Sunday, February 28, 2010



On a cold winter’s day, a warm pumpkin muffin and a cup of tea really hit the spot.  This recipe, that I saw on Lynda's Recipe Box, is originally from Allrecipes, where it was rated 4-1/2 stars.  These are not a dessert muffin – they’re a breakfast or snack muffin; and I enjoyed them thoroughly because they’re not overly sweet.  I ate mine with a nice pat of Smart Balance Light Buttery Spread each time, something I don’t normally do with muffins; but for these muffins, it was perfect.pumpkin muffins collapsible box

I halved the original recipe, added some spices, used orange juice and whole wheat flour, and changed the ratios of liquid ingredients slightly.  I also sprinkled the tops lightly with cinnamon-sugar.  You’ll get 1 dozen standard-size muffins with this recipe, and they’ll be moist, dense, full of spice and loaded with raisins and pumpkin.  These are so good that I’ll be making them again, and I hope you’ll give them a try.

Country Pumpkin Muffins
Adapted from Allrecipes
Rating:  9 out of 10
1 cup sugar (I used 1/2 cup sugar + 2 Tbsp. Nu Naturals Stevia)
1/3 cup vegetable or canola oil
2 large eggs
1 cup butternut squash puree or canned pumpkin, drained
1/3 cup orange juice
1-1/2 cups white whole wheat flour
3/4 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. ground cloves
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. powdered ginger
1/4 tsp. freshly ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp. sea salt
3/4 cup raisins
1/2 cup broken, toasted walnuts
Topping:  1/2 tsp. cinnamon + 3 Tbsp. sugar

Heat oven to 400F (375F  for dark or coated pans).  Spray a 12-cup muffin tin with non-stick cooking spray.  In large bowl, whisk together sugar, oil, eggs, pumpkin, and juice.  In medium bowl, whisk flour, baking powder, baking soda, spices, salt, raisins and walnuts.  Add all at once to liquid mixture, stirring with spoon or spatula only till just barely combined.  Do not overmix.  Divide batter evenly among muffin cups, using about 1/4 cup for each.  
Sprinkle tops with cinnamon-sugar mixture.  Bake 14-17 minutes, or till a toothpick inserted in center returns with just a few crumbs.  Do not over bake.  Yield:  12 muffins
pumpkin muffins

Friday, February 26, 2010


cornbread (6)
I have fallen in love.  No, really.  Deeply in love.  At my age, I didn’t think it was possible, but it happened.  My iron skillet has made me the most wonderful cornbread and I never ever want to leave it.  I’ve promised to remain faithful to the end.  No more dallying with corn muffins.  This is the real thing.
cornbread (4)
You, too, can fall in love.  If you don’t own an iron skillet, please buy one and try this recipe
(Please note:  the links above will bring you to my other blog, The Bear Cupboard, where I posted my version of Oprah's chef's southern cornbread.


Sticky buns are winter comfort food.  With a cup of coffee or tea on a cold, dreary day, these really hit the spot.  This recipe is easy and very good.  Feel free to use all-purpose flour if you don’t have bread flour, and use your favorite nuts if walnuts are not your choice.  Brown sugar, orange rind and cinnamon make a flavorful filling for the light-as-air rolls.  Maple syrup, brown sugar, orange juice and walnuts are the “sticky” topping. 
I’ve also made a lower-fat version of this recipe you may want to check out.  You can freeze leftovers, and they’ll keep for several months.  Just thaw them on the counter for about 1/2 hour and nuke the thawed rolls for about 45 seconds on high.  Or wrap in tinfoil and bake thawed rolls in the oven at 400F for about 20 minutes.  Eat them as is or with Smart Balance butter spread or butter.
Maple-Walnut Sticky Buns
Source:  Judy’s Kitchen
Rating:  9 out of 10
Rolls:  1 pkg. active dry yeast (2-1/4 tsp.)
1/4 cup lukewarm water (test it on the inside of your wrist; it should be comfortably warm.)
1/2 small pkg. instant vanilla pudding mix
3-1/2 to 4 cups bread flour, divided use
1 cup lite sour cream
1/4 cup melted butter
1 Tbsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. sea salt
1 egg
1 Tbsp. oil
2/3 cup brown sugar
1 Tbsp. grated orange zest
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 cup butter, melted

Sticky Topping: 
1/4 cup butter, melted
1/2 cup pure maple syrup, Grade A Amber
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 Tbsp. orange juice
1-1/2 cups broken walnuts

In work bowl of food processor, dissolve yeast in water; let stand 10 minutes.  Add pudding mix, 1 cup flour, sour cream, sugar, salt and egg.  Process till smooth.  Gradually add remaining  flour, using only enough to make a pliable dough.  Process well after each addition.   Lightly flour a board and turn the dough out onto it.  With floured hands, knead the dough till it is soft and elastic, about 5 minutes.  Grease a large bowl with 1 Tbsp. oil.  Put the dough into the bowl, turning over once so that it is greased all around.  Dampen a clean kitchen towel and place it over dough.  Set the bowl in a warm area, free of drafts, till light and doubled in size, about 1-1/2 hours. 

For filling, combine brown sugar, zest and cinnamon in small bowl; set aside.  For topping, place butter, syrup, brown sugar and orange juice in 9”x12” pan.  Stir to combine.  Sprinkle walnuts over the mixture; set aside.  

Punch dough down after it has risen.  Roll out on floured board to 24” x 12” rectangle.  Brush
with melted butter.  Sprinkle cinnamon-sugar mixture over butter.  Roll up like a jelly roll.  Cut into 12 equal pieces.  Distribute pieces evenly over 9” x 12” pan, flattening each piece slightly.  Cover with damp towel and let rise about 1 hour, or  till doubled again. 

In the meantime, heat oven to 350F.  When rolls are double, place in hot oven and bake 30-35 minutes, or till cooked all the way through and browned on top.  Let cool in pan 10 minutes, then turn out onto board or platter.  Yield:  12 sticky buns


Wednesday, February 24, 2010


agave oatmeal cc muffins (2)
Okay, so I’ve been slow to get on the agave nectar train.  It’s because my research uncovered some startling facts, leading me to conclude that agave nectar is certainly not a health food.  So to use it to make a dessert “healthful” is counterproductive.  Typical agave nectar could contain corn syrup or even harmful contaminants; and worse yet, agave nectar is not as low glycemic as many think. 

But then I saw organic agave nectar and finally gave in.   After all, the USDA certified organic label means something.  Agave is lower in calories, and has no overbearing strong flavors or aftertaste.   And what’s so healthful about cane sugar anyway?    I decided to give it a try.  I selected one of my very best muffin recipes that has honey as a main ingredient, and substituted agave nectar for the honey.   The muffins tasted delicious, but the texture was tough and chewy.  I prefer my muffins to be moist and tender, not tough and chewy. 
I thought about the trash, but my neighbor and his wife are not as picky as I.  They gladly took the muffins and actually told me they were the best I’ve ever made.  Different strokes for different folks, I guess. 

Bottom line:  I agree with Cook’s Illustrated.  In their December/January 2010 issue, they mentioned their test kitchen had similar disappointing results with agave in baked goods,  and recommended it only be used as a sweetener for liquids. 

QUESTIONS:  What do you think about agave nectar?  Have you used it in baked goods?  What were your results?

Monday, February 22, 2010


capuccino cc muffins (3)
Is there anything better than chocolate, coffee and cinnamon?  Cappucino muffins are right up there with my top faves, and these muffins are a-ok.  Oil, sour cream and buttermilk  make these tender, light and moist.  Instant coffee, coffee essence and vanilla provide great aroma and taste.  Some white whole wheat flour adds fiber, texture and more flavor.  You can top them with cinnamon-sugar, or a coffee glaze.  Either way, these are very good muffins.
capuccino cc muffins
You will need 14 standard muffin cups – a 12-cup tin plus two extra.  I put the extra batter in my 4-1/2” springform pan to make a little cappuccino muffin cake (top picture).  If you don’t have a small cake pan, you could use two aluminum foil cups placed on a baking sheet.

Cappucino Muffins
Source:  Judy’s Kitchen
Rating:  8.5 out of 10
2 Tbsp. vegetable or canola oil
2 large eggs
3/4 cup sugar (or 1/2 cup sugar + 1 Tbsp. Nu Naturals Stevia)
3/4 cup lite sour cream
1/2 cup low-fat buttermilk (or 1/2 cup milk + 1-1/2 tsp. vinegar)
1 Tbsp. instant coffee, espresso or decaf instant coffee
1 tsp. vanilla extract
optional:  1 tsp. coffee essence (equal parts instant coffee + coffee brandy)
1/2 cup applesauce
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour + 1/2 cup white whole wheat flour
1 tsp. cinnamon
1-1/4 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. baking soda 
1/4 tsp. sea salt
1/2 cup chocolate chips + 1/2 cup for tops

Heat oven to 425F.  Spray a 12-cup muffin tin with non-stick cooking spray.  In large bowl, whisk together oil, eggs, sugar, sour cream, buttermilk, instant coffee, vanilla and coffee essence.  Whisk in applesauce; set aside.

In separate bowl, whisk together flour, cinnamon, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.  Stir in 1/2 cup chocolate chips.  Add to liquids all at once, stirring with a spoon or spatula just till barely combined. 

Divide batter evenly among 14 muffin cups, using about 1/4 cup batter for each.  Sprinkle tops with reserved 1/2 cup chocolate chips.  Place in oven; immediately reduce heat to 350F.  Bake 17-20 minutes, or till a toothpick inserted near center returns almost clean.  Cool on wire rack.

Coffee Glaze:  3/4 cup confectioner’s sugar
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
2 tsp. coffee essence or strong coffee
Milk or cream, as necessary to make a glaze consistency

In small bowl, whisk ingredients together till smooth.  Add only enough milk to make glaze the right consistency.  With fork, drizzle over cooled muffins.
capuccino cc muffins (4)

Saturday, February 20, 2010


This recipe is my own.  Vanilla, cinnamon and coffee is a fave combo of mine, and I decided to try it in a muffin.  This is more of a dessert muffin, sweet with a crunchy topping, and a loose, tender and spongy crumb.  I wasn’t thrilled with the muffins, maybe because they were a tad too sweet for my taste; but they got rave reviews from everyone who tried them, even my fussy hubby.  Everyone especially liked the coffee glaze.  So I’m passing the recipe on to you and hope you will enjoy it as much as my group did.011
Vanilla-Cinnamon Streusel Muffins with Coffee Glaze
Source:  Judy's Kitchen
Rating:  8.5 out of 10

1-3/4 cups all-purpose flour, divided use
1 cup sugar, divided use
1-3/4 tsp. baking powder, divided use
3 Tbsp. chopped or broken walnuts
2 tsp. cinnamon
5 Tbsp. butter, melted, divided use
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
1 tsp. vanilla powder (optional)
1/2 cup white chocolate chips
2 large eggs
1 cup low-fat vanilla yogurt (Stonyfield Farms)
2-1/2 tsp. vanilla (I used Mexican vanilla)
1/2 cup plain applesauce
1/2 cup confectioner’s sugar
1/2 tsp. coffee essence (equal parts coffee and coffee brandy)
2-4 Tbsp. coffee

Heat oven to 400F.   Spray a 12-cup standard muffin tin with non-stick cooking spray.  In small bowl, combine 4 Tbsp. flour, 4 Tbsp. sugar, 1/2 tsp. baking powder, 3 Tbsp. walnuts, 2 tsp. cinnamon and 2 Tbsp. butter.  Mix with a fork till combined; set aside.

In large bowl, whisk together 1-1/2 cups flour, 3/4 cup sugar, 1-1/4 tsp. baking powder, baking soda, salt and white chocolate chips.  In small bowl, whisk together eggs, yogurt, 2 tsp. vanilla, 2 Tbsp. melted butter and applesauce.  Pour wet ingredients over dry ingredients all at once, stirring with spoon or spatula just till barely combined.  Spoon into muffin cups.  Top each muffin with some of the cinnamon topping.
Bake 18-20 minutes, or till toothpick inserted near center returns with just a few crumbs.  Cool in pans about 5 minutes, then turn out onto wire racks to finish cooling.  

Prepare glaze:  In small bowl, combine 1 Tbsp. melted butter with confectioner’s sugar, 1/2 tsp. vanilla and coffee essence.  Stir till smooth.  Stir in just enough coffee to make a drizzling consistency.  Drizzle with fork over  muffin tops.  Yield:  12 muffins

Thursday, February 18, 2010


My 100% Italian hubby had never tasted chicken saltimbocca, and neither had I.  After watching America’s Test Kitchen chefs make this dish, my appetite was stirred; so I bought the prosciutto and the boneless chicken breasts – I had everything else.  My herb garden had been growing two huge sage plants for several years, and I wondered if I would ever use them.  Now I had a chance.
Once  hubby saw the prosciutto, he was sold.  He knew he would like this dish, because anything with prosciutto has to be good.  I was worried about the sage.  Would it be too strong?  My worries were put aside once the first bite found my mouth.  This dish is exquisite, and the flavors are perfect.  Once more, it’s fairly easy to make.  We’ve had it twice now, and loved it both times.   Hubby says it’s not like eating chicken.  
If you’ve been wanting to try fried sage leaves, here’s your chance.  I was underwhelmed with them, though I’ve heard others rave.  Since we are mushroom enthusiasts, I added mushrooms to this recipe, but you can leave them out if you don’t share our enthusiasm.
Chicken Saltimbocca
Slightly adapted from America’s Test Kitchen
Rating:  10 out of 10
INGREDIENTS:  1/4 cup + 2 Tbsp. unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
2  boneless, skinless chicken breast halves (about `1 lb.), sliced in half and pounded thin to make 4 thin cutlets
1-1/2 tsp. chopped fresh sage leaves + 4 large leaves (optional) 
4 thin slices prosciutto, about 1.5 oz. 
1-1/2 Tbsp. olive oil + 1-1/2 Tbsp. butter
1/2 lb. sliced mushrooms
1/2 cup dry vermouth or white wine
1/4 cup low-sodium chicken broth
1 tsp. lemon juice 
2 Tbsp. unsalted butter,  chilled and chopped
1-1/2 tsp. chopped fresh parsley leaves
Sea salt

1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 200F.  Combine flour and pepper in shallow dish.

2. Pat cutlets dry with paper towels.  Dredge chicken in flour, shaking off excess.    Lay cutlets flat and sprinkle evenly with minced sage. 
Place 1 prosciutto slice on top of each cutlet, pressing lightly to adhere; set aside.

3. Heat half the oil and butter  in 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat till beginning to shimmer.  Add the 4 whole sage leaves, if using, and cook till leaves begin to change color and are fragrant, about 15-20 seconds.  Using slotted spoon, remove sage to paper towel-line plate; reserve.  Add cutlets to pan, prosciutto-side down, and cook until light golden brown, 2-3 minutes.  Flip and cook on other side until light golden brown, about 2 minutes more. 
009 Transfer to wire rack set on rimmed baking sheet and keep warm in oven.

4. Add remaining oil and butter to pan and keep heat on medium-high.  When butter melts and begins to sizzle, add mushrooms.  Cook till beginning to caramelize, about 6-8 minutes.   Stir in vermouth (or wine), and broth, scraping up any browned bits, and simmer until liquid is reduced, 5-7 minutes.  Stir in lemon juice.  Turn heat to low and whisk in butter, 1 Tbsp. at a time.  Off heat, stir in parsley and carefully season to taste with salt and pepper. (Note:  You will not need much, so taste as you go.)  Remove chicken from oven and place on platter.  Spoon mushrooms and sauce over cutlets before serving.   Garnish each serving with one fried sage leaf.  Yield:  4 servings006

Tuesday, February 16, 2010


This recipe, adapted from Ghiradelli, makes a sweet, chewy cookie with a crunchy exterior full of complex,  outstanding flavors.  The original recipe calls for Macadamia nuts, but I used pecans instead.  Just about everyone who tasted these thought the pecans were Macadamia nuts, but I’m not sure why.  Although pecans and Macadamia nuts both taste buttery, the appearance of the nuts is distinctly different. 
The original recipe is on the back of packages of Ghiradelli white chocolate chips.  I made changes, noted below.  These cookies got the most raves of anything I have made lately, and I would definitely make them again.  The orange zest, though not in the original, is the final touch that takes these over the top.  
I used 1/4 cup dough per cookie to make 17 (3-1/2”) cookies; and rounded tablespoonfuls of dough to make 8 smaller cookies.  Everyone liked the larger cookies better.  Although they’re very soft when they first come out of the oven, they firm up and become sturdy.   Use a toothpick inserted near center to test for doneness.  If it returns with just a few crumbs, remove the cookies from the oven.
Orange-Pecan-White Chocolate Chip Cookies
Adapted from Ghiradelli
Rating:  9.5 out of 10
INGREDIENTS:  1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter. 
1 cup brown sugar
1-1/2 cups granulated sugar (I used 3 Tbsp. NuNaturals Stevia + 3/4 cup sugar)
1 Tbsp. finely grated orange zest  (my addition)
2 large eggs
2-1/4 tsp. vanilla (I used 1-1/2 tsp. vanilla  extract+ 3/4 tsp. chocolate extract)
3 cups all-purpose flour (I used 2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour + 1 cup bread flour)
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt (I used sea salt)
2 cups Ghiradelli white chocolate chips
1 cup Macadamia nuts (I used toasted broken pecans)
Heat oven to 350F.  Line baking sheets with parchment paper.

Let butter sit on counter for about 1/2 hour.  Do not soften in microwave, and do not allow butter to get too warm.  In large bowl, cream butter, sugars and zest on medium speed of mixer.  Beat in eggs and flavoring.  Stir in flour, baking soda and salt, mixing only till barely combined.  Fold in chips and nuts.  Using 1/4 cup dough for each cookie, drop mounds onto cookie sheet, spacing several inches apart. 

Bake 13-16 minutes, or till lightly browned on edges.  Do not overbake.  Cookies will be very soft.  Allow to sit in pan for 5 minutes, then transfer to wire rack to finish cooling.  Yield:  21 (3-1/2”) cookies

Sunday, February 14, 2010


I’m not a huge fan of cookie or cake mixes, but I’ll admit they are convenient; and, between Pillsbury and Betty Crocker, there are so many good recipes on their websites  that it makes them hard to ignore.  These delicious fudgy bars won honorable mention in Betty Crocker’s 2007 Cookie Mix Contest and could make me a regular buyer of the Chocolate Chunk Cookie Mix.  Really.
Okay, so I made a few changes, nothing big.  I added some coffee flavor to the cookie base and frosting to enhance the chocolate.  I reduced the sugar in the filling, increased the mini marshmallows, and toasted the nuts.  These are so so good, and they don’t taste like they’re made from a mix.  Maybe because most of the bar is not from a mix. 
Double-Chocolate Rocky Road Cookie Bars
Adapted from Betty Crocker
Rating:  9 out of 10
Cookie Base:  1 pouch Betty Crocker Chocolate Chunk Cookie Mix
1/4 cup vegetable oil
2 Tbsp. coffee or water
1 egg

Filling:  1 (8 oz.) pkg. Neufchatel or cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup butter or margarine, softened
2 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
1 tsp. vanilla
1 egg
1/4 cup chopped toasted pecans
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
2 cups miniature marshmallows

Frosting:  1/2 cup butter or margarine
1/4  cup unsweetened baking cocoa
1/3 cup milk
1 tsp. instant coffee granules
3 cups powdered sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
1 cup chopped toasted pecans

1. Heat oven to 350F (325F for dark or coated pans).  Spray bottom and sides of 13x9-inch pan with cooking spray.

2. In large bowl, stir cookie base ingredients until soft dough forms.  Press dough in bottom of pan.  Set aside.

3. For  filling, in large bowl, beat cream cheese, sugar,  butter, flour, vanilla and egg with electric mixer on medium speed until smooth.  Stir in pecans; spread over cookie dough base.  Sprinkle with chocolate chips.

4. Bake 26-28 minutes, or till filling is set.  Sprinkle evenly with marshmallows.  Bake 2 minutes longer.

5. For frosting, in 2-quart saucepan, melt butter over medium heat.  Stir in cocoa and milk.  Heat to boiling, stirring constantly.  Remove from heat.  With wire whisk, gradually stir in powdered sugar till well blended and smooth.  Stir in vanilla and pecans*.  Immediately pour over marshmallows, spreading gently to cover.  Cool 30 minutes.
022 6. Refrigerate about 2 hours, or until chilled.  For bars, cut into 6 rows by 4 rows.  Store covered in refrigerator.

*I did not stir the pecans into the frosting.  Instead, I poured the frosting (minus pecans) over the marshmallows, then sprinkled the pecans on top of the frosting.  Either way works.

Friday, February 12, 2010


Here’s a dessert that’s sure to please almost everyone.  Moist, tender, velvety and not-too-sweet chocolate cupcakes are topped with fluffy peanut butter frosting.  Buttermilk and sour cream make the cupcakes tender and moist; coffee and brown sugar enhance the chocolate flavor; and the peanut butter icing is creamy, sweet and delicious. 
Ina Garten always uses extra-large eggs, but I subbed large eggs with no adverse effects.  I also cut some of the fat and sugar out, but no one could tell.  The thick batter doesn’t rise a lot in the oven, so the cups can be filled almost to the top.  Garnish the tops with chopped salted peanuts and a grated chocolate bar.  Now just pour yourself a big glass of milk; sit back and enjoy these delectable treats.
Chocolate Cupcakes with Peanut Butter Icing
Adapted  from Barefoot Contessa at Home
Rating:  9.5 out of 10
6 Tbsp. unsalted butter, room temperature  (I used Smart Balance 50/50 blend)
2/3 cup sugar (I used 2 Tbsp. +  2 tsp. NuNaturals Stevia)
2/3 cup brown sugar
2 extra-large eggs (I used 2 large eggs)
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 cup buttermilk (I used 1 cup low-fat milk + 1 Tbsp. white vinegar)
1/2 cup sour cream (I used lite sour cream)
2 Tbsp. coffee
1-3/4 cups all-purpose flour (I used 1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour + 3/4 cup King Arthur white whole wheat flour)
1 cup natural unsweetened cocoa powder
1-1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 cup applesauce

Heat oven to 350F.  Line cupcake pans with paper liners (12 standard cupcakes, 12 mini cupcakes).

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream butter and sugars on high speed till light and fluffy, about 5 minutes.  Lower speed to medium; add eggs 1 at a time.  In separate bowl, whisk together the vanilla, buttermilk, sour cream and coffee.  In another bowl, sift flour, cocoa, baking soda and salt.  On low speed, add buttermilk mixture and the flour mixture alternately in thirds to the mixer bowl, beginning with the buttermilk mixture and ending with the flour mixture.  Mix only until blended.  Stir in applesauce.  Fold the batter with a rubber spatula to be sure it’s completely blended.

Divide batter among cupcake pans, filling each cup almost to the top.  Bake standard cupcakes about 16 minutes; minis about 13 minutes, or till a toothpick inserted near center returns with just a few crumbs.  Cool 10 minutes in pan; then turn out on wire rack to finish cooling.

Frost each cupcake with peanut butter icing and sprinkle with chopped salted peanuts and/or a grated chocolate bar.

Peanut Butter Icing 1 cup confectioner’s sugar
1 cup creamy peanut butter
5 Tbsp. unsalted butter, softened (I used Smart Balance 50/50 blend) 3/4 tsp. vanilla extract
1/4 tsp. kosher salt
1/3 - 1/2 cup heavy cream

Place sugar, peanut butter, butter, vanilla and salt in bowl of electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment.  Mix on medium-low speed until creamy, scraping down bowl with rubber spatula as you work.  Add cream gradually, using only enough to make frosting the desired consistency. Beat on high speed until mixture is light and smooth.

Thursday, February 11, 2010


Last July, I posted about Southern Living's wonderful vanilla cupcakes.  This cupcake is their chocolate variation of that recipe; and it’s moist, tender and has good chocolate flavor.  I filled 12 standard cupcake cups and 3 (4-1/2”) springform pans with the batter. 
Everything was frosted with vanilla cream cheese frosting.  Half the cupcakes were sprinkled with toasted coconut and half received red shot (sprinkles).  The little cakes were split in half to make two (3-layer) cakes.  Any of these would be a nice Valentine’s Day (or any day) treat.
Chocolate Cupcakes
Adapted from Southern Living
Rating:  9.5 out of 10
2 cups sugar
1 cup butter, softened
3 large eggs
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/4 tsp. almond extract (I used coffee essence*)
2 cups cake flour (I used White Lily all-purpose low-protein flour)
1-1/2 tsp. baking powder
3/4 cup unsweetened natural cocoa powder
1 cup buttermilk (or 1 cup milk + 1 Tbsp. white vinegar)
1/3 cup hot coffee (or water)

*Coffee essence:  Mix equal parts instant coffee granules and coffee liqueur, such as Kahlua.  Use as flavoring for cookies and cakes.)

Heat oven to 350F (325F for dark or coated pans).  Line cupcake tins with paper cups.  Grease and flour cake pans (if using). 

In large bowl, beat sugar and butter on medium speed till creamy and fluffy, about 5 minutes.  Add eggs, one at a time.  Add flavorings with last egg.  In medium bowl, whisk flour, baking powder, and cocoa together.  Add flour mixture alternately with buttermilk, beginning and ending with flour, and only mixing till just combined on low speed.  Stir in hot coffee till smooth.  Use batter immediately to fill 2 dozen standard-size cupcake cups (or 1 dozen cups + 3 (4-1/2”) pans).  Bake 20-25 minutes for standard  cupcakes, 25-30 minutes for little cake pans, or till a wooden pick inserted near center returns with just a few crumbs.  Cool in pans about 10 minutes, then transfer to wire rack to finish cooling.  Frost as desired.  (Vanilla cream cheese frosting is perfect for these.)



There are many variations of cream cheese frosting.  Some recipes use only cream cheese with no butter, others use varying amounts of each.  This recipe uses equal amounts of each.  Fresh butter imparts a buttery creaminess to the frosting, while the cream cheese adds a slight tang.  Together, they make a wonderful frosting that cooks everywhere have used for many, many years.  Using vanilla beans adds immensely to the flavor.  If you don’t have vanilla beans, then use vanilla extract; but use the best you can afford, because vanilla flavorings are not all the same.  The quality of vanilla shows up in the frosting, and you will taste the difference.
Vanilla Cream Cheese Frosting
Source:  Judy’s Kitchen
8 Tbsp. (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
3 cups confectioner’s sugar
1 (8-oz.) pkg. Neufchatel cheese, cut into 8 pieces, softened
1 vanilla bean, scraped (or 1-1/2 tsp. good-quality vanilla extract or vanilla paste)
Big pinch sea salt
1-2 Tbsp. heavy cream, sour cream or milk, if needed

Beat butter and sugar on high speed of electric mixer, in medium-large bowl, until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add cream cheese, one piece at a time, beating on medium speed until incorporated, about 30 seconds each addition.  Beat in the scraped vanilla bean seeds and salt.  Add only enough liquid to bring the frosting to spreadable consistency.  Refrigerate till ready to use. 

Will frost 2 dozen cupcakes or one double-layer cake.  Freeze any leftover frosting for another use, or refrigerate up to one week.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010


Good news.  Dr. Spetzler has agreed to treat Jim.  His consultation is March 16.  Pre-op test on the 17th.  Surgery on the 18th.  Insurance is being worked out. 

We did not go to CA.  We sent our younger son, David, who stayed at Jim's very tiny apt. We will be  going to AZ March 15.  It's been a grueling few weeks emotionally and physically and I still haven't really slept well since it all started.  Jim is stilll in pain and the doctor said he won't know till after the surgery whether it's the aneurysm causing the pain or something else.  He is unable to work, unable to drive but is functioning with the help of friends. 

Thank you all for your support, especially your prayers.  Brain surgery is very high risk, and Jim's situation is serious.  There are probably only a few neurosurgeons in the world who would even attempt it, and Dr. Spetzler is one of those.  We are hopeful for good results and feel very fortunate that Jim was able to be scheduled so quickly. 

Tuesday, February 9, 2010


This month’s runner-up in the “Chocolate-Peanut Butter Desserts” Category for Better Homes & Gardens’ Prize-Tested Recipes contest was Jennifer O’Connor, Brunswick, Maine, for these clever whoopie pie derivatives.  While the cookie is not exactly like a puffy traditional whoopie pie, it is very good.  Fudgy, tender and flavorful, the cookie holds a wonderfully light peanut butter-mallow filling that really steals the show. 
I added a bit of creme de cocoa, vanilla powder and cinnamon to the filling, and used regular chocolate chips instead of minis, only because I didn’t have minis and was too lazy to go to the store.  The original recipe calls for sprinkling some mini chips on the tops of the cookies, but I thought the regular chips would overwhelm the small tops and left out that step.  My additional flavorings are, of course, optional, but I like what they added to the filling.  I tasted the batter before and after, and liked it better after my additions. 
The cookies are sweet and rich-tasting to me and utterly delicious.  I had one, and stopped myself from continuing.  It was hard, because these are, as I said, very good.  Congrats to Jennifer for her win and thanks for a real crowd-pleasing cookie.  These were well received at the Super Bowl Party we attended on Sunday.

Chocolate-Peanut Butter Whoopie Pies
Adapted from BH&G Prize Tested Recipes, February 2010
Rating:  9.5 out of 10
INGREDIENTS: 12 oz. pkg. mini semi-sweet chocolate pieces (I used regular chips)
2 Tbsp. milk
3/4 cup butter, softened (add a bit of salt if using unsalted butter)
1/4 cup creamy peanut butter
1-1/2 cups sugar
1/2 tsp. sea salt
2 eggs
1/2 cup milk
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 cup unsweetened natural cocoa powder
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. baking powder

Filling:  1 cup softened butter, 1 cup creamy peanut butter, 1 cup marshmallow creme, 2 cups powdered sugar.  Optional:  Add 1 Tbsp. creme de cocoa (or coffee brandy or strong coffee), 1/4 tsp. vanilla powder or vanilla extract + 1/4 tsp. cinnamon)

1. Heat oven to 350F.  Line baking sheets with parchment paper.

2. Set aside 1/4 cup chocolate pieces to sprinkle on cookies.  In microwave-safe bowl, combine 1 cup of the chocolate pieces and 2 Tbsp. milk.  Microwave on 50% power 1 minute, or till melted, stirring once.  Set aside.

3. In large bowl, beat butter and peanut butter with electric mixer until combined.  Add sugar and salt; beat to combine.  Add eggs, 1/2 cup milk, vanilla and melted chocolate; beat to combine.  Beat in cocoa powder, flour, baking soda and baking powder until combined.  Stir in remaining chocolate pieces.  Drop by rounded teaspoons 2” apart on ungreased cookie sheets.  Sprinkle with reserved chocolate pieces, if desired. 
Bake 9 minutes or till cookies are set (test with toothpick).  Cool on cookie sheets about  1 minute; transfer to wire racks; cool completely before filling. 

4.  Combine all filling ingredients in medium bowl and beat till smooth and fluffy with electric mixer.  Add additional liquid, if needed to make a soft, fluffy filling.  To assemble, spread flat sides of half the cookies with filling; top with remaining cookies.  Yield:  39 pies (78 cookies)


Sunday, February 7, 2010


Last February, I wrote about the history of chocolate and listed chocolate recipes on this site.  Below is my 2010 revised list of favorite chocolate recipes to help you prepare for Valentine's Day, which is less than a week away.  All of these recipes have been tried and tested and are top notch.

1. Chocolate Guinness Cake          

2. Cook's Country Red Velvet Cake and Cream Cheese Frosting

3. Cream Cheese Brownie Cupcakes and Rocky Road Squares

4. Peanut Butter Mousse Brownies

5. Chocolate Lovers' Muffins

6. Zucchini-Brownie Cupcakes

7. Eating Well's Lava Rocks

8. Penzey's Chocolate-Zucchini Muffins

9. Copycat Levain Bakery Chocolate Chip Cookies

If that's not enough to choose from, my next several posts, which will follow quickly, will be chocolate recipes that I think you'll very much enjoy. 

I'm trying to make up for lost time.  Please forgive me for not visiting your site, I do want to get there, but this catch-up is horrendous.  Will be posting an update on Jim's condition tomorrow, at which time I'll know when I'll be traveling.

Saturday, February 6, 2010


I’m trying to eat more fish, less red meat.  But I have to tell you, I do love red meat.  Our local Harris Teeter carries a nice variety of fresh fish, and the quality is good.  Recently, they had wild-caught Grouper, a fish that I enjoy.  It’s a mild fish with some body to it and a little fat, so I feel a little full after I eat it – unlike fat-less flounder which leaves me starving.  You can use any mild white fish if you don’t have grouper where you live (flounder, tilapia, basa, white trout, snapper, etc.)
Instead of marinating the grouper and putting it on the grill, I decided to do something different.  I came up with this recipe by combining several and making changes.  One piece of fish was left over, and I heated it in a fry pan for breakfast.  It tasted just as good as the day before.  This is definitely a recipe I’ll be using again. 
Sweetened coconut, combined with bread crumbs, hot red pepper, and a nice touch of nutmeg that is almost indiscernible provides a slightly crispy, delicious coating for the fish.  Sweet and hot meet to delight your palate; a sprinkle of lime juice  is the perfect finishing touch.  This recipe will feed two;  double or triple it if you need more.
Source:  Judy’s Kitchen
Rating:  9.5 out of 10
about 1 cup crusty Italian bread, cubed
1/2 cup sweetened dried, flaked coconut
big pinch sea salt
pinch freshly ground nutmeg
1/8 – 1/4 tsp. ground red pepper, according to taste
1/2 egg (1-1/2 Tbsp.)
1 Tbsp. water
1/2 lb. fresh wild-caught grouper, rinsed, cut into 2-3 pieces
1 Tbsp. unsalted butter
1 Tbsp. vegetable or canola oil
Lime wedges

Heat oven to 400F.  In the work bowl of a food processor, process bread till it’s crumbs.  Remove all but 1/3 cup.  (If your 1 cup of cubes equals 1/3 cup, you hit a home run!)  Add the coconut, salt, nutmeg and red pepper to the work bowl with the crumbs and process till coconut is in smaller pieces and everything is combined.  Pour into a dish for dredging.

Beat together 1/2 egg and 1 Tbsp. water in another dish for dredging.

Dip each piece of fish, first in the egg, then in the coconut mixture, being sure you coat each well.  Melt butter with oil in bottom of Pyrex pie plate or other oven-proof dish by placing the dish in the oven for a few minutes.  Place fish in hot pan.  Scoop up some of the melted fat and drizzle it over tops of fish pieces.  Place in oven; reduce heat to 350F.  Bake 15-20 minutes, or till topping is crispy and brown and fish flakes easily with fork.  Serve with lime wedges.  Yield:  2 servings016

Tuesday, February 2, 2010


Thanks so much, everyone, for your words of support, and most importantly your prayers for our family.  My son's aneurysm is of the worst kind.  It's a fusiform aneurysm, which means it's the entire artery, instead of just a bubble.  But he has a bubble too, on the end of the fusiform.  So he has two.  And both are in a very sensitive area of the brain.  We found one neurosurgeon, world renowned, and his name is Dr. Spetzler at Barrow Neuro Surgical Associates in Phoenix, AZ (   All Jim's tests have been fed ex'd to him, and he received them this morning. We are now waiting to see if he can do anything for this very impossible situation.  In the meantime, my son is in constant pain.  Most aneurysms do not produce symptoms, including pain.  We're theorizing that the artery has grown just enough to press on nerves. 
If Dr. Spetzler agrees to treat Jim, we will then need a miracle of provision for the cost.  We're hoping BCBS of California will cover some of the costs, but we'll have to collectively come up with the rest, including rehabilitation costs, airfare, housing and meals.  I would so appreciate your continued prayers for us.