrees from Carnegie Mellon, Oxford, and one PhD from Berkeley in the works. She is disciplined and compassionate, having run multiple marathons for charity. She is sincere. She’s the type of woman who will listen to your woes and give very thoughtful and intelligent advice in return. She wants to make the world a better, more sustainable place. She is creative and talented, and I admire her immensely. Beyond admiration, I have the great fortune to call Renee my friend.


Photo by Photographick Studios.

Now let me tell you about a man I know. We used to be neighbors, and he welcomed me to that block of row homes with a glass of wine and a warm heart. He chose to follow creative outlets in his life and put pen to paper in a substantial way.  Ramsey mixes a childlike spirit with an intelligent mind, and he has a way of filling a room with laughter.

Dashing Ramsey

Photo by Photographick Studios.

On one fateful day, these two amazing friends of mine reconnected in my backyard. I knew Ramsey wanted to marry Renee from day one. He couldn’t contain his adoration. It was only a matter of time until Renee saw a life partner in Ramsey as well, and I was so glad to share a small part in such a love story. When the engagement announcement came, I offered my baking efforts in addition to my congratulations. To my utter joy, my two dear friends said they could not think of a better person to bake their wedding cake! So it was I came to fulfill one of my longtime goals for two very dear people, and this is how that cake began.

Renee and Ramsey were the perfect pair for my wedding cake philosophies. They both truly value whole, natural ingredients, and they left the cake details to my creativity. It was a dream experience! I chose a vanilla pound cake accented with flavors of amaretto, brandy, rum and whiskey! I added a peach compote featuring local peaches to appeal to the couple’s love of local, seasonal ingredients. Since Renee and Ramsey are avid wine drinkers, and the wedding setting was a winery, I used a red and white wine combo for the compote. I was pretty nervous about the cake, but most people went back for seconds and supported me so enthusiastically. The memory still fills me with happiness! Thank you again to this beautiful couple for including me in your festivities!

Renee & Ramsey Wedding Cake Recipe
(cut everything in half if you’re not aiming for a 3-tiered wedding cake)

Vanilla Pound Cake
adapted from Cake Love
Makes 3 layers

Dry Ingredients

5 3/4 cups whole-wheat pastry flour
2 Tablespoons Potato Starch
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda

Liquid Ingredients

2 cups (16 oz) Sour Cream (from local dairy)
½ cup local heavy cream (from local dairy)
1/2 cup Brandy
2 Tablespoons Amaretto
2 Tablespoons rum
3 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
3 teaspoons whiskey

Creaming Ingredients

1 lb (16 oz)- organic, unsalted butter, at room temp
6 cups raw sugar

10 Large Eggs (local/free-range)
2 Yolks (local/free-range)


Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Combine all the dry ingredients and whisk to incorporate.

In a separate bowl combine all the liquid ingredients and whisk to combine.

Combine the butter and sugar and use an electric mixer to cream together on the lowest speed for 2-3 minutes.

Add the eggs one at a time followed by the yolk, fully incorporating after each addition. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.

Add the dry ingredients alternately with the liquid mixture in 3-5 additions, beginning and ending with the dry mixture.

Move swiftly to avoid over mixing the batter. Scrape down the bowl and then mix for 20 seconds to fully incorporate.

Spray your pan (loaf, bundt,etc) with nonstick spray and then fill 3/4 of the way up with the batter.

Bake a 10” springform pan for 50-55 minutes and smaller muffin size loafs for 15 minutes.


Classic Buttercream
Makes 5 cups


2 cups unsalted butter (4 sticks or 1 pound), softened (but not melted!) Ideal texture should be like ice cream.
6-8 cups confectioners (powdered) sugar, SIFTED
1/2 teaspoon table salt
2 Tablespoons vanilla extract
up to 8 Tablespoons milk or heavy cream


Beat butter for a few minutes with a mixer with the paddle attachment on medium speed.

Add 3 cups of powdered sugar and turn your mixer on the lowest speed (so the sugar doesn’t blow everywhere) until the sugar has been incorporated with the butter.

Increase mixer speed to medium and add vanilla extract, salt, and 2 tablespoons of milk/cream and beat for 3 minutes.

If your frosting needs a more stiff consistency, add remaining sugar. If your frosting needs to be thinned out, add remaining milk 1 tablespoons at a time.


Peach Pinot Compote


10 cups fresh peaches, skinned and quartered
1 1/2 teaspoons lemon juice
2 cups white wine
3 Tbsp. brown sugar

1 cup red wine
1 1/2 Tablespoons cornstarch
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Pinch of ground cinnamon


In a medium saucepan, combine the peaches, sugar, lemon juice, cinnamon and 2 cups of the white wine. Mix well. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat.

Cover, reduce heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes.

Stir together the cornstarch and the 1 cup of red wine.

Raise the heat so that the liquid in the pan begins to boil.

Add the cornstarch mixture and stir for 1 minute, or until the liquid thickens and becomes clear.

Transfer to a serving bowl and add the vanilla.

Cover and refrigerate for at least 4 hours.

Can be served on cake, on pudding or with whipped toppings.

Ice Cream Sammies & Self-Sufficiency

July 2012

I’m not a person who likes to take things apart in order to understand them and then put them back together again. I’m not a fixer-upper. I would never describe myself as “handy.” However, when I have a craving for a really rich, chocolaty ice cream sandwich at the height of a summer’s heat spell, I can be quite self-sufficient, and of that, I am proud!

“Self-sufficient” is not to say I eat the entire tower o’ ice cream sammy by myself. That would just be self-destruction, at least in the temporary, oh-god-whhhhy-am-I-so-full sense of self-destruction.

Chocolate, Chocolate-Chip Cookies

Note: I used about 3/4 of this batter in a 9×13 inch glass pan, which yielded more of a brownie, from which I could cut the circles to hold the heaping scoops of organic, mint, chocolate-chip ice cream. I used the remaining batter to make a stone pan’s worth of cookies. The sizing is flexible, but keep an eye on the oven to avoid a sad, burned catastrophe.


~1/2 lb dark chocolate (El Rey Bucare Bittersweet 58% Cocoa)

2 2/3 cups whole-wheat pastry flour
1/4 cup pure cocoa
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt

1 cup (2 sticks) organic unsalted butter, softened
1 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup turbinado sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 Tablespoons bourbon

3 large eggs (local/free-range)

1 cup roasted, salted almonds, chopped
2 cups organic semi-sweet chocolate chips


Preheat oven to 375° F.

Melt dark chocolate using a Maria bath; stir until smooth. Remove from heat and set aside.

Combine flour, cocoa, baking soda and salt in medium bowl.

In a separat mixing bowl, beat butter, brown sugar, turbinado sugar, vanilla extract and bourbon.

Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.

Beat in melted chocolate.

Gradually beat in flour mixture.

Stir in almonds and 2 cups chocolate chips.

Drop by rounded tablespoon onto ungreased baking sheets.

Bake for 10 to 15 minutes or until cookies are puffed.

Cool on baking sheets for 2 minutes; remove to wire racks to cool completely.


Frozen Berry Dessert, Part Deux: The Delivery (sans celebrities this time around)

July 2012

My fascination with food is not limited to the how. I’m curious about the who, the what, the where and perhaps most importantly, the why. We associate memories with food. We bond over food. We pass our stories as we pass our plates, and we make friends via our tastes. I already showed you the how for a very memorable frozen berry dessert. It was a failure of sorts, but the revisions succeeded in a way that utterly surprised me! However, the dessert’s story did not end there. I was making that dessert for a summer Sunday-the type of summer Sunday that perfectly reminds me of the happiness growing underfoot!

“The foolish man seeks happiness in the distance; the wise grows it under his feet.” ~ James Oppenheim

(A summer Sunday can be downright torturous for a dog who has eyes only for saaaaaausages!)

If we don’t make time, summer’s golden ears will quickly disappear, and grills will enter dormancy.

If we do make time, we might use more butter on golden kernels than we should, just because it’s fancy butter. We might sip more sangria than we should, just to reach the wine-soaked, sangria peaches, bursting with the flavors guarded best by local growing.

If we don’t make time, we might miss the show (sometimes the show is a little racy)…

If we do slow down, we might see what a cold beverage can do to a lady on a hot day. ;P

If we do slow down, we can learn more of our own food story from those who taught us, and we can pass it to those who who care to share it.

If we do slow down, the sky might put on a show in our honor. In our case, the Pittsburgh sky sure was feeling fancy!

The show transitioned to flickering candles and second rounds of adult root beer floats then a downhill stroll to fall asleep to the hum of a fan.

May your hot oven be worked minimally. May your frozen desserts refresh you maximumly! May you enjoy summer’s best hues and lights until a quiet stroll leads you peacefully home!

Frozen Berry Dessert & How A Failed Meringue Led To A Celebrity Encounter

July 2012

The Agenda:
A BBQ/Potluck on one of the best decks in the city, hosted by a loyal and true friend.

The Plan:
A more summery version of this maple mousse pie.

The Fail, the EPIC FAIL:
The mousse pie recipe has a meringue component. Oh that meringue! I totally bombarded it with hot honey, and the poor, fluffy cloud didn’t stand a chance! It collapsed like an uncapped air mattress under a sleepy soul.

The Recalculation:
I pride myself on being the Daughter of Invention, but try though I did, the meringue had failed. There was no salvaging the eggy mess, so I had to “click” undo a little farther back into my history. What I had was a perfectly good crust, a fresh fruit puree and a new idea borrowed from the very woman who inspired me to improvise- my mom. What I didn’t have was more heavy cream. What I did have was my special one’s car!

Recalculating Route…:
To Whole Foods! To the dairy aisle! (I also tried to buy an air conditioner at Home Depot, but that effort lingered on the fail side of the spectrum).

The Moment That Made Me Grateful the Meringue Had Failed So Miserably:
As I walked to retrieve a cart, I saw a tall man with thick, thick, thick glasses and dark hair. Could it be…no…but…is it? His voice even sounded familiar as he spoke to his shopping companion who was retrieving a cart. She looked familiar as well! It was them! It was! My heart raced a little bit and fluttered with glee.  I worked up the courage to be that dorky fan girl and approach them in the produce aisle.

The Celebrity Encounter:

“Excuse me, I have to ask. Were you in Party Down [ie: one of the best shows ever!!!]?”
“Yeah…yeah, I was, and so was she [points to Kristen Bell as she picked berries].”
“It was such a great show! It got me through the winter! You guys were amazing!”
“Thanks, thanks very much! I’m Martin.  What’s your name?”
“Nice to meet you, Quelcy.”

I was blown away by his sincerity and humility. Not only had he introduced himself, but he had taken the time to ask my name, repeat it, and furthermore, he had pronounced it correctly! I asked about the rumors of a comeback movie, and he said they had to keep pushing the writers! Meanwhile, the two of them were in Pittsburgh “to pick up some food at Whole Foods” and to shoot a movie together. Between Anne Hathaway in my yoga class and Party Down cast members at Whole Foods, Pittsburgh is becoming quite the little Hollywood.

The Uplifting Moral of the Story

Have you ever noticed how most life lessons have at least one kitchen counterpart? Susan Sarandon (and others probably) said, “If you’re not making mistakes, you’re not doing anything.” Had I not failed my meringue but persevered with my dessert, I wouldn’t have had the serendipitous encounter in the produce section. Silly as it may seem, that little twist in my day really set a positive tone for my week. On top of the encounter, my friends really enjoyed the dessert.  All in all, I am a really lucky girl, and it pays to appreciate these moments in life!

Coconut Walnut Crust


2 cups walnuts
3 Tablespoons organic light brown sugar
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
4 Tablespoons organic coconut oil
1 teaspoon organic almond extract


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Spread the walnuts on a parchment lined baking stone, and bake for about 10-15 minutes, or until fragrant. Let cool completely.

In a food processor, pulse the walnuts, brown sugar, nutmeg and almond extract until the nuts are finely chopped.

Add the coconut oil, and pulse to incorporate.

Press the crumbs into a 9-inch springform pan in an even layer.

Refrigerate until firm.

I know science would say otherwise, but I prefer to see the making of whipped cream akin to the making of magic. Suddenly cold, heavy cream turns into fluffy clouds.  The bowl of clouds holds the imagination if you stare and allow yourself a spoonful of creativity while the mixing blades spin. What do you see, friends..?

Whipped Cream Filling


1 pint organic heavy cream, chilled
8 oz organic Neufchatel cheese
1 Tablespoon pure vanilla extract
1/3 cup wildflower amber honey
3 Tablespoons Kraken Rum (or the like)


In a large bowl, beat the heavy cream and the Neufchatel cheese until soft peaks form.

Add the vanilla, honey and rum and beat until combined.

Scoop the filling onto the crust, and spread evenly.

Fruit Filling

3 cups cherries, pits removed
1 cup fresh blueberries


Puree the cherries and blueberries in a food processor. Either set the fruit puree aside or strain to drain off some of the excess juices.

Add the fruit in dollops, and use knife to swirl the fruit with the filling.

Freeze until the top begins to set slightly. Remove from the freezer, and add the fruit garnishes. Return to freezer, and freeze until firm.


4-5 large strawberries, sliced
Blackberries to your aesthetic liking

The revised and rather improvised dessert remained in the freezer until the kielbasa was grilled, loaded with fixins on a bun and eaten with corn on the cob and fancy butter. The dessert remained in the freezer while the band played atop a neighborhood hill. The dessert remained in the freezer until the happy neighbors returned to the deck with the beautiful views of a sky changing from blue to pink.  Stay tuned, and I’ll show you what that all looked like.


Cure + Embury = The Salumi of the Dog That Bit Ya!

June 2012

As often as I can, I moonlight [in the daylight hours though, because that's when the lighting is better] as a food stylist for Pittsburgh based photographer Adam Milliron.  Adam is one of the most delightfully busy gents around the town! He can text and sip a cocktail and juggle a growing Vizsla puppy, while simultaneously setting up lights and cameras. Note:  I said “texts.” Adam rarely has a free hand to answer a phone call or conversely, to make a call, so when I saw a missed call from him, I knew something epic was unfolding.  I was correct! The surprise, warranting an actual phone call, was an invite for my special one and me to be Adam’s guest at a Sunday Supper of Seafood & Cocktail Pairings at Cure, one of my favorite Pittsburgh restaurants (as you may recall, I first fell for Cure on my wintry birthday eve)!

As Cure’s website says, when you dine with Cure, you’re supporting many local farms and organic food purveyors.  I applaud Chef/Owner Justin Severino’s commitment to the quality, taste and economic/environmental benefits associated with using local ingredients. Between the interior design of reclaimed wood, the hidden piggies and the communal atmosphere, Justin has created not just a place for a meal, but an entire dining experience.

As if a Sunday tasting menu at Cure were not a big enough slice of heaven, the man, the myth and the legend was lending his mixology wisdom to the cocktail pairings.  Yes- Spencer Warren, who gave Pittsburgh its first Prohibition style bar (which will be reopening in a new location soon!!!), crafted unique cocktails for each course. Fortunately, Spencer shared his concoction details with me, for my head was spinning far too freely with the bliss of the perfect Sunday meal to document the details properly. The meal was a perfectly paced meander through a menu, much like dining with a European family. The best part is, Justin has barely begun to entertain! There are more events and even a farm dinner or two in store! Stick around this nook of the blogosphere, and hopefully, I’ll have notes from a hog butchering at some point.

Caipirinha Peach Punch

Cachaça Peach liquor, Peach Puree and Champagne.

Poured over ice and topped  with Bittermen’s Tiki Bitters. A light and refreshing complement to the chilled, citrus spritzed seafood spread.

Fruits de Mare
Lobster, crab, oysters, goeduck, caviar

Due to birth in a landlocked state (Nebraska) and a mom whose Midwestern roots influenced her cooking, I had often claimed to be a seafood “virgin.” I had this notion of making a seafood mecca to Maine or Scotland or some paradise near the Equator, but much like many a coast, the notion has gradually been eroding.  Aside from other forays into oceanic eating, each orgasmic bite from that seashell blew all notions of seafood virginity out of the water. Take a look at that seashell! It contained such decadent deliciousness. I shall now leave the sexual metaphors at bay [the aquatic puns, however, seem to be continuing], but know this: if you eat seafood at Cure, expect to close your eyes, block out the world and thoroughly savor each bite.

Avocado Mousse w/ Grapefruit Foam

Looking at this course was like studying a section cut of the earth. There were so many layers and textures, but unlike a geology class model, digging into this blend of avocado and citrus accents was far more satisfying.

Tortellini Pie
Ricotta, pig’s feet, San Marzano tomato, basil, Pecorino

The flaky pasta inspired crust revealed shredded, tender meat with the fresh kick of basil and salt from the Pecorino. Furthermore…look at that lobster shaped crust!

The Count Severino

“Since Justin loves Campari and drinking Negroni’s, we made a Campari based cocktail to pair with the [tortellini pie].  What better than an Italian based cocktail with a pasta course.  It was Death’s Door Gin, Campari, and Cynar mixed with fresh grapefruit juice, and a cardamom and date syrup.  It was topped with one of Justin’s salumis (a cocoa & pepper salumi).” – Spencer Warren

Faust’s Pact

“This is an Embury favorite.  We muddle jalapeño with Angostura Bitters, then add lemon, Ginger Syrup, Basil Syrup, and Bluecoat Gin, then pour it up, and top with cayenne pepper.  It is refreshing yet spicy, and it paired very well with the cured meats Justin had prepared.”

House cured meats (lomo and French style sopressata), pickles, farmstead cheeses

Laying Down the Broom

“The lemon from the dessert fit very well with the cassis (Black Currant) and the honey from the cocktail.  I used Gekkeikan Sake & Plum wine, Barenjager Honey liquor, basil syrup, fresh lemon and cassis juice.  Its light, refreshing taste complemented the tartness of the dessert.”

Pistachio Nougat
Lemon curd, white chocolate ganache, rhubarb gelee, balsamic-vanilla sabayone

The meal ended with a bang! The dessert was like a firework, both for its color and explosion of sharp, contrasting flavors.

What Spencer Learned In The South…

And a very special finale…BOURBONS!

I wish I could say I sampled them all. Why didn’t I sample them all?!?

PS: Thanks to everyone who made this Sunday deliciously different from the rest…

Special thanks to Justin Severino and Spencer Warren for collaborating and creating a memorable, palate-teasing Sunday supper.

A very special thanks to Adam Milliron for thinking, “Who is passionate about slow foods and artisan cocktails and would appreciate this experience?” and more importantly for answering that question with my name and my special one’s name!

Special thanks to our dining partners for putting up with the fact that Adam and I like taking pictures…of EVERYTHING.  You were a patient pair, and we appreciated your willingness to stare at food, wide eyed and salivating, as we tried to capture the perfect shots.  You are gems!

Cure on Foodio54

My Special One’s Birthday: Maple Mousse Pie

April 2012

Birthdays may call for cake, but this maple mousse pie was worthy of trumping traditions (plus my special one and I have a shared maple memory).  The salty pecan crust pairs perfectly with the fluffy, frozen, maple, mousse layer, but I was also tempted to snag extra bites of crust to savor its flavor solo.  Top it all with a blueberry and cherry port wine sauce, and… birthday cake shmirthday shmake.  Pie please!

When I was little, I saw everything prior to and following the moment of eating as a chore. What I see now is an old man at sea…that is to say… the kitchen is a wonderfully creative place where our best intentions transform into something memorable for the special people in our lives.  I am beginning to understand why my mother spent so much time preparing the many memories I cherish.

Maple Mousse Pie w/ Port Wine Berry Sauce
Adpated from Food & Wine

Crust Ingredients

2 cups pecans
3 Tablespoons organic light brown sugar
⅛ teaspoon nutmeg
Pinch of salt
4 Tablespoons organic unsalted butter, browned
1 teaspoon organic almond extract

Mousse Ingredients

1 cup pure grade B maple syrup
2 large egg whites (local/free-range), at room temperature
Pinch of cream of tartar
Pinch of salt
1 ½ cups chilled organic heavy cream
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Port Wine Berry Sauce Ingredients

1 cup organic brown sugar
1 cup port wine
10 oz frozen organic cherries, thawed
12 oz fresh blueberries

For the Crust

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Spread the pecans on a rimmed baking stone, and bake for about 8 minutes, until fragrant. Let cool completely.

In a food processor, pulse the pecans, brown sugar, nutmeg, salt and almond extract until the nuts are finely chopped.

Add the butter, and pulse to incorporate.

Press the crumbs into a 9-inch springform pan in an even layer.

Refrigerate until firm.

For the Mousse

In a medium saucepan, bring the maple syrup to a boil. Simmer over moderate heat until slightly reduced and a candy thermometer inserted in the syrup registers 235 degrees, about 8 minutes, being careful not to let it boil over.

For the meringue: In a mixing bowl, use an electric mixer to beat the egg whites with the cream of tartar and salt until firm peaks form. Slowly add the maple syrup, while continuing to mix at a medium speed, until incorporated. Increase the speed to high, and beat the meringue until cooled to room temperature, about 5 minutes.

For the Whipped Cream: In a large bowl, beat the heavy cream with the vanilla until soft peaks form.

Fold the meringue into the whipped cream until blended.

Scrape the mousse onto the crust, and spread evenly.

Freeze until firm, at least 8 hours but preferably overnight (the mousse will not freeze solid like ice cream).

For the Sauce

Combine the port wine and brown sugar in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil.

Reduce heat, and continue to simmer until sauce has slightly thickened and reduced.

Remove the saucepan from heat. Add the berries.

Keep refrigerated until use.

Quite a regal looking birthday dessert! Stay tuned, and I’ll show you some more ways to use that boozy berry sauce.

A Taxpayer’s Salvation in the Form of Chocolate & PB!

[That dreaded time in] April 2012 

After last year’s tax debacle (scorn you 1099!), my tax savior told me, “This year, I’ll just do them for you.”  Friends, if you want to know what magic sounds like in my ears, let the following statement resonate, “I’ll do your taxes for you.”  Of course, no good tax deed should go unrewarded.  My tax savior is a cheesecake man, so this recipe began with Neufchatel intentions.  In the end, it tasted a lot more like an oversized Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup than a cheesecake, but full mouths do not argue semantics [they do, however, manage to fight for more dessert).  Call this decadent dessert whatever you like!

Chocolate Peanut Butter Tax Relief

This recipe is for a 9×13 version, from which I made some smaller fancies.  The beauty of cutting away smaller fancies is you’re left with plenty of dessert for yourself and further sharing.  Unlike taxes, this dessert was a gift that kept giving.

Crust Ingredients

2 cups unsalted almonds, chopped
1 cup butter, browned
3/4 cup almond meal
4 tablespoons turbinado sugar
1 teaspoon organic almond extract

Filling Ingredients

4 8-ounce packages Neufchatel cheese, softened
2 cups organic creamy peanut butter
1/2 cup honey
6 eggs (local/free-range)
3 cups organic semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/4 cup organic whole milk
1 teaspoon vanilla


Preheat oven to 300 degrees F.

Grease and line a glass 9×13 baking dish with parchment paper.

Combine chopped almonds, browned butter, almond meal, turbinado sugar and almond extract.

Press mixture into the bottom of baking dish; set aside.

In a mixing bowl, beat 2 packages of Neufchatel cheese with an electric mixer until smooth. Beat in peanut butter and ½ cup honey until combined. Fold in 2 lightly beaten eggs; set aside.

In a saucepan stir chocolate over low heat until melted and smooth. Remove from heat.

Cube remaining cream cheese; add to chocolate. Stir to combine.

Stir in milk and vanilla until smooth.

Fold in 4 lightly beaten eggs. Spread half the chocolate mixture into pan. Carefully spread all the peanut butter mixture over layer. Evenly spread remaining chocolate mixture.

Bake 60-70 minutes or until top is set when lightly shaken. Outer 2 inches of the top will be slightly puffed and dry-looking; center will look darker and wet.

Cool in pan on rack 15 minutes. Use a small sharp knife to loosen crust from sides; cool completely on rack. Cover and chill for 4 hours.

Let stand at room temperature 15 minutes before serving.

Garnish with almonds, and give not a care to the government.  

You don’t have to think about taxes for an entire year!


The Cake Comes First (Easter, Part I)

April 2012

Around these parts, dessert is a priority, so when it comes to planning a meal, the finale very often comes first! Thus Easter scheming began with this friendly carrot face and a bright orange cakeventure!

I have a love affair with the color orange (as does Pantone this year!), especially when orange comes undiluted from nature.  Easter was the perfect occasion to use my juicing powers for good [cake coloring]!

Easter inspired the carrots.  My chocolate cravings inspired the chocolate.  The beautifully rendered video for Snap inspired the blackstrap molasses, and lastly, the special occasion inspired the layers! There you have it…

Chocolate Gingerbread Carrot Cake!

Chocolate Gingerbread Carrot Cake
w/ Snappy Frosting 


1 cup whole-wheat pastry flour
1 cup almond meal
2 teaspoons baking powder
2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamum
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt

1 cup turbinado sugar
5 large eggs (local/free-range)

3/4 cup organic frozen orange juice concentrate, thawed
1/2 cup honey
1/2 cup unsulphured blackstrap molasses
3/4 cup organic sour cream
1/2 cup olive oil

2 cups carrot pulp from juicing (or shredded carrot)

1/2 cup all natural, unsweetened raisins
1 cup chopped walnuts
1/2 cup dark chocolate chips


Chopped walnuts, to taste


Preheat oven to 350°F.

Butter and line a 13x9x2-inch glass baking pan.

Combine cup whole-wheat pastry flour, almond meal, baking powder, unsweetened cocoa powder, ground cinnamon, ground cardamum, ground cloves, baking soda and salt in a medium bowl; whisk to blend.

Use an electric mixer to beat the turbinado sugar and eggs until thick and creamy, about 3 minutes.

Add the orange juice concentrate, honey, molasses, sour cream and olive oil in large bowl until smooth.

Beat in dry ingredients.

Stir in carrots, raisins, walnuts and chocolate chips.

Pour batter into prepared pan.

Bake cake until tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 50 minutes.

Cool cake completely in pan.

Snappy Frosting

1 8-ounce package Neufchatel cheese, at room temperature
1 cup (2 stick) organic unsalted butter, room temperature

1 Tablespoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 cup honey
4 Tablespoons AITA Snap
1/4 cup fresh carrot juice
1/4 cup organic powdered sugar

For the Frosting

Use an electric mixer to whip the Neufchatel cheese and butter until creamy. Add the vanilla, honey, Snap, carrot juice and powdered sugar. Continue to beat until all blended and creamy.  *If you want to have a similar two toned cake, reserve some frosting before adding the carrot juice.

Top with a natural sour gummy from your local Whole Foods or natural grocer.

Stay tuned for the rest of the Easter fête!

It’s Still Winter. Might As Well Be Cozy.

Another Adventure with Root!
February 2012

More and more, I prefer a cozy winter weekend.

The more nestled I am under a blanket with a certain someone special… the better the weekend. The more the fire flickers and sends warmth my way… the better the weekend. The more time spent working our way through Twin Peaks with a projector… the better the weekend.

As the weather oscillates oddly between seasons over the course of days, one has to make the most of the cold snowy times that can otherwise be so demotivating.  It’s best to dwell on how those snowy days justify cozy weekends.  Furthermore, those snowy times lengthen the egg nog season! I am quite an egg nog novice, since that combination of words repulsed me when most kids were forming their first nog mustaches.  Little did little me know, egg nog is the delicious equivalent of a melted milkshake!  Why didn’t the adults tell me?!?

While I long for sunshine, bare shoulders and warmth like the next vitamin D craving lass, I embrace these remaining wintry days with a glass of egg nog and something sweet.  To make the cold beverage something worthy of a cozy weekend, you need a “heat” source- enter the magical pipette and one’s volitional release of the “warmth” of one’s choice!  In my case, I turned to one of my favorites… Art in the Age Root Liquor.

Since my photographing phenom friend Adam Milliron is a seasoned egg nog aficionado, this venture into drinks and dessert pairing was the perfect opportunity for another collaboration!

Root Nog


4 egg yolks (local/free-range)
1/3 cup organic brown sugar, plus 1 Tablespoon
1 pint organic whole milk
1 cup organic heavy cream
1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
4 egg whites (local/free-range)
Cinnamon, cocoa, nutmeg garnish
+ Pipettes of Root


In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the egg yolks until they lighten in color.

Gradually add the 1/3 cup sugar and continue to beat until it is completely dissolved.

Add the milk, cream and nutmeg and stir to combine.

Place the egg whites in the bowl of a stand mixer and beat to soft peaks.

With the mixer still running gradually add the 1 Tablespoon of brown sugar and beat until stiff peaks form.

Whisk the egg whites into the mixture. Keep chiled.

Serve with a dusting of spices and a pipette’s worth (or two…or three) of Root.

There are multiple benefits to pipetting the alcohol into the egg nog.  You can add one full splash of Root (or two or three…no one’s counting), refill the pipette one last time and then submerge it into the beverage.  Should you be so inclined, you can slowly release the alcohol as you drink, creating a higher concentration toward the last sips.  More importantly, it’s just plain old fun using “science” for non science purposes, especially if, like moi, you are surrounded by scientists and engineers during the day job hours.

And of course, Root Nog is better with a Chocolate Root Cake!

Chocolate Root Cake + Orange Root Infusion + Chocolate Root Buttercream

Root Infusion


1/2 cup turbinado sugar
1/2 cup water
1 cup Root
Organic orange peel


Combine all the ingredients in a saucepan over medium-high heat.  Bring to a boil.  Reduce to medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the liquid begins to thicken slightly.  Set aside.

Chocolate Root Cake


2 cups cream soda (Virgil’s)
1 cup dark, unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 cup organic unsalted butter, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
1 cup turbinado sugar
1/2 cup unsulphured molasses
2 cups whole-wheat pastry flour
1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs (local/free-range)


Preheat even to 325 degrees F.

Spray the inside of a 10-inch round pan with nonstick cooking spray, or butter generously and dust with flour, knocking out the excess.

In a small saucepan, heat the root beer, cocoa powder and butter over medium heat until butter is melted.  Add sugar and molasses and whisk until dissolved.  Remove from heat and let cool.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda and salt.

In a small bowl whisk the eggs until just beaten.

Whisk the eggs into the cocoa mixture until combined.

Gently fold the flour mixture into the cocoa mixture.  The batter will be slightly lumpy, but don’t over beat the batter or the cake will be tough.

Pour the batter into prepared pan and cook for 35-45 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through baking until a sharp knife inserted in the center comes out clean.

Use a fork or a skewer to poke several holes in the surface of the cake.  Remove the orange peel, and pour the Root reduction sauce over the cake, spreading it over the entire surface.

Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely then loosen edges with a butter knife and turn out onto a cake plate.

Chocolate Root Beer Frosting


3 ounces 86% cacao (Ghirardelli), melted
1 stick unsalted butter, softened
2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup Root
4 ounces Nefuchatel cheese
3 Tablespoons pure maple syrup
¼ cup Root Nog


In the bowl of a stand mixer, or using an electric hand mixer, beat softened butter and cocoa powder.

Once combined add the melted chocolate, salt, Neufchatel, Root, maple syrup and Root Nog.

Beat together until smooth.

Spread on top of cooled cake.


Organic orange slices dipped in melted dark, dark, dark chocolate with a splash or two of Root!  Once dipped in rich chocolate-y goodness, set on a piece of wax paper to harden.

Best enjoyed while cuddling with someone special, under blankets, by the warmth of a fire, awaiting the impending plot twist!

Baking, Mixing and Styling by With The Grains.  Photography by Adam Milliron.  Edits conceived from our collaborative vision!

The Birthday Party: My Black Velvet Bourbon Birthday Dream (28 Cakes for 28 Years)

January 2012

Oh friends, it was beautiful!

I curtsy to the multi-talented, mad scientist, Alex Mohamed for his photo documentation of the night.  Knowing someone else was preserving my moment in time really enabled me to act a fool (a true fool…just scroll down)!

(Click on the beautiful table spread photo to see the rest of Alex’s photos of the night.)

Good friends brought great food, the wine flowed, the Black Velvet burned, and a really memorable night ensued!  Speaking of that Black Velvet, we don’t drink it for its whiskeyness (it’s Canadian after all), and certainly, we don’t drink it for our health.  We drink it because of what happened here.

Don’t expect this to normalize what’s about to transpire, but allow me to explain (and forgive me if you have already read this before)…

On that dreamlike Fleatique & Pique-Nique Sunday, I happened to be wearing riding pants and riding boots and feeling very in touch with my [nonexistent] equestrian side.  One vendor even told me I carried myself with the dignity of Meryl Streep.  Keep talking, vendor!  In my flea market rounds, I spied a black, equestrian helmet.  It was a thing of beauty, but as I don’t actually ride, could I really justify a helmet in my hat collection?  I thought not, but as the market began to close, my nagging want at least merited a price inquiry.

By that time, Nicole and Nina were following my pursuit.  I found the helmet vendor packing up his already full car.  The price pursuit then seemed hopeless, but I asked about the beautiful riding helmet anyway.  When the vendor said “$12,” I though, “sold (but I still played my poker face)!”  Why not?!?

Nicole and Nina lingered by the man’s tables while I followed him to his car, which was literally packed so tightly, items were pressed against the windows.  Fortunately, the helmet was on the perimeter of the colossal squish.  He somehow pulled out only the helmet, and I perched it on my head (above my head really as it’s rather small).  I motioned to Nicole and Nina, “How do I look?”  The vendor told me I looked rich!

Meanwhile, from what seemed like a football field’s distance away, a melody could be heard.  “Black velvet and that little boy’s smile… [mumble mumble]…”  FROM SOOOO FAR AWAY, Nina was serenading the black velvet [velour?] purchase in debate.  I admit, it took me a moment to understand what Nina was doing, but once she hit the chorus, I made the connection, and I sealed the deal right then and there.  I had to have this piece!  A real Kentucky Derby helmet no less!

We tried to sing the song on the way home, but we couldn’t seem to piece together the disparate lyrics in our heads.  Every sentence ended on a questioning high note- a new religion?  Southern…?  We didn’t find resolution until we arrived home and gathered around a computer to watch the video.  It was then we realized, or rather came to a concluding question- WTF IS THIS SONG ABOUT?!!?  She (do you even know the name of the singer?) sings with all the passion of some strong emotion but which emotion and why?!?  Which emotion?!?  We never figured it out, but we did go on a delightful train wreck of a viewing experience (ie:  This and this one too).  Once I discovered the whiskey version, this song really became our anthem.

Then it was my birthday, and a few AMAZING things happened…

Well friends, the future is now!  Someone gave me the best birthday present ever, which gave me an idea!  Though Sandra, one of my absolute bests, was stuck in Florida, there was no reason why she couldn’t join my festivities, especially when the guitar came out.  You see, Sandra, Nina and I go back to 2002, and my life is definitely better for it!

You saw it here first!

Once again, I forgot to make a wish.  I was so concentrated on summoning enough breath to hit all those candles, and furthermore, I was already having a perfect night!

One last antic…

As a baker, I have a silly affinity for the band Bread.  As lifelong loves, Nina and I have a special appreciation for this song, which called for a rekindling of a dance we started ages ago.  (You might notice our projected version featured subtítutlos en español for some reason).

The night concluded like this…

It was the best!

The Birthday Party: Q To Do

January 2012

My latest apartment had never known a proper dinner party- the kind with an abundance of food, friends and folly.  I was also overdue for a grand birthday celebration.  Thus, I decided this was the year for a birthday dinner party!


To Do:  Send the invites
I encouraged potluck provisions beginning with, or containing the letter Q.  It’s a pretty misunderstood letter, one that’s very near and dear to me.

To Do:  Buy Some”Supplies”

When I said “BYOB,” I highly encouraged bottles of red or bottles of bourbon.  I appreciate alliteration and I am big on bourbon (see what I did there?)!  I prepared a small Q stash and a bourbon with a back story (and a song…but that will come later).  Some people say I’m a bit of a megalomaniac (though you can’t really be a “bit” of a megalomaniac), but to those people, I simply say, “Quiet!”

To Do:  The Kitchen Scurry

Snoqualmie Kumquat Compote

Q Points:  
02+ (Bonus because I used to play routinely with a red tractor as a wee Quelcy)


1 cup red wine (Snoqualmie par example)
1 cup water
1 cup organic light brown sugar
1 pint fresh cherries, pitted and sliced
1 pint Kumquats, sliced


Bring the red wine, water and sugar to boil.  Reduce heat and continue to simmer until mixture begins to thicken.

Remove from heat.  Add the cherries and kumquats.

Serve with cake or bread or however you very well please.

28 Rolls for 28 Years:  Whole Wheat Quinoa Birthday Buns
Makes 28(+) small rolls for serving with sandwich fixings in increments of 28
Prep Time:  15 hours minimum

Q Points:  
Birthday Points:  28+ (for representation of 28; bonus points when served with a sammich fixin’ platter with charcuterie, cheese, olives and pickles in increments of 28)


3 ¼  cups whole-wheat pastry flour
2 cups quinoa flour
1 ½ teaspoon salt
2 ¼  cups water

For the Pre-Dough

Mix all of the pre-dough ingredients together in a bowl for about 1 minute, until all of the flour is hydrated and the ingredients form a ball of dough.

Cover loosely with plastic wrap and leave at room temperature for 12 to 24 hours. (If it will be more than 24 hours, store in the refrigerator; it will be good for up to 3 days.  Remove it 2 hours before mixing the final dough to take off the chill.)

3 ⅓ cups organic all purpose flour
2 teaspoons salt
10 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup warm water
6 tablespoons warm milk
4 teaspoons instant yeast
5 Tablespoons raw sugar
2 large eggs (local/free-range)
extra flour or water for adjustments

Egg Wash- 1 whole egg (local/free-range) beaten with 1 Tablespoon water
Himalayan Pink Sea Salt


In a large bowl, whisk flour with salt.

Add butter and rub into flour between your fingers, making crumbs.

Cut the pre-dough into 24 pieces and add them to the flour mixture, tossing the pieces to coat (to keep them from immediately sticking back together).
Add the water, milk, yeast, sugar, and egg, and stir with a rubber spatula until a dough forms.

Scrape dough onto clean, well-floured counter and knead until smooth and elastic. The dough will be on the sticky side, but the more flour you knead in, the tougher the buns will get. Try to leave them tackier than you would a round loaf.

Grease a bowl with olive oil; shape dough into a ball and place it in bowl. Cover bowl with plastic wrap or a damp towel and let rise in a warm place until doubled in size, one to two hours.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Divide dough into 28 equal parts.

To shape each portion into an even round, gently pull the edges toward a pucker and pinch them together. Gently roll each into a ball and arrange them side by side on the prepared baking sheet.

Cover loosely with a piece of plastic wrap or a damp towel, and let buns rise in a warm place for about one hour.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees with rack in center.

Brush egg wash on buns and sprinkle with sea salt and poppyseeds.

Bake, turning sheet halfway through baking, until tops are golden brown, about 10-15 minutes.

Transfer to a rack to cool completely.

Serve with sandwich fixins in increments of 28.

The Most Important Part….

When I hit my quarter-century birthday, I baked a memory.  I recalled those January moments when my mom would ask what type of treat I wanted her to bake for my special occasion.  More often than not, I requested self-filled cupcakes.  Chocolate, cream cheese and the bonus of chocolate chips equated to a really delicious birthday.  When it came time to bake my own treat, rather than make cupcakes, I turned a sheet cake into twenty five little fancies.    When I turned twenty six, I found myself adding one more little fancy.  By the time I turned twenty seven, I had clearly taken my little cake fun and turned it into a full fledge tradition, one that will probably lead to lies about my age when the number equates to too many pretty, bitty cakes.  This year, though, I was content to count my years in cake.

28 Cakelettes for 28 Years

Makes two rectangular cakes for the sake of cutting and restructuring.  Halving this recipe would probably suffice if you’re just fixin’ for a dessert and not continuing a quirky birthday tradition.

Q Points: 01
Birthday Points:  28!


1 (8 oz) package organic cream cheese, softened
1 (8oz) package Neufchatel cheese, softened
2 eggs, slightly beaten (local/free-range)
2/3 cup turbinado sugar

2 cups whole-wheat pastry flour
1 cup quinoa flour
2 cups trubinado sugar
1/2 cup cocoa
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt

2 cups brewed organic, fair trade coffee
1 cup olive oil
2 Tablespoons apple cider vinegar
2 Tablespoons pure vanilla extract

1 (12 ounce) package chocolate chips


Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Grease two 9×13 glass baking dishes.

In a small bowl, combine first four ingredients.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the flours, sugar, cocoa, baking soda and salt.

Add the coffee, olive oil, vinegar and vanilla and stir to combine, scraping down the bowl.

Add chocolate chips.

Pour into prepared pan.

Drop a few large dollops of the cheese mixture on top of the batter.  Use a knife to swirl the two batters.

Bake at 350 for 45-60 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Dark Chocolate Drizzle

1 bar Ghirardelli dark chocolate (70%)
1/2 stick of organic, unsalted butter

Use a Maria bath to melt the chocolate and butter, stirring frequently.  Drizzle over cakelettes while still hot.

Whipped Topping

1 pint organic heavy whipping cream, chilled
2 Tablespoons pure vanilla extract
2 Tablespoons pure maple syrup
2 Tablespoons Root


Combine all of the ingredients in a chilled bowl.  Use an electric mixer to beat until stiff peaks form.  Keep chilled until ready to use.  Use a pastry bag to pipe onto cake.

Quality control tastings
Tidy the apartment.
Hydrate before the wine floweth.
Set the table.
Thank the boyfriend for loads of help!
Thank that boyfriend once more!

Await the party guests (not with the candles lit, though)… more on that to come!



Commercial Break

February 2012

I “met” Johnny Battles through Twitter, once again proving beyond @x and @y’s excessive sharing of mundane details in 140 characters or less, Twitter is an amazing way to connect to interesting people in the world.  Through our brief chirps, the idea of a goods exchange arose.  Mr. Sweeteeth got the ball rolling with this brilliant package!

Thus, I interrupt my regularly scheduled birthday updates to bring you this special announcement…

I’m not always the best with timeliness you see, so dear Sweeteeth, please accept this video as my sincerest thanks and a bit of a stopgap while I brainstorm which baked goods of mine to send down south.  In the meantime, I am very much looking forward to the Sea is for Caramel bar and this Chocosaurus

Merci Beaucoup,

With The Grains

Header_Steak Knife Night

Birthday Dinner: Oh Meat and Potatoes, You Really Know How to Love A Girl!

January 21, 2012

My birthday dinner destination was a “surprise,” but I had a fairly strong suspicion I’d be sitting at a candlelit, marble table with a few fancy cocktails, consuming a tantalizing balance of protein and starch.  When we started driving in the direction of downtown, meaning my special dinner would take place at Meat and Potatoes (bravo Jono!), my mind immediately began strategic menu planning.  Little did I know there was more in store for me!

Blogger’s Birthday Bourbon

I had one drink on the table already, but the waitress appeared with yet another!  “This one is a special drink, from the bar, for your birthday!”  I was sipping before she even finished describing the roasted pecan syrup, bourbon and grilled peach combination.  Peach and bourbon and pecan?!?!  Clearly this drink had been destined for me!  On top of that, there was no beating around the birthday bush and waiting until the dessert course.  This was shaping up beautifully!

Sergeant Pepper Old Fashioned

As pleased as I was with my birthday cocktail, the night’s special changed my life.  I’ve been to some high quality cocktail establishments recently, but the Meat & Potatoes peppery take on the Old Fashioned really distinguished itself.  My foray into Nashville and brief stint at The Patterson House proved to me really talented mixologists have the ability to prevent a loss of the various drink component’s distinct flavors.

Sadly, my birthday cocktail was guilty of really enticing flavors blending too much into one, non-distinct (but overall still pleasing) flavor [please don't mistake this sentiment as ungrateful].  The Sgt Pepper, on the other hand, burst with various distinct flavors:  black pepper, thyme, orange and bourbon!  It was a perfect cocktail, and I sincerely hope it finds its way to the regular menu, or in the least, I hope the bartenders put up with me when I continue to request it!

Gin Richard
bluecoat gin / lime / lemon / soda / rosemary

No, I did not go three drinks strong, but I did take a sip of Jono’s refreshing Gin Richard with its respectable rosemary garnish.

Harvest Salad, Birthday Special
roasted beets / frisee / endive / treviso / pecans / blue cheese + smoked duck and quail egg

Technically, this was the “restaurant week” special version of the regular menu Harvest Salad (since when is there a PGH restaurant week and who is “marketing” it?), but excuse me while I revel in what was my special occasion.  Quail egg!  Those little eggs really burst with flavor, and they begin with a Q, as do I!  As for the smoked duck, this was my first tasting.  The texture reminded me of sashimi with the full flavor of a cured meat like prosciutto.  Two thumbs up for this first time!

Pear Walnut Risotto Special

I can count on one hand the number of times I have eaten risotto, and I have yet to experience any consistencies amongst the various preparation methods of my past.  Thus, I consider the M&P risotto to be its own entity existing somewhere between a sweet breakfast porridge and a salty autumnal dinner entree.  If I were to create a dish inspired by this special, I’d emphasize the pears more, arranging them as slightly caramelized slices in a circular pattern across the top of the risotto.  As I contemplated the risotto while making a sincere effort to save room for what remained on our line up, a present was in transit…

The Birthday Present:  Poutine 2.0

Four times.

Four times I had been to Meat and Potatoes, and I had ordered the poutine all four times.

Four times I had been compelled to order the poutine, knowing how perfect a combination it was.

This was the first time, after a lot of careful deliberation, I refrained.  The only reason for the restraint was the massive ribeye we were about to share.  As the manager carried a cast iron dish of poutine toward our table, I thought there was some mistake.  No mistake.  This was a birthday present!  Instead of bows, this present of poutine 2.0 was adorned with slow cooked beef and topped with an egg.  Once pierced, the yellow yolk drizzled over the beef and then mingled with the typical cheese curd and gravy toppings.  Oh that Chef!  He certainly knew the way to my heart!

Behold the steak knife!  ‘Twas the symbol of something grand looming on the horizon, and the grandeur arrived shortly thereafter…

Look at the Meat and Potatoes menu, and this section will surely catch your eye for both its accented design and for the allure of what it describes…

The first three times I’d been to Meat and Potatoes, my dining companions and I purposefully chose the assortment/variety strategy versus the epic entree tactic.  That is not to say witnessing a neighboring table attack the impressive butcher block of juicy beef and steak fries did not leave a lasting impression.

By my fourth visit, I was ready to share that magical experience with Jono, but my grand gesture, to share the most important menu item with him, was not meant to be on that occasion.  The behemoth had sold out!  Well omnivorous friends, on January 21, 2012, the stars, streams, planets and paddocks aligned.  This was our true Meat and Potatoes night!

THIRTY-FOUR OUNCES!!!  I am the daughter of a cattleman, and I dare say, I have never seen beef served in such epic proportions.  Yet, it was those THIRTY-FOUR OUNCES were the perfect shade of reddish pink!  How the kitchen managed to prepare THIRTY-FOUR OUNCES to that perfect shade of reddish pink- not bordering on bloody or too done- amazes me!  I’m just going to say one more time- THIRTY-FOUR ounces!  After the embellished birthday line up leading to that moment, we barely worked our way through four ounces combined.  No complaints though because the doggie bag left us with twenty-four hours of pleasant anticipation for Sunday night’s dinner of leftovers.

The mass of meat blocks the potatoes in the above photos, but it is worth noting, the steak fries were roasted to perfection just like mom used to do but with even more fresh rosemary- an entire, flavorful sprig right on the ol’ butcher block.

The Sweetest Part…

Though the chocolate pot de crème is rich and sweet, the best part of dessert was what Jono told me during dessert.  Clearly he had put some foresight and planning into the evening, and I was extremely grateful, but what I learned was the Chef and Manager of Meat and Potatoes had also put some effort into making my night memorable.

When Jono made the reservation, he had asked to speak to the manager and posed a vague request, “This dinner is for my girlfriend’s birthday, and I’m hoping you might be able to do something special like a drink or a dessert or something out of the ordinary.  You probably would recognize her.  She has short hair, takes lots of pictures, and she usually comes with another girl and …”

To which the Manager replied, “Oh, the blogger?  We’ll take care of it!”

They knew me and this little corner of the blogosphere I call my hearth!  On top of that, they really did take care of my birthday!  The bourbon, the poutine, the extra attention to make sure everything was satisfactory, the candlelit conclusion… I was so thrilled with the overall positivity of the night, I forgot to make a wish (as cheesy as that might sound).  What more could a foodie wish for on a special night spent with a special someone?!?

In conclusion, I hope this all reads as an extra special thank you from me to all of you!

Very Sincerely,

Quelcy Trenae Kogel


A Lot of Nola

November 2011

Their website hypes up the restaurant’s energy amidst the vibrant downtown Pittsburgh urban renewal.  The reality on a Tuesday evening was a dead downtown and a decently populated restaurant (however one REALLY loud pair made the restaurant seem absolutely packed).  Though Nola on the Square might be a far cry from the Decatur vibes it channels in its dishes and decor, the food did have us jazzed from course to course.  Oh what a shameful pun!  The joys of sharing and doggie bags meant we sampled quite a bit from the menu.

The Ambiance
A little over the top and chincy in places.  The tin tile ceiling adds a bit of vintage class though.

Nola Cocktail
Bourbon, Simple Syrup, Absinthe and Lemon Juice

Louisville: Bourbon as New Orleans: _____________
That was the question I posed to our waiter who then proceeded to tell us the merits of all the cocktails on the menu.  He didn’t really understand my SAT intentions or my drinking intentions for that matter.  When I said I was drawn to the menu items containing bourbon, he tried to sway me to fruitier rum choices.  He conceded to bring me the cocktail of my choice, and I sipped it with satisfaction.  Be strong bourbon lovers!  It’s worth defying the recommendations.

Nola Salad
Petite greens, romaine, candied pecans, tomatoes, red onion, sweet potato chips, Firefly Farm Chèvre, vinaigrette

I am a sucker for both sweet potatoes and chèvre, so this was an easy choice to incorporate some greens into our menu compilation.  The sweet potato chips were only lightly fried or baked (chipped?  crisped?), so they still retained a lot of flavor and still a bit of the soft texture I seek.

Gumbo Ya-Ya
Organic chicken, Andouille, okra, filé, steamed rice

“We have to get gumbo, right?” Jono said while we were creating our menu line up.  He was right.  I had to admit it.  I don’t have a huge gumbo resume of experiences, but I do have quite a history with sausage, and that was some good sausage!  Also, I appreciate the decision to use organic chicken.  I don’t recall eating that chicken, so maybe they skimp since organic chicken is more costly, or maybe I was just more focused on the sausage?  Very likely.

Grilled Eggplant and Chèvre Wood Fired Flatbread
Spinach oil and garlic, soppresata, Firefly Farm Chèvre

Overall, I enjoyed this combination.  The crust, though a bit yeasty, had a thin, soft texture.  For my tastes, cooked soppresata develops a less preferable texture than its original state, but the flavor still worked to spice up the other flavors.  Flatbread doesn’t really strike me as a Cajun or southern staple (correct me if I am misguided), so since I’ve tried their wood fired work, I’d probably skip it if I dine there in the future.

Pork Shank BBQ
Homemade corn pone

Order this one for sure!  I want it again just thinking about it!  The corn pone was really buttery, dense and moist and really sweetly paired with the fall-off-the-bone pork shank.  This is all I can write because the more I think about it, the more I want this dish again!

Grilled Catfish
Spicy lemongrass beurre noisette, citrus, mashed potato, grilled sweet peppers and onions

Our eyes were pretty big when planning this meal, so most of my fish consumption happened the next night, which doesn’t equate to an accurate review.  However, the potatoes really absorbed the combination of flavors, especially the butter.  The potatoes were probably the most flavorful part, and my fish memory is failing me.  Is that a bad sign?

I believe this little bit of lovely was a brandy bread pudding with a salted caramel ice cream.  Whatever the combination, it was a delightful conclusion.

Nola isn’t going to fill a Southern void in my heart, but it was an overall pleasing meal.  If it weren’t for the pork shank and bread pudding, I probably wouldn’t feel any major pull to return.  Most likely, I’ll just feel inspired to slow cook a shank of pork for days and let some bread go stale in my own kitchen.