Wednesday, April 30, 2008


Strawberry season has arrived in Eastern North Carolina, and I am loving it. The California strawberries can rot in the stores for all I care, I have nice, ripe, juicy and sweet local strawberries. (No offense intended to Californians; it's just that, by the time we get your strawberries, which have been picked before they fully ripen, they are not so great. Local produce is always the best. If I lived in California, I'd be waiting for California strawberries.)We had company for dinner last night, and I made this yummy strawberry cream tart for dessert. The recipe is actually a combination of several recipes, with my own twists and turns. The only complaint I have about this dessert is that it's hard to get the crust out of the pan. I don't own a tart pan with a removable bottom. Maybe I'll try a different crust next time -- one that has more butter in it. Still, even with the difficult crust, this was delicious and the crust was tender and sweet, once it came out.

Strawberry Cream Tart
1 stick (1/2 cup) butter
1/4 cup superfine sugar
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup self-rising flour
2 Tbsp. fat-free half and half
1/2 tsp. almond extract
Strawberry Glaze:
1/2 pt. fresh strawberries
1/4 cup superfine sugar (you can put regular sugar in a food processor)
1-1/2 Tbsp. cornstarch
2 Tbsp. water
1/4 tsp. almond extract
1 tsp. Smart Balance buttery spread (or butter if you prefer)
Strawberry Topping:
1-1/4 pints fresh strawberries
2 Tbsp. Triple Sec or Creme de Almond
Cream Filling:
3 oz. Neufchatel cheese (or cream cheese)
1/2 cup superfine sugar
1/2 tsp. almond extract
1/3 cup lite sour cream, very cold
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream, very cold

Preheat oven to 400F. Grease bottom and sides of a 10" tart pan. Make crust: Put all ingredients in work bowl of food processor and pulse till dough comes together. Press onto bottom and sides of pan. Prick dough all around with a fork, as below:

Bake 10-15 minutes, or till light golden brown. Cool completely on wire rack.

While crust is cooling, prepare strawberry topping: Wash and hull strawberries. Toss with liqueur and let stand while preparing other ingredients.

Make strawberry glaze: Wash and hull strawberries. Cut them up and put them in a saute' pan. Crush them with a potato masher, add remaining ingredients except butter. Over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, bring to boiling. Mixture will be thickened and translucent. Strain; add butter; cool.

Prepare cream filling: Put cheese and sugar in work bowl of food processor (or medium mixing bowl) and pulse (or beat with electric mixer) till well combined and fluffy. Add remaining ingredients and pulse (or beat) till whipped and thickened.

Assemble tart: Spread cream filling on bottom of cooled crust. Drain strawberries and place them on top of cream filling. Spoon or brush glaze over each strawberry (I used a pastry brush).

Refrigerate for several hours to thoroughly chill. Yield: 6-8 servings

Monday, April 28, 2008


If you like Take 5 candy bars, you are going to love this cookie recipe. It was invented by Carrie Fields, who sent it to the food blog. Carrie called her recipe "Mom and David's Faves", but I changed the name to "Take 5 Cookies." I've never had a Take 5 bar, but the recipe intrigued me, so I finally made a half-batch just to see what these would taste like. I decided to use Kraft caramel bits inside the cookie instead of melting them and using them as a glaze on top, mostly because of laziness. These cookies are very good. They're very peanut-buttery, soft and crumby inside, and have a nice crunch and chewiness because of the pretzels and caramel bits. They're not crisp on the edges, but you can't have everything. The cookies bake up high and don't spread much at all.

Take 5 Cookies (half-batch)
1 stick unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup white sugar (I used 1-1/2 tsp. Stevia)
2 Tbsp. dark corn syrup
1 cup smooth peanut butter
1 large egg, room temperature
1 tsp. vanilla (I used pure vanilla extract)
1 cup all-purpose flour (I used white whole wheat flour)
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt (I used sea salt)
1 cup chocolate chunks (I used 1/2 cup Hershey's Special Dark + 1/2 cup milk chocolate)
1 large fistful salty pretzel sticks, lightly crushed (I broke them)
3/4 cup caramel bits

Preheat oven to 325F. Line baking sheets with parchment paper. In medium bowl, combine butter, sugars, syrup and peanut butter and stir with a spatula or heavy spoon till everything is well combined and creamy. Add the egg and vanilla and beat again till smooth. Add the flour, baking soda and salt and beat till incorporated. Stir in half the chocolate, pretzels and caramel bits. Drop dough by heaping tablespoonfuls onto the prepared sheets, allowing 2-3 inches between cookies. Add 3-4 pieces of chocolate, 3-4 caramel bits and some pretzel pieces on top of each mound of dough. Bake for 15 minutes, or til cookies are lightly golden around edges. Let cool on baking sheets about 2 minutes, then transfer to wire rack to finish cooling. Yield: 21 cookies (Double this recipe for 42 cookies)

Saturday, April 26, 2008


Want to add a little flavor to your green beans? Try this recipe for fresh or frozen. If you're not a fan of thyme (like my hubby, Guy), don't worry. When you put sprigs of thyme in the pot, you'll only get a mild thyme flavor. Remove the sprigs when the beans are done.

Old-Thyme Green Beans
1 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
½ cup chopped sweet onion
1 tsp. chopped fresh garlic (optional)
½ lb. fresh or frozen cut green beans
1/4 cup low-sodium chicken broth
½ tsp. sea salt
3 fresh thyme sprigs
optional: 1 Tbsp. chopped fresh parsley and 1 tsp. fresh lemon juice

In 2-quart heavy pot, sweat the onions (and garlic, if using) in the oil over medium heat, about 3-4 minutes. Add the beans, broth, salt and thyme sprigs. Up the heat; bring broth to a boil. Cover pot and reduce heat to simmer. Cook beans 5-7 minutes, or till they’re done the way you like them. Before serving, remove the thyme stems. These are great as is, but if you want to bring them over the top, sprinkle the beans with the parsley and lemon juice.
Yield: 2-3 servings

Friday, April 25, 2008


The results are in, and I didn't win the popular vote or the grand prize. Thanks to everyone who voted for me. I was surprised with the grand prize winner: the cinnamon swirl cookie. It kind of resembles a cinnamon bun, and they're supposed to taste like snickerdoodles. I bet they're good. The popular vote went to the Chocolate Peanut Butter Dreams cookie, which looks like an easy and good recipe. Well, all 15 recipes are winners; they all look interesting, and I can't wait for next year to try again. (Hope they discontinue this voting stuff though; it's a pain for all concerned.) Thanks again.

Thursday, April 24, 2008


My hummus jar was empty today -- boo hoo. It was time to come up with a new hummus recipe. I thought I'd try my own concoction, and artichokes were on my mind. A pantry check turned up 1 can of quartered artichoke hearts which I decided to marinate before making the hummus. I guess it's no surprise that I liked this hummus, because I like all hummus. (Is the plural hummuses or hummus?) How long will it take to run out of hummus ideas? It will be fun to find out. In the meantime, here's another recipe for my favorite snack, hummus:

Artichoke Hummus
1/4 cup marinated quartered artichoke hearts *or marinate your own, see below
1 heaping cup garbanzo beans (chickpeas), drained and rinsed
2 Tbsp. tahini
1 garlic clove
2 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
2 nice dashes of ground red pepper
1/8 tsp. ground cumin
1/8 tsp. paprika
1-1/2 to 2 Tbsp. marinating liquid from jar

*To marinate the artichokes, in a quart-size jar, combine the following:

1/2 cup cider vinegar
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 tsp. McCormick Basil-Garlic Seasoning Blend
2 nice cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
13.75 oz. can of quartered artichoke hearts, drained

Refrigerate for 1 hour or more before making hummus.

When ready to make the hummus, spoon out 1/4 cup artichoke hearts from the jar, taking as little liquid as possible, and place the hearts in the work bowl of a food processor. Add the remaining ingredients, except the marinating liquid. Pulse till everything is mashed up and fairly smooth, about 1-1/2 minutes. Scrape sides and bottom of work bowl. Add enough marinating liquid to make a smooth hummus. Taste and make any flavoring adjustments that are needed. (This was perfect for me, but you might like more cumin or more paprika, or even some sea salt.) Yield: 1-1/2 cups

If you're wondering what to do with the rest of the artichokes, try them on a green salad. And the marinating liquid makes a great salad dressing, so you really can use up everything.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008


Neither Guy nor I are big on Oriental food, but I decided to try a recipe I found on this website: Since we don't like heavy soy flavors or too-sweet sauces, I cut the soy sauce in half and reduced the honey. Amazingly, we both liked this dish. It's not terribly saucy, just right, and the flavors are perfect -- not too sweet, not too much soy. It's fairly simple and pretty quick, so this is definitely one I will make again. Oh, and that's the leftover lemon-parsley rice with some frozen French-style green beans and baby peas in the pic above.

Ginger Chicken with Broccoli
INGREDIENTS: 1 Tbsp. fresh ginger, peeled and minced
1 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
3/4 lb. boneless chicken (I used breasts)
1/2 large onion, sliced into thin rings
2 cloves garlic, minced (1-1/2 tsp.)
1 Tbsp. lite soy sauce
1 Tbsp. white vinegar
1/2 Tbsp. honey
1/2 lb. broccoli crowns, trimmed and cut into small pieces
1/4 cup scallions, sliced

DIRECTIONS: 1. Heat oil in a large heavy pan over medium heat. Brown chicken (about 6-7 minutes) and set aside.
2. In same pan, add garlic, ginger and onions and cook for about 6 minutes or till lightly browned. 3. Add soy sauce, vinegar and honey and cook for about 3 more minutes.
4. Add broccoli crowns and cook until slightly tender (about 5 minutes).
5. Add chicken back into pan and stir together.
6. Stir in your scallions and serve. Yield: 2-3 servings

Monday, April 21, 2008


Here's the recipe for the lemon-parsley rice that went with the nice chicken roast of a few nights ago. We had about half the rice left over, so last night I added some frozen green beans and peas to it and we had it with a nice chicken stir-fry (recipe to follow). I'm not a fan of white rice -- there's really no nutritional value to it and it raises blood sugar super fast. But Guy doesn't like brown rice. Although this tasted great, I only ate a small portion.

Lemon-Parsley Rice
1 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup Jasmine rice
1/2 tsp. minced garlic
1/2 tsp. sea salt
3-4 saffron threads (optional -- you can leave this out if you don't have saffron)
1-1/4 cups water
1/2 tsp. lemon zest
2 Tbsp. finely chopped parsley

Saute' rice and garlic in oil over medium heat for about 2 minutes, taking care not to burn the garlic. Add salt, saffron and water. Bring to a boil, stir once, cover and lower heat. Cook rice according to package directions (usually about 15-20 minutes) without additional stirring. (Additional stirring makes rice gummy and sticky). Turn heat off when rice is done and allow to sit 5 minutes. Before serving, fluff rice with the zest and parsley. 4 servings, unless you really like rice, then 2 servings.

Friday, April 18, 2008


I love McCormick's new Basil-Garlic Seasoning Blend. It's one of the best seasoning blends ever and I've been using it a lot on everything. I made this dish for dinner on a cold day. It was easy and didn't tie me up. While everything roasted, I could do other things. And lately, there are a lot of things to do, it seems. Two art classes a week is taking a toll, and I'm glad that my Wednesday afternoon class ended this week. Well, glad and sad. Now I can concentrate on my Monday morning Pleine Aire class without getting confused as to what supplies I'm supposed to bring. I wish I could say I'm improving as an artist. All I can say is I'm having fun. And I've found a new venue for leftover baked goods. Here's the recipe, lest I continue to digress:

Basil-Garlic Chicken Roast

1 large chicken breast, bone in, skin on, cut in 3 pieces
1 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1 tsp. McCormick Basil-Garlic Seasoning Blend
2 cups sliced mushrooms
1 shallot, chopped
3 garlic cloves, chopped
1 cup coarsely chopped fennel (about 1/2 bulb)
1 tsp. Basil-Garlic Seasoning Blend
1 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1 tsp. Balsamic vinegar
4-5 fresh thyme sprigs

Marinate breast pieces in olive oil and seasoning blend for 1 hour in fridge, covered.

Preheat oven to 375F. Spray a 9 x 13 pan with non-stick cooking spray. Put vegetables in the pan with the seasoning blend, oil and vinegar and toss to coat. Spread veggies to the sides, leaving center open for chicken breasts. Place chicken pieces in center of pan. Place thyme sprigs over all. Bake uncovered for 30-35 minutes, or till chicken is browned and tender and juices run clear. Stir the veggies during the cooking time once or twice. This is nice with lemon-parsley rice, and any leftover veggies are great in an omelet. 2-3 servings

Thursday, April 17, 2008


I call this recipe a "residual" recipe. It's a leftover from the Get Fresh with Sweet Potatoes recipe contest. It's pretty good, but I believe I entered a similar recipe that was better. The contest ended 4/15 and the winners will be announced in June. North Carolina is the largest producer of sweet potatoes in the US. Sweet potatoes are a super food and have lots of antioxidants. No one has to force me to eat them, because I've always loved sweet potatoes. Guy will only eat them one way: candied, with lots of syrup. What a shame -- he's missing out on some great sweet potato dishes. Am I rambling? Blame it on the lousy weather. The sun hasn't been out for a full week, and I think I'm turning into a werewolf. Try this cookie for something different.

Spiced Sweet Potato Sandwich Cookies (1/4 batch)

1/2 cup cooked, drained, mashed sweet potatoes (about 1 medium)
1/2 large egg (1-1/2 Tbsp.)
3 Tbsp. vegetable oil
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 tsp. vanilla
1 tsp. pumpkin pie spice
1 cup self-rising flour

Preheat oven to 375F. Line 2 large (12" x 17") baking sheets with parchment paper. In a large mixing bowl, combine sweet potatoes, eggs, oil, sugar and flavorings, beating on medium speed of electric mixer about 2 minutes, or till thoroughly combined. Add flour and mix on low speed, just till combined. Drop rounded tablespoonfuls of batter about 2" apart onto one baking sheet. Each sheet shouldl hold about 6 cookie rounds. Bake 9-11 minutes, or till toothpick inserted near center of cookie returns almost clean. Let cookies cool on baking sheet for about 1 minute; then transfer to wire rack to finish cooling. Repeat with second baking sheet, for a total of 12 3" cookies. (You can put both sheets in the oven, reversing them halfway through the cooking time, but I get better results when I do one sheet at a time.) When cookies are thoroughly cooled, spread about 2 Tbsp. of your favorite filling on the flat side of 6 cookies. Top with the other 6 cookies. Yield: 6 sandwiches. (This recipe was quartered. Multiply ingredients by 2 for a half batch; by 4 for a full batch. Full batch makes 24 sandwiches. Yikes, you had better be feeding a crowd!) Filling suggestions: Honey-Nut soft cream cheese; cream cheese frosting; peanut butter; pudding mixed with whipped topping; chocolate frosting.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

APPLE PIE '63, adapted

Yes, it really is a Bake-Off Cookbook. In 1964, for 35 cents, I got all 100 recipes from the 14th Grand National Bake-Off. And now, you can find every recipe from the past 50+ years of bakeoffs online at

Pillsbury's 14th Grand National Bake-Off produced this cutting-edge winning recipe, originated by Mrs. Erwin Smogor of South Bend, Indiana. The grand prize in 1963 was $25,000.
Mrs. Smogor probably wouldn't win the Pillsbury $1,000,000 with this recipe now, since the trend in recipes is fewer ingredients, less prep time. I love this recipe -- it makes it possible to serve apple pie to a group of 24 people, so it's great for a party. We had dinner company on Sunday, and I decided to make this for dessert. I was hoping to reduce that bag of self-rising flour still sitting in my pantry. The recipe does state that self-rising flour can be subbed; but there is no baking powder or soda in the crust recipe, and that should have been my clue. The crust was terrible, though no one seemed to mind. It was more like a muffin bottom -- so take a tip from me and don't use self-rising flour when you make this. And you really should make it, because it's a wonderful recipe that has endured through the years. I found blogs where people stated they make it all the time instead of traditional apple pie.
Some notes: 1. Whenever possible, I always cook my apples twice, because it intensifies the flavors. I take the liquid that is left after cooking the apples and reduce it to a syrup. The difference in flavor by doing this is just amazing -- it's like the difference between toasting nuts and using them raw. It is, however, more work.
2. Instead of unwrapping all the little caramels (ugh -- the kind of work I hate), I opted to use a jar of caramel sundae sauce. This cut time and worked really well, so I guess it counteracted the additional time of pre-cooking the apples and reducing the apple liquid to a syrup.

3. I created the cardinal sin of pastry mixing: I added all the liquids at once instead of using 3/4 and checking if any more was needed. Please don't pour all the liquids in at once. You might end up with a soupy mess, which is what happened to me. Then I added more SR flour -- probably should have added oats or all-purpose flour in hindsight. Is it any wonder the crust was awful? The amazing thing is this dessert was still delicious. It's hard to kill.
4. If you want to see the updated Pillsbury version of this recipe, go to and do a search for "Apple Pie '63."
Apple Pie '63, adapted

Caramel topping: 1 small jar of caramel sundae sauce

2-1/2 cups all purpose unbleached or self-rising flour (omit salt if using self-rising flour)
1/4 cup sugar
1-1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 cup margarine or butter
1/4 cup oil
1/4 cup water
1 egg

Apple filling: 9 cups sliced peeled apples
3/4 cup sugar + 1/4 cup apple juice concentrate
2 Tbsp. butter
2 Tbsp. flour
1 tsp. lemon zest
2 Tbsp. lemon juice

Cheesecake Topping: 1 (8 oz.) pkg. Neufchatel cheese
1/4 cup sugar
1 egg
1/2 tsp. vanilla

Other: 1/3 cup chopped or broken walnuts

DIRECTIONS: 1. Prepare apple filling: Preheat oven to 400F. Combine apples, sugar, apple juice concentrate and butter in large baking pan (10 x 15 x 3), tossing to combine well. Bake 20-25 minutes, or till apples are tender. Remove from oven. Transfer apples to a 12 x 17 baking sheet to cool, reserving liquid in the 10x15x3 pan. Up the heat to 425F. Place the liquid back in the oven and bake for an additional 10 minutes, or till liquid is slightly syruppy and somewhat reduced. Pour the liquid over the apples. Sprinkle the 2 Tbsp. flour over the apples and toss to combine. Set aside to cool thoroughly while you prepare the other parts. Reduce oven heat to 375F.

2. Prepare crust: In workbowl of food processor, combine flour, sugar, salt and butter. Pulse till mixture is like cornmeal. In small bowl, whisk the oil, water and egg till frothy. Slowly add about 3/4 of this liquid to the dry ingredients, pulsing till it is incorporated. Add only enough liquid to make the mixture come together like a pie crust dough. Press this mixture onto bottom and sides of a 10" x 15" jelly roll pan. (You can roll it out if you want, but it's easier to just press it onto the pan with your fingers.)

3. Prepare cream cheese topping: Wipe work bowl and blades of food processor with damp paper towel (you don't need to get every speck of dough out of bowl). Combine cheese and sugar in work bowl and pulse till smooth. Add egg and vanilla and pulse till combined.

4. Assemble the dessert: Spoon the now-cooled apple filling over the crust evenly. Spoon the cream cheese topping in diagonal strips over top of apples. Spoon the caramel sauce in between the cheese topping. Sprinkle the walnuts over the caramel sauce. Bake for 35-45 minutes. Cool on wire rack for several hours, then refrigerate till thoroughly cooled. Serve cold. Cut in 24 squares.

Monday, April 14, 2008


Our local Harris Teeter recently had KA white whole wheat flour on sale, so I bought a 5-lb. bag. On the back of the bag is a recipe for bread; but the 2-lb. bag has a recipe for these cookies on the back. Luckily, I had pencil and paper with me, so I stood there in the store and wrote down the recipe, hoping that no one was watching me and thinking I was a crazy person. King Arthur is a name I trust, so when they called these classic crunchy, I believed them. They're not crispy on the edges, but they are nicely crunchy-chewy. But I am warning you, they are loaded with chocolate chips. I think they should call them chocolate chip candy cookies. But I have to admit they are good.....really, really, good.....and really, really sweet from all the chocolate. The only thing I changed was to sub 1/3 cup of toasted walnuts for 1/3 cup of the chips. I mean enough is enough, I had to counter some of that sweetness. The full recipe is supposed to yield 40 cookies; I made a half batch, and I got about 16 3" cookies. Your yield is going to depend on how big you make the cookies.

King Arthur's Classic Crunchy Chocolate Chip Cookies, half-batch

2 Tbsp. unsalted butter
1/4 cup canola oil
3/4 cup white and brown sugar combined
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
3/8 tsp. salt
1-1/2 tsp. cider vinegar
1/2 egg (about 1-1/2 Tbsp.)
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. baking powder
1 cup white whole wheat flour
1 cup chocolate chips of your choice
1/3 cup toasted chopped or broken walnuts

Preheat oven to 350F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Cream butter, oil and sugars on low speed of mixer till everything is well combined, about 2 minutes. Add vanilla, salt, vinegar and egg and beat again on low speed till smooth, about another minute or two. Stir in the baking soda, powder and flour and mix on stir speed just till combined. Add the chips and nuts and stir in till distributed evenly. The dough will be somewhat stiff and oily. Drop by rounded tablespoonfuls onto parchment-lined baking sheet, about 2-3" apart, and bake for 11-13 minutes, or till set and beginning to brown. Yield: about 16-20 cookies.

Saturday, April 12, 2008


I'm not crazy about fish, except for salmon and tuna. I gravitate towards wild-caught salmon because it's not supposed to have mercury. (Farm-raised salmon that has been fed pellets and antibiotics holds no interest for me; our local Harris Teeter offers organic farm-raised salmon, but it can't match the flavor of wild-caught.) I'm always looking for new ways to enjoy salmon. I eat it alone, because Guy prefers crustaceans, and calls them "fish." I told him they're seafood, not fish because they have no fins. He doesn't care, he still calls them "fish." In fact, crustaceans and mollusks are the only types of seafood he really likes, neither of which are fish, and both of which are high in pollutants and should be avoided. But Guy has never been persuaded by statistics or facts, and says that both our sets of parents ate whatever they wanted and lived into their 80's and 90's. So I eat salmon alone. And inspiration hit me this week when I grilled some. This marinade recipe is really good and works well with the mild flavor of salmon. (And, P. S., on the same night, I made a different very good lemon marinade for Guy's wild-caught shrimp. He made it into a "shrimp-ka-bob" with pepper and onions and was a very happy guy.)


2 Tbsp. Balsamic vinegar
2 Tbsp. orange juice concentrate
2 Tbsp. honey mustard (I used French's)
2 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
2 tsp. minced fresh garlic
2 sprigs fresh thyme
2 pinches sea salt and pepper
1 wild-caught salmon fillet with skin on bottom (allow 6 oz. per person because of the skin)

In resealable plastic bag combine all marinade ingredients and massage to distribute well. Add salmon. Close bag and refrigerate for 1/2 hour. Grill, covered, skin-side down, at 400F over a turned-off burner with your other burners providing heat. Allow about 6-7 minutes, turning salmon over midway through cooking time. When you flip it over, the skin will come off. (The marinade is thick, and the recipe above should provide enough for 2 servings, or about 12 oz. of salmon.)

Friday, April 11, 2008


Photo above: Checkered cookies are in the center, surrounded by Caramel Shortbread Sticks.
A neighbor requested 8 chocolate mousses and two dozen cookies for company she is having tomorrow. The cookie requested was Land O' Lakes' Caramel Shortbread Sticks (see previous post "cookies -- shortbread"), but the recipe only makes 16 triangles or 20 sticks. I made the shortbread sticks and also made this Mario Batali recipe, because it sounded good -- and it is. I've always been a fan of milk chocolate, but I am slowly changing. When I tasted the bittersweet chocolate on these cookies, I was sold! I used Nestle Chocolatier, 62% cacao, and even by itself it's good.
I like trying a new recipe from a site that provides reviews. Several readers mentioned that they had trouble with this recipe because it was crumbly and dry and wouldn't hold together. It was the same for me -- I upped the butter by 3 Tbsp. which was just enough to hold the dough together. I also added almond flavoring to this recipe, to bring out the almond flavor of the nuts. I'm glad I did, because the flavors and texture are perfect. This is a crispy, tender crunchy cookie with a mild almond flavor and the chocolate just sets it all off to perfection. Very, very good and worth making. The original recipe can be found on the Food Network website (

Checkered Cookies in the Style of Piemonte: Baci di Dama, adapted
1/2 cup thinly sliced almonds (I used part sliced, part whole)**
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 tsp. almond extract (optional -- my addition)
2 tsp. Creme de Noyeaux (creme de almond) (optional -- my addition)
1/4 cup bittersweet dark chocolate, melted (I used Nestle Chocolatier, 62% cacao)

Preheat the oven to 350F.

In the bowl of a food processor, combine the almonds, sugar, flour, butter and flavorings. (If using whole almonds, process them small first, then add remaining ingredients.) Pulse lightly until the almonds are ground and the mixture is homogeneous. This makes a crumbly dough that does not quite stick together until you press it.

Using a rounded measuring tablespoon, place small scoops of the mixture on a lightly greased baking sheet, separating each scoop by at least 1 inch on all sides. Use the tips of your fingers to gently flatten the tops of each scoop. (I filled the tablespoon barely to the top, leveled it off and pressed it down, then turned it out onto parchment lined baking sheet that had been sprayed with non-stick cooking spray. Then I flattened the dough with my fingers, smoothing the edges. Next, I dipped the bottom of glass in sugar and flattened the dough further.) Bake 10 to 12 minutes, or till golden brown. Remove from oven and let cool to room temperature on wire racks.

Once the cookies have cooled, gently melt the chocolate in the bowl of a bain-marie (a stainless steel bowl fitted over a saucepan of simmering water so that the bowl just touches the water). Remove the melted chocolate from the heat. Carefully spoon out a bit of melted chocolate on the flat sides of half the cookies. Top with remaining cookie halves to form a sandwich, pressing gently so that the chocolate adheres to both sides of the sandwich. Let rest until the chocolate has cooled, holding the cookies together. Yield: 28 cookies or 14 sandwiches

**I only had 1/4 cup of sliced almonds, so I used 1/4 cup whole with skins on. Sliced almonds have skins on, so I figured it wouldn't matter. It didn't seem to. I ground the almonds first, then added the other ingredients to the food processor.

Thursday, April 10, 2008


I've never used self-rising flour, possibly because I like sea salt and unbleached flour and I like to control the amount of leavening. But I needed to buy some to bake some cookies that I wanted to enter into a contest. I made the cookies, entered the recipe, and looked at an almost-full 5-lb. bag of self-rising flour. What to do? I thought I would try developing chocolate chip cookie recipes with it. This recipe came out ok, but the cookies are not crispy. They are soft inside. (I prefer my cookies crispy on the outside and softly chewy on the inside. These were not.) That said, if you are stuck with self-rising flour and don't know what to do with it, here's a way to use some of it up. (I think I would use regular chocolate chips with some toasted nuts next time, though, because the sweetness of the peanut butter combined with the sweetness of the milk chocolate and the sweetness of the cookie was a bit too much sweet for me.) Also note: this is a half recipe. Double for 20 cookies.)

Reese's Peanut Butter Cup Cookies (half batch)

INGREDIENTS: 1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 stick butter
1/2 egg (1-1/2 - 2 Tbsp.)
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1/2 tsp. chocolate extract (or vanilla, if you can't find chocolate extract)
1-1/4 cup self-rising flour
1/3 cup quick oats (not instant)
1/2 cup chopped Reese's peanut butter cups (or 1/2 cup chocolate chips + 1/4 cup toasted nuts of your choice)
DIRECTIONS: Preheat oven to 375F. On low speed of stand mixer, combine sugar butter, egg and flavorings till almost smooth, about 2 minutes. On stir speed, mix in flour and oats till everything comes together, about 2 minutes. Fold in the candy (or the chips and nuts). Dough will be stiff.
Drop by rounded tablespoonfuls onto baking sheet lined with parchment. Bake about 10 minutes, or till cookies test done when a toothpick inserted in center returns clean. Cool on baking pan for a few minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to finish cooling. Yield: 10 cookies.

Monday, April 7, 2008


I was supposed to go to my Monday morning Pleine Aire class today, but stayed home with a terrible sinus headache. This followed a "sick" day yesterday with my ears stopped up accompanied by nausea and no appetite. Is it a virus or is it pollen reaction? Who knows. I just know I feel rotten. I love the Pleine Aire class, though we haven't been able to paint outdoors yet because of the weather, so we've been meeting in the classroom. Our teacher took photos for us and we've been working on painting from those. An artist I'm not, but it is so much fun to slap paint on the canvas and watch it develop into a sort of picture, even if it's not great art.

Anyway, since I played hookey, I thought I would post this recipe which I actually made last week. Apples and cream are a winning combination, and this recipe is really, really good. It's like eating apple pie and cheesecake together, so what's not to like? I incorporated whole grains, used lower-fat cream cheese and reduced the sugar to make this dessert a little more user friendly.

Paula Deen's Caramel Apple Cheesecake Bars with Streusel Topping, adapted

Apple filling:
 5 cups mixed apples, sliced about 1/2" thick
4 Tbsp. Smart Balance or butter
5 Tbsp. brown sugar
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1-1/2 Tbsp. lemon juice

Crust: 1-1/2 cups whole wheat flour
3/4 cup quick oats (not instant)
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 cup (1 stick) butter, softened

Cheesecake Filling:
 2 (8-oz) pkgs. cream cheese, softened (I used Neufchatel)
1/3 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1-1/2 tsp. lemon juice
1 tsp. lemon zest
1-1/2 tsp. cornstarch

Streusel Topping: 1/2 cup brown sugar
1 cup whole wheat flour
1/3 cup toasted chopped pecans
1/2 cup quick oats (not instant)
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened
1/8 tsp. cinnamon

Caramel Drizzle: Purchased Caramel Sundae Sauce

For apple filling, in large heavy fry pan, saute' apples in the butter and sugar till apples are partially cooked and the butter and sugar get syruppy. Remove apples and syrup to a cookie sheet; sprinkle lemon juice and cinnamon over apples and lightly combine. Cool thoroughly.

For crust: Preheat oven to 350F. Combine all ingredients in food processor and pulse till combined. Press evenly in a 13x9x2-inch baking pan lined with heavy-duty aluminum foil. Bake 15 minutes or until lightly browned. Transfer to wire rack to cool.

For streusel topping: Put all ingredients in food processor and pulse till combined. Transfer to small bowl. Wipe work bowl clean with damp paper towel.

For cheesecake filling: Combine cream cheese and sugar in work bowl of food processor and pulse till well combined and smooth. Add eggs, one at a time, pulsing till combined. Add remaining ingredients and pulse quickly just till combined. Scrape bottom and sides of bowl as needed.

To assemble: Pour cheesecake filling over partially warm crust. Don't be shocked. This will barely cover the crust, but it will rise just enough to make a nice little cheesecake. Spoon the apples evenly over the cream cheese mixture. Sprinkle evenly with the streusel topping. Bake 30 minutes, or until filling is set. Refrigerate several hours or overnight for best flavor. Drizzle with caramel topping before serving. Yield: 24 bars

Sunday, April 6, 2008


My plan was to grill chicken legs for dinner; but, after some almost-80-degree days here in North Carolina, the weather turned on us. Today was cold and damp, in the 50's, and I wasn't in a grilling mood. I was in a turn-on-the-oven-and-get-warm mood. So I made a stuffing for the legs and roasted them. It was a simple dinner: chicken, stuffing and salad; but it was very satisfying. And warm.

Roasted Stuffed Chicken Legs
2 chicken legs
3 Tbsp. kosher salt
2 Tbsp. Smart Balance buttery spread, or extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup chopped sweet onion
1/2 cup chopped mushrooms
1 cup Peppridge Farm herbed stuffing mix
1 cup low-sodium chicken broth, divided use
Salt and pepper to taste

Clean the chicken legs well with cold water, removing any excess fat and innards that remain near the bone. Place them in a zip-lock bag. Sprinkle with the kosher salt, then pour enough cold water in to cover them (about 1-1/2 cups). Close the bag and massage to distribute salt. Refrigerate for 1-4 hours.
Prepare stuffing: Melt the Smart Balance in a large fry pan or saute' pan on medium heat. Add the onions and mushrooms when the Smart Balance starts to sizzle, not before. (If you put mushrooms in a pan that's not hot enough, they give off their water too quickly.) Saute the veggies for 2-3 minutes, or till onions are transparent and mushrooms have reduced in size. Add the stuffing mix and enough chicken broth to moisten it (about 1/3-1/2 cup). Stir, remove from heat. Cover and set aside. This can be done ahead of time and allowed to sit covered on the counter or cooktop until you are ready to stuff the chicken.
Preheat oven to 400F. Remove chicken legs from brine; rinse in cold clear water; drain on clean paper towels. Set out a baking dish of the right size for the chicken. If it's too big, you might have smoking -- try to find one that the legs will fit in nicely. (A deep-dish pie plate works nicely for 2 legs; for more you might go to a 9"x13". ) Spray the dish with non-stick cooking spray. Lift up the skin of the chicken legs, separating it from the meat, being careful not to tear the skin. Lightly salt and pepper the meat under the skin. Spoon about 1/4 cup stuffing under the skin, and then close the skin with toothpicks or skewers to hold it down. Spoon leftover stuffing in the center of the baking dish. Lay the stuffed legs so they cover the leftover stuffing. Pour 1/2 cup broth over the chicken, then salt and pepper the skins lightly. Place in oven uncovered and bake for 30-40 minutes, or till chicken tests done and is nicely browned. Baste the legs occasionally with pan juices. Yield: 2 servings (Double for 4; triple for 6, etc.)

Saturday, April 5, 2008


Here's an easy chicken dish when you're not in the mood to cook an elaborate meal. Allow 1 full chicken breast for each 2 persons. Since I mostly cook for 2, this recipe will be for 2. Just double it for 4; triple it for 6; etc. There aren't many ingredients and it makes up quickly. It's good served with fettucini or other pasta, but this time, I made brown rice. If you've never cooked with balsamic vinegar, you should give it a try. Italians have been doing it for a long time. You won't taste the vinegar (unless you add too much). It just gives a lift to your meal -- an edge that perks up the flavors. Italian cooking is quite simple and easy once you get the hang of it.

Sicilian Chicken and Vegetables for Two
INGREDIENTS: 3 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil, divided use
1 large skinless, boneless chicken breast, cut in bite-size chunks
1/2 tsp. sea salt
1/4 tsp. black pepper
1/2 cup coarsely chopped sweet onion
1/2 cup sliced or coarsely chopped green pepper
1-1/4 cups sliced zucchini
4 Tbsp. tomato paste
1/2 cup sliced or chopped roasted sweet pepper
2 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
1/4 tsp. crushed dried oregano
1/4 - 1/3 cup chopped Italian flat-leaf parsley
2-3 sprigs fresh thyme
1/2 cup chicken broth

DIRECTIONS: Heat 1 Tbsp. olive oil in a large heavy skillet. Salt and pepper the chicken chunks and add to the skillet. Brown the chicken on medium heat, turning as needed. Cook for about 5 minutes, stirring them so they don't burn or stick. Remove the chicken to a plate while cooking the veggies. Turn the heat to low; add the remaining 2 Tbsp. oil to the pan and add the onions and green pepper. Saute them for about 5 minutes, then add the zucchini. Cook an additional minute, stirring them as needed. Add the tomato paste and roasted peppers and stir till paste is dissolved. Turn the heat up to medium, put the chicken pieces back in and add the vinegar, parsley, oregano and thyme sprigs. Add the chicken broth and let it bubble up while you scrape up all the browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Cover; turn heat back to low and cook for 5 minutes or less, till veggies are tender and chicken is cooked through. Serve over pasta or with rice or cous cous. Yield: 2 servings.
P. S. You can also make this with canned diced tomatoes, in which case you won't need the chicken broth. The paste has just a tad more flavor than the diced tomatoes.


I've been thinking about muffins again. Not just any muffins, though. My dreams were of moist sour-cream muffins with dried cherries soaked in creme de cocoa, chocolate chips and a streusel topping. Those kind of muffins. Food & Wine Magazine had an interesting recipe in their March 2001 publication ("Cranberry Muffins with Walnut Crumb Topping") and I decided to use it for my base recipe, adapting it to a lower-fat, lower-sugar version with cherries and chocolate chips instead of the cranberries. The muffins came out really, really good, with just enough cherries in ratio to the chocolate chips, except that the baking temps were off. Food & Wine recommended baking at 425F for 20 minutes. In 12 minutes, my muffins were done, and my oven runs "true." Either their oven was way off, or they never made this recipe. Even at 12 minutes, the tops of the muffins burned and the sides were a little bit too brown. I usually bake my muffins in a preheated 500F oven and as soon as I put them in, I reduce the heat to 350F. I've never burned a muffin (top, bottom or side) using that technique. Here's my recipe:

Cherry-Chocolate Chip Muffins
Crumb Topping:
1/2 cup white whole wheat or regular whole wheat flour
2 Tbsp. sugar
2 Tbsp. light brown sugar
1/4 tsp. baking powder
Pinch of salt
4-1/2 Tbsp. unsalted butter, melted, divided use
1/4 cup walnuts, toasted and chopped

Muffins: 2 cups bleached all-purpose flour (I used White Lily)
1/2 cup sugar (I used 1/4 cup sugar + 1-1/2 tsp. Stevia)
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
pinch of salt
1 cup lite sour cream
1 extra-large egg
1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1 tsp. chocolate flavoring (or 1 tsp. creme de cocoa)
heaping 1/2 cup dried cherries soaked in 1/3 cup hot creme de cocoa and drained
1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

DIRECTIONS: Preheat oven to 500F. Spray cups of a 12-cup nonstick muffin pan with non-stick cooking spray. Set aside.

Make the crumb topping: In a small bowl, combine flour with sugars, baking powder and salt. Stir in 3 Tbsp. melted butter, reserving 1-1/2 Tbsp. for the muffin batter. Add the walnuts and pinch the topping mixture into clumps. Set aside.

Make the muffins: In a large bowl, whisk the flour with the sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt. In a smaller bowl, whisk the sour cream with the egg, applesauce, vanilla and chocolate flavoring and the reserved 1-1/2 Tbsp. melted butter. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and lightly combine (just barely--don't overmix and don't get all the lumps out.) Add the drained cherries and the chocolate chips and lightly fold them in. Spoon about 1/4 cup of batter into each muffin cup, then top with about 1 Tbsp. crumb topping, patting the topping into the muffin batter so it adheres. Put muffins in the oven and immediately reduce the heat to 350F. Bake for 14-17 minutes, or till muffins test done when a toothpick inserted in center returns almost clean. Let muffins cool in pan for 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to finish cooling. Yield: 12 standard-size muffins

TIP: Don't throw out the creme de cocoa from the drained cherries. Save it for your next baking project. Put some more cherries in it and let them soak. The longer the better. hic

Wednesday, April 2, 2008


Caesar salad is great, but sometimes I need a break. Guy won't eat fruit or nuts on his salad, so I'm in this one alone. This salad is so refreshing, especially with the citrus vinaigrette.

Leafy Citrus Salad with Citrus Vinaigrette
INGREDIENTS: Mixed greens --a good handful for each person
Orange and grapefruit sections -- 4-5 total for each person
Toasted pecans or walnuts -- 6-7 total for each person
Sweet onions or red onions, sliced thin -- 1 nice slice, separated, for each person
Mixed olives -- about 5-6 for each person

Citrus Vinaigrette: 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup white balsamic vinegar
1/3 cup orange juice
1 tsp. honey
1/2 tsp. McCormick's Basil and Garlic Seasoning Blend

DIRECTIONS: Prepare vinaigrette by blending all ingredients. Refrigerate to develop flavors for at least 1 hour. Prepare individual salads: place greens on plate first. Top with fruit sections, then nuts, then onions, and last olives. Drizzle vinaigrette over each salad before serving.