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sorbet


One of the best aspects about summer is the heat. With the hot weather comes the anticipation towards cool and icy treats. Iced tea, sweetened or not, is sipped over the course of the day. In restaurants, lemonade, in all of its various incarnations, is served in abundance. Iced mochas stand head and shoulders in sales over lattes and cappuccinos, and if one happens to live in a residential and quiet neighborhood, one might hear the Doric, calliopic tune of Scott Joplin’s, The Entertainer echoing down the street as it emanates from the ice cream truck as the driver slowly lurks through the streets luring children of all ages to his roving street corner cavalcade where he will sell his frost-burned and artificially flavored wares as easily and as cheaply as a two dollar crackwhore.



I was visiting Chicago in May of 2007 when I experienced for the first time something called a Lemon Ice. (If you are old enough to remember Sno-Cones, then this idea isn’t lost on you.) There is a small, and I mean small family owned business in an old neighborhood that sells two things: flavored Ices and brined fava beans. The ices are nothing more than shaved ice with a lemon, pineapple, cherry, or almond flavored simple syrup squirted onto it. It is served in a little paper cup and you are handed a spoon. They were heavenly. Apparently, as our guide of the city explained to us with as much enthusiasm as a Buddhist monk is allowed, this little corner shop has been around for a long time. He explained to us, while scooping a bit of the pineapple ice into his mouth, that this shop is so popular during the summer it causes gridlock in this unassuming, quiet, brownstone neighborhood because people from all around Chicago flock here to acquire a few spoonfuls of Italian heaven. People will often wait 45 minutes just to sate their desire for lemon, sugar, and shaved ice.



As we walked around the block of this old neighborhood and chatted amongst ourselves I experienced a contented and light atmosphere. People were sitting on their doorsteps chatting with neighbors. From second story windows we could hear music drifting down and through the streets. Front doors were left open, the young and the old socialized, people of different races, colors, and sexual orientations were treating each other as if they were best friends who hadn’t been seen in years. The mood was very idyllic. Nothing could go wrong as long as we had our lemon, sugar, and shaved ice.



Even though the place, purpose, and visual aspects of this experience does not remotely come close to my childhood in Virginia, the atmosphere was exact. The lasting impression I have of that evening in Chicago is that of the blissful naïveté of youth. Sultry summer evenings when the doors and windows were left open until the wee hours and the gentle whirring of ceiling fans. All the children in the neighborhood would play with each other from immediately after dinner until beyond dark. Meanwhile, many of the parents would mingle and catch up with each other as they would bring out their lawn chairs. Lazing, drinking, smoking, and laughing, but always keeping an eye out for their own kids. It is a joyful memory but it does bring a lump to my throat as I realize that this way of life is gone. That kind of carefree, trusting, and kind world no longer exists. However, for thirty minutes as a stranger in a foreign neighborhood, I saw, smelled and felt a glimpse of that little bit of my memory bubble to the surface. All because my friends and I were enjoying something so simple and pure like lemon, sugar, and shaved ice.



Sorbet made its way to America by route from the Chinese who introduced it to the Persians and Arabs where it traveled westward to Italy, then France and finally America. In its original Arabic spelling, charab, it simply means ‘drink.’ This tasty and chic refreshment is often served between the main courses in our more uppity restaurants; however, most humans simply like sorbet as an after dinner low or nonfat treat. I find it quite silly and a bit ironic that what we consider ‘haute couture’ today, started off as merely snow flavored with honey and extracted herbal essences.



Times change, and as they do so do the recipes that progress along with them. Sorbet is much more than snow honey and essences these days. Even more than the lemon, sugar, and shaved ice delectation that I was introduced to in Chicago, which has the appellation of ‘fruit ice,’ a very common and very inexpensive Italian treat. Sorbet focuses on fruit. At least my sorbet focuses on the fruit. These recipes that I offer are a few new treats that I came up with a few weeks ago. After my trip to Chicago, I decided that I really wanted to focus on ice cream and sorbets this summer. So far I have made quite a few different flavors, all of which include an Italian Meringue and alcohol. In these recipes I changed the meringue to stiffly whipped egg whites. Below the sorbet recipes I included the Italian Meringue recipe should you wish to try it. If you want to make the sorbet ‘child friendly’ then you may simply omit the alcohol for water, juice, or milk; or at least say that you did. (Merely to quell the paranoia of the children’s overbearing parents.) Look, kids eat dirt. As a child, even I have put things in my mouth that I probably shouldn’t have (i.e. scraping up chewed gum off sidewalks). So what is exactly wrong with a little liquor? On the other side of the same coin, why waste the liquor on a child who wouldn’t delight in the introduction of the inebriated lifestyle under which his own parents had drunkenly conceived him?



I agree that children do not look well in evening clothes, however I must also add that they would not treasure the giddy lightheartedness that a nip of liquor can imbue the soul after wolfing down a bowl of sorbet.











Mango Sorbet







2 Large Mangos, very ripe, picked directly from the tree if possible



1 Lemon or 1 Lime



1 Cup Baker’s ‘Extra Fine’ Sugar (caster)



1/4 Cup water



1/4 Cup Cointreau



3 Large Eggs, room temperature, whites only, save yolks for an ice cream custard base



1/4 teaspoon Cream of Tartar







  1. Place the water, Cointreau, and sugar in a sauce pan. Whisk until the sugar is no longer lumpy. Gently heat the water over a medium low flame until the sugar melts and the resulting syrup is clear. Increase the heat to medium high. When the syrup begins to boil, turn off the heat and allow the syrup to cool in the refrigerator until it is cold.


  2. Peel both mangos. Slice the flesh away from the pit and dice into smallish pieces. If the mangos are extremely ripe, do this over a bowl and try to collect as much juice from the mango as possible. Discard the pits. Puree the mango until it is smooth. Strain through a metal sieve to remove any bits of fiber. Whisk the juice of the lemon or lime into the mango puree.


  3. Pour the chilled simple syrup into the mango puree. Stir well to blend. Place in the refrigerator until you are ready to freeze.*


  4. In a clean and dry mixing bowl place the egg whites and a 1/4 tsp cream of tartar. Using the whisk attachment, beat the whites until they are stiff.


  5. Fold the whites into the mango puree. Pour half of this into your ice cream maker. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions. Store in the freezer until you are ready to serve.







  • If you do not have an ice cream churning machine, follow steps 1-4. However, in step 3 place the blended base into a wide and shallow glass, plastic, or non reactive metal pan and place it in the freezer. Every 20 minutes remove the pan from the freezer and stir the sorbet with a rubber whisk. This will help keep the sorbet from becoming a solid block of ice. When you start to notice ice crystals forming in the sorbet, fold the whipped egg whites into the fruit and return the pan to the freezer. When the sorbet reaches a fluffy-like icy consistency throughout, scoop the sorbet out of the pan and place it in a container with a lid. Gently pack the sorbet down and cover with a piece of parchment paper. Top with a lid and freeze until ready to serve.











Pineapple and Tequila Sorbet with Coconut Milk and Lime







1 Large Pineapple, peeled, cored and diced



1 Lime



1/2 Cup Coconut Milk



1/2 Cup Tequila



1 Cup Baker’s Super-fine Sugar (caster)



1 Cup Brown Sugar, firmly packed



6 Large Eggs, room temperature, whites only, save yolks for an ice cream custard base



1/2 teaspoon Cream of Tartar







  1. Puree pineapple until smooth. Pour through a sieve and discard larger pieces of pulp and fiber. Squeeze the juice out of one lime, pour through a sieve, and again, discard any pulp. Place the puree in the refrigerator until ready to be used.


  2. Place the coconut milk, tequila, and both sugars in a sauce pan. Whisk until the sugar is no longer lumpy. Gently heat the liquid over a medium low flame until the sugar melts and the resulting syrup is golden brown yet clear. Increase the heat to medium high. When the syrup begins to boil, turn off the heat and allow the syrup to cool in the refrigerator until it is cold.


  3. Pour the chilled simple syrup into the pineapple puree. Stir well to blend. Place in the refrigerator until you are ready to freeze.*


  4. In a clean and dry mixing bowl place the egg whites and cream of tartar. Using the whisk attachment, beat the whites until they are stiff.


  5. Fold the whites into the pineapple puree. Pour half of this into your ice cream maker. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions. Store in the freezer until you are ready to serve.







  • If you do not have an ice cream churning machine, follow steps 1-4. However, in step 3 place the blended base into a wide and shallow glass, plastic, or non reactive metal pan and place it in the freezer. Every 20 minutes remove the pan from the freezer and stir the sorbet with a rubber whisk. This will help keep the sorbet from becoming a solid block of ice. When you start to notice ice crystals forming in the sorbet, fold the whipped egg whites into the fruit and return the pan to the freezer. When the sorbet reaches a fluffy-like icy consistency throughout, scoop the sorbet out of the pan and place it in a container with a lid. Gently pack the sorbet down and cover with a piece of parchment paper. Top with a lid and freeze until ready to serve.











Peach Sorbet #1







2 Pounds Peaches, very ripe, peeled, pitted, and diced



1/2 teaspoon Cinnamon



1 Lemon



1 Cup Brown sugar



1/4 Cup water



1/4 Cup Southern Comfort, or a similar peach liquor



3 Large Eggs, room temperature, whites only, save yolks for an ice cream custard base



1/4 teaspoon Cream of Tartar







  1. Puree peaches until smooth. Pour through a sieve and discard larger pieces of pulp and fiber. Squeeze the juice out of one lemon, pour through a sieve, and again, discard any pulp. Whisk the cinnamon into the puree and place it in the refrigerator until ready to be used.


  2. Place the water, liquor, and sugar in a sauce pan. Whisk until the sugar is no longer lumpy. Gently heat the liquid over a medium low flame until the sugar melts and the resulting syrup is golden brown yet clear. Increase the heat to medium high. When the syrup begins to boil, turn off the heat and allow the syrup to cool in the refrigerator until it is cold.


  3. Pour the chilled simple syrup into the peach puree. Stir well to blend. Place in the refrigerator until you are ready to freeze.*


  4. In a clean and dry mixing bowl place the egg whites and cream of tartar. Using the whisk attachment, beat the whites until they are stiff.


  5. Fold the whites into the peach puree. Pour half of this into your ice cream maker. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions. Store in the freezer until you are ready to serve.







  • If you do not have an ice cream churning machine, follow steps 1-4. However, in step 3 place the blended base into a wide and shallow glass, plastic, or non reactive metal pan and place it in the freezer. Every 20 minutes remove the pan from the freezer and stir the sorbet with a rubber whisk. This will help keep the sorbet from becoming a solid block of ice. When you start to notice ice crystals forming in the sorbet, fold the whipped egg whites into the fruit and return the pan to the freezer. When the sorbet reaches a fluffy-like icy consistency throughout, scoop the sorbet out of the pan and place it in a container with a lid. Gently pack the sorbet down and cover with a piece of parchment paper. Top with a lid and freeze until ready to serve.











Peach Sorbet #2







4 Cups Peach Puree



1 Cup Sugar



1 Tablespoon Molasses



1 3/4 Cup Water



1/4 Cup Amaretto Liquor



1 Tsp Cinnamon



2 Tablespoons Lemon Juice



1 Cups Italian Meringue







  1. Add Lemon Juice to the freshly pureed and strained peaches. Whisk in Cinnamon and set aside.


  2. In a one quart pot, whisk together molasses, sugar, water, and liquor. Set over Medium heat and let come to a boil. Remove from heat and allow the simple syrup to cool.


  3. Whisk cooled syrup into peach puree. Chill in the refrigerator until cold.


  4. Based on how much of the sorbet base your ice cream maker can hold per batch, divide the meringue into each batch for freezing. (If your machine can only make 1 quart of sorbet at a time and you have 2 quarts of base, add 1/2 cup of meringue per batch for freezing. Repeat with the second batch.


  5. Store in the freezer until ready to serve.











Plum and Amaretto Sorbet with Clove buds







4 Cups Red Plum puree, strained and skins discarded



Juice of one Lemon



2 Cups Ultrafine Baker’s Sugar



3/4 Cup water



1/4 Cup Amaretto



Five whole fresh clove buds



3 Large Eggs, room temperature, whites only, save yolks for an ice cream custard base



1/4 teaspoon Cream of Tartar



Ice cream machine







Before I start I want to remind you of the importance of using the freshest and ripest fruit possible. Freezing can dull the flavor of the fruit, so you want to make sure that whatever fruit you are using, that it is packed with the best flavor possible.




  1. Whisk the lemon juice into the plum puree. Set aside in the refrigerator until you are ready to make the sorbet.


  2. Melt the sugar water and amaretto in a small sauce pot over medium high heat. When the sugar melts completely and the syrup begins to show signs of boiling add the cloves.


  3. Allow the syrup to boil for 1 minute. Turn off the heat and remove the pot from the heat source. Cover and allow to cool to room temperature. Allow the cloves to steep in the syrup until it is utterly cold. You may discard the cloves at this point.


  4. When syrup is cooled to room temperature, pour it into the fruit puree, whisk well to blend. Store in the refrigerator until you are ready to freeze.*


  5. In a clean and dry mixing bowl place the egg whites and cream of tartar. Using the whisk attachment, beat the whites until they are stiff.


  6. Fold the whites into the huckleberry puree. Pour 2 cups of this into your ice cream maker. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions. Repeat until completely used. Store in the freezer until you are ready to serve.







  • If you do not have an ice cream churning machine, follow steps 1-4. However, in step 4 place the blended base into a wide and shallow glass, plastic, or non reactive metal pan and place it in the freezer. Every 20 minutes remove the pan from the freezer and stir the sorbet with a rubber whisk. This will help keep the sorbet from becoming a solid block of ice. When you start to notice ice crystals forming in the sorbet, fold the whipped egg whites into the fruit and return the pan to the freezer. When the sorbet reaches a fluffy-like icy consistency throughout, scoop the sorbet out of the pan and place it in a container with a lid. Gently pack the sorbet down and cover with a piece of parchment paper. Top with a lid and freeze until ready to serve.



















Strawberry Sorbet #1







4 Cups Strawberry Puree



3 Tablespoons 12 y.o Balsamic Vinegar



1 Cup Ultra Fine Baker’s Sugar



2 Cups Water



1 Cups Italian Meringue







  1. Whisk the vinegar into the freshly pureed and strained strawberries.


  2. In a one quart pot, whisk together the sugar and water. Set over medium heat and let syrup come to a boil. Remove the simple syrup from heat and allow to cool.


  3. Whisk the syrup into the strawberry puree. Chill in the refrigerator until cold.


  4. Based on how much of the sorbet base your ice cream maker can hold per batch, divide the meringue into each batch for freezing. (If your machine can only make 1 quart of sorbet at a time and you have 2 quarts of base, add 1/2 cup of meringue per batch for freezing. Repeat with the second batch.


  5. Store in the freezer until ready to serve.











Gooseberry Sorbet







4 Cups Gooseberry puree



2 Tablespoons Lemon Juice



1 Cup Water



1 Cup Gewurztraminer



1 Cup Ultra Fine Baker’s Sugar



1 Cups Italian Meringue







  1. Whisk the lemon juice into the freshly pureed and strained gooseberries.


  2. In a one quart pot whisk together the water, wine and sugar. Set over medium heat and let syrup come to a boil. Remove the simple syrup from heat and allow to cool


  3. Whisk the syrup into the gooseberry puree. Chill in refrigerator until cold


  4. Based on how much of the sorbet base your ice cream maker can hold per batch, divide the meringue into each batch for freezing. (If your machine can only make 1 quart of sorbet at a time and you have 2 quarts of base, add 1/2 cup of meringue per batch for freezing. Repeat with the second batch.


  5. Store in the freezer until ready to serve.











Apricot Sorbet #1







4 Cups Apricot Puree



2 Tablespoons Lemon Juice



1 3/4 Cup Water



1/4 Cup Apricot Brandy



1/2 Cup Ultra Fine Baker’s Sugar



1/2 Cup Brown Sugar



1” Cinnamon stick, broken



1 Cups Italian Meringue







  1. Whisk the lemon juice into the freshly pureed and strained apricots.


  2. In a one quart pot whisk together the water, brandy, cinnamon and sugars. Set over medium heat and let syrup come to a boil. Remove the simple syrup from heat, cover and steep until to cool. Remove the cinnamon from the syrup


  3. Whisk the syrup into the gooseberry puree. Chill in refrigerator until cold


  4. Based on how much of the sorbet base your ice cream maker can hold per batch, divide the meringue into each batch for freezing. (If your machine can only make 1 quart of sorbet at a time and you have 2 quarts of base, add 1/2 cup of meringue per batch for freezing. Repeat with the second batch.


  5. Store in the freezer until ready to serve.











Blackberry Sorbet #1







4 Cups Blackberry Puree



2 Tablespoons Lemon Juice



1 Cup Ultra Fine Baker’s Sugar



1 Cup Water



1 Cup Acacia Pinot Noir 2006



1 Cups Italian Meringue







  1. Whisk the lemon juice into the freshly pureed and strained blackberries.


  2. In a one quart pot whisk together the water, wine and sugar. Set over medium heat and let syrup come to a boil. Remove the simple syrup from heat and let cool.


  3. Whisk the syrup into the blackberry puree. Chill in refrigerator until cold


  4. Based on how much of the sorbet base your ice cream maker can hold per batch, divide the meringue into each batch for freezing. (If your machine can only make 1 quart of sorbet at a time and you have 2 quarts of base, add 1/2 cup of meringue per batch for freezing. Repeat with the second batch.


  5. Store in the freezer until ready to serve.











Huckleberry Sorbet







4 cups (2.5 lb. Huckleberry puree) - See step one



2 Tablespoons Baker’s Sugar



1 1/2 cups water



1/2 Huckleberry Liquor, brandy or Port



1 Cup Ultra Fine Baker’s Sugar



1 Lemon, zest and juice



1/2 vanilla bean scraped



1 Cups Italian Meringue







  1. Place all the fresh huckleberries in a six-quart pot. Add the 2 tablespoons of sugar and the vanilla bean and seeds. Rest on a burner and set the heat to medium low. Cover and stir occasionally. When berries release all their juice and begin to break down, Remove from heat, remove the vanilla bean, and puree in a food processor. Pour through a strainer and discard any stems or seeds that remain. Whisk in the lemon juice. Place in the refrigerator and allow to cool.


  2. Clean out the pot and pour in the water, huckleberry alcohol, sugar and lemon zest. Whisk and set on a burner over a medium heat. When the sugar dissolves and the liquid begins to simmer. Turn off heat, cover and allow the syrup to steep for 10 minutes.


  3. Pour the syrup through a strainer and discard the lemon zest. Allow the syrup to cool


  4. Whisk the cooled syrup into the cooled puree. Store in the refrigerator until cold.


  5. Based on how much of the sorbet base your ice cream maker can hold per batch, divide the meringue into each batch for freezing. (If your machine can only make 1 quart of sorbet at a time and you have 2 quarts of base, add 1/2 cup of meringue per batch for freezing. Repeat with the second batch.


  6. Store in the freezer until ready to serve.











Italian Meringue #1











2 Cups Egg Whites, at room temperature



1 1/2 lbs Baker’s ‘Ultra fine’ Sugar (caster)



1 Cup Light Corn Syrup



1 Cup Water







  1. Place egg whites in a clean and dry mixing bowl. Using the whisk attachment, gently whisk the egg whites.


  2. In a large, heavy-bottomed sauce pan whisk the sugar, water and corn syrup over medium heat. When the sugar has dissolved, stop whisking. Increase to a high heat. When it reaches 230˚F, increase the speed of the mixer to medium high, and then slowly increasing its speed to high. Continue boiling the syrup until it reaches 240˚F.


  3. Remove the syrup from the heat and lower the mixer’s speed to medium. Carefully pour the syrup into the egg whites in a thin and steady stream. Try to avoid hitting the whisk attachment or the bowl. Once all the syrup is incorporated, turn the mixer back to high speed and continue whipping the whites until they have cooled completely and formed stiff peaks. Store in an airtight container and keep in the refrigerator. The meringue will last for a couple weeks in this state.


  4. When incorporating this into your sorbet, use a ratio of 1:2- meringue to simple syrup. If you have 2 cups simple syrup you will add 1 cup meringue. When adding to the sorbet, fold the meringue into the sorbet base just before using the ice cream machine, or just after the ice crystals begin to form if you are making the sorbet in a large shallow pan in the freezer.











Italian Meringue #2



For those who don’t like to use Corn Syrup







1 1/2 Cup Ultra Fine Baker’s Sugar



1/4 Cup Water



2 Cups Egg Whites at room temperature (14-16 eggs depending on size)



1 1/2 lb. Ultra Fine Baker’s Sugar



1 Cup Water







  1. In a one-quart pot, dissolve 1 1/2 cups of sugar with 1/4 cup water. Place over medium heat. When the syrup begins to boil, add the rest of the sugar and water. Whisk well to blend. At this point, stop whisking.


  2. Clip a candy thermometer in the pot and allow the syrup to reach 180˚ F or until the syrup reaches ‘soft ball’ stage. You can test this by dropping some of the syrup into a shallow bowl of cold water. If you can form a ball with it, but then allowing it to rest it flattens out, you have reached the right temperature. (Normally the soft ball stage is reached at 240˚ F. Because no corn syrup is added, too much of the water will evaporate and you will end up with burnt clumps of sugar.)


  3. Meanwhile, place the egg whites in a mixing bowl and proceed to whisk them on medium low speed until frothy and light. Reduce the speed to low until you are ready to incorporate the simple syrup.


  4. When the syrup is the right consistency, increase the mixer’s speed to medium and slowly pour the syrup, in a thin stream, into the egg whites. Try not to hit the whisk as this will cause the syrup to splat against the mixing bowl thus causing clumps to form. When all of the syrup is added increase the mixer’s speed to high. Whip the meringue until the bowl is cool to the touch. Remove from the bowl and store in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks. This will make about 12-16 cups meringue.


  5. When incorporating this into your sorbet, use a ratio of 1:2- meringue to simple syrup. If you have 2 cups simple syrup you will add 1 cup meringue. When adding to the sorbet, fold the meringue into the sorbet base just before using the ice cream machine, or just after the ice crystals begin to form if you are making the sorbet in a large shallow pan in the freezer.

Tiramisu Tiramisery

Tiramisu is Italian peasant food. However, if the term 'peasant food' offends your delicate sensibilities, I can easily replace it with 'comfort food' as they are often mutually exclusive. It is important to me, no matter how much I may try to gussy it up that in the end I allow it to flaunt its intrinsic birthright as an Italian casserole- for the peasantry.

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Speaking of Italians flaunting their heritage, I remember visiting my Aunt Mary’s parents when I was a child. The Chirgoni’s were very old, very short, very Catholic and very Italian- including their tiny little mustaches. Aside from their tiny and congested living room smelling like dust and mothballs, I recall a gaudy, multicolored glass dish sitting on a be-doilied end table next to what was clearly Mr. Chirgoni’s chair. This plate contained a small pile of shiny and

striped ribbon candies. As my parents had never placed a candy dish out in our house, I was tempted by it. Perhaps more-so the mere idea of a candy dish sitting out for anyone to enjoy at any time. The Chirgoni’s picked up on my fascination. Probably due to my salivating at the possibility of free candy. Mr. Chirgoni offered me a piece of the candy from what he clearly considered to be the Paten della famiglia.

Now, some may say that I was a little too mature for my age, perhaps they may say I was a tad precocious, whatever the case, at seven years old I was not yet an aficionado of anise. Regarding these strongly flavored candies I stated, in the words of a ‘mature’ seven year old, “I don’t love these candies.” For decades since then, I have shied away from anything with anise in it as its odor and taste immediately send me.

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I also remember Mrs. Chirgoni present my sister and I with something called a lady finger on a small silver salver. I was aghast! I thought they were just cookies. My mother told me to be polite and accept a cookie. To which I responded, “Why?”


After the threat-cum-promise of a spanking once we returned home, and my youthful temerity was quashed, I was still subjected to consume this lady’s finger. At which point, my sister was crying and clinging to our father’s waist with such primordial heebie-jeebies toward the bloodless lady’s fingers- should they start to bleed their blood-red blood all over her pretty white dress. She didn’t get a spanking, she was comforted. Eventually, probably out of sheer annoyance, I finally did try to eat the lady’s finger- with ‘try’ being the optimal word here.


Thus, my parents had forced me to eat the driest, blandest cookie I had encountered in my seven long years upon this earth.


Suffice to say the entire trip to The Chirgoni’s ended on a sour note. My parents drove us home in silent frustration. My sister was a whimpering mess the whole car ride home and I was eventually spanked for my rude behavior. To this day, I am convinced The Chirgoni’s thought that we were horrible, impudent children- thanks to my refusing their offered licorice candies and lady’s fingers and my sister’s hysteria. Yet they still came to our First Communion the following Sunday.


I only recently discovered my enjoyment of anise in a Medieval restaurant. The shtick at this restaurant, (aside from the trenchers, the lack of forks and glassware, the employees and many of the customers dressed in period piece costumes, think conical hats and pantaloons, and the lute playing bard/waiter/owner with his love songs and bawdy ballads) was that every item on the menu was prepared exactly as it was in the Medieval era. Lack of peppercorn and many other spices we take as common, meant flavoring with herbs that were local and sometimes salt. I ended up enjoying a wonderful and warm almond fritter that was flavored with anise seed. A bread-stuffed loaf of bread that was flavored with onion, anise and poppy, and a vegetarian cassoulet made with fava beans, fennel, onion, and, you guessed it, anise. The meal was delicious and well worth every penny I spent.


This past Christmas, while in Munich visiting friends of mine, I was treated to an authentic English Christmas dinner. For dessert we had trifle. As I had never made a trifle before, I had the opportunity to help assemble this tooth-achingly sweet concoction. Instead of using stale cake, the English visitor insisted that we use ladyfingers. This would be the first time in 30 years that I would knowingly consume a ladyfinger. But as my palette had grown since I was seven years old, I thought that perhaps these cookies wouldn’t be so bad. It turns out I was right. These cookies weren’t the most amazing thing I had ever tasted, but they certainly weren’t horrible; and after eating the English trifle, I realized that the only purpose ladyfingers have is to soak up the commingling flavors of the brandy, fruit and pastry cream that envelopes them.


Like an bulb suddenly coming to light, I understood my fear and disgust at The Chirgoni’s house had nothing to do with the hard candy or the stale cookies. It had to do with the musty, dusty, camphorated and ammoniac stench of decay, the coffee-stained, parchment-like skin of Mr. and Mrs. Death and their ropy-veined hands that continuously shook with palsy.


Without this memory, I may never have thought about combining the flavors of chocolate, espresso and anise. I may never have attempted to overcome my dread toward plain sponge cake cookies. Having done both, I am now comfortable working with them as ingredients. Tiramisu was the perfect vehicle to do just that and after a few quick searches online for a decent recipe to use as a baseline, I finally located one that had rave reviews from a number of middle-aged, stay-at-home moms who live in big, square, red states.


I call most found recipes ‘baselines’, because I have never been able to leave well enough alone. I believe this propensity for constant modification is what brings forth the artist from the cook. Whether I am creating breads, soups, desserts, sauces, candies, meats or even something simple like dressings, only on a few rare occasions when I have followed a recipe have I found it to be at least the quintessential archetype or at most, acceptable.


Within any point in my culinary life, I have modified recipes for one, or more, of the following reasons: Firstly, I want to see exactly how far I can gild the lily before ruining a dish, or worse, making it thoroughly ostentatious. Secondly, I want to make the dish mine, because if it remains someone else’s then I cannot state that I created it. I may have assembled it but no independent thought was used- hence, it was not my achievement. And thirdly, I quickly grow bored from the constant repetitive nature of following a recipe to the letter. (This, I believe is what separates chefs from cooks. Chefs create while cooks assemble.)


Clearly, certain aspects of recipes cannot be changed without serious detriment to the quality and edibility of the food. They say that baking is a science. One must always be accurate when measuring the fundamental ingredients (i.e., flour, baking soda, baking powder, yeast, sugar, liquid, fat and egg.) Everything else is malleable. For much of my own cooking, I too have fundamental rules with which I will not fuck. When making ice cream I have my ratio for milk, sugar, eggs and cream, with sorbets the ratio among sugar, fruit puree, and liquid is established- most of the time, while working with savory dishes I will usually include garlic, onion and shallot, my pasta is always cooked al dente, when creating salad dressings that involve emulsifying, I always add the acid after the oil… etc.


Another endearing facet of my culinary behavior towards others’ recipes is quite similar to a dog with a bone- I just won’t let it go. I continue altering the recipe until I am convinced that I have made something new, something wonderful, something definitively ‘Michael’. Tiramisu is my latest pet project. Having taken it to task a number of times already, I believe I have made it a tad unusual, hopefully a little better, but still kept it obviously tiramisu. Having done this, I must state that I am quite sure this author’s recipe is perfectly delightful as its author intended- it’s just not what I wanted.


I have three reasons why I finally decided to challenge my fortitude with this whipped, fluffy and creamy bite of heaven. The first impetus came from my partner who farcically insists that the four major food groups are actually, coffee, alcohol, sugar, and chocolate. The second nudge came from a trifle I kind of enjoyed in München over the holidays. The third vital push came from biting into a beastly noxious tiramisu I purchased for dessert in a restaurant near my home. Well bless my heart, I should have known better. All the desserts this restaurant sells are homemade, yet they still end up flavorless, dried out and stale. While one may assume that this would keep me from ordering their desserts, one doesn’t understand how my sweet tooth and my love for all things cake, regardless of it’s quality, will evince my weak moral fiber.


Lucky for me, sometimes inspiration comes at the price of another’s ineptitude or attempted poisoning. The silver lining, to this malignant miasma, also known as tiramisu is that I end up saying things like, ‘I can make this better.’ Hell, a retarded monkey could make this better. Which I immediately take as a challenge- just not the monkey part. If this restaurant can dish out these fluffy little disappointments at $6.95 a slice, clearly, I must be able to make them better.


Thus, I began doing what it is that I do best... fuck with it.

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Tiramisu

(serves 16)



Lady Fingers


10 large eggs, room temperature

1 1/3 cup Baker’s Extra Fine Sugar

1 3/4 cup flour

1 Tablespoon toasted and ground anise seed, or if you really cannot abide anise,

Zest of two meyer lemons

Confectioner’s Sugar


(Unless you have a very large oven and can fit all the lady fingers in it at once, follow these steps as listed.)



  1. Preheat oven to 350˚ F. Line two sheet trays with parchment paper or Silpat™, pour roughly 1/4 cup confectioner’s sugar into a small, fine wire sieve resting on a small plate, and place a 1/2” to 3/4” diameter pipe at the end of a large pastry bag. Set these aside until ready to use.


  2. Separate 5 eggs. Place the egg whites in the bowl of an electric mixer. Gently rest the yolks in a small bowl and set aside. Using the whisk attachment begin whipping the egg whites on medium low speed. When the eggs start to turn opaque and foamy sprinkle 2 tablespoons of sugar into the bowl and slowly increase the speed to medium high.


  3. When the egg whites hold soft peaks, quickly remove the bowl from the mixer and scrape the whites into a separate bowl.


  4. Pour the egg yolks, 2/3 cup (minus 2 tablespoons) sugar and half of the ground anise seed (or zest of one lemon) in the bowl and return it to the mixer. Whip until the sugar and eggs triple in volume, turn pale yellow and form a ribbon when falling from the whisk once it is lifted out of the bowl.


  5. Remove the bowl from the mixer and quickly stir in half (1 cup minus 2 Tablespoons) of the flour until it is just combined and a very stiff dry batter is formed.


  6. Gently fold in a third of the whipped egg whites until the batter is a bit softer. Fold in the remaining egg whites until just mixed. Do this gently as the light fluffy sponge texture of these cookies comes only from the whipped whites and eggs. Being too aggressive with the batter will remove much of the added air that is currently incorporated within the ingredients.


  7. Quickly scoop the batter into the pastry bag, and quickly extrude the batter in 3” long strips a quarter inch apart from each other. Once all the batter has been used, dust the tops of the cookies with a decent amount of confectioner’s sugar.


  8. Place the cookies in the oven and bake for 7-8 minutes. If you were able to fit all the batter on one sheet tray continue baking for another 8 minutes. If you used both sheet trays, remove the trays from the oven and place the tray that was on the top rack to the lower rack and the tray which was on the lower rack to the top one. Bake for another 7-8 minutes. Regardless the tops of the cookies should be golden brown and puffy. Remove the trays from the oven when the cookies are ready, and allow the cookies to cool on the sheet trays.


  9. Repeat Step 2 through Step 8.



Coffee Syrup


4 1/2 cups freshly pressed espresso, or

(4 1/2 cups boiling water and 8 Tablespoons instant espresso crystals)

3/4 cup Kahlua (or other Coffee Liqueur)

1/4 cup Sambuca (or other Anise Liqueur)

1/4 cup sugar



  1. Whisk all the ingredients together until the sugar has dissolved. Allow syrup to cool.



Hateful Zabaglione-Chocolate Custard


8 egg yolks, room temperature

2/3 cup dry Marsala

1 cup Baker’s Extra Fine sugar

2 pounds marscapone, room temperature

3 cups heavy cream, cold

2 ounces 72% semi-sweet dark chocolate, cold



  1. In a large bowl resting over pot of simmering water, add the eggs, sugar and marsala. Whisk to break up the yolks and evenly blend the ingredients.


  2. Continue whisking at an even pace until the ingredients triple in volume and thicken slightly.


  3. Remove the bowl from the pot and quickly whisk in the marscapone 1/2 pound at a time. When the custard base is smooth, set aside.


  4. Pour the cold heavy cream in your mixing bowl. With the whisk attachment begin whipping the cream on a medium low speed setting. When the cream begins to thicken increase the speed to medium high. Continue whipping the cream until stiff peaks form.


  5. Carefully fold the whipped cream into the custard base until the custard is uniform in color and texture.


  6. Using a vegetable peeler, shave the cold chocolate over the custard. Gently fold into the custard.



Assembling the Tiramisu


60 Lady fingers, separated

Coffee Syrup

Zabaglione-chocolate custard

Cocoa powder or shaved dark chocolate

Trifle bowl



  1. Have all the ingredients at the ready. Have the clean trifle bowl in front of you and the coffee syrup right next to it, with the lady fingers next to the syrup.


  2. Completely submerge the lady fingers, one at a time into the syrup for two seconds. Place the lady finger at the bottom of the bowl. Repeat with the next lady finger and partially overlap the first lady finger. Repeat until the bottom of the trifle bowl is covered with coffee soaked lady fingers.


  3. Using a spatula spread the zabaglione custard in the trifle bowl until it is a one inch layer. Using your spatula, press down around the sides of the bowl, making sure that all the trapped air is removed and the custard is touching the lady fingers. Wipe the inside of the trifle bowl with a paper towel to remove any excess streaks of custard or splashes of coffee.


  4. Repeat steps 2 and 3 until you reach the top of the trifle bowl. End the layering with the custard. Fill the bowl with enough custard that it is level with the bowl’s rim. Using a flat metal spatula that has been dipped in scalding hot water, carefully press down as you spread and smooth out the top layer of custard. If necessary keep dipping the spatula in the hot water. When finished, the top layer of custard should have a smooth glossy finish to it.


  5. Gently cover the tiramisu with saran wrap, just to keep a skin from forming on the custard. and store in the refrigerator until ready to serve.


  6. Right before serving dust the top of the tiramisu with cocoa powder or freshly shave the dark chocolate on it.


  7. Any left over lady fingers and custard can be made into a small tiramisu. I use a 8” x 5” loaf pan.

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When hearing the word ‘brownies’, I wistfully reminisce about my very stoned sister and her equally high friends making microwave brownies in my family’s kitchen. Our depressive father and guilt-ridden mother would sit in the wood-paneled living room and silently watch television while futilely attempting to convince themselves they were not impotent against my sister’s rage or her determination to be permanently altered all through our sophomore, junior and senior years of high school. To this recipe, stir in my nascent homosexuality, burgeoning depression and threats of suicide and one could cut the tension in our home with a razor blade.



Why, can you just imagine!



It shouldn't come to anyone's surprise that my depression and latent homosexuality didn't ease my parents' states of mind. Since I had already distanced myself from my emotionally withdrawn father, being a young gay man only exacerbated our relationship. While I certainly had plenty of opportunities to bridge the gap, my disinterest and his, at the time unknown, depression made our differences irreconcilable. As much as I was 'other' to him, he was 'other' to me and I stubbornly refused to waste my valuable time doing nothing, with trying to rebuild, at best, a tenuous relationship.



Clashes were bound to happen as I pushed at all the boundaries in the hope of finding a place for me to thrive. If I had anything on my side, it would be my parents self-realization, that in this specific instance, punishments were pointless. Aside from being quite ludicrous, doling out spankings was exhausting as they would have to chase me and then demoralizing since I would merely laugh in response to the punishment. They couldn't take anything away from me, because I didn't have anything I considered important, valuable or a 'needed want', (emphasize 'needed' with a whine.) Locking me up in my room was useless because I spent all my time, alone, in my room anyway.

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For all his WASP-ish tendencies and the chasm we mutually created, my father seemed to be 'a little' more understanding towards my 'choice'. He even tried to talk with me a couple times. I remember those awkward one-sided conversations seemed like a rite of passage for him. The first time he shared with me an analogy about how he and his high school buddies would have pissing contests. I was sitting on the floor in the living room, recording his Judy Garland Live at Carnage Hall album onto cassette as he blurted this out. I just stared at him in horror. What was he doing? I was fine with our minimal interactions and our brief chats.


Meanwhile Judy croaked out, "Saaaaan Fraaaaanciscooooo".


"Dad, you just don't get it. You don't understand." This was my usual, and effective, response. At which point he stood up and walked to the kitchen, in defeat.


The second time he tried to talk to me, I was a few years older. The depression was still there, but my stalwart advances through my turbulent teens and the minimal education of my sexuality had made me a bit wiser. We were in his truck when he mentioned to me, out of the blue, that when he was a therapist in the military, he knew many officers who were homosexual but to move up the chain of command they had to get married. That's why most colonel's and all generals are married men. It's about keeping up appearances in the political game. Once again I was stunned- not only at his arbitrary comment, but at his ability to throw something like that in the air.


My only response was, "You were a therapist?" Unbeknownst to me, aside from being a jock throughout high school and college, he earned two degrees at the Air Force Academy. One lead to him being a counsellor when he was a captain, cool! The second to his primary military career, The Department of Nuclear Defense, zzzz…


My mother was a different story. I hoped that she would be understanding. I hoped that she would be on my side. I hoped that she would accept my personal revelation.


I might as well have hoped for wings to sprout on my back.


"Mom, I have something to tell you." (Try to imagine the cracking voice of a sullen, depressed and acne riddled, teenage boy.)


"Yes dear." She nonchalantly responded while clipping coupons.


"Mom, it's really important."


"Alright. What's going on?"


"It's about why I have been depressed for such a long time."


"Oh?"


"Mom..." I paused for about five minutes. I had know idea what to say or what was going to happen, but I knew it was going to be bad. With each passing second during that five minute interlude, my mother grew more concerned, more anxious, more worried.


Finally, she blurted out, "Either you impregnated a girl, or your never going to impregnate a girl."


"There is no girl." I responded. "I'm gay."


From that point on, I think that there was a lot of sobbing on her part. She blamed herself for being a bad mother, then she blamed me for dumping this hot potato onto her, then she asked me if I had 'the AIDS", she was sure I was going to die from some disease, she convinced herself that I was molested or some older man made me this way, and then she convinced herself that it was a phase. Then she convinced herself and tried to convince me that I just hadn't found the right girl yet. Finally she pleaded with me to talk to our parish priest.


This process might have been easier for me had my sister not recently stated, "All faggots should be lined up and shot." As I reflect on that period of my growth, she was most likely stoned when she declaimed that announcement. Nevertheless, her blanket statement didn't help my self confidence. I realized that no one was on my side, thus my depression deepened and my embittered view was cemented.

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It was then I started writing suicide notes. These tragic little pieces of melodrama were filled with finger-pointing and self-resignation. Once I had the art of writing these little gems, I began hiding them throughout the house. While I may not have been ready to kill myself, the decision could have come at any moment. I was prepared. Unfortunately, this didn't help comfort me as no one else knew of these hidden treasures. I did not feel acknowledged as an individual. I needed to confront the enemy and let them know that their heterosexual and milquetoast existence and lack of willingness to accept anything new was quietly killing me.


I walked into my parents' bathroom, where my mother was getting ready to go out. I recall she was facing the mirror and applying lipstick, when I flatly announced, "I'm thinking about killing myself. I may not be alive when you come home. There are notes hidden throughout the house. Bye." I turned and walked back to my room.


I learned years later, that my mother had found many of the notes and saved them. Apparently, after I walked out of the bathroom, she collapsed onto the toilet, silently terrified and hysterical. Eventually she left and did her errands as if nothing had transpired between us.


It's a wonder my sister and I didn't drive our parents to drink.

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But oh! Those horrid brownies that came with that hard plastic, dirty looking, cream-colored tray in which one first mixed together the brownie mix with the water and then microwaved. This taste treat was/is (I am not sure if it is still in existence) an abomination. However, it was the perfect stoner food- as my sister and her friends would attest. Well, that and a 44 oz. Big Gulp™ of Dr. Pepper.



It is sufficient to say that I was not a fan of brownies. Until recently. In the winter of 1998 I was given a book titled, The Professional Pastry Chef written by Bo Friberg. This tome of wonderful and delicious recipes ended up changing my life. Years later I still pull that book from my bookshelf and lovingly go through it, peeling apart the pages that were stuck together with splashes of chocolate, simple syrup, butter cream, and/or lemon curd. I still rifle through all the little tabs of torn paper that I have stuck in between pages and remember the resulting concoction I made from that held location.



Eventually I decided to make desserts for the pub. While the cookies were consistently and immensely popular with the customers, I grew bored when forced to make the same item repeatedly. Eventually I found myself back with Bo and his treasure trove of goodies. While searching through the recipes, I first thought about lemon bars. Unfortunately, they are gooey and need to be kept refrigerated, thus they couldn’t be stacked or left on the bar to tempt the customers. Then I thought about cakes. (Have I mentioned how much I love cake?) Even though cake does sell, it is a pain to make when I have so many other things to do and so little room with which to work. Pies? Eh... no. I have never succeeded in making a consistently good crust for pie. I thought about ice cream, but again, due to space, there is no room for a freezer to be easily accessible. Eventually, I spotted a recipe for brownies then chewed on the idea for almost a week whilst dealing with the instant replay of the aforementioned flashback. Many positives vied against my singular strong and personal negative.

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They contained chocolate, they could be stored at room temperature, they could be wrapped in plastic to keep them fresh, they have a shelf life of a week, they are malleable, and aside from the preparation they take 30 minutes to bake and an hour to cool. Cut, wrap, sell. I had to admit they were simple and easy.



So I made the brownies. Then I made them again. Then I made them again, sans the walnuts. Then I made them and omitted half a pound of sugar to the recipe and added instant espresso. Thus the creation of the Hopvine’s Über Brownies- a quarter pound 4" x 4" x 1" square of loveliness that draws the chocolate lover like a corpse to a carrion bird. They turned out to be almost as popular as the cookies. They sold well and even ended up in my first book.



And then I stopped. I had so many other tasks on my plate that all dessert production came to a halt for almost 2 years. Only last year did I start making the brownies again. They are still popular, but I have begun modifying them.



Regardless of my past, which I still find myself thinking about on occasion, I have been able to separate the wheat from the chaff. Therefore, with this installment, I am giving you three tantalizing recipes for the price of one. All three recipes contain the same basic ingredients: chocolate, sugar, butter, eggs, vanilla extract, flour and baking powder. The rest of the ingredients can be easily modified, removed or changed to suit your own personal whimsy.



Bon Appetit.




Scotch and Espresso Brownies



1 1/2 pounds dark semisweet chocolate 70% or higher of exceptional quality, chopped

1 pound unsalted butter, cubed

1 1/4 pounds ultra-fine baker’s sugar

9 large eggs at room temperature

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

1 pound flour

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 cup instant espresso, dried

1/4 cup Balvenie 12 year, single malt double oak barrel Scotch



  1. Preheat oven to 400˚F. Grease bottom and sides of 12” x 18” x 3/4” sheet tray and cover the bottom with parchment paper. Set aside.


  2. Over a pot of simmering water, place a bowl containing the chocolate and the butter. Stir occasionally to assist in the melting process. When the chocolate has melted most of the way, remove the bowl from the stove top and carefully stir until the chocolate is completely melted, the butter is fully incorporated, and the texture is perfectly smooth. Set aside.


  3. In a mixing bowl place the sugar, eggs, vanilla extract, espresso powder and scotch. Start blending the ingredients while using the whisk attachment of your mixer, gradually increase the speed until the sugar is incorporated and the batter is light in color and texture.


  4. With a rubber spatula, fold in the egg mixture to the melted chocolate. Continue folding until the batter is all one color and begins to stiffen slightly.


  5. Stir the baking powder into the flour. Pour half of the flour into the batter and fold until just blended. Repeat with the second half of flour. While folding bring the batter up from the bottom of the bowl. Make sure to look for any dry clumps of flour and stir those in. The batter should be thick and smooth.


  6. Pour batter into the sheet tray. Using your spatula, spread the batter to all four corners and even out it’s level across the sheet tray. Place in the preheated oven and bake for 15 minutes. Rotate the tray and bake for another 10 minutes. Test the brownies at this point. They should be firm but softer in the middle than at the edges. If so, remove from the oven and place on a cooling rack. Otherwise return the tray to the oven and continue baking for another 5 minutes.


  7. Once cool enough to handle, trim away the edges, score the brownies and using a hot, sharp knife, carefully cut the brownies into equal sizes. If you are going to make these in advance, wrap the sheet tray completely with saran wrap and then with aluminum foil and place the finished brownies in the freezer. Allow them to thaw at least 1 hour before you begin cutting and serving them.




Raspberry and Hazelnut Brownies



1 1/2 pounds dark semisweet chocolate 70% or higher of exceptional quality, chopped

1 pound unsalted butter, cubed

1 1/4 pounds ultra-fine baker’s sugar

9 large eggs at room temperature

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

1 pound flour

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

2 cups lightly toasted and chopped hazelnuts

1/4 cup Chambourd, or other high quality Raspberry Brandy



  1. Preheat oven to 400˚F. Grease bottom and sides of 12” x 18” x 3/4” sheet tray and cover the bottom with parchment paper. Set aside.


  2. Over a pot of simmering water, place a bowl containing the chocolate and the butter. Stir occasionally to assist in the melting process. When the chocolate has melted most of the way, remove the bowl from the stove top and carefully stir until the chocolate is completely melted, the butter is fully incorporated, and the texture is perfectly smooth. Stir in the nuts and set aside.


  3. In a mixing bowl place the sugar, eggs, vanilla extract and chambourd. Start blending the ingredients while using the whisk attachment of your mixer, gradually increase the speed until the sugar is incorporated and the batter is light in color and texture.


  4. With a rubber spatula, fold in the egg mixture to the melted chocolate. Continue folding until the batter is all one color and begins to stiffen slightly.


  5. Stir the baking powder into the flour. Pour half of the flour into the batter and fold until just blended. Repeat with the second half of flour. While folding bring the batter up from the bottom of the bowl. Make sure to look for any dry clumps of flour and stir those in. The batter should be thick.


  6. Pour batter into the sheet tray. Using your spatula, spread the batter to all four corners and even out it’s level across the sheet tray. Place in the preheated oven and bake for 15 minutes. Rotate the tray and bake for another 10 minutes. Test the brownies at this point. They should be firm but softer in the middle than at the edges. If so, remove from the oven and place on a cooling rack. Otherwise return the tray to the oven and continue baking for another 5 minutes.


  7. Once cool enough to handle, trim away the edges, score the brownies and using a hot, sharp knife, carefully cut the brownies into equal sizes. If you are going to make these in advance, wrap the sheet tray completely with saran wrap and then with aluminum foil and place the finished brownies in the freezer. Allow them to thaw at least 1 hour before you begin cutting and serving them.





Pot Brownies (for those who need marijuana for medical purposes but do not want to smoke)




1 1/2 pounds dark semisweet chocolate 70% or higher of exceptional quality, chopped

2 pounds unsalted butter

8 ounces marijuana buds (shake, seeds and stems are fine)

1 1/4 pounds ultra-fine baker’s sugar

9 large eggs at room temperature

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

1 pound flour

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

2 cups chopped walnuts (optional)



  1. Melt the butter in a pot over medium heat. Once completely liquid, add the marijuana to the butter and reduce the temperature to medium low. Fry the marijuana for at least 45 minutes. You might want to open a window because your whole house is going to smell like marijuana by the end of this process. The butter should change color from an opaque yellow to a relatively clear olive drab and the marijuana should be very dark, almost burnt. Pour the clarified butter over 4 layers of cheese cloth in a large strainer resting in a bowl. Allow the butter to continue to drip through the cheesecloth until all the liquid is in the bowl. Set aside.


  2. Preheat oven to 400˚F. Grease bottom and sides of 12” x 18” x 3/4” sheet tray and cover the bottom with parchment paper. Set aside.


  3. Over a pot of simmering water, place a bowl containing the chocolate and the melted butter. Stir occasionally to assist in the melting process. When the chocolate has melted most of the way, remove the bowl from the stove top and carefully stir until the chocolate is completely melted, the butter is fully incorporated, and the texture is perfectly smooth. Stir in the walnuts, if desired. Set aside.


  4. In a mixing bowl place the sugar, eggs and vanilla extract. Start blending the ingredients while using the whisk attachment of your mixer, gradually increase the speed until the sugar is incorporated and the batter is light in color and texture.


  5. With a rubber spatula, fold in the egg mixture to the melted chocolate. Continue folding until the batter is all one color and begins to stiffen slightly.


  6. Stir the baking powder into the flour. Pour half of the flour into the batter and fold until just blended. Repeat with the second half of flour. While folding bring the batter up from the bottom of the bowl. Make sure to look for any dry clumps of flour and stir those in. The batter should be thick and smooth.


  7. Pour batter into the sheet tray. Using your spatula, spread the batter to all four corners and even out it’s level across the sheet tray. Place in the preheated oven and bake for 15 minutes. Rotate the tray and bake for another 10 minutes. Test the brownies at this point. They should be firm but softer in the middle than at the edges. If so, remove from the oven and place on a cooling rack. Otherwise return the tray to the oven and continue baking for another 5 minutes.


  8. Once cool enough to handle, trim away the edges, score the brownies and using a hot, sharp knife, carefully cut the brownies into equal sizes. If you are going to make these in advance, wrap the sheet tray completely with saran wrap and then with aluminum foil and place the finished brownies in the freezer. Allow them to thaw at least 1 hour before you begin cutting and serving them.

Hurrah for the Irish

ogre.gifI don’t know if my love for soda bread is related to my being half Irish, or my insatiable desire for carbohydrates, but I have never passed up an opportunity to eat it. Obviously St. Patrick’s Day is a happy day in my book, because Irish Americans from sea to shining sea are going to make this ‘traditional’ dish- along with the corned beef and cabbage and it’s overpoweringly malevolent stench that can choke a skunk- all the while openly demonstrating Ireland’s national pastime… alcoholism. Bless their hearts.  


I love this holiday because it helps me feel a wee bit better about myself. I don’t eat meat so I don’t have to ever air out my home after corning a beef all day, I am not fanatical about cabbage so you won’t ever see me boil a cabbage until it loses all semblance of a vegetable and I don’t drink so I never become so pissed that I find myself lying in the gutter in a pool of my own sick thinking I am having the time of my life.


I just smile to myself and enjoy another slice of freshly baked soda bread.


I have seen and tasted different versions of soda bread, but I am convinced that the style one grows up eating is the style one will continue to bake. One may modify the recipe to suit his personal taste but I have yet to see or know of an individual who has jumped to a different style. He may consume it if offered, but he will always go back to familiar territory when he is baking his own.


I have tried brown soda bread, soda bread which looks like sliced sandwich bread and I have eaten soda bread baked in a cast iron pan. I have eaten plain, savory and sweet soda breads, soda breads studded with fruit and even soda breads that are glazed with a thin icing. Obviously, none of these taste or look similar, yet none of them are that vastly different. Regardless of these variations on a theme, they all hold true to two aspects: their ability to dry out within a couple days and their subsequently delicious second life once they have been toasted.

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My family’s traditional recipe came from a classic Congdon Family source- second-hand via the Officers’ Wives’ Club recipe swap. Indeed, as anyone who grew up in the 1970‘s with a father as an Commissioned Officer in the United States military can attest to, the Officers’ Wives’ Club was a fecund organization- teeming with creativity. Bland, white, conventional creativity. My sister and I watched as my mother jumped from batik to macramé, from cake decorating to découpage, and from party planning/hostess etiquette to recipe swaps. While most wives’ in the ‘60’s and ‘70’s were busy washing down ‘mother’s little helpers’ with stiff martinis, my mother and her fellow Officers’ Wives’ Club cohorts were bouncing around like bi-polar, ADHD children in desperate need of a Ritalin prescription.


Sorry to disappoint, but the tradition I grew up with came from someone else’s family tree. Granted, my parents are indeed descendants of Irish and Anglo-Saxon stock. However, the only traditions passed onto my mother was the Irish-Catholic ability to use guilt as a weapon, and the innate yet unwavering love towards America’s royalty, The Kennedy’s. Meanwhile, handed ROLAND_Nuclear_Winter.jpgdown to my father was the WASP-like tendency to deftly avoid conversations regarding money, emotions, sex, or any combination of the three… well that and an actual thin upper lip. The only thing passed down to me and my sister was the fear of nuclear winter.


Eventually, I attained my family’s traditional Irish Soda Bread. Once I finally clutched onto my mother’s handwritten recipe card with my grubby little paws, it’s structure, flavor and raisin content were subjected to my whims. Today, my version is quite different from my mother’s. The only similarity is that both hers and mine have the texture and look of a very large scone. Ours is a dense, flat, coarse bread that would make an excellent trencher- were we living in Medieval Europe. Where my mother’s bread is subtly sweet with a few raisins studded throughout, mine is almost savory with at least twice as many dried currants to her raisins, the addition of candied orange peel and cinnamon. While my mother bakes hers in a nine inch round cake pan, I bake mine in a pre-greased and hot nine inch diameter cast iron pan. Her crust is the same texture and color as the actual bread, my top crust is washed with egg yolks and dusted with a light coat of extra fine sugar while the bottom and side crusts are dark, thick and crunchy. While both breads are perfect for sopping up juices from corned beef and cabbage, mine is only served with a Cabbage and Apple stew.


Taking my mother’s recipe and modifying it to fit my personal taste, I expect others to do the same with mine. If anything, perhaps that is the underlying tradition of Irish Soda Bread- theft.


Irish Soda Bread

(makes two 9" round loaves)


9 Cups Unbleached White flour

2/3 Cup Baker’s Extra Fine Sugar (rounded)

2 teaspoon Salt

1 Tablespoon Baking Powder

2 teaspoon Baking Soda

1 Tablespoon Cinnamon

¾ Cup Unsalted Butter, cold and cubed + 1/4 cup for greasing the pans

2 Cups dried currants

1 cup candied Orange peel, or

1 Tablespoon orange zest

3 ½ Cups Buttermilk (at room temperature)

4 Large Eggs + 1 egg yolk (at room temperature)

1/4 sugar for dusting tops



  1. Preheat oven to 500° F. Place two tablespoons butter in each skillet and set aside


  2. In a large bowl sift together the flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon and salt.


  3. With your fingers work the cold cubed butter into the flour mixture. Rub the butter into the flour until the flour resembles coarse cornmeal and has an even texture throughout. Add the currants and orange peel and toss them around with your hands until any large clumps are broken up and they are coated with a light dusting of flour.


  4. Place the cast iron pans in the oven. Whisk together the buttermilk and the 4 eggs. Whisk the single egg yolk and 2 tablespoons water together.


  5. When the butter in the pans is completely melted and turning brown, stir the buttermilk mixture into the flour until the flour is no longer dry, but just moistened. Do not over stir the batter otherwise you will overwork the gluten in the flour.


  6. Using oven mitts, remove the pans from the oven. Swirl the butter around so that it coats the bottom and sides of the pans. Quickly, divide the batter between the two pans. Using a pastry brush, coat the tops of the uncooked loaves with the egg wash. Using a metal sieve, dust the tops of the loaves with 1/4 cup sugar. Place in the oven on the middle rack, reduce temperature to 350˚ F, and bake for 50 minutes, or until golden brown crust forms.


  7. At 50 minutes test the loaves with a clean metal or bamboo skewer by inserting it into the center of the loaves. If the skewer comes away from the loaves clean or with crumbs remove the loaves from the oven. If the skewer comes away from the loaves with uncooked batter coating it set the oven timer for another 10 minutes and continue baking the bread. Use the skewer test again after 10 minutes. If still not cooked through, test in 5 minute intervals until completely baked.


  8. Remove the loaves from the oven and place on cooling racks. Cool for 10 minutes before removing the loaves from their baking pans. Allow the breads to cool for 2 hours before wrapping them for storage.

Tiramisu Tiramisery

Tiramisu is Italian peasant food. However, if the term 'peasant food' offends your delicate sensibilities, I can easily replace it with 'comfort food' as they are often mutually exclusive. It is important to me, no matter how much I may try to gussy it up that in the end I allow it to flaunt its intrinsic birthright as an Italian casserole- for the peasantry.
 

Speaking of Italians flaunting their heritage, I remember visiting my Aunt Mary’s parents when I was a child. The Chirgoni’s were very old, very short, very Catholic and very Italian- including their tiny little mustaches. Aside from their tiny and congested living room smelling like dust and mothballs, I recall a gaudy, multicolored glass dish sitting on a be-doilied end table next to what was clearly Mr. Chirgoni’s chair. This plate contained a small pile of shiny and striped ribbon candies. As my parents had never placed a candy dish out in our house, I was tempted by it. Perhaps more-so the mere idea of a candy dish sitting out for anyone to enjoy at any time. The Chirgoni’s picked up on my fascination. Probably due to my salivating at the possibility of free candy. Mr. Chirgoni offered me a piece of the candy from what he clearly considered to be the Paten della famiglia.
 

Now, some may say that I was a little too mature for my age, perhaps they may say I was a tad precocious, whatever the case, at seven years old I was not yet an aficionado of anise. Regarding these strongly flavored candies I stated, in the words of a ‘mature’ seven year old, “I don’t love these candies.” For decades since then, I have shied away from anything with anise in it as its odor and taste immediately send me.
 

I also remember Mrs. Chirgoni present my sister and I with something called a lady finger on a small silver salver. I was aghast! I thought they were just cookies. My mother told me to be polite and accept a cookie. To which I responded, “Why?”
 

After the threat-cum-promise of a spanking once we returned home, and my youthful temerity was quashed, I was still subjected to consume this lady’s finger. At which point, my sister was crying and clinging to our father’s waist with such primordial heebie-jeebies toward the bloodless lady’s fingers- should they start to bleed their blood-red blood all over her pretty white dress. She didn’t get a spanking, she was comforted. Eventually, probably out of sheer annoyance, I finally did try to eat the lady’s finger- with ‘try’ being the optimal word here.
 

Thus, my parents had forced me to eat the driest, blandest cookie I had encountered in my seven long years upon this earth.
 

Suffice to say the entire trip to The Chirgoni’s ended on a sour note. My parents drove us home in silent frustration. My sister was a whimpering mess the whole car ride home and I was eventually spanked for my rude behavior. To this day, I am convinced The Chirgoni’s thought that we were horrible, impudent children- thanks to my refusing their offered licorice candies and lady’s fingers and my sister’s hysteria. Yet they still came to our First Communion the following Sunday.


I only recently discovered my enjoyment of anise in a Medieval restaurant. The shtick at this restaurant, (aside from the trenchers, the lack of forks and glassware, the employees and many of the customers dressed in period piece costumes, think conical hats and pantaloons, and the lute playing bard/waiter/owner with his love songs and bawdy ballads) was that every item on the menu was prepared exactly as it was in the Medieval era. Lack of peppercorn and many other spices we take as common, meant flavoring with herbs that were local and sometimes salt. I ended up enjoying a wonderful and warm almond fritter that was flavored with anise seed. A bread-stuffed loaf of bread that was flavored with onion, anise and poppy, and a vegetarian cassoulet made with fava beans, fennel, onion, and, you guessed it, anise. The meal was delicious and well worth every penny I spent.


This past Christmas, while in Munich visiting friends of mine, I was treated to an authentic English Christmas dinner. For dessert we had trifle. As I had never made a trifle before, I had the opportunity to help assemble this tooth-achingly sweet concoction. Instead of using stale cake, the English visitor insisted that we use ladyfingers. This would be the first time in 30 years that I would knowingly consume a ladyfinger. But as my palette had grown since I was seven years old, I thought that perhaps these cookies wouldn’t be so bad. It turns out I was right. These cookies weren’t the most amazing thing I had ever tasted, but they certainly weren’t horrible; and after eating the English trifle, I realized that the only purpose ladyfingers have is to soak up the commingling flavors of the brandy, fruit and pastry cream that envelopes them.


Like an bulb suddenly coming to light, I understood my fear and disgust at The Chirgoni’s house had nothing to do with the hard candy or the stale cookies. It had to do with the musty, dusty, camphorated and ammoniac stench of decay, the coffee-stained, parchment-like skin of Mr. and Mrs. Death and their ropy-veined hands that continuously shook with palsy.


Without this memory, I may never have thought about combining the flavors of chocolate, espresso and anise. I may never have attempted to overcome my dread toward plain sponge cake cookies. Having done both, I am now comfortable working with them as ingredients. Tiramisu was the perfect vehicle to do just that and after a few quick searches online for a decent recipe to use as a baseline, I finally located one that had rave reviews from a number of middle-aged, stay-at-home moms who live in big, square, red states.


I call most found recipes ‘baselines’, because I have never been able to leave well enough alone. I believe this propensity for constant modification is what brings forth the artist from the cook. Whether I am creating breads, soups, desserts, sauces, candies, meats or even something simple like dressings, only on a few rare occasions when I have followed a recipe have I found it to be at least the quintessential archetype or at most, acceptable.


Within any point in my culinary life, I have modified recipes for one, or more, of the following reasons: Firstly, I want to see exactly how far I can gild the lily before ruining a dish, or worse, making it thoroughly ostentatious. Secondly, I want to make the dish mine, because if it remains someone else’s then I cannot state that I created it. I may have assembled it but no independent thought was used- hence, it was not my achievement. And thirdly, I quickly grow bored from the constant repetitive nature of following a recipe to the letter. (This, I believe is what separates chefs from cooks. Chefs create while cooks assemble.)


Clearly, certain aspects of recipes cannot be changed without serious detriment to the quality and edibility of the food. They say that baking is a science. One must always be accurate when measuring the fundamental ingredients (i.e., flour, baking soda, baking powder, yeast, sugar, liquid, fat and egg.) Everything else is malleable. For much of my own cooking, I too have fundamental rules with which I will not fuck. When making ice cream I have my ratio for milk, sugar, eggs and cream, with sorbets the ratio among sugar, fruit puree, and liquid is established- most of the time, while working with savory dishes I will usually include garlic, onion and shallot, my pasta is always cooked al dente, when creating salad dressings that involve emulsifying, I always add the acid after the oil… etc.


Another endearing facet of my culinary behavior towards others’ recipes is quite similar to a dog with a bone- I just won’t let it go. I continue altering the recipe until I am convinced that I have made something new, something wonderful, something definitively ‘Michael’. Tiramisu is my latest pet project. Having taken it to task a number of times already, I believe I have made it a tad unusual, hopefully a little better, but still kept it obviously tiramisu. Having done this, I must state that I am quite sure this author’s recipe is perfectly delightful as its author intended- it’s just not what I wanted.


I have three reasons why I finally decided to challenge my fortitude with this whipped, fluffy and creamy bite of heaven. The first impetus came from my partner who farcically insists that the four major food groups are actually, coffee, alcohol, sugar, and chocolate. The second nudge came from a trifle I kind of enjoyed in München over the holidays. The third vital push came from biting into a beastly noxious tiramisu I purchased for dessert in a restaurant near my home. Well bless my heart, I should have known better. All the desserts this restaurant sells are homemade, yet they still end up flavorless, dried out and stale. While one may assume that this would keep me from ordering their desserts, one doesn’t understand how my sweet tooth and my love for all things cake, regardless of it’s quality, will evince my weak moral fiber.


Lucky for me, sometimes inspiration comes at the price of another’s ineptitude or attempted poisoning. The silver lining, to this malignant miasma, also known as tiramisu is that I end up saying things like, ‘I can make this better.’ Hell, a retarded monkey could make this better. Which I immediately take as a challenge- just not the monkey part. If this restaurant can dish out these fluffy little disappointments at $6.95 a slice, clearly, I must be able to make them better.


Thus, I began doing what it is that I do best... fuck with it.


Tiramisu

(serves 16)


Lady Fingers


10 large eggs, room temperature

1 1/3 cup Baker’s Extra Fine Sugar

1 3/4 cup flour

1 Tablespoon toasted and ground anise seed, or if you really cannot abide anise,

Zest of two meyer lemons

Confectioner’s Sugar


(Unless you have a very large oven and can fit all the lady fingers in it at once, follow these steps as listed.)



  1. Preheat oven to 350˚ F. Line two sheet trays with parchment paper or Silpat™, pour roughly 1/4 cup confectioner’s sugar into a small, fine wire sieve resting on a small plate, and place a 1/2” to 3/4” diameter pipe at the end of a large pastry bag. Set these aside until ready to use.


  2. Separate 5 eggs. Place the egg whites in the bowl of an electric mixer. Gently rest the yolks in a small bowl and set aside. Using the whisk attachment begin whipping the egg whites on medium low speed. When the eggs start to turn opaque and foamy sprinkle 2 tablespoons of sugar into the bowl and slowly increase the speed to medium high.


  3. When the egg whites hold soft peaks, quickly remove the bowl from the mixer and scrape the whites into a separate bowl.


  4. Pour the egg yolks, 2/3 cup (minus 2 tablespoons) sugar and half of the ground anise seed (or zest of one lemon) in the bowl and return it to the mixer. Whip until the sugar and eggs triple in volume, turn pale yellow and form a ribbon when falling from the whisk once it is lifted out of the bowl.


  5. Remove the bowl from the mixer and quickly stir in half (1 cup minus 2 Tablespoons) of the flour until it is just combined and a very stiff dry batter is formed.


  6. Gently fold in a third of the whipped egg whites until the batter is a bit softer. Fold in the remaining egg whites until just mixed. Do this gently as the light fluffy sponge texture of these cookies comes only from the whipped whites and eggs. Being too aggressive with the batter will remove much of the added air that is currently incorporated within the ingredients.


  7. Quickly scoop the batter into the pastry bag, and quickly extrude the batter in 3” long strips a quarter inch apart from each other. Once all the batter has been used, dust the tops of the cookies with a decent amount of confectioner’s sugar.


  8. Place the cookies in the oven and bake for 7-8 minutes. If you were able to fit all the batter on one sheet tray continue baking for another 8 minutes. If you used both sheet trays, remove the trays from the oven and place the tray that was on the top rack to the lower rack and the tray which was on the lower rack to the top one. Bake for another 7-8 minutes. Regardless the tops of the cookies should be golden brown and puffy. Remove the trays from the oven when the cookies are ready, and allow the cookies to cool on the sheet trays.


  9. Repeat Step 2 through Step 8.


Coffee Syrup


4 1/2 cups freshly pressed espresso, or

(4 1/2 cups boiling water and 8 Tablespoons instant espresso crystals)

3/4 cup Kahlua (or other Coffee Liqueur)

1/4 cup Sambuca (or other Anise Liqueur)

1/4 cup sugar



  1. Whisk all the ingredients together until the sugar has dissolved. Allow syrup to cool.


Hateful Zabaglione-Chocolate Custard


8 egg yolks, room temperature

2/3 cup dry Marsala

1 cup Baker’s Extra Fine sugar

2 pounds marscapone, room temperature

3 cups heavy cream, cold

2 ounces 72% semi-sweet dark chocolate, cold



  1. In a large bowl resting over pot of simmering water, add the eggs, sugar and marsala. Whisk to break up the yolks and evenly blend the ingredients.


  2. Continue whisking at an even pace until the ingredients triple in volume and thicken slightly.


  3. Remove the bowl from the pot and quickly whisk in the marscapone 1/2 pound at a time. When the custard base is smooth, set aside.


  4. Pour the cold heavy cream in your mixing bowl. With the whisk attachment begin whipping the cream on a medium low speed setting. When the cream begins to thicken increase the speed to medium high. Continue whipping the cream until stiff peaks form.


  5. Carefully fold the whipped cream into the custard base until the custard is uniform in color and texture.


  6. Using a vegetable peeler, shave the cold chocolate over the custard. Gently fold into the custard.


Assembling the Tiramisu


60 Lady fingers, separated

Coffee Syrup

Zabaglione-chocolate custard

Cocoa powder or shaved dark chocolate

Trifle bowl



  1. Have all the ingredients at the ready. Have the clean trifle bowl in front of you and the coffee syrup right next to it, with the lady fingers next to the syrup.


  2. Completely submerge the lady fingers, one at a time into the syrup for two seconds. Place the lady finger at the bottom of the bowl. Repeat with the next lady finger and partially overlap the first lady finger. Repeat until the bottom of the trifle bowl is covered with coffee soaked lady fingers.


  3. Using a spatula spread the zabaglione custard in the trifle bowl until it is a one inch layer. Using your spatula, press down around the sides of the bowl, making sure that all the trapped air is removed and the custard is touching the lady fingers. Wipe the inside of the trifle bowl with a paper towel to remove any excess streaks of custard or splashes of coffee.


  4. Repeat steps 2 and 3 until you reach the top of the trifle bowl. End the layering with the custard. Fill the bowl with enough custard that it is level with the bowl’s rim. Using a flat metal spatula that has been dipped in scalding hot water, carefully press down as you spread and smooth out the top layer of custard. If necessary keep dipping the spatula in the hot water. When finished, the top layer of custard should have a smooth glossy finish to it.


  5. Gently cover the tiramisu with saran wrap, just to keep a skin from forming on the custard. and store in the refrigerator until ready to serve.


  6. Right before serving dust the top of the tiramisu with cocoa powder or freshly shave the dark chocolate on it.


  7. Any left over lady fingers and custard can be made into a small tiramisu. I use a 8” x 5” loaf pan.



Classic Combinations

“That is a classic combination.” My friend Daniel interjected as I was describing a recent soup I made for the pub.

“Really?” I asked. Daniel, being the gourmand in our bridge foursome, has owned a couple restaurants and has traveled the world, thus I appreciate any comment from him regarding food. Usually he leaves me wanting to know more.

“Certainly.” Daniel declaimed as he shuffled the cards for the next hand of bridge. “Europeans have been combining cabbage, apple and pork for centuries.”

Looking back, I realized I knew this. Sauerkraut and applesauce with pork was a common meal in my youth and this past Christmas while in Munich, I watched as my friends enjoyed a dinner consisting of braised pork shoulder and blaukraut- its major ingredients are red cabbage and apples. I’ve even seen pork and apple breakfast sausages. I am surely scraping the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the combinations one can create with these three items.

Hell, toss in a potato and the number of combinations shoots through the roof.

I felt good hearing Daniel inform me that I was using a classic combination of flavors. Even though I like to experiment, I am definitely satisfied and quietly amused when I stumble upon a ‘classic’ blend of flavors. So I decided that if this is a classic blend of ingredients, then I need to infuse this stew with an appropriately classic blend of spices. But what would be an appropriate blend? I pondered this throughout the rest of the evening’s game of bridge. Unfortunately I was finding myself stuck on juniper berries and rosemary. I was sure those two flavors would be good, however, I wanted something a little more unusual. Something different.

While lying in bed with my green light casting a deathly pallor over me and reading a new book I picked up about the history of the spice roads, routes, and waterways- starting with the ancient Greeks and Romans and through the Decline of the Roman Empire and then through the Medieval era. I found the mention of a couple spices I have worked with on very infrequent occasion: cubeb and grains of paradise. It turns out that these two spices were less expensive and easily accessible for most European commoners when black pepper was either too exclusive, too expensive, or simply no where on the European continent to be found.

In our recent past, a secret ratio of these two spices along with juniper berry, which is actually the female pine cone and takes nearly three years to mature, became the recipe for Bombay gin. Today, gin is still flavored with juniper berries, cubeb is also commonly used for flavoring gin and, of all things, cigarettes, and grains of paradise are used primarily in the brewing industry to flavor certain beers.


I am convinced the goddess of serendipity was watching over me as at the same time I was struggling with this stews spice blend, I just happened to have all three of these spices sitting in my spice drawer. I grabbed them and took them to work. Later that morning I recreated this stew using those three spices along with some clove buds, bay laurel, salt and a pinch of saffron and suddenly this ‘new’ stew I created for St. Patrick’s Day turns into a very traditional stew from an era long, long gone.

I am lucky to be fascinated with medieval cuisine. I rarely recreate medieval fare for the pub; however, I do enjoy re-introducing the old world’s flavors into the new world’s population. I admit I like to throw people for a loop and in this recipe, it is the bygone blend of spices that no longer are used in most modern recipes.

This soup actually has three aspects on which I trained my eye- the quality and amounts of the main ingredients, the spices themselves, and how well the two marry. The result turned out to be subtle and as one customer described it, ‘tantalizingly decadent and symmetrical.’ I was thrilled. So now I must give this child of mine up and free it from my mind. As any creation, once created it is no longer a part of me. It is its’ own being.

Cabbage and Apple Stew with Bacon (makes 4 - 6 quarts)

1 pound thick sliced bacon
2 yellow onions, thin French cut
2 large shallots, sliced thin
2 1/2 pounds apples, cored and sliced thin (use a sweet variety, Fuji, Braeburn, Cameo, honey crisp)
1 medium green cabbage, shredded
1/4 cup champagne vinegar, or white wine vinegar
1 teaspoon grains of paradise, ground
1 teaspoon cubeb, crushed
2 teaspoons juniper berry, crushed
4 medium sized bay leaves
8 clove buds, whole
1 Tablespoon salt
Pinch of saffron, crumbled between fingers
16 ounce bottle of hard Apple Cider, or
1/4 cup Applejack, Calvados, or some other good quality apple brandy
2 Quarts Vegetable stock
1 orange to zest for garnish (optional)

Dice the bacon into half inch pieces. Place bacon in a a small pot and set over medium heat. Stir occasionally. Cook until the bacon fries in its own fat and forms cracklings. Separate the bacon and its grease by pouring through a strainer or sieve that is lined with an unbleached coffee filter or cheesecloth. Allow the bacon drip for a few minutes. Place the bacon in a small bowl and set aside until needed. Pour the bacon fat into a stock pot and place it over medium high heat.

When bacon fat is very hot, add the onions and shallots. Stir quickly to keep the onions from scorching to the bottom of the pot. While the onions and shallots are sautéing, lay a piece of plastic wrap on your kitchen counter. Place the cubeb and juniper berries on the plastic and place another piece of plastic wrap over the berries. Using a rolling pin or an unopened bottle of wine, firmly roll over the berries. They should give a very satisfying crunching sound. Do this a couple times, remove the plastic and pour the crushed berries into a small bowl along with the ground grains of paradise, the clove buds, salt, saffron and bay leaves. Set this spice blend aside until you are ready to add it to the stew.

Once the onions are lightly browned and definitely wilted, add the sliced apple to the pot. Stir again to coat with the onion and bacon fat glaze. Cover and sauté for a few minutes or until the apples reduce in volume by half.

Add the cabbage to the pot. Stir to coat, add the vinegar, stir again, cover and simmer until reduced in volume by half, (rough estimate.) Stir in the hard cider or brandy and all the spices. Reduce the heat to medium low, cover and simmer for a few minutes. (Do not overcook the cabbage or you will end up with a very unpleasant sulfury smell wafting through your house.)

Pour the vegetable stock into the pot along with the bacon cracklings. Stir well to break up the bacon. Cover and simmer until the broth is just hot. Remove the soup pot from the heat. And allow it to cool for an hour before placing it into a container, sealing it, and storing it in your refrigerator.

Give this stew a day to marry the flavors. Before reheating the stew remember to stir the solidified bacon fat back into the stew. Pour the amount you want to serve into a small pot and reheat until just beginning to simmer.

Serve immediately, with a quick zesting of orange, and/or a dollop or sour cream

(Serving a simple soda bread flavored with candied orange peel, cinnamon and currants would be a perfect compliment for this stew.)
When hearing the word ‘brownies’, I wistfully reminisce about my very stoned sister and her equally high friends making microwave brownies in my family’s kitchen. Our depressive father and guilt-ridden mother would sit in the wood-paneled living room and silently watch television while futilely attempting to convince themselves they were not impotent against my sister’s rage or her determination to be permanently altered all through our sophomore, junior and senior years of high school. To this recipe, stir in my nascent homosexuality, burgeoning depression and threats of suicide and one could cut the tension in our home with a razor blade.

Why, can you just imagine!

But oh! Those horrid brownies that came with that hard plastic, dirty looking, cream-colored tray in which one first mixed together the brownie mix with the water and then microwaved. This taste treat was/is (I am not sure if it is still in existence) an abomination. However, it was the perfect stoner food- as my sister and her friends would attest. Well, that and a 44 oz. Big Gulp™ of Dr. Pepper.

It is sufficient to say that I was not a fan of brownies. Until recently. In the winter of 1998 I was given a book titled, The Professional Pastry Chef written by Bo Friberg. This tome of wonderful and delicious recipes ended up changing my life. Years later I still pull that book from my bookshelf and lovingly go through it, peeling apart the pages that were stuck together with splashes of chocolate, simple syrup, butter cream, or lemon curd. I still rifle through all the little tabs of torn paper that I have stuck in between pages and remember the resulting concoction I made from that held location.

Eventually I decided to make desserts for the pub. While the cookies are consistently popular with the customers, I do get bored when forced to make the same item repeatedly. Eventually I found myself back with Bo and his treasure trove of goodies. While searching through the recipes, I first thought about lemon bars. Unfortunately, they are gooey and need to be kept refrigerated, thus they couldn’t be stacked or left on the bar to tempt the customers. Then I thought about cakes. Have I mentioned how much I love cake? Even though cake does sell, it is a pain to make when I have so many other things to do and so little room with which to work. Maybe pies? Eh... no. I have never succeeded in making a consistently good crust for pie. I thought about ice cream. I do love it. It is delicious and I have a large number of ice creams I like to make but again, due to space, there is no room for a freezer to be easily accessible. Eventually, I read a recipe for brownies then chewed on the idea for almost a week. Many positives vied against my singular strong and personal negative. They were easy to make, they included chocolate, they could be stored at room temperature, they could be wrapped in plastic to keep them fresh, they have a shelf life of a week, they are malleable, and aside from the preparation they take 30 minutes to bake and an hour to cool. Cut, wrap, sell. I had to admit they were simple and easy.

So I made the brownies. Then I made them again. Then I made them again, and removed the walnuts. Then I made them and omitted half a pound of sugar to the recipe and added instant espresso. Thus the creation of the Hopvine’s Über Brownies- a quarter pound of loveliness that draws the chocolate lover like a corpse to a carrion bird. They turned out to be almost as popular as the cookies. They sold well and even ended up in my first book.

And then I stopped. I had so many other tasks on my plate that all dessert production came to a halt for almost 2 years. Only last year did I start making the brownies again. They are still popular, but I have begun modifying them.

Regardless of my past, which I still find myself thinking about on occasion, I have been able to separate the wheat from the chaff. Therefore, with this installment, I am giving you three tantalizing recipes for the price of one. All three recipes contain the same basic ingredients: chocolate, sugar, butter, eggs, vanilla extract, flour and baking powder. The rest of the ingredients can be easily modified, removed or changed to suit your own personal whimsy. Bon Appetit.


Scotch and Espresso Brownies

1 1/2 pounds dark semisweet chocolate 70% or higher of exceptional quality, chopped
1 pound unsalted butter, cubed
1 1/4 pounds Ultra Fine Baker’s Sugar
9 Large Eggs at room temperature
1 Tablespoon Vanilla Extract
1 pound flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 cup instant espresso, dried
1/4 cup Balvenie 12 year, single malt double oak barrel Scotch

Preheat oven to 400˚F. Grease bottom and sides of 12” x 18” x 3/4” sheet tray and cover the bottom with parchment paper. Set aside

Over a pot of simmering water, place a bowl containing the chocolate and the butter. Stir occasionally to assist in the melting process. When the chocolate has melted most of the way, remove the bowl from the stove top and carefully stir until the chocolate is completely melted, the butter is fully incorporated, and the texture is perfectly smooth. Set aside.

In a mixing bowl place the sugar, eggs, vanilla extract, espresso powder and scotch. Start blending the ingredients while using the whisk attachment of your mixer, gradually increase the speed until the sugar is incorporated and the batter is light in color and texture.

With a rubber spatula, fold in the egg mixture to the melted chocolate. Continue folding until the batter is all one color and begins to stiffen slightly.

Stir the baking powder into the flour. Pour half of the flour into the batter and fold until just blended. Repeat with the second half of flour. While folding bring the batter up from the bottom of the bowl. Make sure to look for any dry clumps of flour and stir those in. The batter should be thick and smooth.

Pour batter into the sheet tray. Using your spatula, spread the batter to all four corners and even out it’s level across the sheet tray. Place in the preheated oven and bake for 15 minutes. Rotate the tray and bake for another 10 minutes. Test the brownies at this point. They should be firm but softer in the middle than at the edges. If so, remove from the oven and place on a cooling rack. Otherwise return the tray to the oven and continue baking for another 5 minutes.

Once cool enough to handle, trim away the edges, score the brownies and using a hot, sharp knife, carefully cut the brownies into equal sizes. If you are going to make these in advance, wrap the sheet tray completely with saran wrap and then with aluminum foil and place the finished brownies in the freezer. Allow them to thaw at least 1 hour before you begin cutting and serving them.


Raspberry and Hazelnut Brownies

1 1/2 pounds dark semisweet chocolate 70% or higher of exceptional quality, chopped
1 pound unsalted butter, cubed
1 1/4 pounds Ultra Fine Baker’s Sugar
9 Large Eggs at room temperature
1 Tablespoon Vanilla Extract
1 pound flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
2 cups lightly toasted and chopped hazelnuts
1/4 cup Chambourd, or other high quality Raspberry Brandy

Preheat oven to 400˚F. Grease bottom and sides of 12” x 18” x 3/4” sheet tray and cover the bottom with parchment paper. Set aside

Over a pot of simmering water, place a bowl containing the chocolate and the butter. Stir occasionally to assist in the melting process. When the chocolate has melted most of the way, remove the bowl from the stove top and carefully stir until the chocolate is completely melted, the butter is fully incorporated, and the texture is perfectly smooth. Stir in the nuts and set aside.

In a mixing bowl place the sugar, eggs, vanilla extract and chambourd. Start blending the ingredients while using the whisk attachment of your mixer, gradually increase the speed until the sugar is incorporated and the batter is light in color and texture.

With a rubber spatula, fold in the egg mixture to the melted chocolate. Continue folding until the batter is all one color and begins to stiffen slightly.

Stir the baking powder into the flour. Pour half of the flour into the batter and fold until just blended. Repeat with the second half of flour. While folding bring the batter up from the bottom of the bowl. Make sure to look for any dry clumps of flour and stir those in. The batter should be thick.

Pour batter into the sheet tray. Using your spatula, spread the batter to all four corners and even out it’s level across the sheet tray. Place in the preheated oven and bake for 15 minutes. Rotate the tray and bake for another 10 minutes. Test the brownies at this point. They should be firm but softer in the middle than at the edges. If so, remove from the oven and place on a cooling rack. Otherwise return the tray to the oven and continue baking for another 5 minutes.

Once cool enough to handle, trim away the edges, score the brownies and using a hot, sharp knife, carefully cut the brownies into equal sizes. If you are going to make these in advance, wrap the sheet tray completely with saran wrap and then with aluminum foil and place the finished brownies in the freezer. Allow them to thaw at least 1 hour before you begin cutting and serving them.


Pot Brownies (for those who need marijuana for medical purposes but do not want to smoke)

1 1/2 pounds dark semisweet chocolate 70% or higher of exceptional quality, chopped
2 pounds unsalted butter
8 ounces marijuana buds (shake, seeds and stems are fine)
1 1/4 pounds Ultra Fine Baker’s Sugar
9 Large Eggs at room temperature
1 Tablespoon Vanilla Extract
1 pound flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
2 cups chopped walnuts (optional)

Melt the butter in a pot over medium heat. Once completely liquid, add the marijuana to the butter and reduce the temperature to medium low. Fry the marijuana for at least 45 minutes. You might want to open a window because your whole house is going to smell like marijuana by the end of this process. The butter should change color from an opaque yellow to a relatively clear olive drab and the marijuana should be very dark, almost burnt. Pour the clarified butter over 4 layers of cheese cloth in a large strainer resting in a bowl. Allow the butter to continue to drip through the cheesecloth until all the liquid is in the bowl. Set aside.

Preheat oven to 400˚F. Grease bottom and sides of 12” x 18” x 3/4” sheet tray and cover the bottom with parchment paper. Set aside

Over a pot of simmering water, place a bowl containing the chocolate and the melted butter. Stir occasionally to assist in the melting process. When the chocolate has melted most of the way, remove the bowl from the stove top and carefully stir until the chocolate is completely melted, the butter is fully incorporated, and the texture is perfectly smooth. Stir in the walnuts, if desired. Set aside.

In a mixing bowl place the sugar, eggs and vanilla extract. Start blending the ingredients while using the whisk attachment of your mixer, gradually increase the speed until the sugar is incorporated and the batter is light in color and texture.

With a rubber spatula, fold in the egg mixture to the melted chocolate. Continue folding until the batter is all one color and begins to stiffen slightly.

Stir the baking powder into the flour. Pour half of the flour into the batter and fold until just blended. Repeat with the second half of flour. While folding bring the batter up from the bottom of the bowl. Make sure to look for any dry clumps of flour and stir those in. The batter should be thick and smooth.

Pour batter into the sheet tray. Using your spatula, spread the batter to all four corners and even out it’s level across the sheet tray. Place in the preheated oven and bake for 15 minutes. Rotate the tray and bake for another 10 minutes. Test the brownies at this point. They should be firm but softer in the middle than at the edges. If so, remove from the oven and place on a cooling rack. Otherwise return the tray to the oven and continue baking for another 5 minutes.

Once cool enough to handle, trim away the edges, score the brownies and using a hot, sharp knife, carefully cut the brownies into equal sizes. If you are going to make these in advance, wrap the sheet tray completely with saran wrap and then with aluminum foil and place the finished brownies in the freezer. Allow them to thaw at least 1 hour before you begin cutting and serving them.

Writer's Block: Super Sunday

Which is the better game: the Superbowl or the Puppy Bowl?

All sports, and I mean physical contact sports, are merely the circuses in modern society. They distract the masses from that which is actually important, (i.e., life and experience.) Men with balls on a field is the straight man's version of gay pornography- it is the only time in which it is acceptable for two, or more, men to make body contact with each other. (Strenuous, exhausting, sweaty body contact, grunting, dominating, struggling for control, in tight clothing that makes every bulge bulgier, every muscle muscle-ier.)

If you put a 'straight' porn on one television and a football game on the other, and showed them both to a group of testosterone fuelled guys, which do you think would actually get more attention?

I won't even go into my belief that high school sports leads to violence and they become nothing but emotionally damaged fodder for the greatest death cult of them all, the military.

Writer's Block: Left Behind

What do you want done with your body after you die?

stuffed in a sack cloth
taken to the mountains
buried in a hole
plant a tree over me
no grave marker
from the earth
back to the earth

This is not the Day I ordered...

Today started like any other day. I woke up all too early, went to work all too early, and was immediately training a newbie, also all too early! After all the prep was finished and I had sent my newbie home, I began working on candying lemon and lime peels. This gives me a reason to use my Baumé thermometer, which I bought because it is a gadget but now I actually can use. It measures density or viscosity... I can’t remember.

After finishing the first of five stages with the candied peels, I then made Meyer lemon curd and lime curd for tartlets I will be making in a few days. Once finished with that, I found a little time between lunches that I was able to make the short dough for the tart crusts. A very typical day in the life of Michael. Nothing exciting, nothing unusual, just me in my kitchen and my bartender/waiter working the floor.

But then something strange occurred. Three young men walked into the pub. They were cute and scruffy, but one stood out. ‘He looks... familiar?’ So I walked over to the table, dropped off menus and carded the three young men.

but I must backtrack. Earlier this morning, while prepping, I was discussing the thrill of freshly squeezed oranges straight off the tree in the crisp winter months in Florida. As usual, I was waxing nostalgic for the existence I didn’t appreciate at the time I had it. Of course this memory brings up the memory of Rex- as does any memory of Bradenton Florida.

Rex was the one I let slip through my fingers. I say that as if I actually possessed him. Of course I didn’t. However, there was something intense between us and I have regretted my behavior ever since that fateful day when I turned my heart cold to him. After I ‘dumped’ him, I honestly think I went mad for a few years. Which led to bitterness and my life in New Orleans, to finally an overwhelming sadness that just lingers in the shadows day in/day out.

I honestly don’t think there has been a day since that afternoon in 1997 in which I have not thought about him and repeatedly kicked myself for being such an ass. In retrospect I accept that we were young and the young often do the foolish. Had I the opportunity to do that whole scene over again, would I?

Only recently, after joining one of the many friend-based websites on the internet, I happened across Rex’s profile. When I say ‘happened across’ I mean that I searched for him. Oh yes, I have been furiously searching for him for the past 12 years. For varying reasons I am ashamed to say, but in the past couple years my primary goal for this was to simply apologize and hopefully gain some closure. At least this is what I tell myself and others because that is the healthy comment one would make. In reality? Well like I said, I still regret the day I let him slip through my fingers. If he asked me to move to Florida with him, I would have a very VERY difficult decision to make.

I sent him a short note saying hello, and he responded, we friended each other, he gave me his email and I did the same to him. I have written one letter to him, I received a short, but pleasant response, and not much happened after that. This is okay, I thought. At least I have a little closure. That is all I really wanted (that is a lie)


I guess I still love him. I know I am passionate about him. I know that I have hated him in the past. I know that I have been heartbroken about him. I know that I have been deeply fucked up in the head about him. So is it strange that I still love him, even though I don’t even know him anymore?

Honestly, I don’t expect him to be anything like he was so long ago. The man is 37 now. He’s lived a life. He’s had experiences that helped to mold him and his character- long after my departure.

Oh to be a cynic and a realist and a pessimist with a touch of naïveté, embellished fantasy, optimism and, worst of all, desire slicing through the cracks of my darkened eyes, bleak outlook, and ill-tempered bite. This is cruel, but this is where I am when it comes to this man from my past.

Back to this afternoon. While checking the I.D. of the first young man, I notice his license is from Florida...

blink...



is my heart beating?



blink...



Am I breathing?



blink...



Okay Michael try to act nonchalant, like nothing weird is going on, FIND THE DAMN EXPIRATION DATE AND BIRTHDATE! Snap out of it for Christ’s sake!

I look to the third of the young men. He’s wearing a hat, has a smirk, and is looking at one of the other young men, not at me. And then I recognize the hat.

...and the smirk
...and the jawline
...and the eyes
...and ohmigod Rex is sitting in the Hopvine and I am going to have to look at his I.D. in a couple seconds...



blink...

Michael remember inhale... exhale...

Eventually I glaze over as I scan the two other young men’s I.D.’s, I then take the final I.D. I smile a friendly smile, as I would to anyone else in the pub. I call it the ‘hospitality smile’ and I look down at the card in my hands. It is indeed Rex. My heart is now racing, I feel a little lightheaded and a bit queasy. I hand the card back to him and announce that I will be right back with some waters.

As I walk into the kitchen, I begin to mutter to myself about the situation. Amanda, after taking waters out to the three young men comes into the kitchen to find out what is going on with me.

I respond, stunned, “Rex is in the pub RIGHT. NOW.”
Amanda quizzically looks at me and appropriately says, “Rex?”
I respond, still stunned, “Fish... dead fish... Florida... ex... Table 14... facing us...”
Amanda stares blankly at me and then a flash of recognition, “Ohmigod, the guy you sent the dead fish to in the mail?”

(I told you I went a bit mad for a little while after our breakup)

I nod at Amanda and she looks casually in the direction of the table, “He’s looking over here at you. He’s kinda hot.”

“Yes.” I state, still stunned.

This was not part of my planned day.

Have I ever mentioned that I really hate surprises?

Having already carded them, and not making any comment or greeting to him, I am torn as to the next step. Is there a next step? Is it mine to take? Is this fate giving me one last chance to talk face to face with him?

We shall see...
Stay tuned for more!

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