Cake Decorating Class at Urban Farmer

Come Valentines Day, sweets are on the brain.  Chocolate to be more specific.  I was invited to Urban Farmer to attend a pastry class, conducted by their pastry chef.  I didn’t know what to expect…baking pies, kneading dough, etc.  When we arrived at the conference room turned classroom, we found three layers of decadent chocolate cakes, a pastry bag full of Italian butter cream, and another one nearby stuffed with chocolate mousse filling.  Jackpot.  This was a cake decorating class!

My friend Amanda and I inspected all the tools placed in front on us and thought…this will be equal parts fun and disastrous.  After all, neither of us claim to be bakers.  That’s the whole reason we were attending this class in the first place.  But we both fancy ourselves pretty savvy in the kitchen.  Adventurous, at least.  But we were still glad to see the tasks of actually baking the cakes and preparing the frosting and filling were left to the professionals. We were just left to do the fun creative stuff.

We were given instructions on how to best cut, stack and prep a layer cake  (along with the recipe for it), and let in on an industry secret…of brushing the layers of cake with flavored simple syrup, to add flavor and keep it moist.  For this cake we used a coffee flavored simple syrup (equal parts sugar and water, heated until dissolved and 2 oz. brewed coffee to roughly 2 cups of syrup.  Game.  Changer.

We piped a “barrier layer” of frosting on the outer edge of each layer, then filled in the rest with the chocolate mousse filling. Ideally you’d throw the cake in the freezer after each step, but in this instance…no time.  Next came the crumb coat.  That luscious Italian butter cream.

We were also invited to to sample and taste the difference between store bought frosting (generic and organic), the grocery store variety used by bakeries like Giant Eagle and Costco, and the house Italian butter cream used by Urban Farmer in the restaurant and attached Westin Hotel.  To me the last was clearly the best. Rich, creamy, velvety.  The kind of frosting you do extra time on treadmill for.

The next part got a little tricky.  We frosted the top and the side, then were tasked with make the cakes smooth, real smooth…with the offset spatula and a painters tool.  I nearly broke my arm patting myself on the back after I conquered this step.  Ironically, all the time and attention I spent on it wasn’t totally necessary, as I covered most of the surfaces with decorative frosting, sprinkles and Oreo crumbs.  Yep…those came next.

When it was time to move on to the REALLY fun part (also the most challenging) we were like kids in a candy store.  We had cake pops, tubs of every color sprinkle in the rainbow, merengue “eyes,” swirls, and dots, pretzel and almond crumbs, Oreos, and gallons and gallons of frosting.  My trouble shooting takeaway? Frosting fixes everything. Recognizing my frosting shortfalls, I went wacky instead of precise…and went for a “Love Bug” theme for my little girls. Others made “monsters” or flowers with frosting.  It was cute to see everyone’s imagination run wild!


At the end of the fun afternoon, we were sent off with our cakes, and a gift bag with four recipes used by the Urban Farmer pastry chefs, and several baking tools.  Best part for me…is I’ll be back for more classes at Urban Farmer. They’ve scheduled a series of butcher classes from April to October.  You can sign up for one, or all of them.  I’ll see you there!


My week in leftovers. Dinner, a side, a salad and dessert with my leftovers. 

My friends always ask: “How do you just look into the fridge and know what to do with random ingredients?” Answer: I brainstorm.  I investigate.  I experiment.  And the people who eat at my table eat better because of that.  This week I made a series of #Cheftovers dishes with all kinds of stuff I had in the form of leftovers or extra ingredients.  

Now, I don’t profess to be an experienced recipe developer.  I do what I can to share what I am doing, or have done, with specific ingredients.  But the inherent nature of leftovers is that no one household is going to have the same ingredients (of leftovers) so it’s hard for me to share or spread “recipes.” I prefer to share ideas, and inspiration.  So in that spirit, here is what I did this week:

I roasted a whole chicken and prepared stuffing (confession: it was boxed and I’m not ashamed).  Needless to say, in a household of two adults, a whole chicken and a whole recipe of stuffing left us with excess.  I took the extra stuffing and added a beaten egg and pressed it into a small tart pan (no reason you couldn’t use a pie pan on a larger scale) then baked it for a while for a crust.  

Then I combined beaten eggs and a hodge podge of what I had around (shallots, zucchini, and some of that roasted chicken) and poured it into the “crust.” I topped it with a little bit of shredded cheese and baked it until the egg was firm.  Boom. “Dinner Quiche-ish.”

Hands down, my hubby’s favorite meal I make is bruchetta and spaghetti carbonara.  Made that Sunday.  But there was leftover bruschetta.  Shocking, I know.  I immediately thought of panzanella.  

It’s a bread salad of sorts using stale bread, basil, tomato, red onion and red pepper (which I already had on hand because I made chicken cacciatore over the weekend too) I chopped up the leftovers and looked up a couple of recipes online to see if I was missing anything. But it was super easy and super fresh, despite may use of leftovers.

Risotto is one of my favorite go-to dinners, because you can play around with it, kind of like a canvas.  I made a nice lemon and artichoke risotto, a hit with both my kids and my husband. But again, there was more than we needed.  So I thought of arancini.  Essentially they are fried rice balls. Now do I have our attention?  I took leftover risotto, mixed in a little grated cheese and a beaten egg, rolled them into balls and coated them in bread crumbs to fry them up.  Mic, dropped. 

Now to dessert.  It doesn’t matter what day of the week it is, I am up early and thinking about what I am going to do, and cook.  When I wake up on a weekend, I usually put on Food Network to get inspired.  I landed on a nice episode of “Southern at Heart,” with Damaris Phillips, who I had the chance to meet at this year’s Fabulous Food Show.  

She was making a picnic for $30 date and prepared chocolate mason jars. I thought, “I can do that !” And I had some leftover eggnog in the fridge (yes, it’s still in stores, it is not a month old!) Instead of whole milk, I used the egg nog.  And I’ll be honest…it was kinda genius.  Just for show, I crumbled a little of the Rice Krispie treats my kids asked me to make that same day, and topped it with a chocolate covered almond.  And it was spectacular.  And easy.  And quick. And delicious.

The moral of the leftover story is, you have more around than you realize.  More potential and more deliciousness.  You just need to get adventurous!  And get to sharing.  Tell me what you’re doing with your leftovers. 

White House Recipes 

On Inauguration Day I can’t help but think about all of the “changing of the guard” details that are being put in to motion in preparation for the Trump Family occupying the White House.  I had opportunity to meet a former White House Chef, Sam Morgante, during the Fabulous Food Show this year.  He and I have stayed in contact and he was gracious enough to share some of the favorite recipes among the many Presidents he has served.  

Cowboy Steak

Three-peppercorn sauce

• 1 1/2 teaspoons oil

• 1/3 cup peeled and diced carrot

• 1/3 cup diced Spanish onion

• 2 tablespoons thinly sliced leek (white part only)

• 2 tablespoons chopped shallot

• 1 1/2 teaspoons chopped garlic

• 1 1/2 teaspoons crushed mixed peppercorns (black, green and pink)

• 2 sprigs fresh thyme

• 1 small bay leaf

• 2 tablespoons Cognac

• 2 tablespoons red wine

• 1 1/2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar

• 2 cups low-sodium beef broth

• Salt

• Freshly ground black pepper



1. Heat a small, heavy-bottom saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the oil, then the carrot, onion, leek, shallot, garlic and peppercorns and sauté until the vegetables are tender, 3 to 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in the thyme and bay leaf and cook for 30 seconds.

2. Stir in the Cognac and red wine. Bring to a boil and cook until reduced by one-third, about 3 minutes.

3. Add the vinegar and broth and bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce the heat and simmer until reduced by one-third, about 30 minutes.

4. Strain the sauce through a fine-mesh strainer set over a bowl and discard the solids. Season to taste with salt and pepper and keep covered in a warm place until needed.


Grill the beef and assembly: Recommend ONE TEMPERATURE ONLY

• 10 -16 oz. (size optional) Cowboy Steak, Trimmed and seasoned

• Salt

• Freshly ground black pepper

• 1 tablespoon olive oil, divided


Three-peppercorn sauce

1. Begin with steaks at room temperature.

2. Heat the oven to 425 degrees. Season generously with 1 teaspoon salt and one-half teaspoon pepper, or to taste.

3. On a large in-fired broiler, brown the steak on one side, criss-cross, 5 to 8 minutes. Remove from heat.

4. Place the beef on a rack in a roasting pan; Roast the beef until desired temp, roughly 20 minutes, longer for well-done. Remove beef to rest.

5. While the steak is resting, gather a sauce pan to the stove top over medium-high heat. Ladle one-half cup of the sauce and cook, gathering any flavorful bits of Au Jus from the resting meat. Heat the sauce over high heat and boil for 2 minutes. Strain the liquid through a fine-mesh strainer into the rest of the sauce.

6. To serve, dress the beef onto or aside your choice of starch. Spoon sauce over each serving and pass any remaining sauce alongside.

 I got ambitious and tried the “Freedom Chocolate” recipe he sent me. Evidently a favorite of President George W. Bush’s.    Worth.  Every Calorie.

Chocolate Freedom (911 Memorial Dessert)

President George W. Bush’s favorite

• 6 (1-ounce) squares bittersweet chocolate

• 2 (1-ounce) squares semisweet chocolate

• 10 tablespoons (1 1/4 stick) butter

• 1/2 cup all-purpose flour

• 1 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar

• 3 large eggs

• 3 egg yolks

• 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

• 2 tablespoons orange liqueur


Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.

Grease 6 (6-ounce) custard cups. Melt the chocolates and butter in the microwave, or in a double boiler. Add the flour and sugar to chocolate mixture. Stir in the eggs and yolks until smooth. Stir in the vanilla and orange liqueur. Divide the batter evenly among the custard cups. Place in the oven and bake for 14 minutes. The edges should be firm but the center will be runny. Run a knife around the edges to loosen and invert onto dessert plates.


• Betty Crocker Lava Cake Mix 1 Box

• Vanilla Ice Cream 1 pt

• Fresh Raspberries 1 pt

• Fresh Black Berries 1 pt

• Fresh Blueberries 1 pt

• Raspberry Coulee 1 bt

• White Chocolate 1 bt

• Bittersweet Chocolate Chips 2 bags

• Wafer 1 flat

• Cooking Spray 1 can

• Cocoa Powder 1 co

• Tin or regular soufflé dishes

 South West Chicken (1-3 Servings)

• Chicken Breast​​​​1 lb

• Garlic Minced​​​​1 tbsp

• Cilantro Fresh​​​​¼ cup chopped

• Olive Oil​​​​​¼ cup

• Kosher salt​​​​1 tsp

• Black Pepper​​​​¼ tsp Grinder

BBQ Sauce

• Brand name w/ honey​​​½ cup​​

• Brown Sugar​​​​¼ cup

• Apple Cider Vinegar​​​4 tbsp

• Liquid Smoke​​​​1tsp

• Molasses​​​​2 tbsp

• Dijon Mustard​​​​1 tsp

Pico de gallo

• Tomato Fresh Diced​​​1 each

• Roasted Sweet Corn​​​1 ear

• Jalapeño Fresh Diced​​​1 pepper

• Red Onion Diced​​​​1 tbsp

• Cilantro Fresh Chopped​​​3 tsp

• Olive Oil​​​​​4 tbsp

• Lime Juice​​​​2 tsp

• Kosher salt​​​​Dash

• Black Pepper​​​​Dash


• Monterey Jack Cheese​​​1 Slice

Toast Points

• French Baguette​​​​3 slice


Step #1 Take chicken breast and marinade with chopped cilantro, garlic, olive oil, salt, and pepper.

Step #2 Prepare modified BBQ sauce by adding all ingredients together and stir. Hold.

Step #3 Prepare Pico de gallo by dicing all vegetable uniformly. Roast corn in oven with oilive oil and salt until golden brown. Take diced tomatoes, jalopenos (W/O Seeds), onions, cilantro, corn, olive oil, lime juice, kosher salt, and pepper and combine in a bowl and let set for a few minutes.

Step #4 On a in fired broiler or sautee pan brown chicken with olive oil on both sides until desired temperature. Finish with BBQ sauce as a glaze. Hold for a least 5 minutes to let chicken rest.

Step #5 Slice chicken bias . Take pico de gallo and cover the chicken slices. Place a small slice of monterey jack cheese over the Pico de gallo.

Step#6 Place finished chicken under a broiler for a few seconds until cheese is golden brown, or if using a sautee pan place back into the pan an cover until the cheese is melted.

Step #7 Arrange chicken with a grilled bagette and serve on desired plate.

The dreamer in me thinks of all the important and influential conversations that have taken place over meals just like these prepared with precision, care, patriotism and love.    

































Fun Fall Recipes

The switch has officially flipped in my home.  It feels, looks and smells like fall around here.  Fall flavors are about as distinct as any.  Warm, earthy, and of course…pumpkin spicy.  I’ve been invited by my friends at She in the CLE to create some fun fall recipes.  To me, a collection like that wouldn’t be complete without incorporating apples, pumpkin and a clam bake!

For those of you who have a countdown programmed in your phone for when the Starbucks PSL is finally available…this breakfast is for you.  Pumpkin.  Spice.  Pancakes.  Now, I could have developed my own pancake mix recipe, but I’m a realist.  And I think most of you are too.  So the base of this recipe is Krusteaz buttermilk pancake mix.  Then I put my own #Cheftovers twist on it.  Creative pancakes, like characters, or animals, have become a weekend tradition in my household (check out my Instagram account, @jenpicciano. My pancakes are usually my most popular posts). Just like jack-o-laterns, make these your own.  Use what you’ve got in the house to decorate these fun fall flap jacks. Or don’t.  And just enjoy fall’s favorite spice blend in a new way.


Pumpkin Spice Pancakes

1 c. Krusteaz buttermilk pancake mix

2/3 c. water

2 T. pumpkin puree

1/2 t. cinnamon

one pinch each of ground ginger, nutmeg and ground cloves

Combine all ingredients and mix well.  Add a pad of butter on to a hot frying pan or griddle and spoon in a ladle full of the batter. Cook until you see bubbles.  Flip and cook the other side until golden brown.  Decorate like a jack-o-latern with candies, or just top with powdered sugar or syrup.

I’ve also taken some filling from leftover pumpkin pie (I know, who has that?? ) and added it to pancake batter, with similarly tasty results. 

Apples are abundant, cheap and versatile.  But why do something complicated…or expected with them? That’s not what you’re here for, right?!  Every time I walk past the caramel apple stands at late-summer county fairs, or fall festivals, I’m tempted by the combinations of sweet, tart flavors.  But I’m turned off by the task of tackling the whole apple and thick layers of caramel, chocolate etc. when I bite into them.  So why not break it down and still get all you’re after?


Caramel Apple “Nachos”

1 Granny Smith apple, thinly sliced

1 T. chopped peanuts

1/4 c. Smucker’s salted caramel, warmed

1/4 c. chocolate chips, melted

1 T. Nestle Toll House Pumpkin Spice or Halloween morsels

Arrange the apple slices in a pile on a plate. Drizzle with melted chocolate and caramel.  Sprinkle with chopped peanuts and pumpkin spice morsels.

Clam bakes are one of my favorite fall traditions.  I love the steamy, savory smells, and appreciate the process of cooking clams, potatoes, corn and chicken in one giant pot of heavenly fall goodness.  But it can be intimidating and time-consuming.  So I took the elements of the fall party favorite and made it into a pizza!


Clam Bake Pizza

1/2 russet potato

2 garlic cloves, minced

1 doz. middle neck clams

4 T. butter

1 T. shallots

1 bay leaf

1 cup chicken stock

1 cup cooked chicken (can be grilled, roasted, or leftover)

1 ear corn, kernels removed

2 slices bacon, cooked and finely chopped

1 T. chives (optional)

Pizza dough/crust

1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Peel and chop the potato, add to a pot of salted boiling water and cook until fork tender, then drain.  Mince the garlic.  Steam the clams with half the butter, stock, shallots, 1/2 of the garlic, bay leaf, salt and pepper, and stock. Once they all open, remove them from the shells and reserve the liquid.

In a food processor, blend the cooked potatoes, the other half of the butter, the other half of the garlic, and several tablespoons of the liquid from the clams, until you get a consistency like Alfredo sauce.

Spread the potato mix on the pizza dough/crust like you would pizza sauce.

Top with chopped chicken, bacon, corn kernels, clams and cheese.  Bake until the cheese is bubbly and the crust is golden brown, (about 10-12 minutes).

No season can compete with fall when it comes to flavors.  I hope you enjoy my favorites as much as I do!