Roasted Tomato Soup with Basil and Thyme

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Those heirloom tomatoes from the Farmer's Market on Saturday finally made into a soup tonight. And it was worth the wait!  After sun-ripening on my warm kitchen counter for a few more days, I washed and sliced them, slid them onto a baking sheet, drizzled olive oil and garlic chunks over them, then some salt and pepper and roasted them for an hour at 375 - 400 degrees.  The smell was heavenly! Following is a recipe by Ina Garten from her Barefoot Contessa cookbook,  which I followed, sort of.

3 pounds ripe plum tomatoes, cut in half lengthwise
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons good olive oil
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 1/2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
2 cups chopped yellow onions (2 onions)
6 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 (28-ounce) canned plum tomatoes, with their juice
4 cups fresh basil leaves, packed
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
1 quart chicken stock or water

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Toss together the tomatoes, garlic, 1/4 cup olive oil, salt, and pepper. Spread the tomatoes in 1 layer on a baking sheet and roast for 45 minutes.

In a cast iron skillet over medium heat, saute the onions with 2 tablespoons of olive oil, the butter, and red pepper flakes for 10 minutes, until the onions start to brown. Put the onions, canned tomatoes, roasted tomatoes and basil leaves into a blender and pulse lightly for a few times until mixture is slightly smooth but still a little chunky.

In a stock pot, mix the chicken stock and tomatoe mixture. Bring to a boil and simmer uncovered for 40 minutes. Taste for seasonings. Serve hot or cold.

When Zurich Meets Brooklyn

Friday, September 25, 2015

Chaya Rappoport, a 17-year-old, Swiss-born blogger, writer and cook carries an appreciation for the culture and traditions of her family's heritage while using her varied upbringing to formulate a unique palette of her own that is both reminiscent of her childhood in Zurich as well as her life in New York.  It was from her Swiss grandmother, who she calls "Bubby" (yiddish for grandmother), that she learned the art of fine cuisine while the American flavor of her cooking came from the introduction of "pumpkin pie, burgers and New York pizza" following a move to Brooklyn where her mom had roots. Rappoport now lives with her family in beautiful Rockland County of upstate New York, an area rife with Revolution history and bountiful in natural beauty, from the Ramapo Mountains down to the fertile valley along the Hudson River where she and her mother enjoy cooking with seasonal produce from local farmers. While she admits her cooking is heavily influenced by her formative years in Switzerland, she also embraces traditional Jewish food and says she enjoys "adding new twists to old recipes."

Chaya's skills in the kitchen reflect the beauty she seeks in daily life. From Swiss heirloom recipes of chocolate mousse and plum tarts, to Jewish babka and challlah and American pie, she embraces the art of home cooked food with a rare dedication for someone her age. Her food shows up at social events, parties with girlfriends, festivities in her local Jewish community and on the table at home.  This summer, she took her love of pie baking to a new level by taking orders from local customers, turning out delicious lattice-topped creations of blueberry, blackberry, plum and peach.  She says,  "If I could bake pie all day, I'd be a happy girl."

Currently a senior in high school, Chaya plans to live abroad for a year after graduation and then hopes to attend culinary school.  And after that, she says, "I'd love to have a bakery specializing in pie and bread - that's definitely a dream of mine!"  For now, she enjoys her life as the blogger of Retrolillies where her skills as a writer, cook and photographer can shine. While she misses her grandmother's influence and their life in Switzerland, she is thankful Bubby is  only a phone call away and she can regularly call her for advice.  

"Life is short. Eat dessert first." - Chaya Rappoport

"I love baking pie so much that I decided to sell some this summer."
Put us on your customer list, Chaya.
And for a very special Rosh Hashana meal: brown sugar honey cake topped with figs, pomegranate,
warm honeycomb and golden berries. 
A clean-out-the-fridge galette packed with figs, apricots, blueberries, strawberries, peaches and plums.
Blackberry rye scones made with buttermilk. Umm, yes.

Triple-layer chocolate cake with chocolate butter/whipped cream, garnished with ganache and sugared strawberries.
What birthday girl wouldn't be ecstatic with this dream come true?
Salted peanut butter cups are perfect to eat alone or to sprinkle over ice cream.
Chocolate Bourbon Pecan Pie. Enough said.

"My favorite things to bake are made by hand: sourdough bread (I've kept a starter for almost a year now), pie dough, brioche, etc. For me, there is nothing like kneading a mass of dough and watching it turn into bread, or cutting butter into flour and watching flaky pie dough expand in the oven."
A beautiful still life of figs.

Those gorgeous figs went into this this galette with pears and frangipane.

From her grandmother, Chaya learned "how to properly dice an onion
and make an ethereal chocolate mousse from four ingredients."

"In Switzerland, there is a very big emphasis on beauty, art and cleanliness. People spend time in nature - going hiking and taking day trips to the Alps - and there's less excess, but everything is done well and with attention to detail."
"The pristine beauty of Switzerland is easily captured, but the grunge of New York City,
and the real, earthy side of everyday life requires a different approach."
(from Chaya's thoughts on photography, here capturing a shot in Brooklyn)
The Hudson River Valley produces an abundance of fresh fruit and vegetables.
 Here, it's apple picking time at an orchard. 

Classic Chocolate Mousse
Classic Chocolate Mousse
Why I love this recipe: this is one of those recipes that uses a few, simple ingredients to create something really delicious; in this case, a rich, decadent chocolate mousse. Heavy cream and dark chocolate make this velvety and smooth, whipped egg whites add the classic, airy texture, and the vanilla bean adds an extra dimension of flavor. 
For the mousse:
  • 5 oz. dark chocolate
  • scant 2/3 cup heavy cream
  • heaping 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 vanilla bean
  • 4 egg whites
  • 4 egg yolks
  • pinch of salt
  • dark chocolate, for grating
  1. Chop the chocolate into small uniform pieces, then melt the chocolate over a double boiler.
  2. While the chocolate is melting, slice the vanilla bean lengthwise and scrape the seeds. Add the seeds into heavy cream.
  3. Once the chocolate is melted, add heavy cream into chocolate and whisk continuously until shiny and smooth.
  4. Remove from a double boiler and let cool.
  5. Separate the whites and yolks. Beat the yolks and sugar and fold into the chocolate mixture, making sure that the chocolate is sufficiently cooled so that the yolks don’t scramble.
  6. In a separate, clean and dry bowl whip the egg whites with a pinch of salt until soft peaks form. Gently fold into the chocolate, taking care not to viciously deflate the mixture.
  7. Divide between four teacups and refrigerate for at least 4 hours.
  8. Serve cold with grated chocolate over the top.
Chocolate Walnut Meringue Cookies
Chocolate Walnut Meringue Cookies
Yields: approximately 60 cookies
Why I love this recipe: made with a yeasted dough, these hybrid bun/cookie swirls are crunchy, filled with soft meringue, and spread with a heady mixture of cocoa and cinnamon. Walnuts give these cookies irresistible texture- don’t leave them out- and add a faintly nutty flavor to the mix. Best of all, the recipe makes a large batch, which is perfect for Chanukah parties this time of year.
Notes: the dough is only minimally sweet, and since the cocoa and cinnamon mixture is kept unsweetened, it’s important that you use all the meringue, which is what gives these cookies their wonderful sweetness and soft, almost marshmallow-y inner texture. Be sure to divide the meringue evenly so that there is enough for each piece of dough. I often double this recipe as t he cookies freeze well, when tightly wrapped, for a month.
For the dough: 
  • 1 cup warm water
  • 2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast
  • 4 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 3 eggs, separated and whites reserved for meringue
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) melted butter
  • 3 cups all purpose flour
For the meringue + chocolate filling: 
  • 3 egg whites, reserved from above
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 4 tablespoons dutch cocoa powder
  • 1 tablespoon cinnamon
  • 1 cup coarsely chopped walnuts
  1. Combine the water, yeast, and one tablespoon sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer. Let sit, covered, until the yeast is proofed and bubbly, ten minutes.
  2. Add the rest of the sugar, salt and the egg yolks to the bowl. Mix well to combine.
  3. Add the butter and flour to the bowl and again, mix well to combine. Refrigerate the dough overnight.
  4. The next day, let the dough come to room temperature. Meanwhile, whip the reserved egg whites and the cup of sugar together until stiff, marshmallow-y peaks form.
  5. Preheat the oven to 350°. Divide the dough into four sections. On a floured surface, roll each section into a long rectangle (the exact length doesn’t matter, so long as the dough is rolled thinly, to its capacity.)
  6. Spread each rectangle thickly with meringue, leaving a 1″ border around the sides. Mix the cocoa and cinnamon to combine and divide the mixture into four, sprinkling it onto each rectangle, on top of the meringue.
  7. Top each portion of dough with 1/4 cup of chopped walnuts. Then, roll the dough up, starting with the side nearest you, to the side across from you.
  8. You will now have four long, thin logs. Slice each log into 1/2″ sections.
  9. Place the cookies on parchment paper lined baking sheets. Bake each sheet for approximately 25 minutes, or until the cookies are browned. Let cool and enjoy!

  All photos by Chaya Rappoport and used with permission.
September 24, 2015

Cauliflower Puree with Chickpeas

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Cauliflower Puree with Chickpeas
This one-dish vegan meal carries a zesty,  garlic-packed punch that that will have you dipping your spoon in for more!  The boiled cauliflower tastes surprisingly like mashed potatoes! This recipe filled two large soup bowls, but it is very filling and could probably have been divided among three people, or, if served as a side dish in smaller bowls, would serve 4.

Cauliflower Puree with Chickpeas

Cauliflower Puree:

3 cups cauliflower
3 cloves garlic
1/4 cup vegan or regular butter
1/2 cup chickpeas, cooked and drained
1 tablespoon chopped rosemary
salt and pepper
squeeze of 1/2 to 1 whole lemon, plus some zest to taste
milk or water to thin, or more chickpeas as necessary to thicken

Roasted Chickpeas and Cauliflower:

1.5 cups cauliflower
1.5 cups cooked or canned chickpeas, drained
olive oil
minced garlic
salt and pepper
a few pinches of chopped rosemary


1.  Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
2.  Meanwhile bring a large pot of salted water to boil, boil the cauliflower until tender, about 10 - 20 minutes.
3.  While cauliflower is boiling, start roasting the chickpeas and the rest of the cauliflower. Prep two baking sheets with foil. Separately toss the chickpeas and cauliflower with olive oil, garlic, rosemary, salt and pepper. (Do this right on the baking sheet). Roast both in the oven until golden brown, about 25 minutes.
4.  Back to the boiling cauliflower...Drain it well, and transfer to a high speed blender. Add the rest of the puree ingredients and blend well. Taste and adjust, adding more salt, pepper and/or lemon as necessary. If yours is too think, add some more water or milk. It it's too thin, add some more chickpeas. The consistency should be thinner and lighter than hummus.
5.  Plate with a generous scoop of the puree and top it with the roasted cauliflower, chickpeas, a drizzle of olive oil, a few small pinches of red pepper flakes and another pinch of rosemary.

Recipe by

Texas Sheet Cake

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Texas Sheet Cake

The bases were loaded and Katie was up to bat.  She stood there at home plate, gripping the wooden bat fiercely in her sweaty hands.  The pitcher released the ball and with one mighty heave she smacked that ball into the outfield, sending eighth grade boys scrambling to retrieve it before she scored another home run.  But there were a few fumbles and by the time that ball was flying through the air towards the catcher, Katie had already slid, yes slid, across home plate, cap all askew and her plain dress covered with a layer of dust while a smile as big as Texas stretched across her sun-burnt face.

It was fall and the Amish children were enjoying a longer recess to play their favorite game of softball at the one-room school where I taught for three years. Today was a special day because the parents were bringing lunch to school for everyone, and after weeks of bologna sandwiches, apples and chips everyone was excited for the appetizing spread of food these monthly carry-in meals provided.

Soon the clip-clop of buggies coming from different directions signaled the arrival of food was imminent and the game wound down as players headed for the wash bucket inside the door where everyone took turns splashing water on their hands to (somewhat) get rid of the grime. Boys smoothed down their hair and hung their straw hats on hooks while the girls tucked fly-away strands back under their coverings.  Then everyone lined up in neat rows to have a moment of grace while everyone quietly bowed their heads. A clearing of the throat, usually by one of the men, signaled the end of grace and soon lively chatter ensued as plates were filled and food was consumed.  After the meal was over, the girls helped to clean up while the boys loaded the buggies, reaching for the last squares of cake left in the pan.

So here's the recipe for that cake, handed to me by one of the moms after just such a day, as she got in her buggy to head back down the road to her farm. It's perfect for Fall and family gatherings and church carry-ins and backyard campfire picnics. Or for no reason at all except to enjoy a rich slice of chocolatey goodness.

Texas Sheet Cake

2 sticks butter
1 cup water
4 tablespoons cocoa
2 cups white sugar
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 eggs
1/2 cup sour cream

In a large bowl, stir together the sugar and flour. Set aside.

Melt butter in a saucepan. Add water and cocoa, whisking to blend. Bring to a boil.  Remove from heat and add sour cream, whisking to bring down temperature slightly, then add the eggs (beaten slightly), vanilla, salt and baking soda.  Whisk together and pour over the bowl of sugar and flour.  Stir gently until blended. Pour into a cookie sheet or jelly roll pan.

Bake in a 350 degree oven for 15 - 20 minutes, until a knife inserted in center comes out clean.

While cake is baking, prepare the frosting.

1 stick butter
4 tablespoons cocoa
6 tablespoons milk
1 pound confectioner's sugar
1/2 cup nuts (optional)
1 teaspoon vanilla

In a saucepan, melt butter.  Add cocoa and milk and bring to a boil. Remove from heat and add vanilla.  Pour into a mixer bowl and whip with 1 pound confectioner's sugar and nuts.

When cake comes out of oven, cool for about five minutes, then pour frosting over still warmish/hot cake.

If you can, wait until it cools before you cut a slice.  Note:  I have never been able to wait.

More Faith than Fear

Thursday, September 17, 2015

In the middle of nowhere, between fields of golden cornstalks and rolling hills dotted with grazing cows, and where horse-drawn buggies clippity-clop down country roads, Lena Schlabach and her two daughters, Felicia, 20, and Sydni, 13, pull up to their house after a day of treasure hunting in old barns, or, picking, as they call it, looking for rusty artifacts to upcycle and display in Millersburg's newest clothing boutique, Farmhouse Frocks.  Situated in the downtown historic district, Farmhouse Frocks features vintage-inspired clothing sewn from old tablecloths and linens with prairie-style patterns designed by Lena and her daughters.

Lena, an innovative business woman raised in the Amish culture, says it all started when a group of friends known as The Housewives of Holmes County traveled to Fete en Blanc in Columbus, Ohio last summer for an outdoor picnic. Schlabach, who organized the group's participation in this Parisian-style gathering in a park where guests dressed all in white, was fascinated by a vintage dress her friend wore which she had accented with bits of crocheted lace. And on a long road trip to Florida the next day, the idea of having her own clothing business started forming like a small seed of hope inside her heart.

Felicia, Sydni and Lena at the Rock the Frock fashion show in the alley behind their store.

Over the next few weeks, the pieces began falling into place as that seed started to blossom into reality and Farmhouse Frocks was launched.  Lena set up a small studio space in the basement of her bustling household and began scouring flea markets and thrift stores for vintage linens. Friends and family in the community heard about her venture and soon she had 20 Amish seamstresses willing to sew her clothing, providing the quality she desired in a product designed to fit a woman's body, from sizes 28 down to 5. And then came her lucky break, or, as she terms it, her "blessing from God."

Already the owner of a successful homemade granola business and a genius at marketing and branding, Lena had a hefty group of devoted followers on social media who eagerly embraced Farmhouse Frocks. One of these followers was Country Living Fair who contacted her about setting up a booth at their show in Atlanta. The show was three weeks away, and she had just launched her business.

Each label says, "You are... 100% beautiful. 100% Worthy. 100% Unique. 100% God-made.

"I thought to myself, I must be crazy.  How can I get $20,000 worth of inventory in just three weeks?" she recounts as she describes the whirlwind of activity that followed. But once again, friends and family rallied and helped, from shopping and sewing to organizing and packing and then setting up her booth and modeling her frocks during the show.  It was a huge success and she came home with the realization that in those short weeks she had already outgrown her basement studio.

Displays are beautifully crafted with new and vintage accessories, along with unusual finds.

Through another providential set of circumstances, her current location became available where she and business partner, Allyssa Eliot, a wedding and portrait photographer, now share a studio space in an old brick and mortar establishment filled with the charm of a bygone era. As you step over the threshold you can see the magic that causes people to drive for two hours or more to visit this unique store. With a burgeoning list of customers, including Nashville country music star, Ruthie Collins, and another Country Living Fair coming up in September, Lena admits to having growing pains but says, "I just have to put my head down and go, because that's what I have to do right now."

Lena readily credits God for giving her the ability to sustain a debt-free business model for Farmhouse Frocks.  She says, " I remember going to Walmart before opening night, thinking, do I buy this toiletry item or do I buy another pack of wooden hangers so everything looks perfect?  That's how down-to-the-wire it was. When I look back at how God provided for the Country Living Fair after three weeks in business for the first time, there's just no way - it was like feeding the multitudes with a few fish in a basket."

Elegant lace designs in easy-flowing fit are a signature look of this Prairie-style fashion.

More than anything, she says this business is about relationships.  "I have come to realize how important solid relationships are and I credit that as a key to my success. Sometimes I wonder, why are people so good to me, like a friend going around and job shadowing me, saving my day when I was just at a wits end?  I just want to keep making good choices for my business so I won't have broken relationships with anyone. And I couldn't do this without my girls. They are a huge part of this and I love that it's a family business."  (Her son, Quinton, makes leather bracelets while husband, Allen, makes spoon rings to sell in the store.) Lena says she loves to empower women,  whether by designing feminine frocks to help them feel beautiful or giving the encouragement someone needs when they stop by her store.

"My customers love Fee," says Lena of her daughter who is a familiar face behind the counter.

"I am learning now, with this business,that it is about having more faith than fear," says Lena contemplatively, her eyes mirroring the effervescent hope in her heart. And a look around this store, where garments drape neatly on wooden hangers, or lay folded in drawers, or tucked into a wooden Armoire confirms the dream has become a reality for this gutsy woman who braved the odds and dived head first into an opportunity.

Farmhouse Frocks is located at 65 West Jackson Street in downtown Millersburg, Ohio.  Store hours are 10 - 5, Thursday through Saturday and holidays as posted.  Visit their website at  Farmhouse Frocks for more details or to order online.

Photos courtesy of and used with permission by Farmhouse Frocks.  Indoor iPhone photos by Naomi.

A photo shoot for Country Living Fair and in celebration of Fall.

Layers of denim and lace - what's not to love?

Sydni rocking the frock.

Cubbies of vintage lace in a charming display behind the counter.

Shirt extenders in delicate contrast to a rack of vintage cowboy boots.

Close-up detail of their signature "Rosemary Vest" and a silver spoon ring made by Lena's husband, Allen.

Pick your frock.

For more information, or to order clothing, visit Farmhouse Frocks.

Butter, Basil and Breadcrumbs

Friday, September 11, 2015

In a western New York farming community within minutes of Niagara Falls, Prudy Blank tends her garden and gathers the last of the summer's produce from its fertile soil. Prudy, an executive secretary by day and author of her blog, butter, basil and breadcrumbs by night, is an avid cook and photographer who grew up in a family that "gathered together, celebrated, and even mourned with food."

"Food is a necessity in life, not only to feed the body but to feed the soul," asserts this brunette beauty whose captivating photography showcases the array of mouth-watering culinary creations that cross her counter.  To her, cooking is "about fellowship, and the memories made and the comfort and love of sharing a meal together during happy times and during sad ones" that makes it all a therapeutic process, and doesn't feel like work at all.

A family girl to the core, Prudy's favorite times are when her three kids are at home and they all hang out in the kitchen together, talking, laughing and even arguing at times. She knows those memories will keep them close as her children start families of their own and, hopefully, carry on the tradition of home-cooked meals around the table. And when the kids are gone, her faithful Labrador, Sophie, never leaves her side as she chops, slices, preps, simmers, bakes and daydreams her way around the kitchen where so much beauty evolves from her skillful touch.

Prudy in her garden where she is truly at home.

Summer's bounty.

Oatmeal caramelitas for the win.

Strawberry Lemonade Cocktail - old-timey and delicious!

The perfect French picnic.

Watermelon Grapefruit granita - a fancy, summery addition to any dinner party.

And for breakfast, blistered tomatoes on grilled toast with ricotta. 

A Black Cherry Clafloutis with a dusting of sugar is delightful any night of the week.

"Who knew peach cobbler could be so sexy?  Okay, I did."

Aren't these the most beautiful little hand pies you've ever seen?  Grab one and run!

Skillet brownies to rock your world.

A Salty Dog never looked this good.

Cajun gnocchi with summer vegetables.

The cozy kitchen of the cabin in the woods where Prudy spends most weekends.

Cake, anyone?

To follow the adventures of Prudy's cooking and baking, winning and failing (yes, there are fails, but "we learn from our burnt cookies and carry on"), visit her website at Butter, Basil and Breadcrumbs or follow her on Instagram @butter_basil_and_breadcrumbs.  All photos courtesy of Prudy Blank and used with permission.


Pecan Caramel Apple Cake

Pecan Caramel Apple Cake

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Generously grease and flour three 8” round cake pans. 

3 1/4 cups all purpose flour
2 tsp baking soda
2 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
1 tbsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1 1/2 cups vegetable oil
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 cup dark brown sugar
6 eggs
1 tbsp vanilla
5 apples, coarsely grated (About 5 cups)
1 cup raisins

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt, baking powder, cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg.  Set aside until ready to use. 

In a large mixing bowl, and using the paddle attachment, combine the vegetable oil, granulated sugar, and dark brown sugar, and beat on high until fully combined. It won’t be smooth or creamy at this point.  

Add the eggs, one at a time, beating until fully incorporated after each addition. After all eggs have been added, add the vanilla, and continue to beat until light and fluffy, about three minutes. 

Add the flour mixture, about 1 cup at a time just until incorporated.  Do not over mix. 

Fold in the apples and raisins. 

Measure 2 1/2 cups cake batter into each greased and floured 8” round cake pan.  

Bake for 30 - 35 minutes, or until a knife inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean. 

Remove from oven, and cool for 10 minutes in cake pan.  After 10 minutes, carefully remove cakes from cake pans, and place right side up onto cooling racks.  Let cool completely. 

Generously frost with cream cheese frosting between the layers and top, and lightly frost the sides to achieve a “naked cake” look.  Top with caramel pecan sauce. 

Cream Cheese Frosting 

2 - 8oz packages cream cheese, room temperature
1/2 cup butter, softened
2 tsp vanilla 
8 cups powdered sugar
In a large mixing bowl, and using the whisk attachment, cream together the cream cheese, butter, and vanilla until smooth and creamy.  Beating on low speed, add the powdered sugar 1/2 cup at a time until all of the powdered sugar has been fully incorporated.  Increase the speed to high, and beat for three to five minutes until the frosting is smooth and creamy.  

Caramel Pecan Sauce 

1/4 cup butter
1 cup dark brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla
2 tbsp heavy cream 
1 cup shelled pecan halves 

Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the brown sugar to the melted butter, and stir until the sugar has dissolved.  Remove from heat, and stir in the butter and heavy cream.  Add the pecan halves, and stir until just incorporated.   Let cool for five minutes before pouring over cake.