Meatballs for Choir Boys

Growing up in Cooperstown my family ate at community suppers with the same regularity we did restaurants. Hardly a month passed when my mother wasn't whipping up a batch of these homemade meatballs to cart off to the Church, Girl Scouts or Lions Club. Sometimes she would ask the organizer if she could bring a beverage or dessert, but the answer was always no. People wanted their meatballs.

It turns out that she shouldn't have been surprised by their popularity. These meatballs had already achieved community supper-fame many years before when my paternal grandmother made them for my father's children's choir dinners. In fact, they were so popular that she wrote down the recipe and named it in honor of the choir boys who so happily devoured them.

Over time I have discovered that meatballs are incredibly handy in the kitchen. They freeze beautifully, guaranteeing that a tasty meal is always at my fingertips no matter how hectic my day. And, when I need to make them in bulk for a community supper - like my mother and grandmother before me - I simply double or triple the recipe. I'll admit, there are many occasions when people tell me they don't see the point in making homemade meatballs since perfectly good ones can be purchased at the market. As a fellow parent I completely understand the need for convenience, but making a large batch of these meatballs to keep in your freezer is twice as delicious and efficient as anything you will find at a store.

One of the keys to making these meatballs is to start with good ingredients. I always buy meats with a high ratio of fat. This keeps the meatballs moist and tender, and prevents them from having any sort of golfball-like texture or flavor. Once all the ingredients are gathered, making the meatballs while my daughter naps is a cinch. I simply place them in a large glass bowl and mix with clean hands until everything is evenly incorporated. Then I form the mixture into 1-inch balls, making sure they are molded firmly enough to stay together when they are seared in the pan.

Come dinner time I serve them piled high on top of a big plate of piping hot spaghetti. Suffice it to say, when they hit the table - whether it be at a family gathering or community supper - there is instant silence as everyone ceases conversation and begins eating.

Meatballs for Choir Boys
an original recipe adapted from my paternal grandmother
1/3 lb. ground beef
1/3 lb. ground pork

1/3 lb. ground veal

2 slices of white bread soaked in 1/3 c. milk
1/2 c. parmesan cheese, grated
1 t. salt

1/2 t. oregano

1/4 t. black pepper

1 clove garlic, minced

1 T. parsley, finely chopped

2 eggs, lightly beaten
Makes about 24-28 meatballs

1. Place all of the ingredients above in a large glass bowl and mix well with clean hands.

2. Once everything is combined form small meatballs, about 1-inch in diameter.
3. In a skillet over medium heat, brown the meatballs until they are totally seared to keep the juices in. FREEZING: If you want to freeze meatballs, at this point remove them from the pan and place them in a tightly sealed freezer bag. To thaw, remove from freezer and cook in tomato sauce per instructions below.
4. Then put the meatballs in a pot of spaghetti sauce and cook for 1 hour.

Naptime Notes:
Naptime Recipe Props: Meatballs are one of the best things to have in your freezer at all times. They freeze and defrost beautifully, and both adults and children alike love them.
Naptime Stopwatch: Making meatballs does not take long. I usually make them during naptime (about 10 minutes) and then put them in the fridge until dinner. Then I brown the meatballs and put them in the sauce to cook through.
Naptime Reviews:
I've tried many meatball recipes but always come back to these. They are nicely flavored with the meats, spices and garlic. My daughter and husband alike adore these, which always makes for an enjoyable family meal.


Napping with the Daring Bakers: (Apple Mania Recipe #2)

Ever since high school I have been the kind of person who likes to join clubs, groups and teams. Living in New York there are lots of organizations to belong to and I certainly have tried out quite a few. Though, now that I am a parent I have less time for club meetings since most of my free time is spent spotting my mini-acrobat at the playground. Luckily, I recently found a group to join that I can participate in from the comfort of my own home, the Daring Bakers.

Today marks my first "reveal" as a Daring Baker. The September 2009 Daring Bakers' Challenge was hosted by Steph of A Whisk and A Spoon. Steph chose the French treat Vols-au-Vent based on the Puff Pastry recipe by Michel Richard from the cookbook Baking with Julia by Dorie Greenspan. I'll admit, I make a decent pie crust but making puff pastry is a little harder. But, I am always up for a great Naptime Chef challenge and couldn't wait to get started.

As far as challenges go, this was a big one. Making puff pastry is a time consuming process and not one that is very Naptime Chef-friendly. I started making it during my daughter's afternoon naptime and completed it by the end of the day. It definitely put a small damper in my schedule, having to stick around to turn the dough, but it didn't matter since the weather outside wasn't very good anyway.

To finish off my pastry I opted to top it with roasted apples and whipped cream in honor of Apple Mania 2009. I loved the way the tasted mimicked a classic apple pie, albeit with a much more gourmet appearance. I also liked the fact that I could serve this to my husband for the dinner I made to celebrate our anniversary. He agreed that the pastry was delicate, buttery and delicious. Unfortunately my camera was acting strange during my food photo shoot so I didn't get a great picture of the roasted apples stuffed inside the pastry, but you get the idea. I promise to have a repaired camera by the time the next challenge comes along, and, if each challenge is this delicious, we are in for a real treat.

Michel Richard’s Puff Pastry Dough
From: Baking with Julia by Dorie Greenspan
Yield: 2-1/2 pounds dough

2-1/2 cups (12.2 oz/ 354 g) unbleached all-purpose flour
1-1/4 cups (5.0 oz/ 142 g) cake flour
1 tbsp. salt (you can cut this by half for a less salty dough or for sweet preparations)
1-1/4 cups (10 fl oz/ 300 ml) ice water
1 pound (16 oz/ 454 g) very cold unsalted butter

plus extra flour for dusting work surface

Mixing the Dough:

Check the capacity of your food processor before you start. If it cannot hold the full quantity of ingredients, make the dough into two batches and combine them.

Put the all-purpose flour, cake flour, and salt in the work bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade and pulse a couple of times just to mix. Add the water all at once, pulsing until the dough forms a ball on the blade. The dough will be very moist and pliable and will hold together when squeezed between your fingers. (Actually, it will feel like Play-Doh.)

Remove the dough from the machine, form it into a ball, with a small sharp knife, slash the top in a tic-tac-toe pattern. Wrap the dough in a damp towel and refrigerate for about 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, place the butter between 2 sheets of plastic wrap and beat it with a rolling pin until it flattens into a square that's about 1" thick. Take care that the butter remains cool and firm: if it has softened or become oily, chill it before continuing.

Incorporating the Butter:

Unwrap the dough and place it on a work surface dusted with all-purpose flour (A cool piece of marble is the ideal surface for puff pastry) with your rolling pin (preferably a French rolling pin without handles), press on the dough to flatten it and then roll it into a 10" square. Keep the top and bottom of the dough well floured to prevent sticking and lift the dough and move it around frequently. Starting from the center of the square, roll out over each corner to create a thick center pad with "ears," or flaps.

Place the cold butter in the middle of the dough and fold the ears over the butter, stretching them as needed so that they overlap slightly and encase the butter completely. (If you have to stretch the dough, stretch it from all over; don't just pull the ends) you should now have a package that is 8" square.

To make great puff pastry, it is important to keep the dough cold at all times. There are specified times for chilling the dough, but if your room is warm, or you work slowly, or you find that for no particular reason the butter starts to ooze out of the pastry, cover the dough with plastic wrap and refrigerate it . You can stop at any point in the process and continue at your convenience or when the dough is properly chilled.

Making the Turns:

Gently but firmly press the rolling pin against the top and bottom edges of the square (this will help keep it square). Then, keeping the work surface and the top of the dough well floured to prevent sticking, roll the dough into a rectangle that is three times as long as the square you started with, about 24" (don't worry about the width of the rectangle: if you get the 24", everything else will work itself out.) With this first roll, it is particularly important that the butter be rolled evenly along the length and width of the rectangle; check when you start rolling that the butter is moving along well, and roll a bit harder or more evenly, if necessary, to get a smooth, even dough-butter sandwich (use your arm-strength!).

With a pastry brush, brush off the excess flour from the top of the dough, and fold the rectangle up from the bottom and down from the top in thirds, like a business letter, brushing off the excess flour. You have completed one turn.

Rotate the dough so that the closed fold is to your left, like the spine of a book. Repeat the rolling and folding process, rolling the dough to a length of 24" and then folding it in thirds. This is the second turn.

Chilling the Dough:

If the dough is still cool and no butter is oozing out, you can give the dough another two turns now. If the condition of the dough is iffy, wrap it in plastic wrap and refrigerate it for at least 30 minutes. Each time you refrigerate the dough, mark the number of turns you've completed by indenting the dough with your fingertips. It is best to refrigerate the dough for 30 to 60 minutes between each set of two turns.

The total number of turns needed is six. If you prefer, you can give the dough just four turns now, chill it overnight, and do the last two turns the next day. Puff pastry is extremely flexible in this regard. However, no matter how you arrange your schedule, you should plan to chill the dough for at least an hour before cutting or shaping it.

Roasted Apples & Whipped Cream
2 Granny Smith apples, peeled
1/4 c. sugar

1 T. cinnamon

1/2 c. heavy cream

2 T. powdered sugar

1. Preheat oven to 400.

2. Cut peeled apples into 6 even slices. Toss with sugar and cinnamon in a bowl and shake off any excess. Arrange on a cookie sheet and bake for 13-15 minutes or until dark brown.

3. Meanwhile, beat heavy cream and sugar in a mixing bowl until thick.

4. Allow apples to cool and serve on top of pastry with whipped cream.


Napping with a Stockpile of Tomato Sauce: Emergency Meal #6

Storage space in my New York galley kitchen is precious. Yes, I do have more room than most people in my building since our apartment was recently renovated, but it still isn't much. Like most New Yorkers I store my pots, pans and cookie sheets piled precariously on top of one another in two deep cabinets. All of my plates and glassware are stacked in order to save space, and I nestle my bowls and tupperware in order from small to large.

With storage space at a premium, I must be ruthless when it comes to keeping food. Since I tend to cook with mostly fresh ingredients my apartment size fridge can generally accommodate my purchases. I have a well-edited selection of spices on my lazy susan, a shelf dedicated to essentials like dry pasta and condiments, and a corner for my daughter's snacks. In order to save space I steer clear of store-bought jarred soups and sauces. Instead, I make a lot of them in large quantities and freeze them. Though this sounds inefficient, it is actually a space saver. By making large batches of tortellini soup or tomato sauce I always have some at the ready to thaw, which is just the thing when I am dead tired at the end of the day and need to throw together a quick, delicious meal.

Three weeks ago I returned from our trip to Martha's Vineyard with five loads of laundry and a huge bag of tomatoes. Traveling had been a blast, but with summer coming to a close it was time for me to get back into the swing of things at home base. On our first day back I put my daughter down for her nap and started in on the laundry. Then it was time to start in on the tomatoes.

I set aside two of them for a caprese salad for dinner, and got to work with the rest making tomato sauce. Over time I've made up this tomato sauce recipe based on one I found in Bon Appetit a few years ago. I like my tomato sauce to have an intense tomato-y flavor that is not overshadowed by heavy spices and seasonings. I find that a basic marinara is the best thing for me to have in my freezer, that way I can season it later depending on the dish I am cooking.

To prepare the tomatoes I begin by roasting them for about an hour along with some garlic cloves and lots of olive oil. Then I give them a quick blitz in the blender, and put the sauce on the stove to simmer. I also add the roasted garlic cloves, oil from the roasting pan and a little extra tomato paste to intensify the flavor. Once everything has thickened I simply store it in a sealed tupperware and pop it right in the freezer to save for later.

Stockpiling tomato sauce in the freezer is one of my favorite, and most efficient, tools for having dinner at the ready. Just the other day I was in need of an emergency meal and was able to thaw some sauce in a pinch to make Buccatini All'Amatriciana. A little pinch of red pepper, some onion, garlic and pancetta, and voila, dinner was served. Yes, the space in my freezer is precious, but I am confident that storing this sauce is the most efficient, and delicious, way to use it.

Freezer-Friendly Roasted Tomato Sauce
adapted from Bon Appetit a while back
2 lbs tomatoes, cored and halved lengthwise (Plum are best)
3 T. olive oil
1 t. Kosher salt
6 garlic cloves
1/4 c. tomato paste
Yields about 2 cups, recipe can be doubled or tripled

1. Preheat oven to 375. Line a 12x18 jelly roll pan with aluminum foil and set side.
2. Place tomatoes in a bowl and toss them gently with olive oil. Line the tomatoes on a jelly roll pan and sprinkle them with kosher salt. Arrange unpeeled garlic cloves around that tomatoes on the pan.
3. Roast tomatoes for 50min-1hr, or until tomatoes are soft and just beginning to brown.
4. Remove from oven and allow tomatoes to cool slightly. Then place the tomatoes, and any oil from the pan, into a food processor fitted with a steel blade. Squeeze the roasted garlic out of the cloves and drop into the food processor as well. Puree until smooth.
5. Pour puree into a sauce pan and add the tomato paste. Bring the liquid to a bowl and stir often until sauce is thickened. Allow to cool and then place in tupperware to freeze.

Naptime Note:
Naptime Recipe Props: It is hard to go wrong with a stockpile of tomato sauce. There is an infinite number of uses for it, and you can always season it to your liking when you add it to your meal.
Naptime Stopwatch: Aside from the roasting time making the sauce takes about 10 minutes total. This minimal amount of time makes it incredibly worth it when it saves you time later on.
Naptime Reviews: Basic tomato sauce is always a crowd-pleaser. I use this for everything from lasagnas, to pastas to soups. Everyone loves it.


Napping at Emma Willard

chinese chewsIn September 1992 I started 10th grade at Emma Willard School. Attending boarding school, let alone an all-girls institution, seems unusual to most people. A very small portion of the teenage population in the U.S. actually elects to live away from home during high school. And I was part of that minority.

Though I had enjoyed my education in Cooperstown, by the time I reached 9th grade I couldn't wait to flee small town America. I fully embraced the idea of being independent of my parents, studying in an environment where academia reigned supreme, and living on a campus where each room had Ivy league-esque vaulted gothic ceilings.

I loved every minute of my time at Emma Willard. For three years I filled my days with studying, writing, eating, playing sports, hanging with friends, and studying some more. In fact, to this day I could hardly tell you one thing I didn't enjoy about my time there. I made my best friends in the world, learned more about arts, culture and science then I ever thought possible, and gained a healthy dose of self-confidence to boot. But, I'll be honest, there was one thing that was absolutely awful about boarding school life: the food.

As one might expect, like most cafeterias pre-food revolution, the culinary selections at Emma Willard were dreadful. Each day my options consisted of watery overcooked cod, dry rice or rubber chicken. For most meals I would unhappily consume a bowl of cereal alongside an english muffin pizza, assembled from the measly salad bar pickings. In fact, I surmise that I ate this for lunch or dinner at least once a day - if not for both. My classmates didn't think much of the fare offered either. So much so that at the end of each week the kitchen would lump together all of the leftovers from the past seven days (there were a lot!) into one grotesque casserole coined "Shepard's Pie." When a friend's family served me Shepard's Pie in Scotland during college I thought I would have to choke it down out of politeness, until I realized that
real Shepard's pie is actually delicious. What we ate at Emma Willard bore no resemblance to the British dish whatsoever.

However, there was one thing that we loved in the Emma Willard cafeteria: Chinese Chews. Like all normal teenagers, what we didn't eat for dinner we made up for in dessert. (Thank goodness we participated in mandatory sports programs!) And this one had been a favorite with Emma girls for several generations. I don't know how they were given their name, but the Chinese Chews we ate were deliciously sweet, chewy and chock full of wonderful ingredients like toasted pecans and sweetened coconut. Sometimes, when the cook was feeling generous, he added chocolate chips as well. Luckily, a foodie to the end, I was able to score the recipe for Chinese Chews from Nancy, a fellow alumna, several years after I graduated.

I made these Chews recently and even my in-laws agreed that they are delicious. They are rich, buttery and as close to a candy bar as I am ever going to make at home. One of the secrets is the large amount of brown sugar that is used. When the coconut mixture is poured over the crust it puffs up while it bakes forming a layer of coconut chocolate blondie, on top of the already buttery crust. I know one of the reasons I loved these as a teenager is because they were so intensely sweet that they made my fillings ring. I am sure this is the same reason my daughter loves them today. Like most baked goods I have no trouble preparing these while she naps. Then I let them cool and serve them for dessert with a big bowl of vanilla ice-cream.

I am happy to report that the Emma Willard cafeteria is in much better shape these days. Last year I returned to campus as was thrilled to see that the chef is committed to serving organic food, sourced locally whenever possible, as well as organic milks and beverages. Additionally, last year the impressive environmentally conscious students elected to forgo using trays in order to save the water used to clean them, as well as committed to using only two napkins per student per meal to avoid wasting paper. Every time I visit I am thrilled with their progress and the selection of gorgeous food available at each meal. And, I'm also glad to find that Chinese Chews are still on the menu.

Emma Willard's Chinese Chews

a recipe from the Emma Willard cafeteria circa 1975, and ever since...


1/2 c. butter
1 c. flour

1/2 c. brown sugar


1 c. brown sugar

2 eggs

1/4 t. baking soda

Pinch of salt

2 T. all-purpose flour, heaping

3/4 c. pecans, chopped

1 c. shredded coconut, sweetened

1/2 c. chocolate chips, tossed with 1 t. flour (chips are optional)

1. Preheat oven to 350. Butter a 9x9 baking pan and set aside.

2. Cream together butter, flour and brown sugar. Press into the bottom of the baking pan and bake for 12-15 minutes, or until crust is golden brown. Remove from oven and allow to cool.

3. Cream together sugar and eggs. Then add baking soda, salt and flour. Stir to combine. Finally, add pecans, coconut and chocolate chips. Stirring gently with a wooden spoon, mix until everything is combined.
4. Pour Chew mixture on top of the cool crust and return to the oven. Bake for 25-28 minutes, or until crust has formed and is golden brown.

Naptime Notes:

Naptime Recipe props:
Sometimes I am just in the mood for a sweet dessert and this one always fits the bill. If you don't want chocolate chips simply omit them. Or, you could add white chocolate or butterscotch chips in their place.

Naptime Stopwatch:
Preparing the batter takes about 10 minutes and the remainder of the preparation time is used for baking.

Naptime Reviews:
Everyone in my family has a sweet tooth, so this was sure to please. Sometimes, when I have people over, I cut them into bit size pieces for the perfect sweet nibble.


Napping with No Knead

I believe it's alright to eat any kind of food in moderation. I have no qualms about eating one or two cookies each day, or enjoying a slice of bread with dinner. Instead of counting calories and swearing off certain foods altogether, I try to balance the good with the bad.

When I occasionally go overboard (read: Christmas cookie season, and the day my yearly order of Girl Scout Cookies are delivered) I offset my indulgent behavior by cutting back on sweets the following week. Most of the time I have to keep an eye on my cookie intake, since I tend to bake a lot. But lately I've also had to keep tabs on my bread consumption. No, I didn't get a bread maker, I finally perfected my favorite recipe for No-Knead Bread.

Two years ago Mark Bittman single-handedly revolutionized the baking world when he published Jim Lahey's recipe for No-Knead Bread. Upon his declaration that everyone could kiss away hours of tedious hand work, thousands of home cooks happily dusted off their cast-iron pots, committed to lives of thievery - snatching creuset knobs out of window displays - and popped their un-kneaded dough into the oven without a care in the world. Of course, I was doing this right along with everyone else, (except for stealing part - my knob was a gift from my friend Jeanne). I loved the ability to bake bread while hardly breaking a sweat. I also enjoyed the fact that Bittman's revised bread baking process fit into my then professional workday schedule. I would simply leave the dough to rise in the morning when I left to work and bake it at night after dinner.

Over time I've worked on several flavor variations and even kept a few in my permanent binder. Recently, at the suggestion of a friend, I made this flavor in order to take advantage of the fresh rosemary in the garden. If this ingredient pairing tempts you in the least I highly suggest you make some. Right. Now. To say that my family and I enjoyed this bread is an understatement. We devoured it like hungry peasants on the side of the road during a famine. Our consumption was decidedly not an example of eating in moderation.

Now that I've made this a few times we've learned how to exercise a bit of restraint: it takes us 36 hours to polish off a loaf, instead of the initial 12. I also have worked out any kinks in the recipe to make sure the flavor is consistently light with a hint of bright citrus. The rosemary adds a wonderful floral tone to the dough, making it delicious to eat with a spread of butter or homemade apricot jam. Now that I'm working from home I've mastered making this during my daughter's naptime. I simply begin the dough in the evening after she goes to bed and let it sit overnight. Then, during naptime the next day, I finish the remaining steps and bake it in the oven. This way it is always ready for a late afternoon snack. After that I wrap it up and put it away for breakfast - if we can wait that long for our next slice.

Rosemary & Lemon No-Knead Bread

adapted from Mark Bittman's recipe for No Knead bread
3 c. all-purpose flour

1/4 t. active dry yeast

1 5/8 c. lukewarm water

1 3/4 t. Kosher salt

1 1/2 t. fresh rosemary, chopped

2 t. fresh lemon zest

1. In a large bowl, combine flour, yeast, salt, rosemary and lemon zest. Add water and stir until all ingredients are blended. The dough will be very sticky. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let it sit at room temperature for 12-18 hours, or until the size has almost doubled and the surface it dotted with bubbles.

2. Remove dough from the bowl and place it on a lightly floured cutting board. Sprinkle dough with flour and fold it over itself once or twice. Cover the dough loosely with plastic wrap, allow to rest for 15 minutes.

3. Flour your hands and quickly shape the dough into a bowl. Coat the cutting board very generously with flour and place it seam side down on the board. Dust the top with flour and cover it with a kitchen towel. Allow the dough to rise until it has doubled in size and does not readily spring back when poked with a finger. This takes about 2 hours.

4. Preheat oven to 450 and place EMPTY 2 3/4 qt. cast-iron (I use a Le Creuset) pot in the oven. Allow to warm in the oven for 30 minutes. Then, remove the pot and brush the inside with olive oil. Transfer the bread dough from the cutting board and place it in the greased pot. Place it in the oven with the cover on it and allow it tbake for 30 minutes. After 30 minutes remove the cover and allow it to bake for 15-20 more minutes, or until the loaf is browned. Then, remove pot from the oven and place on a wire rack. Allow to cool for 10 minutes. Then, remove the loaf and allow to cool completely.

Naptime Note:
Naptime Recipe Props: The recipe for No-Knead bread is foolproof and delicious. I highly suggest you all experiment with your own flavors to find your own family's favorite(s).
Naptime Stopwatch: The longest part about this recipe is the waiting for the dough to rise. I spent about a total of 15 minutes actually working with the dough from start to finish.
Naptime Reviews: As I said, my family devours this bread. There is definitely something about homemade bread that always trumps store-bought.


Napping on My Birthday!

I believe that birthdays are meant to be festive occasions. There is nothing wrong with getting older. Even though it may mean a few more fine lines on my face, or indicate that my youthful 20's are truly over, I don't mind. I always try to live life to the fullest, and on my birthday I like to spend my time celebrating the good, not worrying about the bad.

Of course, I don't mean to sound like Pollyanna, my life isn't all wine and roses. Just yesterday I burned my finger on a hot pan, and this morning my toddler daughter threw a four alarm tantrum when I wouldn't allow her to wear party shoes to the playground. Oh well. I am still going to embrace my happy birthday and celebrate by eating lots and lots of chocolate cake.

This year, when contemplating potential birthday desserts, I decided to pay homage to everyone's culinary hero and make myself a delicious cake by Julia Child. Many people I know share the dream to follow in Julia's footsteps and become food professionals and, even, icons. This is especially true after the release of last summer's blockbuster, Julie & Julia. Since I started my own culinary career a mere two years before Julia did I think I am off to a good start in retracing her career path. Only, I live in New York, not Paris or Cambridge, my husband is taller than me, and, I was never a spy. I guess this means we have a few differences, too. However, despite these, I am confident that we share a similar culinary point of view. Like Julia's, mine includes a love of butter, sharp knives, eggs, roast chicken, and, of course, cake.

I've baked quite a lot from MtAoFC and to honor my birthday this year I chose to bake Julia's Reine de Saba. A delicate chocolate cake made with almond flour that is subtly sweet, with a tender crumb and pure chocolate flavor. It seemed perfect to celebrate with a classy dessert that is simultaneously decadent and restrained.

I know Julia didn't have children, but with this cake she definitely wrote a recipe that is Naptime Chef-friendly. I was able to bake this while my daughter napped yesterday. Then I let it cool for the afternoon and iced it this morning. (There is no way I would ice it in advanced and offend Julia!)

Shortly before I posted this article my husband declared the cake too good to look at, and we served ourselves big slices for breakfast. Some people would consider it sacrilege that I intend to eat my birthday cake all day long, but, I pay them no mind. There is nothing wrong with eating delicious food all day to celebrate my birthday, and, although I didn't know her, I am pretty sure Julia would feel the same way.

Julia Child's Reine de Saba

adapted from
Mastering the Art of French Cooking
4 oz. semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
2 T. strong brewed coffee

1 stick unsalted butter, room temperature

2/3 c. plus
1 T. sugar

3 large eggs, separated

1/2 t. Kosher salt

1/2 c. finely ground almonds

1/4 t. almond extract

3/4 c. cake flour, sifted, then measured

1 oz. semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
1 T. brewed coffee
3 T. unsalted butter, room temperature

For the cake:

1. Preheat oven to 350. Grease a 8-inch round cake pan and set aside.

2. Melt chocolate and coffee together in the microwave. Stir together and set aside to cool.

3. In a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat butter and 2/3 c. sugar until light and fluffy. Add egg yolks and beat until fully blended.

4. In a separate mixing bowl beat egg whites and salt until the whites form soft peaks. Add 1 T. sugar and beat again until stiff peaks form, but are not dry.

5. Pour cooled chocolate, ground almonds and almond extract into butter mixture. Then, fold in 1/4 of the beaten egg whites to lighten the batter. Then, alternate folding in the 1/3 the egg whites, then 1/3 of the cake flour until everything is combined.

6. Transfer batter to prepared pan. Push some batter 3/4 inch up the sides of the pan with a spatula. Bake for 25 minutes, or until cake is puffed and gently set and a cake tester yields only a few moist crumbs. Cool cake for 8-10 minutes in the pan. Then release it from the pan and cool it completely on a rack for at least 2 hours.

For Icing:

1. Combine chocolate and coffee in a glass bowl over simmering water. Once it is combined and smooth remove the bowl from the simmering water and stir. Using a wooden spoon beat in the butter, 1 T. at a time, until icing is completely smooth.
2. Place bowl over slightly large bowl filled with ice water. Stir the icing until it is cool and thickened enough to be spread. Ice the cake when both the icing and cake are completely room temperature.

Naptime Note:

Naptime Recipe Props:
The best part about this birthday cake is it's size. Unlike a gigantic tiered cake, this one is a perfect proportioned 9-inch round pan. It looks immaculate the minute it comes out of the oven and is perfect to serve at almost any occasion.
Naptime Stopwatch:
I opted to make my own almond flour which took a bit of time but was worth it. Overall the batter preparation took about 20 minutes then I popped it in the oven. The icing was also a snap to make and complemented the cake beautifully.
Naptime Reviews:
Who doesn't like chocolate cake? Happy Birthday to me!


Napping with Chow & Chatter

Chow and Chatter is a great blog run by Rebecca, a trained nutritionist and talented home cook. It never ceases to amaze me how many delicious, healthy dishes she whips up in her kitchen for her beautiful family. Last week Rebecca kindly asked me to a write a guest post for her site and I am pleased to share it with you here. Happy Monday!


Napping with Uncle Will's Dirty Blondies

My younger brother is a swell guy. Growing up our age difference was fairly significant - five years - so we had little in common. But these days that gap hardly matters. We chat like old friends on the phone, and he adores being Uncle Will to my daughter.

These days I am embracing motherhood, food writing and cooking, while Will travels the world as
a Lt.JG in the Coast Guard. Due to his hectic schedule we don't see him often, but when we do the reunion is always full of laughter and fun. Although our everyday lives differ, we still have many things in common. Including our love of good food.

Since we both grew up in a household of excellent cooks it is no surprise that Will knows his way around the kitchen. To prove it, last month he gave me his formula for burgers, which I shared with you here, and it was amazingly popular with readers. During Uncle Will's burger mania I received several requests for more of his recipes. So, being the awesome older sister that I am, I have invited him back for another post. This time, it turns out, he is not grilling - which I used to think was his forte - but baking. Yes it's true, just when I thought he'd be forever perfecting hash marks, he decides to fire up the KitchenAid mixer instead.

My favorite part about this recipe is that Will brought it back with him from summer camp in 1994. He was so smitten with the brown sugar blondies the cafeteria served, he actually wrote down the cooks recipe in his jagged 12 year-old script (the original is pictured below), and brought it home to my mother! Needless to say, she got a huge kick out of his request for Dirty Blondies and has been making these for him ever since. When Will moved away for college she taught him how to prepare these in his own kitchen, and to this day he makes a fresh batch at least once a week.

When Will made this for us on our last visit to Cooperstown he allowed me to photograph his superior baking skills. Like a true Naptime Chef-expert he whipped together the batter while my daughter was asleep, and had them cooling out of the oven long before she woke up. With five adults and one child in the house these obviously did not last long. None of us could resist the warm chewy blondies, studded with a generous dose of chocolate chips. We liked to eat them after dinner with a big bowl of vanilla ice-cream, but also sneaked several nibbles during the daytime until they were all gone. I am sure these will be as big a hit in your house as they were in ours. In fact, I am so confident that these will be popular I've already asked Will to prepare another guest recipe for this fall, I can't wait to see what he turns up next.

Uncle Will's Dirty Blondies
1/4 c. unsalted butter, melted

1 c. dark brown sugar

1 t. vanilla

1 t. baking soda

1 egg

1 c. flour

1 c. chocolate chips

1. Preheat oven to 375.

2. Whip the butter and sugar together in a mixer until well incorporated. Add vanilla, baking soda, the egg and flour. Mix on a low speed until well combined. Stir in chocolate chips by hand.

3. Prepare a greased 8x8 pan or 7x11pan and pour in batter.

4. Bake for 20 minutes or until top of blondies are browned and set.

Naptime Notes:
Naptime Recipe Props
: The simplicity of the ingredients and batter makes these a snap to prepare at any time of the day or night. I would recommend them to anyone in need of a last minute sweet-treat, or for someone who needs a break from traditional brownies.
Naptime Stopwatch
: The batter takes Will about 5 minutes to prepare, then it is just a matter of making sure they don't burn in the oven.
Naptime Reviews: Blondies are not just for kids, they are refined and sweet enough for adults, too. If you want to serve them at a more formal affair simply cut them into small squares and place them on a decorative plate.


Napping with Back to School for Cookie

Hi! I thought you all would enjoy my latest article for One Little Bite, Cookie Magazine's Food Blog. All month they will be providing great ideas for ways to spruce up your children's lunchboxes, and I was thrilled to contribute a few suggestions of my own. I just adore reading their site everyday, it is always chock full of great ideas for family food. Enjoy!

Napping in the Apple Orchard: Apple Mania 2009 Recipe #1

Welcome to "Apple Mania 2009," my new seasonal food focus. Similar to the format of last summer's ice-cream festival, this fall I will be highlighting delicious recipes made with my favorite seasonal fruit, apples. Look for new recipes all this season showcasing delicious ways to incorporate apples into your everyday cooking and baking!

When the seasons change so does my cooking style. Though I love the sunshine and warmth of summer, fall is truly my favorite season. Maybe it is because I was born in September (my birthday is - hint hint - a week from today), but there is something about the crisp air, cooler breezes and autumnal colors that make me feel alive and inspired. Just this weekend I tucked away my light summer salad recipes to hibernate for the winter. In their place I pulled out ones for hearty cold weather fare like stews, lasagnas and dishes loaded with root vegetables and fall fruits.

New York State is one of the top five leading producer of apples in the country and, since I grew up right smack in the middle of the state, it is no surprise that I love to incorporate apples into just about everything I make. For the next few months I'll be Naptime Chef-ing many of my favorite apple foods from sweet cookies, pies, breads and muffins, to savory pork with homemade applesauce, tart salads, and these, my favorite scalloped apples. When I came across this recipe a few years ago I was immediately drawn to the way it echoed a favorite childhood snack, apples slices with cheese. In this dish the apples are baked until soft, with only a pinch of sugar and spice for flavor, and topped with a light layer of sharp cheddar cheese. It is a snap to prepare and is a wonderful addition to any fall lunch or dinner.

Preparing this meal it not time consuming so I am always able to complete it while my daughter naps and re-heat it later in the evening. Or, sometimes, I make it a half hour prior to dinner and let it bake while I get everything else on the table. Everyone I've ever served this to loves the savory sweet contrast between the baked apples and sharp cheese. It is slightly reminiscent of another favorite, apple pie with cheddar cheese crust, only without the heavy butter pastry. Last week I served this with roasted sausage from the farmers market and a slice of rustic bread. I was pleased, but not surprised, to discover that my daughter loved it, and I was more than happy to serve it to her since it contains high-quality fresh ingredients with nothing extra. Watching her enjoy the food made me excited that fall cooking season as arrived, I can't wait to see what inspires me next.

Scalloped Apples
adapted from A Recipe Repertoire
4 large tart apples, cored and sliced
1 t. cinnamon

1 1/2 T. flour

3 T. sugar

1/4 c. water

1 T. lemon juice

2 T. unsalted butter

1 1/2 c. sharp cheddar cheese, grated

1. Preheat oven to 350.

2. Core and slice apples and place them in a large bowl. Sprinkle cinnamon, flour and sugar over the apples and toss them with your hands until apples are evenly coated.

3. Arrange apples in a 1 1/2 quart casserole dish so that they are slightly overlapping. Mix water and lemon juice together in a bowl and pour over the apples (this prevents the apples from browning). Top apples with dots of butter.

4. Cover casserole dish with foil and bake for 35 minutes.
5. After the time is up remove the foil and sprinkle cheese evenly over the apples. Recover the dish and return it to the oven. Bake for 6-8 minutes, or until cheese is melted.

Naptime Notes:

Naptime Recipe Props:
It is essential to have a simple savory apple dish on hand for fall cooking, and there is nothing better than apples with cheese. Feel free to experiment with any cheese or spice you like - the flavor possibilities are almost endless! This works well served alongside pork loin, tenderloin or roast chicken. I've even served it as a Thanksgiving side dish.
Naptime Stopwatch:
Coring and slicing four apples takes about 5 minutes and then rest of the time is just baking. It took me about 35 minutes (including baking time) to make this dish - that can't be beat!
Naptime Reviews:
My daughter has joined my apple-loving ranks and happily gobbled this up. It is also proved sophisticated enough for her father, who devoured it as well. It is always nice to have dishes that everyone loves, especially when they are healthy and easy to make.


Napping with Strawberry Soup

When I was little my grandmother once served my strawberry soup. I don't remember when or where she made it for me, but I will never forget it's smooth creamy taste that was neither too sweet, nor tart. When it came time for my cold soup challenge with Cheryl Tan of A Tiger in the Kitchen I initially tried my avocado soup recipe, and it was a disaster. Then, I realized, instead of torturing myself trying to rework an imperfect recipe (which had once been perfect), why not have fun with an old favorite?! I quickly ditched the avocado idea and started over with strawberries.

Luckily, I am still able to find strawberries at the farmers market so I was pleased to use sun-ripened local organic fruit. Though, I know a container of Dricoll's would work just as well. I was thrilled when my recipe adaptation worked beautifully. This soup is subtly sweet with a cool creamy finish. In many ways in mimics a strawberry smoothie, but it is has a silkier finish and more refined flavor then what I usually make for a post-workout treat. I find this soup very refreshing to enjoy on these warm end-of-summer days and I hope you do, too. I should also mention that this soup is completely child-friendly, my daughter couldn't get enough of it.

Summertime Strawberry Soup

1 lb. fresh strawberries, washed and hulled

Juice of one lemon

2 t. sugar

1 c. plain Greek yogurt, well-stirred
Fresh mint for garnish

1. Wash and dry strawberries, hull the fruit.

2. Place all ingredients in a bowl and, using a hand immersion blender, process until smooth. Alternatively, you can use a food processor.

3. Pour into soup bowls and garnish with sprigs of fresh mint.


Napping with Aunt Ethel

My friend Mary has many fond memories of her Aunt Ethel. Ethel was, in fact, not her aunt, but her neighbor in Haverford PA who helped Mary's mother care for Mary and her sisters while their father was fighting in WWII. During these tough times Ethel and her husband, Hamilton, who had no kids of their own, would frequently cross the street to Mary's house to happily help out and teach their mother how to cook.

The fact that these days Mary is an excellent cook is due to Ethel's expert tutelage. Ethel not only taught Mary's mother the ways of the kitchen, but instructed Mary as well. Luckily, Mary has preserved many of her beloved neighbor's amazing recipes, many of which have become family favorites in her household over time.

Last month Mary dropped off a fresh batch of blueberry muffins that were so delicious my mother and I were speechless after just two bites. They were perfect. Unlike so many muffins I find today, these didn't have a sickly sweet cake-like texture, and they were the size of a small apple - not a softball. Mary's muffins were light and a little flaky, with just a hint of sweetness and lemon. In fact, if they had a little more butter and less sugar they would probably be considered a scone.

Naturally, I asked Mary for the recipe and she was more than happy to send me a copy. Even better, she sent me the original copy in Aunt Ethel's handwriting (pictured below), along with a picture of Aunt Ethel herself (pictured above, she is on the left). I loved the personal story that came with these tasty treats. Discovering this recipe only furthered my conviction that tried and true home cooks often possess some of the best recipes of all time.

I am excited to share these muffins with you because they really are as delicious as they sound. They also are a snap to prepare. I make the batter in one bowl and can do it easily while my daughter naps, or on a Sunday morning when we are the mood for fresh baked goods. I have already tried these once with cranberries and they are delicious, I bet they would be great with raspberries, too. Whatever fruit you choose I hope you enjoy them. I didn't know Aunt Ethel personally, but I know enough about her to guarantee that she would be happy to know you are cooking with your family, too.

Aunt Ethel's Blueberry Muffins

an original recipe from Ethel Wolf
2 c. all-purpose flour
6 T. sugar
1/2 t. salt
4 t. baking powder
1 t. lemon zest
1/2 c. unsalted butter
1 c. blueberries
1 egg
3/4 c. whole milk

1. Preheat oven to 425.
2. Whisk together flour, sugar, salt and baking powder into a bowl. Cut the butter into chunks and pinch it into the dry ingredients with your hands. This takes a few minutes to do, but make sure the butter and dry ingredients are fully combined.
3. In a separate bowl lightly beat the egg and milk. Pour them into the dry ingredients and stir with a wooden spoon until fully combined. Note, the mixture will look odd and a little gluey, but this is totally normal.
4. Stir in the blueberries until just combined.
5. Pour batter into a 12-cup regular sized muffin tin. Make sure each cup is about 3/4 full. Bake for 20 minutes or until tops are golden.

Naptime Notes:

Naptime Recipe Props: Muffin recipes that are not too sweet are hard to come by and this one fits the bill. I love that I can substitute almost any kind of fruit for the blueberries and they still taste delicious.
Naptime Stopwatch: The batter is a snap to prepare and takes less than 10 minutes. Then, after a brief 20 minutes of baking time, the muffins are ready to eat!
Naptime Reviews:
Everyone loves muffins that aren't overly sweet which is why we've been devouring these in our house. I highly recommend you serve them to guests soon, they will love them.


Napping with Labor Day Lemon Chicken

It is just as important to celebrate the end of summer, as it is the beginning. In my family we choose to celebrate these occasions with good food, great people and lots of time outdoors. On Memorial Day it is our tradition to throw some swordfish steaks on the grill and enjoy a delicious seafood meal. In many ways this is the kick-off of grilling season, as we proceed to cook most things over an open flame all summer long.

When it comes to our celebration style, Labor Day is no different. We roll out the cold salads, put a few bottles of beer on ice, rev up the grill and it is time for grilled chicken.

I love it when readers write to me with questions and comments. In fact, some people even send me some amazing recipes. When I received this lemon chicken recipe from my "virtual" friend Ashley in Chicago I knew I had to give it a try. I loved the ingredients at first glance and especially appreciated the part where she recommended marinating the chicken in a Ziploc bag. I know it isn't elegant (as evidenced by the picture below), but I firmly believe that marinating meats and poultry in Ziploc is always the most effective. By placing the meat in a bag it can be surrounded by liquid, as opposed to sitting in a pan with marinade poured over it.

Since I was nearly certain that Ashley's recipe would be a hit I put it to the test last weekend at our pre-Labor Day cookout. To ensure maximum flavor I used fresh organically raised chickens from our farmers market, and rosemary sprigs plucked fresh from our herb pots. Before I placed the chicken in the Ziploc bag I pierced the breasts several times with a fork, this allowed it to absorb a lot of the delicious marinade. I prepped the chicken and marinade while my daughter napped, and left the Ziploc in the fridge for about 5 hours before we were ready to grill. This amount of marinating time might have been extensive, but it was worth it because the flavor was amazing. However, if you don't have that amount of time on hand, I am sure 1-2 hours in the fridge would work just as well.

As we expected, the chicken was juicy, moist and bursting with a sweet lemony-herb flavor. Preparing it had been a cinch and eating it was just as easy. In fact, I had to write down the recipe for several of our guests. After we devoured all of the chicken, we agreed that the taste of this marinade rivaled that of our previous favorite, Brooks BBQ Sauce. There is room for both in our pantry, and I'm sure Ashley's recipe will stay on my go-to marinade list for quite a long time. I hope that this recipe serves you well for your upcoming Labor Day cookout, I know that this is what I'll be making next Monday afternoon.

Ashley's Perfect Grilled Lemon Chicken
a recipe from a great reader, Ashley S.

4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts

3 lemons, halved and juiced (save juice and rind)

6 cloves of garlic (smashed with flat side of knife)

6 whole sprigs of rosemary

1 cup olive oil

2 teaspoons salt

½ teaspoon red pepper (crushed or cayenne works)

½ teaspoon cinnamon

1. Rinse chicken breasts and pat dry. Pierce breasts several times with fork tines. Drop chicken into a Ziploc bag.

2. In a separate bowl, mix lemon juice, olive oil, salt and spices. Pour on top of chicken and squish chicken around in the Ziploc to make sure chicken is fully coated.

3. Add lemon halves, garlic cloves and rosemary springs to the bag. Squeeze air out and seal. Squish chicken around in all ingredients again to make sure everything is evenly distributed. Marinade in the fridge for at least one hour.
4. Heat grill and cook chicken over a medium flame for 7-8 minutes, or until chicken is just cooked through.

Naptime Notes:
Naptime Recipe Props: The great thing about a marinade is that you can always double or triple the recipe if you have more mouths to feed. I bet this would also be delicious with shrimp or fish.
Naptime Stopwatch:
The best part about grilling is that it is so easy. Mixing the marinade takes 5 minutes during naptime and then it merely sits in the fridge and does all the work on it's own. There is nothing more Naptime Chef-friendly than that.

Naptime Notes:
My daughter isn't too keen on the taste of grilled food yet, but she enjoyed this. The rest of the family polished off their pieces, then asked for the recipe.