Nothing Bundt Flowers!

Welcome spring with a flowery, colorful cake! Make your favorite Bundt cake, add some silk flowers, butterflies, garden picks and other spring accents (walk the aisles of Michaels for inspiration), and let your ideas bloom.

Make a two-layer cake by using a smaller Bundt pan for the top layer. Place the smaller cake on a cardboard cake ring. Chocolate lady bugs, mossy grass, and garden picks add some garden fun!

[Not just for Easter] Easter Pie

A woman I know told me she had so much to do to get ready for Easter…pick up her kids from college, go to the grocery store, make an Easter Pie…

Wait! Easter Pie? I had never made that! What is it? A Google search showed variations – some were pie crust pastries filled with Italian cold cuts, sausages, eggs, cheeses and ricotta cheese. The other version is a dessert made with ricotta cheese with some recipes calling for chocolate chips or candied fruit.

I chose the sweet Easter Pie, a tradition in Italian homes. (Perhaps that’s why I missed the whole Easter Pie thing.) An Internet search kept bringing me back to Giada De Lauerentiis’ recipe with toasted pine nuts and orange rind. The result was a not-overly sweet pastry with a filling resembling a rice pudding. The filo dough was buttery, crispy and light.

Make it this spring for a sweet ending to an Italian meal. Cut the pieces small and pair it with small glasses of Asti Spumante or Vin Santo.

Easter Pie
Recipe courtesy of Giada De Laurentiis

  • 3/4 cup powdered sugar, extra for sprinkling
  • 3 large eggs
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 1 tablespoons orange zest
  • 1 (15-oz.) container whole milk ricotta cheese
  • 1/2 cup cooked short-grained rice
  • 1/3 cup toasted pine nuts
  • 6 sheets phyllo sheets (if frozen, thawed)
  • 3/4 stick unsalted butter, melted

Blend 3/4 cup of powdered sugar, eggs, vanilla, orange zest, and ricotta in a food processor. stir in the rice and pine nuts and set aside.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Lightly butter a 9-inch glass pie dish. Lay one phyllo sheet over the bottom and up the sides of the dish, allowing the phyllo to hang over the sides. Brush the phyllo with the melted butter. Top with a second sheet of phyllo dough, laying it on the opposite direction as the first phyllo sheet. Continue layering the remaining sheets of phyllo sheets, alternating after each layer and buttering each sheet.

Spoon the ricotta mixture into the dish. Fold the overhanging phyllo dough over the top of the filling to enclose it almost completely. Brush it completely with melted butter.

Bake the pie until the phyllo is golden brown and the filling is set., about 35 minutes. Transfer the pan to a rack and cool completely. Sift powdered sugar over the pie and serve.

Lent, Hearing Loss, and Semper Fi

I met Manell on Ash Wednesday 1986. We were both in town for a funeral the following day. In a noisy room full of people, she was sitting alone reading a newspaper when I noticed the ashes on her forehead and the hearing aids behind her ears. I was instantly drawn to her. Manell lost her hearing gradually later in life until she was profoundly deaf using powerful hearing aids and reading lips. Struggling through our conversation, we hit it off — maybe because she was also a journalist or maybe because in a room full of people, we needed each other. This began our 25-year friendship until she died in 2011.

Do you have time for a story? It’s a good one, I promise.

Manell Patricia Brice was born in Wheeling, West Virginia, on Flag Day, June 14, 1924. Her parents emigrated from Lebanon through Ellis Island and ended up in Wheeling. Manell earned her bachelor’s degree in journalism, English, and education from Mount St Joseph’s College in Ohio. She taught school for a while but like many from that part of the country, she came to Washington, D.C. during World War II in search of a government job.

She eventually landed what was to be a dream job. She worked directly for the Marine Corps Commandant as a civilian public information officer.

Gen. P. X. [Paul Xavier] Kelley, Commandant of the Marine Corps, was her boss. She wrote his speeches and he made sure anything he wrote or spoke passed by her editorial eye. However, there was one stumbling block; she began to lose her hearing. Even with hearing aids, she was having a hard time in meetings, on the phone, and the usual problems faced by those who lose their hearing mid-career. Back then, there was no Americans with Disabilities Act, no support from others, no assistive listening devices, no awareness that people other than older folks could have hearing loss, and nothing to assure her that her life wasn’t over. She thought the only thing to do was take an early retirement.

She approached Gen. Kelley and told him she had to retire because she couldn’t hear well anymore and couldn’t do her job.

Gen. P.X. Kelley refused to accept her resignation and told her “even if you have no hearing, you are worth more to me than five people who have all their hearing.”

It was settled, no retirement for Manell. She continued working with the support of the general and her colleagues, albeit with a lot of stress and frustration, but always loyal to the Marines and the task at hand. Manell was a perfectionist and her work showed it.

The Bombing of the Marine Corps Barracks

In 1983, the Marine Corps Barracks in Lebanon was bombed during the Lebanese Civil War. Suicide bombers killed 221 U.S. Marines and other servicemen. It was the deadliest single attack to date since World War II on Americans overseas. Manell’s heart was broken, not only for the country from which her parents emigrated, but for the U.S. Marines who died. Their families called her office and Manell answered the phone. She couldn’t hear well enough to console them, to get their names right, or to get back to them with information. She couldn’t give comfort. She felt she had failed the families of the men who gave their lives. Not only were Marines killed but so was her spirit. She retired early from her 30-year career in defeat.

Gen. Kelley reluctantly accepted her resignation. She was made an “Honorary Marine” at the conclusion of her career – an honor bestowed to a chosen few.

When I met her on that Ash Wednesday she was enjoying retirement and volunteering for the Hearing Loss Association of America. She said if she knew then what she finally learned about hearing loss, she would not have retired so soon.

Traditional Lenten Dish

Manell was my journalistic (and all-things-life) mentor. I owe my career and much of who I am, to her. She also taught me how to cook Lebanese food and gave me the book Lebanese Cuisine by Madelain Farah, Ph.D. Her home was open to everyone – there was always delicious food, strong coffee, relatives, and engaging conversation. You never called ahead, you just showed up and you always got a big welcome!

She taught me a lot — how to make a traditional Lenten dish, Mjadra, how to be hospitable, how to be the best editor, writer and journalist, and more. Most of all, she showed me how to trust myself and my gut feelings. She brought out the best in me and everyone she met. She made her indelible red-pen mark on my soul.

Thank you, Manell, and Semper Fi!

Mjadra (Lentils and Rice)
A traditional Lenten dish. Make it on Good Friday and serve with plain yogurt, green salad and pita bread.

  • 1 large onion, sliced thinly
  • 1/2 cup olive or vegetable oil
  • 1 cup uncooked lentils, rinsed
  • 4-1/2 cups water
  • 1/2 cup uncooked rice
  • Salt and pepper to taste

The secret is in the onions.

Slice onion thinly and sauté in olive oil until browned. This will take a while because the secret to the flavor is to caramelize the onions. Toward the end of their browning this will require constant stirring. Just before the onions are brown and ready to burn, pull them off the heat and put them directly into the boiling lentils.

While the onions begin to brown, put rinsed lentils in 4-1/2 cups of water and boil for 20 minutes.

When onions are ready, put them and their residue in the boiling lentils.

Add the rice and cover and cook for 20 minutes.

Season to taste and stir occasionally.

Dish can be eaten hot or cold.

Manell’s annotations in the cookbook she gave me.

Serves 4-6. You can easily double or triple this recipe. 

A Little Bit o’ Kelley Goes a Long Way

Just like a little bit of hospitality goes a long way, so does a little bit of Kelley Green. (It’s really spelled Kelly Green sans “e” but this family spells Kelley with the extra vowel!)

It’s St. Patrick’s Day time of year so why not color your treats green? However, you’ll need some powerful dyes to get the results you want. Wilton makes concentrated gel dyes that pack a true color punch with just a small dab. Check them out here.

Hospitality reigns in this house when the warm chocolate chip cookies show up. Here’s my recipe that uses the healthier coconut oil (which has many health benefits) as well as a few tablespoons of Karo syrup for chewy texture

Kelley Green Chocolate Chip Cookies

Of course, these are just fine without the Kelley Green tint! You can substitute whole wheat flour for a rich taste that’s both healthy and equally delicious.

  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
  • 1/2 cup coconut oil
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tablespoons light Karo syrup
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla
  • 2-3/4 cups flour
  • 1-1/2 cups chocolate chips (semi-sweet or milk)
  • 1-1/2 cups white chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Beat butter and coconut oil on high for about 30 seconds. Add both sugars, baking soda and salt and beat on medium speed for about 3 minutes. Beat in eggs, Karo syrup and vanilla until combined. (If adding color, here’s when you do it. Add color with a toothpick until the batter gets to the desired shade.) Beat in flour gradually. Stir in chocolate chips.

Drop dough on ungreased cookie sheets, parchment paper or silicone baking mats (my preference, I can’t live without them!).

Bake 6-8 minutes and cool on cookie sheets for a few minutes. (Note, don’t over bake cookies, they will continue to bake as they cool on the cookie sheet.)

Get Your Irish On

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Wake up to some warm Irish soda bread, Irish breakfast tea, Irish butter and jam. Make this easy bread and get your Irish going! St. Patrick’s Day is March 17th when everyone is Irish!

Irish Soda Bread (Easy!)

  • 1/4 cup shortening (I use Crisco)
  • 3 cups flour
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 3 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • Pinch salt
  • 1 well-beaten egg
  • 1-1/2 cups buttermilk
  • 1-1/2 cups golden raisins (my variation, but can use regular raisins or currants)
  • 1 tablespoon caraway seeds

Mix flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Rub shortening into flour mixture. Add well-beaten egg, buttermilk, raisins and caraway seeds and combine. Knead in the bowl; add up to 1/2 cup extra flour if needed.

Bake in greased dish with a cross cut in the top of dough. Bake for one hour at 375 degrees. You can also bake mini loaves or as muffins shown above (reduce baking time a little.) Avoid over baking. Test with a toothpick, there should be some dry/moist batter on it. The bread will continue baking while cooling.

Encore! Leprachaun Hats

You are asking for this one again for St. Patrick’s Day,
so here ’tis…a reprisal of last year’s blog posting.

An Irish colleen (from the Irish cailín, meaning girl) just came a knockin’ at mee door with some leprechaun hats—edible that is!

Here is Marion Devlin’s recipe for Leprechaun Hats. (At Thanksgiving they become pilgrim hats and, at Christmas, they become Santa Claus hats! She’s a clever colleen!)

Leprechaun Hats
The wee ones love ’em!

Arrange Fudge Stripe Cookies on a baking sheet with chocolate side up (stripes down).

Melt white and dark chocolate according to package directions; keep warm for dipping in separate bowls.

Dip marshmallows in chocolate and place on top of Fudge Stripe Cookies. Top with green sprinkles. Cool to room temperature.

Who Said the Irish Can’t Cook?

An Irish friend of mine once said that the only thing the Irish can cook is boiled beef and potatoes. That was said to me 30 years ago, but today with home cooks and chefs stretching the boundaries of ethnic cuisine, I don’t believe the statement about the Irish holds true anymore.

With St. Patrick’s Day approaching fast, here’s my gourmet twist on the traditional corned beef.

Stick with tradition and add steamed cabbage (cooked in the same water as the beef after it has been removed) but don’t cook it to mush. Season it with freshly ground pepper and balsamic vinegar. Add mashed or parsley red potatoes, some hearty rye bread with grainy mustard, and you have traditional Irish fare with flair.

Wine pairing: If beer is not your go-to drink then a Pinot Noir will go well with the corned beef. After the main course, there’s the option of some fine Irish whiskey in a low-ball glass, a mug of Irish coffee,  or a bit of Bailey’s Irish Cream. Did I mention Bailey’s Irish Cream is also good over ice cream?

The Irish can cook! So there, my Irish friend! Sláinte!

Kelley Korned [sic] Beef

  • 3-5 pound corned beef brisket
  • 1/2 cup grainy mustard
  • 1/2 cup orange marmalade
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar

Buy a corned beef brisket with seasoning packet and cook according to directions. Usually this means boiling the beef in water for one hour per pound. When finished cooking remove from the water and put in baking dish.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix mustard, orange marmalade and brown sugar together and spread over corned beef. (If you need more glaze, use equal parts of the three ingredients.) Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. Serve sliced hot or at room temperature.