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DAZZLING   DINNERS:  Recipes, Decor and More

You are inviting people to dinner. You want them to adore the food, have great conversation and lots of fun. You want to excite their minds as well as their palates. After they leave, you want them to rave about the party to everyone they know. You need a dazzling dinner.

Dazzling dinner are not necessarily formal or elegant, and they certainly are not conventional.  Dazzling dinners are distinctive and exceptional. They have themes that capture the imagination and are played out in delightful decor and fabulous food. Dazzling dinners are fun to think about, fun to carry out, and great fun for your guests. If you like food, or entertaining, or stepping out of the box, you will adore doing a dazzling dinner. It will be entertainment for your guests and recreation for you.  Twelve chapters set out the Dazzling Dinner Plans, one inspired by each month of the year. Everything you need to know and do for a super-special evening is detailed in each Plan.


(not a dessert!)

Black & White Layer Cake

"!Loof Lirpa (April Food)" Dinner



Steak Au Noir

"A Fat Tuesday Celebration" Dinner


Pavlova with Berries

"Election Day" Dinner




Inspiration:  Grandparents' Day


Grandma might think she knows what these dishes are, but she’ll be blown away

by their sensational new tastes.


To Grandmother’s house we go. Do you remember? The big hug when we arrived, the smells of sweet things baking and the beeline we made for the kitchen – right to the plate of freshly baked cookies. After playing our hearts out all afternoon (while Grandma was cooking), we washed up and, starved, dashed expectantly to the table. First up - a big bowl of Grandma’s thick and hearty potato soup, filled with flavor. We loved her meatloaf. Our forks broke it into fascinatingly irregular, soft chunks that filled our mouths with juicy, savory tastes. We always wanted more, but Grandma cautioned us to leave room for dessert. Right! No way would we miss our very favorite dessert, homemade chocolate cake with vanilla ice cream. Finally, sleepy-eyed, we hugged Grandma goodbye, filled to bursting with Grandma’s love and food.


No wonder we honor our grandparents with Grandparents’ Day. Fittingly, it falls in September, the season of fruition and fulfillment. Celebrate grandparents and the season with a light-hearted salute, a dinner of Grandma’s favorite foods - NOT! Should Grandma be present, she’ll think she knows what these dishes are, but she’ll be blown away by their sensational new tastes. Each dish is disguised as its 1950’s version, but the flavors are something else. Your 21st-century guests might be familiar with many of the tastes, but they too will be blown away by the uncommon combinations guaranteed to intrigue and gratify.


Grandma might have served the originals at a dinner party when she wanted to show off her skills in cookery. Many were excellent and remain favorites today; others fell into culinary disgrace. Dinner starts with three appetizers that were quite popular in the ’50’s, but shortly developed a reputation as foul fare. Stuffed celery was deemed too dull, chicken livers dreadfully unhealthy and pigs-in-a-blanket both dull and deadly. The versions here deliver fascinating flavors and healthier components.


The rest of the dinner presents dishes that remain well loved, although modern chefs typically tweak them.  In refashioning these favorite foods, we make liberal use of spices unfamiliar to Grandma and we use, in ways unfamiliar to her, herbs that she knew well. For example, flaunting ’50’s fashion, thyme, a savory flavoring ingredient, appears in whipped cream toppings.  The topping is salted for a soup and sweetened for a dessert. To tease Grandma further, lavender, her favorite for sachets but NOT! for seasoning, lends its complex, sweet and astringent notes to the body of both the soup and the dessert.

Don’t forget to follow Grandma’s motto for dinners, special or not, …


Appropriate for:  While especially appropriate in September, this dinner lends itself to year-round entertaining and will be especially appreciated by guests who can be a bit nostalgic about the ’50’s.



Grandma’s Food – NOT! Foods of the ’50’s Refashioned



California Sherry

(Spanish Amontillado)



Chopped Liver

(Mushroom and Pine Nut Pâté) 


Celery Stuffed with Cream Cheese

(Celery Stuffed with Smoked Trout)



(Mini Chorizos in Herbal Phyllo)



Potato Soup

(With Parsnips, Lavender and Thyme)




(Curried Meatloaf with Pomegranate Reduction)


Stuffed Baked Potatoes

(With Coconut Curry)


Green Beans with Almonds

(Haricots Verts with Water Chestnuts)



Waldorf Salad

(Asian Pears and Fennel in Spicy Mayonnaise)



Chocolate Cake

(With Lavender and Thyme)


Vanilla Ice Cream

(Vanilla Panna Cotta)


Souvenir Menus

Basic: Print the menu on cream-colored paper. For a special Grandma touch, roll and tie the menu with a lacy ribbon.

Ornamental: Imagine Grandma’s frilly apron with scalloped edge. Choose 8½ x 11 paper with one clear side and one patterned side that looks like something she might have worn. Print the menu on the clear side of the patterned paper. Fold the paper in half horizontally. For the apron’s strings at Grandma’s waist, glue a thin, frilly ribbon in a coordinating color, leaving about 6 inches of both apron strings trailing from the paper’s edge.  


Symbols. Granny glasses and aprons, lace, plates of cookies and cookie jars, anything that looks old-fashioned.  


Color. Use pale and soft pastel shades, especially pink and blue, perhaps off-white or maybe ecru.


Table decor. If you have heirloom table linens or dinnerware, trot them out. As much as possible, create an “old-fashioned” look. A lace tablecloth or one with conventional embroidery will set the scene perfectly. Use coordinating or plain white napkins. White dinner plates and crystal/glassware in conventional designs are best.


Other decor. Display any heirlooms, memorabilia of your grandparents, old family photographs, antiques and photographs from the ’50’s or before. 


Music. Use popular music from the ’50’s. Include romantic songs (Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, Nat King Cole, Dean Martin, Rosemary Clooney, Pat Boone, The Andrews Sisters), cool jazz (Miles Davis, Stan Getz, Dave Brubeck, Dizzy Gillespie, Billie Holiday) and early rock and roll (Bill Haley and the Comets, Buddy Holly, Chuck Berry, Sam Cooke, Fats Domino, Elvis Presley, Bobby Darin, Paul Anka, Jerry Lee Lewis).

Favor. Wrap 4 or 5 cookies (see recipe) for each guest in wax or parchment paper.  Place them in a small pastel-colored cardboard box (from a party store). Wrap the box in paper and ribbon of a design to Grandma’s taste. 

Note for favor: Grandma loved us and we loved her and her chocolate chip cookies. Of course, she sent us home with some. We hope you enjoy these stylishly slender, crunchy and crispy, chocolate chip - NOT! cookies as much as we enjoyed Grandma’s.



Opening Cocktail. Lots of Grandmas thought it quite elegant to serve sherry with hors d’oeuvres. However, many bought cheap California sherry, a far cry from a fine Spanish one. Americans today rarely serve sherry, perhaps because Grandma’s California sherry achieved a justly deserved reputation as ghastly. It will be educational to many of your guests, and fun for all, to compare Grandma’s sherry with a truly good one. Serve both. Spend as much as your budget permits on a fine Spanish sherry and buy a cheap one from California.  

Present the Spanish sherry first, preferably in sherry glasses, pouring about 3-4 ounces in each glass. Allow your guests to savor the wine and start to wonder why they don’t drink sherry more often. Show them why. Pour a small glass of the California sherry and explain how Grandma ruined a good thing.


Spanish sherries come in different styles. Buy a fino (pale, dry) or an amontillado (richer, darker) or, if money is absolutely not an issue, an oloroso (dark, very rich).


Soup. The sweet and herbal flavors in the soup suggest a Sauvignon Blanc or other light, white wine such as a dry Reisling. Serve the same wine used in the soup.


Main. With spices a central feature in the meat and potatoes, use a medium-body red such as a Pinot Noir or a Shiraz.


After Dinner. Repeat a comparison of California and Spanish sherries with a sweet sherry. Grandma would have used an inexpensive cream sherry. Contrast such a wine with a good Spanish cream sherry, either a pale (fino) or medium (amontillado). Sweet sherries from Spain are sometimes labeled “Pedro Ximénez” for the grape used.


The contrast will probably also show why so many Americans have been turned off by sweet dessert wines in general. The inexpensive California wine will be flatly sweet, without character. The good Spanish wine will be rich and complex and will dance in the mouth.



Mushroom and Pine Nut Paté

Jewish grandmothers were famous for their rich and richly flavored dish of chicken liver, chicken fat, lots of onion and hard-boiled eggs. Your guests have a healthier look-alike that is just as rich in flavor. Serves 8.



Up to 1 day in advance: Prepare the mushroom mixture, cover and refrigerate.



¼ ounce dried porcini mushrooms 

2 tablespoons pine nuts

2 tablespoons butter 

1 large shallot, minced

10 ounces white mushrooms, minced

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

2 teaspoons anchovy paste or 2 small anchovies, mashed

4 tablespoons sour cream 

½ teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon freshly ground pepper



Small pickles 

French bread or crackers



  1. Pour boiling water over the porcini. Soak for 5 minutes. Drain, mince and set aside.

  2. Heat a small pan over medium-low heat. Add the pine nuts and lightly brown.  Remove and set aside.  

  3. In a large pan, heat butter and sauté shallots over low heat until softened and beginning to change color. Raise heat to medium-high and add the white mushrooms. Cook until the mushrooms release their liquid and then add the minced porcini mushrooms. Continue cooking until liquid evaporates and mushrooms are almost dry.

  4. Put the pine nuts, mushroom mixture and all remaining ingredients in the food processor. Pulse until the mixture is evenly chopped, but not smoothly pureed.

  5. Remove to a serving bowl, cover and refrigerate. Bring to room temperature before serving.



Place the bowl with the mushroom mixture in the center of a serving platter. Surround with small pickles and toasted French bread or crackers.



Celery Stuffed with Smoked Trout

Celery stuffed with ho-hum cream cheese was a favorite of the ’50’s hostess at dinner and card parties. You’ll find nothing stuffy about this stuffing of smoked trout tarted up with lots of lemon and capers. Serves 8.



Yield: 24 pieces

Up to 8 hours in advance: Complete dish; cover and refrigerate.



24 1½-inch sections celery  

8 ounces smoked trout or other smoked white fish, flaked

3 tablespoons Greek-style, full-fat yogurt

2 tablespoons mayonnaise

1 teaspoon grated lemon zest

1 tablespoon lemon juice

¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 tablespoon capers



3 or 4 sprigs celery leaves



  1. Cut a thin slice from the bottom of each celery section so that the celery will sit firmly on the plate.

  2. Mix well all other ingredients except capers, then gently mix in the capers.

  3. Stuff mixture into celery sections.



Grandma probably used a white serving plate, perhaps with celery leaves as garnish.  Follow her lead.  


Mini Chorizos in Herbal Phyllo

From Grandma’s table to today’s elegant parties, pigs-in-a-blanket are a popular appetizer. Grandma’s surprise: these little piggies are spicy chorizos blanketed in phyllo dough seasoned with commonly used Spanish herbs. Another Spanish touch reworks the traditional mustard accompaniment. Serves 8.



Yield: 16

Up to 12 and at least 4 hours in advance: Prepare dip; cover and refrigerate.




2 tablespoons Dijon mustard

½ teaspoon finely chopped fresh thyme leaves

1 teaspoon sherry, sherry brandy (brandy de Jerez) or other brandy



1 puff pastry sheet, thawed, from a 17.3-ounce package of 2 

1½ pounds mini chorizos (2-3 inches long, available online) or larger links cut to     similar size      

1 tablespoon chopped flat parsley

1 tablespoon chopped thyme

1 tablespoon chopped oregano

1 egg, mixed with a splash of milk or cream



Thyme sprigs



  1. Combine dip ingredients at least 4 hours in advance.  

  2. Remove one puff pastry sheet from wrapper and defrost at room temperature for approximately 20 minutes. Preheat oven to 400ºF.

  3. Lightly flour a large cutting board and pastry sheet. On the board, roll out the pastry sheet to a 10x10-inch square. Scatter oregano, thyme and parsley evenly over pastry and pat down into the dough. Cut the sheet in half. From each half, cut 8 strips, each 1x4-inches. Discard extra dough.

  4. Roll the short side of one strip around each chorizo. Place on baking sheet, seam side down. Using a brush, lightly apply egg wash over top of each roll.

  5. Bake for approximately 35 minutes, until pastry is golden brown. Cool on rack.



If you have (or can beg, borrow, or steal) a Fiestaware platter or dinner plate, it will be perfect for this dish. Fiestaware’s bright colors, so evocative of the vibrancy we associate with Spain, were immensely popular in the ’50’s and are periodically reintroduced to the public. Alternatively, use a simple but colorful platter. Place the bowl with mustard dip in the center. Place chorizos and thyme sprigs around the dipping bowl.  



With Parsnips, Lavender and Thyme

Grandma’s basic used potatoes and onions in chicken stock or milk. For company, she made the soup richer, adding cream to the soup with a dollop on top. Here, lavender, wine and a trace of tangy Parmesan cheese add interest and appeal. A dollop of cream goes on top, but, in contemporary fashion, it is herb-flavored. Serves 8.



Up to 1 day in advance: Complete soup; cover and refrigerate.

Up to 1 day and at least 4 hours in advance: Infuse the cream; when at room temperature, cover and refrigerate.

Up to 2 hours in advance: Whip the cream; cover and refrigerate.



4 tablespoons butter

12 ounces shallots, minced

6 sprigs fresh thyme

1 tablespoon fresh lavender buds or 1½ teaspoons dried buds

8 ounces parsnip, peeled and roughly chopped

1 large baking potato, peeled and roughly chopped

2 cups white wine, preferably a Sauvignon Blanc

3 cups chicken stock, preferably homemade

1 piece Parmesan-cheese rind (about 2x3 inches), preferably Parmigiano Reggiano 

3 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese, preferably Parmigiano Reggiano 

½ teaspoon salt



1 cup heavy cream

3 4-inch sprigs fresh thyme, rubbed just before use

1/8 teaspoon salt



  1. Melt butter in large pot over medium low heat. Add shallots and cook, stirring, until soft, about 3 minutes. Rub thyme sprigs to release oils, put in pot and stir. Add remaining ingredients, bring to boil, lower heat, cover and simmer until vegetables are quite tender, about 30 minutes.

  2. Remove thyme sprigs and cheese rind. Process the soup until smooth.  

  3. Infuse the cream. Over medium-high heat, bring cream to boil, stir in the thyme sprigs, take off heat, and cover tightly for 30 minutes. Remove thyme sprigs and refrigerate until very cold. Whip cream until stiff: stir in the salt.

  4. Just before serving, gently reheat soup. Do not allow it to boil.  



Soup bowls in white or bisque will accentuate the visual blandness of the soup, making the surprise of its taste stand out. Ladle the soup into the bowl and top with a generous dollop of whipped cream.




Curried Meatloaf with Pomegranate Reduction

Grandma’s best was juicy and topped with tangy tomato. This 21st-century version bursts with flavor and textural surprise, courtesy of spices and raisins. To top it off, a pomegranate reduction provides POW! power. Serves 8.


Up to 1 day in advance: Make pomegranate reduction; cover and refrigerate; reheat before serving.

Up to 8 hours in advance: Prepare meatloaf mixture; cover tightly and refrigerate.



Pomegranate reduction

2 cups pomegranate juice

2 teaspoons sugar

1 tablespoon white wine vinegar

2 teaspoons lime juice

1 teaspoon mustard powder

1 teaspoon soy sauce

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

1 teaspoon arrowroot

1 tablespoon cold water     



1½ teaspoons freshly ground cumin seeds

1 teaspoon freshly ground cardamom seeds

1 teaspoon freshly ground coriander seeds

1 teaspoon ground turmeric

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper

2 tablespoons butter

2 medium shallots, chopped

1 cup raisins

3 slices white or whole wheat bread, crust removed and torn into pieces

½ cup milk

3 pounds ground-round beef

2 eggs

3 tablespoons chopped parsley

1 teaspoon salt



Parsley sprigs



  1. Place pomegranate juice and sugar in a small saucepan. Bring to boil over medium flame. Keep at a rapid simmer for 20 minutes.

  2. Whisk in white wine vinegar, lime juice, mustard powder, soy sauce and olive oil.

  3. Mix arrowroot with water until thoroughly dissolved. Stir into mixture. Reduce over medium heat until the mixture is thick enough to coat a spoon, about 15 minutes.

  4. For the meatloaf, preheat oven to 350ºF. Mix the six spices (cumin to cayenne) in a small dish. Set aside.

  5. In small frying pan, melt butter, add shallots and sauté until soft, then add raisins and cook for another minute or two. Add ¼ of the spice mixture to the pan and cook, stirring well, for about two minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.

  6. Place bread and milk in a medium bowl and mash. Set aside.

  7. Place meat, eggs, parsley, salt, bread mixture and the shallot and raisin mixture in a large bowl. Mix well. Add the remaining dried spices, mixing well again.

  8. Cover and refrigerate for at least two hours.

  9. Form into loaf, place on a baking pan and bake for 45 minutes. Remove from oven and let rest for 5 minutes before serving. Spoon the pomegranate reduction over the top.



Lift meatloaf with spatulas onto a grandmotherly oval platter. Decorate the platter with parsley sprigs.


With Coconut Curry

Grandma might have stuffed her potatoes with onions or peas or bits of ham, but she invariably used butter, cream and a topping of melted American cheese. The Asian flavors of this recipe would be alien to her, and her acquaintance with Parmesan cheese was likely limited to the almost tasteless pre-grated variety from a jar. Here, the coconut curry creates a concoction just as creamy as Grandma’s but with a lot more oomph. Crunchy Parmesan makes a picture-perfect cover. Serves 8.



Up to 12 hours in advance: Complete preparation through Step 3; cover and refrigerate; bring to room temperature before reheating.



8 large russet potatoes

1 plus 4 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 teaspoon black mustard seeds

1 teaspoon cumin seeds

1 tablespoon peeled and grated ginger

1 green chili including seeds, minced 

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 medium yellow onion, minced

1 14-16-ounce can coconut milk

4 tablespoons chopped coriander leaves

2 tablespoons lemon juice

¼ teaspoon salt

6 ounces aged Parmesan cheese, preferably Parmigiano Reggiano, grated



Coriander sprigs



  1. Preheat oven to 400ºF. Rub potatoes with 1 tablespoon of the vegetable oil. Prick the skins with a fork. Bake for about 1 hour, until center is soft when tested with a knife. Let cool.

  2. Heat remaining 4 tablespoons of oil in medium frying pan over medium heat. When hot, add mustard and cumin seeds. In about 1 minute, when seeds begin to pop, add ginger, chili, garlic and onion. Cook, stirring frequently, until onions are very soft, about 10 minutes. Add coconut milk, coriander, lemon juice and salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 3 minutes.

  3. Cut off the top third of each potato and discard. Scoop out the potato flesh  from the shells into a bowl, leaving a coating of potato against the skin. Add contents of skillet to bowl and mix thoroughly with a spoon. Do not use a food processor.  Spoon the potato mixture back into the shells.  

  4. Sprinkle cheese over the potatoes. Bake in 400ºF oven until potatoes are thoroughly heated and cheese is beginning to melt, about 15 minutes. Briefly run the potatoes under the broiler until cheese is brown.



Place potatoes on a white platter. Put coriander sprigs around border for color.


Haricots Verts with Water Chestnuts

For company dinners, Grandma served her green beans with soft, sautéed onions and crunchy, slivered almonds, a delicious dish still popular today. On seeing the version here, Grandma would think, “So very French!” while admiring the buttery sheen of the elegantly thin haricots verts. She’d never guess that the dish sports Asian flavors, with ginger for zing and crunch from Chinese water chestnuts. Serves 8.



Up to 8 hours in advance: Prepare the shallot-ginger mixture (Step 1); cover and refrigerate. Peel and slice water chestnuts; cover and refrigerate.  



2½ tablespoons butter

1½ tablespoons minced shallots

3 tablespoons finely grated fresh ginger

1 pound thin (haricots verts) green beans, ends removed

3 ounces fresh water chestnuts, sliced to resemble slivered almonds



1 peeled water chestnut



  1. Melt butter over a low flame in small pan. Add shallots and ginger and sauté until softened, 3-4 minutes.

  2. Boil green beans in large amount of salted, boiling water, about 4-6 minutes, until somewhat softened but bright green and still crunchy. Drain thoroughly.

  3. Place in serving bowl and pour shallot-ginger mixture over. Stir in water chestnuts.


Place in white serving bowl and top with the water chestnut.


Main Plating

Place a slice of meatloaf to one side of the plate. Align the green beans in the center and place the stuffed potato to the other side.  



Asian Pears and Fennel in Spicy Mayonnaise

Named for the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel where it first appeared at the end of the 19th century, the salad was very popular through the ’50’s and, with modern variations, still appears regularly in recipe collections. Its success is due to the contrast of sweet and tangy tastes and to the wonderful contrasts in texture. There is the soft, rich, mouth feel of mayonnaise combined with crisp apple, even crisper celery, crunchy nuts and soft but chewy lettuce. This Asian-inspired version keeps those contrasts and adds spiciness. Serves 8.



Up to 2 days in advance: Prepare nuts; cover tightly and store at room temperature.

Up to 12 hours in advance: Make dressing; cover and refrigerate.

Up to 8 hours in advance: Cut Asian pears and fennel; cover and refrigerate.

To toast spices, place in hot skillet for about 1 minute, until spice begins to release its fragrance




2 tablespoons butter

1 tablespoon honey

1 tablespoon sweet soy sauce

½ teaspoon allspice berries, toasted and ground

1 teaspoon coriander seeds, toasted and ground

1 teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper

¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1½ cups walnut pieces



½ cup mayonnaise, preferably homemade

½ cup full-fat yogurt, preferably sheep’s milk

1 teaspoon anise seeds, toasted and ground

½ tablespoon ginger, peeled and grated

Pinch of salt

¼ teaspoon black pepper



1 large head curly leaf lettuce

2 Asian pears

2 cups roughly chopped fennel



  1. Make nuts. Preheat oven to 350ºF. Combine all ingredients except nuts in a medium skillet. Cook, stirring, over low heat for 3 minutes. Add nuts and stir until well coated.  Spread nuts onto a non-stick baking pan. Bake 5 minutes, stir, then bake about 10 more minutes, until nuts are brown and coating is firm. Lift with spatula onto a large piece of aluminum foil and separate nut pieces. 

  2. Make dressing. Whisk together all ingredients.

  3. Prepare salad. Cut pears into 8 sections. Remove core, then cut each section into 3 pieces. Just before serving, combine dressing with pears and fennel. Tear lettuce into small pieces.



Divide lettuce evenly and place on individual salad plates so that the curly edges face outward. Place a mound of the pear/fennel mixture onto the center of the plate and sprinkle the nuts over.




With Lavender and Thyme

Chocolate cake is the quintessential “grandma dessert.” But this one is decidedly different with inventive, contemporary flavor. Lavender adds complexity to the cake with sweet and astringent notes; thyme introduces an unexpected herbal note to the frosting. With pleasing contrasts in color and texture, cake and frosting compose a symphonic taste treat. Guests will cry “ENCORE!”  Serves 8.


Up to 1 day in advance: Bake cake; wrap tightly in plastic and refrigerate. Infuse the cream; cover tightly and refrigerate.

Up to 4 hours in advance: Complete cake; cover lightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate; touch up frosting before serving.




½ cup unsweetened cocoa powder

¼ cup hot water

1½ sticks (12 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature

1½ cups dark brown sugar

3 eggs, at room temperature

2 cups all-purpose flour

1½ teaspoons baking soda

¼ teaspoon baking powder

¾ cup plain Greek yogurt

3 teaspoons dried lavender buds



2 cups whipping cream

6 sprigs fresh thyme, rubbed just before use

2 tablespoons sugar



  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Lightly butter two 9-inch round cake pans.  

  2. In a small bowl, add hot water to the cocoa. Mix well and set aside to cool.

  3. In a medium bowl, cream butter and sugar until fluffy. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating after each addition. Add cocoa mixture and mix well.

  4. In a medium bowl sift flour with baking soda and baking powder. Fold in 1/3 of the cocoa mixture, then 1/3 of the yogurt. Repeat twice.  

  5. Pour in prepared pans and bake approximately 40 minutes. Cool.



  1. Infuse the cream. Over medium high heat, bring cream to boil, stir in the rubbed thyme sprigs, take off heat, cover tightly and let rest for at least 30 minutes. Strain cream through sieve, pressing down hard on thyme leaves until no more liquid is expressed. Refrigerate until very cold.  

  2. Whip cream until it begins to stiffen; add sugar and beat until light and fluffy.  

  3. Remove cake from pans. Place on serving plate and frost both layers and the sides.



Use a cake stand, preferably “old-fashioned” or one decorated with dainty flowers or other grandmotherly pattern.


Vanilla Panna Cotta

As the main ingredient of panna cotta is sweetened cream, it is a close relative of ice cream. Make it with a vanilla bean for maximum flavor and a great look. The little, dark flecks in the white cream pair perfectly with the chocolate cake. Serves 8.



Up to 2 days and at least 8 hours in advance: Make the panna cotta; cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate.



3 cups heavy cream

1 vanilla bean, split or 2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1½ teaspoons gelatin

2 tablespoons cold water

½ cup sugar

1 cup sour cream



  1. Infuse cream. Put cream into medium pot. Scrape in the seeds from the vanilla bean and add the pod. Bring cream to boil. Take it off the heat and cover tightly for 30 minutes. Remove the bean pods.  

  2. Thoroughly dissolve the gelatin in the cold water. Add it to the warm cream along with the sugar. Cook until thoroughly dissolved. Allow to cool somewhat, then stir in the sour cream.  

  3. Pour into a pretty bowl. Cover and refrigerate for at least 6 hours.



Present the bowl of “ice cream” along with the chocolate cake. Use a small ice cream scoop. Place two scoops beside each piece of chocolate cake.



Espresso Bean Cookies

Grandma’s was the place to go for homemade cookies and we couldn’t get enough of the ones with chocolate chips. These are a thinner, crisper version. For a touch of sophistication and a bit of surprise, they contain chocolate-covered espresso beans.  Serves 8.



Yield: 24

Up to 2 weeks if freezing or up to 1 day in advance: Make dough through Step 3.

Up to 12 hours in advance: Make cookies, cool and store in airtight container.  



1 cup all-purpose flour

½ teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon salt

1 stick butter, softened, plus 1 teaspoon for greasing sheet

½ cup light brown sugar

6 tablespoons sugar

1 large egg

¾ teaspoon vanilla

¾ cup chocolate-covered espresso beans 



  1. Preheat oven to 350°F.

  2. Mix flour, baking soda and salt in a bowl and set aside.

  3. Cream butter and both sugars until very light, about 5 minutes. Add egg and mix well. Stir in vanilla. Add dry ingredients and mix. Drop in espresso beans and incorporate. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate 1-24 hours

  4. Grease cookie sheet. Scoop round balls of dough (¾-inch diameter) onto baking sheet, about 3 inches apart.  Bake, on lower rack, 8-10 minutes, until golden brown but still soft.  

  5. Remove from oven. Let cool on cookie sheet for 5 minutes, then remove with spatula. Wrap as favor or store at room temperature in an airtight container.

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