Friday, October 30, 2015

"The Society of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center Park Avenue Potluck" & "The Mayo Clinic Williams-Sonoma Cookbook" - Cider Roasted Loin of Pork and Roasted winter vegetables

Date I made these recipes:  October 25, 2015 – Breast Cancer Awareness Month

The Society of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center Park Avenue Pot Luck Recipes from New York's Savviest Hostesses by Florence Fabricant
Published by:  Rizzoli
ISBN: 13-978-0-8478-2989-7
Recipe:  Cider-Roasted Loin of Pork (submitted by Meile Rockefeller) – p. 156-157

The Mayo Clinic Williams-Sonoma Cookbook by John Phillip Carroll, recipe writer, and Chris Shorten, photographer
Published by:  Time Life Books
ISBN:  0-7370-0008-2
Purchased at Arc's Value Village Thrift Stores
Recipe:  Roasted winter vegetables – p. 148

Eons ago, the Sloan-Kettering book came on my cookbook radar and I asked my brother-in-law, Ben, who works at Sloan-Kettering to see if he could get me a copy (I was unable to source it locally).  And he finally did earlier this year.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, I was shopping for cookbooks at Arc's Value Village Thrift Stores and came upon the Mayo clinic cookbook and since Mayo is located here in Minnesota, I bought it.

More months went by and as I was changing out some cookbook shelves, I saw the Mayo book and thought of making something from it this summer.  Do note it is now the end of October. At any rate, there it sat for a while in my "cook from" pile.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch Part II, in September I went to an opera (and blogged about it) and used a NY opera cookbook from my "regional" cookbook shelf and while doing so, made a mental note to cook also from the (NYC) Sloan-Kettering cookbook in the near future.

Well finally, opportunity presented itself to me to make something for the blog from each of these books at the same time, the theme of which would be "well-known hospitals."  (By the way, this could be the subject of a Jeopardy category, don't we think?)

And just as I was getting ready to select the recipes, I got an email from a dear friend:  "I have breast cancer."  And so that was a bit of a game changer because now my mission was to make something from each of these well-known (cancer treatment) hospitals in honor of her and all others out there battling cancer.

My mother was a breast cancer survivor.  Every year when I get a physical and a mammogram, I hold my breath until the results come in.  Every time.  I am always appreciative of the fact that every year also brings new advances in treatment and research.  After her surgery, my mom became part of a Reach to Recovery program, helping other women cope with their breast cancer.  I continue to be amazed that my mom reached out like that as she was a pretty private person but she did that for a long time before finally deciding to "retire" from all volunteering in general.  And I'm happy to report that she survived 23 years before passing away from a massive stroke.

In the next couple of decades, the message about breast cancer changed as we went from a more 1:1 counseling environment (survivor to survivor) and fairly low-key fundraising, to the month of October being designated Breast Cancer Awareness month, numerous three-day walks, and numerous Race for the Cures.  And so on and so on.  And cookbooks like these two are just part of the effort to raise funds for important research, care and education although if I may:  I think the general public is pretty aware of breast and other cancers by now leaving me to wonder if the message shouldn't change.  The new message should be about the continued importance of funding cancer research as well as allowing women, particularly low-income women, accessibility and affordability for both screening and treatments.  But that is just this gal's opinion.

At any rate, so the women of Park Avenue came together to create this cook book and I don't know about you, but I find it somewhat ironic if not hilarious that the Park Avenue ladies can well afford all the health care they could ever need and yet here they are, raising more money by submitting recipes to this book.  But fundraising is fundraising and money is money so we'll take.  (And by the way, I know the full title is Memorial Sloan-Kettering but I always shorten it, just like Mayo Clinic's full title is Mayo Clinic but nobody around here calls it anything but "Mayo" which should not, especially on a cookbook blog, be confused with "mayo" as in "mayonnaise.")

And so when the Coco's and Muffie's (I kid you not – please see p. 94 and 148 of the book) of Park Avenue came together to produce this book, they wisely decided to have another cookbook heavy hitter, Florence Fabricant, do the writing.  (In addition to cookbook writing, Florence is also a food critic for The New York Times and other culinary publications).

Now, the Sloan-Kettering cookbook doesn't exactly feature "healthy" foods, focusing instead on family favorites, but The Mayo Clinic Williams-Sonoma Cookbook does.  Every recipe gives you nutritional information per serving  and many recipes switch out ingredients such as white rice for brown rice or other healthier grains.  Some of the recipes I looked seemed a little bland for my tastes while others sounded delicious even if they weren't made in the same fashion we are all used to, for example, mashed potatoes.

In the end, this unintentional pairing of cookbooks yielded an unexpectedly delicious dinner that paired well together:  "Cider-Roasted Pork of Loin" (Sloan-Kettering) with "Roasted Winter Vegetables" (Mayo).  Even better was that they all roasted at the same temperature – 425F – making it easy to get this dinner on the table without a lot of fuss and muss.  I love it when things work out that way.

Things to know before you start:  1) You need to marinate the pork at least 8 hours in advance; 2) it took a lot longer than 30 minutes to roast it to the correct temperature; 3) a full recipe of the roasted vegetables makes a huge amount of vegetables that, despite cutting them approximately the same size ended up 4) cooking at different times.  And that is my one bitch about any type of roasted vegetable dish!  If I made this again and used the same vegetable combination, I might have started by roasting the turnips, then the potatoes and carrots and parsnips as they tend to take longer, and then the squash.  But that said, I'm not sure I'd include the turnips as they tasted more bitter than the rest of the vegetables used (carrots, parsnips and squash are all sweeter).  I normally like turnips but not this time around.  And I'm not sure how I felt about the parsley/garlic/malt liquor combination as it didn't seem to add much to the dish and the garlic might have been better had it been roasted. ("But other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you like the play?")

So there you go, a delicious fall meal that yields plenty of yummy leftovers while at the same time, raising your awareness (hopefully beyond just October) to the ongoing fight to wipe out all cancers in our lifetime... with a little culinary assistance from two organizations helping to lead the way. Oh, and by the way, thanks too, to Williams-Sonoma for collaborating with Mayo on the cookbook.  I could never work in your store because the paycheck I earned would go right back into purchasing well...everything!

Cider-Roasted Loin of Pork – serves 8 (*must marinate for at least 8 hours)
1 quart fresh apple cider
¼ cup kosher salt or sea salt
2 boneless pork tenderloins, about 1 ½ pounds each
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon crushed dried rosemary leaves
1 tablespoon ground sage
Rosemary sprigs for garnish

Combine two cups of the cider, the salt, and 1 cup water in a saucepan and heat just until the salt dissolves.  Allow to cool.  Ann's Note:  I have no idea how long this process was supposed to take but I cooked it for what seemed like 15-20 minutes and the salt was still not dissolved.  I strained the remaining salt crystals and used the leftover liquid.  If there's on thing I cannot stand, it's overly salted food so better safe than sorry.

Place the pork loins in a heavy 1-gallon plastic bag with a zip closure.  Add the cooled brine.  Seal the bag and place on a dinner plate.  Refrigerate overnight, 8 to 24 hours.  Boil down the remaining 2 cups of cider until it has reduced to about 2/3 cup.  Place in a container, cover, and refrigerate.  Ann's Note:  I poured most of the brine into the bag, turned away for two seconds to adjust my measuring cup only to find half the brine was pouring out of the bag.  Dammit!  So I moped up the floor and counter and started again, this time heating some more cider and salt only to have the same thing happen.  Each time the bag was upright but the minute I looked away, disaster ensued.  So I ended up with more of a salt-less brine than intended but I was not going to go through that again!

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.  Remove the pork and the reduced cider from the refrigerator.

Remove the pork from the marinade and pat dry.  Rub the loins with the oil, pepper, rosemary, and sage.  Line a roasting pan with foil, place the pork on a rack in the roasting pan, and roast for 10 minutes.  Baste the pork with the boiled cider, turning the loins to baste all around.  Roast another 20 minutes, until an instant read thermometer registers 150 degrees.  Ann's Note:  I didn't feel like basting so I just poured the cider reduction over the loins and called it a day!  Plus, the only roasting rack I had was for chicken but it ended up not making a difference except that the loins almost looked like they were on a spit.  Finally, it took more like 30 minutes to get the loins up to 150 degrees and even then, I put them in the microwave for a bit as they were more pink than I'd like.  Yes, I know the trend with pork is to now go to medium rare but I can't bring myself to do that; beef, yes, pork, no.

Remove the pork for the oven and let it stand 10 minutes.  Slice, arranging on a platter, garnish with rosemary, and serve.

PS—we still had two apples left over from our apple crumble so I sliced those up and put them in the roasting pan along with the pork loins for about 10 minutes.  Delicious!

Roasted winter vegetables – serves: 6
1 butternut squash, 1 lb, peeled, seeded, and cut into cubes
3 red-skinned potatoes, cut into cubes
2 turnips, peeled and cut into cubes
3 carrots, halved lengthwise and cut into pieces
3 parsnips, halved lengthwise and cut into pieces
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 teaspoons dried thyme
½ teaspoon ground pepper
3 tablespoons malt vinegar (Ann's Note:  you can substitute cider vinegar)
2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf (Italian) parsley
2 garlic cloves, minced

Preheat oven to 425F.  Coat a large roasting pan with nonstick cooking spray.

Put the squash, potatoes, turnips, carrots, and parsnips in the pan.  Add the oil, thyme, and pepper and stir and toss to combine and coat the vegetables evenly.

Roast, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are lightly browned and tender when pierced, about 45 minutes.

In a large bowl, stir together the vinegar, parsley, and garlic.  Add the vegetables and toss to combine. 

To serve, divide among individual plates.

Nutritional information – per serving:
Calories – 194
Kilojoules – 813
Protein – 4 g
Carbohydrates – 40 g
Total fat – 3 g
Saturated Fat - <1 font="" g="">
Cholesterol – 0 mg
Sodium – 56 mg
Dietary fiber – 7 g


Tuesday, October 20, 2015

"Mama D's Italian Cookbook" & "Mama D's Old-Fashioned Italian Cooking" - Paesano Pie (meat pie with pasta filling) and Salada Mixte

Date I made these recipes:  October 18, 2015

Mama D's Old-Fashioned Italian Cooking by Giovanna D'Agostino
Published by:  Prentice Hall Press
ISBN:  0-13-548132-5
Purchased at Arc's Value Village Thrift Stores
Recipe:  Paesano Pie – p. 46-47; Tomato Sauce recipe – p. 79

Mama D's Italian Cookbook by Giovanna D'Agostino
Published by:  Ideals Publishing Corp.
ISBN:  0-89542-623-4; ©1980
Recipe:  Salada Miste – p. 9

It doesn't take much for me to get in the mood for Italian food but given the number of Italian cookbooks I have, it can be a challenge for me to select one(s) from which to cook.  And for whatever reason, I decided to make a couple of dishes by a local legend – Mama D.

Mama D – Giovanna D'Agostino – died in 2009 at age 94 and the Twin Cities' mourned the loss of this local personality as well as her down-to-earth Italian food. The obituary in the Pioneer Press (St. Paul newspaper) summed it up thusly:  "Giovanna D'Agostino – better known as Mama D – fed a generation of University of Minnesota students, Tony Bennett's band and the poor and homeless." 

For years, Mama D ran a sandwich shop near the University of Minnesota's campus  in the Dinkytown neighborhood called Sammy D's, in honor of one of her sons who died.  She later renamed the restaurant Mama D's and continued to feed college students for many, many years, adding more Italian food to her repertoire. 

In a "it's a small world moment," Mama D's son, John, opened Caffe Biaggio in St. Paul, not far from my house, where he continues to serve Mama's favorites.  I need to get back there for their ravioli one of these days, not to mention the "shrine" to Mama D i.e. all the photos and paintings that adorn the walls.

In addition to all her cooking, Mama found time to write two cookbooks – the two I used here – plus a memoir titled – hilariously I'm Mama D – Shut Up and Listen...I Want to Tell You Something.  Sounds just like my grandma!

As to her food, these recipes were hearty but delicious.  Some recipes are repeated between the two cookbooks but you should not having any trouble finding something among the following:  Appetizers and Soups; Salads; Vegetables; Main Dishes; Eggs and Rice; Pasta; Sauces and Fillings; Bread and Pizza and Desserts.

For our own Sunday night repast, I decided on "Paesano Pie" ("Paesano" means countryman—at least that's how we used it in my family), which is really a big meatball made in a pie plate, topped with a pasta mixture.  It was fabulous!  And then I was in a salad mood so I made her "Salada Miste" (mixed salad) with green beans, cubed mozzarella cheese and Genoa salami (substituted for pepperoni) tossed in a vinaigrette which was also fantastic.  That Mama – she knows how to cook!

So just a couple of things:  Mama said to make the "Paesano Pie" in a 10" pie plate and so okay, I put the meat mixture down in the pie plate as directed and that left almost no room for the filling.  And the filling recipe made quite a lot and so what to do?  I didn't want the pie filling to overflow so I decided to put the meat mixture in a 3-quart glass casserole bowl and then put the filling on top leaving plenty of room.  I hate when things spill over in my oven as cleaning that out falls under "least favorite things to do."  I am happy to report that everything cooked perfectly.

Also, Mama loves oregano as it's in the pie, the pie filling and the salad and I must say that my kitchen still smells like an Italian pizzeria!  I suppose you could mix it up and use just basil or even an Italian spice mix if you wanted.

In addition to oregano, the salad recipe called for thinly sliced pepperoni but neither Andy or I are big fans so we opted to use diced Genoa Salami instead.  I asked the deli counter person to cut me just one big, thick slice that I then cubed to match the mozzarella.  And by the way, I normally love cooking with fresh mozzarella but this time around, got a ball that was a little more firm as it tastes better and is less messy in salads.

Finally, I debated about whether to spend the time to make Mama D's sauce or to use jarred (or to make my own family's recipe) as time was running short, but in the end, I decided to stay true to the whole recipe and made Mama's.  And as my grandma would have said, it was "Not-a bad-a!"  She uses basil in hers (as do I) but then also thyme which I quite liked.  The sauce takes about 1 ½ -2 hours to make so plan on leaving time for that.

And that concludes my Italian meal made for no reason at all except I had a hankering for it.  Thanks, "Mama!"

Paesano Pie – serves 4 to 6
For the Tomato Sauce (used in the pie filling)
½ cup oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 28-ounce can plum tomatoes
1 6-ounce can tomato paste
6 ounces water (using the tomato paste can as a measure)
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
¼ teaspoon dried thyme

For the Paesano Pie (base)
½ cup Tomato Sauce (see above)
1 pound ground beef
2 eggs ½ cup bread crumbs
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 small green pepper, seeded and finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
¼ teaspoon dried oregano
½ cup freshly shredded mozzarella cheese (for topping)

For the Paesano Filling
½ pound orzo or other small pasta, cooked, rinsed and drained
2 cups Tomato Sauce
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
¼ teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon minced garlic
½ cup freshly grated Romano cheese

Since you will need the sauce for the pie and the pie filling, start with that first and allow 1.5 to 2 hours for it to simmer.

First, heat the oil in a heavy 10- to 12-inch skillet over medium heat.  Add the onion and garlic; sauté until the onion is transparent.  Add the tomatoes, crushing them in your hand as you add them, and the liquid from the can.  Add the remaining ingredients and stir to mix.  Raise the heat and bring the sauce to a boil.  Lower the heat and simmer, uncovered, for 1 ½ to 2 hours.  Stir occasionally to avoid burning.

Ann's Note:  The recipe says "makes about 4 cups" but I had just enough – 2.5 cups – to complete this recipe.

Next, make the filling.  Start by boiling the pasta as directed on the box.  Combine the pasta with 2 cups of the sauce, then the rest of the ingredients:  salt, pepper, oregano, garlic and Romano cheese.  Stir well and set aside.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

In a large bowl, mix all the ingredients for the pie base except for the cheese (used as a topping) and the pie filling:  ½ cup sauce, the ground beef (raw), eggs, bread crumbs, onion, green pepper, garlic, and spices.

Pat the mixture into a greased 10-inch pie plate, covering the bottom and sides evenly.  (Ann's Note:  I feared the filling would not fit as the base took up the entire pie plate so I switched it up and used a glass round casserole instead.)

Place the filling on top of the meat mixture.  Sprinkle with the mozzarella and cover the pie tightly with aluminum foil.  Bake for 35 minutes.  Remove the foil and continue baking for 15 minutes more.  Serve hot.

Salada Miste – serves 4
2 cups cooked string beans
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
1 cup cubed mozzarella cheese
½ cup thinly sliced pepperoni (Ann's Note:  we substituted Genoa Salami)
2 clves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon pepper
¼ teaspoon oregano
4 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 ½ tablespoons wine vinegar
¼ cup grated Romano cheese (for topping)

Place first five ingredients in a salad bowl.  Season with salt, pepper and oregano.  Toss lightly.  Combine oil and vinegar.  Pour over all ingredients.  Sprinkle Romano cheese on top.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

"Astonishing Apples" - Apple Crumble

Date my husband made this recipe:  October 2, 2015

Astonishing Apples by Joan Donatelle
Published by:  Minnesota Historical Society Press
ISBN:  978-0-87351-965-6
Purchased at Common Good Books (owned by Minnesota's own Garrison Keillor)
Recipe:  Apple Crumble – p. 148

A few weeks ago, a friend of mine got married at the Minnesota Harvest Apple Orchard  in Jordan, MN.  The day before the wedding, it poured rain all day long and it was not looking good for the home team.  Honestly—seems like all the rain that hadn't fallen in a while was stored up and dumped all at once.

Happily for all, the sun came out the next day turning that apple orchard into one beautiful setting for a beautiful wedding.  Whew, right? 

Given where we were, the bride and groom gave each family in attendance an empty apple bag with instructions to go picking.  Although I was game to go outside to pick apples from the rain-sodden groves, someone went and filled a wooden crate with apples and put them near the wedding cake so we only had to go a few feet to get some.

So we had all these apples and now what, right?  Well, I had had my eye on this cookbook, published by the Minnesota Historical Society Press, and so off I went to Common Good Books in St. Paul to snap it off the shelf.  And when I brought it home, my husband, Andy a/k/ "The Pie Guy,"took over and started looking at recipes he wanted to make.  And when he got to the "Apple Crumble," it was all over but the crying.

Still, this cookbook has a bushel of sweet and savory items.  I wanted to make a savory as well as a sweet dish but we ran out of time.  Shame that, as there were appetizers, salads, sides, soups and sandwiches and main dishes containing apples, some of which sounded really good while others elicited a "huh," code for "I don't think so." 

Tempting as some of them were, there was really no doubt that we would be going with a dessert and it also became clear that Andy was going to be the one doing the cooking and that was fine by me since I made an "Espresso Swirl Coffee Cake" just days before.

Well by the time we decided what to make it was Thursday night and on Friday, October 2nd, we were heading to Chicago to visit with friends.  No worries.  Andy got up early on Friday (he took the day off) and made the dish before we headed out of town.  And so we brought our friends this "Apple Crumble" as well as some of the "Espresso Swirl Coffee Cake" and of course, we inhaled all of it over the course of a few days (along with a couple bottles of wine that we always stop to get from one of their neighborhood liquor stores).

Like me, Andy sometimes plays a little fast and loose with the recipes and so he used regular sugar instead of the "raw or natural cane or Demerara sugar" that the recipe called for because he was not heading to a grocery store at dawn-o-clock.  And he also skipped the "flaxseed" that was to be added to the flour, sugar and oat mixture.  And lastly, he skipped the pecans as they were for the topping only.  How these ingredients would have tasted we will never know but his end product was delicious so we didn't care.

And now, a brief mention of the Minnesota Historical Society Press, publisher of this cookbook.  The press has published recently several fruit and vegetable cookbooks, all by local Minnesota authors and I am on my way to collect the whole set:  Rhubarb Renaissance by Kim Ode (who I know); Smitten with Squash by Amanda Paa (whom I've met); Sweet Corn Spectacular by Marie Porter (which I've used and also given as a gift); Modern Maple by Teresa Marrone (to be acquired); Homemade with Honey by Sue Doeden (to be acquired) and Astonishing Apples.  These books are all part of the Northern Plate series and I'm happy the Minnesota Historical Society Press is publishing these books, showcasing foods of the Upper Midwest.  You can find these books at the Minnesota History Center, Common Good Books or any Barnes and Noble bookseller (online or in-store).  Other local gift stores like Patina and Bibelot also carry select titles.

"And now, for your eating enjoyment, all the way from Jordan, Minnesota, please welcome Apple Crumble!" [crowd goes wild]

Apple Crumble – serves 16 – can be made ahead and frozen
1 ½ cups raw or natural cane of Demerara sugar, divided
2 ½ cups old-fashioned oats
1/3 cup whole wheat flour
2/3 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
¼ cup ground flaxseed
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into half-inch cubes
4 pounds tart apples, peeled, cored, each cut into 12 slices (Ann's Note:  we have no idea what kind of apples we got at this wedding but they were likely sweeter than this recipe calls for.  Not that this made any difference to the end product because it was fabulous!)
Juice of 1 lemon
1 teaspoon cinnamon
½ cup chopped pecans
1 quart vanilla ice cream (if desired)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Grease a 9x13-inch baking dish.  In a large bowl, stir together 1 cup sugar, oats, flours and flax seed.  Add butter and mix into the flour with your fingertips.  In another bowl, toss the apples with lemon juice, cinnamon, and remaining ½ cup sugar.  Transfer apple mixture to the baking dish and scoop flour mixture on top.  Bake for about 50 minutes, until the apples are bubbling and the topping is golden brown.  Sprinkle with pecans and return to the oven for 5 more minutes.  Spoon warm crumble into bowls and serve with a scoop of ice cream.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

"The Coffee & Tea Lover's Cookbook" - Espresso Swirl Coffee Cake for National Coffee Day!

Date I made this recipe:  September 29, 2015 – National Coffee Day!

The Coffee & Tea Lover's Cookbook by Barnie's Coffee & Team Company
Published by:  Oxmoor Press
ISBN:  0-8487-1490-3
Recipe:  Espresso Swirl Coffee Cake – p. 25

"I love coffee, I love tea...I love the Java Jive and it loves me..."
Java Jive © 1940 – Ben Copland, composer; Milton Drake, lyricist

Oh, the excitement, or should I say, oh, the jitters! Today is National Coffee Day (who knew?) and I've had this song, covered by both The Ink Spots and Manhattan Transfer, going through my head all day. 

I love coffee.  But I loved caffeine sooooo much that it was giving me an ulcer and so I've been caffeine free for a few decades now.  Which means that what I drink in the morning is decaf coffee, a beverage I describe as "hot, brown liquid."  People always laugh when I say that but the very thought of drinking decaf makes most hard-core coffee drinkers shudder.  I know I did before I underwent my own version of "coffee" rehab.

I should have seen this coming as my mother was truly addicted to the stuff, often, I kid you not, falling asleep late at night with a cup of coffee on a saucer balanced perfectly in one hand, a talent of her to be sure.  She could drink pots of the stuff before going to be and conk out in a nanosecond.  Not so I.

In fact, while in college, my roommates and I guzzled pitcher after pitcher of ice tea (the awful Lipton stuff that came in a jar, flavored with lemon.  Shudder) while studying, and for eons, it did not occur to me that this was likely the reason for my insomnia.  My Aunt Rose finally filled me in (I may have been in college but like many young adults was clueless) and so I stopped drinking tea, switching instead to full-strength caffeinated sodas, which is to say I simply traded one addiction for another.

Things only got worse as time went on.  While at one stressful job, my coworker, Susan, and I would bitch about it while standing in the lunch room emptying out pot after pot of coffee.  In fact, whenever one of us said "Coffee?????" with a title of a head toward the lunchroom, it was our code word for "get thee to the lunchroom, stat because a) I need to talk or b) I have some dirt.  Of course we clammed up the minute anybody else walked in but then started up again the minute they left, all the while drinking and then remaking (we are not cretins) a fresh pot for the rest of the class.

When Susan and I traveled to France in 1988, I fell in love with a French breakfast:  a hot pot of coffee, perfectly warmed milk and French bread that tasted like heaven.  C'est superb!  A return trip to France for my honeymoon in 1991 yielded the same results and then as if French coffee wasn't the bomb, we went to Italy where I had bona fide espresso and yes, often late at night, just like mom.  Even my husband got into a coffee mood and he doesn't generally drink the stuff.

But then things came to a screeching halt as I started having stomach problems.  So I went to see a (new) doctor and we met in his office so he could review my symptoms.  "How much coffee do you drink per day?" he queried.  "Oh, probably a pot of it," said I.  "And sodas?"  "Umm....maybe 3-4?"  "Per day?" he asked.  "Per day."  "And chocolate?"  "Chocolate?  Of course.  Duh."

At which point, the man reached into a desk drawer, pulled out a bottle of water, slammed it on the desk and said, somewhat snarkily "Have you ever heard of water?????"  "I might have," said I.

And so the good doctor pointed out that my stomach problems were due to too much caffeine and that I needed to cut way back if not cut it out entirely if I didn't want further problems, a message I took to heart, such that when I went home, I decided to go cold turkey.  This was a big mistake.

A few years before I quit caffeine, I stopped smoking but in that case, I weaned myself down to two cigarettes a day before quitting all together.  But with caffeine, instead of cutting down and cutting out, I stupidly got it into my head that it was all or nothing and so I stopped the presses on the whole shebang.

And people, was I ill or what?  I got a migraine of monumental proportions and my back when out such that I was reduced to sleeping on the floor in a fetal position because it hurt to lay on my mattress or sofa.  All this happened over Labor Day weekend, no less, and so for days on end, I suffered until finally, on a Tuesday, I could get in to see my chiropractor.  And believe it or not, the thought of starting up coffee again and then quitting, only to go through that hell again, was what made me caffeine-free.  And except for a few serving boo-boo's here and there where servers poured me the real deal (and I could tell with one sip that it was real), I have given up regular coffee, sodas with caffeine and have cut down considerably on chocolate although I do like some here and there.  Perhaps a bit more "here" than "there" but it's chocolate so... As a PS, giving up two out of three vices – cigarettes and coffee is not bad but I'll be damned if I give up cocktails.  Damned, I tell you!

Now all this happened before Starbucks came on the scene world-wide and so traveling to countries where coffee is mostly revered was challenging.

When Andy and I went to Spain and Portugal in 1993, I expanded my Spanish language skills to include the word "descafeinado" – decaf!  I used this at a few hotels we stayed at and it worked like a charm.  It didn't work so much at smaller hotels or small restaurants but I was too busy drinking wine, and Andy, beer, to care!

Then in England in 1994, I pretty much gave it up all together as I couldn't drink tea (pity that, as I'm told there is nothing like an English high tea) and the English really don't do a very good job on coffee.  It's passable, but that's all it was.  If anything, I was more challenged by what to drink in a pub where beer and ale are king than I was with the coffee issue and finally decided that English hard cider was not all that bad.  In fact, it was almost tasty.  I hope I don't have to tell you that ordering wine in a pub back then was not a good idea.  Quite.

Rounding out the last of our "across the pond" excursions (several in a row) was a trip to Eastern Europe – Czech Republic, Poland, Austria and Germany – and for that, I found that Folgers made decaf coffee in little "travel" tea bags so all I had to do was ask for hot water and voila – coffee!

Except.  Asking for hot water proved to be more challenging than I ever imagined as I didn't know the word for hot water in any of those countries' languages.  Unbelievably, I managed to get hot water in Prague and Krakow (Poland) and even in Austria despite the fact that  Viennese kaffeehauses (coffee houses) are a big deal.   (By the way, to this day, Andy and I have no idea what on earth a dish called "Drunken Man" in Prague was all about.  We saw that on a restaurant's menu and just laughed.)

So I was all happy and everything until we got to Germany.  Andy knew a little German and so he told me the words for "hot" and "water" and given that I studied and  romance languages, I asked for hot water the way I would in Spain, France or Italy which is to say "water hot."  So I asked for "wasser heis" and got a blank stare.  So I tried again and nothing.  Then Andy said "I think they say it like we do – hot water" and so this time I said "Heiswasser" and liftoff!  We had liftoff!  I got my hot water and all was well with the world.

Since then, you can't go two feet without running into a coffee shop and not just here but pretty much everywhere.  An acquaintance of mine worked in Kuwait City and he had a Starbucks just blocks away for crying out loud!

That said, decaf drinkers are somewhat discriminated against (much to my dismay) and a few years back, Starbucks decided not to brew decaf after 11:00 (they do pour-overs instead) and this ticked me off to no end but there's nothing that can be done about it.    Our local chain, Caribou, though brews decaf in small pots that are available all day, every day and this is why I love them and patronize them.  Hell, even McDonalds has brewed decaf all day every day and you know what, it's not too bad.  Plus, McD is practically everywhere so in a pinch, it will do.

 So you might ask yourself why then, do I have a coffee and tea cookbook?  Because I can.  And because not all the recipes have coffee or tea in them, in fact only a handful do.  And so I made this recipe using decaf espresso (Italians everywhere are shuddering) and am eating it while drinking my decaf coffee.  And that's how I roll.

This cookbook is divided into themed chapters:  "Coffee Talk," where you'll learn all about coffee and the making thereof; "Awakenings," containing recipes for breads, pancakes and other breakfast items; "Beyond the Coffee Break" although it's more like snacks to go with an afternoon tea and "Scrumptious Endings" that has desserts and coffee drinks.  I don't think anyone will have any trouble finding some incredible edible to eat with their coffee or tea.  As a note, I was tempted by "Java Gingerbread" – p. 44 – but since refuse to get into the whole fall spice mode and that includes gingerbread, I passed.  I don't like fall.  I don't really like fall spices.  Don't get me started then, on the burn I felt when Starbucks started advertising that Pumpkin Lattes were coming soon, this in July!  No!  No, no, hell no!  And this is why, in part, Java Gingerbread is not being featured here today; instead, you are getting a delicious espresso cake (although mine was decaf) with chocolate because I like to live dangerously! Well almost. Enjoy. 

Espresso Swirl Coffee Cake – Yield:  12 servings
2/3 cup firmly packed brown sugar
¼ c plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 ½ tablespoons finely ground espresso beans
¾ cup (1 and ½ sticks) unsalted butter:  ¼ cup unsalted butter for the topping, ½ cup unsalted butter, softened, for the batter.
1 cup sugar
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup sour cream
½ teaspoon baking soda
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
1 cup semisweet chocolate morsels

Combine the first three ingredients – brown sugar, flour and ground espresso – stirring well.  Cut in ¼ cup butter with a pastry blender until mixture resembles coarse crumbs.  Set aside.  Ann's Note:  this is so much easier if done in a Cuisinart.

Beat ½ cup softened butter at medium speed of an electric mixer until creamy; gradually add 1 cup sugar, beating well.  Add eggs, one at a time, beating after each addition.

Combine sour cream and baking soda; stir well and set aside.  Combine 2 cups flour, baking powder, and salt; add to egg mixture alternating with sour cream mixture, beginning and ending with flour mixture.  Mix at low speed just until blended after each addition.  Stir in chocolate morsels.

Pour batter into a buttered 13 x 9 x 2-inch pan.  Sprinkle espresso streusel mixture over batter.  Swirl batter gently with a knife, if desired.  Ann's Notes:  this batter got a little stiff and I'm not sure why.  It didn't pour so I had to spoon it instead. As to the espresso streusel, it was good but it made a lot. 

Bake at 350 for 30 to 35 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean.  Cool in pan on a wire rack.