Blackberry Icebox Cake

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Old-timey, delicious and packed with fresh berries.
Blackberry Icebox Cake

1 box of graham crackers
1 egg white, beaten
2 cups whipping cream plus 1 1/2 cups for topping
2 - 8 ox. packages cream cheese
1 - 15-17 oz. jar Blackberry or Black Raspberry jam
Fresh blackberries (as many as you desire - I used 1 1/2 - 2 cups of fresh ones, cut in half)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

Place a layer of graham crackers evenly into the bottom of a 9 x 13 cake pan.  Brush with beaten egg white. Bake for 5 minutes. Cool on a wire rack.

In a mixing bowl, whip the 2 cups whipping cream until stiff peaks form. Set aside.

In another mixing bowl, beat the two packages cream cheese until smooth.  Add the jam and beat on low until combined. Fold in the whipped cream and the fresh blackberries.

To create the layered effect, alternate graham crackers with the blackberry cream mixture. I made three layers.

Lastly, whip the remaining 1 1/2 cups whipping cream and cover top.

Cover tightly and freeze for at least 4 hours (I froze it overnight). Thaw for about 15 minutes prior to serving. Garnish with fresh blackberries.

Recipe courtesy of Julianne from Beyond Frosting.

The Dinner Party

Friday, June 26, 2015

An outdoor dinner party 
Friday Feature Kitchens is a weekly blog devoted to kitchens from around the world and the amazing cooks who create in them.  Each week features a different cook as we enjoy the culinary creativity of these passionate men and women, all with interesting stories, who take food seriously.  But it's about more than just good food. All of these cooks are equally passionate about people and the relationships nurtured over a delicious plate of home-cooked goodness.

This week's feature celebrates dinner parties, as my cooking partner and niece, Geneva Schlabach and I discuss some dinners we have hosted and why we are so passionate about gathering folks around a table. (To see a previous post on Geneva Schlabach, click here)

Choosing fresh produce at the local farmer's market for an upcoming dinner party.
Both Geneva and I were raised in the Mennonite tradition where girls were taught to cook at a young age.  I always jokingly tell people that I learned how to cook for thirty at a moment's notice, but, in all honesty, it's probably true.  I'm sure Geneva feels the same.  I grew up on our family's dairy farm where the garden was large, the hens produced an abundance of eggs, our freezer was stocked with grass-fed beef and the milk was always fresh. Geneva was raised similarly, and spent many long days and evenings working in the garden, then canning and freezing the fresh fruits and vegetables for the long winter months. We both had moms who knew how to make a perfect pie crust and who fixed nourishing meals, from scratch,  for our families to enjoy around the table each evening.  With such an upbringing, it was only natural we both developed a strong sense of commitment to wholesome cooking and the importance of the dinner table.

There's something magical about a dinner party as guests sit elbow to elbow in happy camaraderie, conversation flowing freely, while china clinks, glasses are tipped and a well-prepared meal is enjoyed in the company of friends. 

A family dinner  to celebrate the end of school and beginning of summer.
An indoor dinner party complete with printed menus for guests.
An outdoor Spring Feast where we met - for the first time - some of our Instagram followers!
The night really becomes magical when darkness descends, candles glisten and faces glow with the warmth of wine, fabulous dessert, and friends.
No matter the season, or who's on the guest list, a well-set table is high on our list of priorities.
Geneva, talking to Fair Share Farm about their CSA shares for fresh produce.  

Guests often enjoy one of Geneva's masterfully created chocolate confections such as this Lemon and Thyme Truffle.

Cakes often find their way onto the table at our parties. This one makes a fashion statement with its burst of red berries and chocolate polka dots!  

A buffet set up under the trees holds dessert, coffee and wine after the main course has been served.

We focus on creating a beautifully prepared  meal, but the final course of dessert leaves guests feeling completely pampered .  Here, French Meringues that will be served with a warm chocolate sauce.
There's always home-made bread on our table, such as this loaf garnished with fresh herbs ready to go in the oven. 
Many of the recipes we use come from our Mennonite heritage, but we are just as enthusiastic about embracing the culinary trends of other cultures.  Confession: we are both partial to French cooking. 


A recipe inspired by our Amish culture
Best Ever Baked Oatmeal
1 C. canola oil
1 C. honey
4 eggs
6 cups old fashioned oats
4 tsp. baking powder
2 Cups milk
2 cups fruit ­ (blueberries, fresh sliced peaches, diced apples)

Combine oil, honey and eggs. Add all remaining ingredients and mix well. Pour into a greased 9 x 13 pan and bake at 350 degrees for about 30­ - 40 minutes. Moist and delicious!

Chicken in a Le Creuset Dutch Oven

Coconut Milk Baked Chicken   (serves 6 - ­8)

1 can coconut milk
4 tablespoons fresh lime juice
4 tablespoons brown sugar
1 ½ teaspoons ground ginger
1 ½ teaspoons garlic powder
2 teaspoons dried basil (or fresh if you have it)
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Bone­-in chicken (skin on).  I use thighs and drumsticks

Combine all sauce ingredients and coat chicken pieces well. Bake in a Dutch Oven uncovered at 425 degrees for 1 hour or until tender, basting with the juice every 15 minutes or so. A regular meal at our house! So delicious!

Bon appetit!

For dinner party tips or if you would like to be considered for a Friday Feature Kitchen post, please email me at  

Chicken Piccata

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Italian, cast iron, white wine, garlic. Need I say more?

My co-worker and I like to discuss what we're having for dinner.  We compare notes, share recipes, and talk about food endlessly when given a chance. This Chicken Piccata is a recipe she shared recently, and it is an easy fix when you have a limited amount of time to get dinner on the table. Having just polished off a plate of this incredibly tasty chicken served on a bed of Basmati rice, I'd say it's a perfect Wednesday night meal.  Here's the recipe, with just a slight variation.  Enjoy!

Chicken Piccata

3 boneless skinless chicken breasts
Sea salt
Freshly ground pepper
1/4 cup flour
4 tablespoons butter
1 cup fresh sliced mushrooms
2 garlic cloves, minced or chopped fine
1/4 cup dry white wine (I put an extra glug or two)
The juice of one lemon
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
1/2 teaspoon fresh thyme

Pound chicken to 1/2 inch thickness. Roll in flour.  In a large skillet, brown the chicken in 3 tablespoons butter over medium heat for about 5 minutes, until golden. Sprinkle with salt, pepper, parsley and thyme. (Turn once) Remove from skillet and keep warm.

Add remaining butter (plus more if needed) to skillet and cook the mushrooms and garlic until tender.  Return chicken to pan. Add wine and lemon juice. Simmer for 7 - 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, till sauce slightly thickens.

Chop garlic, then press gently with flat edge of knife blade to release flavor.
Cooking with cast iron is the best! I am lucky to have two, one from my Mom and one from my husband's mother.
"Don't crowd the mushrooms."  -Julia Child

Y'all know what a "glug" of wine is, right?
Happy eating!  There is no photo of the finished product on the plate because we were so hungry, it disappeared before the camera could be whipped out! You just have to trust me. It looked great.

Modern Farmette's Poppyseed Ice Cream

Monday, June 22, 2015

Nothing says summer quite like homemade ice cream and this recipe from Modern Farmette looks simply divine.  Since she hasn't gotten around to posting it on her blog, I'm posting these simple ingredients she shared on her Instagram feed last week.  And while the link is in front of you, head on over to her site.  She's one of my favorites and was featured on my blog recently as a Friday Feature Kitchen.  You can read that post here.

Poppyseed Ice Cream

2 cups heavy cream
1.5 cups whole milk
3/4 cup sugar
1 cup poppy seeds, toasted in pan for one minute, then blitzed in small food processor until forms a wet paste (alternatively, use poppyseed filling)
Seeds of one whole vanilla pod
Pinch of salt

Place all ingredients into saucespan over low heat until sugar is melted. Take off heat and allow to cool to room temperature. Chill in fridge overnight. Churn in ice cream maker according to manufacturer's instructions.  DEVOUR.

Chocolate Ginger Molasses Cookies

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Chocolate Ginger Molasses Cookies

12 tablespoons butter, melted
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1 cup granulate sugar, divided
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 large egg
1/3 cup molasses
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups all-purpose flour (I use King Arthur)
6 tablespoons cacao barry cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon ginger
1 teaspoon cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In mixer bowl, beat butter with brown sugar and 1/2 cup granulated sugar until combined. Beat in egg, vanilla and molasses.

In medium bowl, combine flour with cocoa, baking soda and spices. Add into first mixture and beat just until combined. Chill in refrigerator until firm, about 15 minutes. Place 1/2 cup granulated sugar in bowl.

Using scoop or a tablespoon, roll dough into small balls, dip in sugar, place on baking sheet and flatten.  Bake for 4 -5 minutes on lower rack of oven, then transfer to middle rack and bake an additional 4 - 5 minutes, until puffed and tops begin to crack.

Let rest on baking pan for two minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool. Make sandwiches using your favorite ice cream or eat plain.

A Farm in Italy

Friday, June 19, 2015

Ashley is a food and travel writer and photographer who is happily living out her dream with her Chef husband, Jason. 

Jason and Ashley Bartner dreamed of buying a farm. But not just any farm, and not in America.  It all started when the Bartners, college sweethearts in Seattle, then living in the Big Apple, honeymooned in Italy. By the time they came back to New York City, the idea of owning a farm in the scenic  countryside of Italy had firmly settled in their hearts.

The idea grew into a concrete plan as these two career-driven professionals decided to leave their lives in New York City, where Jason served as an executive chef and Ashley worked in hospitality for a private club, and move to the hilly countryside that nestles between the Apennine Mountains and the Adriatic Sea.  They longed to own a place where people could come to take in the beauty of Italy and learn about the culture. A home spacious enough to rent out rooms to guests. Lots of land for growing organic vegetables and fruits.  And a place where Jason could spread his culinary wings and host cooking classes.

La Tavola Marche - the organic farm and inn that is a dream come true for the Bartners.

After a series of trips to Italy over the next year, combined with an immersion in the language and networking with locals, they finally found their dream place - a 300-year-old farmhouse situated picturesquely on 250 acres with plenty of room for gardens and animals, guests and cooking.  Packing their bags, these newlyweds moved to Le Marche in 2007, a region Ashley describes as "a treasure chest rich in history, nature, art, folklore and culinary tradition" where Slow Living has been a way of life for centuries. Here, they have poured their heart and soul into creating La Tavola Marche, an organic farm, inn and cooking school.  Eight years later, the fruit of their labor is sweet as their farm has become a choice destination recommended by a large variety of publications such as Food and Wine, London's Sunday Times, the Huffington Post, and many travel magazines.  The Bartner's dream has paid off.

Jason and Ashley in their kitchen, where seasonal Italian cooking carries the pulse of this beautiful countryside.

Freshly picked berries by Ashley, divine pastry crust by Jason.

Vegetables are harvested fresh daily from the garden for cooking.

The perfect ride to the village for a basket of supplies from the market.

Pecorino - sheep's milk cheese made by local artisans

Who could say no to this sublime vanilla panna cotta liberally doused with chocolate ganache?

A student learns how to make cavatelli (little caves) - a pasta made with semolina dough and no eggs.

Plenty of room in the spacious kitchen  for cooking classes.

Gorgeous artichokes at a farmers' market in Fano.

Freshly picked cherries from the orchard.  Some will be made into jam while others will be used for baking or homemade liquor.

The leaves will be used to make a cherry liquor prepared with an authentic Italian recipe from the Bartner's neighbor.

 Fresh from the Adriatic, these anchovies will be fried with sage leaves in a light beer batter for an afternoon cooking class.

Deep into the forests of Le Marche, Ashley is on the hunt for white truffles.

No matter the season, this Italian landscape has a way of lingering in the heart.

Jason and Ashley plan to start a consulting firm in 2016 focusing on sustainable tourism and social media marketing as well as producing short films on food, travel and artisans throughout Europe. To learn more about the Bartners, their cooking school, or availability to stay in one of their apartments, visit their website hereLa Tavola Marche.


Now this is home cooking in Italy. Verdure Gratinate can be found on many tables here in our area,always delicious - warm & toasty or packed up for a pot-luck.  The thick slices of onions are my favorite and are basically the best onion rings ever! They come out soft & warm inside with perfectly light & crispy crunch. To top it off this healthy dish is incredibly simple to make & can be served as an antipasto or at the end of the meal with your meat as a contorno.

Baked Vegetables with Bread Crumbs

(Verdure Gratinate)

Serves 4

1 tomato
Salt & pepper
Olive oil
About a cup of plain bread crumbs
Season plain breadcrumbs with fresh herbs.
Place veggies on cookie sheet, (covered in parchment paper) drizzle with olive oil, add salt & pepper.
Sprinkle breadcrumbs evenly over vegetables, covering them completely (but don't go crazy with a half an inch of breadcrumbs).
Finish with another drizzle of olive oil.
Bake 375 F / 190C degrees oven for 45 minutes - 1 hour, until vegetables are soft & breadcrumbs are browned on top.
Serve warm or room temperature.

(Below are suggested veggies, you can use any kind of vegetables you like, cut in half, lengthwise so they have a large flat surface)
1 small zucchini
1 eggplant
1 onion (thickly sliced)
1 pepper

Small handful of fresh herbs of your choice (we use: oregano, parsley or marjoram), chopped

The perfect Lemon Tart

Shortbread Dough 
(Pâte sablée)

255 g flour, sifted (9 oz)
150 g butter (3.5 oz)
90 g confectioners sugar (3 oz)
few drops of vanilla
pinch of salt
2 egg yolks
1-2 tablespoons ice cold water

Sift the flour onto the work surface and make a well in the center. 
Dice the butter and place it in the well, then work it with your fingertips until its very soft. 
Sift the confectioners’ sugar on the the butter and add the salt, working it into the butter.
Add the egg yolks and mix well. Gradually draw in the flour and mix until completely incorporated/amalgamated. Add the vanilla extract.
Give the dough a turn or two.
Briefly kneed the dough and form into a disc. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate. (Dough will keep well refrigerated for several days if necessary.)

When well chilled (an hour or so), roll out on your board. Transfer to an  8 in. tart ring. Blind bake at 375 F / 190 C

Lemon Cream
175 ml freshly squeezed lemon juice (6 oz) - about 5-6 lemons
150 g unsalted butter at room temperature (3.5 oz) - cut into pieces
200 g sugar (7 oz)
2 large eggs
3 large egg yolks

In a stainless steel pot, heat the lemon juice, butter and 150 g sugar over low heat until the butter has melted and the mixture comes to a gentle simmer (about 2 minutes).

Using a wire whisk, beat the eggs, egg yolks, and remaining 50 g sugar until the mixture is pale and light (about 4-5 minutes).  Slowly pour half of the hot lemon juice mixture into the egg/sugar mixture to temper, beating until blending and fluffy.  

Return the mixture to the saucepan containing remaining  hot lemon mixture and cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly with a spoon, until the mixture nearly starts to simmer - about 3 minutes. 

Transfer the lemon cream to a metal bowl and place over a water bath to cool. (If not using immediately, lay a sheet of plastic wrap directly on the surface of the cream.)

When cool, spread the lemon cream evenly into the pastry shell. Smooth the top with a spatula. Place the tart back in the oven and bake for 5 minutes to set the filling slightly without coloring it. 

Carefully remove the tart if made in a ring pan and let cool on a wire rack. Place in the fridge until the tart until the filling is firm. Remove from the fridge 10-15 minutes before serving.

Garnish with compote of wild berries or candied lemon zest!

All photos courtesy of Ashley Bartner and used with permission.

Chilled Peaches in White Wine Syrup

Monday, June 15, 2015

June in the South is hot enough to make even the most fanatical outdoor lover want to stay indoors.  Today was no exception. The temperatures are still hovering in the 90's after dinner, and the leaves, bereft of even the faintest breeze hang limply on the trees.  This calls for a bit of after-dinner cheer to remind us again why it is we love summer. It's because of the peaches.  At least, that's one very good reason to love this hot month.  And this recipe by Mimi Thorisson is your key to a golden evening.  Don't expect to make them and eat them in an hour, though, since they need to be refrigerated at least 3 hours.  This calls for a bit of planning ahead, which I can be very bad at doing when it comes to food (anyone else a spur-of-the-moment cook?).

Here is the recipe, compliments of A Kitchen in France, which, by the way, is a cookbook you will most definitely treasure.  The photography alone is worth the price of the book!  Here is a link to Mimi's blog,  Manger which is a delight to read.

Chilled White Peaches in White Wine Syrup

8 white peaches (or yellow)
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
3/4 cup white wine
1 cinnamon stick
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise, seeds scraped out, seeds and bean reserved
Grated zest and juice of one lemon
a small handful of fresh mint leaves

Bring a medium pot of water to boil. Plunge the peaches into the boiling water for 10 seconds. Remove with a slotted spoon and peel them. Cut in half and remove the pits.

In a large saucepan, combine the sugar, wine, cinnamon, vanilla bean and seeds, lemon zest and lemon juice. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring to dissolve sugar. Add the halved peaches and cook for 3 minutes, just to soften peaches slightly. Transfer to a bowl and set aside to cool in the syrup.

Sprinkle the cooled peaches with the mint leaves, cover, and refrigerate until cold, at least 3 hours.

Serve peaches with a dollop of vanilla ice cream and drizzle the peach syrup over top.

Esther's Farmhouse Kitchen

Friday, June 12, 2015

A small hilly road threads its way through the rich farmland of Ohio's Amish country where fertile fields show crops of corn and wheat, and lush pastures surround picturesque farms where cows and horses graze in contented harmony. Chickens cluck, freshly hung laundry flaps on a line, and a woman bends over her garden, hands deftly sowing a bed of lettuce. This is the home of  Esther, a slender middle-aged Amish woman whose wavy hair are tucked neatly under her white pleated covering and whose eyes sparkle with joy at my unannounced visit.  She lives in a hundred-year-old farmhouse, where her mother lived before her, and where babies were born, church is held, quiltings are hosted and neighborhood ice cream suppers are enjoyed under the trees.

The butler's pantry 
Though it's barely mid-morning, Esther has been up since dawn.  Her kitchen is spotless from breakfast clean-up, her laundry is washed and drying in the breeze, and, though it's early spring when I visit, most of her garden has already been planted in neat rows. Always eager for a visit with cousins, she welcomes me into her kitchen and pulls out a chair with a hearty, "Sit down!" as we reminisce about childhood years when my parents would drop me off for the day as they tended to church duties or drove a neighboring Amish woman to the Cleveland Clinic with a sick child, or when I just needed the  adventure of romping with a bustling family - so different from my own quiet life on the farm.

The kitchen window frames a view of the barnyard
It's as it always has been on my aunt's farm - nothing has changed, except for a fresh layer of paint on walls and cupboards.  The smell of kerosene lamps lingers in the air.  The clock ticks on the mantle in the living room. The floors creak with age. The windows frame views of the barn and fields beyond where horses run and a Collie dog romps with her pups. The wood-burning cook stove, where my aunt hovered for many hours as she baked pies and cookies, has now been moved to the summer kitchen downstairs and replaced with a newer gas range where Esther continues the tradition of cooking and canning for her large family, producing mouth-watering food that will tempt the faintest appetite and keep one reaching for second helpings.

The wood-burning stove has been relegated to retirement.
The butler's pantry where kitchen essentials await their use.
The mudroom holds coats and boots for farm chores.
In the summer months, Amish women do their cooking in a  'summer kitchen' in the basement where the natural coolness helps during hot days with no air conditioning or fans. Here, a fresh-water spring off of the kitchen serves as a refrigerator.

Fresh milk, where cream rises to the top, keeps company along-side leftover casseroles.

A fresh turkey marinates in preparation for Sunday lunch.

Ice skates hang in readiness for winter nights of skating on neighborhood ponds.
This summer kitchen with it's spring, adjacent root cellar, rows of canned goods and damp coolness on hot summer days carries a mystery all its own.
The beginning of spring, when shelves have more empty jars than full ones.

A family graveyard keeps watch atop the hill as chickens scratch in the back yard.

Slow living.

Since my visit with Esther in the spring, she sent two of her handwritten recipes to share with you. The first is one that belonged to her mother, and, as she says in her letter, "This recipe for relish is one my mom used. I was always so fond of it. It's delicious to eat with pork."  The second is for rolls and is one of her favorites.  She says,  "Anytime I have left-over mashed potatoes I'm tempted to make these."

Green Tomato Relish 
(This recipe is a large amount for preserving.  If you want to use it fresh, quarter the recipe)

4 quarts chopped green tomatoes
6 green peppers, chopped
6 red peppers, chopped
10 large onions, chopped
4 teaspoons salt (or more, as desired)
2 teaspoons celery seed
2 teaspoons allspice
2 teaspoons turmeric
1 1/2 cups vinegar
6 cups sugar

Mix vegetables together with 4 teaspoons salt. Let stand for 10 minutes, then drain. Mix seeds, spice, sugar and vinegar with vegetables. Heat to boiling. Remove from heat and let stand for a few minutes. Heat to boiling again. Cold pack a few minutes. For directions on cold packing: Cold Packing How-To

Potato Refrigerator Rolls

2/3 cup shortening
1 cup mashed potatoes
1/2 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 cup milk, scalded
1 package dry yeast
1/2 cup warm water
6 - 8 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup brown sugar

Soak yeast in water. Cream shortening, potatoes and sugar.  Add eggs and beat well. Add salt and milk and mix well. Add yeast and water, stir in flour. Cover dough and let rise until double. Roll out 1/2 of dough in a 1-inch thick rectangle, sprinkle with 1/2 cup brown sugar and some cinnamon. Roll up, cut rolls 1 1/2 inches thick, place on baking sheet, let rise. Bake at 350 degrees until lightly browned. Ice while slightly warm. Rest of dough can be stored in refrigerator and used later.

Esther also uses this dough to make a Dill Braid.  She says,  "When I make a Dill Braid, I use only half of the recipe, then add a tablespoon of dill seed and some chopped onions. I divide the dough in 3 portions and braid it. This is a special treat for my family to eat warm, spread with butter, or toast it a little on the griddle.  Yummy!"