Friday, August 26, 2011

To My Mom-Happy Food Memories

Birthday Dinner Wishes

My mom was an amazing cook.  She made so many things that were my favorites.  I got my love of cooking and food from not only her but also from my dad.  He loved food and even though he ate and ate, he never gained a pound.  A trait I did not inherit from him.  But my mom kept us well fed with old time, hearty recipes.  She made my dad’s RN salary stretch by using cheaper cuts of meat and supplementing it with fresh and frozen vegetables.  She wasn’t a gourmet but she knew how to cook and I’ve taken many of her recipes and made them my own.

Potato Salad

My mom made the best potato salad.  She made it for family gatherings, 5 pounds of potatoes at a time.  She would ask me every year what I wanted for my birthday which is in August and every year I would tell her potato salad and cheesecake.  My mom passed away a little over 2 years ago, so she wasn’t able to ask and I wasn’t able to tell her how much I love her potato salad.  My family and I moved to Saratoga Springs NY from St. Louis a little over 4 years ago, so I’ve spent all that time, holidays, birthdays and other special occasions 1600 miles from the rest of my family.  So I’ve learned to use food (family recipes) to bring back some of the memories of past holidays and celebrations.  My birthday was just this past Tuesday and my husband wanted to know what I wanted.  My answer: potato salad and cheesecake.  Now I wasn’t expecting to be “just like Mom’s”.  It’s not like you can go to the internet and look up the recipe, but I was lucky enough that before we moved she told me how to make both.
So for my birthday dinner we had fried chicken (homemade), Mom’s potato salad and of course for dessert, Mom’s cheesecake.  

Start with 5 pounds of potatoes 

Mom’s potato salad goes something like this….
5 pounds of potatoes, we used red but you can use whatever you like.  Mom used plain old white potatoes, boiled in what she called “their jackets”, which just means skins on.
Once the potatoes are cooled you can peel and dice them.
To the potatoes add:
5 slices of cooked bacon, crumbled
3 chopped hard boiled eggs
3 green onions chopped
Mix thoroughly.

To make the dressing:
Add 1 cup of Hellman’s mayo (and she only used Hellman’s) with about 3 tablespoons of white vinegar.  Mix it well.
Before dressing the potato salad be sure to season it with salt.  Pour on the dressing and combine thoroughly.
Mom always made a couple extra hard boiled eggs and sliced them and laid them on the top, then sprinkled it with paprika.
Sounds simple and it is, but it is also deceptively delicious.
It’s hard to say how many servings it makes because we always had it at family gatherings.  But I would think at least 12 normal size or about 3 “my” size.
The potatoes give it a lot of body while the bacon gives needed saltiness, and the green onions give a nice crunch.  The dressing is a little tangy with the lemon of the mayo and the bite of the vinegar.  To me it’s the perfect potato salad.
Don't let the photo deter you, it's delicious!

Mom’s Cheesecake

When I was younger I thought the cheesecake my mom made was something she invented.  It wasn’t like other cheesecake.  It was light and lemony, almost like a mousse.  It spoiled me for any other cheesecake.  So when I asked her the recipe I was surprised to find out that she got it from a neighbor who got it from the cream cheese package.  But still even though it’s not original I always call it Mom’s Cheesecake.

There are a lot of steps (I don’t think my mom ever did anything the easy way when it came to cooking) but believe me it’s worth it.
Lemon jell-o gives the cheesecake it's lemon flavor
This makes a huge 13x9 pan that should feed a crowd but in my house it feeds 3, that is if I share.

Take 2 packages of lemon jello and dissolve in 2 cups of hot water.  Don’t use sugar free, get the real thing for this.  Makes it so much better.  Once the jello is dissolved then add 2 cups of cold water.  Set aside.

Take 2 packages of lemon jello and dissolve in 2 cups of hot water.  Don’t use sugar free, get the real thing for this.  Makes it so much better.  Once the jello is dissolved then add 2 cups of       cold water.  Set aside.

Take one can of evaporated milk (that has been chilling in the fridge) and beat until light and fluffy.  Will look like whipped cream. Don’t whip too much or it will have a buttery taste.

Whip the evaporated milk.  Who knew when chilled it gets like whipped cream?

Take a small spoonful of whipped milk and fold it into the jello/cream cheese mixture to lighten it.  Then slowly fold in the rest.

Mark recreating Mom's cheesecake. She would have been proud!

To make the crust:

Take graham cracker crumbs, butter and sugar.  Mix together (will look like sand) and lightly pat into a 13x9 oblong pan.  Don’t pat the crumbs in too tightly, and it doesn’t matter if they go up the sides of the pan.  Pour the filling into the pan and chill.

The finished cheesecake.  Light and Yummy!

No bake, lemony, creamy cheesecake. I know there are lots of variations on this cheesecake.  You can use whipped cream or Cool Whip instead of whipping the evaporated milk.  You can add more lemon to it, but this is the way my mom made it and this is the way I make it.  And now this is the way my husband makes it.
Once it’s chilled it’s light and will be to the top of the pan.  We always sprinkle the top with a few handfuls of graham cracker crumbs left over from the crust.

So we sat down to my birthday dinner of all homemade memories, my son, my daughter and my husband and me.  It took me back to all those birthdays shared with my brother and his family and my sister and her family, along with my parents, now both deceased.  My sister’s kids have kids and so does my brother’s.  My kids are both grown with lives of their own – school and jobs.  It was nice for at least a little while to remember what those family gatherings were like and relive the memories through the food we ate.  I guess it’s true, you can’t go home again….but at least you can recreate memories on your plate.

How do you use food in your celebrations?  Is there a recipe from your childhood you just can't live without?

Saturday, August 20, 2011

The Final Stop on the Food Tour-Bettie's Cakes

The Cupcakery

Bettie’s Cakes was the final stop on the Saratoga Food Tour.  There we were greeted by a colorful store front and friendly staff.  Bettie’s Cakes come in a variety of flavors and colors.
Can’t decide try an “A” cupcake for $1.50, small enough for you to try several. 

We gathered around to hear a little bit about how the business started by Lorraine, a photographer and her husband.  It all started with a double-decker bus, thinking that they would sell cupcakes from a local bakery from it.  They soon found out that they couldn’t find the flavors and quality they could get from baking their own so they opened their “cupcakery” in Saratoga.  CeeCee, their mobile cupcake stand can be found from Saratoga to Albany, offering some of the most unusual and delicious cupcakes around.  But they don’t just sell cupcakes from their bus but also from two locations, one in Colonie Center and one here in Saratoga Springs, on Broadway.

The Cupcakes

The storefront on Broadway has a retro feel to it, decorated in pink and turquoise.  We were offered samples of the size “a” cupcake, two per person, in a variety of flavors: peanut butter, red velvet, chocolate….  I chose for my first, a red velvet cupcake with cream cheese icing – a classic and for my second, a chocolate cupcake filled with chocolate pudding topped with chocolate butter cream—in a word -- EVIL and I mean that in the nicest way.
The red velvet cupcake was moist and the cream cheese frosting was it’s crowning glory. The chocolate cupcake was delicious and decadent with that surprise of creamy chocolate pudding and then finishing with the creamy, buttery, chocolaty frosting.  That one I would try again and again.  It is a true chocoholics dream.  

If you’re having a Bettie’s Cakes craving, you can order online and they will deliver, (with an option of having it delivered by a regular truck, a singing Bettie or a singing cupcake) or you can visit them at one of their locations:
The Café on Broadway in Saratoga
Colonie Center Cupcake Stand
DeeDee: The traveling double decker bus
CeeCee: The smaller delivery bus that holds 1,000 cupcakes and 20 cakes.
Hoffman’s Playland in Latham

Bettie’s Cakes is a not to be missed treat if you’re visiting Saratoga, live in Saratoga, have a special occasion coming up or just want to treat yourself, someone else or for just no good reason at all! 
For more information about Bettie’s Cakes you can visit their website:

Friday, August 19, 2011

Straight Up Mac and Cheese

There are a lot of recipes these days for all different variations of Mac and cheese.  Mac and cheese with lobster in it, with bacon, with ham, with all different kinds of cheeses.  I thought I would share with you what I call Straight Up Mac and Cheese – elbow macaroni, butter (or margarine), milk, flour and cheddar cheese.  Straight Up Mac and Cheese is basic.  Once you master this you can then start to create your own variation.  It can be a side dish or you can make it a complete main course.

The Pasta

The first thing is the pasta. Traditionally Mac and Cheese is made with elbow macaroni and that is what I’m using in this recipe.  You can use any brand that you like.  Start a pot of boiling water large enough to boil the pasta in.  When the water is at a rolling boil add salt to the water, enough salt so that the water is salty.  Then pour the pasta into the water, stir it. You will want to stir it occasionally to keep it from sticking.  Once the pasta is cooked al dente if you plan on baking it, (more on that later) and cooked until soft if you’re not baking it.  Drain it well.

The Sauce

The basic white sauce that makes up Mac and Cheese (before the cheese) is called a béchamel. It’s made up of equal parts of fat (butter or margarine usually) and flour.  They are cooked together to make a thickening agent that will thicken the milk.

When the margarine is melted then add the flour.  Stir to combine on medium heat.  Cook the flour in the butter for a minute to cook out the raw flour taste.  Don’t cook the flour too long or it will brown.  For a white sauce you just need to cook it long enough to cook out the raw flour taste.  The flour and butter together is called roux.  Once the roux is cooked you can add the milk (1 ¾ cups), stirring constantly to work out the lumps.   Once you add milk, the heat can be raised to medium high heat.  Once the roux and milk come to a boil (just starting to boil, not a rolling boil) it will thicken.  

<TIP>   Be sure to keep the heat to medium high, if the milk boils over you will have a HUGE mess to clean up.  

Now you can season the sauce with salt and pepper.  Be sure to stir it constantly.  Once the béchamel is thick and cooked then you can add the cheese.  I use 4 ounces of sharp cheddar cheese, shredded.  Using a whisk stir until the cheese is melted and the sauce is smooth.  Now you can add the macaroni to the sauce and combine.

Straight Up Mac and Cheese, Baked

Baked Mac and Cheese usually has a topping of bread crumbs.  To make the topping take 1 cup store bought plain bread crumbs and add 2 tablespoons of melted butter (or margarine) and combine.  Turn the mac and cheese into a buttered casserole dish and top with bread crumbs Bake the casserole at 375 degrees until the top is brown and crispy. 

<TIP> Remember everything is cooked, you’re just browning the bread crumbs on top.

I usually serve it right out of the pan without baking.  When I serve it I like to have either a vegetable or a salad and sometimes I add grilled chicken or even hot dogs. 
That’s it, straight up Mac and Cheese.  Make it this way a few times until you’ve got it down then you can experiment.


If you’d like to try this basic version of Mac and Cheese, here’s what you’ll need:

A pot large enough to boil the pasta and combine the sauce and pasta together in.
A buttered baking dish – if you plan on baking it

 4 Tablespoons Butter or margarine plus more to butter your baking dish with
1 ¾ cups Milk
4 Tablespoons Flour
4 ounces Cheddar Cheese, shredded
1 lb. Elbow macaroni
Salt and pepper to taste

Melt the butter in a large pot on medium heat.  Add all of the flour and cook together until smooth.  Add milk and stir to combine.  Raise heat to medium high until mixture begins to boil.  Turn down heat and season with salt and pepper.  Add shredded cheese.  Stir to combine.  Add cooked, drained  macaroni and stir to combine.  ENJOY!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

A Stop on the Saratoga Food Tour

Saratoga Olive Oil Company
Outside the Saratoga Olive Oil Company.  You can't tell me it
doesn't look like a fine wine shop.

There is a new shop in town (has been open for 4 months) that is one of the most unique (and gorgeous) I’ve ever seen.  If you’re a foodie like I am then you’ll appreciate the unusual flavors of olive oils and balsamic vinegars that the Saratoga Olive Oil Company carries in their store.  We were able to spend some time in the shop as one of the stops on the Saratoga Food Tour.

The shop run by Clint and Barb, a husband and wife team are made from the freshest olive crushes from all over the world in order to give you the best quality product.  The shop is set up so that you can taste any of the selections so that you can make an informed choice before you purchase.  Some of the olive oil is from Europe, the standard Italian and Spanish but there are also other more exotic oils from Australia and Greece, among other places.  Take some time and leisurely taste some of the oils.  My favorite would have to be the Italian but I also liked the Australian which was very similar in taste and density.  Let your mind race as mine did, creating new recipes as you taste each of the different oils.

Olive Oil tasting tables.  Take a sample and try it on a piece of
bread baked at a local bakery

From there, take some time to try the flavored oils – garlic, basil, tarragon and many others.  These make a great substitute for everyday extra virgin olive oil in salad dressings, but don’t stop there. I’m sure with some imagination you can find unlimited uses for these flavored oils.  
Then there’s the balsamic vinegars -- white ones which are aged up to 12 years and dark ones that are aged up to 18 years.  My favorite is the blood orange dark balsamic that has an orange flavor that isn’t too overpowering or sweet and is almost flowery.   I have a recipe in mind to try combining the tarragon oil and the blood orange balsamic.  I don’t want to give it away but it has something to do with tomatoes.

The Saratoga Olive Oil Company although not in business for very long offers the best olive oil and balsamics you can find leaving a foodie with a head-full of ideas and if you experiment and are successful at creating an amazing recipe using one of their products be sure to share with them.  They would love to get recipes for each product to put on cards to inspire others that come into the shop.
Hopefully they’ll like the tomato recipe….

Saratoga Olive Oil Company also offers a selection of soaps
and lotions made from olive oil

Cruets are made by a local potter and are also for sale at the shop.

All photographs were taken by Mark Bernard of Mark Bernard Photography.
More of Mark's work can be seen on his website

Mark also has a blog at
Take a look and if you see something that interests you he'd be happy to sell you anything you like.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

What's Been Happening in This Corner of Saratoga

What's New From This Corner of Saratoga

It seems like quite a long time since I’ve posted.  At least since I’ve posted a quality post.  I thought I’d catch you all up on what’s been going on in this corner for the last few weeks.   I’ve been planning some pretty interesting things that I think are going to be a lot of fun.  First off many of you know that I write another blog called The Saratoga Traveler which can be found at   For this blog I’ve been planning trips (some food related, but then I again I try to make everything food related) and have taken some trips to write about. I’ve also been working on some recipes for the upcoming Food Network FN Dish’s Summer Fest that will be featuring tomatoes and broccoli.

Travel Plans Old and New

The travel part of my life is pretty busy. Last month we took a long weekend in Hyannis MA and went deep sea fishing, we’ve planned another long weekend in Maine, camping on the beach.  Should make for some interesting recipe posts.  I haven’t tent camped in a very long time and having to come up with meals on the spur of the moment might prove to be a little challenging.  I’m sure one of those meals with include lobster.  This Saturday we’re taking a food tour of Saratoga Springs, featuring goodies at the Farmer’s Market, lunch at a local restaurant called The Olde Bryan Inn and then a walking tour of downtown, stopping at a couple of unique food shops along the way.  I have to say that I’m excited about this one, never took a food tour of a city and this being my new hometown it’s seems fitting that this is my first one. I have plans to create some recipes around the ingredients we find at the Farmer’s Market and the shops.  So stayed tuned.  Later this fall I’ll be taking a class at the CIA in Hyde Park NY.  The class will consist of  some of the favorites of CIA chefs and recipes right from the pages of the Culinary Institute of America’s cookbook.  In a five hour class we will explore starters, entrees and desserts.  Through demonstration and hands-on cooking I’ll be able to pick up some new flavor combinations and techniques.  Sounds to me like the perfect way to spend a Saturday afternoon.  
If you’d like more information about any of these trips and activities I’m taking then be sure to come back for a blog post on each. Or if you just can’t wait then here’s some helpful links.

The official website of the Culinary Institute of America.  Even if you're not planning on taking a class this website might just change your mind.  They have campuses in Hyde Park NY (where I'll be going), Greystone CA, San Antonio TX and Singapore 

This is the website for the deep sea fishing fleet we used when we were in Hyannis.  We didn't have any luck but that doesn't mean you won't!  Clean boat, helpful staff.

The website for the motel we stayed in.  A pleasant surprise.  The room was immaculate (and I'm a very picky traveler) with an amazing view of the harbor.

This website explains just what a food tour is and what to expect if you take the one in Saratoga Springs NY.  I think discovering a town or city through it's food is a great way to find some hidden gems that might not be in the tour guides.  You never know, you just meet a chef/owner and get some trade secrets.

This is the website for one of the restaurants that the food tour stops at.  I've eaten there before and yes... it's as good as it looks.

The website for the Saratoga Farmer's Market.  A must see if you're in Saratoga Springs.  I just love it.  People are great and the food is awesome!

The website for the Saratoga Salsa an Spice shop located in Downtown Saratoga Springs on Broadway. Haven't been to this shop, so I'm anxious to see what it's like and try some salsa.  Wonder if it's as good as mine.

Have you ever been on a food tour or taken a class at the CIA?
How far would you travel for a good meal?

Twitter Delicious Facebook Digg Stumbleupon Favorites More