Living the Dream …

Baking with Denise

Tuesdays With Dorie (TWD)- Hazelnut Biscotti

My boys are both in school and for SOME reason I thought I would be bored.  When they started school in August, I signed up for a 6 week photography class.  (I was hopeful that my pictures on the blog would be better -who knew there were so many options on a camera?)   My husband had surprised me with a nice DSLR Canon before our oldest was born …THAT WAS ALMOST 8 YEARS AGO!  Could I possibly HINT anymore that I am ready for NEW CAMERA!

I love biscotti!  It’s basically a cookie that is baked twice.  So, it’s supposed to be dry and crunchy.  In Italy, where the first biscotti’s were made, they were actually dipped in wine.  Traditionally in the states, we dip them in a nice hot cup of coffee – maybe I need to try (dipping in wine) the Italian method!  The Chocolate Truffle Tart recipe, from another TWD recipe that I blogged about a few months back calls for broken up pieces of almond biscotti to give it a nice crunch!  Although I only needed two for that recipe I admit that I bought 2 whole boxes. They were devoured in 3 days!

Let’s get started!  As I have mentioned in other Tuesday With Dorie blogs, I can’t give out the recipe on my blog but you can find it HERE or HERE.  You could also buy Dorie Greenspan’s book called Baking with Julia. (aka Julia Child!)

Today we are going to make Hazelnut Biscotti. I have never worked with hazelnut’s before and had no idea that you are suppose to take off the skin.


You boil the nuts with baking soda and that softens the skin so you can easily rub the skin off with your fingers.


Honestly, I may have to stop here with my directions.


You can easily click on the above two links and they will take you to the full recipe.


After trying one bite of this, I realized that I DON’T LIKE HAZELNUTS!  So, I am sitting here at my computer feeling no particular passion for writing about this.

I did make some chocolate biscotti a few years back. I am going to have to find that recipe and share it with you all.  They were awesome … plus I read about a lemon and almond one too. Yum!

Don’t Bake- unless you like hazelnuts.


TWD- Semolina Bread

I love making bread!  Okay, honestly, I love eating homemade bread that has just been pulled from the oven!

It didn’t take much to get me fired up to do this TWD recipe.  As you know by now, I can’t post the full recipe but you can find the full recipe HERE and HERE.  You could also check out Dorie Greenspan’s book … it’s awesome!

Let’s get started!

Today, we will use the food processor for the entire recipe.  I LOVE THAT!  I can wash all the parts in the dishwasher.  That is KEY!  I hate doing dishes.  When I say ALL, I obviously don’t mean the base with the cord.  I KNOW my readers are smarter than that, even those first timers in the kitchen!

In order to start this bread you must create a “sponge.”  I know, I had never heard of that either until I started to make breads.  It’s basically yeast, water and a small amount of flour. You whisk those ingredients together in a small bowl and then let them rise – covered for about 2 hours until doubled.

After the sponge has risen, it’s time to add in the rest of the dry ingredients.   For the flour portion we are going to use Semonlina flour.  You would normally find that in pastas if you are wondering where you have heard of that word before.

Then you let the dough rise (covered) for another 2 hours for what bakers call the “First Rise”, until it doubles in size. I always put mine in a large see-through bowl so I can tell when it’s doubled.

After it’s doubled in size, you literally flatten the dough with a few punches (no kidding).  Then gently tuck the edges under and shape it  into a rectangle.  Place the loaf on a parchment lined baking sheet and let it rise again, uncovered for another 2 hours before baking it.  The last step, which I thought was cool, is to take a new razor blade or very sharp knife and slice 3-4 diagonal slash lines on the top for an artisan look.

Bake until the inside reaches 210 degrees.  I know, who knew that there was a temperature on bread too.  I use my same $8 digital thermometer that I use for checking temperatures on proteins. (fish, chicken, pork or red meat)

This recipe was really easy and tasted great.  Very light dinner bread or great for toast.

Enjoy and Bake On!


Homemade Vanilla Extract- from Organic Costa Rican Beans!

I love all things Vanilla and use several bottles of vanilla extract over the course of a year because of all my baking!

This past August I was down in Costa Rica at our place for a week trip without the kids or the husband!  (SO MUCH FUN!)  While  I was walking in town, I popped into a local store and discovered organic vanilla beans for sale.  I asked more about them and discovered that the farm,  Villa Vanilla Farm, was just an hour away.

After  mentioning it to my friend Kimberly who lives in Jaco full-time, she quickly said “Let’s GO!”   I met Kimberly about 4 years ago and I feel so lucky to have her as a friend.  She is always up for an adventure, an amazing listener, an exceptional pizza maker (maybe she can guest blog for me!) and extremely generous.  Our “about” an hour journey turned out to be “about” 2 hours!  It is just 30 miles east of Quepos but the roads that led us there were not exactly paved.

Walking through the farm was really educational as we were able to see where the orchids grew.  (Albeit “someone” was a bit worried about the potential of walking amongst snakes, too!)   We saw how they harvest a variety of plants and how they process the vanilla beans.  I walked away with white peppercorn, oregano, cocoa nibs, cinnamon and several dozen vanilla beans.

I have always heard it is easy to make vanilla extract,  little did I know that it would literally only take two ingredients.  VODKA AND VANILLA!  Now I must confess that there is a bit of trial and error.  I should have made a small batch first to see how it all would work.  (Ratio of beans to vodka.)

1. Pick your favorite brand of Vodka.  (It doesn’t have to be expensive, but should not be flavored.) I choose Tito’s for this batch because it gets  high ratings.


2. Find a glass jar with a lid … I used some glass jelly jars and mason jars.

3. Slice your vanilla beans in half and place about 3 (jelly)/ 6-8 (mason) in the jar, depending on the size of your jar. (I should have used more with my first batch and have learned that different varieties of vanilla beans are going to infuse differently.)

Beans in Vodka

4. Add vodka almost up to the top, you want enough room at the top so when you shake the bottle it will mix.  (I had to learn this lesson too!!)

5. Place jar in a cool dark place and shake vigorously every week until it becomes the rich brown color that you want.  Mine has taken about 16 weeks and could still use some extra time.  Once your are comfortable with the color (it will continue to darken over time) you can pour the vanilla into nicer bottles if you want to give them as gifts.

After 5 weeks

6.  I purchased several 6 oz dark glass bottles and filled them.  (Next time I would buy larger bottles.)  I am still looking for some cool labels to put on them.  My dear friends in CR got torn christmas labels instead!


The best part of this vanilla extract is that over time you can just keep adding vodka or more beans to it.  (Some recipes only require the seeds, so don’t throw the bean out.  Stick it in some sugar to make vanilla sugar or in your bottle of extract.)

Shake on and then Bake on!


I’m still here …

Hello friends-

I was so excited for my boys to both be in school! I dreamed about hours of baking and writing … okay and EATING!  However, I have only accomplished two of those things.  I am assuming with my absence you can guess which two!

I even have a few posts that are almost done, just waiting … give me a week and I’ll be back with you. Thanks for your patience.


Ultimate Banana Bread!

We all love banana bread, right?  I have tried so many recipes over the years … most of them are good.  THIS one is great!  I found the recipe through my Cooks Illustrated – July/August 2010 issue.

I am not going to lie  …  this recipe does have a NEW step that I had never done before.  I had to do a “minor attitude adjustment” while making it, and I am glad that I did!  You literally microwave the bananas to get juice out of them, or you can just use some that have been previously FROZEN.  I usually buy bananas in bulk and am left with a few that get too ripe to eat anyway.  So, I unpeel them, put them in a freezer bag and pop them in the freezer.  I have been using them for my morning smoothie, but now this recipe will use up those bananas, too!

Let’s get started!  Pre-heat Convection oven to 350 degrees and I’d recommend melting your butter now, too.

  • 1 3/4 c (8 – 3/4 oz) all purposed four
  • 1 t baking soda
  • 1/2 t salt
  • 6 average size, very ripe bananas (2.5lbs)
  • 8T unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly (I highlighted this because I always miss these types of before steps!) 
  • 2 large eggs
  • 3/4 cup (5 1/4 oz) PACKED light brown sugar
  • 1 t vanilla extract
  • 2 t granulated sugar
  • 1/2 c walnuts, toasted and chopped (OPTIONAL)

Okay, for the new bakers out there, let’s chat about something before we get started.  When you look at the above recipe, you’ll notice that there are cup measurements and metric measurements.  When baking, accuracy is really important, so most professional bakers will weigh their ingredients.  You can imagine if there were 5 of us in a kitchen, and we all measured out one cup of all purpose flour.  I bet if we weighed each of those, they would each be different.  You can buy a scale online or at any kitchen shop for about $30.  Once you get used to it, you will start to use it all the time!

One final note about flour … WHAT AN EXCITING TOPIC!  HA- HA!!  Did you know that different types of flour have different levels of protein?   Are you wondering … WHAT IS PROTEIN AND WHY DO I CARE?  It actually matters, as flour with more protein will make a denser bread.  Even different brands (generic vs. King Arthur) will have different levels of protein for the same all purpose flour.  IT DOESN’T MATTER what brand you use, just be consistent with what you buy so the outcome is the same.

To begin, in a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda and salt.  Set Aside.

Place your ripened bananas in a microwave safe bowl, cover with plastic wrap (poke a few holes to vent) and microwave for about 5 minutes.

Transfer the bananas to a strainer over a bowl and let sit for about 10 minutes.

You should get at least 1/2 c of juice.  I got about a cup!  (If you freeze your bananas, let them defrost for about 4 hours and VOILA you can skip the microwaving step because you will have plenty of liquid.  You can move on to the step below and start to boil your liquid.)

Pour the 1/2 c. banana liquid into a small saucepan and cook over medium-high heat until it reduces down.  WATCH that it doesn’t boil over …  (apparently it’s a mess to clean up!!!)  The recipe says 5 minutes, mine took longer because I had so much liquid. ( I didn’t read the instructions where I only needed a cup) :(

While the liquid is reducing, place your cooked bananas into a large bowl, then add the reduced liquid when ready and mash until smooth.

Whisk in the melted, but cooled butter (if the butter is too hot, it will COOK the eggs … GROSS), eggs, brown sugar and vanilla.

Pour the banana mixture into the flour mixture and stir with a spatula or wooden spoon until combined. (a few white streaks from the flour are fine.)

Scrape batter into a prepared 8 1/2 x 4 1/2 pan.  (Prepared means, PAM, or lightly butter bottom and sides.)  My pan isn’t this exact size … don’t stress about that.  Just know that your time may be off by a few minutes, so check it 5 minutes sooner.

Bake for 45-60 minutes.  I use a large wooden skewer to check my bread.  You want it to come out clean.  I check at 40 minutes and then every 5 minutes after that. Overcooked banana bread is DRY.

The first time I made this bread, I took it out after it was done and thought that it was really brown and that I had cooked it TOO long. I was so disappointed after all that work.   However, when I sliced into it, I discovered that it was perfect and moist!  This recipe uses only brown sugar, thus the darker color.

Slice it up and don’t expect left overs!

Oh yea, and hit the gym!  All this cooking is making my jeans tight!


How to Split a Vanilla Bean …

I thought I would start doing a few technique blogs.  Short and Sweet!

Check out the attached video for a “how to” on splitting a vanilla bean, it’s two steps and will really BOOST the flavor of ice cream, crème brûlée, pastry cream, whipping cream etc.

If you only need the seeds, you can save the pod and put it in your container of sugar to create a vanilla sugar.

Please let me know if you have a suggestion of something you would like to see!

Split On!

Gnocchi with Brown Butter and Fresh Sage

Last year I had the opportunity to go to Yountville, CA (Napa) for several days.   While I was there I had dinner at Michael Chiarello’s restaurant called Bottegga.  I choose the Gnocchi since it was the only vegetarian dish on our preselected menu.  I had tasted it before, but it had been the store-bought frozen kind and tasted like a watered down, chewy piece of an old biscuit.  YUM … insert sarcasm!

The gnocchi arrived looking like what I had remembered, although an amazing presentation came along with it.  I took my fork and knife and went in for my first bite.  The instant the gnocchi touched my mouth I knew something was different.  I literally didn’t chew … it just melted in my mouth like the cotton candy of my childhood.  It was awesome and literally resembled little marshmallows.  I devoured my meal.   Honestly, being a vegetarian, it’s not that often that I get an AMAZING meal.

So, I knew I would have to try to make Gnocchi.  Over the course of several months I would pull gnocchi recipes from magazines and online resources.  My heart knew that I would have to try the one from the restaurant in Napa, Botegga’s, first.

MOMENT OF TRUTH!!!  What I failed to realize after all my research on Botegga’s website was that the kind of Gnocchi I had WASN’T POTATO!  I mean, this recipe is really good and the sage brown butter is awesome, but it was NOT even close to what I had in Yountville.  After two attempts, it dawned on me that maybe the menu we had at the restaurant was different because we were a larger group.  VIOLA!  It was RICOTTA GNOCCHI (WHO KNEW?) with a red sauce.  Oh yea … haha … go ahead and laugh … because my poor family will still be eating potato gnocchi for months since each recipe makes about 50!

Here is the POTATO GNOCCHI and the Brown Butter Sage recipe from Michael Chiarello’s. Click here!

Mise En Place: Preheat Convection Oven to 375

Please note that this recipe makes a TON.  You could easily half the recipe or freeze the extra’s for SEVERAL meals! 

  • 2 lbs russet potatoes (about 5-6) You’ll want to weigh them if you can.
  • 1 c coarse kosher salt
  • 4 egg yolks
  • 1/2 c fresh grated parmesan
  • 1/2 t salt
  • pinch of ground pepper
  • pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1 to 1 1/4 cup all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting

On a baking sheet, pour about 1 cup of kosher salt in the middle of the sheet so it mounds up to about a 1/2 inch.  Set your potatoes on the salt and bake for about an hour.  (Please forgive the salt on top, I had just washed them and they were still wet!)

Supposedly you put the potatoes on the salt so that you don’t get a hard spot on the bottom. (No idea at all why that is important since you only want the inside of the potato anyway.)  Once the potatoes have softened similar to  a baked potato, remove from the oven.

As soon as the potatoes are cool enough to touch, cut them lengthwise and scoop out the flesh into a food mill or ricer. (I don’t think you could use a masher, as you really need the potatoes smooth.)

In a large bowl, gently combine the processed potatoes, egg yolks, grated parmesan, salt, pepper and nutmeg with a fork. Add a cup of flour and lightly mix the flour into your potato mixture.  Once it’s pulled together, you can dump it out onto a  floured work surface and begin to gently knead it.

If it feels sticky, add another 1/4 c of flour, but the less flour you add, the less dense the gnocchi will be.

Once it’s combined, roll the dough into a log that is about 3 inches wide – cut into 8 pieces.

Working quickly, (you don’t want the dough to get too warm)  roll each section into a 1/2 inch wide log, dust the flour off with a pastry brush.

Then cut each piece to about 1/2 inch long. (At this point you can freeze them by first placing them on a parchment lined and lightly floured baking sheet.  After freezing them for at least 4 hours,  place in a freezer bag.  No need to defrost when you are ready to use them, just follow the directions below.)

If you want to be fancy prior to freezing, you can press each little gnocchi by using the back of a fork to give it ridges.

To cook, bring a large pot of salted water to a gentle boil and place about 15 pieces in the pot (more or less dependent on the size of your pot and the amount you need to serve).  Let them rise to the surface and then cook an additional 2 minutes.  Serve promptly.

While my water was heating up for a boil, I started on the sauce below.

Brown Butter Sage Sauce:
4T unsalted butter (this is a lot of butter, I halved it when I made it again)

10 fresh sage leaves (don’t bother if you don’t have fresh … it won’t taste the same)

1/2 lemon juice

1/4 c grated fresh parmesan

In a small sauce pan melt the butter on medium heat, stir occasionally until it starts to turn a light brown color – this will give the butter a nutty flavor (4-6 minutes).

Once it changes color, remove from the burner and stir in the sage leaves.  NOTE TO SELF: make sure your sage is completely dry before putting it into super hot BUTTER!  When I made this I had just walked out to my garden and clipped some sage leaves. I rinsed them off and then started to cut the leaves into the pan … when suddenly it SPIT HOT BUTTER BACK AT ME.  Took me about 30 seconds to realize that my sage was still wet from washing it off.  Lesson learned!

Personally, I like the leaves whole, but you can also slice them into smaller pieces if you prefer.  Keep warm until you are ready to serve. When you are ready to plate the gnocchi, drizzle the warm sage butter on top, add a small squeeze of lemon and grate a good  parmesan for your garnish.


This was really good, and I do love that because it makes so many I can have it ready in the freezer on a night that I don’t want to spend time making a side.

Cook on and don’t lite YOURSELF on FIRE!


PS:  Some pictures were taken by my son, this one was his favorite!

Homemade Tomato Sauce …

My oldest loves reading anything you put in front of him, so around meal time he likes to read the label on the back of any can, jar, bag or box which I am using. (Now that might sound bad, but if you read this blog, you know I do make HOMEMADE food a lot!) :)  So, I was warming up jarred tomato sauce, (I add diced onions, garlic and fresh basil) when my son walked in and started reading the label.   All the numbers were fine until he got to the sodium! I said WHAT???  I thought he had misread.  It was 400 mg of sodium per 1/2 cup!  That is A LOT!  I checked online what the average person’s daily sodium intake should be … it’s 1500. (CDC sodium info)  I knew there must be a healthier alternative …

That week the man who mows my lawn dropped off about 35 tomatoes.  Don’t get me wrong … I love sliced tomatoes with salt,  and  I love sliced tomatoes with mozzarella and basil … but 35 plain tomatoes, what was I going to do with that many?  Then it dawned on me … fresh tomato sauce.  So I googled tomato sauce and found several recipes.  They all came down to just a few ingredients – olive oil, onions, garlic, tomatoes, salt/ pepper and  fresh basil.

Let’s get started!

Mise En Place

  • Olive Oil
  • 1 diced onion
  • 1 diced garlic clove
  • Tomatoes – peeled, seeded and chopped

Peel: Through my research, I learned that I needed to peel each tomato before I cook them.   To do that easily, I am to slice an X on the bottom of each tomato with a knife.   Please notice that extra tool under the knife is knife sharpener that was recommended to me by the knife guru at Sur La Table.  It’s inexpensive and quickly sharpens. 

Then I gently drop them into boiling water for about 2 minutes.

With a slotted spoon or spider I remove them from the water and plunge them in ice-cold water.

This process makes the peeling process very easy … or it would have … if I had remembered to put the X on the bottom of my first batch!  (oh yes, go ahead and laugh) After about a minute, I remembered the  X and quickly scooped them out with my ” spider” tool and used a knife to X them!  They peeled just fine after that!

Deseed:  So, 35 tomatoes peeled and onto my next step.  I guess I never really thought about tomato seeds before.  I didn’t realize they would be such a problem in a sauce, but apparently they can leave a bitter taste.  Depending on what variety of tomato you use,  you can seed in a few ways.  With a Roma, just slice in half and squeeze.  With a larger, rounder beefsteak tomato, quarter them and then squeeze.

And if you end up with an heirloom tomato, with lots of tiny little crevices … get ready for a mess!  Another suggestion after I made this mess was that I could have strained the seeds out, next time I will do THAT!

Cooking: In a large sauce pan I heat 1 T of olive oil on medium heat.  I add a small, diced onion and sauté for about 5 minutes, until the onion turns translucent.

While the onions are sautéing, I add in the diced garlic to sauté for an additional minute.  Keep stirring and make sure the garlic doesn’t burn, or you’ll have to start over.

Time to add my chopped tomatoes.  Once you deseed 35 tomatoes you are left with what looks like  7 tomatoes.  I am SO not kidding.  I stir them in and continue to cook on medium for about 5 minutes.

Then I lower the heat and let them simmer. The longer the sauce cooks, the richer and more complex the flavor.

You can do a quick sauce in as short as 20 minutes or let the sauce simmer for a couple of hours.  I don’t like chunky tomatoes so I use a potato masher to help SMOOSH (my mom’s favorite made up word) down the tomatoes.  (You could also you an immersion blender or Vita Mixer to make the sauce thin.)  Season with salt and pepper.

Once you are ready to serve, tear up a few basil leaves and stir in during your last few minutes of cook time.  Serve over your favorite pasta, garnish with some fresh grated parmesan and enjoy!

If you don’t have fresh tomatos, don’t worry, simply use (2) 28oz cans of San Marzona whole peeled tomatoes.  Honestly, I will be using these from now on, faster than peeling and deseeding anyway.  (Make sure to check the label for no sodium)

Peel On … and then just buy tomatoes in the can!  LOL!  That is a BIG Mess for such a little amount of sauce!


PS:  I used a technique called chiffonade on the basil.  It’s really easy and gives a nice presentation.

Kale Chips …WHAT?

Oh yes, it’s true.  I bought Kale chips from Whole Foods about a year ago.  They were … AWESOME!  Really … but they cost $8!  Oh yes, that isn’t a typo!  I paid $8 several times for some amazing Kale Chips!!!   Trust me, in high school and college I waited tables and we used Kale as a garnish.  I never  thought that people ate Kale, (click on the link for some nutritional info) that would be like eating grass.  Who does that?

Well, somebody figured out that kale is REALLY good for you and if you bake it … it is not only edible but honestly a little addictive.

Here goes! Pre-heat Convection Oven to 300!

Mise En Place -

1 bunch of Kale (any kind … who knew there was more than one variety!) wash, dry well, remove the stem and thick center rib.

1 t coarse salt – Sea salt, Kosher salt, or a fancy salt from France. (thank you Sinclair’s!)

1 T Olive Oil – EVOO (Extra Virgin Olive Oil)

I hate doing dishes so I love using parchment paper any time I bake! You can get it at any grocery store or in bulk at COSTCO!   Please don’t confuse it with Wax Paper … I have HEARD that wax paper will fill up your kitchen with SMOKE and ruin what you are baking.  :)  A lesson that you only have to learn once!  (Like setting off a fire extinguisher … again, another thing I HEARD about and another lesson learned by several college roommates!) Back to KALE!

Line a baking sheet (aka cookie pan) with parchment paper.  Place your Kale on the sheet, drizzle with the oil and sprinkle with salt.  Then use your hands, (you can get disposable gloves at Costco so you won’t oil up your hands) and gently toss the kale with the oil and salt.  You may need two baking sheets if you have a huge bunch of Kale.

Place in your preheated oven. After 10 minutes, I use my tongs or spatula to move them around a bit. At this point, you will be able to see that they are still dark green and looked “wilted.”

They’ll need another 5-10 minutes.  Check back and try one to see if it is crispy and crunchy.

What I can tell you is that if they are over cooked … they are TERRIBLE.  So, I’d rather you under cook them and then toss them back in the oven to crisp up.  (They turn brown if overcooked.)

Toppings:  You can also sprinkle Nutritional Yeast on them, which will give it a mild cheesy flavor.

You WILLl eat them right away … I promise.  They are so good.  If you end up with left overs …store them in parchment paper!  Really, I have tried everything only to discover that parchment paper keeps them crisp!  If you don’t have any and they “wilt” after a day.  Pop them back in the oven for about 5 minutes at 300 and they will be as good as the first day!

You can add the Kale Chips to soups, salads or even eggs!

Enjoy these,  they really are good and who knew that there was a purpose for Kale besides looks?

Bake on!


Amazing Creme Brûlée with 4 ingredients!

I’m back with a new recipe … and a few helpful hints for those of you who are new to baking.

July was HOT in VA.  Yes, I know it’s hot everywhere … but 95 degrees with 95% humidity each day just makes me close all the blinds, crank down the A/C and hibernate with some good cooking magazines.  I swear, I pulled out 100 recipes in the last month.  One of them that caught my eye and motivated me to get back into the kitchen involved using a TORCH!  Oh you heard that right … you will need a torch for this recipe. You can purchase one at any kitchen store ($25) or at Honestly, even if this recipe was terrible, I’d find another reason to use that torch!  It’s fun!

I have added a new magazine to my grouping this year, Saveur.  I was reading the June/July 2012 issue when I came across a 4 ingredient recipe for Creme Brûlée by Gabriella Gershenson’s.  I was pretty confident that I couldn’t screw that up! :)

Let’s get started with our Mise En Place (putting everything in its place) 

  • 1 qt heavy cream
  • 1 vanilla bean – split in half, (longways and try not to cut through) and scrape out all the tiny black seeds, reserve
  • 3/4 c sugar
  • 8 egg yolks. (Don’t forget to always use LARGE eggs unless otherwise noted) Extra Large eggs will change the consistency because of the weight of the yolk will be more. (Save your whites for an omelet or to make meringue cookies.  And yes, you can FREEZE egg whites in a freezer zip lock bag!)
  • *8 c of boiling water for the water bath
  • Turbinado Sugar, (raw sugar) for serving

To begin, in a large saucepan, heat the heavy cream, vanilla bean and seeds over medium high heat, stir occasionally until it simmers. (Simmer means that it will just begin to boil)  Remove from heat once it simmers and let it sit for about 30 minutes.   It’s time to PREHAT your oven to 300.  I always use the convection setting as it allows for a more even temperature.  You can also start to boil your 8 cups of water for your water bath at this point.

While the cream and vanilla are infusing, I move onto the next step of separating out my 8 yolks into a mixing bowl.

Then I whisk the egg yolks and the 3/4 c sugar together until they lighten in color and are smooth, about a minute.   Set Aside.

Once the heavy cream has rested for the 30 minutes, I slowly pour the cream through a metal strainer, (to remove any film and discard the vanilla pod) into the egg and sugar mixture, whisking until smooth. Set Aside.

Have you ever done a water bath before?  The technique allows for the crème brûlée to gently bake while retaining moisture.   I use a glass 9 x 13  pan as my base.  I line the bottom of the pan with one paper towel, so my ramekins won’t slide and then place my unfilled ramekins in the glass pan.  (You could use any small oven safe container) 

I fill them 3/4 full with the mixture. Then I slowly add enough boiling water to reach the halfway point of the ramekins.

I slowly place the baking dish into the preheated oven. The recipe says to bake them for 35 minutes, mine took about 40 minutes. You want  the mixture to “set” but still have movement in the middle.  I test the doneness but nudging the oven rack to see how much the mixture would move. (be careful of the hot water)  When it barely jiggles,  I remove the pan from the oven.  I carefully use tongs to lift them from the baking pan and then cool them on a wire rack.  Next, I chill them in the fridge for at least 4 hours (covered). You can freeze them at this point, too. I gently place plastic wrap onto the top of each ramekin and then put them carefully in a gallon size freezer bag.  
Last step … and I know the one you have waited for!  Get out the torch!  Take the chilled crème brûlée out of the fridge or freezer.  If there is any condensation, lightly use a paper towel to wipe that off. (I took off a good layer the first time I tried to wipe off the condensation …)  Sprinkle about 1 t of Turbinado sugar (amount will vary, depending on the size of your ramekin) onto the top each ramekin.

Then FIRE up the torch and go back and forth over the top of the crème brûlée.  You will slowly start to see the sugar caramelize!  If you are pulling your crème brûlée out of the freezer, let it defrost in the fridge for about 4 hours.


Let’s be honest … cream, sugar, egg yolks – this one is absolutely fat-free!  lol!  I did try to use whole milk to lower the calories …it flopped.  I have seen other low fat recipes that use corn starch.  You could try that or just SHARE a small portion of this one!

Bake on, then go outside and run around your neighborhood, do 50 squats, 60 dead bugs and then JUST maybe … you may have burned off half the calories!



A few weeks ago, I made a recipe from Cooks Illustrated for Crunchy Almond Granola.  Actually I made it twice, because I didn’t love it the first time and wanted to make sure I hadn’t left anything out.  I hadn’t.  It just didn’t have a lot of flavor, or any flavor!  I mean let’s be honest, nobody likes plain oatmeal!  So, if you like a flavorful granola … try this one.

Granola is so easy to make.   Plus, it is adaptable to what you already have stocked in your pantry or what your taste preferences are.  You can interchange nuts (almond, pecan, walnuts, hazelnuts, pistachios), dried fruits (cherries, apricots, coconut, raisins-GROSS), oils (canola, sunflower, vegetable) and spices (cinnamon, nutmeg).  Gotta love a recipe like that!

Let’s get started!

Mise En Place –  Preheat convection oven to 275.

2 1/2 c old-fashioned rolled oats. (I have used instant when I bought the wrong kind and didn’t notice a difference) * I just googled the differences and found that there aren’t’ any nutritional differences, just texture.  (see more info  here) Thanks Lance Armstrong for the info! I knew you were good for something besides those cute yellow bracelets! 

  • 1/2 t cinnamon
  • 1/2 c almonds or pecans (rough chopped)
  • 1/4 c shelled sunflower or pumpkin seeds
  • 1/4 c grape nuts cereal
  • 1/2 c unsweetened wheat germ (ground flax seeds)
  • 1/4 c honey (maple syrup or agave)
  • 1/4 c canola oil (sunflower is best)
  • 2 T light brown sugar
  • 1/2 c dried cherries (any dried fruit is fine)
  • 1 t vanilla or almond extract (optional)

Place all of your ingredients into a bowl and stir with a big wooden spoon or a rubber spatula.

I love a recipe where all the ingredients can go into one big bowl … this is definitely kid friendly!

Line a baking sheet (aka cookie pan) with parchment paper.  If you haven’t starting using parchment … run (don’t walk) to the grocery store and buy some!  It is safe in the oven, up to 420 degrees and it will save you from washing the baking sheets etc!

I decide to try something with this batch of granola that I learned for the Cooks Illustrated recipe.  I poured out the ingredients that were in the bowl onto the parchment lined baking sheet.  I evenly spread out the granola, and then SMUSHED down with a spatula on just half of the granola.  My goal here, like the Cooks Illustrated recipe was to have some large chunks of granola along with the traditional smaller bites. (It worked!)

Bake for 20 – 25 minutes.  I rotate my baking sheet half way through, as most ovens (even high-end commercial) don’t offer consistent heat throughout.  The granola should still retain its light color, the cherries will begin to get bigger and you will smell the cinnamon throughout your house.  YUM!  As it cools, it will continue to dry from the residual heat so don’t worry that it’s still looks a bit moist when it comes out of the oven.  I fill up quart size freezer bags to store placing the extra bags in the freezer until I am ready to use or give away.

Enjoy your granola with some greek yogurt for breakfast.  (Have you ever seen how much protein is in a 1/2 cup of greek yogurt?  13 grams+)

Then with all that energy, go HIT THE GYM!  Oh yes, you can do it.  If I am going … YOU can go!

Raid On!


Caprese, Greek and Crudities

Sweet Sweet Pinterest!

Oh, how my world has changed with the introduction of Pinterest.  As I am a very visual person, I love that I can surf the site and then “pin” what I like to my own “board.”  Plus, since I have a less than stellar memory, it’s helpful that I can easily circle back to recipes that I “pinned” a month ago. And let’s be honest, it’s so nice to have a few less recipe cut-outs in my cookbook cabinet!! I know some of you know what I am talking about …

We moved into our house 9 years ago.  I sold my soul (living in the city) and moved to the burbs. Oh yes, it was brutal at first but as time has gone by, like one would expect, I have settled in. One of the many benefits that I have learned of life in the burbs is THE BACK YARD!  Over the past 9 years, we have done a lot of work to our back yard and found that we really enjoy entertaining out there.   Recently we invited several families over for a pool party, and I knew that I wanted to make some fun appetizers I had seen on Pinterest.  However, appetizers for 30 people seemed a bit daunting on top of everything else.  So, I decided to have the main dish catered, (BBQ-Buz and Ned’s), so I could focus on making the appetizers.  I’ve noticed that when we entertain I have time to make one “great” dish, and the rest fall into the “good” category.  I have been wondering lately how Ina, Paula, and Martha, do the ENTIRE meal where each item is unique and amazing.  Then it dawned on me … THEY HAVE HELP!

Who do I call when I need help?  My neighbors THE CONROY’S!  Two amazing parents who have 4 girls. (Shall I repeat that, THEY HAVE FOUR GIRLS!)  Two of the girls are Irish Twins. I  had no idea what that meant, and even when I did find out, I literally mentally couldn’t understand it.  Two kids 11 months apart?  That still hurts my head!  My boys are 19 months apart and there were weeks on end where I probably should had been committed!   Anyway, back to the Conroy’s… three of their girls (Courtney, Carleigh and Caitlin) have been helping me with the boys over the last 3+ years (that 4th sister went to college before I could get her!).  They started as my mommy’s helper and quickly moved on to watching my boys a few times a week. They have each taken the time to encourage my children to use their manners, to read, to practice their writing and to be good little gentlemen. I am so lucky to have them in my boys lives.

Onto the FOOD!

Appetizers:  Tiny Caprese Salad, Tiny Greek Salad, Crudities and Fruit Skewers for the kids!

Carleigh was available to help me, so we got started on the caprese.  This is one of my favorite salads, so I love the idea  of using the same ingredients for an appetizer. Caprese is very easy to make – tomatoes, fresh basil, mozzarella and a lightly drizzle it just before serving with oil and balsamic vinegar.  I got the idea for the mini on Pinterest, but the recipe didn’t pull up … so I can’t give credit to anyone.

Next up, we put together the mini greek salad appetizer. I got the idea for this from  I recently discovered GREAT feta!  My friend Alina shared some with me down in Costa Rica.  Little did I know that fresh feta tastes so much different (smooth and rich) than the store-bought kind I have been eating for years!  I asked a neighbor, Doreen about where I could get some fresh feta and she being Greek knew right away,  “The Mediterranean Bakery” off of Quioccasin.  They had THREE different kinds of fresh feta (french, greek and …I forget!! lol)   Oh my, so good!  Thank you Doreen for letting the secret out about that Deli/Bakery.  The food and service were both awesome there.

Next up, we move onto slicing vegetables for the crudités.

I put together a Homemade Dill Dip  that Jamie from created, that accompanied the crudités.  Jamie has a ton of awesome recipes on her website, check them out when you have a moment.

1 cup sour cream
1/2 cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons finely chopped Vidalia onion
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh Italian parsley
1 tablespoon finely chopped dill weed
1 teaspoon seasoned salt
freshly ground pepper to taste

Mix the above and chill until you are ready to use.  Next time I will add in some cream cheese to help thicken the dip.  (In order for the vegetables to stand on their own.)  You could substitute reduced fat and even greek yogurt for the sour cream to lighten it up a bit.  The portions are so small in the little cups that I wasn’t too worried

Then up: Assembling the veggies with the dip!

Finally, since we were having about 15 kids, we put together some cute fruit skewers!

And we were DONE!

Thank you Carleigh for your help!  I couldn’t have done it with out you!  We had perfect weather, the kids played in the pool all evening and I enjoyed being able to have all of these done WAY ahead of time.  That way I could focus on the Cocktails!  :)

If you have made an appetizer on skewer or one that will look cute in a mini cup, let me know!  One of my rare bad buys at Costco was 250 of those little plastic cups about 2 years ago. I can’t even remember what I was trying to do with them … lol


French Strawberry Cake- TWD

For those of you who are new to my blog, this is recipe from Dorie Greenspan’s book called Baking with Julia.   Each “Tuesday” a group of 400+ bakers blog about a pre-selected recipe.  There are two “hosts” that are “allowed” to share the actual recipe. Sophie – and Allison this week.  You can check out the French Strawberry Cake recipe on their webpage or BUY DORIE’S BOOK!  :)   With that said,  I won’t be going into a ton of details, since I can’t post the full recipe details.  I will post some pictures, a video (oh la la) about what I did though and show you the assembly process. 

I live in Virginia where summers are hot and humid!  So, after dinner, I usually crave something cool and light. (Yes, a beer sometimes fills that need!)

French Strawberry Cake is a “technical” strawberry shortcake.  Because let’s be honest, we all know there is an “easy” 3 ingredient recipe on the back of the Bisquick box!  But this recipe is worth the time and tastes better, I promise!

I began this blog because of a fellow student at U of Richmond, Jean Marie Kennedy.  She mentioned the concept of online baking with other bloggers.  I loved the idea of reading about other people’s process of baking and what their feedback was on recipes.  I had never blogged before so that whole part was very NEW to me.

As a mom, it’s rare that I find time for things that I like to do.  I think most mom’s are like this.  We are always putting everyone else’s needs first.  This blog allows ME to come first.  It forces me to get into the kitchen, crank up my music (so no one can hear me sing) and bake.  It allows me to hone my skills.  Baking is like anything else … you must practice, practice and practice.  Thank you, Jean Marie, for helping me find my passion!

The French cake that we are going to use today is a Genoise.  I had made one a few years ago when I did a two-day baking workshop at Sur La Table.  Genoise is not your traditional moist cake.  It’s dry, on purpose, so you can brush the layers with liquor, sugar syrup or even dollop with whipped cream.  The cake soaks up all of those flavors and moisture.

While the cake is cooling, I hull 4 cups of strawberries and add a small amount of sugar to sweeten the berries.  Set aside for about two hours.

Let’s Assemble!

After the cake has cooled, I begin to work on building my layers.  I learned a great trick in a cooking class where the chef demonstrated that you can actually use a Lazy Susan to help frost cakes.  You can pick one up at BBB (Bed Bath Beyond) for about $10.

It makes it really easy to frost because you can easily spin it.    I also buy disposable cake plates because my dishes have a lip on them which makes it hard to frost the lower part of the cake.

The one tricky part of the recipe is that you are suppose to CUT the cake into three layers.  Okay, you may not think that is really hard … but the cake doesn’t really “rise” so it’s only about an inch thick!  This was part of the TECHNICAL that I mentioned earlier.  I succeeded in three layers … but it wasn’t pretty!  lol I need to practice that more!  My Aunt Denise recommended that I used dental floss.  I will try that next time!

Layer 1 – Spread half the strawberries evenly on the cake and then top with whipped cream.

Layer 2-Repeat with remaining strawberries and top with whipped cream.

Layer 3 – Top with the final layer of cake and then frost with the remaining whipped topping.  Refrigerate until ready to serve!

Again, this was really easy, looked great and was very refreshing on a hot summer evening.  Next time, I will whip my heavy cream so it’s a bit stiffer in hopes that it will hold up a little better.  I’d also add a few fresh strawberries and maybe some green mint leaves from the garden on top for a nice presentation.  We ate this cake so fast though that thankfully it didn’t need to hold up more than a day!

If anyone has an easy technique for cutting cake layers please let me know.  I have seen plenty of contraptions over the years but none that look easy enough for me! My long serrated knife works great when I am only cutting 2 layers but that third was pretty thin. (as in … technically probably NOT an actual layer!)

For those of you who know me personally, you know I am not shy.  However, I’ve been a bit shy about writing this blog.   It’s very revealing to open up yourself and have people read your thoughts and see your passion.  I am thankful that you are all friends and have been so supportive!

Alright, since there are strawberries in the cake , I figured I could SKIP a day at the gym!  I mean it’s GOT to be healthy, right?  Lol

Bake on, find YOUR passion and enjoy summer while it’s here!


PS:  For those of you who are looking for an easier or faster alternative to the genoise cake … just use a box cake and follow all the other directions!  :)

Grilled Shrimp with a Bangin’ Canjun Sauce


I have a “famous” friend … and local Richmonder’s have probably seen her on NBC 12 as a newscaster over the last few years! Oh, yes … CASEY NICHOLSON!!!

I met her through a volunteer organization that I have been involved with over the last 9 years. (Junior League of Richmond, I must admit, although I would NEVER tell her this … I was star struck! :)  She came into the room looking like she had just come off a movie set!  She sat down and within moments all “that” went away, and she just became a volunteer. A woman who really wanted to help her community.  She was down-to earth during that first meeting and put “us” all at ease by telling us funny stories about how people would write in daily giving their opinions about what she wore, how she did her hair, or what color lipstick she choose. Can you imagine who has that much free time? Lame. She is naturally pretty, so hopefully none of those comments ever bothered her.

Over the years, I watched her become a mother, take on leadership positions within the league and make the tough decision to put her booming journalism career on hold.  She has done all of these with such grace.  She even recently packed up her two young boys and moved to NY where her husband had gotten a great job opportunity. (All while being pregnant with her THIRD!!!)  We already feel the void within the JLR, and I know all of her friends in RVA are feeling that, too.

A few weeks ago in a blog, I had asked for some new recipes to try. Casey quickly sent me one that she had tried and liked. It’s from There are a ton of healthy recipes on that site, I would recommend you checking it out when you have time.  This one is for the Bangin’ Shrimp Skewers.

Two things about this recipe: You are going to have to hit the grocery store … I know … normally I love how most of my recipes you can make with items that are already in your pantry.  Not this one … but it’s worth it! Secondly, you can use the sauce on ANYTHING – chicken, sandwiches, veggies, pasta, rice or quinoa.

So, head to your local grocer and pick up bottles of Thai Sweet Chili Sauce and Sriracha (it’s a red hot sauce). You should find both in the Asian section of your market. I had never used either but they are apparently very common.

Let’s get started … Mise En Place (if your new to my blog, mise en place is getting out all of your ingredients BEFORE you start your recipe)

The sauce … just 4 ingredients!

2 1/2 T light mayo – You can use vegan mayo, too. (If you haven’t used this before … try it. You can’t tell the difference in a sauce like this or when used in a tuna or chicken salad. I promise.)

2 T scallions, chopped fine, 1 1/2 T Thai Sweet Chili Sauce  and 1/2 t of Sriracha (or to taste)

Combine the above into a small bowl and set aside or refrigerate until your ready to use. (This sauce will hold for a few days, so you can make it ahead of time.)

For the Shrimp: (Time to get your Grill going)

40 Large Raw Shrimp – shelled and deveined. (You all know I am cutting back on my seafood, so I did about 15 shrimp for the family and had left over sauce, which I put on chicken for the husband a few nights later!)

Fresh Cracked Pepper

Skewers- If you use wood skewers, soak them for about 20 minutes in water. If you forget that step … I have “HEARD” that they will either catch on fire right in front of your eyes or just slowly burn … lol  I used metal skewers this time so I didn’t have that problem.  AGAIN!

Put the shrimp on the skewers and season with pepper. (You could also skewer pieces of chicken, firm tofu or veggies.)

Grill your shrimp for about 4-6 minutes on each side. You want the shrimp to turn white on both sides.  If you needed to do this on your range, you would sauté on high for just 2-3 minutes on each side. Overcooked shrimp gets tough.

Once the shrimp is of the grill, brush the sauce on the shrimp and serve!

Casey, thanks again for your friendship and this recipe! We miss you in RVA, but know that you will settle in quickly to your new home.

Good news about shrimp … 5 large shrimp only have 100 calories and a lot of protein! So, don’t feel any guilt about enjoying this dish.

Grill on!



Zucchini Boats


I loved the little zucchini canoes I made a few weeks ago, so I decided to make them again and grill them out on our new “Big Green Egg!”  If you are not familiar with the Big Green Egg … it’s a charcoal grill on STEROIDS!

Besides all of the desserts that I make, in general we eat pretty healthy. We gave up white pasta, white bread and white rice years ago and have switched to whole grains.  I’m thankful that my boys don’t really know the difference between the two!

We introduced Quinoa into the house about a year ago, and I have enjoyed using it on several occasions. (Although I have yet to try it for breakfast, there is a recipe on the package for that… weird!) It’s really simple to cook, will keep fresh in the fridge for about 5 days and is packed with fiber!

Normally, I serve it like I would a side of rice or pasta.  Today, I decide to use it to help bind my topping mixture for the Zucchini canoes!

I start by washing two small zucchini and then slice them in half. I then scoop out the insides (leaving about a 1/2″ of pulp ) and drizzle them with a little EVOO – extra virgin olive oil.

I mince half of a small onion,  and sauté it with one teaspoon of EVOO for about two minutes.

While the onions are sautéing I mince a clove of garlic and add that to the soften onions for another minute.

I mix the onion and garlic mixture with the a cup of cooked Quinoa.  (You could also use rice or orzo.)

I could stop here and scoop out my filling into the zucchini. However, I remember that I have “Organic/ Rennet Free” Jalapeño Cheddar in the fridge. (Rennet – is an enzyme in a cow’s belly that helps cheese separate the solids from the liquids. YUCK!)  Oh yes, this cheese is from my CHEESE OF THE MONTH CLUB and I will NOT be embarrassed!  Thank you, big brother!

I use my kitchen shears to cut the cheese into small pieces and add it to the mixture.

I combine and fill my little hollowed-out canoes. They look so cute, but are missing something.  I add a couple of sprinkles of Panko (Japanese bread crumb) to give it that bit of crunch and some fresh parsley for color.  Voila!

Off to get the Big Green Egg going!

I grill them along my veggie burger for about 10 minutes. They come off the grill looking great, just a few more sprinkles of fresh parsley from my garden and our dinner was complete!

Make sure to check out my earlier blog (date?) for another recipe using these canoe boats.  They are so easy and definitely could be made ahead of time.

These little guys aren’t too bad for you … so add a nice glass of Chardonnay to your meal and call it a day!

Grill ON!



Dark Chocolate Mousse


Dark Chocolate Mousse on the Food Network.

It’s official. Bobby Flay must actually have some secret technique that he is not sharing with me about this Mousse recipe!  That has to be the problem, right?  It can’t be “my” technique … (ha-ha).  It’s not like I haven’t made chocolate mousse 15 times before … all with great success!

Oh no, just not THIS time. TWICE – I have now made this recipe, and both times it turned out with chunks of chocolate in it. (STILL tasted GREAT!)

However, mousse isn’t suppose to be chunky! (Thank you, 4th of July guests, for NOT commenting!!)

We love chocolate at our house, and by that, I mean good, rich, specialty dark chocolate.  I was spoiled as a child with high-end chocolate.  I grew up in Dayton, Ohio, where Esther Price Candy originated. ( My step father, who was raised in a small suburb of Dayton called Oakwood, would go to Esther’s front porch as a child and get chocolate samples as she passed them out.  Once you have had a piece of Esther’s Dark Chocolate melt in your mouth, you won’t bother with the cheap stuff! (You will also gain a permanent 5 lbs)

I have enjoyed making different chocolate mousse recipes over the years.  Some were light and fluffy, and others really rich and thick, more like ganache.  When we have dinner parties, it’s the question I get asked the most. “Did you make chocolate mousse?”

When I am looking for a new recipe, I normally go through all of the recipes I have pulled from magazines or go online to  I trust their Chefs and enjoy reading the review of the recipes before I make them.  No one else seemed to have the problem of chunky chocolate … lame.  Maybe you all can help me figure out where I went wrong?  I have a suspicion as to what part of the recipe I rushed …

Let’s begin!

Dark Chocolate- Chop 6 oz coarsely and slowly melt in a Bain Marie or double boiler.

In making the mousse the first time, I noticed that I didn’t get as much chocolate flavor as I would have liked. So, for the second batch , I increased the chocolate to the present 6oz.  Once the chocolate melts, set aside and let COOL TO ROOM TEMPERATURE.  I transfer the chocolate from the Bain Marie to another bowl because the residual heat from the hot water still in the Bain Marie wasn’t allowing my chocolate to cool down fast enough.  You could do this step a few hours ahead of time.

Next up, Bobby recommends whipping the cream over a “bath of ice.”  This means that you fill an extra-large bowl with ice and then put a smaller bowl in that bowl and whip the heavy cream.  Another option is to put both your whisk and bowl in the freezer for about 20 minutes.  You can even measure out the heavy cream needed and either put that in the freezer or in the back of your fridge so it is VERY cold.  I put what I need to in the freezer and move onto separating out the egg whites.

After I separate the eggs, I whip the whites into soft peaks and then add in an ounce of superfine sugar (My Aunt Pam told me about this type of sugar years ago – it dissolves faster. You can even make superfine sugar yourself at home by putting regular sugar in a food processor and pulsing about 5 times).  I then whip until the egg whites have stiff peaks. You do want the egg whites to be fairly stiff because this is what helps hold the mousse together.

It’s time to add the melted chocolate to the whipped egg whites. My chocolate was left sitting for at least 20 minutes and had cooled but POSSIBLY not enough!  Something caused chunks!

Next time, if I dare make this recipe again, I will let it cool for at least an HOUR!  I now slowly add 1/3 of the chocolate to the egg whites and FOLD with a large rubber or wooden spatula for about a minute. Then I add in the rest of the chocolate and fold until most of the whites are mixed in.

I take both the frozen bowl and whisk out of the freezer, pour in the chilled heavy cream and begin to beat.  I use my stand mixer and start at a low to medium speed for about 2 minutes and then increase the speed to medium high until there are stiff peaks. I finally add the whipped cream to the chocolate by folding it in until there are no white cream streaks left.

You can serve the Chocolate Mousse in ramekins, martini glasses or these cute chocolate cups I purchased at Sur La Table.

As I said before, the mousse tasted great but DEFINITELY had big chunks of chocolate in it! You know I will try this again … until I can get it right!!! In the mean time, I need to do about 500 sit ups to burn off all the fat from the heavy cream! Chocolate calories are, of course, free.

For those chef’s out there that are reading this … what do YOU think I did wrong? Was it the temperature of the chocolate? Or was the whipped cream too cold and that made the chocolate solidify again?

Melt on! Then MELT IT OFF at the gym! This one will pack on some POUNDS if you’re not careful with your portion size!



Denise’s Top TEN – Sorry Letterman!

I took my first cooking class at U. of Richmond about a year ago.  The first class that you are required to take is called “Tools of Trade.”  It’s a three hour class with two hours of lecture.  For those of you who have known me a long time, you know that my body starts to shake when I hear the word “lecture!”  Sitting still for 20 minutes, let alone two hours, is literally painful for me.  I don’t have ADD but I can relate to those who do.

I walked into the class ready for battle!  Grande Starbucks in hand, chewing gum in my purse and an excuse if I needed to leave early! We all sat down with a 10-page packet and got started.

Do you know what happened?  I LOVED IT!  It was truly amazing … I was in a class that I actually got!  (This wasn’t like “Operations Management”, a class I repeated THREE times in college just to get a C .  Yes, embarrassing, but come on … we have all failed at something, right?)  In this new cooking class, I already understood what most of the words and equations meant!  And the ones I didn’t, I actually wanted to learn more about.  I leaned forward, took notes and asked questions.

Through all the classes I have taken and all the cookbooks and magazines I have read, I have learned about hundreds of baking tools.  I have been fortunate that most of my instructors have been really honest about which tools work and which ones weren’t worth the money.  As an example, several instructors recommend using a tool to prep garlic that we already have on hand … just use the side of large knife to smash the garlic and then chop it up!

Most of the garlic presses sold in stores are $20 and really are such a pain to clean!

I was reminded of my kitchen tools a couple of weeks ago. We had put an offer on a house and would know within 24 hours if they accepted our offer.  I was home alone and realized that I was going to have put MY current house on the market in mere days.  So, I PANICKED and turned into Super Woman!  I am normally organized and clean, but I knew that all the closets and kitchen drawers would need to be rechecked and organized!

So, after looking through all of my kitchen drawers, I’ve decided to take out my TOP TEN favorite kitchen tools and show you the ones I enjoy using most often.

Here we GO – starting from left to right.

• 10-inch Wustof knife – This was part of a set that my brother gave me for a wedding gift. I literally had never used that huge 10″ knife (it scared me) until I took a Knife Skills class. Now, I use it 95% of the time and always when smashing garlic!

• Red Tongs – I often use them instead of a spatula as they allow me to be more precise and delicate when I am turning over something small such as a scallop or shrimp. Plus, they make flipping chicken nuggets quick and easy, too.

• Kitchen Shears – They are great for cutting chicken nuggets into smaller pieces for the kids or cutting off gross fat from chicken breasts or trimming herbs.  I use them when baking to trim dough around a pie crust or when I need to make the braid on the my sweet bread. Basically, I use them often instead of a knife!

• Lemon Squeezer – This one is the BEST, and I wish I had it when I planned a mojito party a few years ago. I use it for limes to … no need to buy a separate one.  Another fun trick, speaking of lemons.  Have you heard that lemon cleans copper?  I love copper and have been lucky to have picked up a few pieces here and there.  With some antique measuring cups I acquired I have tried three different types of cleaners and literally just gave up … until I had some leftover squeezed lemons.  I literally dipped the fleshy side of the lemon into my salt pig and then rubbed it against the copper, rinsed and  VOILA!  They are beautiful!

• Thermometer – I use this tool every day. Always checking the temperature for meats to confirm they are done. I also use it when making certain chocolate mousse recipes and candy.

Turkey and Chicken – 165 degrees  

Pork and Seafood – 145 degrees

Info from

• Mini Spatula – I seem to reach for the little ones more often than the larger ones. I am always trying to get the last bit of batter out of the bowl or off of the beater blade.  And they are great to use when stirring scrambled eggs in a small sauté pan.

• BIG Spatula – Out of all of my large ones, this one is my favorite. It is great for big bowls as it is stiffer than most, it will really scrape well.  This comes in handy when I am trying to get bread dough out of a bowl when it wants to stick to the sides!

• Red Strainer – When I first saw this strainer at Sur La Table, I thought … that looks WEIRD.  It’s square. Colander’s are not square, they are round and metal, right?  Not any more!  This one is awesome, and because it’s square, it easily fits neatly into a cabinet and doesn’t waste space.  Plus, I love that you only need one hand to carry it and the pasta slides out of one of the corners easily vs. the big DUMP from a round colander!

• Parchment paper – Makes clean up so easy when baking! For years parchment paper was expensive and sometimes hard to find. Actually, it still is, if you don’t have a Costco. Don’t confuse wax paper with parchment paper … personal experience!

• Pampered Chef glass bowls – I just love these tiny bowls. I have two different sizes and use them to measure, for storage and to set up my Mise En Place.

What’s your favorite kitchen tool? Do you have one that you couldn’t live without?  Share it with me!

Get your workouts in this week … Chocolate Mousse coming up soon!


Crunchy Almond Granola



About a month ago I joined a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) that delivers right to the door! LOVED IT!  Until I realized that I just can’t cook that many random vegetables in a weeks time. (BEETS, really?)  I have made them in one of my classes, but I am going to be honest and say I’d rather spend $4 bucks on 6 tiny ones that are already cooked for me than 40 cents on 6 that were pulled out of the sandy ground two days before.  Call me crazy!  (If you have never made beets at home … SKIP IT!)

Beets/ granola?  Let’s regroup. One of the CSA options I choose was to buy 4 cups of homemade granola. ($10)  We love granola at our house and I have made it before, so I know how much better it can be than what you get at the store.  Unfortunately, this CSA purchase was average and not worth $10.

I was inspired to make granola again!  Hmm, maybe if the Amish are selling it for $10, I could sell it! LOL! As my youngest is heading off to Kindergarten in the fall, I have started to hear those quiet voices in my head that whisper …. “SLACKER, GET BACK TO WORK!”  (I guess the voices aren’t that quiet!)

Granola is really easy to make, and I would bet that most of YOU actually have all the ingredients in your pantry now.  If you are missing one of the ingredients, you can easily swap it out with something else. (i.e. almonds for pecans or honey for maple syrup)  Cooks Illustrated had a granola recipe in their March/ April edition, so I decided to try it.  Their specific goal was to create a granola that included large chunks of granola along with the oats.

Let’s get started!  I preheat my convection oven to 325 for about 30 mins.  If you haven’t checked your oven temperature lately to see if it’s correct, it’s really easy to do.  You can buy an oven thermometer for about $3 at the grocery. Simply preheat your oven for at least 20 minutes, place your new oven thermometer inside your oven and then check to see if the reading on the thermometer is the same as the oven reading.  If it is not, check your oven manual, and you can easily adjust your oven temperature up or down.  Most oven’s aren’t calibrated correctly … 

My first step is to set up my cutting board (you can’t see it but I have a damp towel underneath the cutting board so it doesn’t move) and chop up 2 cups of whole almonds with my large Wustof knife.  (You can easily buy already sliced almonds at the store. Already sliced ones are more expensive, and I normally buy whole almonds in bulk at Costco.)

Then I chopped up the dried cherries and set aside. I love dried cherries and there is only ONE place in the country to get the best ones.  Cherry Republic in Michigan!  ( I literally order cherries in bulk from them two times a year.     (Okay … I also order their caramel popcorn in BULK  but let’s keep that on the down low.)  Richmonders, you can find their cherries at the Bizarre Bizarre.  My Aunt Fiffy sent packages of these cherries to my mother year’s ago, and we have been spoiled ever since!

Now, in a large mixing bowl, I whisk the maple syrup, brown sugar, vanilla and salt. (If you are trying to cut out sugars, you could use agave nectar in place of the maple syrup)

Whisk to combine.

Next, I stir in the oil, and then fold in the oats and almonds until fully combined.

The next step is to bake the oats on a lined baking sheet. I line mine with parchment paper because I hate doing dishes.

If you remember, the goal of the Cooks Illustrated recipe was to form LARGE chunks of granola. So, after spreading the granola over the baking sheet, I press down one side of the baking sheet to compress the ingredients together.  I place the baking sheet in the oven and set the timer for 20 minutes.  I then rotate the baking sheet – front to back – and bake another 20 minutes until lightly brown.  (I do this rotation with all cookies that I make.  Even if you calibrate your oven, it’s still really hard to get a consistent heat.  Another helper according to some of the chefs I  have taken classes with is a Pizza Stone.  They are at every pizza shop and what the pizza is baked on. They can withstand high heat and retain the heat.  My next kitchen purchase will be a pizza stone … 

Remove the baking sheet from the oven and let the granola cool.  Gently crumble the granola into a large bowl, add in chopped cherries or other dried fruit and then grab a bowl and dig in!

I thought this recipe was okay …  it didn’t have as much flavor or interesting ingredients as another one I had previously made. I even made another batch and added in an additional 3 T of honey, another teaspoon of vanilla, some flax seeds to see if that would help. It didn’t. Needless to say I had over 10 cups of granola, so I froze several bags, which we are still eating on.  I promise to make the other batch of GREAT granola and share that recipe with you soon.

The great part about making granola is that you can substitute or add whatever ingredients YOU like.  I love any recipe where you can have that flexibility!

Alright readers … I am still waiting for one of YOU to challenge me with a recipe!  If you live in RVA, I will not only make it, but bring it to you to try.  Come on, whose up?



1/3 c maple syrup

1/3 c packed brown sugar

4 t vanilla extract

1/2 t salt

1/2 c vegetable oil

5 c rolled oats (do not use quick oats … I DID!)

2 c raw almonds, chopped coarse

2 cups dried cherries, chopped

Follow my info above!


Zucchini Boats


At 16,  I became a vegetarian.

You might wonder if I first did research on the topic … or saw a movie about reasons why I should become one.  The answer would be that I did none of those … at 16, I was finding myself, just like every other teenager. I had slowly drifted into a circle of friends who wore tie dyes, saw live shows and enjoyed just hanging out.  The natural next step for me was to stop eating meat because at 16, I was more of a follower than a leader.  Hippies didn’t eat meat, they didn’t even wear leather (unless you have the belief that the chemicals made in rubber and plastic are worse on the environment than a cow hide that was already available because of the mass demand for beef) and they LOVED patchouli oil.  (Please note,  patchouli makes me sick – YUCK) So, for a year I became a junk-food vegetarian.  Looking back, I think the highlight of that year was all the cinnamon twists I had for lunch from Taco Bell.

My brother, who was in college at the time, had stopped eating “red” meat.  So, when he came home from college on holiday’s, my poor mother was at a loss as to what to prepare for dinner.  In the midwest, during the 80’s and 90’s as you might assume, most meals relied heavily on meats or casseroles with meats.

For instance, my mom always made the best lasagna.  I know that is pretty big statement, but it’s true.  For a few years she even tried making turkey lasagna for my brother, and then when he finally gave up  all meat, she knew that it was time to find another alternative.  I have no doubt that it took many attempts … my mom is a perfectionist and an amazing cook.  How could she make a hearty lasagna without meat?  She succeeded by using zucchini!  I wish I could blog about her “zucchini lasagna recipe … really I do.  But honestly, at 36, I have made it at least 36 times and I am still no where close to getting it right.  Maybe she can guest blog for me one day!  (Mother??)

So, let’s circle back around to what this blog is about … Zucchini.  I have always liked zucchini. Besides making the lasagna, my mom would make bread’s with it, too.  Honestly, I don’t think it tastes like much, so you can create whatever flavor you like based on the additional ingredients you cook with it.

I normally just slice it, then sauté on medium heat with a little olive oil, salt and pepper.  This week I had been on and had seen a version where you scoop out the zucchini pulp and then make a filling combining cheese and herbs.  I decided to make my own variation of that recipe.

I have heard that a smaller zucchini is sweeter.  I think that is true, if you are buying the really small ones that are about the same width as a baby carrot. You can find them in bags in the produce section or at some fine dining restaurants.  Otherwise, I think that they all taste about the same.

Today, I had two medium size zucchini that I halved, and then scooped out the inside pulp with a spoon. I left about 1/2 inch of pulp on either side of the inside of the zucchini for support so my filling wouldn’t just ooze out.

In my new favorite Pampered Chef glass bowls (they have measurements on the sides and lids!), I added 1/3 cup of cream cheese, 1/3 c of grated parmesan cheese, 1/2 of a small diced onion,  2 T of corn (left over from the previous night) and salt and pepper to taste.  I used a fork to combine.

Then filled the zucchini with the cheese and veggie filling. (you could add any diced veggies or cheeses to this, maybe next time I’ll try spinach)

I baked them at 350 for about 15 minutes. I think they would also be great on the grill!

We ate these so quickly that I almost didn’t have a picture of a baked one!

Next time from a presentation stand point, I will cut the ends on the bias (diagonal) and maybe add a small amount of Panko to the tops.

Judy Jackson, I remember how often you graciously made me zucchini when I was staying with you in St. Louis.  I bet you would like this recipe too!  ***Blog Followers, if you are looking for an experienced travel agent, check out Unique Discoveries by Judy Jackson.  She has worked in the travel industry for more than 30 years.  

BAKE ON … and then BURN IT OFF!!



Sweet Yeast Bread – Braided

It’s summertime friends … and that means my schedule is MINE!  Okay, almost mine … I do  have two little people who I have to drive to play dates, camps and other appointments.  So,  my baking has been a bit sporadic.

I have been repeating some of my earlier recipes … I like to do that until I “perfect” each one. Especially on the ones I have royally SCREWED UP!

A dear friend of mine, Lori,  recently had a rough few days while her son was sick in the hospital.  I wanted to make her something that she could enjoy while she physically and emotionally recovers.

Lori loves store-bought birthday cake. Now I don’t mean that she loves just a piece of it on her special day …  I mean that she buys whole cakes when it’s not even her birthday just so she can enjoy the flavor!  (Hmm, maybe she wouldn’t like me sharing this bit of info?  Honestly, “LB, the readership here is so small …  I think your secret is safe with ME!” )

Because I can’t actually make “store-bought cake”, I decided to bake for her the “sweet bread braid” that I had made before. If you have read that blog before, it’s the one that I forgot to split the recipe in half so it was HUGE!

If you have met my friend Lori, you know that she is a one of a kind.  She is maybe my funniest friend …  literally, who knew that people can clap their feet?  She started working for a company ( about two years ago and has already added over 125 people to her team.

It takes someone who works smart, constantly motivates people and has great leadership skills to build a team like that.  On the side, Lori has a part-time job as an educator and is a FULL TIME mommy to two young boys.  I am really so proud of her, and I know that she will succeed at anything she puts her mind to.

Lori, thank you for your friendship over the past 5 years.  I feel so lucky that our two boys brought us together.  I look forward to seeing what kind of trouble we can get into during the next 5.

Love ya,


PS: Lori’s famous one liner … “Wazz up SUCKA?”

Pecan Sticky Buns -Step 2! TWD

Tuesday’s with Dorie- Pecan Sticky Buns Step Two

After completing Step One, I am ready to pull my yeast dough out of the fridge and get started.

I set up my Mise En Place on the island and bring out my silpat.

I divide the dough in half and place the one piece back in the fridge. I lightly sprinkle the silpat with flour and quickly begin to roll out my yeast dough to 11 x 13 inches.  (Over the years of taking pastry classes I have found that a flat wood rolling-pin works best.) I use my special pastry brush to gently brush off any left over flour on either side.  (This brush is ONLY used for this purpose and is labeled)

I then spread half of my softened butter all over the dough.

Next I use a technique I have learned before when doing croissants.  I fold the dough into thirds.

I wrap in plastic and let it chill again in the fridge for 30 minutes. (you want the butter to firm back up) I repeat this process with the remaining half of the dough.

I set up my Mise En Place and lightly flour the silpat again.

After the dough has rested in the fridge for about 30 minutes, I set it out on my lightly floured silpat.  I roll the folded dough halves out for the final time to the 11 x 13 shape.

I again use my “special” pastry brush to remove an excess flour and then I use one of my regular basting brushes to lightly paint on a beaten egg to the bottom ¾ of the dough. (I have no idea why you don’t do this with all the dough. (anyone?)

I first combine the sugar and cinnamon and sprinkle it on the dough, and I then add the chopped pecans.

I roll up the dough into a log and use my pasty scraper when needed to keep the edges even.

I tightly wrap with plastic wrap and place in the freezer.  This recipe makes two so I double wrap the second one with plastic wrap, wrap it with foil and then put it into a gallon size freezer bag.  (I’m not losing a morning of goodness because of freezer burn!!)

The recipe says to place the rolled log in the freezer for about  an hour.  I, of course, have to run and pick up one of my monster’s from school so I get back to this about 3 hours later. (Again I LOVE when I can have the freedom to do this … Life as a mom can be so regimented with schedules)  Finally back in my kitchen, I get one of my 8 inch round cake pans as it has  higher side to it which is recommended. The recipe now recommends pressing (smushing) 1 stick of softened butter into the bottom and sides of the cake pan. After using 1/2 stick I honestly don’t know how I am going to get any more in there.  (I use another one of my favorite baking tools to smash in the butter – disposable plastic gloves!  Shout out to my Chef friend Whitney for teaching me that about 5 years ago.  I buy mine at Costco and although you think you will never go through all of them … You will!  I used them for gardening too under my regular gloves. And I use them for cleaning bathrooms. Did I mention I have two boys? I don’t think I have to say much more …)  After I have smashed in all the butter, I sprinkle on the brown sugar.  There is so much of it that (because I forgot to half it … this seems to be a theme of mine.  Note to self, “READ THE INSTRUCTIONS!”) I could have just dumped it in and pushed it around with my gloved fingers.

Now I take the frozen dough out of the freezer, place it on my cutting board and slice it into 1 ½ inch thick pieces.

I place them flat in the cake pan with the seams to the outside. (at this point they won’t touch … but just wait for another rise coming up)  I add three pecans in a triangle on top of each one, lightly pressing it down into the dough.

I set these to the side uncovered, and then let them rise for about 2 hours.  They will rise together and begin to touch.

I bake them in a preheated oven for 30 minutes.  I don’t open the oven but turn the light on and peek at 25 minutes … and witness the explosion of ONE sticky bun!  Again with my dough exploding out! Lol

They look awesome and are a light brown color,  so at 30 minutes baking time, they are ready.

I take them out of the oven and all I can say is … “Sweet Jesus.”  They looked that good!  I mean ridiculously good.  I quickly get a serving platter and flip the buns out onto that.  (Otherwise the brown sugar and butter, which turned to caramelized goodness in the oven will turn into a BRICK)

That caramel is super hot so don’t go trying to spoon some out of the bottom to try it.  (okay, do that but BLOW on it first … Lawyer AMY in Colorado, I’m covered from a “burned tongue” law suit, right?) lol

These are a TEN. No question about it.  I am always honest with my baking and if it’s just okay, I will tell you.

Enjoy! Make these for your friends if you are willing to share.  I couldn’t. Sorry neighbors, Laura and Mark!!!

After using 6 sticks of butter for one recipe,  you better get that hiney of yours to the gym too. My jeans are still angry with me for eating THREE of these. Yea, you heard me.  The husband thought there were only two left … because I ATE THE THIRD.  Sorry husband … you are a number guy. So you better start counting quicker if you want me to keep wearing a two piece!


Your fearless blogger friend,


Side Note- A few months ago my cousin Rachel had a Pampered Chef party.  My mom sent me one of the catalogs to go through and pick out a few items.  I had never been to a party before and was doubtful that I would really find something I could use. I was totally wrong and found two items that I LOVE.  One is the HUGE batter bowl. It holds 6 cups, has a pour spout, a handle and is glass.  I have used it for pancakes, whipping cream, rice and numerous other projects.  Buy one.  My other item is a small glass bowl that has measurements on the side.   I ended up with 6 of them and use them all the time now.  They are so versatile, whether measuring, separating eggs or just setting up my Mise En Place.  Again .. buy them, they will save you from using cereal bowls!

Brioche for Pecan Sticky Buns – Step One TWD

TWD- Brioche Recipe for Pecan Sticky Buns!

Another week and another recipe to conquer from Dorie Greenspan’s book “Baking with Julia.”  I have never made sticky buns before.  I don’t even think I have ever tried one before.  I have had and baked some seriously amazing cinnamon rolls.  I finally was trusted by family friends with their Cinnamon Roll recipes a few years ago.  I am hoping one day to ask them if I can share their recipe with my MANY followers.  (If you don’t know me personally … insert a dry sense of humor OFTEN)  Shout out to Terry and Mike Bevis from Ohio. I won’t mention the city as I don’t want people coming to their house weekend mornings expected a cup of coffee and some rolls!

This recipe that we are going to do today is the first part of a two-day recipe. You can find the recipe by going to amazon and buying the book OR checking out our hosts for the week. I still can’t figure out how to just insert their name and it takes you to their link. If you know, will you please let me know.  :)

Brioche- Day 1

Oh yes, back to me working with yeast breads.  If you read about my previous experience with yeast breads you are probably aware that it is technically possible to actually have a yeast bread EXPLODE and have a chef ask if  “we should just throw away your dough. “   Awesome! (Again, insert sarcasm.)

Don’t worry; I have no fear when it comes to baking, so I am ready for another round of working with yeast.

We start this Brioche sponge (starter) by warming up the milk to 100-110 degrees. I have a digital thermometer so I use that to check the temperature. (An inexpensive digital thermometer is one of my top 5 cooking tools!)

With a fork I mix in the yeast and let it set for 5 minutes. Then I add the yeast mixture, egg and flour into the stand mixer. Now start the mixer on a low speed for 20 seconds and then increase the speed and mix for 2 minutes.  I sprinkle the remaining cup of flour on top of the dough mixture.

Then, I let it rise uncovered in the mixing bowl for about 30-40 minutes.  (I peek back in the bowl and am SURE that I have screwed up the recipe already. It just looks like I dumped flour into the bowl.  However, after checking back in 40 minutes, the dough has risen and now the flour looks less like I DUMPED it on top.

Next I add the sugar, salt, eggs and a cup of flour to the sponge/starter and switch out my beater blade with the dough hook. I mix on low for about two minutes.

Then, I add in the remaining flour while the mixer is still on low and mix until incorporated.  At this point your stand mixer is going to get a workout.  Turn the speed up to medium and mix for 15 minutes. YES, 15 MINUTES!  My mixer did fine but some other bloggers commented that their mixers got very HOT!  After about 7 to 10 minutes you should start to hear the mixture “slap” (oh, yes, that is the word they use) against the side of the mixer.  If this doesn’t happen, add 3 T of flour and continue to mix for the full 15 minutes.  Now comes the fun and messy part. I take my softened butter and with my pastry scraper, I chop it up into smaller pieces on the granite.

Then I start to smear the butter across a small section of granite. You literally want the butter to be smooth.

I turn the mixer on medium low and start to add the butter a few tablespoons at a time.  The dough will separate and you will think you have ruined it …

but give it 5 minutes and watch it pull itself back together.

It is time for the first rise, so I transfer the dough into a buttered bowl covering it tightly with plastic wrap.

Let rise for about 2 ½ hours.  Now the dough needs a second rise. So I first deflate it with a new technique … use one finger to scoop around the edges and then underneath the risen dough.  (almost like you are doing a fold, but instead of a spatula you use your finger)  Historically, I have just done the PUNCH!  BAM!  I cover the bowl again and place in the fridge overnight for the second rise.

Step One Done!   Time to open a bottle of wine and clean up my mess!

This makes a lovely brioche.  Needless to say you could bake this dough by itself!

Be patient for Step Two, I think it will be worth the wait!


Hungarian Shortbread – Great Make Ahead Dessert!


Alright,  things are settling back down so I can get back to making some recipes … from the book that originally inspired me to start this blog!

You can find the recipe for the shortbread in Dorie’s book called Baking with Julia or check out the two hosts of the week who are able to share it. or

Let’s get started!

Combine the dry ingredients – flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside.

Using a stand mixer, beat the softened unsalted butter until it lightens in color.  Then add the sugar and egg yolks until smooth and creamy.   Side note – I have read in many magazines about freezing left over whites or yolks for later use. Simple put them into a plastic freezer bag and mark exactly how many yolks or whites are in there. My chef last week told me the break down in weight of the whites, yolks and shell for a large egg … but I can’t remember!  Anyone out there know?  If you know, then you can weigh out how much you need.  Once the mixture is creamy, turn down the speed of the mixer to low and slowly add in the dry ingredients. (I cover my mixer with a towel so the flour doesn’t POUF out all over.) As the flour mixes in, increase the speed until combined.

My silpat was already out, so I set that on the granite and scooped out all the dough onto the silpat. My dough is a bit dry, so I knead it a few times and that pulls it together.  I split the dough in half.

Wrap each half tightly with plastic wrap and then freeze.  The recipe says to freeze for 30 minutes, but  I really should have let it freeze for a few hours or even overnight. I love a recipe where I don’t have to rush to complete it.  I have kids and life gets crazy, so it’s nice to be able to take a break if I need to.  (unlike a chocolate mousse, where you have to be on top of it!)  

Preheat your oven.  The recipe suggests using a 9×12 inch pan.  Instead, I decide to use my new rectangular tart pan that is my new favorite baking and serving piece!  Now, this is where it gets interesting … bring out a grater , (not a microplane) and remove one of the frozen dough balls from the freezer.  Over an ungreased tart pan, (your favorite shape pan, 8 inch cake pan etc.)  start to grate the dough using the same section of the grater you would use for grating cheese.  I fill it enough so I don’t see the bottom of the pan.

I wrap the remaining dough with plastic wrap and place it back in the freezer.  Next, I gently used my fingertips to make sure I have pieces along all the edges.  I bake for 10 minutes so that layer will be able to “set” and not get soggy when I add the jam.

After the tart came out of the oven, I let it cool for about 10 minutes.  The recipe calls for a rhubarb jam.  Personally it’s been years since I have tried Rhubarb but it just sounds like an old person jam.  So, I decide to pick my favorite, which is CHERRY!  I use my small offset spatula to spread on the layer of Cherry preserves.  The small offset spatula allows me to get into all the small grooves of my tart pan.  I use about ½ cup of the cherry preserves.  I have apricot jam in my fridge for when I make homemade  croissants (will blog about soon), so I decide to spread on about a 3 inch area of apricot jam so I can try another flavor.

I bring out the remaining dough from the freezer and grate the rest of it on top of the preserves.  I use my fingertips to lightly push the grated dough into all the edges.

I bake for 18 minutes until it’s light brown in color.

Then I sprinkle with powder sugar to add to the presentation.

I would never think to make shortbread for a treat, but it is so easy, so delicious and has a nice presentation.  Plus it was fun to grate the dough; I have never done that before. Maybe that is how all short bread is made?  I also love any recipe that I don’t have to run to the grocery to get even one item.  I had everything on hand for this and it didn’t take much time to put it together!

Honestly, this was so good and for those of you who know me … you know I have no self-control. So,  I have to wrap it up quickly and freeze it.  I, of course, forgot to take a picture of the slice that I had for myself. I was going to … but I ate it too fast! I hope you enjoy this shortbread recipe, too.

If you try this please let me know what you thought about it.

So, I have no self control. I just ran to the freezer and pulled out the tart, I slice off a good size piece, quickly take a photo and then INHALE it.   Crap, I don’t think my work out this morning is going to cover the SIZE of the piece I ate.   Ahh … tomorrow is a new day!

Gym on!



Peanut Butter Chocolate Tart w/ Pretzel Crust! (from one tart to another …)


Today’s blog goes out to one of my dearest friends!

I had lived in Colorado for 10 years, just purchased my first home, had a wonderful circle of friends and a great job when … I went on a business trip and met the man of my dreams.  Months later, he brought me to his home town of Richmond, VA for the weekend.  We went to dinner with another couple,  little did I know that the wife of that couple was going to be such an important part of my life.  I’ll call her Slim … because with me having 29 followers I don’t want the Paparazzi following her like they NOW follow me!

Over the years, Slim guided me through the difficult transition into a new city, life in suburbia, marriage, children and decorating. (One day, one of her homes WILL be in a magazine!)  She is always willing to listen, encourage and offer amazing advice.  I am lucky to have her as a friend! We have had some really fun times over the years …

Mise En Place: Find the full recipe at …

I start the crust by putting the pretzels into my stand mixer. I turn the mixer on low to break the pretzels down into smaller pieces. Next, I add a stick of softened butter and the confection sugar, mixing until creamy.  Then I add the flour, egg and combine.  I add a few more pretzels, because I didn’t fully read the directions :(  …  (Only use 3/4 cup of pretzels to start and then add the remaining 1/2 cup at the end.)

I use a rubber spatula to scoop out the crust and place it on a large piece of parchment paper.   I put another piece of parchment paper on top and chill the dough in the fridge for at least 30 mins.

I decide to use a 9×4 inch tart pan with removable bottom. I had used it before and like the presentation.  I take the pretzel dough out of the fridge and keeping it in between the parchment paper, I roll it out,  (between the parchment paper) to fit the size of the tart pan. Next, I invert it and position it in the tart pan, remove any excess dough and chill for another 30 minutes. Next time, I will work a little faster as the dough did soften up rather quickly and I had to put everything back in the fridge because it was too sticky to pull off the parchment paper.  Preheat oven to 350. 

While the dough is chilling, I work on the two fillings, peanut butter and chocolate.  I’ll start with the chocolate ganache.  I finely chop 3 0z of 60% bittersweet chocolate into a small bowl then add 1/2 cup hot heavy cream,  stirring quickly to combine.  Once combined,  I put this bowl over a larger bowl filled with some ice and stir until it thickens. (You could use a double boiler or the Bain Marie for this too. I also think that you could put the warm chocolate in the fridge for 5 minutes to cool as well instead of using the ice.)

Next up, the peanut butter filling.  My brother-in-law, Dave, works for Heinz.  He is always generous in sending our family “care packages” from them! Voila … little peanut butter cups!

Using a food processor, I combine the Heinz creamy peanut butter, sweetened condensed milk and cream cheese. I pulse until smooth.  (I brought out my big food processor, but next time will use the smaller one or even a hand mixer)  In my stand mixer, I whip 3/4 cup of heavy cream to soft peaks and then gently fold in the peanut butter mixture using a rubber spatula  Set aside in fridge.

My dough for the crust is chilled by now so let’s bake it! Two years ago I bought ceramic pie weights … they have sat in a drawer since then.  Today I brought them out!  (You can use dry beans too.)  I place parchment paper over the dough, pour the weights into the tart pan and bake for about 30 minutes on 350. Then I remove the weights by lifting the parchment paper, and then I cover the outside of the crust with foil so it doesn’t burn when the crust goes back in the oven.  (The bottom of the crust doesn’t bake because of the weights.)

I place the tart pan back in the oven for 10 minutes to bake the bottom of the crust.  Cool for 10 minutes.  Lastly, I melt 3 oz of dark chocolate. Using a brush I paint the top of the cooled pretzel crust covering it completely with the melted chocolate. Let it set in the fridge for 10 minutes.  This helps keep the crust crunchy. 

Assembly:  I spread the cooled chocolate ganache into the crust, using an offset spatula to get into each crevice of the tart pan. I then chill in the fridge for 10 minutes to set.

I use this time to make some chocolate curls for decoration on top. I had done this once before and it was a nightmare. This time it was really easy.  I put four squares of dark chocolate into the microwave (separately) for 30 seconds and then use a vegetable peeler to make several curls. (I put these in the fridge to save for a garnish) Next, I add the peanut butter mousse over top of the ganache. YUM!

I cover the tart with plastic wrap so the mousse doesn’t take on any odors in the fridge and let it set overnight.

Serve: 10 minutes before serving I transfer the tart to a serving platter and sprinkle with the chocolate curls.  (You could also add some dollops of fresh whipping cream.)

Slim, thank you for being such a wonderful friend!  Maybe we should get together  this week after we eat this and go for a long walk … or a RUN!

Bake On Darling!


PS:  Slim, of course I would BLOG about this one … too pretty to let it pass up.

Spanakopita Bites – Appetizer or Side Dish!

I found this recipe on Pinterest a few weeks ago and knew I had to try it.  Traditionally, you will find spanakopita in little triangles. This recipe was different, as this spanakopita is made in mini muffin pans. (I knew there had to be another use for those muffin pans!)

I was really hoping that I could count these as a “healthy” appetizer … and although they are made with lots of spinach, don’t fool yourself.  They are also filed with cheese and a LOT of melted butter!

One of the cheeses for this recipe is a new favorite of mine.  FETA!  While down in Costa Rica this past spring I had the BEST feta cheese with my friend Alina. It was rich, flavorful, smooth and definitely not the grocery store feta I had previously tasted.  I asked my Greek neighbor, Doreen, for some suggestions as to where to get some good feta in RVA.  She recommended two places – Nick’s Produce and the Mediterranean Bakery by Regency. I know only buy fresh feta.

Onto to the recipe!  Please check out Jo Ellen’s blog, for the original recipe and some other great recipes. I changed a couple of ingredients from Jo Ellen’s.

Mise En Place: Preheat convection oven- 375 degrees

1 Tablespoon olive oil
1 small white onion, diced finely
10 ounces frozen chopped spinach- thawed and squeezed dry
4 to 6 ounces domestic feta cheese, crumbled Did you know there is French Feta too?) AMAZING!
1 cup lowfat cottage cheese (or 1/2 cup and 1/2 cup of greek yogurt)
1 egg
Salt and pepper to taste
1 pound phyllo, thawed
6 tablespoons unsalted butter (3/4 stick), melted
Additional -2 tablespoons olive oil

First step, I take out one package of store-bought phyllo dough from the freezer and allow it to start defrosting. Then I finely dice up a small onion and sauté it over medium heat until the onion turns translucent and soften.

While the onion is sautéing, I put the spinach in a strainer (side note – after the spinach has defrosted, literally squeeze out as much of the water as you can). This is not a gentle squeeze. This is an ” I AM SUPER WOMAN!” squeeze.  This is a SMASH it against the metal strainer and think of an ex-boyfriend kind of Smash!  If you don’t get out all of the water your bites will turn into mush. YUCK!

In a bowl- mix the drained spinach, feta, cottage cheese and egg.  Next, add the softened onions and season lightly with salt and pepper. Remember your feta and cottage cheese are salty to begin with so try it and see how you like the flavor before you over salt.

Then, I melt down the 3/4 cup of butter in the microwave and set aside. (Next time I’d use 1/2 c butter.)

I now gently unfold the phyllo and with a pizza cutter, I slice it into 2 inch squares.

Then I fill each cup with 2 pieces of the phyllo dough (see picture below) and use a brush to “paint” the inside of each cup with the melted butter.  Then I place 2 more phyllo squares into each cup and repeat twice. (Each cup will have been filled with 2 pieces of phyllo- 3 times.)

Time to fill them up!  I use a cereal spoon to put a heaping teaspoon in.  Bake in the preheated over for 15-20 minutes. ENJOY!!!

These are great appetizers because you can prepare them beforehand and then pop them in the oven right before your guests arrive.  As you know, I am a vegetarian so I eat these for my main meal and will also serve them as an easy side dish to guests.

Because they were so good, I had to freeze the remaining because I was afraid I would eat all of them. They are that good.  After being frozen and thawed, they reheated perfectly at 375 for about 6-8 minutes.

I know I have mentioned  previously, to my whopping 40+ followers, the importance of using only unsalted butter. Unsalted butter is the freshest.  Salt is a preservative, so who knows how long ago the salted butter made. 

It goes without saying that I got my myself  to the gym.  I had to keep repeating “melted butter” every time I wanted to slow down on the stair master.  I always feel bad for the people who are next to me on the equipment - I am always out of breath, my hair is a mess, and I am lip syncing to whatever hip hop I am listening too.  It’s not pretty!  Thankfully, I am already married because this look is not one to duplicate if you are trying to pick up people at the gym!

Bake on and get to the gym. (please remind me to get to the gym too … I hate working out!) NO DAD, it does not make me feel better!!!


PS: I had leftover filling which I used the next morning mixed in with my organic eggs.  Awesome! 

PS2: My mom is one of my editors … I love all of her edits and suggestions! My favorite line that got TAKEN OUT of this week’s blog was  ” I don’t think we use God’s name in the same paragraph with the word BUTT!”  LOL   She is awesome … and right!

Chocolate Mousse Cake – The Triple Threat!


It’s official … I have met my match and it came in the form of a birthday cake!

My husband of 8 years loves chocolate.  Over the years I have made chocolate cakes, mousse, tarts, fudges and even chocolate caramel. I have collected recipes in food magazines and searched on Pinterest for chocolate desserts for the last couple of months.  I found some interesting ones on Pinterest.  However, they either had no recipe attached, (frustrating) they were actually for sale or they requested supplies that were way above my cooking level.  (mylar? really?  I unsuccessfully searched three stores … only to use wax paper which substituted perfectly!)

For years I have tried to one up myself … this year was no exception.  How can I try a new recipe, that even if it flops, it will still taste good? (Because, isn’t that just as important?)  I like a challenge when it comes to baking.  Throw 30 steps my way, make me bring out nine bowls, clean the stand mixer twice, bloom cocoa powder (who does that anymore?), bring out the double boiler, and oh yes, even the scary candy thermometer. I LOVE IT ALL!  I am exhausted after… but I love the challenge.  This is why I enjoy cooking. I love to learn from my mistakes.  (If you have read my previous blogs, you know I make them. Let’s not bring up the FAILURE COMPLETE once again … blowing up yeast bread is no longer on my list of “unaccomplished”!) I love the quiet satisfaction of knowing in my heart that a recipe was good … okay, great!  This recipe I am making today is a combination of two recipes. One from my Aunt Pam and the other from Bon Appetit

Let me break down the steps in order … cake/mousse/chocolate bands/curls.

Aunt Pam’s Famous Chocolate Cake: Mise En Place

I, of course, called my Aunt and asked her if I could give away her recipe.  She quickly let me know that it’s from an old McCalls magazine. I think McCalls went under so I now designate it as  “AUNT PAM’S FAMOUS CHOCOLATE CAKE!”   Amy Bauer, I appoint you my official blog attorney. I promise to pay you what I pay my editors … half of nothing. Please let me know if I’ll get sued by releasing that name to the 20 people who actual read this blog! :)  My Aunt has been making this recipe for years and it’s perfect  …  moist and rich!

The first step is to BLOOM the cocoa. This is the only recipe that I have made where you need to do this.  Cooks Illustrated states “that blooming cocoa allows the flavor molecules to burst forth, amplifying flavor.”  To bloom you mix the measured cocoa powder with boiling water and whisk quickly until the cocoa dissolves.

Then you cool this mixture to room temperature.  (allow 20 minutes for this)

While the cocoa is cooling, we can start to make the batter.  First,  sift together the flour, salt, baking powder and baking soda with your metal strainer over a mixing bowl. Set aside.

Next, in another mixing bowl or your stand mixer, cream together the room temperature butter and the sugar until light and fluffy.  We then  add in 4 large eggs and the vanilla.  (Did you know that you should always use large eggs unless it’s written specifically to do otherwise?  I didn’t know that until about a year ago. I always assumed extra-large.) Beat the mixture in your stand mixer for 5 minutes on medium high.  After the 5 minutes, please turn you mixer down to low-speed and alternate adding in the sifted flour mixture and the cooled bloomed cocoa.  Start and end with the flour. (No idea why, I’ll have to ask Aunt Pam.)

Be sure to cover your mixer with a clean towel.  Even with the mixer on low it could pouf up on you if the engine starts too fast.  Divide the chocolate batter into two greased and floured cake pans. Another option, is to cut out parchment rounds that fit into the bottom of the 8 inch cake pans.

Bake for 25 – 30 minutes.  I learned a little trick at the cooking school.  The chef literally nudged the entire oven.  If the cake moved … it wasn’t set.  If it appeared set, then she would open the oven and double-check with a wiggle of the oven rack.  I also have used the “touch” test … when touched gently with your finger, the cake top should spring back at you.  But what does that really mean?  I push down … it comes back up … but did it come back up enough or fast enough?  Today the “bump” worked for me!   Set aside to cool, about 20 minutes. Finally, gently remove each cooled cake from the pans and place each on a wire rack until ready to use.

Mousse: Mise En Place

We love chocolate mousse at our house.  I have tried at least 6 different recipes over the years, and today was another new one.  This one adds in Irish Cream, but you can easily leave it out or use Frangelica if you like a raspberry flavor.  This time I start by whisking in the sugar and eggs in a double boiler  (easiest explanation, metal bowl over an inch of gently simmering water) until the temperature of the mixture  reaches 160 degrees.  This is the temperature that it takes to kill the bacteria, use that temperature for cooking chicken too. 

It requires about 5 mins of medium heat and constant stirring. You want the mixture smooth and the eggs not to “cook”.  Once it reaches 160 degrees, I remove the egg mixture from the heat and pour it into my stand mixer.

On medium high-speed, I let the mixer work for about 10 minutes, until the mixture cools down and thickens. (next time I will probably extend my mixing time to 11-12 minutes)

The second part of the Triple Threat is fun for me because I get to bring out a new cooking tool that my mom surprised me with after I posted my first blog.  It’s called a Bain Marie,  and it is a double boiler!

(Did you notice the cheese mention in there … you all know I love cheese!)  First, I easily fill up the water compartment of the double boiler and then place it on the range on medium heat. Then I put the chocolate in the Bain Marie, (top part of a regular double boiler) and let it melt until smooth.

I remove it from the stove and let it cool to room temperature. (Side note – if you need to rush this cooling process, remove the chocolate from the Bain Marie because as there is still hot water inside, it will take longer to cool.)

The third and last step of  making the mousse is the whipped cream. I decide to do this by hand … because I am tired of cleaning out my stand mixer bowl and the chefs at Sur La Table and University of Richmond do it without effort.

As a reminder, one of the most important steps in any recipe is an obvious one …  READ THE ENTIRE RECIPE BEFORE STARTING!  Since I know, from pre-reading the recipe that we are going to make whipped cream, I start by putting my metal bowl, whisk, Irish Cream and whipping cream in the freezer before I start the mousse. (about 20 minutes)  

One other piece of info for you on before starting, there is a difference between half and half and whipping cream. (fat percentages 36 vs 39)  From my understanding, you can whip half and half but it won’t set/hold up as well as whipping cream.  Alright, enough details, let’s get going!  I take everything out of the freezer and begin to whisk the heavy whipping cream and Irish cream by hand.

Then I stop and look longingly over at the bowl of the stand mixer  and think … WHY DIDN’T I JUST WASH THAT?  “Breathe!” Moving on,  I keep mixing until my arm says “ENOUGH!”

You really need to beat it until there are stiff peaks.  This process is really important because the whipped cream is going to hold your mousse together.

I believe I earn a piece of cake because of this work out!

Next, I fold the melted chocolate into the thickened egg mixture.  Then I gently fold in the whipped cream.

Cover and chill until set, at least 4 hours or overnight.

Needless to say, I will split up the cake recipe and mousse the next time I do this.  The cake can easily be wrapped tightly and frozen for up to a month.

Cake/ Mousse Assembly: Step one is to cut your cake into layers. I tried a new trick today after seeing someone on tv do something similar. I set two baking sheets on either side of the cooled cake.

I use a bread knife and slice the cake in half making sure that I keep both baking sheets level so the cake could be cut evenly.  This worked for me.

There is an actual tool you can buy for cutting cake accurately, but I am a home baker so I don’t care.  Repeat this process with the second cake. You will have 4 layers, use all if you want, save the 4th for another cake or secretly eat it and don’t tell anyone …

You can put the cake on a serving plate or a cardboard cake plate.  I put a small dollop of the mousse onto the cake plate to hold the bottom layer. I gently set the first layer of the cake down on the cake plate. (I flip the cake so the bottom of that cake is now the top) then I put a HUGE dollop (1.5 cups?) of mousse on the cake.  I used an offset spatula to gently spread the mousse over the top stopping at the edges.  I add the second layer oaf cake and repeat the mousse addition.

My final layer for this cake is my third. I put the last of the mousse on top and place the cake in the fridge to chill. 20 mins.

Chocolate Bands and Curls: I was really nervous about this step. One recipe I researched used mylar for this process, I still don’t know what that is!!!  I thought that I was going to have to give up on the bands until I saw the wax paper idea on another recipe.

Step one, bring out my cool new Bain Marie, (double boiler) add the chocolate and a small amount of shortening and melt down until a smooth consistency.

While the chocolate is melting, line a baking sheet with aluminum foil.  Cut two pieces of wax paper (as high as your cake, 4-5 inches) and about 20 inches long.  Set those on the baking sheet.  Keep stirring your chocolate while you are doing this process.  When I melt chocolate, my heat is just under medium … you do want the water to gently BOIL (simmer) in the double boiler.  Once the chocolate melts, I slowly pour the chocolate down the wax paper.

Then using an off set spatula, I gently spread out the chocolate so it is almost touching the edges. Place the entire baking sheet in the fridge for about 5 -8 minutes. … just until it softly sets.  My recipe said two minutes, but it took mine longer.

Remove the bands from the fridge. Gently picking up the chocolate strips, with wax paper still on it, press it around the one side of the cake. (don’t remove the wax paper) Do the same with the other strip of chocolate until the chocolate strips fully encircle the outside of the cake.

Use kitchen shears to cut any overlap of the chocolate strips. (STILL don’t remove paper) Put the cake back in the fridge for at least 5 minutes or longer if needed then remove the wax paper.

“Lose a finger” Curls- Yes, that is what I am going to call them.  The curls are for the top of the cake to add a decorative finish.  You take chocolate baking squares, melt them for about 20-40 seconds in your microwave and then peel them with a vegetable peeler.  I thought I was going to cut my finger with every peel.  If anyone has an easier way, let me know … obviously a larger piece of chocolate would have been easier too!  I made a lot less curls because of the finger I didn’t want to lose!  You can do these ahead of time and refrigerate them.

Final Presentation! Take the cake out of the fridge, add the chocolate curls to the top of the cake mounding them more in the center.

Lightly sprinkle with powder sugar over the top with the metal strainer and serve!

This one was a LONG one … but every time I do a new recipe I always figure out ways to improve the way I made it.  Next time, I would break up the steps so it wasn’t all in one day. I would go to a chocolatier and find a larger piece of chocolate that I could make those curls, without fearing the loss of a finger.  AND, I would try not to eat so much of the batter, mousse or melted chocolate along the way!

Without question, I have had to step up my workouts after making this dessert.  I even did a few sit ups!!!

Bake on …



Savory Puff Pastry – Side Dish


A friend of mine, Jean Marie Kennedy  and fellow student from the University of Richmond Cooking School, made her TV debut on NBC12 with this recipe.   It looked so good; I had to try it.  I’ve made puff pastry a few times for Palmier Cookies but had never used it in a savory recipe.  You can quickly make puff pastry or find it in your grocers freezer section. Pillsbury is the best brand.

When we have people over for dinner, I usually try to have many menu items completed in advance so I can enjoy time with our friends.  Ninety percent of the time I end up making asparagus in the oven as our side dish for this reason. It’s so forgiving with just a light squeeze of a lemon, sea salt and pepper!  But when I saw Jean Marie on TV going through the list of ingredients for this recipe, (cheese, puff pastry, asparagus, cheese … did I already mention cheese?)  I knew I had to try this as an alternative to plain asparagus!  This recipe proved to withstand sitting for several hours (refrigerated) before baking.  That is huge for me when I am planning a dinner for friends.

Mise En Place:

I gather the measured ingredients and set them on my island. I have store-bought puff pastry in the freezer, so I take it out to defrost for about 20 minutes. As I didn’t have fresh thyme, I used fresh dill from my garden. I like that you can substitute herbs without losing the integrity of the recipe.

Let’s get started!  I begin by mixing in a large bowl the softened cream cheese, butter, grated parmesan, dill, sea salt and nutritional yeast (it doesn’t really taste like much but apparently is good for me).  I should soften my cream cheese a bit more as it is pretty dense.

Next I wash the asparagus and cut them into 3 inch pieces, only using the tips.  Set aside.

I unfold my thawed puff pastry onto my lightly floured silpat.  I roll it out a few times and then cut the large rectangle into smaller rectangles … about 4 x 3 inches.

The next step is to spread out the cream cheese mixture onto the puff pastry rectangles, leaving a border of about a 1/2 inch.  This is a bit  difficult because my cream cheese is still rather cold and not as spreadable as I would like.  But this doesn’t have to be perfect as it will melt and spread when cooked.

Then I place the asparagus on top of the cream cheese mixture. Lifting each pastry with a large spatula, I arrange them on a lined baking sheet.

I now only line my baking sheets with parchment paper.  About a year ago, I asked my mom to special order parchment sheets for my birthday, I used them sparingly since I knew they were expensive.   Two months ago, I found a HUGE roll of it at Costco and now I use it for EVERYTHING!

Next up, I sprinkle each rectangle with the remaining parmesan. (Okay, I should mention that I ate the leftover parmesan. So, I had to grate more. This may also be a good time to confess that I am a member of an organic cheese of the month club!)  Also, in looking at the picture below, you may notice that my rectangles aren’t perfect … big surprise that I cut them wrong the first time … as in the shape was more like bread sticks! lol  So, I had to piece them together after a quick consult with Jean Marie. :)

I pop them in the oven for about 20 mins and VOILA!  They puff up and look so cool.

Most of you know that I am a vegetarian … so these were MY dinner but side dishes for my boys!  I can’t wait to make these again the next time we have friends over.  Although, now that I have blogged about them, they will know how easy they were to make.  Isn’t that the trick of a great dinner party?  Serving something that looks amazing but only took you a few minutes to make!  LOVE IT! If you are looking for an easy vegetarian appetizer, you could make mini versions of this!

Jean Marie, thank you so much for letting me share this recipe with my family and friends.  I look forward to learning more from you!  You can find more information about what Jean Marie is up to on Facebook or her website, Simply Savory. If you live in RVA, you can find Jean Marie selling her goods at the Forest Hill Farmers Market each week.

Bake On!


PS: I had some puff pastry and cream cheese mixture left so I decided to make another batch. This time I used small pieces of fresh broccoli.  YUM!

Asparagus Cheese Tarts


  • 1 sheet frozen puff pastry
  • 16 thin spears of asparagus (or 8 thick ones, halved lengthwise)
  • 6 oz cream cheese, softened
  • 2 tablespoons butter, softened
  • ¼ cup parmesan cheese, grated
  • 1 clove minced garlic
  • 2 tablespoons fresh chives
  • ½ teaspoon thyme
  • 1 pinch sea salt
  • 4 tablespoons parmesan cheese, shaved


  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
  2. Remove pastry dough from freezer and let thaw for 20 minutes.
  3. In medium bowl, combine cream cheese, butter, grated Parmesan, garlic, chives, thyme and salt; set aside.
  4. Wash and trim asparagus, cut in half cross-wise.
  5. Unfold dough onto a floured surface, roll out enough to flatten, cut into 8 rectangles.
  6. Transfer the rectangles to a parchment covered half sheet pan.
  7. Spread cream cheese mixture onto each of the pastry rectangles, leaving ½ inch border all the way around.
  8. Press four asparagus spears onto each rectangle, alternating direction (you will have to fiddle with the length of the asparagus a bit).
  9. Sprinkle with the reserved parmesan cheese – about ½ tablespoon for each tart.
  10. Bake for 18-22 minutes until pastries are golden brown.
  11. Remove from oven, and transfer to serving platter.


Sour Cream Coffee Cake – MY MOST REQUESTED


Are you ready for the big reveal?  Since 99% of my followers are my closest friends and family, I am sure you know the answer to this.

SOUR CREAM COFFEE CAKE!  My mom told me that she made this recipe for the first time a few days after I was born.  So, it’s been in our family for a LONG TIME!

Over the years, I have made at least 50 of these coffee cakes and am always asked for the recipe.  I have experimented changing up the recipe here and there to lighten up the fat and calories. But honestly, I probably eat as little as two slices every year, so; we are going for the almost FULL FAT version today!  I always double this recipe as it freezes really well, and it’s always nice to give one to a friend!

Mise En Place

In a large standing mixer, I combine 2 sticks of room temperature unsalted butter and 1 cup of shortening for about a minute.  Once they have combined, I add in the sugar and mix at a medium high speed for another minute.  Whenever you cream butter and sugar together,  it is important that the butter is softened to room temperature. If you need to hurry that process, I would suggest cutting the sticks of butter into one inch pieces and giving them at least 20 mins to soften.

Next,  I add in the eggs (one at a time, giving about 30 seconds between each addition), vanilla and sour cream . Mix until well blended, scraping down the sides and bottom of the bowl if need be.

Finally, I slowly add in the flour (1/3 at a time).  I always cover my standing mixer because I hate it when the flour POUFS and makes a mess everywhere. I also start the mixer on low for about 30 seconds and then increase the speed with each addition of flour. Set Aside once combined.

Topping: For this, I use a small food processor, but you can also do this by hand.  I put in whole pecans, cinnamon and brown sugar and then pulse it about 15 times. You want the pecans to break down into small pieces so you can sprinkle them on the batter layers.  (I have found that one of my handful’s is a half of a cup of pecans)

Grease two bundt pans with butter or an oil spray.  This is the only recipe that I like to use the oil spray so I know I am getting into every crevice of the bundt pan. I use a huge spoon and scoop out roughly 1/3 full of the cake mixture.  I place it equally around the bottom of each pan, trying to not get the batter all over the sides. I gently smooth out this layer of batter before sprinkling on the topping. (I use 2/3’s of the topping on this first layer of  the cake)  For the top layer of the cake, I evenly split the rest of batter and spoon it into the two bundt pans and then sprinkle this last layer with the remaining topping.

Bake both cakes on the middle rack at 375 degrees for about 45 mins.

Do not over bake the cakes or they will be dry and lack rich flavor.  I use a big wooden skewer instead of a toothpick to check the doneness.

Cool cake for 10 minutes and then use a small tool (like a plastic or rubber spatula) to help release the edges, separating the cake from the pan as far down the side of the pans as you can.  Don’t be tempted to use a dinner knife, as it will scrape your bundt pan. (yes, I know this from experience!)

I’d let it cool for another 15-20 mins before doing the big FLIP! What is the big FLIP? Check out my first video and potentially last video!  (notice the work out clothes … if you are going to eat more than 2 pieces of this a year and need to hit the stair master!)

If you can’t down load the video, here is my best explanation. Use that small tool to go around all the edges again …  don’t forget the middle circle. I then put a thick paper plate (or 3-4 thin ones) on a regular dinner/serving plate and put those plates on top the bundt pan.  Next, holding the bundt pan with the plates on top, firmly with both hands, I literally give it one big shake. Then I do the big flip and invert the bundt pan.  Then I say a small prayer. (see mom, I do pray) and hope for the best.  I gently set the plate down on the counter, and slowly lift off the bundt pan … VOILA!  It worked .. or it flopped. (it will taste just as good if it flops!)  I lightly sprinkle (using a metal sifter) the top with powdered sugar to add to the presentation and hide imperfections!

Enjoy … and you really should share this …


PS: if you want a less fat version let me know, as I have tried just about every alternative fat out there.  Greek Yogurt is the best!


2 sticks of butter or 1 stick and 1/2 c of shortening
2 c white sugar
2 large eggs
cream together
1 c sour cream
1/2 t vanilla
1/4 t salt
1 1/4 t baking powder
2 c cake flour
2 T brown sugar
1t cinnamon
1/2 c chopped pecans
pour 1/3 into greased coffee cake pan
sprinkle with 2/3 topping
pour remaining batter
top with remaining topping
Cook for 40-50 minutes
Let cool for 10 minutes and flip it onto a serving plate.


Irish Soda Bread- TWD


About two months ago, my mother emailed me and let me know that we are part Irish!  Apparently, she had been on and discovered this exciting part of our history!

Lucky for me, one of my college roommate, (Amy) who was Irish, taught me to drink like I was Irish so at least I was comfortable with part of being Irish! Literally, I think I consumed more Jamison in those years than most people drink in their life.  If you haven’t tried it … skip it! (No Offense Amy. I wouldn’t however skip all the crazy times that happened AFTER the Jamison!)

My husband is 100% Irish, he could actually get a dual citizenship if he wanted. One day I’d like to go to Ireland and visit with my boys, but in the meantime, it’s fun for me to learn about the Irish.  So, I was excited when I saw the Irish Soda Bread on our recipe list.  I actually have made soda bread before as my in-laws gave me two recipes that I made over the last year.  My favorite one had caraway seeds in it! YUM

What I found interesting about this recipe is that the Irish made it often because they usually had the ingredients on hand.  It is really fast to make and you only need four ingredients! (flour, salt, baking soda and buttermilk) Buttermilk?  Really, the Irish have buttermilk on hand?  Hmm … how many of you have buttermilk on hand?  I’m guessing only one of my followers has it … AUNT PAM! :)   If you have a great buttermilk recipe, let me know because I have two cups left!

Our host for the week is … Carly.  You can find the detailed recipe on her blog!

Mise En Place

In a large bowl, I mixed the dry ingredients together.  Then I slowly added in the buttermilk and mixed it quickly to combine.  You don’t want to over mix the dough … so just enough that it pulls together.  Then I placed the dough on a lightly floured silpat and kneaded it for about a minute.  Silpats are a great way to keep your counter clean.  They are even top-rack dishwasher safe!  Next, using my hands, I gently pressed the dough together to become a round ball, about 6 inches wide.

Then I placed it on a baking sheet, lined with parchment paper.  I used a knife to cut an X on the top and baked it at 375 degrees for 50 mins. I let it cool for an hour and sliced into it for dinner.  It was good, but even better with some butter!  You could also add dried fruits to the recipe to give it some additional flavors.

On a final note, I always use a convection oven.  I have heard from several of my cooking teachers that it cooks more evenly.  I hear a lot of people say that it cooks a lot faster. For me, when I cook meats, I only check doneness with a thermometer. When I make cookies, I know they are done most of the time by the look of them.  Breads … well, I am learning about breads now.  Apparently 200 degrees is the golden number.  I should have remembered that today as I think the bread could have handled another 5+ minutes in the oven. (another possible bread failure???)

In case you were wondering … I worked out twice this weekend. Just so I could eat more … :)



Lemon Loaf Cake – TWD


I love lemon … so I was really excited to try this lemon pound cake from the Baking with Julia cookbook.

Mise En Place:

I used my microplane to grate 3 lemons. I learned in one of my classes to only scrape the yellow part of the lemon. If you grate to deep you will get some of the white rind, which is bitter.  The microplane is a great tool for grating fruit rinds and hard cheeses. It was originally designed after a woodworking tool called a rasp.  In fact, there are many kitchen tools that came from home improvement shops!  (a putty knife – looks like a tool we use to scrap up dough from the counter!)

This recipe is really easy and only needs a large bowl and a whisk!  I started by whisking the eggs and sugar until frothy. Then I added in the lemon rinds.

Next, I sifted together the flour and baking powder.  I added the flour in 3 increments, whisking to blend … I learned a trick from my mom years ago.  She uses a hand-held metal wire strainer instead of an actual sifter, less of a hand work-out.  I was surprised after sifting that I did have a few clumps of flour remaining at the bottom of the strainer …

I added the melted butter and stirred it in with a big spoon.  A friend of mine, Lori, previosly sold Tastefully Simple.  If you have ever made their Almond Pound Cake, you know that you add in melted butter last, just before you bake it.  I realized that the melted butter gives the outside of the pound cake a slight candy crunch.  It does the same for this lemon cake …

Lastly, I had to grease my loaf pan. I remembered a trick that one of my Cooks Illustrated magazines suggested.  They save their butter wrappers and freeze them in a ziploc bag.  I took a wrapper out of the freezer and used it to butter the pan.  It was easier and less messy than using a stick of butter, and there wasn’t the chemical flavor of an oil spray.

The recipe mentions that with most pound cakes you should wait a full day before eating them.  How does anyone do that?  I let it cool for about an hour and cut right into it.  It was good …not sure I would make it again though.  I would have liked it to be more moist … maybe it would have been had I waited a day!

So, another recipe completed from the BIG BOOK!  I am looking forward to seeing what is next as I have loved baking each week.

Bake on!



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