the stronger, the better: my must-have comfort food

Comfort food makes me happy. Check out this drinks list: apple juice, iced coffee in the blender, Vin Santo, single malt whiskey.

What, pray tell, do these four drinks have in common? I believe only a select few outside of The Family would know this, so I’ll tell you. The list represents key Gran Fran-esque drinks over the span of my childhood into my adulthood. And, there is a food pairing for each, too. All of these make my comfort food list. This is more of a stroll down memory lane, rather than a plethora of Gran Fran recipes. But, it does shed some light on the nice times we had as a family over the past four-plus decades.

Apple Juice: Our friend-after-school-snack consisted of pretzels (either the super salty skinny pretzel sticks, or the traditional pretzel shaped ones) and apple juice. This was offered all the way through high school to our friends, who made snide remarks about the kiddie snacks at our house, but who told me later in life that it was still a favorite snack. I still crave this snack when things get tough and I find myself serving it to my daughter and her friends, too.

The super salty skinny pretzels came in their own individual boxes and were made by Mr. Salty. You know, the sailor pretzel guy? Sadly, I have found that they are not available any longer and I can't even find picture of them. But, any super salty pretzel will work here with your apple juice!

Blender Cappuccino: On very hot summer days, Gran Fran would break out the blender, grab some ice cubes, milk and espresso and blend it all up. I think she also added sugar. It was lovely. Real coffee and milk, none of this modern-day Starbucks blended stuff. Even though we were little, we were allowed to have this treat. A nice side with this was Gran Fran's best-ever pound cake.

I can no longer drink coffee (makes me very angry and too hyped up), but the smell of coffee in the summer always brings me back to the kitchen in Queens with Gran Fran jamming ice cubes into her blender and telling us all to "Stand back!” At least I can still make the pound cake, which is a little consolation for the demise of my coffee drinking days.

Vin Santo: Gran Fran and I went to Italy in 1989 on a college trip (I was in college, she was recently unemployed so she came along with the group). It was the first time we traveled together, and it lasted a month. The evenings were filled with drinking local wines and eating ourselves silly.

Gran Fran hung out with all of us, until one night when we young'uns decided to go to the local Disco. She opted to hang at the Enoteca, the local wine bar. When we came back to get her, she had been drinking Vin Santo, a sweetish wine that is paired with salume and heavier meats. She was in heaven! I have not developed much of a taste for Vin Santo, but whenever I do have it, it brings back Gran Fran's happy smile in Italy, where she enjoyed the summer light.

Single Malt Whiskey: I am a girl who loves me a whiskey. In bars, they are always questioning whether I realize what I'm ordering, when I ask for a very smoky whiskey, neat. I am all of 5'2" and love to wear short dresses with boots. Not the typical looking whiskey woman.

The first time I had a good glass of whiskey was with both Gran Fran and Joe at a jazz club in Manhattan while watching Les Paul play guitar. I think I was about 20 or so at the time and thoroughly enjoyed it. We ate burgers and the pairing was exquisite.

For my money, you can't get better than apple juice, iced coffee in the blender, Vin Santo or single malt whiskey. I hope to bring this list into the next generation with Iz, but for now, we're sticking to apple juice and an occasional iced coffee in the blender.

Blender Cappuccino ala Gran Fran

serves 1 (but easy to make multiples)you will need a blender (ok, seems obvious, but thought I should mention it) Ingredients:

  • 2 cups hot coffee, if it’s winter; cold if it’s summer
  • 1 cup whole milk or better yet half-and-half
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 6 ice cubes if it’s summer
  • Cinnamon, optional


  • Place all ingredients in blender; adjust amounts to fit capacity of blender.
  • Hold down cap of blender with a dish towel.
  • Turn blender on high.
  • Blend until frothy and creamy.
  • Pour into glasses or cups. Sprinkle with cinnamon if desired.
  • Serve immediately.

Pound Cake ala Gran Fran

serves many!


  • 2 sticks room-temperature butter
  • 1 2/3 cups sugar
  • 5 eggs, room temperature
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups flour, unbleached, all purpose


  • Butter and flour a 9-inch loaf or tube pan.
  • In an electric mixer, or by hand, beat butter, sugar, vanilla, and salt together for about 10 minutes; longer if by hand.
  • Add 4 eggs one at a time. Beat on medium for about 4 minutes, scraping bowl well.
  • Add flour all at once. Beat on medium for about 3 minutes.
  • On high speed, add final egg and beat for about 15 seconds.
  • Place batter in pan. Place pan in cold oven on a lower third shelf.
  • Turn oven on to 300 degrees.
  • Bake for 2 hours if beaten in mixer. Bake for 90 minutes if beaten buy hand. Let cool on rack in pan 10 minutes. Remove from pan and continue to cool.

Salume Platter ala Gran Fran

serves 8 (you can increase or reduce the amount of items you get based on how many people you are serving.)

to be served with Vin Santo

This doesn't really count as a recipe, more a serving suggestion for an excellent platter of Italian savory items.


  • 1 lb Proscuitto di Parma
  • 1 lb Soppresatta Salume, sliced thin
  • 1 package Pate (Campagnola, is what I prefer, or Country-Style made with Pork)
  • 1/2 cup Caper Berries
  • 1 cup Black Oil Cured Olives
  • 1 Sweet Baguette (or a nice loaf of Italian Bread), sliced
  • 4 ripe Roma Tomatoes, diced
  • 5 cloves Garlic, 3 minced, 2 cut in half
  • 3 Tbsp. Olive Oil, plus more for brushing on bread
  • Salt and Pepper


  • Preheat broiler or get toaster oven ready.
  • On a large platter, disply the assortment of meats, with bowls for the caper berries and the olives.
  • In a serving bowl, mix together the diced tomatoes, garlic and olive oil. Add salt to taste.
  • Place baguette slices on a baking sheet in one layer.
  • Rub baguette with the cut garlic halves, and then brush the bread with oil. Add a sprinkling of salt.
  • Toast baguette in broiler or toaster oven until brown, turning once after a minute or so.
  • Serve baguette alongside the diced tomato mixture to have guests create their own bruschetta.

Hamburgers ala Gran Fran

serves 6 to be served with a nice single malt whiskey

you will need a large non-reactive skillet Ingredients:

  • 1 pound ground sirloin, shaped into 4 fairly thin burgers (they retract and get fatter as they cook)
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • Kosher salt
  • 1/4 cup Marsala, Madeira or other semi sweet wine
  • 2 shallots minced
  • 2 tablespoons butter


  • Prepare burgers. Sprinkle generously with fresh-ground pepper.
  • Heat nonstick pan over medium heat until very, very hot.
  • Add butter and oil, swirling pan off heat so fats don’t burn
  • Return pan to heat; add burgers keeping space around each.
  • Cook over high heat for about 4 minutes; reduce heat to medium; continue cooking 4 minutes more. Increase heat to high.
  • Turn burgers; cook over high heat for 4 minutes; reduce heat to medium; continue cooking 4 minutes longer.
  • Remove burgers from pan. Sprinkle with salt.
  • Over medium heat, sauté shallots, sprinkled with salt, until golden. Turn heat to high for 2 minutes.
  • Remove pan from heat; add wine, swirl. Return pan to medium heat; simmer until the wine no longer tickles your nose. Swirl cod butter into sauce to make it creamy. Pour sauce over burgers and serve on bread of your choice or on a plate with mashed potatoes