Must Haves: Dolcezza gelato (and warmer weather)

Must Haves focuses on some of D.C.'s best dishes.

I don't have much of a sweet tooth. I like desserts well enough, but aside from a few slices of pumpkin and pecan pie during the holidays, I can generally take or leave the sweets.

That said, Dolcezza makes a mean gelato.

Looking at the picture above, you may assume that even in 40 degree weather I seek out the creamy dessert. I don't, but I did for this post. I've been meaning to swing by the Penn Quarter farmers' market where Dolcezza has a booth, but didn't get around to it until the temperature crashed the other day. 

For my trouble, I came away with a half pint of Crookneck Pumpkin gelato. Honestly, I could've taken the Mexican Coffee (which was spectacular), Tahitian Vanilla Bean or Valrhona Chocolate Amargo, too, but like I said, I have a weakness for pumpkin.

9 The poor woman manning the booth also had a selection of sorbets, including Heirloom Apple Cider and Honey Tangerine. They were good (especially the apple cider that's made with locally sourced apples), but I prefer the sorbet selection during the summer months when Dolcezza rolls out flavors like Mojito, Meyer Lemon Vodka and Strawberry Tequila.

I also prefer the summer months.

If I was a brighter man, I would've swung by one of Dolcezza's stores where I would have had a larger selection and heat. But I'm not a bright man. However, I am a man with pumpkin gelato, and that counts for something.

Food & Friends' Slice of Life: Eat some Pie... for Charity!

SLICE So, honestly, can someone name me something better than pie? Okay, there is Thanksgiving dinner, that's pretty good... and made even better when topped off with pie. So what's best of all, then? How about Thanksgiving, pie, and the feeling of knowing that your dessert helped feed some people in need?

For 20 years, Food & Friends has supported thousands of our neighbors living with cancer, AIDS, and other life-threatening illnesses, providing them with groceries, hot meals and nutritional counseling. Through the diligent work of some 6,500 staff and volunteers, Food & Friends prepares and delivers over 3,000 meals a days, disseminating them to 2,600 clients in DC and surrounding counties.

Of course, even with the most dedicated staff in the world, delivering a million meals a year doesn't come cheap. That's where you come in. Enter Slice of Life, F & F's annual city-wide bake sale. For the third year running, Slice of Life offers a selection of delicious handmade pies, delivered to a number of convenient neighborhood locations, available for pickup on Tuesday, November 24th. Every pie you buy pays for a full day's meals for one of F & F's clients; buy a pie for one of said clients, and you will be automatically entered in a drawing for two free round-trip airline tickets. The 10" pies come in five great flavors:

Picture Perfect Pumpkin Pie

Thanksgiving would not be complete without this traditional favorite. The creamy pumpkin filling, in a delectable crust, has the perfect mix of spices and great pumpkin flavor. You'll certainly want to more than one for your family and friends. $25

Harvest Apple Crumb Pie

Perfectly flaky with just the right amount of sweetness, you'll enjoy this classic pie filled with a bushel of apples, spices and topped with sweet crumbles. Whether you serve your pie alone or a la mode, it's a must have. $25

Oh So Sweet Potato Pie

For many, Thanksgiving means Sweet Potato Pie. This southern specialty, filled with creamy bright orange sweet potatoes, cinnamon and nutmeg is sure to warm the hearts of your holiday guests. $25

Southern Pecan Pie
Embrace true hospitality by sharing this Southern treat with your holiday guests. Ya'll will love this delicious buttery crust, loads of pecans and sweet gooey filling. $35 

Creamy Chocolate Cheesecake
A chocolate lover's delight! Your guests will go crazy over this rich, creamy cheesecake topped with a decadent dark chocolate ganache. It is sure to be a crowd pleaser. $35

Pies are available for purchase here at Food & Friends' website, where you can also register to volunteer on pickup day.

We all know store-bought crust doesn't taste right, and that you just don't have time to make it yourself from scratch! Complete the meal, and do some folks a solid, by visiting that website by Thursday, November 19th — I promise, your dessert will taste all the sweeter for the effort.

UPDATE: Lisa Shapiro of Dining in DC has pulled together a team of local food bloggers to help move some pies. Help team "Food Bloggers for a Cause" meet their fundraising goal by buying your pies here!

Apple Cinnamon Almond Coffee Cake

Wide Market Shot I think Mother Nature is playing tricks on me.  For the last few weeks, there have been sporadic Spring like days sprinkled in among the Winter doldrums that have DC in its clutches.  These days are nothing more than cruel, cruel teases and make me long for April and the start of the market season.  While I have enjoyed finding the number of farmers markets available year round, I'm itching for robust markets filled with the bounty of Spring and Summer.  With this in mind, I headed over to the Arlington Farmers Market a few Saturdays ago.  Convenient for DCers without a car, the Arlington Farmers Market sits adjacent to the Arlington Courthouse metro station.  I had heard it was one of the bigger farmers markets in the Virginia part of the DC metro area, so I was looking forward to a wider selection of vendors.  As with most markets open during the Winter, the Arlington Farmers Market didn't have a huge selection of producers.  But all of my old familiar buddies were present and I was told the market (as expected) grows during the Spring and Summer. 

Blue Ridge Dairy Sign A lot of the same producers from Dupont Circle's Sunday market are at the Arlington Farmers Market on Saturdays, which was a pleasant surprise for me.  Not only was I able to get my Greek yogurt fix from Blue Ridge Dairy, I was also able to pick up a loaf of Ten Grain Bread from Atwater's bakery.  I was happy to see there wasn't a line at either booth and I was able to chat for a bit with both vendors.  As promised previously on this site, Blue Ridge Dairy had adjusted their pricing on some of their products also available at Whole Foods.  Not only that, I was able to speak with one of the employees about taking a tour of Blue Ridge Dairy farm sometime in the next few weeks.  Considering my almost unhealthy love of cheese, the prospect of seeing the cheesemaking process made me giddier than a teenage girl on Prom night.  Blue Ridge was also having a sale on their fresh mozzarella, something I couldn't resist.  

Red Apples Toigo Farms had a vast selection of apples, which reminded me that I was still in the grips of Winter (not that the howling cold wind wasn't enough of a reminder).  Even though I was in the middle of a Winter pity party, the apples were delicious looking.  I asked which variety would be good for a pie or pastry and was directed towards the Stayman apples.  Again because there wasn't a line, I had the chance to talk briefly with them about their farm and farming practices.  Located in Shippensburg, Pennsylvania, Toigo Farms uses the integrated pest management system typical of a lot of chemical adverse fruit farms in the area.  Using nature's own predatory system, the integrated pest management system introduces the natural enemy of pests that threaten orchards to offset the need for pesticides.  I was also told that during the Spring and Summer, Togio Farms offers plums, berries, cherries and even pears.  They also grow several varieties of tomatoes, including heirloom, that they use for their own lines of pasta sauces and salsas.  As lovely as the apples were (I picked up a half dozen of the stayman variety), I really wanted it to be Spring already.

Smith Meadows Meats I needed both eggs and meat, so I went in search of the protein portion of the market.  I was happy to find two of my favorite local meat vendors, EcoFriendly Foods and Smith Meadows Farm at the market.  Like at a lot of the booths that day, there wasn't a long line at either vendor.  I talked briefly with one of the employees at Smith Meadows Farm about making short ribs, something I'd never done before but was curious to try.  He assured me that short ribs were one of the most forgiving cuts of beef to cook and worked well with just about any flavors.  He also told me about the Smith Meadows Farm farm day, scheduled for May 16th this year.  The family decided to open their farm to the public for this first ever event, which will include a walking tour, catered lunch, cooking demonstrations and tours of the 1800s farm house that is now the Smithfield Bed and Breakfast.  When I asked what brought about the idea for the farm day, I was told the Pritchard family wanted to let it's customers see how their foods were being raised and prepared.  The family's commitment to sustainable agriculture and preservation of the land and its natural resources also led to the decision to provide this fun yet educational opportunity.  The event costs $50 for individual adults ($90 per couple), $25 for children ages 6 to 18 and free for children under 5.  To register for the Smith Meadows Farm Day, go to their website.  As I thanked the vendor, I once again thought "Great, another reason I wished it was Spring already."

To attempt to offset my Winter blues, I decided to go home and make a quick but seasonal coffee cake highlighting the flavors of the Stayman apples I bought.  Although the main recipe is from Mark Bittman's "How to Cook Everything", I tweaked it a bit to use the apples for a lovely brunch or breakfast treat.

Apple Cinnamon Almond Coffee Cake (adapted from Mark Bittman's Quick Coffee Cake)

8 tablespoons cold unsalted butter
2 cups plus 3 tablespoons all purpose flour
1 1/4 cup sugar
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 cup almonds (or walnuts or pecans)
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 egg
3/4 cup milk
2 medium Stayman apples (or other baking apple), diced

Apple Almond Coffee CakePreheat the oven to 375 degrees.  Grease a loaf pan and set it aside.

Make the strudel topping by combining 3 tablespoons of the flour, 3/4 cup of the sugar, sugar, all of the nuts and 1 teaspoon of the cinnamon.  Add 3 tablespoons of the cold butter and using your hands, meld all the ingredients together until you get a mealy type texture.  Set this aside and go on to make the batter.

Sift together the remaining flour, salt, sugar and baking powder, along with the remaining cinnamon.  Cut the cold butter into small cubes and add to the dry ingredients.  Once again using your hands, combine everything together until you get a coarse meal texture. Add the eggs and milk and stir until combined. 

Pour half of the batter into the prepared pan and then sprinkle half the streudel topping on top.  Top with half of the diced apples and then pour the remaining batter over them.  Top with the remaining streudel topping and apples.  Bake for at least 50 minutes or until a cake tester comes out clean.

NOTE:  You can also make this in a springform or tube pan.  If you do, you can reduce the baking time by 20 minutes.

Strawberry Shortcake

Pic0214 Saturday I bought a ton of strawberries at Westmoreland Berry Farm at the Arlington Farmer's Market at $15 for 3 quarts. We're coming to the end of strawberry season now (in fact, this was the last week that Westmoreland Berry Farm will have strawberries, but other vendors will still have them) and the fruit are developing that characteristic sweetness that brings back fond memories of making strawberry shortcake with my mom after a day of picking our own strawberries. One of these weekends, I need to get out to pick my own.

The first thing I did was look up my moms old recipe. There was something off about the strawberry sauce. Looking at the recipe, I thought it had too much sugar. "Aren't the strawberries are sweet enough on their own?" I thought to myself, "Seriously, she used to put in half a cup of sugar per pint of strawberries?!" I reduced the sugar to 4 tablespoons. While comparing my mom's recipe with some recipes on Epicurious, I also got the idea to add some Gran Marnier to the strawberries, because what good is dessert without some alcoholic aperitif mixed in it?

Only make enough biscuits for what you plan to eat that day or maybe the next morning because the biscuits will get dry quickly and are best when they're warm and fresh. Put the remaining dough in the fridge or the freezer until you plan to bake the rest of the dough.

Strawberry Shortcake

(8 servings I make extra so we have enough for the next night)
3 cups unbleached white flour
3 tablespoons of sugar
4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon find ground lemon or orange rind
3/4 to 1 cup of cold unsalted butter
1 cup of buttermilk (or 1 cup whole milk and 1 Tbsp vinegar)

(4 servings)
1 pint of strawberries, stems removed and sliced to desired thickness
4 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon lemon juice
pinch of salt
splash of Gran Marnier

Whipping Cream
1/4 cup whipping cream per serving
1/4 to 1/2 tsp vanilla extract per serving

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

To make strawberries, mix all ingredients in a bowl and stir well. Don't mash up the strawberries as the sugar and salt will draw out the juices fairly well on its own. Let sit for as long as you want but for at least 30 minutes. 

To make the biscuits, mix dry ingredients in a large bowl with a wisk or fork. Mix in lemon or orange rind and butter with hands. DO NOT MIX IN ELECTRIC APPLIANCE. THIS WILL RESULT IN DENSE BISCUITS.  And, don't blend with hands too much because you want some clumps of butter in the dough. Add milk to bowl and continue mixing with wet hands. When done, dough should resemble a fluffy, drier, slightly crumbly version of pizza dough. If you have to, take dough out of bowl and kneed it a little until it stays together. If you let it stay too crumbly, it wont form into balls to bake.

Using a 1/4 cup measuring spoon, form the dough into domes and place a couple inches apart on a baking sheet topped with parchment paper. Bake  for 12 minutes or until golden brown on top. Remove from oven and place on a cooling rack.

For whipping cream (do I seriously need to tell you how to make whipping cream?), put cream and vanilla extract in bowl and using an electric blender (or whisk for those of you trying to develop your arm muscles), mix until cream forms desired thickness. Add a few tablespoons of confectioners sugar if you like.

Place biscuit in the bottom of a serving bowl. Top with a good amount of strawberries and the juices with them. Top with a dollop of whipping cream and some fresh mint if you have it.
(Excuse the awful picture above. I took it with my camera phone at my friends place when we made this.)


P1010156 I had some friends from college in town for the weekend and we decided to go out for dinner and wander around Chinatown, but when we couldn’t find any movies worth seeing, we decided to go out for dessert. My friend Pat pointed longingly at a Haagen-Daz, but it was freezing out and we cold-weather wimps vetoed that. At the same time Pat and I thought of Poste. He’d been there for happy hour (as had I for brunch) and thought the food seemed promising (we both remembered the truffle oil french fries dusted with parmesan cheese...WOW!).

The brunch I had there was really good, though I thought the service was a little snotty. I was eating with my mom then and I got the impression that our waiter was really disappointed not to have a hipper crowd at his table. Not surprisingly, I got the same vibe this time. My friends and I went to the University of Chicago—we’re not hip. Our idea of a good outfit for a winter night on the town is something in the black sweater, jeans and converse sneakers department.

But, that’s my (our) fault, nor Poste’s. So we sat down and each ordered something different -- my friend Darcy tried a squash dessert that was not at all sweet (but was served with a little bit of coconut ice cream).  She said it reminded her of the time her little sister tried to make pumpkin pie by dumping a can of the purée into a pre-baked shell. Pat got chocolate sorbet and vanilla ice cream (for about twice as much as it would have cost him at Haagen Daz -- a steep price to pay for loving ice cream in the winter, I guess), my friend Sarah ordered the poached pear and chocolate dessert and I tried the pistachio ice cream with pineapple chunks on top of a chocolate macaroon.

Generally, macaroons aren't something I get really excited about, but this one was delicious. (I guess Poste is in a French hotel, so it's not surprising that their take on a French dessert would be impressive.) It was pliable and hard to eat without a knife, especially after the melting ice cream had made it kind of cold. The almond flavor in the macaroon went excellently with the pistachio ice cream (which thankfully was not bright green) and even the pineapple (which looked a little canned, although the room was quite dark) was okay. I'm not a huge fan of fruit with chocolate, so okay's pretty good by my standards.

Poste Moderne Brasserie
555 8th Street NW
Washington, D.C. 20004
(202) 783.6060

Artfully Chocolate Kingsbury Confections Cocoa Bar In Logan Circle

Artfully Chocolate and Kingsbury Confections (ACKC)  have teamed up to open the ACKC Cocoa Bar in the Logan Circle neighborhood of D.C. Normally, my territory for DC Foodies covers Northern Virginia, but these two local favorites drew me across the Potomac on a cold and rainy weekend morning.

Recently, I was in search of a good cup of hot chocolate and spent some of my Saturday checking out places such as Misha's in Old Town and Murky Coffee in Arlington. When I arrived back home I found an email from ACKC. They were announcing, among other things*, their hot chocolate "Diva Drinks". Eight hot cocoa specialty drinks with names such as Charro, Marilyn and Judy with ingredients like caramel, chipotle and raspberries.

Small_ackc_display_table_and_bar_2 As the sky let loose it's last bit of pouring rain on Sunday morning, my husband Frank and I easily found a parking spot on 14th St. right in from of ACKC Cocoa Bar. As we entered there was a pleasant aroma of chocolate and coffee. The first thing I noticed were the walls, which are painted a bright bold red and are punctuated with  whimsical artwork (by Eric Nelson). The artwork is carried over to the brightly painted cafe tables, many adorned with stunning orchids. A display table, with a crystal chandelier hovering like a tiara showcased scrumptious chocolate goodies. Several  cases enticed us farther in with beautiful truffles and a variety other chocolate confections. We decided to head over to the espresso bar and order a couple mugs of hot chocolate to enjoy in the cafe area.

Small_ackc_hot_cocoa_2 Two hand decorated mugs held our hot cocoas. We ordered the Lucy and the Charro. The Lucy came with a healthy dose of cinnamon sitting atop whipped cream. Underneath sat chipotle pepper infused semi-sweet hot chocolate. The chocolate and spice complimented each other while not overwhelming. If you don't like spice, try this anyway. The smooth hot chocolate warms the palate as it goes down and the spice leaves a gently tingle in the back of the mouth and throat.

The Charro is a playful combination of semi-sweet chocolate and caramel, topped with whipped cream and a Ghiradeli caramel sauce. The first thing I noticed about this hot cocoa is that it's not a cloying Starbucks Caramel Macchiato. The chocolate balanced the sweetness of the caramel and while it did get a bit more sweet near the bottom, the drink itself could please a sweet-tooth without being overwhelming.


ACKC Cocoa is a fantastic local place to gather or go alone to catch up on some reading. What I really like is that they showcase locally made products, such as the line of Kingsbury Chocolates, Christopher's Confections and Chocolaterie Wanders in addition to sweet and savory pastries from Buzz Bakery. They also carry international chocolates such as Michel Cluizel and Vosges.

With hours which span from early in the morning to late at night, ACKC Cocoa brings a taste of Europe to Logan Circle.

ACKC Cocoa Bar
1529C 14th St. NW
Washington, DC 20005
(202) 387-COCO

*For you last minute Holiday gift shoppers, ACKC Cocoa Bar is offering a Chocolate of the Month Club and will be holding chocolate-making classes (inquire at after the New Year when production of truffles moves to D.C. from Alexandria.

Tabard Inn

Tabard Tucked away on a quiet block of N Street just south of Dupont Circle, the Tabard Inn is one of those places that you don't quite discover until you've been in Washington for a while - and then you wish you had known about it forever.  The hotel has 40 guest rooms spread out across three adjoining townhouses, and each room is uniquely decorated.  Looking out a south-facing upstairs window at the dome of St. Matthew's Cathedral, it is easy to imagine yourself in some picturesque Italian village.

But the Tabard Inn is not just a Hilton alternative - its restaurant boasts the talents of Huw Griffiths, the man recognized by the Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington as 2007 Pastry Chef of the Year, and its cozy parlor is a great place to curl up with a hot beverage and one of his creations on a cold evening.  Although the restaurant's main courses left something to be desired on a recent visit, the starters and desserts definitely saved the day.

Img_3467 To get to the Tabard Inn's eponymous restaurant, you pass through the lobby of the hotel and into a parlor that is dominated by a stone fireplace and its massive wooden mantle.  Chairs and benches throughout the dark-paneled room provide plenty of space for people waiting to be seated in the restaurant, but I would highly recommend a visit for the sake of the parlor itself - a limited menu of light fare and desserts is available from an attentive waitstaff.  My wife tried the Hot Buttered Rum despite the fact that she is not normally a fan of rum, and she thought it was absolutely amazing.  I enjoyed a hot apple cider spiked with Knob Creek bourbon instead of rum - a special request that they accommodated without hesitation.  What a great way to start!

We were encouraged to let the hostess know when we were ready to be seated for dinner, a nice change of pace from overbooked restaurants who make you wait while they hurry other diners out.  Once we did so, we were quickly shown to a table in a small upstairs dining room (not the main room) with views of the Inn's courtyard through the nearby windows.  Our server quickly and ably walked us through the menu and informed us that there are no off-menu specials because new menus are printed every day.  She also pointed us toward a short list of wines that are imported directly from Italy by the hotel.  These represent some great values, but the unique relationship between the Tabard and the growers means that you'll have a hard time tracking the wines down later should you want to buy them yourself.  We shared a bottle of Deltetto Roero Arneis, a crisp white wine from Roero in northern Piemonte that was wonderful with our various seafood and pork dishes.

A generous basket of bread was brought to the table once we had placed our orders, and this was our first introduction to Huw Griffiths' skills.  The basket contained several slices each of light rye, focaccia and sourdough olive breads, each handmade by the pastry chef that day.  Although one of my dining companions found the focaccia a bit too salty for her taste, we all agreed that the breads were delicious and lived up to the hype.

Soon after that, our appetizers arrived.  With several salads, soups and hot dishes ranging from $7 to $11, there are plenty of choices to tempt you, and you would be wise to start with something.  An arugula salad that featured roasted pears and pine nuts had its sweetness nicely tempered by a balsamic vinaigrette, and fried gingered calamari were light and tender - though none of us could detect the ginger.  My favorite starter was a combination of mussels and spicy lamb sausage served in a silky curry sauce that was rich with a subtle heat.  A garnish of watercress lent a fresh, peppery note that complemented the dish nicely.  To this point, the meal was wonderful.

Unfortunately, we had decidedly less luck with our entrees.  Despite a wide variety of dishes (10 choices in all, ranging from $21 to $33), there were very few that begged to be tried.  My mother opted for a seafood gumbo that featured house-made creole sausage.  Though the sausage was tasty and the seafood well-cooked, there was something about the flavor of the gumbo that seemed out of place - a dusky smokiness that none of us could recall in other gumbos we had eaten (and preferred).  My wife's tagliarini pasta suffered from too much salt - despite the inherent saltiness of the squid's ink used to color the pasta as well as the scallops and the grilled calamari, the dish was topped with a spoonful of trout roe that only added to the overly briny flavor.  I ordered a suckling pig roulade that was topped with a deliciously tangy fig gastrique, but I was disappointed by the meat used - the cut of pork I was served was at least 1/3 fat, and the skin had a soft, chewy consistency.  Only my aunt's crab cake was an unmitigated success, with large lumps of sweet crab meat barely held together by any filler at all and served with a wonderful remoulade.

Img_3475We had been warned to save room for dessert, because Huw Griffith's pastries and cakes are truly the stars of the show (desserts run $7 to $10).  A pear tarte with an airy pastry shell came with a scoop of house-made maple ice cream, and the flavors were amazing.  A vanilla and malt cheesecake with a banana creme anglaise was decadent and too rich for any of us to finish.  A tall slice of moist chocolate cake was served with a scoop of mint-chocolate chip ice cream that tasted like garden-fresh peppermint, instead of some artificial mint flavor.  But the true standout of the evening was the pumpkin pecan bread pudding, accompanied by dulce de leche ice cream.  Picture a warm, sweet, gooey confection with a base of house-baked bread tempered by savory spices and you've got a good idea of just how wonderful it was.  Any disappointments brought on by our entrees were momentarily forgotten over dessert.

Unfortunately, the main courses were not the only disappointment.  Service during this trip was surprisingly uneven, as well.  At no point in our meal did our server stop by to check on us, save to present the dessert menus.  We went through the entire meal without having our water glasses refilled once, only to have them topped off twice during dessert.  And, most disturbingly, all of my companions' dishes made it to the table a full five minutes before my roulade, leaving them to look at their cooling plates of seafood while they politely waited for my dish to arrive.  All of this despite the fact that the restaurant was not full at any point during our two-hour meal.

Img_3476_3As I said at the beginning of this post, I consider the Tabard Inn one of Washington's hidden gems, and I always look forward to visiting when the weather turns cold so I can enjoy the warmth of the fireplace in the parlor.  The romantic appeal of the Inn cannot be overlooked, either, which is why I have often recommended it to friends as a great 'special occasion' spot.  But I have found the quality of their main courses to be steadily declining over the past year or so.  The desserts and hot drinks (our server informed us that Griffiths was responsible for the fantastic Hot Buttered Rum, as well) remain reason enough to visit, but there is too much competition in this price range for the kitchen to turn out unimpressive dishes like the ones we had.

Tabard Inn
1739 N Street, NW
Washington, DC  20036
(202) 785-1277

Dress Code: Business/Dress Casual
Parking: Valet parking is available for dinner patrons for $7.  Street parking is available nearby but can be difficult to find due to the proximity to Dupont Circle.
Closest Metro: Dupont Circle (use the south exit)
Reservations: Taken and recommended. Tabard Inn is not currently part of OpenTable.
Baby-Child friendly Rating: 0 diapers (to borrow Jason's system).  The quiet and somewhat romantic atmosphere coupled with the limited child-friendly menu options make this a bad choice for families with small children.
Bathroom Rating: Two small unisex bathrooms are both clean and well-kept.  A framed letter on the wall from one of the vintners whose wines they import directly reflects the special relationships that go into their wine purchases.

Giving Thanks for An Excuse to Eat Two Desserts

P1010141 I always love hearing about different families' Thanksgiving traditions. My family is small and scattered around the country, so it's usually just my brother, parents and me at their home in Connecticut. I'm tempted to say that the holiday is low-key for us, because the day starts out with a road race, sweat pants and football watching time and involves lots of time for reading, napping, and lounging, before we gather around the dining room table and feast. I realize, though that most people wouldn't consider a full day of cooking, including two desserts for only four people to be "low-key."

We're dessert people, and I'm in charge of picking and making the desserts we'll have each year. This year, my mom requested a red velvet cake after seeing the recipe in November's Veranda magazine, and I decided that even though I have a family of pumpkin pie-haters, I had to do something Fall-ish for the occasion, and...well, who doesn't like cheesecake? I made this pumpkin cheesecake with ginger-graham crust from the Joy of Baking.

P1010138 When I bake dessert for myself alone, I'm kind of haphazard, I rush through any measurements involving the word "spoon" and I make round desserts in square pans. Since my parents have an amazing kitchen with all the proper-shaped pans, I tried to hold myself to higher standards and produce something that would look as good as it tasted.

Both desserts definitely looked homemade (HOW do bakeries get frosting to so thoroughly cover the sides of layer cakes? HOW, I ask?!) and I was a little disappointed with how short the pumpkin cheesecake was, but both tasted good enough for me to go way beyond comfortably full and try finish a slice of each.

The red velvet cake recipe caught me off guard, because it uses vegetable oil rather than butter as fat--TWO CUPS of olive oil went into it (and 1/4 cup of red food coloring comes out to two entire bottles!) and the batter looked really thin going into the pans. It baked out dense and moist, though, and I'll be happy to use vast quantities of vegetable oil in any and all desserts I make in the future.

Caramel Apples For Grownups

Img_2538 Remember the days when you ate candy or caramel apples? Those sticky softball size treats which promised to suck a molar right out of your head? Yeah, those. Well, with this time of year being apple season and all, it got me to thinking about apples and candy and...frying. Here's a recipe for puffy apple fritters, dusted with powdered sugar and garnished with glass-like caramel.

Apple Fritters


1 cup sifted all-purpose flour

1/4 cup sugar

1 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1/3 cup milk

1 egg

1 cup finely chopped apple (I used Jonagold apples for their firm and tart nature)

1/2 cup powdered sugar, sifted

pinch cinnamon


While making batter, heat vegetable oil in a heavy bottom pot to 370 degrees.

Combine flour, sugar, salt and baking powder in a mixing bowl. Add egg, milk, apple and cinnamon. Stir to combine batter. Drop a teaspoon full of batter into oil and fry until golden on each side.Fry in batches to avoid dropping the oil temperature. Remove and allow to drain on paper towels. Arrange on plate and dust liberally with powdered sugar.



1/2 cup water

1 cup sugar

pinch cream of tartar


In a heavy bottom pan, heat sugar, water and cream of tartar to 340 degrees*. It will be amber in color. Remove from heat and using a spoon to dip, drizzle over an aluminum foil lined pan which has been sprayed with Pam or any other non-stick spray. Allow to cool and break up caramel. Garnish apple fritters with caramel bits.

*Be careful to avoid heating the caramel over 340 degrees. It will turn brown and taste a bit bitter.