Applelicious Cupcakes

Applelicious Cupcakes

Channeling June Cleaver

Channeling June Cleaver

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Cream Cheese Cookies

I haven't made these cookies in years. I got this recipe from my Mother and remember her making these cookies when I was a little girl! This year my daughter and I decided to make these cookies that are very flaky and tender. I will tell you that the pastry style dough is a little hard to work with but the result is a wonderful cookie that melts in your mouth. I am going to work on this recipe and make some changes to see if I can keep the essence of this cookie but make it more easier to make.  For now I will to share with you the original recipe.

1 lb shortening
12 oz cream cheese
2 egg yolks
4 cups flour
milk to seal

Nut Filling or Jam
1/2 stick of butter
1 lb ground walnuts
1 cup sugar

Cream shortening, cream cheese, egg yolks in a large bowl. Blend in flour.  Refrigerate dough over night. Divide dough in fourths, keeping dough that you are not working with refrigerated until you are ready to use. Roll out dough in 10x sugar to 1/8 inch thick on pastry sheet or wax paper.(use a lot of powered sugar so dough does not stick) Cut dough into squares and fill with walnut filling or jam. (This year I used a wonderful Fig & Ginger Jam from Stonewall Kitchen.) Pinch opposite ends of dough together. Seal with milk. Bake 350 F for 10-15 minutes or until cookies are golden but now browned.


Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Traditional Pecan Pie

My family just loves a traditional Pecan Pie. For years I've wanted them to try different flavors like, chocolate and more but no, no, no, they tell me. So I am going to share how I make my traditional Pecan Pie. It's easy and delicious!

Pie Crust  
1-1/4  cups  all-purpose flour 
1/4  teaspoon  salt 
1/3  cup  shortening 
4  - 5 tablespoons  cold water
1. Stir together flour and salt. Using a pastry blender, cut in shortening until pieces are pea-size.
2. Sprinkle 1 tablespoon of the water over part of the mixture; gently toss with a fork. Push moistened dough to the side of the bowl. Repeat moistening dough, using 1 tablespoon of the water at a time, until all the dough is moistened. Form dough into a ball.
3. On a lightly floured surface, use your hands to slightly flatten dough. Roll dough from center to edges into a circle about 12 inches in diameter.
4. To transfer pastry, wrap it around the rolling pin. Unroll pastry into a 9-inch pie plate. Ease pastry into pie plate, being careful not to stretch pastry.
5. Rim pastry to 1/2 inch beyond edge of pie plate. Fold under extra pastry. Crimp edge as desired. Do not prick pastry. Or you can use a pre-made pie crust(I like Pillsbury refrigerated pie crust)

1/2 cup dark corn syrup
1/2 cup light corn syrup
3 eggs
1 cup sugar
2 Tbs. butter, melted
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups pecans halves
Pre-heat oven to 350 F.Whisk the first five ingredients thoroughly. Pour into pie crust. I like to place the pecan halves in a circular design.
Bake on center rack of oven for 55 to 60 minutes. Do not over bake.
TIP: Pie is done when center reaches 200 F. Tap center surface of pie lightly; it should spring back when done.


    Monday, December 20, 2010

    Chocolate Chip Peanut Butter Bars

    I love these bars cookies, not only are they a hit with family and friends but they are quick and easy to make. Who doesn't love the combination of chocolate chips and peanut butter. If you are not a baker these beauties are a good first cookie to try and I know that you will make them over and over again. Don't wait until Christmas make them for any occasion. I was so happy to have my daughter Mandi to bake these with me!

    2 cups quick-cooking rolled oats
    1 3/4 cups packed brown sugar
    1 1/2 cup flour
    1 teaspoon baking powder
    1 cup butter
    1/2 cup chopped peanuts
    2 cups semisweet chocolate pieces
    1 beaten egg
    1 14 ounce can sweetened condensed milk
    1/3 cup creamy peanut butter

    Preheat oven 350F

    Combine oats, brown sugar, four, baking powder, soda in a very large mining bowl. Cut in butter til crumbly. Stir in chopped peanuts
    Combine 1 3/4 cups of crumb mixture with chocolate pieces and set aside. Stir egg into remain mixture: press int a 15 x 10 x 1 inch baking pan. Bake for 5 minutes.
    Stir together sweetened condensed milk and peanut butter until well blended. Carefully pour peanut butter mixture evenly over baked cookie layer. Sprinkle with chocolate crumb mixture
    Return pan to oven and bake for 15 to 20 minutes more until edges are golden.  Cool completely in pan on wire rack. Cut into bars. Makes 48 .


    Tuesday, December 14, 2010

    Oatmeal Cherry Rounds

    These Oatmeal Cherry Rounds are easy to make,simply delicious, and add a festive look to any cookie collection. If you are a cookie virgin I would suggest these Oatmeal cookies as a great first cookie to bake.  I used red cherries, you can use red and green cherries or a pecan in the center is also nice.

    1 cup butter
    1 cup brown sugar
    1 egg
    1/2 tsp vanilla
    2 cups flour
    1 tsp cinnamon
    1/2 tsp baking soda
    1/2 tsp salt
    1 1/2 cup oatmeal (quick cook)
    1/4 cup sugar
    1 package(4 oz) red cherries

    Pre-heat oven to 375 F. Cream butter and brown sugar. Beat in egg and vanilla until well mixed. Combine dry ingredients and add to cream mixture, stir in oats.  Shape dough into small balls and roll in sugar, place on ungreased cookie sheet. Cut cherries in half and press half in center of ball pressing down to flatten cookie. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes.

    I do love to bake cookies and yes they do take time to make but so worth all your effort. My fondest memories of Christmas are helping my mother bake. One of my jobs was use my grandmother's cast iron single pizzelli mold. My mother, as she still does today at 88, would make the dough and then it was my job to hold the mold on the stove and cook on each side just until the cookie was done. The mold only made one cookie at a time. I still have the retired mold.


    Monday, December 13, 2010

    Fudgy Chocolate Chip Cookies

    Yesterday after a day of marathon baking, I thought I give it a try to create a really sinfully fudgy chocolate chip cookie. I wanted the cookie crisp on the outside and chewy inside. I am so pleased with the result and I am happy to share it with you. It was fun to experiment with this cookie and if it didn't work out I was ready to try again! I think the next time I make these cookies I will melt some white chocolate, drizzle over the cookies to make a more festive presentation.

    2 1/4 cups flour
    1 tsp baking soda
    1/2 tsp salt
    1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
    3/4 cup sugar
    3/4 cup brown sugar, packed
    2 tsp vanilla
    2 eggs
    4(1 oz) squares of unsweetened chocolate, melted and cooled
    2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips (I like Ghirardelli)
    1 cup chopped walnuts or pecans(optional)  I didn't add the nuts.

    Preheat oven to 375 F. Stir flour with baking soda and salt: set aside. Beat butter with sugars at medium speed until creamy,  add vanilla and eggs, one at a time, mixing on low speed until combined.
    Gradually mix in melted chocolate at low speed.

    Stir dry mixture into creamed mixture. Stir in chocolate chips and nuts(optional).  Drop by tablespoon onto ungreased cookie sheet. Bake 9 minutes to 11 minutes.  Don't over bake. Cookies should be soft and fudgy inside.

    More cookie recipes to come later this week!


    Friday, December 10, 2010

    Mandi's Spinach Triangles

    Mandi's Spinach Triangles

    As I've said I come from a long line of cooks and bakers so it is no surprise that I have shared my love of cooking with my children. My motto is if you like to eat you should be able to cook!  I am sharing with you this recipe from my daughter Mandi. She made this easier version of Greek Spanakopita with puff pastry instead of phyllo dough.  Phyllo dough isn't hard to work with but it just takes a little more time and you have to get use to using the phyllo leaves. I have some really good recipes that use phyllo that I will share in another blog. Cooking is like anything else the more you do it the better you get and once you try  phyllo dough or puff pastry and see how easy it is you will have the confidence to cook and bake well. It's like my piano teacher use to say, practice, practice, practice! Mandi said that the triangles took a little time but were delicious. She brought them to a holiday party and they disappeared in no time!

    Mandi's Spinach Triangles
    1 package (17.3 ounces)  Puff Pastry Sheets, thawed
    3 eggs
    1 tablespoon water
    1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese 
    1 package (about 10 ounces) frozen chopped spinach, thawed and well drained
    1 medium onion, finely chopped (about 1/2 cup)
    1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

    Heat the oven to 400°F.  Beat 1 egg and water in a small bowl with a fork or whisk.  Stir the remaining eggs, cheese, spinach, onion and parsley in a medium bowl.

    Unfold 1 pastry sheet on a lightly floured surface.  Roll the pastry sheet into a 12-inch square.  Cut into 16 (3-inch) squares. Repeat with the remaining pastry sheet, making 32 in all.

    Place 1 tablespoon spinach mixture in the center of each square.  Brush the edges of the pastry with the egg mixture.  Fold the pastry over the filling to form triangles.  Crimp the edges with a fork to seal.  Place the filled pastries onto baking sheets.  Brush with the egg mixture.

    Bake for 20 minutes or until the pastries are golden brown.  Let the pastries cool on the baking sheets on wire racks for 10 minutes.


    Sunday, December 5, 2010

    Two Christmas Cookies to get started!

    My love of baking started when I helped my Mother bake cookies at Christmas time. Since then  I've never stopped  baking cookies for Christmas. Baking isn't very hard and I am always amazed when I hear people say I don't like to bake. What's not to like, sugar, butter, chocolate, all those wonderful ingredients in one place. Baking is very precise, you need to measure the correct amount of ingredients and follow the recipe especially if you're a beginner. Once you get some experience with baking you can add your personality. Christmas cookies make wonderful personal gifts to share with family and friends. And so many beautiful boxes, bags, tins can be used as containers for your cookies gifts.

    A few tips that will help novice bakers. Read all the recipe through before you start and assemble everything that you need. Do any preparation before you start, if the recipe calls for chopped nuts, chop and set aside, eggs separated, same thing.  This will make the flow of baking so much easier. Only use unsalted butter. I love Cabot, it's made in Vermont by the cheddar people, I'm not sure if this butter is available outside of New England.  The first time you try a recipe always bake for less time than the recipe calls for and then add additional minutes if needed. Unless your oven is calibrated perfectly and even then, ovens do bake differently. Nothing is worse than over baked cookies, cakes etc. Dry is not good!

    At Christmas I just start baking cookies and stop when I don't have any more time left. I have so many recipes and cookie cookbooks and I keep buying more, I just can't help myself.  I try out one or two new cookies each year to see if I can find another favorite for my holiday tradition. The two recipes that I have included below are some of the first cookies that I make with my mother. These cookies are very basic and easy to make. Out of tradition I make them every year and I want to share them with you.

    Sandies - These are wonderful cookies to make a few weeks ahead of time because they keep very well.
    1 cup butter
    1/3 cup sugar
    2 teaspoons vanilla
    2 teaspoons water
    2 cups flour
    1 cup chopped pecans

    1 cup confectionery sugar- for rolling cookies after baking

    Cream butter, sugar, vanilla and water. Add flour and mix well. Stir in pecans. Shape into small balls. Bake on ungreased cookie sheet in 325 F over for 20 minutes.  Remove. Cool slightly .  Roll in confectionery sugar
     An easy way to do this is put sugar in plastic bag and add 3-4 cookies and gently shake around to coat cookies. Or you can put sugar in a bowl and roll around to coat.

    Anise Biscotti
    2 1/2 cusps flour
    1 cup sugar
    4 tablespoon butter
    1 tablespoon anise seeds,crushed (Use mortal and pustular or put in plastic bag and crush with rolling pin)
    2 teaspoon baking power
    1/4 teaspoon salt
    3 large eggs.

    Chocolate for dipping
    3 ounces semi-sweet chocolate (I like Ghirardelli)
    3 tablespoon shortening

    1. In a large bowl put 1 1/2 cup flour and remaining ingredients. Mix at low speed until just mixed, increase speed to medium and beat for 3 minutes, scraping sides of bowl with spatula. Add remaining cup of flour; finish mixing with a large wooden spoon. Wrap dough in plastic wrap; refrigerate 1 hour until firm.(or place dough in freezer for 30 minutes)
    2. Preheat over to 375 F. Grease large cookie sheet.  Divide dough in half. On floured surface shape each half into a 10 x 3 inch loaf.  Place both loaves, abut 2 inches apart, on cookie sheet. Bake 20 minutes
    3. Remove cookie sheet from oven; immediately slice each loaf crosswise into 3/4 inch thick slices. Turn slices cut side down on same cookie sheet. Bake cookies 5 minutes longer or until light golden. Remove cookies to rack to cool.
    4. Microwave chocolate and shortening on low for 1 minute or until chocolate melts.. Stir to combine. Dip one end of each cookie into melted chocolate, letting excess drip back into bowl. Place dipped cookies on wax paper, let dry until firm.

    Store cookies in tightly covered container.

    Give baking a try, it is so much fun! I have plenty more cookies to make and recipes to share.


    Monday, November 29, 2010

    Cioppino - A Wonderful Italian fish stew!

    After my husband order Cioppino many years ago in a restaurant, I've started making this wonderful Italian fish stew for my family. I make mine with a thicker sauce to serve over pasta because who doesn't love pasta, or you can just serve it with fresh crusty bread and a salad.  I love one pot meals that are easy to make and taste delicious. Many other nationalities have similar fish stews and I love to make the different ethic dishes.

    3  tablespoon olive oil
    1 large onion, chopped
    2 shallots, chopped
    4 garlic cloves, minced
    1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
    1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil
    1 bay leaf crushed
    1 can(28 oz) tomatoes with juice, chopped or two cans (14 oz) chopped tomatoes with juice
    3/4 cup dry white wine
    1 tablespoon tomato paste
    1/2 teaspoon salt
    1/4 teaspoon pepper
    2 pounds mussels, scrubbed and debearded
    2 pounds clams, scrubbed
    1 pound shrimp, peeled 
    1 pound sea scallops
    1 pound scrod or other white fish.

    Heat oil in large double boiler. Add  onion, shallots, and garlic cook for 5 minutes. Add seasonings, tomatoes, wine and tomato paste. Simmer for 30 minutes so flavors will blend. Add mussels and clams, cover and cook for 5 minutes until they open. Discard any that don't open. Add remaining shrimp, scallops and scrod. Gently stir the stew, cover and cook for 5 minutes until all the fish is cooked.

    Serve over 1 pound of pasta.  To make this dish really nice serve with fresh pasta.

    You can add any variety of shell fish and fish depending on what is available at the market. If you like calamari add in  place of scallops or white fish. Just use your imagination


    Sunday, November 21, 2010

    Chocolate Chip Pumpkin Coffee Cake

    I love this cake because it combines the wonderful taste of chocolate and pumpkin. What makes it even more delicious is the wonderful spices added to the batter. This cake not only taste great but smells like spiced hot chocolate.  I love a pretty presentation for my cooking and baking and by adding the mini chocolate chips and powered sugar not only does that enhance the taste but also adds a nice visual presentation. You can do more to this cake to dress it up.  I sometimes decorate the cake with chocolate dipped strawberries or dried apricots, both are very easy to do. I just place the fruit around the base of the cake on the cake dish. This is very nice for a buffet table. As I like to say just use your imagination and try different ideas. Remember no fear, just enjoy. I've included the recipe for chocolate dipped fruit.

    Chocolate Chip Pumpkin Coffee Cake
    3 1/2 cups sugar
    1 1/4 cup vegetable oil
    3 large eggs
    1 can (29 oz) solid pumpkin
    3 squares (1 oz) unsweetened chocolate melted, cooled
    1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
    3 3/4 cups all purpose flour
    1 1/2 teaspoon salt
    1 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
    1 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
    1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
    2 cups semisweet chocolate chips

    1/4 cup mini chocolate chips
    powdered sugar for dusting

    Pre-heat over to 350 F. Grease 10 " tub pan.  In a large bowl combine sugar and oil.  Add eggs; mix well. Stir in pumpkin, chocolate and vanilla, mix well.  Sift together the dry ingredients and stir into pumpkin mixture until just blended. Add chocolate chips. Pour cake batter into prepared tub pan. Sprinkle mini chocolate chips on top and bake for 1 hour and 30-40 minutes or until wooden skewer inserted into the center comes out clean. (use the long bamboo skewers). Cool for 1 hour in pan before removing. Dust top of cake with powdered sugar.

    Chocolate dipped fruit
    Finely chop 4 ounce bar semi- sweet chocolate or white chocolate( I like Ghirardelli). Microwave on 50% power until almost melted, about 2 minutes. Stir until smooth. Dip strawberries or dried apricot into the chocolate, place on parchment or wax paper lined baking sheet and chill until set. about 10 minutes.


    Wednesday, November 10, 2010

    Delicious black or green Olive tapenade

    Olive tapenade is so easy to make and a wonderful delicious spread for crackers or bread or to use in other recipes. Most traditional tapenades are made with black olives but I like to make tapenade out of black or green olives.

    Black Olive Tapenade
    2 cups pitted Kalamata olives
    2 clove garlic, chopped
    1 teaspoon capers rinsed and dried
    1 teaspoon lemon juice
    2 teaspoons olive oil
    Combine all ingredients in a food processor or blender. Puree until the olives are a fine spread. I like my black olive tapenade like a fine spread but you can try different constituencies from chopped to pureed.

    Green olive Tapenade
    2 cups pitted green olives
    2 cloves garlic, chopped
    1 teaspoon capers, rinsed and dried
    1 bay leaf crumbed
    1 teaspoon fresh thyme
    1 tablespoon chopped parsley
    1 teaspoon crushed red pepper
    1 teaspoon lemon juice
    2 teaspoons olive oil

    Combine all ingredients in food processor or blend. Blend to a desired consistency. I like to make the green tapenade more like chopped olives but you can blend either fine or choppy.


    Tuesday, November 2, 2010

    Leek, Garlic and Cauliflower Soup

    This is a soup that is rich on flavor but low on fat and calories. It taste like a creamy soup without any dairy product. A healthy choice for a light meal.

    Leek, Garlic and Cauliflower Soup
    1 tablespoon butter
    1 tablespoon olive oil
    3 large leeks, sliced
    1 head cauliflower, remove leaves and thick core and coarsely chop
    1 head of garlic, roasted
    2 tablespoon dry white wine
    3 14-ounce cans chicken broth, use light
    1 teaspoon snipped fresh thyme or 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme, crushed
    Cracked black pepper
    sniped fresh thyme sprigs (optional)

    1. In a Dutch oven, heat butter and oil over medium heat.  Add leaks; cook about 10 minutes or until tender, stirring occasionally.
    2. Slowly add wine.  Cook and stir about 2 minutes or until wine is almost all evaporated.  Carefully add broth and cauliflower.  Bring to boiling; reduce heat. Simmer, covered, about 30 minutes or until vegetables are very tender.  Cool slightly.
    3. Transfer mixture , in batches to blender or food processor along with roasted garlic, cover and blend until smooth.  Return pureed mixture to Dutch over.  Stir in thyme; heat thoroughly
    4. Season to taste with salt. Sprinkle with pepper and if desired, garnish with fresh thyme.

    Roasted Garlic: Cut 1/4 inch off  top of garlic head.  Place garlic in a garlic roaster or baking dish with a cover.  Drizzle with 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Roast covered at 350 F for 1 hour.  Garlic will be soft. Gently remove cut garlic from skin with a fork or small knife.


    Monday, November 1, 2010

    Good Dinner Mrs. Mellen: Apple Crumb Cake

    Good Dinner Mrs. Mellen: Apple Crumb Cake: "Fall and apples what a wonderful combination. This is a great recipe to use the apples from an apple picking excursion. I remember apple p..."

    Apple Crumb Cake

    Fall and apples what a wonderful combination.  This is a great recipe to use the apples from an apple picking excursion.  I remember apple picking not only with my children but with the brownies and how much fun we all had.  After picking we went back to the troupe leader's house and baked with all the wonderful apples we just picked. Save some delicious fresh picked apples for this cake, you won't be disappointed.

    Apple Crumb Cake
    4 cups flour
    2 cups sugar
    1/2 teaspoon salt
    4 teaspoons baking powder
    1 cup oil
    1 cup orange juice
    3 large eggs (4 if small)
    1 teaspoon vanilla

    Apple Filling

    4 Apples peeled and slice
    1/2 cup sugar
    2 teaspoon cinnamon

    Crumb Topping
    1/2 cup butter (1 stick), softened
    1/3 cup firmly packed brown sugar
    1 cup flour
    1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

    1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

    1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Grease tube pan and set aside. Sift together flour, sugar, salt and baking powder. Place in a large mixing bowel and make a well.
    2. Combine oil, orange juice, eggs and vanilla. Pour into center of well and beat for three minutes.
    3. Combine sugar and cinnamon for apple filling and set aside.
    4. Pour third of batter into prepared pan, add half sliced apples and half cinnamon-sugar. Cover with half the remaining batter. Top with remaining apples then cinnamon-sugar. Add remaining batter on top.
    5. Combine ingredients for crumb topping blending until thoroughly combined.
    6. Sprinkle over cake. Bake 1 hour and 1/2 or until tester comes out clean.
    7. Cool for 1 hour before removing from tube pan.

    Serve with Vanilla ice cream or just plain.

    Wednesday, October 27, 2010

    Quick and Easy Pasta Fagioli

    Traditional Pasta Fagioli is made with a pork product such as pancetta, ham or pigs feet(old time Italian) but growing up my mother always made meatless Pasta Fagioli on Fridays. I have fond memories of eating Pasta Fagioli on crisp fall nights before rushing off to a Friday night football game. Over the years I have added my own touches to my mother's Pasta Fagioli to make it an easy totally vegetarian meal.

    Pasta Fagioli

    1 cup chopped shallots
    3 cloves garlic, crushed
    2 tablespoon olive oil
    3/4 cup dry white wine
    2 (16 oz) cans vegetarian baked beans
    1 can (8 oz) no salt Tomato Sauce
    1 can (15.5 oz) Garbanzo beans, rinsed and drained
    1 can (14 oz) vegetable broth
    1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
    1 cup dried ditali pasta
    1/4 cup snipped fresh basil or 1 tablespoon dried basil
    1 tablespoon snipped fresh oregano or 1 teaspoon dried oregano

    1. In large pot cook shallots, garlic and olive over medium heat for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
    2. Sir in wine, baked beans, garbanzo beans, vegetable broth and crushed red pepper. Bring to a boil: reduce heat. Simmer, covered for 20 minutes.
    3. Cook, pasta al dente(firm but not hard), drain. Stir cooked pasta, basil, oregano into bean mixture. Simmer for 5 more minutes. Make 4-6 servings.  Serve with fresh graded Parmesan cheese on top.


    Saturday, October 23, 2010

    Fantastic Fall Apple Pie

    I have made this apple pie for over 30 years with some changes along the way. A disclaimer this pie is very rich but sometimes you just have to let go and indulge.  You can't each low fat cottage cheese and fruit every day. I just tell myself an extra hot yoga class and this piece of pie has my name on it.

    French Custard Apple Pie
    1 3/4 cup flour
    1/4 cup sugar
    1 teaspoon cinnamon
    1/3 lb of butter
    2/3 teaspoon salt
    6-7 tablespoon apple cider or water

    6 large Granny Smith or Macintosh apples pared and diced (you can use a combination or just one kind of apple. I like the Granny Smith because they are tart and this is a sweet pie)
    1/2 cup dried cranberries
    1 2/3 cup sour cream
    1 egg(2 if small)

    1 cup sugar
    1/2 teaspoon salt
    2 teaspoon vanilla or 1 Tablespoon Brandy
    1/3 cup flour

    1/3 cup brown sugar
    1/3 cup sugar
    1/2 cup flour
    1 Tablespoon cinnamon
    1 cup chopped walnuts
    1 stick butter

    Crust: Combine all the ingredients expcept the apple cider in a food procussor, pulse until combined. Add one tablespoon of cider at a time and pulse after each addition. Dough will form a soft ball. Roll dough out on lightly floured surface 2 inches larger than the pie plate, fite a 10 inch pie plate. This is a solf cookie like dough what I do is lightly dust the pie plate with flour before I fit the dough. This will prevent the pie crust from sticking when you cut the pie. Fold and roll pastry under and flute.
    Filling: Mix filling ingredients together and fill pie shell. Bake for 450 10 minuetes, then 350 degrees  for 30 minutes. Blend topping ingredients together and place on top of pie . bake for additional 15 minuets.


    Saturday, October 16, 2010

    Tortellini and Escarole Soup, a Good Dinner Mrs Mellen favorite

    Now that the leaves are changing and the air is crisp my thoughts and taste turn to wonderful, warming soup. After working outside, getting my garden ready for a long winter nap, I just love to come inside and warm up with this Tortellini and Escarole soup. It's delicious and easy to make. And naturally good.

    Tortellini and Escarole Soup
    3 Tablespoon olive oil
    3 clovers garlic crushed
    2 shallots, chopped
    1 head of escarole, thoroughly washed and cut into bit size pieces
    1 box organic low salt chicken broth
    1 package cheese tortellini(9 oz) fresh or frozen
    Parmesan cheese (optional)

    Cook garlic and shallots in olive oil on low for 5 just until shallots  are translucent. Don't brown garlic (it taste bitter if you do). Add escarole, stir, coating escarole with olive and cook for another 5 minutes just until the escarole is wilted. Add chicken broth, tortellini, salt and pepper to taste. Bring to boil, then simmer for 20 minutes.

    Sprinkle Parmesan cheese over individual servings if you want.   Serve with fresh Italian bread and a salad for a wonderful fall meal.


    Wednesday, October 13, 2010

    Shout out to Better Homes and Gardens Ultimate Italian Special Publication

    I am a sucker for cookbooks and cooking magazines. I know why these magazines are just staring right up at me why I am waiting to pay for my order at the grocery story. I just can't resist the promise of wonderful new recipes, culinary delights just a few pages away. Racing home I can't wait to open the magazine to gaze on totally new and delicious delights.  Anticipation is high as I start to read through the magazine or cookbook and then more times than not, disappointment, same old retooled recipe or worst, like most long time cooks I can eye ball a looser recipe.  Well two weeks ago I brought home Better Homes and Garden Ultimate Italian Special Publication, yes, yes, yes, I was so excited to find wonderful delicious dishes, I could tell just by looking. Most of the  recipes are easy and quick to make with simple and ready available ingredients. I've made two of the pasta dishes this week and we really enjoyed both. And I'm not just talking good pasta recipes, but  also drinks, pizza, appetizers, soups, desserts and more. I highly recommend this magazine, well worth the $9.99 cost. Funny too, I was speaking to my mother, one of the best Italian cooks I know, and she just happened to buy the same magazine at the grocery store and she agreed with my assessment.
    I am so looking forward to more great meals from this cooking magazine.


    Wednesday, October 6, 2010

    Easy Mushroom and Rice Soup

    Now that the weather is changing and for the past three days the weather has been rainy and damp my thoughts turn to nice hot soup. I like to make this easy recipe for a tasty Mushroom and Rice Soup. And the soup is very filling and healthy.

    Mushroom and Rice Soup
    2 shallot, chopped
    2 cloves garlic. crushed
    2 Tbs olive oil
    8 oz of sliced mushrooms, either white or baby portobello, you choose your favorite
    1 cup Trader Joe's Brown Rice Medley
    2 32 oz boxes Organic low sodium chicken broth
    Saute shallots and garlic in olive oil for about 5 minutes. Add slice mushrooms, continue sauteing for an additional 10 minutes. Add chicken broth, bring to a boil. Add rice and lower heat, cover simmering for about 45 minutes. Salt and pepper to taste.
    If you want you can add cooked chicken to make a hearty soup or leave it vegetarian.

    That's it done. I freeze this soup and have wonderful homemade soup always ready for those days when you just need a nice hot bowel of soup.(Really nice after hot yoga!)  I  love soup but find that soup in restaurants can have too much salt. So I never order soup out instead of come up with low sodium, flavorful soups that I make at home. Using low sodium broth I can control the sodium content and by adding seasonings to my soups increase the flavor with out adding salt.


    Saturday, September 25, 2010

    Easy Marinara Sauce

    You know sometimes you just want to get a tasty dinner in a hurry.  I sometimes feel that those of us who enjoy cooking sometimes become cooking snobs.  It's all about using just the right ingredients, technique, making everything from scratch and bragging about it.  That is not always "real world".   And for novice cooks this can be intimidating.  When I have the time and am in the mood, I enjoy tackling very intricate recipes.  I find preparing that type of meal fun and an accomplishment.  When time is lacking I look for short cuts that are not short on flavor.  I always use natural ingredients and fresh ingredients when available.  Yes I love to get the freshest plum tomatoes and make a big patch of marinara sauce freezing extra sauce for future use.  For a quick meal I make what I think is pretty good marinara sauce that I can get together in 30 minutes.  Then I change what I add to make different recipes.  My mother calls this doctoring up the recipe!

    Easy Marinara Sauce
    1 can Hunt's Petite Diced Tomatoes
    2 Tbs olive oil
    1 shallot, minced
    2 cloves garlic, minced or crushed
    1/2 cup wine
    1 Tbs chopped Basil
    1 tsp crushed red peppers
    salt and pepper to taste
     Saute shallot in olive oil for about 2 minutes.  Add garlic and  cook for another two minutes.  Add rest of the ingredients and simmer for about 30 minutes.
    Now you can add what ever you want to make different meals.  I like to add a 1/2 pound of cleaned raw shrimp and make shrimp with marinara sauce.  Or if I want to make a Pescatori, I add 1 pound clams cleaned, 1/2 pound mussel cleaned, 1/4 pound raw pealed pound shrimp and 1/4 pound scallops.  I cook the marinara sauce and then I add the clams and mussels, cook covered for 5 minutes until shells open then add the rest of the seafood.  Cook another 5 minutes and then serve over pasta.
    You serve about 2-4 with good size portions.  You can double recipe for a larger group. Add a salad and good bread and you have a very delicious meal in under an hour.


    Sunday, September 19, 2010

    Finally my mothers sauce and meatball!

    I've said it before, my mother and my grandmother  were my inspiration for cooking. My fondest memories growing up are watching both these wonderful cooks in the kitchen, as well a savoring the delicious meals they prepared. So when I asked my 88 year old mother for her spaghetti sauce and meatball recipe, I thought I could just share it with you all. Not so, I needed to fill in the blanks because my mother just cooks from memory. I worked with her to get the full recipes down on paper. I still think that only my mother can make her recipes sing with the most harmonies flavors. I gave this my best. I cooked all kinds of variations of her recipe and now my freezer is filled with enough sauce and meatballs for months. I must admit I did have fun cooking like my mother and grandmother, making large pots of sauce simmering on the stove. And the funny thing is that I don't make that much traditional sauce because I have never felt that I can duplicate the flavor of my mother and grandmother's sauce. I feel the same way about traditional pasta and Lasagna dishes. I am always disappointed with the results when I make traditional Italian recipes from my childhood.
    My meals never taste as wonderful as I remember.
    Before I start the recipe let's talk tomatoes. My mother say you can use crushed tomatoes if you  want to go cut a step, such as Pastene ground peeled, kitchen ready tomatoes. Over the years she's used Red Pack, Tuttoroso,  just good Italian tomatoes. Now I know that many will say you can only make good sauce with San Mazrano DOP tomatoes, or others swear by Muir Glen, or Cento or Pom. I am not such a purist when it comes to the tomatoes because I was spoiled by my grandmother's home grown preserved tomatoes that she would only use.  Nothing compares to her plum tomatoes. Use what you want. If I use whole peeled tomatoes, I chop the tomatoes then add along with the with the juice to the recipe. Or you can put tomatoes and their liquid through a food mill fitted with a fine disk. Do what suits you.

    My Mothers Spaghetti  Sauce and Meatballs
    2 Cans of Tomatoes, 28 or 35 oz.
    2 Tbs olive oil
    1 large onion
    2 cloves garlic crushed
    1/2 cup fresh basil, finely chopped
    1 tsp oregano
    salt and pepper to taste
    In large pot heat olive olive, add onions cook until lightly translucent for 5 minutes. Add garlic, cook for two more minutes. Add tomatoes(chopped if whole) with liquid and seasonings. Simmer for an hour.(Add a little water or white wine if the sauce gets too thick).

    1 lb ground beef
    1 lb ground pork
    2 cloves garlic crushed
    1 cup finely chopped onions
    2 eggs
    1 Tbs fine chopped parsley
    1 cup stale bread, crust removed and break bread into small pieces
    or you can use 1 cup fresh bread crumbs
    1/4 cup milk
    1/2 cup fresh grated Parmesan cheese
    salt and pepper
    3 Tablespoon olive oil for cooking
    Moisten bread with milk. Combine the moistened bread with all the other ingredients except olive oil and mix meat mixture very well. Form into meatballs and fry in oil for only a few minutes on each side. Add meatballs and one tablespoon of oil that was cooked with the meatballs to sauce. Cook sauce and meatballs on low for another hour.
    Or if you want to bake meatballs like my mother. Preheat oven to 450. Line a baking pan with aluminum foil. Coat with olive oil and bake for 10-12 minutes. Add meatballs and one tablespoon of oil that meatballs were baked in to sauce. Cook sauce and meatballs on low for another hour.

    Good cooks really put passion into what they make. Cooking is an art and skill that get better with practice and time. The best advice I can give is to have no fear just cook. Try all different recipes and add your own touches that will make the meal special. What I found out over the years is that making a recipe your own is what makes that recipe special to you and your family. I have tried so many different dishes from magazines and cook books that I thought were not very good. So I just started from scratch and made the recipe how I thought it would be better and it was.  So give it a try, just cook.


    Tuesday, September 14, 2010

    Beautiful Old Fashion English Roses

    I've always loved Old Fashion English Roses. Not only the fresh blooms but the beautiful images of these roses in photos, on fabric patterns, plates and more. For some reason it took me a long time to plant the roses in my garden. Finally three years ago I ordered David Austin Old Fashion English Roses in five varieties and my only regret is that I waited so long to make this spectacular addition to my garden.
    I was a little disappointed when I opened the box and saw what the roses looked like shipped bare rooted. I didn't expect much the first year. Following the directions I soaked the roots over night. Just by chance I was speaking with a knowledgeable gardener and she mentioned that I should cut the roses back to a foot high after planting . I was very skeptical but she assured me that the roses would do better the first year if I followed her instruction. I did and she was right. I had lovely blooms the first year and for the past two seasons. Each summer season I am dazzled by the beautiful blooms and wonderful fragrance of my roses.  And each year the roses get bigger and bigger. I planted my roses, where else, but in front of  a white picket fence. With very little care and fuss my roses bloom continuously from late spring into fall. The only attention required is rose fertilizer once a month and weekly dead heading, all worth waking up each day to these beauties in my garden. I have received so much beauty and enjoyment with so little work!
    Next year I am definitely going to add more of Old Fashion Roses to my garden.

    Thursday, September 9, 2010

    I can't help myself I have to blog about shopping!!

    Alright I said that I wasn't going to blog about shopping on Good Dinner Mrs Mellen, I lied.  I can't help myself!  If you know me, you know that I love to shop and shop and shop and shop.  I just love clothes, home furnishing, cosmetic, you name it I'm there.  Well I just had to share my most recent shopping finds.  I believe in when the President says that we need to stimulate the economy so I spread my purchased around to all types of retailers.  High end, discount, I do not discriminate.  If I like it I buy it.
    I get such a rush when I find a bargain or exceptional deal, I just get so warm and fuzzy.  Last week I was up in the White Mountain region of New Hampshire. A beautiful natural resource that just takes my breath away.  So in between the beautiful mountains, forest, lakes etc what should appear a few years ago but a T.J. Maxx in, of all places, Littleton New Hampshire.  Now Littleton is a lovely small town that has actually made money magazines list of best small town to live in the US.  In the winter the main street reminds me of Bedford Falls in "It's a wonderful life" with the Christmas lights strung across the street and snow falling.  All that missing is George Baily running down the street to go home to Mary after he is saved by the Angel. A T.J. Maxx was a surprise to find so far up in New Hampshire.  Now I have been won over by the bargains that I have found at this store.  I think that they much ship merchandise that isn't sold at other story and just mark the items down to nothing to sell.  At the end of each season is my most favorite time to hit this store just to buy any name brand item for next to nothing. So last week I was on a mission, hunt through all the clearance racks for name brands to buy.  First to the shoes, did I tell you that I just love shoes.  I was very disappointed. (I've been known to find $100 shoes or boots for $5 or $10)  NO LUCK this time!  On to the woman's clearance racks.  I look through all sizes, a bargain can be stuck in the wrong size rack.  My fingers busily move quickly through the racks, looking for names, give me Free people, BCBG, Juicy Couturier, Polo(Black Label I would die for), Jolie, Tommy Bahama bathing suits and more.  I am frantically searching for me or my daughter or anyone I don't care the bargains are fabulous.  Ah three Free People rompers into my cart, two BCBG bathing suit cover ups are mine, and still my heart, a Polo Black label black Tee shirt with a large pink horse!  I am in heaven.  I make one more pass over the racks to make sure that I haven't missed some more finds but sadly that is it for today.  Over all it was a good day.  I have had better days but I think that the word is out about this T.J Max so the bargains are getting slimmer and slimmer.
    OK I know that you want to know how much I spent and the retail price on the manufacturers tags.  You need to be seated for this, two of the Free People rompers were each .50 and one was $2.00. On the manufacturers tag $78. The two BCBG cover ups were $3.00 and $5.00, retail price $120. And my favorite the Polo Black Label tee cost me $7.00.  I know I was being a little extravagant!  Retail price was $98.00. Drum roll, I spent a total of $18. for $572 worth of merchandise.  I almost couldn't sleep that night I was so amazed by my finds.  My only regret is I couldn't find more to buy!
    Now to the opposite end of bargain hunting.  I went to new expanded The Runway at Maxx at T.J. Maxx in Newton to see all the new ultra expensive upscale fashions at discounted prices. And did they have the names, Chanel, Prada, Fendi, Nanette Lepore, Alice & Olivia, Ralph Lauren and still my heart, Jimmy Choo! Thousand dollar Jimmy Choo's for $599 or my favorite bargain, a beautiful handmade gold beaded Ralph Lauren evening top, retail $6000 for the small change of $999!  I looked, I touched, I tried on but I didn't buy.  I had so much fun joining the feeding frenzy along with all those other woman who were so caught up looking at the unbelievable price of these designer duds. I felt like I was part of a clinical study of a psychology class on how woman behave in large groups when they are presented with unlimited bargains. Or that we were all on Punk'd!
    Like I said I just love to shop even if I am just looking and admiring beautifully made clothing.  And I am just so thrilled with my loot from my shopping excursion in New Hampshire!

    Good Dinner Mrs. Mellen: I can't help myself I have to blog about shopping!...

    Good Dinner Mrs. Mellen: I can't help myself I have to blog about shopping!...: "Alright I said that I wasn't going to blog about shopping in Good Dinner Mrs Mellen, I lied. I can't help myself! If you know me, you know..."

    Tuesday, August 31, 2010

    An Outrageous Peach Pie

    I have a little problem. I was going to make this pie, take a picture and post it to show how delicious this peach pie is but I have only one person share the pie with, my husband! I do enjoy cooking but I love to bake. I could bake all day, cakes, pies, pastries, you name it, I'm there. My problem is unless I have company etc, I don't have enough people at my house to eat all these backed goods! So I just will share the recipe today but next time I will bake and take a picture! Maybe I can through a baking party and have everyone come and eat up all that I baked!
    This is a sinful pie so rich and delicious. I love peaches, fresh or cooked in pastry. Growing up my grandparents had peach trees and the fruit was wonderful. When we moved into the house that I grew up in we had a peach tree and I loved picking and eating the fruit that this tree produced.

    Outrageous Peach Pie

    1 3/4 cup flour
    1/4 cup sugar
    1 tsp cinnamon
    1/2 tsp salt
    2/3 cup butter
    2-3 Tbsp apple cider or water

    1 cup sour cream
    1 cup sugar
    4 Tbsp flour
    1/4 teaspoon salt
    1 egg
    1 tsp vanilla
    2 cups peaches, peeled and sliced

    1 cup brown sugar
    2/3 cup flour
    1/2 cup butter

     Pastry:  Combine flour, sugar , cinnamon and salt in large bowl. With pastry blender cut in butter to consistency of coarse cornmeal. Sprinkle apple cider over, one tablespoon at a time, mix to moisten pastry mixture evenly. Press dough into ball. Roll out on lightly floured surface into a 11 inch round. Fit into a 9 inch pie plate. Fold extra dough at edge into a rim and flute or crimp a raised edge.
    Filling: Combine sour cream, sugar, flour, salt, egg and vanilla. Add slice peaches and stir well. Pour into pastry lined pie plate. Bake at 400F for 30 minutes.
    Topping: Mix brown sugar, flour and butter until combined. When pie is done baking remove from over cover with topping. Reduce over heat to 375F and bake for 20 minutes.


    Tuesday, August 24, 2010

    Mussels so good, so easy!

    I am always amazed when I go into a restaurant and see how much they charge for mussels. Right now mussels are so fresh and reasonable at the grocery store or fish market. And they are so easy to make, serve as an appetizer or over pasta as a meal. A wonderful summer meal that is ready in no time. I make mussels a few different ways depending on what I feel like. I do either mussels marinara or mussels in a white wine sauce both are delicious.

    Mussels Marinara
    3 lbs of mussels
    3 Tbs olive oil
    3 cloves garlic, minced
    2 shallots chopped
    1 cup white wine
    1 can(14.5 oz) petite cut tomatoes
    1 Tbs fresh oregano
    1 TBS fresh parsley
    1 Tbs fresh basil
    pinch of crushed red Italian peppers(optional)
    1/2 tsp pepper

    Rinse and clean mussels thoroughly. Cut the "beard" off, that dark string that is attached to some of the mussels. If the mussels are very dirty scrub with a brush.
    (You can also soak in a bowel with water just covering the mussels. Add 1/2 cup of flour and soak for 30 minutes. This will get rid of sand but most of the mussels that you buy at the grocery store are pretty clean.)

    Saute garlic and shallots in olive oil for about 5 minuets just until translucent. Don't brown. Add wine, parsley, oregano, basil, both the red and black pepper and tomatoes, bring to a boil. Add mussels, cover and cook over medium heat for 8-10 minutes or until mussels are open. Discard any mussels that don't open. Serve over pasta or with a loaf of crusty bread. Serves about 4 - 6 for a meal

    Mussels in White Wine Sauce
    3 lbs mussels
    2 Tbs butter
    2 Tbs olive oil
    4 cloves of garlic
    4 chopped shallots
    1/3 cup flat leaf parsley
    1 Tbs fresh thyme
    1/2 thread of saffron
    1/2 teaspoon pepper

    Clean mussels. Heat butter and olive oil add shallots and garlic, cooking until translucent. Add wine, parsley, thyme, saffron, and pepper bring to a boil Add mussels, cover and cook over medium heat 8- 10 minutes until mussels open. Discard any mussels that don't open. Serve over pasta or with bread as an appetizer.

    I love to make mussels because they are so good, easy to make, and reasonable to purchase. What more can you ask for.


    Sunday, August 15, 2010

    Back into the garden!!

    Ah August,  time to start getting the garden ready for the coming fall season. I've been away from my garden for a few weeks, first it's been too hot to work outside and second I was busy with my son's wedding. Now it's the time to get rid of spent blooms and dead plants etc. I worked all morning cutting back my Shasta daisies and yarrow. I like the large yellow yarrow plants because they can be dried for fall arrangements and also they don't over take the garden like some yarrow. I also cut back my lavender plants to promote stronger plants next year. I love growing lavender not only does the plant make a wonderful garden edge but you can cut the lavender and use it in cooking or dry to scent your linens. All that I did today will make the plants stronger and help my plants get through the winter and reward me with wonderful blooms next year. If you want a beautiful garden you have to dead head, prune, fertilize all season long. It's not enough to just plant and watch the beautiful blooms, taking care of your plants is just as important. I find as I've said before working in the garden so peaceful and as beneficial as doing yoga for staying in the present moment and enjoying nature, and not to mention a great workout, all that bending and pulling..
    A guilty pleasure of mine is reading all the flower catalogs, my favorites are White Flower Farm and Dutch Gardens. I have used both 30 plus years and have never been disappointed with the quality and price of the plants. I especially like buying bulbs and peonies from these companies. I can look into my crystal ball and say unequivocally that plants from these two companies will be arriving at my door in the fall.
    One plant that comes into wonderful bloom from mid July until September is the Hydrangea Paniculatas. I first bought this hydrangea as a tree and I paid about $100.00 ten years ago. Since that time I have bought the scrub form and cultivated the plant to grow as a tree for very little money. On day I found a sad and almost dead plant at Home Depot and purchased it for about $10.00, now eight years later I have a beautiful tree. Over the years I purchased more and let them grown as a shrub. I now have good luck taking cuttings from these shrubs and cultivating the cuttings into new scrubs.  My garden is now filled with these beautiful plants and I plan to grown more this year.

    Two things that I could not live without when I work in the garden is Off Clip on Mosquito Repellent. The mosquitoes love me and this is wonderful because I can just clip and be protected. The second is a Nettie pot. After the garden my allergies would be out of control if I didn't use the Neti pot two time a day!
    Off to getting a relaxing Sunday dinner together.

    Tuesday, August 10, 2010

    Busy with the pefect wedding!

    I haven't posted in two weeks and I have a wonderful explanation, I was so busy with my son's wedding and I didn't really have that much to do. I don't know how the bride keep everything all together but she did a wonderful job. The wedding was picture perfect!! We just sailed through everything and the weather the day of the wedding was the best day of the year. We were able to go over to the public gardens and take beautiful pictures.
    I did have company at my house and I did a little entertaining. A wonderful causal dinner on our deck that everyone enjoyed on the Thursday night before the wedding.
    Now I am back on track and I have many wonderful ideas to share with you about cooking, gardening and just enjoying life. I did get some recipes from my Mother but I will have to cook them myself, working with my mother to get all the correct measurements and steps but I will be able to duplicate her dishes.
    As sad as I am that the summer is slowly coming to an end, I am happy with all the fresh local produce at the farm markets. In my town we have a wonderful farm market where we can get the freshest produce, which makes cooking so easy. What could be better than grilling an assortment of peppers, zucchini, eggplant or what's at the market, adding corn on the cob, grilled fish or meat, tossed salad and bread. You have a wonderful , easy, quick delicious meal. I find what really adds to grilled food is wonderful seasonings.  I am partial to Penseys spices and rubs. I just love their spice blends. I am fortunate to have a store close by but you can order on line. Try all the different spice blends.  My favorite has to be Tuscan Sunset with Mural of Flavor coming in second.
    I'll leave you with a recipe for Pesto Sauce. You can grow your own basil so easily in the garden or in a pot.

    Fresh Pesto Sauce

     3 cups loosely packed fresh Basil leaves
    1/cup fresh parsley
    3 large cloves of garlic
    1/2 cup of pine nuts
    1 cup of freshly grated Parmesan or Asiago cheese
    1 teaspoon of fresh oregano (an easy to grow perennial herb but it will quickly take over any area. So I planted mine in a plastic pot and planted the pot in the grown. You can use a terracotta pot but it tends to break up after a few harsh winters)
    1/2 teaspoon pepper
    2/3 cups fruity olive oil
    salt to taste
    Combine all ingredients in a food processor or blender to form a thick smooth sauce.
    You can serve over pasta or over cooked potatoes for a pesto potato salad. Or put just a little dollop on grilled fish or chicken.  Just use your imagination.
    I like to freeze the pesto sauce in small containers to use later. You can just defrost and use. No cooking or heating needed.


    Saturday, July 17, 2010

    Let them eat Chocolate cake!!

    Not much I can do in the garden with this heat and humidity. I just came in from about an hour of pruning and I was dripping so my thoughts turned to baking. I do love to cook but I am passionate about baking. Once I start I can't stop. At Christmas time I am a cookie making machine, I just can't make enough. And I always think that I haven't made many cookies until I start pulling out all my storage tubs filled with cookies, but that is a later blog.
    Right now I want to talk about chocolate cake. I do love to bake a good chocolate cake and the choices are endless. I do have a few favorite recipes that I make over and over.  My favorite birthday cake growing up that my mother always made for me was a Chocolate Coconut Cake. I could never get enough of this cake.That stared my love affair with chocolate cake!  I haven't make this cake in years and I don't remember why I stopped. If you like coconut this is the cake for you.

    Birthday Chocolate Coconut Cake
    1 egg white                             
    2 tsp vanilla
    2 1/4 cup sugar
    2 cups (7 oz pkg) fine grated coconut
    1 Tbs flour
    1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa
    3/4 cup hot coffee
    3 eggs, separated
    1 tsp soda
    1/2 cup sour cream
    1/2 cup shortening
    1 tsp salt
    2 cups flour

    Preheat oven to 350. Lightly grease the bottom of a 10 inch tube pan
    Beat egg white with 1 tsp vanilla until soft mounds form. Add 1/2 cup sugar gradually beating until stiff peaks form. Stir in coconut and 1 Tbs flour. Set aside.
    Dissolve cocoa in hot coffee.  Beat 3 egg whites until soft mounds form. Add 1/2 cup sugar gradually beating until meringue stands in stiff peaks. Set aside.  Add soda to sour cream. Set aside. In a large bowl beat 1 1/4 cup sugar, shortening, 3 egg yolks, 1/2 tsp salt, 1 tsp vanilla and half of cocoa mixture until light and creamy,  about  4 minutes.  On a low speed stir in 2 cups flour, the sour cream mixture and remaining cocoa/coffee, blend well. Fold in egg whites. Pour 1/3 of chocolate cake batter into prepared tube pan. Place 1/2 coconut mixture on cake batter, then pour 1/2 of the remaining chocolate cake batter over coconut mixture. Continue with the remaining coconut mixture and top with the of the cake batter. Make sure that the cake batter covers all the coconut mixture. Bake for 55 to 65 minutes. Cool completely before removing from pan. Frost top and side with Chocolate Cream Frosting.

    Chocolate Fudge  Frosting
    1 pkg( 6 oz) Semi Sweet chocolate pieces
    1/2 cup light cream
    1 cup butter
    2 tsp vanilla
    2 1/2 cup  powdered sugar.

    In a medium sauce pan combine chocolate, cream, butter and stir over medium heat until smooth. Remove from heat.  Put powder sugar in large bowl. Stir in chocolate mixture and vanilla. Beat with a wooden spoon until spreadable. To hasten thickening, put bowl in a pan of ice and water while stirring or refrigerate frosting until  begins to thicken.

    This cake might seem to have a lot of steps but if you just take time and follow the steps it is well work the effort! I forgot how good this cake is until I looked again at the recipe. I definitely going to make this cake soon!

    My mother calls this cake just a basic Chocolate cake. We've been making this cake in one form or another for more years that I'd like to think about.

    Just Chocolate Cake with Chocolate fudge frosting and whipped cream filling

    1 cup unsweetened cocoa
    2 cups boiling water
    2 3/4 cups sifted all-purpose flour
    2 tsp baking soda
    1/2 tsp salt
    1 cup butter
    2 1/2 cup sugar
    4 eggs
    1 1/2 tsp vanilla

    In a medium bowl, combine cocoa with boiling water, mixing with a wire whisk until smooth,   cool completely. Soft four with soda and baking powder. Preheat oven 350. Grease well and lightly flour three 9 1/2 inch layer-cake pans.
    In large bowl with electric mixer at high speed, beat butter, sugar. eggs and vanilla until light, about 5 minutes. At low speed, beat in flour mixture in fourths) alternating with cocoa mixture(in thirds) beginning and ending with flour mixture. do not over beat. Divide evenly into pans, smooth top. Bake 25 to 35 minutes or until surface springs back when pressed gently with fingertips. Cool in pans for 10 minutes. Carefully loosen sides with spatula, remove from pans: cool on rack.

    Whipped Cream filling: Whip one cup of chilled heavy cream with 1/4 cup powdered sugar and one teaspoon vanilla. Refrigerate until use.

    To assemble cake  on cake stand place a layer, top side down. Then spread half of cream filling. Place a second layer , top side down and spread rest of cream. Place third layer top side up. Some times I slice strawberries and put a layer of strawberries then the whipped cream and continue layering the cake. Or you can brush the cake with a good preserve and then add the whipped cream. And for the adult version you can brush the cake with a rum or liqueur. With spatula, frost side first, covering whipped cream. Use rest of the frosting on top. Refrigerate at least one hour.

    This chocolate cake is just so good that you can combine with any frosting and filling that you choice.

    OK, OK I can hear what your thinking these cakes take a lot of time and work!! Plus they make many dirty pans, beaters, bowls etc. This is true but worth the effort and work.  But!!!!  I am going to share with you a wonderfully easy cake that starts with a box cake mix, yes I said a box cake mix and it's a delicious , decadent cake when you get done. I found this cake years ago in Southern Living Magazine. Over the years Southern living is one of my favorite sources for recipes. So if you a little bakeaphobic, try this cake first and then move up to a more challenging cake once your comfort level is higher.

    Chocolate-Peanut Butter Mousse Cake

    ***  I have added a step to making this cake and suggestions for making this cake!  After you make the peanut butter mousse filling  I found even after it is cooled for 25 minutes it oozes out of the cake when you put the layers together. I make the filling first and chill for 1 to 2 hours. The filling will be thick so work in batches to spread over cake layer making sure to gently spread over the entire cake layer but not over the sides of the cake. You will have a high layer of filling. In the recipe it says pour glace over cake. Don't just pour, you'll end up with the glaze dripping down the cake and ending on the plate. Just take some time and spread the glaze over the cake, top and sides. Also I usually chill this cake and then serve.  Make these few changes and this cake is a comes out perfect and tastes wonderful.
    That's what I mean about recipes missing steps. The first time I make this cake as soon as I put the second cake layer on top, the filling ran out.(I was forced to each much of the mousse filling that landed on the cake dish)  I was so disappointed but my family said they loved the taste of cake. I thought about it an realized  that when you make any mousse you need to chill so it becomes firmer and that's what I did. And now I have a wonderful, easy cake to make for my family or company.
    I could go on and on about wonderful chocolate cake recipes and I still have a few more that I will share later. I think I gained some weight just writing about these cakes but they are so good!!


    Monday, July 12, 2010

    Cocktails at Joann's

    I had the pleasure of visiting my friend Joann at her gorgeous summer home located in a beautiful Massachusetts beach community. Joann's home is beautiful and reflects her wonderful decorating style that is causal and chic at the same time. Her attention to every detail in decorating her home is inspiring. After a wonderful lunch at the club house and dip in the pool and then the beach, Joann served us delectable cocktails on her terrace overlooking her lushly landscaped back yard. Along with the cocktails she served an assortment of finger foods that captured the essence of summer eating.  Joann's delicious feats included an assortment of cheese with crackers, grilled clams with Tomato Bruschetta and slice fresh fruit. Who could ask for more after a relaxing day by the water. Joann was happy to share her recipe with us.

    Grilled Clams with Tomato Bruschetta:

    Combine: 3/4 cup dry while wine, 1/4 cup olive oil, 1/4 cup fresh cilantro, 1/4 cup fresh parsley, 2 tomatoes finely chopped, 1 large onion finely chopped, 5 garlic cloves finely chopped, 1/2 inch piece of fresh ginger grated. Place disposable roasting pan on high heat over grill until liquid comes to boil. Stir in 3 dozen scrubbed littleneck clams. Cover with a sheet pan(such as a cookie sheet). Grill 8-10 minutes or until clams open. Serve immediate. (Joann suggest to remove calms to serving plate as they open so they don't get rubbery) Poor remaining juice from pan over clams.

    Tomato Bruschetta:  Combine 4 ripe tomatoes, seeded and chopped, 3 green onions, thinly sliced, 1 Tbs. chopped fresh cilantro, one garlic clove minced, 1/2 tsp. salt and 1/4 tsp black pepper. Diagonally slice french bread, brush both sides with extra virgin olive oil.  Grill lover high heat. Spoon tomato mixture over grilled bread and serve. You can make the tomato mixture a head of time and chill in refrigerator.

    I will definitely make Joann's recipe and serve with cocktail or as a appetizer before a meal.

    Thanks Joann for sharing!


    Sunday, July 11, 2010

    Alfresco Birthday Dinner

    Finally I can finish this post that I started a few weeks ago. I have been away from my blog and I've missed writing. I think by now you know that I love to cook and entertain. I just enjoy all aspects of entertaining, planning the menu, choosing the theme, decorating, everything. I recently threw a birthday dinner for my twins. You are never too old to celebrate your birthday in our family. Over the years I've collected outdoor entertaining pieces. I personally like to use real plates, glasses, table cloths and silverware outside and I use as little plastic or paper as possible. You can get these items on sale and in the long run save money and the environment.
    I planned a family barbecue for the birthday dinner. About a month before the dinner I started planning the menu, I like to try new recipes and mix them with old favorites, Some say that you should try the recipes before you make them for company but I just try out a recipe on company, remember no fear. Just have fun and enjoy preparing the meal. The dinner was a causal get together on our deck. I started with fun summer drinks, dips and then followed with the meal and dessert. Every year for my twins' birthday I make a cake, decorated with both names, this year I did something different. I made my daughter red velvet cupcakes, her favorite and my son a blueberry pie, which he loves.(though he told me a decadent cake would be greatly appreciated next year!) I find that when I try new recipes I always have one or two that are a keeper and crowd pleaser. And this time was not different. The menu follows:

    Raspberry Lime Rickey's
    Buffalo Chicken Dip
    Caponata with Flat bread*
    Assorted olives, cheese/crackers  
    Spicy Grilled Shrimp* 
    Grilled Buttermilk Chicken*
    Red Bliss potatoes salad
    Layered Tabbouleh
    Bobbie's Asian Coleslaw
    Summer Salad with berries       
    Red velvet Cupcakes    
    Blueberry Pie with vanilla ice cream

    * These are new recipes that I haven't made before. I found them in June 2010 Martha Stewart Living. For me I will only make the shrimp again. Everyone loved this shrimp dish. I am including the recipes that I will make again . The red bliss potato salad is mine own creation, all the other recipes are from other sources and some I've modified over the years.
    As you can see I love to serve a lot of food. You don't need two entrees and all the side dishes. I like left overs the next day!!
    Elaine's Birthday dinner for Twelve
    Raspberry Lime Rickey
    8 oz vodka
    3 oz lime juice
    2 oz Chambord 
    12 fresh raspberries                        
    plus 4 for garnish
    fresh lime for garnish
    club soda

    Muddle the raspberries in the bottom of a pitcher(I used a martini pitcher). Fill with ice and add remaining ingredients. Stir well and pour into 4 tall glasses. Top with club soda and garnish with lime wedges and fresh raspberries.

    Buffalo Chicken Dip- My version of an old favorite
    2 packages of cooked chicken strips (I used short cuts) cut into bite size pieces
    2 packages of cream cheese, softened
    1 cup ranch dressing
    3/4 cup pepper sauce( I used Frank's Red Hot)
    1 1/2 cup shredded cheddar Cheese

    Heat chicken and hot sauce in a skillet over medium heat, until heated through. Stir in cream cheese and ranch dressing. Cook, stirring until well blended and warm. Mix in half of the shredded cheese and transfer the mixture to a baking dish. Sprinkle the remaining cheese over the top and bake at 350 for 20-30 minutes until hot and bubbly. Serve with celery sticks and cracker

    Spicy Grilled Shrimp

    Layered Tabbouleh salad

    Red Bliss Potato Salad
    2 1/4 lb. Red Bliss potatoes 
    1/2 cup olive oil
    1/4 cup fig balsamic vinegar
    1/4 tsp. ground pepper
    1/2 cup sliced kalamata olives sliced ( I use pitted)
    1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese (optional)

    Scrub potatoes and cut into bite size pieces. Cook until almost tender.Drain. Rinse with cold water and drain again. Put potatoes in bowl. Combine next three ingredients, shake well. Toss over potatoes. Add olives and feta cheese and toss again lightly.
    Serve at room temperature or chilled

    Summer salad with strawberries, blueberries with Poppy seed dressing
    1 package of spring mix salad or greens of your choice
    2 cups of blueberries
    1 cup strawberries cut in fourths
    1 can mandarin oranges drained
    1/2 cup chopped pecans

    Clean and dry greens. Toss with all the ingredients and serve with Poppy seed dressing.

    Poppy seed dressing
    1/3 cup sugar
    1 teaspoon grated onion
    1/2 cup white vinegar
    1 cup oil
    1 teaspoon salt  
    1 tablespoon poppy seeds
    1 teaspoon ground mustard

    Combine all sugar, vinegar, salt. mustard, and onion in blender for 20 seconds. Gradually add in oil. Stir in poppy seeds.

    Bobbi's Cole Slaw

    1/2 head cabbage( I used Dole 24 oz bag of classic Cole slaw)
    3 tsp. sesame seeds
    3 Tbsp. sunflower seeds
    6-8 scallions, chopped
    3 Tbsp. silvered toasted almonds
    1 pkg Ramen noodles(chicken or vegetable flavor), uncooked, crumbled
    1/2 cup oil
    3 Tbsp, sugar
    1/2 tsp. each salt and pepper
    4-5 Tbsp. white vinegar
    1/2 pkg of seasoning from the noodles
    Mix together dressing ingredients(it works well in a jar with a lid, so you can shake it up and store until needed). Toast sesame, sunflower seeds and almonds lightly. Add remaining ingredients and coat with dressing just before serving.

    Red Velvet Cup Cakes  I am still perfecting the Red Velvet Cup Cakes made with beets or beet juice not red food coloring.. I made a recipe that called for beet juice and unprocessed light cocoa. Everyone loved the cup cakes but the cup cakes did not have the deep red coloring normally associated with Red Velvet Cup Cakes. Once I perfect or find a really good dye free cup cake I will post the recipe.

    Blueberry Pie   I love blueberries just plain or in a pie.

    2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
    1/4 cup sugar
    1/2 tsp. salt
    1/2 cup soft shortening
    1/3 cup butter, but into pieces
    7 Tbs. cold water
    6 cups blueberries, rinsed
    1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar
    1/2 cup sugar
    4 1/2 Tbs cornstarch
    3/4 tsp ground allspice
    1 Tbs butter
    1 egg yolk
    1 tsp whipping cream

    Pastry: In a large bowl combine flour, sugar and salt. With pastry blender cut in shortening and butter until mixture resembles coarse corn meal. Sprinkle the water over top and work mixture together with pastry blender or fingers until it comes together to form dough. Shape the dough into a ball. Place into plastic bag and let rest at room temperature for 1 hour.(If I am in a hurry I have used the Pillsbury pie crust in the refrigerated section of the grocery store.)
    Filling: Place rack in lower third of oven. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Empty the blueberries into a large bowl. In another bowl combine brown sugar, sugar, cornstarch and allspice. Add the sugar mixture to the blueberries and mix gently.
    Divide pastry in half. On a floured surface roll one half into 13 inch round. Fit into a 10 inch pie plate, letting the pastry hang over the edge. Fill with blueberry mixture. Dot with butter. On a floured surface roll remaining pastry into a 13 inch round. Place over pie. Seal edges and crimp to form a decorative rim.
    Glaze: In a small cup wish egg yolk and cream. Brush top of pie with mixture. Cut vents on the top. You can use mini cookie cutters to make a decorative top.
    Bake pie 10 minutes, reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees. Bake pie 35-40 minute longer or until nicely glazed, Cool on rack.

    Well I think that I've included everything that I made. What I also try to do is keep a record of  what I made at different celebrations so I can find the recipes again. I learned the hard way!! I am still looking for the exact Health bar cake recipe that my twins say is the best.

    Enjoy and share any of your favorite recipes with me!

    Sunday, July 4, 2010

    Happily ever after...

    My oldest son is getting married and I was fortunate to be involved in planning the bridal shower. I had so much fun letting my creatively run wild and I do mean wild. I sometimes go over board well maybe all the time. It's just that I loved everything that when into planning the shower the invitation, favors, centerpieces, cake, just everything!
    First I decided what I wanted to do for the shower and six months in advance I booked a restaurant for a lovely champagne brunch. From that start everything just fell into place. The feel of the shower was important to me so I chose everything to compliment the wedding theme and color. I wanted the look and feel of the shower to be simply elegant and most of all special for the bride.
    First I started to look for invitations. I knew that I was going to do something more than just basic invitations and I was so lucky to find the most wonderful blank invitation with beautiful art work depicting three different style bridal shoes. Now did I say that I love shoes and I mean love and the bride loves shoes so these were the perfect invitations. The invitations are from a company called Four Seasons Designs. I just fell in love with all their invitations. The art work is wonderful, different and so unique. When I went to order the invitation I was sad to find out that the company is no longer offering their invitations, just their collection of calendars, because the owner is semi-retiring. I bought the last of the bridal shoe invitations, just enough for the shower.
    Did I say I like to go over board, well just printing these beautiful invitations wasn't enough, I embellished each shoe. I attached pearls to the shoe with a pearl decoration, I sparkled the shoe with a rhinestone buckle and I added a ribbon bow to the shoe with a bow. And I made custom paper lined envelopes. I even matched up the address label and my return label. I forgot to mention that I am addicted to The Paper Source I purchased all my supplies from this store and I can't speak highly enough of the expert sales people who assisted me each step of the way. The finished invitations are just simply elegant. I had so much fun working on these invitations that I almost didn't want to be finished with the project.

    After mailing out the invitations I started thinking about what I wanted to do for favors. Back to The Paper Source for more inspiration and help from my new friends at the store. The Paper Source has wonderful favor boxes in different shapes, colors and sizes that you can decorate in all fun ways to make the favors very personalized. I choice the pocket book style(Oh by the way in addition to loving shoes, handbags come in a close second!) in cream and I used the decorative paper from the invitations to decorate. I also made a ribbon handle and my personal favorite, I stamped on each pocket book "happily ever after" in gold ink. No I wasn't finished decorating yet, I used a paper flower with a pearl center as a seal for the pocket book. Each pocket book was filled with chocolate.

    We decorated each table with the bride's grandmother's English bone tea cups and filled the tea cups with the traditional wedding almonds. I finished the table with a simple glass vase filled with ornamental grass and three blue hydrangeas from my garden. My friend who is an expert flower arranger share with me the tip to condition the hydrangeas before making the centerpieces. Conditioning prevents the hydrangeas from dropping their head. The easiest way to condition hydrangeas from your garden is to cut your flowers and put right them into water.(I bring a tub or bucket outside with me) Bring the flowers inside make a fresh cut on stem and immediately plunge the stem into boiling water for 10 seconds. Then, immediately plunge into cool water, all the way up to the neck and leave the flowers in the water over night. The reason is to force the air out of the stem which prevents the flowers from taking up more water than they are giving off. This really works. I wouldn't believe it unless I tried it on my hydrangeas.

    I worked with the bakery to carry the color and tea cup theme and a beautiful cake was created complete with a tea cup that was filled with almonds.

    The day of the shower was a beautiful perfect summer day. The bride-to-be was thrilled with the lovely shower.

    Monday, June 28, 2010

    More Recipes on the way

    I tried to explain to my mother that I was making her and her recipes a star in my blog but I don't think she understood what I meant by a blog. So I just told her it was like writing an article but on the computer. She was so excited to share her favorite recipes that she is writing some down for me. When I called her the other day to get her recipe for tomato sauce(I want the exact amounts that can be measured, not just a little bit or to taste, some of her favorite measurements) she was busy making what else her sauce and meatballs. And a blueberry pie. If she had time she was going to make a chocolate cake too. Her granddaughter-in-law and three great-grandchildren were coming for lunch. In my family we eat just meatballs in sauce with just some bread to soak up the wonderful sauce for lunch. Skip the spaghetti, the bread is the only carbs you need.
    Over the phone my mother was sharing her secrets about making a great sauce. Remember simmer your sauce for a long time, she tells me, the flavors need to cook together, don't rush the sauce it doesn't taste as good. She is right, anytime I tried to make a quick sauce, I could taste the difference. And the secret to her meatballs that are so tender they melt when you eat them, she bakes them in the oven just until they are halfway cooked, then she finishes cooking the meatballs in the sauce. My mother has all these different ways to bring out the best in all she makes. After all she has been cooking for eighty eight years and she learned from the best.
    I think one of the reasons that my Mother is such a good cook is that she thinks that making a wonderful meal is easy. She doesn't understand what all the fuss is about. You just put some ingredients together and presto you have a delicious meal in no time.
    As soon as I get her finished recipes I will post them.

    Monday, June 21, 2010

    Mangia, Mangia!

    I know that I call this Good Dinner Mrs. Mellen and as I’ve been reminded I haven’t shared much dinner. I have been spending most of my time in my gardens, that has been my focus this spring.
    As much a I love to garden,I do love to cook and entertain. I learned to cook and appreciate good food from my Mother and Grandmother. I have fond memories of growing up sharing wonderful meals with my extended family. My Grandmother made everything from scratch including growing the herbs, garlic and plum tomatoes for her sauce. Yes in my Italian family we call it sauce not gravy.(Gravy is what you made from turkey and beef). My Grandmother made the most wonderful meals without recipes, fancy tools or gadgets, just the best ingredients and some simple kitchen tools. She didn’t even measure her ingredients she just knew how much by sight. Everything that she made was just delicious, even a simple cheese sandwich was heaven to taste. My Mother carried on this tradition of being an exceptional cook and we all love to eat at her home. I must confess that no matter how many times or how hard I try my turkey never comes close to my mother. Her Turkey rules! Later I will share some of her secret to the most tender, moist turkey.
    My Grandmother and Mother always cooked with feeling and intuition, just knowing how to combine the right ingredients that make a simple dish outstanding. I can only aspire to continue the traditions I learned from these two outstanding cooks!
    Cooking is not hard, if you can read you can cook. But to be a very good cook you have to practice and enjoy cooking. It’s like anything, sports, work, etc, the more you do the better you become. And leave your fear, intimidation and trepidation at the kitchen door. Have fun and enjoy. Cooking is easy, we're not talking brain surgery. Think of making a meal as a wonderful gift you are sharing with your family and guests.
    My Mother makes a wonderful, easy one pot meal that everyone loves in my family. I have served it many times over the years to family and friends. We call it Mom-Mom's Italian Pot Roast. It can be a family Sunday dinner or you can add some courses for a dinner for company. For a Sunday dinner I would just serve Italian Pot Roast with a nice tossed salad of field greens, tomatoes, kalamata olives, croutons tossed with olive oil and balsamic vinegar or with Our Favorite Dressing ( a loaf of good bread. To make the meal more elegant for company you could do an antipasta first course. I like to serve for my antipasta, a home made olive tapenade, assortment of olives, provolone cheese, dipping olive oil,prosciutto and bread. I'd still serve a nice light salad(I love salad and always serve salad with dinner). Finish off this meal with gelato and a nice homemade biscotti. (you can also purchase biscotti) or fresh mellon.
    When your done you have a very simple to make yet delicious meal, that can be dressed up for company!

    Olive Tapenade

    Combine all the ingredients in a food processor until smooth. Refrigerate until serving and can be kept refrigerated up to two weeks. Serve with bread or crackers.

    Mom Mom's Italian Pot Roast

    4 LB. RUMP BEEF ROAST or EYE ROAST (I use an Eye Roast)
    1 GARLIC CLOVE, thinly sliced
    1 CUP OF CHOPPED CARROTS (I use baby carrots)
    1/2 CINNAMON
    1 LBS PENNA PASTA (you can use any kind this is just what I use)



    Slice beef and arrange over pasta
    Serve with fresh graded Parmesan cheese.

    Helen Anise Biscotti

    2 1/2 CUPS FLOUR
    4 TBSP BUTTER(I like unsalted butter for baking)
    1/4 TSP SALT

    In a large bowl, combine 1 1/2 cups of flour and remaining ingredients. With the mixer on a low speed, beat until just mixed, then increase speed to medium and beat 3 minutes. With a spoon stir in the remaining flour. Wrap dough with plastic wrap. Refrigerate 1 hour until firm, or place in freezer for 30 minutes.
    Preheat over to 375. Grease large cookie sheet. Divide dough in half. On well floured surface, shape each half into a 10 by 3 inch loaf. Place both loves, 2 inches apart on cookie Bake 20 minutes
    Remove cookie sheet from oven immediately slice each loaf crosswise into 3/4 inch thick slices. place slices cut side down, on the same cookie sheet. Return to over and bake cookies 5 minutes longer until light golden. Cool cookies on wire rack. Store in tightly cover container.
    You can after the cookies are cooled dip ends in melted chocolate, white or dark or just serve plain.

    I hope you enjoy these recipes. Have fun making them. Add your own personal touch, maybe you like to add more of one seasoning or omit something that you don’t like. Remember no fear, what’s the worst that could happen, it doesn’t turn out like you want, then try something else. Many times I cooked something that I thought sounded delicious and it wasn’t. Oh and don’t blame yourself. I learned that recipes in magazines and cook books aren’t always good and I do believe that the some recipes are not tested to see if they taste good or that the recipe turns out as pictured or stated.
    Enjoy and share your successes with me.

    As my Grandmother always said Mangia, Mangia!

    Tuesday, June 15, 2010

    Ode to Hot Power Yoga

    I can't intelligently explain why I love to practice hot yoga and to drip, drip, drip like a leaky faucet - it just feels so good. But yoga is more than just physically feeling good, even more wonderful is mentally feeling good. I started practicing yoga over 30 years ago when I quit smoking. Originally I started the practice to avoid packing on weight when I quit smoking and it worked. As I continued with the practice(I took a class a week and practiced an hour at home every day) I found that not only was I feeling physically changed but mentally changed. Life didn't seem so hard, problems not as large as before, my mind was clearer and life felt wonderful. I practiced yoga for many years and then I had my first child. I continued to still take exercise classes but I don't know why I abandoned my yoga practice. I never went back to my yoga practice even though I loved doing yoga. A moved to another state took me far way from my yoga teachers and I didn't think to look for a studio in my new community. The years went by and my life once again changed. My children are all grown adults now. I have more free time then when I was raising a family. One day, on a road that I drive down everyday, I passed a hot yoga and Pilates studio. I never noticed this sign before. I am intrigued and all the wonderful memories and feeling that I have buried for years about yoga come rushing back. When I get home I goggle the studio and read about Hot Vinyassa Power Flow Yoga. I know it's a mouth full. The practice is done in a studio heated to about 98 degrees. Without really thinking, especially since it had been about 25 years since I seriously practiced a very gentle hatha yoga, I drop in the next night for the 90 minute class. I and my body were totally unprepared for what I experience. First it was so hot, the heat felt like it was suffocating me. At the thirty minute mark I thought I couldn't breath. The oppressive hot air was pushing down on my chest(being new to the studio I didn't realize that my mat was in the hottest part of the studio, right under the heating unit!) On top of all that, sweat was poring out of my body, drenching my hair, clothes and towels. At one point with my head pointing down, then up, sweat was seeping into my eyes, nose and ears. Not a pleasant sensation. Now let's talk about my body, yes I knew all the poses(assanas), yes I had practiced yoga for years but that was over 25 years ago and although my mind remembered all the poses; head stand, plow, wheel, bridge and more, my body just wasn't cooperating. I was shocked at how much I couldn't do even though I am very physically fit. I continued on because I am not going to admit my true feelings, that I want to run from class and just take a deep cool breath and strip out of these smelly, sweat drenched clothes. Finally the class is over. When I get home my husband takes one look at my drenched clothes and red face in disbelief that I paid to look this way and that I am going back again. I did pay, I said and I'm going back for more. I'm hooked again on yoga: to that indescribably feeling I get when I finish my practice and the fact that this practice is fast passed and hot just make it all the better. I am devotee of hot yoga. It sound so good!
    I've been going to class two to three times a week for about 3 years now.(I wish I could practice ever day!) I embrace the heat and the physically challenging postures, wanting more when the ninety minute class is over. When I first started back I couldn't wait for each posture to be over but now I want to hold them forever! I enjoy all the different teachers styles and what they each bring individually to my practice. As I said I was already physically fit but I can tell you that I lost weight and went down a size with out dieting or changing my eating habits.(believe me this is true!!) I can see the changes in my body. And I am asked all the time how I became thinner and fitter. I respond like a total moonie gushing on and on about hot yoga. Hot yoga is keeping the middle age spread away. I am and I feel physically stronger. More important is the mental strength, clarity, focus and peace that I've gained through my yoga practice and to me that is what keeps me going to my mat with passion. This past year I faced more challenges in my life than I have ever known and because of my practice and the strength I gained from going to my mat, I never lost my belief that life is wonderful and to embrace all that you face with out judgment or fear.
    I will never leave my practice of yoga again. This much I know, that maybe I had to be away for a long time to truly appreciate the gift of the practice of yoga. A gift I will treasure always.