Wednesday, October 31, 2007


Here's an easy recipe for salmon marinade that gives the fish a nice flavor:

Grilled Marinated Salmon

INGREDIENTS: 1/4 cup honey
3 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
2 Tbsp. cider vinegar
1 tsp. crushed fresh garlic
1-1/2 Tbsp. grated fresh ginger
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1/2 tsp. sea salt
2-3 fresh salmon fillets or steaks
DIRECTIONS: Mix all ingredients in a medium resealable plastic bag. Massage to combine well. Add fish and massage again to cover fish well. Refrigerate 5-10 minutes or up to 1 hour, no longer. Remove fish from marinade and place on hot grill (400-450 degrees F.) Depending on thickness, salmon should take no longer than about 8 minutes. It should be pink in center (rare) and will continue to cook as it stands. I like to spray a piece of aluminum foil with non-stick cooking spray and cook the salmon on that. Clean up is easier because the skin doesn't stick to the grill grates. However, as you can see, there are no appetizing grill marks when cooked this way. If you care about that, just grill the salmon, skin side up, for a minute or so or until a nice grill mark shows, then flip it over and put it on the tinfoil to finish cooking. Any leftover salmon makes a great lunch the next day (salmon salad, or green salad with salmon or salmon sandwich)

Sunday, October 28, 2007


Guy and I visited my sister and brother-in-law in Knoxville after first stopping in Greensboro to celebrate our son's birthday. We had dinner at Leblon Currascaria, a Brazilian Steakhouse. This is a new fixed-price-concept restaurant that is sweeping the country. One price gets you the exotic salad bar, then you are given a coaster-like piece of cardboard that is green on one side and red on the other. When you turn it over so the green side shows, the gauchos (carvers) come to your table with meats that have been grilled over an open flame and slowly spin-roasted. No less than 10 selections of beef, chicken, lamb, pork and sausage come to your table, so that you can taste test them all. The salad bar was to die for. That's where my raves end. I was sorely disappointed in the meats, especially the pork which tasted spoiled to me. The filet mignon was overcooked and wasn't that tender, and the bacon wrap tasted spoiled also. I thought it was overpriced and overrated.

Knoxville is an interesting city. Guy calls it a big little town. The population of the city was 173,890 in 2000. The county's population was 411,967 in 2006. It's an easy city to get around in because of the highway systems that have been designed to transport you easily from one part to the other, and the surrounding Great Smoky Mountains make for beautiful scenery. Knoxville is hilly, which is a stark contrast to the flat land of East Carolina. The abundance of hardwoods in red, gold and yellow foliage also made the town pretty. (East Carolina has an abundance of pine trees which just stay green all year.)

We arrived just in time for the big game: University of South Carolina (Gamecocks) were playing University of Tennessee (Volunteers). The University of Tennessee sports teams are called "Volunteers" or "Vols" and are extremely popular in the surrounding area -- so much so that the telephone area code for Knox County and 8 adjacent counties is 865 (VOL), and orange and white is everywhere, reminding me of a giant creamsicle. Our niece, Corey, is a junior at UT and hosted a pre-game party on Saturday night which we visited briefly. We had a great time -- everyone was on supercharge because of the game. I also had a full day shopping with my sister and we found some great bargains. It was like being let out of a cage since New Bern has zero shopping. Williams Sonoma, Bed Bath & Beyond, World Market and Cooks Corner were some of my favorite places. I got some pretty placemats and napkins, Nielsen Massey vanilla paste, saffron threads, celtic sea salt and even some 550 Levis, but then time ran out and we had to quit. There were so many more stores to cover, but no more time. I would move to Knoxville just for the shopping. I'll be posting some recipes once we're back home.

On the way back home, we visited Asheville, NC, another beautiful mountain town which reminded us of a Colorado resort town. Because Asheville sits up higher, the mountains are very visible just about all the time. So every where you go, you see these gorgeous mountains and the blue sky -- breathtaking. Downtown Asheville is a cross-section of Asheville life and the main drags (Broadway and Biltmore) are filled with bistros, sushi bars, assorted restaurants, art stores, and of course, the Mast General Store which has 5 or 6 locations in NC and even one in Knoxville at the Old Brewery. The Mast General Store is worth a visit. They have the old candy barrels filled with candy, and lots of interesting gadgets, memorabilia, kitchen items, and even clothing and shoes. We ate at the 1896 Restaurant, for lunch and dinner, and both meals were great! Very upscale food, well prepared with excellent service. Prices were fair. For lunch I had a tuna wrap that I don't think had a drop of mayo in it, but did have mango, avocado, sprouts, dried cherries and a sauce that had nice kick to it. It came with cream of vegetable soup that was really good. I heartily recommend this restaurant. We snuck a look at Biltmore Village, which was mostly closed (Sunday), but looked interesting. They are adding to it, and more construction is underway, even a new hotel. We'll try to go back there next time we hit Knoxville so we can finish touring this fascinating city.

Traveler's Tips: Knoxville's Best restaurant: Puleo's Grille -- 3 locations. Great prices, fantastic food. Puleo's is a traditional steak and seafood restaurant that has been blended with southern comfort and traditional Italian offerings. I could have ordered everything off the extensive menu -- it all sounded delicious. Each of us ordered something different and none of us was disappointed. Their Caesar salad is wonderful. We didn't get to try the Chocolate Lasagne because we were too stuffed, but it sure sounded great. I would love to move this restaurant to New Bern -- I'd be eating there every night.

Monday, October 22, 2007


I saw this recipe on as a coffeecake recipe. (The original recipe is on the Land of Lakes website.) Since I am on a muffin mission, I decided to make muffins with the recipe. Why not? Muffins are easier to work with. You can freeze muffins individually and take one out of the freezer on a whim, pop it in the microwave or sit it on the counter for 15 minutes, and you have a dessert/snack/sweet treat. A coffeecake would be a tad easier to make since you are only dealing with one single pan, but then what do you do with it if you are making it for yourself? Pig out on coffeecake? You could slice it into individual servings and freeze that way, but like I said, muffins are the perfect answer.

I didn't change anything in the recipe and I am so glad that I didn't. These muffins are absolutely delicious. The crumb is soft and delicate (thanks to the sour cream and no extra liquids), the flavorings are perfectly balanced, and the caramel sauce on top ties it all together. What a muffin! I was skeptical at first, because the streusel just didn't sound that good to me, especially with the cinnamon and chocolate chips together, a combination that I don't usually appreciate. Trust me, these are great and really worth making.

Caramel Chocolate Streusel Muffins

Streusel: 1/2 cup mini or 2/3 cup regular chocolate chips (I used 1/3 cup milk chocolate and
1/3 cup Hershey's Special Dark)
1/2 cup chopped pecans, toasted and cooled
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Muffin: 1/2 cup + 1 Tbsp. unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly - divided use
1-1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, aerated before measuring
3/4 cup sugar
1-1/4 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
2 large eggs
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1 cup light sour cream

Drizzle: 3/4 cup caramel bits
2 Tbsp. Half and Half or milk
OR 3/4 cup purchased caramel sundae sauce

DIRECTIONS: Have all ingredients at room temperature before starting. Start oven at 350 degrees F and place chopped pecans in a pie tin and into the cold oven. Set timer on 8 minutes to check pecans. You only want them to give off their aroma, so don't leave them in too long, or they will turn bitter. Remove from oven and cool. (This is when everyone needs a granite countertop, because everything cools faster on them.) In medium mixing bowl, microwave butter on high for about 45 seconds, or just till almost melted. It will continue to melt after you remove from microwave. Take out 1 Tbsp. of the melted butter and put it into a small bowl for the topping. Turn oven to 500 degrees F. Prepare muffin tins by greasing and flouring or spray with flour-added non-stick cooking spray. For coated pans, spray lightly with non-stick cooking spray.

With fork, combine all streusel ingredients with the butter in small bowl. Set aside.

In large mixing bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt until well combined. (To measure flour, spoon lightly into measuring cup after first aerating the flour with a whisk. Level off with knife or spatula.) Whisk the eggs into the now-cooled butter until everything is smooth. Add the sour cream and vanilla and whisk again till smooth. Make a well in the dry ingredients and add the lilquids all at once. This is not your normal muffin batter. It will be thick but light and spongy. Do not overmix. It's ok to have lumps and much better to underbeat muffin batter than to overbeat it.

Put about 2 Tbsp. batter into each of 12 muffin cups. Top with about 2 tsp. streusel, then about 2 Tbsp. more muffin batter, then 2 tsp. streusel. (It's best to do 12 at a time so you can see how much of each component is left to work with; i.e., if you do one complete muffin and get to #11 muffin and see that you have way to much stuff left, what do you do? So first, put the 2 Tbsp. batter into 12 cups, then put the 2 tsp. streusel on top of the 12, then put 2 Tbsp. more batter on top of streusel on the 12 cups. Now take an assessment. Do you have batter left over? Divvy it up among the 12 cups before you put the last batch of streusel on top.)

Place muffins in oven and immediately reduce heat to 350 degrees F. Bake for 14-17 minutes, or till toothpick inserted in center of muffin returns with just a few crumbs. Cool in pans for 5 minutes, then remove muffins to rack to finish cooling completely. Put a large baking pan underneath the cake rack to catch the caramel sauce drips. Cleaning the pan will be easier than cleaning up a sticky counter top.

Make caramel drizzle: In a 1-cup measuring cup (see photo below), microwave the caramel bits with the Half and Half just till it bubbles up. Remove and stir, stir, stir. If caramel bits are still too sticky, microwave once again till it bubbles. Stir, stir, stir. When sauce is smooth and easy to work with, drizzle over cooled muffins. If this sounds like too much work, just buy a jar of caramel sundae sauce. Microwave 3/4 cup till it bubbles once, stir and drizzle over the muffins.

Sunday, October 21, 2007


We're getting ready to take a little trip, and I'm trying to use up all the fridge items that are nearing their expiration dates. I saw a recipe on that intrigued me. It was Caramel Macchiato Chocolate Chip Cookies. I looked up Caramel Macchiato and found that it's a Starbucks drink of steamed vanilla milk with a shot of espresso that they top with a caramel drizzle that floats on down through the drink. The drink has been around for more than 10 years, it's just that I don't go to Starbucks so I never knew about it. Cookie Madness also made mention of a new product, Kraft's caramel bits, which were used in the chocolate chip cookie recipe. My wheels started turning. I'm on a muffin mission, so I started thinking of Caramel Macchiato Muffins. But I wanted something else in them -- toasted pecans. And that's what I made. They are sooooooo good. If you want to be truer to the Starbucks drink, then use espresso powder instead of coffee powder.

Caramel-Pecan Macchiato Muffins

INGREDIENTS: 1/2 cup broken pecans
1/2 cup unsalted butter
2 cups all-purpose flour, aerated before measuring
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 tsp. sea salt
1 tsp. baking soda
2 tsp. baking powder
1 cup caramel bits
1 large egg + 1 large egg yolk
6 oz. container coffee yogurt
1/2 cup milk
2 Tbsp. instant coffee powder (I use Folger's Decaf)
2 Tbsp. coffee brandy (I use Samosa)
2 tsp. pure vanilla extract

DIRECTIONS: Have all ingredients at room temperature before you begin. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Toast pecans in pie plate for 5-7 minutes, till they give off their aroma. Watch them closely so they don't burn. Remove from oven and let cool. Microwave butter on high in a medium mixing bowl, for about 45 seconds - 1 minute, only till almost melted. Let butter continue to melt after you remove it. Prepare muffin tins by greasing and flouring or spraying with flour-added non-stick cooking spray. For coated pans, just spray with non-stick cooking spray. Raise oven heat to 500 degrees F.

Combine dry ingredients in large mixing bowl: flour, sugar, salt, baking soda, baking powder and 1/2 cup caramel bits. (Lightly spoon the flour into the measuring cup and level off with spatula or knife. Use a light hand with measuring.) Add the somewhat cooled pecans. Stir well with whisk till well combined.

In the medium bowl, whisk the egg and yolk into the somewhat cooled melted butter till smooth. Add the yogurt. Whisk again till smooth. Add the milk, coffee powder, brandy, and vanilla and whisk again till smooth. Make a well in dry ingredients and add liquids all at once, whisking till just barely combined. Batter will be thick, but light and spongy.

Put 1/4 cup batter into each of 14-16 muffin cups. Press remaining caramel bits into tops of muffins. Place muffins in oven and immediately reduce heat to 350. Bake for 15-17 minutes, or till toothpick inserted in center of muffins return with just a few crumbs. Cool in pan for 5 minutes, then remove muffins to rack to finish cooling completely.

Before serving, top each muffin with caramel sauce: Microwave 1/4 cup caramel bits with 1 Tbsp. Half and Half on high at 20 second intervals, stirring each time, till mixture bubbles up and softens. Add more Half and Half if needed to make a thin sauce. Drizzle over cooled muffins.


I saw this recipe on food blog, but it was not coconut. The recipe called for heavy cream and I didn't have any, so I subbed cream of coconut, which I had. As long as I was subbing cream of coconut, I decided to add some coconut flavor to the filling and make a chocolate coconut crust. The original recipe calls for extra-large eggs, and all I had was large, so I used three instead of two.

Before I saw this recipe on Anna's food blog, I had never heard of Juniors cheesecake. A quick search of the internet turned up plenty of recipes for Juniors cheesecake. They have even put out their own cookbook with lots of different variations. Juniors is an Italian restaurant in Brooklyn and it seems the whole world knew about them and their famous cheesecake, except me of course. Anna says when you eat at Juniors, they give you a copy of their cheesecake recipe when you leave. How brilliant is that? How many people do you think are going to make this cheesecake? Probably less than 1%. But what a great way to keep your name and your product in the forefront.

My favorite cheesecake is Lindy's. It probably has fallen out of the public eye because the restaurant closed, like 30 years ago, so there's no one to promote the cheesecake any more. Juniors, on the other hand, is still going strong. That doesn't mean it isn't a good cheesecake. It definitely is. It has that dense, creamy, wet texture that everyone wants in a New York cheesecake. It's excellent cheesecake. In some ways, it's easier to make than Lindy's because of the crust. A graham cracker crust is always easier than a rolled cookie crust. But that's precisely what I like about Lindy's cheesecake -- the crust. That cookie crust is so nice and thin and perfect with the filling. Of course, the real Juniors cheesecake has a spongecake crust on the bottom only. Anna adapted the recipe and made a graham cracker crust and I thought it was a great idea. Maybe I should try making the original recipe, with spongecake crust before I vote on my #1 favorite. They certainly have a loyal following, so they must be doing something right.

Any way, back to the cheesecake. It only has a hint of coconut as you eat it, and that is mainly from the crust. If you are a coconut lover and would like a more pronounced coconut flavor in the filling, then you should increase the coconut extract accordingly. For me, it's fine as is; the vanilla comes through nicely -- I used Watkins Madagascar to get a nice flavor. (When I mentioned this to my sister, she said, "Yuk, Watkins." But as I explained to her, Watkins makes a pure vanilla extract and it's pretty good, and not a bad price at Wal-Mart. I don't buy imitation vanilla, ever, period. But I am starting to explore other vanillas and will probably do some kind of an experiment once I get them.)

Even though I processed the coconut heavily in the food processor, the crust is coconut-chewy. You will have to like coconut-chewy things to like this cheesecake. (You could also use 1-1/2 cups graham crackers and 1/2 cup coconut instead of 1 and 1 to make it less coconut-chewy. )

A word of caution about the foil wrap: don't skimp. I wrapped twice and I thought the cake was well protected. When I unwrapped the cake, there was water in the first layer, which totally surprised me. How did the water get in the bottom, when there were no seams on the sides? No water got into the bottom of the cake, thanks to the second wrap. If I make this again, I think I will do 3 wraps.

Discussion: Can you freeze cream cheese? Yes, but when it thaws it's grainy and you can't recapture the smooth texture. Well, when I unwrapped two blocks of the cream cheese, they must have been in the wrong spot in the fridge because they froze. Sure enough, when they thawed out, they were grainy. They tasted fine. I thought about it -- Ricotta and cottage cheese are both grainy and people make cheesecakes with them. What's the worse that could happen? The cheesecake wouldn't be as smooth as I like. I tried it. No problem. The cheesecake is smooth as butter. Now you know -- and so do I. You don't have to throw out frozen cream cheese. Just make a cheesecake with it.

Coconut Cheesecake, Juniors Style
INGREDIENTS: Crust: 1 cup graham cracker crumbs
1 cup coconut
2 Tbsp. cocoa
3 Tbsp. granulated sugar
3 Tbsp. butter

Filling: 4 8-oz. packages Neufchatel cheese or regular cream cheese (I used Neufchatel)
1-2/3 cups granulated sugar
3 large eggs
3/4 cup cream of coconut or coconut milk (not lite)
1/4 cup cornstarch
1 Tbsp. pure vanilla extract
1/4 tsp. coconut extract (increase to 1 tsp. for more coconut
flavor, if desired)

DIRECTIONS: Have all ingredients at room temperature before starting. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F and generously butter or spray a 9" springform pan with non-stick cooking spray. In workbowl of food processor, combine crust ingredients. Pulse till well combined. Press crumbs onto bottom and 3/4 up sides of pan. Lay out 2-3 sheets of heavy duty foil. Set pan in center of top sheet. One at a time, bring each sheet of foil up and around the side of the pan, pressing tightly into the sides to make bottom waterproof. Here's what it looks like, ready to go into the oven:

Bake crust on center rack for 8-10 minutes. Remove from oven and cool. Heat about 1-1/2 quarts of water slowly on the stove. It will need to boil by the time you put the cheesecake into the oven.
Make filling: With damp paper towel, wipe out inside of food processor workbowl and combine 8 oz. cream cheese with the sugar, pulsing till smooth. Add remaining cream cheese, one block at a time, pulsing till smooth each time. Be sure there are no lumps before continuing. Add one egg at a time, pulsing till smooth after each addition. Add the cream of coconut or coconut milk and pulse again till smooth. Lastly, add the cornstarch, vanilla and coconut extracts and pulse briefly till combined. Carefully and slowly and gently pour the filling into the now-cooled crust. Set the foil-wrapped pan in a large shallow pan and add an inch of water. Don't add more than an inch or it may be difficult to remove the cheesecake pan. Bake the cheesecake until the center barely jiggles when you shake the pan. It's supposed to take 55 minutes to an hour, but mine took 1 hour 15 minutes. At the end of that time, the cheesecake didn't jiggle and I was worried I had left it in too long, but the texture was perfect.
Cool the cake on a wire rack for 1-2 hours, then refrigerate until it's completely cold -- at least 4 hours or overnight. Remove the sides of the springform pan and serve from pan bottom or transfer to a platter. Before serving, drizzle with chocolate coconut glaze (2 Tbsp. semi-sweet chocolate chips, 1 Tbsp. cream of coconut or coconut milk; in small cup or dish, microwave on high 20 seconds at a time, stirring often. Add more cream or milk as needed till mixture is thin enough to drizzle. Drizzle over cheesecake.)

Saturday, October 20, 2007


As a borderline diabetic, I have to watch my carbs. Looking at a day as a whole, high glycemic foods are at a minimum, including breads. So I rarely have a sandwich for lunch. This morning, I had kiwi and fresh pineapple and an egg omelet with roasted red peppers and spinach and a sprinkling of grated Parmesan -- no bread. My dinner was grilled Cornish game hen, herbed butternut squash and a small salad. Snack was whole wheat crackers and Cabot Seriously Sharp Cheddar cheese. No desserts today. So for lunch I splurged and had a sandwich. My bread was Peppridge Farm Honey Flax 100% whole grain, lightly toasted. I laid out the components of the sandwich, as in below photo. (The roasted peppers are not shown because I thought of them later and put them in.)
A very nice neighbor gave us his homemade basil pesto (in return I gave him some cookies which he appreciated.) I don't make pesto, because Guy is a finnicky eater and his mother didn't make pesto; therefore, he doesn't eat pesto. To him that makes sense and after 44 years of marriage, I have learned to live with it. So I really appreciated the gift of pesto. This is too simplistic to call it a recipe, but here goes: I used about 1 Tbsp. avocado, mashed and added about a teaspoon of pesto and about 1 Tbsp. mayonnaise (I use Smart Balance mayo). I whisked it with a fork. Then I spread it on one side of the toast, as below.
We had London Broil two nights ago, and there was some left, so that was the main protein. (Chicken, turkey, salmon or roast pork would also be nice.) Tomatoes, lettuce, and roasted red peppers finished it out. It was a delicious sandwich, and I enjoyed every morsel.

Friday, October 19, 2007


This recipe was adapted from Recipe #35184 on I made so many changes, it's hard to recognize the original recipe. This is a very spicy, gingery muffin, so if you don't like those flavors, reduce the spice amounts or find another recipe. But if you're like me, and like spicy, gingery things, then this is your muffin. It's also very moist and not overly sweet, just the way a spicy, gingery muffin should be. It's a keeper.

Holiday Gingerbread Muffins, adapted from recipezaar #35184

1-1/2 cups whole wheat flour
1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup sugar
1 Tbsp. lemon zest
2-1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. sea salt
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. cloves
1 Tbsp. ginger (or less if you don't like heavy spice)
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
1/4 tsp. allspice
2 large eggs
1/4 cup oil
1/2 cup applesauce
3/4 cup molasses
6 oz. lemon non-fat yogurt + water to make 1 cup

DIRECTIONS: Have all ingredients at room temperature before starting. Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Grease and flour 18 muffin cups/tins or spray with flour added non-stick cooking spray.

In large mixing bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients and the lemon zest. In medium bowl, whisk the eggs, applesauce, oil, molasses, yogurt and water.
Make a wel in the dry ingredients and add the liquids all at once, whisking as little as possible till just barely combined. Batter should be lumpy. Fill the muffin cups with 1/4 cup batter. It should come almost to the top, but not over.
Place muffin tins in oven and immediately reduce the heat to 350. Bake 15-17 minutes for dark or coated pans, 17-19 minutes for shiny pans. Do not shift the pans halfway through, or batter might fall. Test for doneness with toothpick. When it returns with just a few crumbs or none, the muffins are done. Remove to counter to cool in pans for 5 minutes, then remove from pans to rack to finish cooling. Serve muffins plain, with whipped cream or lemon cream.

Lemon cream:    Beat together:  1/2 cup heavy whipping cream + 3 Tbsp. 10X sugar till stiff.

Whisk together:  4 oz. softened mascarpone cheese (or Neufchatel cheese) + 4 oz. homemade or purchased lemon curd.

Gently fold both mixtures together till well combined and smooth. Serve dollops alongside muffins, or scoop the tops of the muffins out, fill with lemon cream and put tops back on.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

THIN SPAGHETTI WITH WHITE CLAM SAUCE (Vermicelli Alle Vongole in Bianco)

When Guy and I got married in 1963, we ate pretty much the same things: pasta, steak, shrimp, pork roll, hamburgers, French Fries, etc. I never ate fruit. Instead I baked cakes and cookies and ate those. Fast forward to the present: Guy hasn't changed his eating habits much, but I have. I do eat fruit now, and I space my sweets. I still bake a lot, but I give it away or sell it. Some nights we can eat the same things, but then there are nights like tonight when I cook two separate meals. I had grilled salmon and tomatoed summer vegetables and he had thin spaghetti with white clam sauce and Caesar salad. Guy is a good chopper, so he chops everything, scrubs the clams and starts the grill. He also does dishes. I do everything else. I guess it's a pretty fair system, but cooking two meals at the same time can get very hairy. Tonight I actually managed to get the meals done at the same time, so maybe I am getting better at this. Could you call this multi-tasking? (P. S. For those who have never heard of pork roll, it is unique to Trenton, where Guy grew up. Taylor pork roll and Case's pork roll were the two brands, and Case's is out of business, but Taylor is still going strong. We can actually get some Taylor's down here in New Bern, but not in the big roll that Guy likes. FYI, it's about 98% fat, so of course it tastes wonderful as it clogs your arteries. The meat is cured, so in addition to clogging your arteries, it will also raise your blood pressure and fill you with carcinogenic nitrates. Bon appetit!)
Thin spaghetti with white clam sauce has many variations and there are plenty of recipes out there for it. We went to our local Ragazzi's (a southeastern Italian chain restaurant) a few years back and I ordered it. When it arrived, I was appalled -- it had a flour thickener in the sauce and it was full of mushrooms. I called the chef out and scolded him. I've ordered it a few times since then in other Italian restaurants and have always been disappointed and finally I've resigned myself to never ordering it out again because I'm never happy with it. Actually I'm kind of off pasta now anyway, trying to control carbs since I'm borderline diabetic. I do use the whole wheat-white mixed pasta but I still have to watch it. I've also gotten off clams since I found out that they are full of pollutants. Now I bet you can't wait for this recipe, (my version)which actually is quite delicious, so here goes:
Thin Spaghetti with White Clam Sauce (Vermicelli Alle Vongole in Bianco)
INGREDIENTS: 2 lbs. or more of fresh very small clams (Littleneck) (sometimes I use the
canned clams and clam juice in a bottle, and it's very good that way too)
4 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil (I like Carapelli)
1/2 cup chopped onion
1 large garlic clove, minced
1/4 - 1/2 cup dry white wine (good quality wine please)
Fresh ground black pepper to taste
1/4 tsp or more crushed red pepper (to your taste)
4 Tbsp. chopped fresh parsley
1/2 lb. thin spaghetti (or more if you like) (DeCecco, Barilla or Ronzoni)
sea salt to taste
DIRECTIONS: Scrub the clams and put aside. Throw away any that are cracked or broken. In a large frying pan or saute' pan, heat the olive oil over medium heat and add the onion right away. Saute till transparent, then add the garlic. Saute for a minute or two (garlic burns more easily than onions--it has a higher sugar content), then add the clams, wine, and peppers. Turn the heat up and let it come to a boil for a minute or two to evaporate some of the wine. Cover the pot and turn the heat to medium, so that it will continue to cook at a good pace and open up the clams. (Never, never add salt; the clams are already salty enough.)
Start a large pot (big enough so that the pasta can roll around with lots of room) of water on high heat, covered. When the water comes to a boil, add some sea salt. (I tend to undersalt, so use your best judgment on the amount you like.) Add the pasta. It only takes 6-7 minutes. In the meantime, do you hear the clams opening up? Get a big bowl and some tongs, and start taking out the clams that have opened up and put them in the bowl, then recover to let the others open. Continue to do this until all clams have opened. If there are any clams that are cracked or won't open, throw them out. When all clams have opened, put them in the oven (off of course) to sit till everything is ready. Watch the pasta and keep stirring it. Turn the heat up on the sauce the clams were in so you can reduce it slightly. Taste it. If it's very salty from the clams, don't reduce it too much because the more you reduce it the saltier it will be. This will be different with each batch of clams, that's why you have to taste. Of course, if you get farm-raised clams, they won't be as salty, but they also won't have much flavor. When you get the sauce the way you want it, turn the heat back down to low, add the parsley, put the clams back in, cover and let them sit a minute, then turn the heat off. Is the spaghetti done? Drain it and put it back in the pot with a little of the clam sauce. Stir it around, then put some in a dish and add some clams with more sauce. The sauce is runny, not thick. So what, it tastes wonderful. Why would anyone put flour in it to thicken it? No cheese, please -- let the flavor of the clams come through.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007


When we lived in Long Valley, New Jersey, we had a huge vegetable garden. I mean really huge. We even grew our own corn. There is just nothing like fresh organic vegetables from your own garden. Now that we are in North Carolina, in a development where the homes are close together and governed by covenants and restrictions, we couldn't have a vegetable garden even if we could grow anything in the hot Carolina sun and swampy ground. So this year, we decided to try container gardening. And it's been working. This is our second batch of lettuce (top photo). When the summer arrived, the lettuce burned up. But now it's a bit cooler and it's growing again. Seed packets are cheap at Wal-Mart, about $1.00 for a pack of lettuce seeds that will last for several sowings. It comes up fast and you're eating it about 4 weeks after you plant it. Not bad, huh? The bottom photo is radishes. So now that I have the makings of a salad, I want to share a salad dressing with you that I made up. I really like it and it's very quick and easy.
(P. S. Here's a news flash! There is a new product out -- just saw it today at our local Harris Teeter. Regina, the people who make the Raspberry Balsamic Vinegar, now make Pomegranate Balsamic Vinegar. I won't be buying it for a while because I just stocked up on the Raspberry. It's on sale, and now I know why. Oh well, it's really, really good.)

Pomegranate-Raspberry Balsamic Salad Dressing
INGREDIENTS: 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil (I like Carapelli's)
1/4 cup Raspberry Balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup Pomegranate juice (you can use the combos--blueberry/pomegranate,pomegranate/cherry, etc., just be sure you get real juice, no sugar added)
1/2 tsp. sea salt (it has minerals)
1/8 tsp. black pepper
1/4 tsp. garlic powder
1/8 tsp. mustard powder (optional)

DIRECTIONS: Combine all ingredients in small bowl or jar with lid. Whisk or shake till mixed. Spoon or drizzle over greens.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007


Guy and I both agree this was our last garage least until stuff piles up again. I can't believe how hard I worked getting ready for it, organizing a multi-family event, typing up a list of addresses with highlights of sale items, then distributing copies to mailboxes on several streets in our development, as well as area businesses, posting on and finding and tagging hundreds of articles for sale. The night before I awoke every hour on the hour, worrying that the alarm wouldn't go off. I finally got up at 5, and went on pure adrenalin for the next 7 hours. The Architectural Control Committee people in charge of the signs in our development said they've never seen so many cars in Greenbrier at one time. They just kept coming. It was an amazing turnout.

The bake sale went well. I had this mental image that people would come in and say something like, "I've been waiting for this bake sale for so long and I just have to have your wonderful baked goods." Instead they hemmed and hawed and finally bought something. So it went in pieces, a little here a little there, but it all went. No one raved and said they died and went to heaven when they took a bite, but they paid their money and took their cookie or muffin. By 12:00 I was sold out. I hope they were all happy, and I may never know. No one has called me and said, "Wow what a great muffin (or cookie), I just have to have more."

I am happy that I can bake again now that there's room in the freezer. But I'm still getting over the garage sale. When adrenalin rushes the way mine did, the drop is pretty severe afterwards. In addition, I'm in the planning stages for a trip to Tennessee next week to see my sister and brother-in-law. We'll be going to Reidsville first, to see our son, then on to Knoxville, then to Asheville and back home. So as soon as I can get back to normal (whatever that is), I will get back in the kitchen and come up with some new recipes. Oh, and most of the garage sale items sold also. So, all in all, we're pretty happy to have an empty attic, empty freezer and a little extra cash for our trip.

Monday, October 15, 2007


From left, clockwise, a dried paprika, 3 ripe paprikas, a ripe red Cubanelle, and 2 roasted red Cubanelles.

Peppers are a part of Guy's Italian heritage, and I have learned to love them, especially when they're roasted. This year, we decided to grow container peppers. In various garden pots, we tried paprika, Cubanelle peppers, green and red bell peppers and an Italian variety for which Guy paid $10.00 for a packet of seeds.

My heritage is Hungarian, and about 20 years ago, my mother brought her last remaining relative to the US to visit. Rosjie (my Hungarian relative), my mother and younger sister all stayed with us for 2 weeks. Rosjie cooked us real Hungarian Paprikash. She brought the paprika from Hungary -- it was almost black -- and told us that the reddish-brown paprika we get here is what they reject. They keep the good stuff for themselves. She used 1 lb. of lard and 2 lbs. of sour cream to make the paprikash and the spaetzles. Talk about a heart attack on a plate, but was it good! I always thought that Hungarians had the corner on paprika, but now it is emerging from other parts of the world.

Recently, I purchased a paprika plant at one of our local nurseries.  It has been amazingly prolific. You can see it above -- the plant on the bottom step with the two red peppers. We put the red plastic over the soil of each pot because it is supposed to increase the yield, according to scientific studies. It must have done something for the paprika because it just wouldn't quit. We have taken at least 25 peppers off that little plant so far. The leaves of the plant curled up a few weeks ago, and we thought the plant was dying. Next time we looked, there were new leaves sprouting and there are more paprikas coming! When the paprikas are nice and ripe, we take them off and then string them in our hot attic to dry them out. Then we crush them in the food processor. (BTW, paprikas come in two varieties: sweet and hot. Our plant is hot.)

We love to roast the sweet peppers. If you've never had fresh roasted sweet peppers, you are in for a treat. They are so darned easy to make, you shouldn't deprive yourself of this treat. They're wonderful on sandwiches, as an accompaniment to meat or chicken or as a salad with asparagus or other roasted veggies. Here is an easy recipe for roasted red peppers:

Roasted Red Peppers

1 red sweet bell pepper

Wash pepper, dry. Place under broiler or on a hot grill. When you see the pepper charring, turn it to char the other sides. After the entire pepper is charred all around, remove it and place it in a paper bag that you close or in a bowl with plastic wrap over it. Let it sit for about 10-15 minutes. Take pepper out and peel the skin with a knife. It should peel easily. Cut the pepper top off and pour out juice. Cut the pepper in half and remove seeds and membrane. Cut into several pieces or strips, as you prefer, and place in small container.
Leave it plain or add the following optional ingredients:

1 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1 small garlic clove, minced
2 Tbsp. fresh parsley, chopped

Mix together. Chill or serve immediately.

Friday, October 12, 2007


The Kraft people have a recipe called "Crispy Coconut Chicken Fingers." It had pretty good reviews, except for flavor -- some people thought it was quite bland. So I decided to try to work in more flavor. I added paprika and cayenne pepper and instead of dipping the chicken in egg, I thought I'd try cream of coconut. Instead of flour, I used Panko.   I made my own dipping sauce out of cream of coconut, lime juice and orange marmalade. Well, the chicken fingers were quite delicious, especially with the dipping sauce. But they weren't truly crispy. I don't know why. I wonder if it was the cream of coconut. If it was, I would forego the crispiness, because the flavor of these is amazing, and a lot of that flavor is coming from the cream of coconut. I will have to make these again using the flour and egg specified in the Kraft recipe, to see if they are crispy. As for calories, this is not a low-calorie recipe. I do have to work more on that, I know. But try them just once and I think you'll agree they are divine. Since I was experimenting, I only used one chicken breast. 

Coconut Chicken Fingers
Adapted from Kraft Foods

Chicken Fingers:
1 chicken breast, skinned and boneless, cut into 1" strips
1/8 tsp. sea salt
1/8 tsp. black pepper
1/8 tsp. garlic powder
1/4 tsp. paprika
1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper
1/2 cup shredded sweetened coconut
1/4 cup Panko breadcrumbs
1/2 cup cream of coconut
1/4 cup Smart Balance buttery spread (not the lowfat version)

Dipping Sauce:
1 Tbsp. orange marmalade
2 Tbsp. cream of coconut
1 Tbsp. fresh lime juice

DIRECTIONS: Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Pound chicken strips to flatten slightly. Mix salt, pepper, garlic powder, paprika and cayenne pepper in small condiment cup. Sprinkle over both sides of chicken strips and press in with fingers. Set aside. Mix coconut with breadcrumbs in small plastic baggie. Dip chicken strips in cream of coconut, one at a time, then into breadcrumb mixture. Place chicken strips on baking dish that has been sprayed with non-stick cooking spray. Drizzle with melted SB. Bake for 25 minutes, turning once midway through.

While chicken is baking, prepare sauce: Mix together all ingredients and refrigerate to blend flavors. Serve chicken strips with dipping sauce. Yield: 1-1/2 servings. Multiply ingredients for higher yields.

Thursday, October 11, 2007


Ahhhh, Fall. It has finally arrived in East Carolina. Today was beautiful -- a "normal" fall October day in New Bern -- dry and about 80 degrees. Tonight it's supposed to be in the high 40's, so tomorrow morning will be nice and crisp. I just had to make potato soup tonight to go with my salmon and broccolli. I wanted to celebrate fall, and I wanted some fall/winter comfort food. To Guy and me, soup is the ultimate comfort food. I make lots of different soups all fall and winter, because we love soup. I don't need a recipe to make potato soup, because I've made it so many times. And there is no rigid recipe for it, because there's room to change things. But I will give you the recipe I made tonight for you to try. I hope you like it as much as we do.
Easy Potato Soup
INGREDIENTS: 3 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil or Smart Balance buttery spread
1 cup chopped onion
1/3 cup chopped celery
1/3 cup chopped carrot
3 large Russet or Idaho baking potatoes, peeled and chopped
2-1/2 to 3 cups chicken broth
1 bay leaf
1/2 - 1 tsp. sea salt, according to your preference
1/4 tsp. pepper (white is preferred but black is ok)
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
1 cup fat-free half and half or milk (Land-of-Lakes FF H&H is recommended)
Optional: 1/2 cup grated cheddar, Monterey Jack, or Parmesan cheese
DIRECTIONS: In 2-quart saucepan, over low-medium heat, saute' onion in oil or SB till transparent. Add celery, carrot and potatoes. Give it a few stirs, then add the chicken broth, bay leaf, salt and pepper. Raise the heat, bring to a boil and cover. Lower heat, and cook for about 25-30 minutes on low, till all vegetables are tender and cooked through.
At this point, there are two ways to finish the soup:
  1. Remove the cover and mash with a potato masher.
  2. Put contents of pan into blender or food processor and blend smooth.

I prefer method #1 because I like little pieces of vegetable in my soup, and because I don't care to fuss enough to make a smooth soup.

After you do either #1 or #2 above, add the parsley, milk and cheese (if you are using cheese) to the soup and heat till hot, but not boiling. Yield: 4 servings.

You will note in the photo above that the milk is not added to the soup in the jar. Neither is the cheese. We will have the remainder of the soup tomorrow night and I will reheat the soup, and add parsley, cheese and milk at that time. This soup also freezes well if you can keep it around that long. The colder it is outside, the better this tastes.

Also note: Land-of-Lakes FF H&H is the only fat-free half and half that I know of that won't curdle when you heat it, and that is why I recommend it.


Here's a cookie that took me several tries to get it right.  It's crisp on the edges and soft and just very slightly chewy in the center with nice flavors from the coconut and nuts.  The cookie is plenty sweet, even with 1/4 cup less sugar than the recipe calls for.

Coconut-Walnut Chocolate Chip Cookies
Adapted from
Rating:  8.5 out of 10

1 cup sweetened flaked coconut
1 cup chopped toasted walnuts, or nut of choice
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
3/4 cup unbleached whole-wheat flour or white whole wheat flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. kosher or sea salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter + 1/2 cup Smart Balance buttery spread (or use 1 cup butter)
1-1/4 cups sugar
1-1/2 tsp. dark unsulphured molasses
2 large eggs
1 tsp. lemon juice
2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1-1/2 cups your choice of chocolate chips

DIRECTIONS: Have all ingredients at room temperature before you start. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. To toast the coconut and walnuts, spread each out onto a separate pie plate. Toast in the oven until they're golden and give off a nice aroma. You can put them in the oven when you turn it on, in which case they should take between 10-13 minutes. The walnuts
may get done first, and you can remove them. The coconut will start to brown on the edges first. When you see that happening, take the pan out of the oven and stir it, distributing the coconut so that the browned pieces are more in the center, if you can. I like to get the coconut good and brown, but you have to be careful you don't burn it, so watch it very carefully when it starts to turn. Set nuts and coconut aside to cool.

Measure the dry ingredients (flours, baking soda, baking powder, salt) in a medium-sized bowl and whisk to combine. Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, cream the butter & Smart Balance with an electric mixer (preferably a stand mixer with a paddle attachment, only because it makes your job so much easier). Slowly add sugar and molasses and continue to beat until mixture is fluffy and light in color. (I goofed when I was making this batter and inadvertently combined the sugar with the flours. It didn't change anything in the finished product.) Add the eggs and beat till incorporated. Add the lemon juice and vanilla and beat 3 more minutes or until creamy textured. (If using mixer with paddle, you will beat for less time and you may notice the mixture curdling. It won't hurt anything.) By hand (or if using mixer with paddle, then by machine), stir in flour mixture until just barely mixed; gently fold in the chocolate chips, toasted coconut and walnuts. Chill batter for at least 1/2 hour for easier handling and so the cookies will set up better.

When ready to bake, preheat oven to 375 again. Prepare baking sheets with parchment paper. Drop cookie dough by rounded tablespoonfuls onto parchment paper, 2 inches apart. Bake in upper part of the oven (meaning put your oven rack at the mid-point or slightly above)
for 11-13 minutes, or until lightly browned, turning the baking sheet around half-way through the baking time to allow even baking of the cookies. (I like to test my cookies for doneness the same way you test a cake -- with a toothpick inserted in center. They'll be best if there are a few crumbs on the toothpick when you pull it out.) Let cookies cool in pan for 2 minutes before removing them to a wire rack to finish cooling. The yield on this recipe was quoted as 48, but I only got 42. Maybe I made bigger cookies.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007


I love muffins. They're not as sweet as cupcakes, there's no frosting to worry about, and they are so darn easy and fast to make. You don't even need to get out your electric mixer. All you need is a good quality wire whisk, and you barely use that. This recipe was born after a thorough search of the internet produced no chocolate muffin recipe that I wanted. The base recipe I worked from was Recipe #60399, on, called "Devil's Food Chocolate Chip Muffins." I substituted whole wheat flour for part of the white; substituted sour cream and Kahlua for part of the milk; substituted butter for the oil; and added toasted walnuts, instant coffee granules, molasses and a topping of cocoa-cinnamon-sugar. Though I increased the batter to 1-1/2 x the original, I kept the eggs at 2, instead of increasing them to 3. The results were outstanding. These muffins are to die for. They're moist, flavorful, very chocolatey, and not too sweet--just right I think. If you're a real sugar freak you probably won't like them, but you could always add more sugar. The cocoa-cinnamon-sugar topping makes a tender crust with the first layer of flavors. First you taste the cocoa-cinnamon-sugar, then you taste the chocolate muffin, then you get the nuts and chips. Wow! Amazing! I really, really love these. You should get a yield of 22-24 standard size muffins, depending on how you fill the wells. What I got was 18 standard muffins plus 18 mini muffins.

A word about toasting nuts: If you can do it in the frying pan without burning them, more power to you. I've never been able to do it. I always toast my nuts by starting them in a cold oven, then turning the oven on 350 degrees F for about 10 minutes, then turn oven off, stir nuts, leave them in for about 5 more minutes. They come out perfect for me. I use a pie tin to put the nuts in, unless I'm doing a large quantity, then I use a sheet pan. Toasted nuts have much more flavor than raw nuts and are easier to break up into pieces. They're worth the extra effort.

Chocolate Lovers Muffins

INGREDIENTS: 1 cup walnuts
3/4 cup unsalted butter
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 cup unbleached whole wheat flour
1-1/3 cups sugar
3 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt, preferably sea salt (it has minerals)
1 cup cocoa powder (I used Hershey's regular)
1-1/2 cups chocolate chips of your choice, divided use (I used 1/2 Hershey's
Milk Chocolate, 1/2 Hershey's Special Dark)
2 large eggs
1/2 cup sour cream (I used Breakstone reduced fat)
1 cup milk (I used 2%, but I think skim or 1% would work)
1/2 cup Coffee Brandy, such as Kahlua (I used Sambroso, a generic brand)
1 Tbsp. coffee powder (I used Folger's Decaf)
1-1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
2 Tbsp. molasses (I used Grandma's original)
Topping: 1 Tbsp. cocoa powder, 1 tsp. cinnamon, 4 Tbsp. sugar

DIRECTIONS: Put the walnuts in a pie tin or other baking dish and set them in a cold oven. Turn oven to 350 degrees F. After 10 minutes, stir the nuts, and turn the oven off. Leave in for 5 more minutes, then remove to cool. Check the nuts -- if they are done early, take them out. You will know if you start smelling them and they are turning a darker color. Although this timing works for me, ovens vary greatly, so just use it as a guide.

Heat cold butter on high, covered, in microwave oven till almost melted, about 1 minute or so. Remove cover and let cool. Little pieces of butter will continue to melt after you turn the heat off.

Have all other ingredients at room temperature before starting. Preheat oven to 500 degrees F. Prepare muffin tins by greasing and flouring, or spray with flour-added cooking spray.

Measure flours, sugar, baking soda, salt, and cocoa powder into large mixing bowl and whisk till well combined. Add half the chocolate chips and whisk again. (Note: measure the flours by lightly spooning into measuring cup, then leveling with a spatula or knife. Muffins require a light hand, not only in mixing but also in measuring. You will be rewarded with light and luscious muffins.)

Whisk the eggs lightly with the now somewhat-cooled butter. Just be sure the butter is not too hot or it will scramble the eggs. Add the sour cream and whisk till no lumps remain. Add the milk, brandy, coffee powder, vanilla and molasses and whisk till well combined. Pour the liquids into the dry ingredients and whisk briefly and lightly to just barely combine. Do not worry about lumps or little pieces of flour. Whisk as little as possible. Now add the nuts and give one little whisk.

Measure 1/4 cup batter into muffin wells (less in mini-muffin tins). Batter should come almost to the top, but not over. Divide the remaining chocolate chips among the muffins, pressing lightly into the tops. Sprinkle muffins generously with the chocolate-cinnamon-sugar topping. Place muffins in oven and immediately reduce the temperature to 375 for dark or coated pans, and 400 for shiny pans. Standard muffins should take about 15-18 minutes; mini muffins should take 12-15 minutes. Test with toothpick for doneness -- when it returns clean or with just a few crumbs, take muffins out and let them cool in pans on counter for 5 minutes. After 5 minutes, muffins should release easily and can be cooled completely on wire rack. Yield: 22-24 standard size muffins.

Monday, October 8, 2007


I didn't like these muffins when I first tasted them warm from the oven. But after they sat a bit, they improved and are really good, even if they look anemic. The topping is especially good. The lemon-nut-sugar crunch is the introduction to the light lemony muffin with the plumped berries that have been soaked in Limoncello. However, I did put ginger in the batter and I can't taste it at all. Maybe that's good because I think there's enough going on. I will leave the ginger out next time and put more lemon zest in. Even though I really like these muffins, I think they will be even better with 2 eggs instead of 3, 1 Tbsp. more lemon zest and a little less baking powder and soda. (If you don't want to use 1-1/2 cups of sour cream, you can substitute 1 cup of low-fat milk for part of the sour cream, and you should still get a nice muffin. Another option would be to use a 6-oz. container of lemon yogurt plus enough milk to make 1-1/2 cups. I used all sour cream because I had a carton in my fridge nearing expiration date; otherwise I would have used the lemon yogurt/milk combo) My changes are reflected in the recipe below.
Limoncello Berry Muffins

INGREDIENTS: 1 cup dried mixed berries
1/2 cup Limoncello (see my post on homemade Limoncello)
1/2 cup butter
3 cups all-purpose flour + 1/4 cup for berries
1 cup sugar
4 Tbsp. lemon zest
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
2 large eggs
1-1/2 cups sour cream (I used Breakstone low-fat)
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1 tsp. pure lemon extract
1/2 tsp. pure orange extract
Topping: 1 Tbsp. lemon zest
4 Tbsp. sugar
3 Tbsp. chopped walnuts

DIRECTIONS: Heat the Limoncello in a 1-quart saucepan till it boils. Add the berries, cover the pot and remove from heat. Let the berries plump for at least 1/2 hour or longer. After the berries are plumped and have absorbed half the Limoncello, put them in a strainer over a bowl or measuring cup to drain them and separate them from the Limoncello-berry juice. Melt the butter in the microwave on high in a medium-sized bowl (about 30-40 seconds -- it does not have to be completely melted, as small bits of butter will continue to melt after you remove the bowl from the oven.) Prepare the muffin pans for baking by greasing and flouring them or spraying them with flour-added non-stick cooking spray. Set aside. Preheat oven to 500 degrees F. Have all ingredients at room temperature before mixing.

Measure the dry ingredients, including the lemon zest, into a large mixing bowl and whisk together well to combine. Remember you have lemon zest in there, so be sure to whisk well so that you don't get clumps of lemon zest in your muffins! (Measure the flour by first aerating it with the whisk and then lightly spooning into measuring cup and using a spatula to level off cup.) Take the now drained but still wet berries and toss them with 1/4 cup flour -- just put everything in a plastic baggie and smoosh them around till they absorb all the flour.

The butter should not be blistering hot now -- warm is ok -- and you can whisk the eggs into the butter, one at a time, till everything is smooth. Add the Limoncello-berry liquid, whisk again; then add the sour cream, vanilla, lemon and orange flavors and and whisk till no lumps remain. Make a well in the dry ingredients and add the liquids all at once. Give a few good whisks -- don't try to get all the lumps out. Add the berries and gently whisk once. Place 1/4 cup batter in each of the prepared muffin wells (less if you are using mini muffin tins of course). Make a topping by combining lemon zest, chopped nuts and sugar. Top each muffin with about 1/2 tsp. of the mix. Place pans in oven and immediately reduce heat to 375 degrees F. Bake for about 13-15 minutes for dark or coated pans and 17-19 minutes for shiny pans. Mini muffin tins will take less time. Use a toothpick test to be sure muffins are done. Insert in center -- if it comes out almost clean, they are done. Let cool in pans for 5 minutes, then they should release easily. Finish cooling on rack. Yield: 18 muffins

Sunday, October 7, 2007


These are incredibly light muffins with really good flavor.  Rum and raisins add something special to this muffin -- and the glaze is a perfect complement. Although I used freshly roasted butternut squash, you could easily use canned pumpkin and they will be just as good. Here's an added bonus: this recipe only uses 3 Tbsp. oil, so it's fairly low-fat. There's another 1 Tbsp. fat in the glaze, but comparatively speaking that's pretty good.  Gourmet Magazine's recipe uses 2/3 cup oil.

Pumpkin Spice Rum-Raisin Muffins with Rum-Spice Glaze
Inspired by Gourmet Magazine
Rating:  9.0 out of 10

1 cup raisins
1/2 cup rum
3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, whisked, then lightly spooned and leveled
2 cups white sugar, minus 2 Tbsp.
2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. baking powder
4 tsp. pumpkin pie spice
1/4 tsp. powdered cloves
1/2 tsp. salt
2 cups freshly roasted butternut squash (or canned pumpkin)
1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
3 large eggs
3 Tbsp. oil
2 Tbsp. molasses
1/4 cup flour for raisins

GLAZE: 1 Tbsp. butter
1 Tbsp. reserved rum
1/2 tsp. pumpkin pie spice
1/2 cup confectioner's (10X) sugar

DIRECTIONS: Bring 1/2 cup rum to a boil in a 1-quart pot. Add raisins. Cover. Remove from heat and let raisins plump for at least a half hour or longer. Drain raisins over a measuring cup or bowl, reserving drained juice.
Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Prepare two 12-cup muffin tins by greasing and flouring, or use flour-added non-stick cooking spray.

In a large mixing bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, spices, and salt.  In a medium-sized mixing bowl, whisk pumpkin and applesauce together till combined.  Whisk in eggs, oil, molasses and 3 Tbsp. of the reserved rum/raisin juice.  (Reserve remaining 1 Tbsp.juice for the glaze.)

Make a well in the dry ingredients and add the liquids all at once. Carefully mix with spoon or spatula till barely combined.  Toss the drained raisins in the 1/4 cup flour. (I put everything in a plastic bag and shook it till all raisins were coated.) Add the coated raisins and remaining flour and give it a quick stir. Fill each muffin well with about 1/4 cup batter.  Place in oven and immediately reduce heat to 350 degrees F.  Bake  for 16-19 minutes.  Muffins are done when a wooden pick inserted near center returns almost clean. Place pans on counter to cool for 5 minutes. Transfer muffins to wire rack to finish cooling.

While muffins are cooling, prepare glaze: Heat rum and butter on high in small bowl in microwave till butter is almost melted, about 35-40 seconds. Stir till butter is dissolved. Add pumpkin pie spice and 10X sugar and whisk together. Drizzle over muffins.  Yield:  24 standard-size muffins

Saturday, October 6, 2007


This is the second batch of muffins made today, and definitely my favorite. This is recipe #4156 on Recipe Zaar, where Marg (Cayman Designs) declares them "phenomenal." The recipe includes a spread, but I just went with the pure muffin. It can definitely stand alone. I just love the flavorings of this muffin: the coffee, the Kahlua I added and the cinnamon in just the right amounts. And it's light and moist. One of my neighbors came over while I was baking and asked if he could sample. I gave him a piece of one of the Bisquick cappuccino muffins and a piece of one of these. He bought a half-dozen on the spot, so I guess I will just have to bake more. Interestingly, he bought 2 of the Bisquick and 4 of these. He said he liked both, he just liked this one better. I hope that is a good omen for my sale on Saturday.

Cappuccino Muffins (adapted from

INGREDIENTS: 3/4 cup unsalted butter (1-1/2 sticks)
3 cups all-purpose flour (aerate by whisking before measuring)
1 cup sugar
3-3/4 tsp. baking powder
1-1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. salt
6 oz. container fat-free vanilla yogurt + enough milk to make 1-1/2 cups
3 Tbsp. instant coffee (decaf is ok) or instant Espresso powder (I used Folger's Decaf)
2 Tbsp. coffee brandy (such as Kahlua) (I used Sambroso, a generic)
1-1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1 large egg
1-1/4 cups chocolate chips
DIRECTIONS: Have all ingredients ar room temperature before starting. Preheat oven to 500 degrees F. Microwave butter on high in medium-sized bowl till almost melted, about 1-1/2 minutes. Prepare muffin tins by greasing and flouring, or spray with flour-added non-stick cooking spray.
Measure all dry ingredients into large mixing bowl (Note: Spoon flour lightly into measuring cup after first aerating the flour by whisking it. Muffins need a light hand, not only in the mixing, but also in the measuring of the flour. You will be rewarded with light and delicious muffins.) To the now somewhat-cooled melted butter, add the egg and whisk till mixture is smooth, a few minutes. (The butter should not be blistering hot or it will cook the egg, but it's ok if it's warm.) Add the rest of the ingredients except for the chocolate chips and whisk until well combined, several minutes. (A good-quality whisk is definitely needed for this. A spatula or mixing spoon will not give you superior results.) Now make a well in the dry ingredients and all at once add the liquids. Barely whisk it together -- as few turns of the whisk as possible. Don't worry about lumps and don't worry if you see a little flour here and there. Now add the chocolate chips. Dump them in, and just give one quick light stir. Put 1/4 cup batter into each muffin tin well. Place muffins in oven and immediately reduce heat to 400 for shiny pans and 375 for dark or coated pans. Bake for 14-17 minutes, checking at 14 minutes. A toothpick inserted in center should come out almost clean. Remove muffins to counter and leave in pans to cool for 5 minutes. At the end of 5 minutes, muffins should release easily. Continue cooling on wire racks. Yield: 18 muffins. Freeze any muffins that will not be eaten the day you bake them.


We're getting ready for a garage sale next Saturday, and today I decided I would also incorporate a bake sale at the same time. This will give me a chance to experiment. So today I made two cappuccino muffin recipes. This is the first one. I just took the Bisquick muffin recipe off the box and doctored it with cappuccino flavors. It came out delicious! I used Stonyfield Farms fat-free yogurt in place of some of the milk, and molasses to make the muffins super moist. And I used Wal-Mart Biscuit Mix instead of Bisquick. Here's a tip for getting those big bakery-style crowns on the muffins: Preheat your oven to 500 degrees; fill your muffin tins almost to the top; reduce the oven heat to the regular baking temperature called for by the recipe as soon as you put the muffins in; and reduce the baking time accordingly. You do not need your electric mixer for this recipe. If you don't have a good-quality wire whisk, you might think about buying one. They are worth their weight in gold, and, really, a whisk is what you need to make good muffins. A spatula or mixing spoon just isn't going to give you superior results.

Bisquick Cappuccino Chocolate Chip Muffins

INGREDIENTS: 3 Tbsp unsalted butter
2-3/4 cups Bisquick
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1 large egg
6 oz. container fat-free vanilla yogurt + enough milk to make 1-1/4 cups
1 Tbsp. molasses
1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1 Tbsp. instant coffee granules (decaf is ok) OR instant Espresso powder
2 Tbsp. coffee brandy (such as Kahlua)
3/4 cup mixed chocolate chips (I used Hershey's Special Dark + Hershey's milk chocolate,
but any mix of chocolate chips is fine, whatever you like

DIRECTIONS: Have all ingredients at room temperature before starting. Preheat oven to 500 degrees F. Prepare muffin tins by greasing, then coating with flour (or use the flour-added non-stick cooking spray). Set aside.

Microwave butter on high in medium-sized bowl till almost melted (about 45 seconds). Measure dry ingredients into large bowl. (Note: Spoon flour lightly into measuring cup after first whisking the flour to aerate it. Muffins need a light hand, not only in the mixing, but also in the measuring. You will be rewarded with light, delicious muffins.) Whisk the dry ingredients together till well combined. Set aside. To the now-somewhat-cooled butter (it should be warm, not blistering hot or it will cook the eggs), add the egg and whisk for a few minutes till mixture gets a little frothy. Add the rest of the liquid ingredients and the coffee granules and whisk again till everything is smooth, a couple of minutes. Be sure you get the lumps of yogurt smoothed out and mixed well. Now make a well in your dry ingredients and add the liquids all at once, but only whisk enough to barely combine. It can be lumpy and it's ok if you can see some flour. It should only take a couple of turns with the whisk. Add the chocolate chips and barely stir them in. Fill each well of the muffin tin with 1/4 cup batter. You should have enough for 12 muffins. Place in oven and immediately reduce the temperature to 400 for shiny pans, 375 for dark and coated pans. Bake for 14-17 minutes, testing at 14 minutes. A toothpick inserted in center should come out almost clean. Remove pan from oven and let muffins cool in pan for 5 minutes. They should easily release after 5 minutes. Continue cooling them on a wire rack till completely cooled. They are wonderful warm and also good at room temperature. Any muffins you are not going to eat right away would best be frozen. Yield: 12 muffins

Friday, October 5, 2007


October should be giving us warm days and cool nights, but here in Eastern North Carolina, we're warm enough to still go swimming. Even with the lingering summer weather, I am still thinking fall: pumpkin and apples and all the good things that can be made with them. I love pumpkin pie -- and of all the pumpkin pies I've ever tasted, I like mine the best. The recipe will be posted as soon as I make one. But to start off, I always like to roast my own pumpkin and mix it with butternut squash. I just like the idea of using fresh squash instead of canned. So I picked up one pie pumpkin and one butternut squash, washed them, cut them and laid them cut side down onto an 11 x 17 baking pan that had been lined with tinfoil and sprayed with non-stick cooking spray. I covered them with more tinfoil and put them in a 350 degree F. oven for 2 hours. I tested them at 1 hour and they were still a little firm. For use in pies, cookies and cheesecakes, I wanted them soft. However, if I were using them for vegetable side dishes, I would have taken them out then. After two hours, they were slightly caramelized on the cut sides -- which will give good flavor to the "meat." I let them cool for about a half hour, then scooped out the roasted meat into a medium-sized bowl, where I kind of mixed them together. After I filled up the bowl, I scooped out the squash with a measuring cup (or half-cup) into a waiting plastic baggie. The yield was 3 one-cup baggies, two half-cup baggies and 1 3/4-cup baggie, for a total yield of 4-3/4 cups of mixed pumpkin and butternut squash. They are all frozen now, waiting for me to make them into something delicious. I almost forgot to take photos again, and only one pumpkin half was left to scoop out when I remembered. The pumpkin seeds are in the fridge waiting for me to decide if I want to roast them. They are supposed to be very good for you, but will I remember to eat them? Aye, that's the rub. I will be thinking on that in between selecting delectable pumpkin recipes.

Thursday, October 4, 2007


We don't have pork chops often, but today they looked good in the store, so I bought some. I felt adventuresome, so I experimented. I wanted to bread the pork chops and bake them in the oven, and I wanted some good flavor. In my pantry was a box of Lipton Garlic Mushroom Soup Mix, and I decided to use it. After baking the pork chops for 20 minutes, I added liquid, recovered and baked for another 20 minutes. The flavor of these chops was great, but the added liquid softened the breading. If I make them again, I will just bake them straight through for about 35 minutes and we can always pour a gravy over them if we want. I think they would taste better with a crispy crust and that's the only way to get it. I purposely used part panko in the breadcrumb mixture to get a crispy crust, and then lost it when I added the liquid. They were still delicious and we enjoyed them -- live and learn. If you have mushrooms on hand, they would really be nice added to the gravy or to the pork chops while they bake. I didn't have any except for a few dried ones in the mix. I meant to take a photo, but when the chops got done I was tired and hungry and just completely forgot. Halfway through the chop I remembered, but the plate didn't look as appetizing then, so I decided to let it go. Here's the recipe:

Baked Breaded Pork Chops

2 center-cut thick pork chops
4 tsp. Lipton Garlic Mushroom soup mix (try to keep big pieces of mushrooms out)
1/2 cup biscuit mix or all-purpose flour
1 medium or large egg mixed with 1/4 cup chicken broth or water
1/4 cup Seasoned Italian bread crumbs
1/4 cup Panko (Japanese bread crumbs)
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
4 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
optional: sliced fresh mushrooms
optional gravy: 1/2 cup water mixed with 1 Tbsp. soup mix

Rinse chops. Pat dry with paper towel. Spread 1 tsp. soup mix on each side of chops. Press the mix onto the chops with your fingers. Dredge chops in biscuit mix or flour, shaking off excess. Dip chops into beaten egg & liquid, then into the breadcrumbs and cheese that have been mixed together. (If you don't have Panko, then just use all Italian bread crumbs mixed with the Parmesan Cheese. You can buy the crumbs with the cheese already in them, but I just like adding my own.) Put 4 Tbsp. oil in large fry pan and heat to medium-high. Add chops and brown about 5 minutes on each side. Check carefully for smoke -- do not burn chops. (If you are adding the mushrooms, put them in the pan with the chops so they can give off their liquid. Otherwise, if you add them to the baking pan, the liquid from the mushrooms will soften the breading.) Put chops in baking dish (for 2 chops, I used a 10-inch deep dish pie plate) sprayed with non-stick cooking spray and bake in oven, covered with tinfoil, at 350 degrees for 30-35 minutes, or until an instant-read thermometer registers about 155 degrees. Let chops sit on counter in pan for 5-10 minutes to continue cooking while you get the rest of the dinner ready. When you put chops in oven, prepare optional gravy if desired: Mix water and soup mix in 1 quart pot and cook at a low boil for the time chops cook. If desired, add sliced mushrooms to gravy. Yield: 2 servings
For 4 servings, double everything except the egg/liquid mixture.


Here's another recipe that didn't win a prize but was rated 5 stars by

Chipotle Ginger-Peach Barbecued Chicken with Grilled Peach-Cucumber Salsa

½ cup peach or apricot preserves
1 Tbsp. grated fresh ginger (or 1 tsp. powdered ginger)
1 Tbsp. minced fresh garlic (or 2 tsp. minced dried garlic)
¼ cup lemon juice
3 Tbsp. vegetable oil
¼ cup apple cider vinegar
½ tsp. Chipotle Chile Powder
1-1/4 tsp. salt
¼ tsp. black pepper
4 whole chicken breasts with skin

1-1/4 cups peeled, seeded and cubed cucumber
½ cup cubed sweet red pepper
½ cup coarsely chopped Italian flat-leaf parsley (or Cilantro if you prefer)
¼ cup lemon juice
3 Tbsp. peach or apricot preserves
Salt and pepper to taste
2 pinches Chipotle Chile Powder
3 ripe peaches, skin on, cut in half, pit removed
2 Tbsp. honey or maple syrup

Combine first 9 ingredients in large plastic bag. Add Chicken breasts and place in fridge at least 15 minutes. (Best flavor will develop if chicken is marinated in the morning and cooked in the evening, making this a perfect prep-ahead meal.)

Heat grill to medium-high temperature (375-400 degrees F), and place chicken breasts skin side up. (For gas grills, turn one side off and place chicken on the off side with grill lid on. Grill then acts as an oven so that chicken will not burn. For charcoal grills without covers, place coals in a circle, leaving center open. Place chicken in center as much as possible. If some pieces are over coals, be sure to rotate often to reduce flare-ups.

While chicken cooks, prepare salsa by combining all ingredients except peaches. Place in refrigerator, covered, to blend flavors. (Salsa may also be prepared in the morning and allowed to sit in refrigerator to blend flavors.) Cook chicken, basting occasionally with the marinade, about 30-35 minutes, depending on intensity of heat. Turn chicken if necessary to brown evenly on both sides. Chicken will be done when juices run clear and no blood is seen when a knife cut is made in center of piece to the bone. Put chicken on serving platter and keep warm in oven. In the meantime, Brush cut side of peaches with honey or maple syrup and place on grill cut side down. Grill 5 minutes on each side. Remove peaches to cutting board and coarsely chop before adding to salsa. Serve chicken with salsa for a complete meal. Grilled garlic bread or pita makes a nice accompaniment. Yield: 4 servings Hands-on prep time, 30 min.
Total start to finish time, 1 hour 15 minutes

Monday, October 1, 2007


Guy spent about 11 years in the Caribbean, working for Cable and Wireless. They contracted with him to lay cable on the Island of St. Lucia. Part of the contract stipulated that he had to work with and teach the locals. The job, if done in America, would have lasted about 1-1/2 years, tops. He has always said he would write a book about his experiences, but I think it's already been done. He wasn't the first to experience the myriad delays and snafus that come with working with islanders. His stories make for a lot of laughs over cocktails. One of his more serious but nice stories is about the 10th anniversary celebration of St. Lucia's independence. Prince Charles was invited, since St. Lucia declared independence from Great Britain. Only the top echelon of St. Lucia's society were invited to the more private ceremonies, including Guy. We framed the invitations, because he doesn't expect to be in the presence of royalty again in his lifetime. Guy ate a lot of dinners in St. Lucia, especially at the La Toc Hotel (It was sold and is now Sandals.) One of their specialties was Caesar salad, and they mixed it tableside. Caesar salad continues to be one of his favorite menu items, but making it at home can be a little too much work. That's how this recipe was born. It was actually a recipe from a friend, and Guy adjusted it to our liking. It's quite easy and will give the flavor of Caesar salad without all the fuss. And I believe it's maybe a tad lower-calorie as well.

Guy's Caesar Salad
INGREDIENTS: 1/4 tsp. sea salt
2 tsp. minced garlic (or more if you are a garlic lover)
4 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 tsp. Grey Poupon mustard
1 tsp. fresh lemon juice
3-4 Tbsp. Cardini's Original Caesar Dressing (look in the salad dressing aisle
of your favorite food store, not in the refrigerated section--I buy it in
8-10 medium-sized Romaine lettuce leaves, cut into serving pieces (I buy the
Romaine hearts--medium-sized leaves would be the outer leaf size)
1/2 cup shredded or grated parmesan cheese, or a mixture of hard cheeses
(We use Kraft Shredded Parmesan, Romano and Asiago Cheeses -- in
the refrigerated cheese section of the food store)
fresh ground black pepper to taste

DIRECTIONS: Guy recommends a wooden bowl for this (check in Wal-Mart or Target if you need to buy one. Also, Target has great wooden "forks" very cheap-- see above photo) Using a pestle -- you know, the part of the mortar and pestle that you crush the herbs with -- mix the salt and garlic till it is like a paste. Add the next 4 ingredients and continue to mix everything until well combined. Add lettuce and cheese and toss to coat well. Serve salad. Grind fresh black pepper over individual servings. Yield: 4 servings