Friday, October 29, 2010


This is my favorite yeast dough recipe because it is straight-forward and very versatile.  I use it for Italian bread, rolls, pizza, stromboli and calzones.  If I'm using the recipe for one of the pizza type recipes I cut the measurements in half and only let it rise once.  I make the dough in my KitchenAid mixer but you can do it in a large food processor and , heaven forbid, by hand.  I use all purpose unbleached flour but you can also use bread flour or substitute half the white flour for wheat.  I suggest you begin with the original recipe and save the experiments for later.  

This recipe is basic and easy but it is not quick.  Good bread-making takes time.  The mixer eliminates most of the strenuous, back-breaking work but you can't rush the rising process.  

A few tips help assure a perfect product:
Make sure liquids are luke-warm at about 90*.
Be sure to use a glass container for proofing the yeast.
Be careful not to deflate the bread after the final rise.
Let the dough rise away from drafts.
Make sure the oven has been pre-heated for and additional 10 minutes before baking.
Have a good book or a DVD to watch in between risings.

2 packages active dry yeast
7.5 cups flour
3 cups room temperature water
1 tablespoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
2 tablespoons good olive oil
1/4 cup corn meal or bread crumbs

In a small glass bowl or measuring cup add 1/2 cup warm water and the sugar.  Sprinkle the yeast over the sugar-water and set aside for 5 minutes or until you see bubbles form.

In the mixer bowl combine flour and salt and mix with a whisk briefly to combine.  Place the bowl on the mixer and install the dough hook.

 Now add the oil, 2 cups of the water and the yeast mixture.  Lower the hook into the bowl and start on lowest setting to combine ingredients and then raise the speed to medium for 5 minutes.  Turn off the mixer and walk away for 10 minutes for the dough to rest.

After the dough has rested and you have finished your cup of coffee, restart the mixer and allow to knead at medium to medium high speed for a full 15 minutes.  Make sure you have the mixer on the back of your counter and keep an eye on it so it doesn't dance off and onto the floor.  If the dough seems much too stiff you can add up to another half cup of water but add slowly and only as needed.

While the dough is kneading, lightly flower a bread board or clean dry counter surface with 1/4 cup flower.  After the kneading, turn off your mixer and turn the dough out onto the floured surface.  Knead by hand for about 10 turns of the dough. Form the dough into a ball.  Lightly oil the mixing bowl and return the dough to the bowl and cover the bowl with plastic wrap and a towel.  Set the dough in a warm place.  The oven works fine so long as it is not turned on!  Now the dough must rise for about 1.5 hours to what is called "doubled in bulk" stage.

Uncover the dough and press your fist right down into the middle of the risen dough and press the air out.  Re-shape the dough into a ball, cover and set it back to rise again for about 1 hour this time..  

During this rising time prepare a baking sheet by sprinkling with a thin layer of the corn meal.

After the second rising, turn the dough back out onto the floured surface.  Divide the dough in half and form each half into a ball and place each on the baking sheet a few inches apart. Loosely cover with a damp cloth by draping the cloth of 4 large drinking glasses to keep it off the dough.

Allow to rise again for another 1 to 1.5 hours until doubled.  

Preheat the oven to 375*

When the dough has finished the final rise, carefully remove the cloth and the glasses.  Do not touch the risen dough!  This is very important.  Place the baking sheet in the middle of the preheated oven.  Bake for 40 minutes or until nicely browned.  

Remove the pan from the oven and allow the breads to cool.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010


"The capacity to, through consciousness rather than physically, share the sadness or happiness of another sentient being."

No matter how long you have been a caregiver or how confident you are in your choice to be a caregiver, reassurance and re-evaluation are always appreciated.  Sometimes that "attitude adjustment" comes most unexpectedly and at a much needed time. 

"Between our birth and death we may touch understanding as a moth brushes a window with its wing."
christopher fry

Last week I was having a small internal struggle with self pity.  It happens.  I'm sure it happens to everyone and it doesn't happen to me very often but there are triggers.  There happened to be a "perfect storm" of triggers and while I wasn't dwelling or wallowing, I was preoccupied .  

Firstly, it's Fall.  Yes it is beautiful.  Yes the leaves are pretty.  Yes I like the crispness in the air.  But.  I have been known to get "seasonal affective disorder" or "SAD" when the days start getting shorter and summer is slipping away.  I know winter is coming and I get "the blues".  I have my self-help tricks to lessen the symptoms and I'm usually pretty good at picking myself up.

Secondly, I had just returned from a very nice brief trip to visit friends in New England.  {if you can't avioid Fall, plunge into it head on}  It was a terrific trip.  I had a lot of alone or "me" time which is rare for an at-home caregiver.  It was just enough of a taste of freedom to remind me of how restricted and structured my life has become.

Thirdly, and this may seem petty but, a dear, much younger friend got a wonderful job promotion.  I'm very happy for him and I'm not jealous but it did contribute to my thinking about how my life might have taken a different path.

"Once we discover how to appreciate the timeless values in our daily experiences, we can enjoy the best things in life."
harry hepner

It was a nice afternoon and I had gone outside to wrangle the trash cans that had been so thoughtfully tossed into the middle of the street by the "sanitation workers" when a car pulled to the curb, horn honking and driver waiving and smiling.  I was busily swearing at the cans and muttering my usual litany about my tax dollars at work when the lovely woman emerged from her car.

"Christopher" I heard as I looked up from my wandering trash cans.  I was in a daze but the face was familiar.  "It's Eileen"  she said effervescently. "Yes, of course" I said as I came into focus.  It had been years since we'd seen one another but I knew that we had a common bond.

Eileen told me how glad she was to catch me outside and that she had recently had a dream about my mother.  She asked how Adelaide was doing and told me a familiar tale of how my mother had so positively effected her own life and how fondly she remembered her.  She regaled me with anecdotes of my mother as teacher and human being.  I always love those stories.  I've been so fortunate to hear so many of them from people responding to this blog.

I knew that Eileen had lost her mother who was also an Alzheimer's patient.  I didn't know that Eileen had been her caregiver.  We immediately understood one another with that special shorthand that only caregivers understand.  Eileen told me about her experience as caregiver.  I didn't even have to talk about mine.

Eileen is so upbeat and positive and caring.  She spoke of the joys of caregiving as if it were a gift.  She expressed my usual thoughts of not wanting to trade the bonding and shared time spent with our mothers for any other life path.  

I told her that my mother had been having a really great day and asked if she'd like to visit with her.  I knew that she understood my definition of  "having a great day" and she quickly accepted the invitation .  When she approached my mother they both lit up.  Eileen looked like and angel and immediately began speaking to my mother in French [the language my mother had taught her some 40 years earlier] and my mother beamed.  

"Cherish your human connections: your relationships with friends and family"
barbara bush

As Eileen was getting into her car she said "what I wouldn't give for one more hour of taking care of my mother". 

Thank you Eileen for helping me to regain my perspective and to center myself.  At the end of every "perfect storm" there is a beautiful ray of sunshine and all is right with the world once more.

Friday, October 22, 2010


No Bake Pineapple Cheesecake

This recipe was handed down to me from an old cousin of my mother's.  She made this confection for all sorts of special occasions and it has always been a crowd pleaser.  I've served it myself for a few dinner parties to "ooohs and ahs" from my guests.

This is not a heavy New York style cheesecake and it's also a nice diversion from my Italian Ricotta cake.  This is a refrigerator cake with no baking involved so there is no worry of turning out a cake with a split top. It is light and soft and full of pineapple which gives it a certain sweetness without being sickeningly sweet.

I like to garnish my dessert plates with a few stripes of raspberry puree from a squeeze bottle just to add a little color because the cake is pale


For the crust:
1.25 cups graham cracker crumbs
3 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons melted butter
hot water as needed

For the filling:
1/2 pint heavy cream
milk as needed
2 envelopes unflavored gelatin
1/2 cup sugar
2 egg whites
2 eight ounce packages of cream cheese, softened
1 one pound can crushed pineapple
1 regular box cook and serve vanilla pudding


Prepare the crust in a 10" spring form pan and allow to chill for at least one hour.  

Combine crumbs and sugar in a medium bowl to combine.  Stir in melted butter until thoroughly blended.  Test the mixture between 2 fingers to see if it holds shape.  If not then add a couple drops of hot water.  Press the mixture into the bottom of the pan  with a spoon or juice glass.  Chill for at least 1 hour before filling.

Strain the pineapple over a bowl and reserve the liquid.  Add enough milk to the pineapple liquid to make 2 cups.  Transfer the milk/pineapple liquid to a small pan and sprinkle with gelatin powder.  Stir in pudding mix and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly until thickened and begins to boil.

Remove pudding mixture from heat.  Add cream cheese and beat with hand mixer until smooth.  Stir in drained pineapple and mix well by hand.  Allow mixture to cool to room temperature.

In a separate bowl beat egg whites until stiff while gradually adding 1/4 cup sugar.

In yet another bowl whip the cream with 1/4 cup sugar until soft peaks form.

Fold the egg whites into the cooled pudding mixture and then incorporate the whipped cream.  Do not over mix!  

Pour the mixture into the prepared, crumb lined pan.  Refrigerate for at least 8 hours.  Unmold* before serving and sprinkle with a tablespoon of graham cracker crumbs.

*to unmold: run a table knife around the edge of cake.  Place the cake on a bowl and release the spring latch.  Loosen the outer ring from the cake and slide it down, freeing the cake.  Do not remove the cake from the bottom pan circle!  Move the cake, with the bottom intact, to a serving plate.

Friday, October 8, 2010


Osso Bucco is a wonderful, melt in your mouth, braised shank in the traditional Milanese style.  Literally, Osso Bucco means "bone with a hole" because these are marrow bones.  I cook mine in my slow cooker for simplicity but you can certainly cook yours in a heavy pot in the oven.  Traditionally served over risotto, I like mine with pasta.  It is also tradition to use veal shank but you can easily use beef or pork.  When I'm cooking for a casual dinner I use beef because of the price.  Veal shank can be very pricey and pork shank is difficult to find unless you have a good butcher.


4 veal shanks
1 medium white onion, diced
1/2 cup grated carrot
2 stalks celery, diced
3 tablespoons dried parsley flakes
1 teaspoon dried rosemary
1 teaspoon dried thyme
8 ounces beef or veal stock
16 ounces canned crushed tomatoes
2 tablespoons tomato paste
6 small cloves garlic, minced
1 cup good white wine
1 tablespoon salt
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup flour for dredging


Heat butter and oil in a heavy skillet over medium heat.  
While the oil is heating, combine flour and 1 teaspoon of the salt in a bowl and dredge the meat in the flour.  
Lightly brown the meat on both sides and place the browned meat in the slow cooker. 
Add the vegetables to the skillet and cook to soften, stirring frequently.  Add spices and tomato paste and stir.  Add the wine and pour over the meat.
Add the tomatoes and the stock.

Cover and cook on medium for 5 hours.  The meat will be "fall of the bone" tender.  Carefully ladle the meat to a platter.  Use the sauce over your favorite pasta or rice.

Friday, October 1, 2010


Stromboli is a rolled up cousin to pizza and calzones.  Delicious meat and cheese rolled up in bread dough is easy to make and guaranteed to please.  Casual and versatile peasant fare, they make a hearty meal or can even be used as hors d'oeuvres when sliced thin. This is even good cold or at room temperature.  The filling choices are unlimited so I just going to give you the basics of my favorite and then you can use your favorite combination. Add genoa salami or sliced pepperoni for a little spice.  You can even add some drained roasted peppers or drained, cooked chopped spinach.


1 prepared pizza dough from grocery refrigerated section or local bakery
1 eight ounce fresh or Buffalo Mozzarella
8-10 slices deli ham [boiled style]
2 tablespoons grated romano or parmesan cheese
fresh cracked black pepper
flour for dusting
1/2 tsp. sesame seeds [optional]


Let the dough come to room temperature for about an hour.
Preheat oven to 425*
Thinly slice the mozzarella.
Roll the dough on a lightly floured surface to an 8 x 12 rectangle.  Grind the black pepper over the surface of the dough.  Just a light coat is enough.  Sprinkle the grated cheese over the surface.  Lay the slices of cheese over the grated cheese, leaving 1/2" bare border.  Arrange the ham in two layers over the cheeses.  Starting at one of the shorter edges, carefully roll the layered dough away from you forming a log.  Pinch the two sides to seal and press the seam.  Lay the log, seam side down, on a baking sheet lightly sprayed with cooking spray.  Sprinkle sesame seeds on the top of the roll and lightly press to the surface.  
Bake at 425* for 25 minutes until golden brown.
Be sure to allow this to cool for 5 minutes before trying to cut.  If cutting into thin pinwheels allow to cool a full 10 minutes.

It is customary to serve with marinara sauce on the side.  I find the sauce unnecessary.