My Jen
Hot Chocolate
Pesto Capellini
Carrot Pappardelle
Finger Limes
Modern BLT


Flourless Espresso-Chocolate Cake

This is a surprisingly easy cake to make.  I've toyed with the basic recipe a bit to allow for more commercial products but it's basically the same.

3.5 oz Green & Black Espresso Chocolate
1/4 C sugar or Splenda*
3/4 stick of unsalted butter + small amount for pan
3 large eggs
1/3 C sweetened cocoa powder (Scharffen Berger is good) + some for sprinkling

Preheat the oven to 375°F. Butter the bottoms of 7-8 cups in a large cupcake tray. Line the bottoms with fitted rounds of parchment and re-butter them.

Break chocolate into small pieces. In a double boiler melt the chocolate and butter, stirring, until smooth. Remove the top pan from the heat and whisk sugar into it. Add 2 eggs plus 1 yolk (save the extra white) and whisk well. Sift the cocoa powder over chocolate mixture and whisk until just combined. Pour batter into cups and bake 11 minutes in the middle of the oven or until a very thin crust starts to form on the tops. Put tin on a rack and cool the cakes in the pan for 5 minutes then gently remove onto serving plates.

While baking, whip or beat the remaining white into a soft-peaked meringue, add 1/4 tsp vanilla, 1/2 tsp of Splenda or 1 tsp confectioner sugar to sweeten and flavor slightly. You can use any type of cream - whipped, crème fraîche, or even yogurt - I use meringue here because it is very light, nearly no calories and uses up the extra white. Plus it's a different approach - the soft meringue looks like a pillowy cloud.

Serve dusted with cocoa powder, a dollop of meringue and some berries (again, to taste - we prefer blueberries and blackberries but any kind will do). The cakes will keep for about 3 days in an airtight container.

Images by MadeForJen

Watermelon Agua Fresca Popsicles

A week into the blog and the watermelon agua fresca is (by far) the most visited post, so in thinking we could try something a bit new, we decided to try our hand at agua fresca popsicles!

They were surprisingly easy to make and they are so great to beat the (NYC humid) heat or for a late-night movie-watching snack!  Here's the recipe:

1/8 of a ripe seedless watermelon
1/3 C agave
1 C seltzer water

Blend the watermelon and agave until smooth (1-2 minutes) then add the seltzer and pulse blend to mix. Pour the mix into the popsicle molds and freeze until hard.  Easy, right? The neat thing is that the seltzer bubbles were still very much there and gave the popsicles a light taste. If you want a stronger taste use less water/more watermelon.  The sweetness is a question of your own taste.

Couple of notes - my mother (a chef) taught me that a little pectin (very small amount) will help keep popsicles from over-freezing and getting too hard, and will give it that same thickened consistency as store-bought popsicles (which the agave also does). You can simplify this by adding about 1/4 packet of (sweetened) Jello, but use a complimentary flavor. However, if you use seltzer, the carbonation will do the same thing.

Just on the side, I had some fresh carrot juice in the fridge and added it to some fresh squeezed orange juice (about 3 parts carrot to 1 part orange) and a teaspoon of agave and made a whole new flavor.  The point is - try the flavors you like best and experiment!

images by Made For Jen


Bobby Baker Chicken

Sounds like a funny name but this is a really good recipe and relatively easy to make.  It's especially good grilled but in light of not having one, I had to bake it this time.

Bobby Baker was a professor at Cornell (and incidentally the inventor of chicken nuggets). This recipe is actually called Modified Cornell Chicken but I grew up eating it and my parents (who had him as a prof) called it Bobby Baker. The recipe sounds weird, but it has a crazy mixed flavor that somehow just works.  Traditionally we ate it with rice and macaroni salad (a Hawaiian thing).

12 chicken leg quarters (thigh+drumsticks) with the skin on
Basting Marinade:
- 1 1/2 C vinegar (I prefer white, but most people use apple cider)
- 1 Tb poultry seasoning
- 1 Tb kosher salt
- 1 egg
- 3 C vinegar
- 2 C water
- 2 Tb poultry seasoning
- 2 Tb kosher salt

Mix the marinade and marinate the whole quarters in it for about 1 hour in the refrigerator (once you've tried it, you can get extra tanginess by marinating longer - up to 4 hours).  In a non-metallic bowl, beat the egg and then add the rest of the basting ingredients.

Best to grill over a medium-low heat, but if you have to, broil it under low heat first with the skin-side down first for 20 minutes, then flip it and do the other side.  Whether grilling (mmmmm!) or broiling, baste it about every 5 minutes with a basting brush.  Hope you like it!

Incidentally, this is a modified version that my mother had taught me.  There are several versions of the recipe that you can find. Here's a more traditional one.


Cauliflower Alfredo

Searching for light dinners but want rich, creamy Alfredo? Try using...cauliflower!  It's true, cauliflower will give you a very smooth sauce that tastes just like Alfredo (with a few extra additions).

Recipe Card (PDF) Unbelievably, this is super easy to make as well and you don't have to watch it constantly.

Ingredients (serves 3-4)
Pasta (any type you like, prepared al dente)
1 head of cauliflower, cut into large chunks, greens removed
2 Tbs butter or alternative
1/4 C milk, soy milk or almond milk
1/2 tsp sea salt
Garnishes: bacon, sausage, mozzarella, sun-dried tomato (julienned), chopped basil, chopped arugula, capers, kalamata olives

Boil the cauliflower until very tender - about 8 minutes.  Put into a good blender or food processor along with the butter*, milk and salt.  Blend on a high setting for at 1-2 minutes until it is very smooth.  Serve on top of the pasta.

As always, the presentation and garnish is what turns the dish from blah to bling so take the time to think through the plating and use more garnish than you normally would (since the sauce is very plain, you can stack on extra).  Here's two possibilities - one with sausage and arugula, the other with bacon and sun-dried tomato - but use your imagination, and don't forget to add color (don't stick with just one, try to put in two to give it pop).

Hint - when serving pasta, it almost always looks best on a large plate instead of being crowded in a little bowl.  Make the dish stand out!



Right behind cooking, I love to tell Jen how much I love her. Guys - you cannot underestimate the impact the little things make.

For Valentine's Day a few years ago, I printed several pieces of cardstock with the word "LOVE" on it, cut them to 2"x1" and then threw them all over the place. I think there were about 600-700 in all. And yes, it was crazy to clean up. But it was so worth it. So here's a simple equation:


It doesn't have to cost anything, it doesn't require you to move a mountain. What it does require is to think, then do. Flowers are nice, but don't make it overly regular. Notes are nice, but put some thought into what you say.

So what can you do?  Here's a few ideas...
  • Write a note in dry erase (or lipstick) on the bathroom mirror
  • Buy a single serving (but special) dessert on the way home from work
  • Hide a note in the book she's reading
  • An unexpected email with more than just "Hey, how ya doin?"

Love to hear some others!

One more side note - maybe it's just me but if you do buy flowers, don't be cheap and buy the single rose - that's for high school. You're a big boy now, get a bunch. Wrapped. Doesn't have to be roses - there are tons of others you can get. Will write about that another day.


Layered Chocolate Cake

Chocolate. I don't think I've ever met a woman that did not like chocolate, and Jen is no exception. When we first met, she preferred milk chocolate but over time, this has evolved into a matured taste for dark chocolate.

Recipe Card (PDF) This is not my recipe - in fact it was actually my attempt to work on my paltry baking skills.  Came out pretty good if I may say so.  If you do try this, make it a project - this is a great way for couples to spend some time doing something together and ending with a good dessert.  One thing - follow the recipe to a T - it is critical.

The original recipe is from Sweetapolita.  I've posted the recipe on a card since it is quite long. Obviously my decorating skills aren't quite as good either but I'll keep at it. Jen's birthday is coming up and I have a special idea in mind so we'll see how that turns out...

Photos by MadeForJen
Recipe by Sweetapolita

Hearts n Potatoes

While preparing Thanksgiving dinner several years ago, we stumbled on this gem in a large bag of potatoes.


Review: Maze (NYC)

Photo via Cure Happiness
This place was aMaze-ing! Maze is a Gordon Ramsey restaurant in Midtown Manhattan's London hotel (the original is in London) that we lunched at before heading to MoMA last Fall.

The decor is not overly spectacular - basic and slightly sparse but light. The staff was superbly attentive without being overbearing.  But the food, aahh, the food.  We started with a salad of marinated onions wrapped in butter lettuce with a mustard vinaigrette - nice and light.

For main course I chose a fantastic crisped pork belly with new peas and a fresh slaw - perfect choice with a sweet honey glaze and super crunchy skin (unfortunately it's no longer on the menu). Jen went with the Amish chicken breast with gaufrette potato and greens - also perfect, not dry and well juiced.

I think we can both recommend Maze for a great lunch and definitely plan to try it for dinner.  I've heard that the Maze in London is far superior so that would be something to try if and when we make it there.

Maze (NYC)
151 West 54th Street in The London Hotel
New York, NY

Price Range: $$$


Fresh Grocers

Smartly invest in your food. Taking the time to scope out good variety and higher quality reflects in your dishes, and can even be the basis for inspiration.  I took this photo at Eli's - an Upper East grocer with a pretty vast selection of produce, cheeses and all kinds of things. The next day, Jen and I were in the store and she was literally awed when she was standing in the same exact location I took the shot from - the fresh and colorful currants, lychee, blueberries and Rainier cherries.

Whole Foods can be good but try other venues - fresh markets and grocers who carry local produce.  Feel, smell, even taste the produce - different seasons yield different flavors so in the summer fruits taste different than winter.  Try baby lettuces, heritage tomatoes, and anything else that is out of the ordinary - taking the time to make one aspect of a dish different goes a long way.



Ribs. Definitely in my Top 10 favorite foods, so it only serves justice that I learned how to make them the right way. There are tons of variations but my goal was to be able to make them without the benefit of a grill or smoker (kind of a tough thing to have in NYC). And when I say make them, I mean "fall off the bone, juicy, sweet and tangy all at once."

Recipe Card (PDF)So here it is - my basic recipe for really good ribs.  Be forewarned, you have to be patient...good ribs will take a long time to make, so in the meantime, prep some Watermelon Agua Fresca and some german potato salad and chill out.

Balsamic Brown Sugar Ribs, Manhattan Style

10-16 lbs pork ribs (baby back or not, but make sure they are fatty)

The sauce
3/4 C balsamic vinegar
3/4 C brown sugar
3/4 C ketchup (yea, ketchup)
2 smashed & chopped garlic cloves

1 tsp sea salt
1 tsp chili powder
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp black pepper

The rub
2 tsp sea salt
2 tsp chili powder
1 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp black pepper

Turn the oven on high broil and put the rack 2nd or 3rd down.

In a bowl, combine the vinegar, sugar, ketchup, garlic cloves and first set of the dry ingredients.  Set in fridge. In a small bowl, combine the remaining dry ingredients.

Use a roasting pan lined with parchment or foil - it will get messy.  Now prep the ribs. I cut them into 3-rib segments and then cut a 1" slit up between each rib. Rub them down completely with the dry ingredients then lace them curve down (inside of the rib facing up) into the pan.

Put into the oven and broil for 3 minutes, then turn over curve side up for 3 minutes.  This will help sear the meat. Remove them from the oven. Turn the broiler off and put the oven at 230 degrees (and let it cool to that temperature). Put the ribs back in and let them roast for 1 hour.  Cover the top with a loose foil tent and cook for another hour.

Remove the pan and raise the temperature to 270 degrees, turn them over and sauce the inner part of the rib with 1/3 of the sauce.  It is likely there will be juices (oily juices from the fat) in the pan.  Leave that in there.  Put back into the oven for 20 minutes.  Remove, turn over, sauce with another 1/3 and put back in for another 20.  As a final touch, add a small drizzle of sauce and put them under a broiler until just starting to caramelize.

Cut through between each rib almost entirely but serve the mess of them plated in groups. Now let the eating begin!

Watermelon Agua Fresca

A dinner out at Cascabel Taqueria (review to come) in New York City inspired us to try making some watermelon agua fresca at home and now Jen is hooked (it's become a thrice weekly ritual).  It's so easy to make, I can't believe we've never thought of it.  It works with almost any good summer fruit - oranges, limes, grapefuit, berries.

Recipe Card (PDF)Start with a good seedless watermelon (chilled if possible) and cut it into chunks. For about 6 cups of agua fresca, we used about 1/8th of a medium melon. Drop the chunks into a blender (use a good one that can crush ice for the best result) along with 6-10 ice cubes and 1/4 cup of agave (or other sweetener).

Blend on a high crushing speed until near smooth - about 2 minutes - then add an equal amount of chilled seltzer water.  Serve in tall glasses with 2 more ice cubes and a spear of watermelon. A good garnish is a sprig of mint or a cool straw (these were Jonathan Adler designed for Pepsi) sit back and enjoy!

Simple Greens

Sometimes the most refreshing salads are the simplest. The trick is to put down the junk lettuce and try some better greens.  Explore fresh markets in your area and try something new. A good way to spruce up salads is to try shoots. The ones here are snow pea shoots mixed with baby watercress and a couple of grape tomatoes.  We topped it off with a dash of unfiltered olive oil and balsamic.

Get adventurous with your food!

Raspberry Gelato

For the summertime, nothing beats gelato! This one was from a stand along High Line park in New York City called L'arte del gelato. Delicious and cool!

Ice Cream Cookie Sandwich

Bite sized, easy to make, and great for quick desserts...little ice cream cookie sandwiches.  You can easily use store-bought cookies and ice cream, or if you're adventurous (and have time and planning on your side) make it all from scratch.

The ones here are organic, gluten-free chocolate chip and oat cookies (they are actually very small - about 2" diameter).  The ice cream is So Delicious brand chocolate chip coconut milk ice cream.  Just let the ice cream soften a bit, spoon onto the bottom cookie, put the top on and re-freeze for 5 minutes.  And of course, a little presentation goes a long way - we were out of good cocoa powder so we just sprinkled some Barefoot Contessa Sinful Hot Chocolate Mix on the plate.


5 Things to Have in the Kitchen

One thing people ask a lot is how to stock their kitchen. Aside from having a good fresh market nearby, there are a few things to have that keep well and are versatile.  Five things I recommend (not necessarily just food):
  1. A sharp paring knife
  2. Nice plates (these are basic square ceramic plates for appetizers)
  3. Pea shoots (versatile, slightly sweet, keeps for over 10 days)
  4. Arugula (hearty, slightly bitter, easily mixes with vinaigrettes, can be served warm or cold)
  5. Sea salt (I prefer sel de mer - good course, grey sea salt from France)

What do you like to have on hand?

Darla's Broccoli

OK, so not every meal is just for Jen :)

Hors d'oeuvres

Appetizers should be easy to make and easy to serve.  When friends come over, you want to be able to make them quickly but make everyone want to reach for them, so it's important to make your presentation pop.

In another post, I'll explain how to make these, but these were some hors d'oeuvres we were preparing for friends.  They had not been plated yet but they looked pretty nice all together on the plate.  On the back plate are some simple pre-cut toasts with cream cheese and roasted, marinated peppers. On the front plate are crackers with fresh guacamole, prosciutto wraps with dressed arugula and parmesan shavings, and cucumber cups with cream cheese and smoked salmon.

Steak Salad

Steak salad is a delicious light meal when one person (umm, she) wants a salad and the other person (he) wants meat.  Fry or grill up a nice steak - be sure to use a good piece of semi-fatty steak so it retains juice after setting.  I always prefer ribeye, but sirloin works well too.  I also prefer all red meats medium rare because it keeps most of the flavor and juiciness, but medium will also work well.  Season it before frying - rub sea salt and a bit of pepper into the flesh before it hits the heat.

Once it is cooked, let it sit and cool. This means you should cook it just slightly less than you normally would since it will continue to cook for a minute after you remove it from the heat.

Mix a light salad - in most cases, steak pairs well with hand shredded green or red leaf lettuce or arugula.  Add some extras - sliced beefsteak tomato, avocado, sprouts - whatever strikes you that day.  Use a vinaigrette that has less oil than usual (so about a 3 part oil, 2 part vinegar) to help cut the fattiness of the meat, and pre-toss the salad with it before plating.

Want to make a really nice garnish? Use edible flowers. There is something so elegant and unusual about having a couple of purple pansies or bright yellow marigolds on the plate.

Easy Pastry Dessert

This has to be one of the easiest desserts to make but you can make it look restaurant grade with a little creative garnish.

For the pastry, use sheets of frozen puff pastry (if you're daring, make it from scratch, but store-bought sheets are fine) thawed completely.  Lay a flattened sheet onto parchment and use a chef's knife to cut it into 4 triangles by cutting from one corner to the other in both directions.

Full with, well, anything. Here's some ideas:
  • Gently stew apple, pear or plum slices in marsala or cider
  • Whole, mixed berries crushed and lightly sugared
  • Fig slices
  • A good, non-sugared jam (made with fruit juice)
  • Pumpkin pie filling

Bake according to the package instructions - usually about 10 minutes at 400 degrees - basically until it's just turning golden on the outside.  Remove from the heat and let cool completely.

Now for garnish. Here I've dusted it with some powdered sugar (put a teaspoon into a tea strainer and gently bump the side). Plate it gently, just off center, and garnish with a couple of berries.  Even a small scoop of ice cream or creme Anglaise is good with it.  Enjoy!

Watermelon Feta Salad

I've seen some really good variations of this but either way, this salad is always good for parties and summertime get-togethers.

Recipe Card (PDF)Cut a ripe, seedless watermelon into bite size chunks (don't go too small).  Add chopped tomato (as always, I prefer to use ripe grape tomatos - easier to control the size and texture) and crumbled feta to taste.  Along with that, add some kind of fresh leaf herb chopped up - mint or parsley or cilantro or basil are good contenders.

For dressing, use a sweetened vinaigrette - 2 parts oil, 1 part vinegar, plus sweetener (honey works best for this one, but agave is also good) and sea salt to taste. Toss only lightly.

Some people like to serve that on top of a bed of lettuce but I prefer the big bowl of scooped juicy melon.


Sliders are awesome - little one or two-bite meals making it easy to have several and not fill up.  They are especially good for small parties (though maybe a little messy).  On this plate, we had (clockwise from top left):

  • Korean BBQ with scallion and sesame
  • Carolina pulled pork with vinegar marinated red onions
  • Sliced ribeye with onions and sour cream
  • Modern reuben with red cabbage slaw
  • Served up with Terra chips (carrot and blue potato) and pickles!

From MadeByGirl Blog

Pound Cake with Berries

Some of the best desserts are quick ones that combine flavors. For the Fourth of July, we made these cute pound cakes in a cupcake pan (be sure to cook for only about 16 minutes or they will dry out) using a basic pound cake recipe. Let them cool completely.

Mix some greek yogurt with vanilla extract and sweetener (sugar, Splenda, agave, whatever) until it's just to the point of being sweet, and then re-cool it until it is stiff.  Dollop on top of the pound cakes and top with colorful berries.  Yum!

From MadeByGirl Blog

Seared Tuna Nicoise Salad

This isn't the crummy canned tuna Nicoise that you get in most places.  To make a really good Nicoise, use good fresh tuna and sear it.  For presentation, leave all the parts separate and arrange each on the plate.

For this one, I made a pre-dressed bed of baby leaf and baby spinach.  I almost always use a balsamic base (2 parts oil, 1 part balsamic, a dash of sea salt) - and this one I added a bit of honey to sweeten and thicken it.  The rest of the plate included a fresh Haas avocado, tomato, hard-boiled egg, a bit of soy cheese, and the tuna. Be sure to use a good tuna, sushi-grade if you can get it.

To sear tuna, heat a well-seasoned pan over medium-high heat. When it's hot, add 1 Tbsp of oil (even though they say use a cooking oil, I almost always use olive and just flash fry) and let it spread. Hold the tuna with kitchen tongs and place it gently into the pan.  Let it cook until the edge is just seared - somewhere from 30-60 seconds. Flip it over and do the same to the other side.

Once seared, let it rest for at least 2 minutes on a chopping board, then slice it in 1/4-1/2" thick slices and fan them on the plate.  Bon appetit!

Simple Bruschetta

Bruschetta is an easy-to-make and flexible appetizer - it's especially good for a late evening snack since it's not too heavy but full of flavor.

Prep the toast.  I use any old bread - baguettes, challah, dinner rolls, whatever. It works best when it's just starting to stale, but if not, toast them lightly on both sides under a broiler. It's important to make both sides dried and stiff as a base for the tomatos.

Chop tomato (use very ripe ones - in this photo I've actually used grape tomatos) and onions (I prefer red onions for the color or Vidalia for the taste) - about 1/2 cup of each.  Toss in 1/4C chopped Italian parsley or cilantro, some (maybe 1 clove of) smashed garlic (or even garlic powder - 1/4 tsp), sea salt and pepper to taste, 1 Tbsp of olive oil and 2 tsp of vinegar (I used balsamic but red wine works equally well).  Mix well in a bowl.

Spoon the mix on top of the toast. Garnish your plate. I can't express how important garnish is - it may be a waste of food sometimes but it always makes the plate more appetizing.

On Pinterest

Endive with Salmon

Endive is always a good base for making a great looking, quick appetizer.  Here several leaves are cut from the head and washed carefully.  Discard the outer ones and go for the inner ones - the flavor is more delicate and the edges are still stiff.

Use a soft cream cheese like neufchatel, or in this case tofutti cream cheese.  Spread a small bit inside the base of each leaf.  Then top it with a few cut strips of smoked salmon.  The cheese can be flavored - maybe add some chopped scallion or chives.  No salt - the salmon is already strong enough.

Arrange neatly on a plate - a star configuration is a nice presentation - then add a bit of garnish to make it pop.

From MadeByGirl Blog