When my siblings and I were growing up, Mom used to make my sister Dee a special stroganoff dinner for her November birthday. I have continued that tradition, preparing the recipe for all my loved ones whose birthdays fall in the fall. I have been known to even quadruple it because it’s so easy, so drop-dead delicious and because there are oh-so-many of us now. Everyone loves it.

Even better when made in advance and gently reheated — so the sour cream doesn’t curdle — the stroganoff is made extra festive served with Caesar salad, often requested for our family celebration meals and served as an impressive first course. Tear the romaine into bite-size pieces if you prefer, but I like the presentation of the whole leaves on a large platter with its crunchy garlic croutons and a generous sprinkling of Parmesan- Reggiano cheese. You’ll never buy bottled Caesar dressing or pre-made croutons again.

For afters, this yellow cake is my go-to when a vanilla cake is in order. This is a never-fail moist, tender cake, equally delicious heaped with berries and cream, layered with lemon curd or frosted with a cloud of chocolate frosting.

These days, that frosting is whipped up with the Kitchen Aid mixer by none other than my 12-year-old granddaughter. Let me tell you, Lucy is not from the “less is more” school. Instead, she’s quite lavish with both her incredible cooking prowess and her liberal use of butter. I love frosting — who doesn’t — but I’ve never tasted anything as decadent as what Lucy makes. Besides the extra butter, generous spoonfuls of cocoa and swizzles of cream, I do believe this budding chef adds several ounces of love into every bowlful. Over the past couple years, our roles have indeed been reversed. Lucy is now in charge of frosting while I stand by, like she did in her younger days, in anticipation of licking the beaters.

Beef Stroganoff
4 tbsp. butter

1/2 cup onion, diced

4 cloves garlic, minced

2 pounds round steak, cut into 1/2-inch cubes

1 pound fresh button mushrooms, sliced

6 tbsp. red wine

6 tbsp. lemon juice

2 cans beef consommé or 2 1/2 cups strong beef stock

1 tsp. salt

Fresh ground pepper to taste

8 ounces egg noodles

1 cup sour cream

In a Dutch oven, melt butter over medium heat and brown meat. Add garlic, onion and mushrooms and sauté until soft. Add wine, lemon juice, consommé and season. Allow to simmer until meat is tender, 15-20 minutes.

Stir in egg noodles and cook, until noodles are al dente, 5-7 minutes. Take off the heat and stir in sour cream. Yield: 6-8 servings

Caesar Salad


4 garlic cloves, peeled

1/4 cup olive oil

2 heaping cups 3/4-inch bread cubes, cut from a rustic loaf

Large pinch sea salt

In a blender or food processor, finely grate garlic then add olive oil and blend for 30 seconds to infuse garlic into oil. Using a fine-mesh strainer, strain oil and reserve half the garlic for dressing. You should have about 3 tbsp. oil.

Heat a 10-inch skillet over medium heat. Place bread cubes in a bowl and toss with the garlic oil and salt. Add bread cubes to hot skillet and toast, shaking the skillet often until bread is golden brown; 5-7 minutes. Cool.


2 tbsp. fresh lemon juice

1/4 tsp. Worcestershire sauce

2 1/2 tbsp. mayonnaise

Half the reserved garlic from croutons

Whisk together lemon juice, Worcestershire sauce, mayonnaise and half the reserved garlic in a small bowl.


3 large romaine lettuce hearts, leaves separated

3 tbsp. olive oil

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

1/3 cup Parmesan-Reggiano cheese, grated

Place whole lettuce leaves in a large salad bowl and toss with 2 tbsp. olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper; toss again. Toss dressing with lettuce; add cheese and toss again. Add croutons and have more cheese available at the table for serving. Yield: 4 servings

Our Vanilla Birthday Cake
2/3 cup butter, softened

1 3/4 cups sugar

2 eggs

1 1/2 tsp. vanilla

3 cups flour

2 1/2 tsp. baking powder

1 tsp. salt

1 1/4 cups whole milk

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. With an electric mixer, cream butter. Add sugar gradually and beat until light-colored. Add eggs and vanilla and beat until fluffy. Sift together dry ingredients and add to batter, alternating with milk and beating after each addition. Beat for 1 minute. Pour batter into two buttered and floured 9x-1/2-inch round cake pans. Bake for 30-35 minutes. Cool for 10 minutes and invert cake layers onto cooling rack.

Chocolate Frosting
1/2-1 cup butter, softened

2/3-1 cup cocoa

3 cups powdered sugar

Pinch of salt

1/3 cup milk or cream

1 tsp. vanilla

With an electric mixer, beat butter until creamy. Beat in cocoa, salt and vanilla. Add powdered sugar, alternating with milk or cream until you have the desired consistency. Yield: 2-2 1/2 cups frosting.