Wednesday, June 30, 2010


Last year I ordered vanilla beans and vanilla powder from Beanilla Trading Company.  I had read good reports about this company’s products and services, and I was not disappointed.  My order arrived quickly, and the packaging was high-quality.  The vanilla beans have been stellar, with generous amounts of “caviar” in each bean.  Beanilla’s prices are good, too, especially for the quality.  I’ll be ordering from them again, to be sure.  (Please note that I am not being compensated in any way for this endorsement.  In fact, Beanilla is totally unaware of it.)

One of the reasons I wanted to order vanilla beans was so that I could make my own extract.  It’s not a hard thing to do, it’s just time consuming.  Six months of time to be exact.  That’s how long the beans must soak in alcohol for the full flavor to be extracted. 

Here are the jars when they were first filled:011

Here are the jars after 6 months:

You can see that I recycled a green wine vinegar jar, a brown jar and a clear jar.  They were all thoroughly washed and rinsed, then sterilized, before using.  You can also buy colored glass or clear glass jars from Beanilla.  If you really want to make life simple, just open a new bottle of vodka and slip your spliced vanilla beans right into that, using 1 oz., or about 3, beans for every 8 oz. of vodka.  You’ll have  a ton of vanilla extract, but, really, what great Christmas gifts they would make.   Just buy or recycle smaller bottles for gift giving. 

P. S.  Several readers have asked which mixture I preferred.  Unfortunately, novice me should have used one type bean in 3 different alcohols.  Because I didn't do that, I can't really say which bean I prefer.  But I can say that the bourbon vanilla beans soaked in Barbados rum were by far my favorite mixture.  I also, at a later date, purchased Tonga beans, but was underimpressed with those.

Homemade Vanilla Extract
Source:  Unknown

For each batch, you will need:
1 10 oz. jar with lid, preferably dark green or brown glass
8 oz. vodka, bourbon or rum
1 oz. vanilla beans (about 3, depending on size)

Wash each jar  thoroughly with hot soapy water and rinse well.  Sterilize by steaming or boiling in water, along with the knife you will use to cut the vanilla beans open.  Cool on wire rack with bottles and caps  turned upside down to drain.

Label jars or caps with date.  

Pour 8 oz. of preferred alcohol in each bottle.  Cut each bean right down the middle to expose seeds.  You don’t need to scrape the seeds out.

(If preferred, you can cut the beans in smaller pieces to make it easier to cover them with the alcohol.)

Place beans in jar, being sure they are completely covered with liquid – no bean pieces should show above the alcohol.  Cap.  Shake. Shake vigorously every day or at least once a week.  If you forget, don’t  worry.  Just shake the jar(s) as often as you remember.  This shakes the seeds free, and helps to flavor the alcohol. 

You can start using your extract after 2 months, but the best flavor will be developed after 6 months.  Like a fine wine, it  will improve with age.  Shake the bottle before measuring out your extract, and be sure to store in a cool, dry place away from sun, light and heat.  As you use the vanilla, you can replace what you’ve  used with more alcohol.  Initially, it will dilute the flavor, but it will catch up quickly. 

Vanilla powder is a wonderful substitute for vanilla extract when you don’t want to add more liquid to a recipe, such as in ice cream or frosting recipes.  It's very easy to make.

Homemade Vanilla Powder

1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 vanilla bean
1/2 tsp. cornstarch

Cut the bean into 1 to 2 inch segments.  Put pieces into a clean spice/coffee grinder and grind into small pieces, about 1 minute.  Add sugar and cornstarch and blend for about 2 minutes, or until the sugar is a fine powder.  Sift contents through a fine sieve to remove any small pieces of vanilla bean that were not sufficiently milled.  Store in clean, sterilized, airtight glass container away from sun, light and heat.  The powder should be stored for at least 2 weeks before using.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010


A friend, (a local East Carolinian) who has a pecan tree in his backyard, gave us a huge bag of pecans.  Beautiful, big North Carolina pecans.  I was happy to get such a big bag of these yummy nuts and felt that I should reciprocate by baking something nice, something using the pecans.

I don't know about you, but shortbread is one of my favorite things to eat.  It's buttery, tender and not overly sweet.  When you add pecans, you get even more of a buttery taste.  The bourbon, while a nice idea, doesn't really add anything discernible to the cookie.  You can drizzle the shortbread with melted chocolate or caramel, if you really want to take it over the top, but I like it just as it is.  So nice with a cup of tea.

Monday, June 28, 2010


My hubby’s not big on desserts.  There are a few faves, though, that he can’t resist.  One is chocolate cupcakes with chocolate frosting.  I decided to try two different but similar recipes to see which was the better:  Hershey’s Especially Dark Chocolate Cake & Frosting, and Martha Stewart’s “the best…One-Bowl Chocolate Cake.”
Martha has substituted buttermilk for regular milk in her recipe, which is an adaptation of  Hershey’s old-time recipe.  She’s also bumped up the cocoa and baking soda and reduced the oil, sugar, baking powder and vanilla.  Instead of using boiling water in the batter, Martha uses warm water and it gets mixed in with the other ingredients, instead of at the end.  I wanted to try Martha’s recipe for chocolate frosting, but I had enough of the Especially Dark Chocolate Frosting left over to frost the second batch of cupcakes. 

Hershey’s cake is moist, light and chocolatey and the frosting is perfect.   The cupcakes, which remind me a little of the old-time chocolate Tasty-Kakes, got rave reviews all around from my taste testers.  Here is a photo of Hershey’s cake, with the inside, as you can see, almost black, and note how high and nicely crowned the cupcake is:
Martha’s cake is moister and more chocolatey with a hint of fudginess without truly being fudgy.  I would pick Martha’s cake as the winner, except for two things:  if you want cupcakes, as I did, you will be disappointed in the way the batter rises, then collapses.  You will have to pile on the frosting to cover up the sink hole, and I usually frost cupcakes lightly.  Secondly, it’s hard to figure out how much batter to use for each cupcake to keep it from spreading over the rim.  For these two reasons, I can’t give this recipe a high rating.
Here is a photo of Martha’s cupcake, not as dark, but with a hint of fudginess and slightly moister than Hershey’s.  With a lot of frosting to cover the sink hole, no one is the wiser. 
Bottom Line:  Go for Hershey’s recipe.  It’s easy, it’s foolproof, and it’s a real winner in taste and texture.  You’ll get a nice highly crowned cupcake that looks as pretty as it tastes.
Especially Dark Chocolate Cake and Frosting
Adapted from Hershey’s
Rating:  9.5 out of 10
1 cup superfine sugar (pulse granulated sugar in food processor, then remeasure)
3/4 cup plus 2 Tbsp. unbleached all-purpose flour, lightly spooned into cup
1/4 cup + 2 Tbsp. Hershey’s Special Dark Cocoa
3/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp. sea salt
3/4 tsp. baking soda
1 large egg
1/2 cup milk
1/4 cup vegetable or canola oil
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1/2 tsp. coffee essence (equal parts of instant coffee granules + coffee liqueur) my addition
1/2 cup boiling water

Set out all ingredients an hour ahead of baking time to bring them to room temperature.  Heat oven to 350F.  Set out a 12-cup muffin tin; line with paper baking cups.

In large bowl, whisk together sugar, flour, cocoa, baking powder, salt and baking soda.  Add egg, milk, oil, vanilla and coffee essence and beat on lowest speed of mixer till combined, then beat on medium speed 2 minutes, scraping sides and bottom.  Stir in water to make a thin batter.  Divide batter evenly among baking cups, using about 1/4 cup per cupcake.  Bake about 14-16 minutes, or till a toothpick inserted near center returns with just a few crumbs.  Cool in pans a few minutes, then transfer cupcakes to wire rack to cool completely.  Place cooled cupcakes in freezer for about 10 minutes to make it easier to frost them. 

Especially Dark Chocolate Frosting
Adapted from Hershey’s
Rating 9.5 out of 10

1/2 stick (1/4 cup) butter, melted
1/3 cup Special Dark cocoa
1-1/2 cups confectioner’s sugar
2-3 Tbsp. milk, regular or light (I  used lite coconut milk)
1/4 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1 tsp. coconut flavored rum (optional, my addition)

Combine butter and cocoa in medium bowl.  Add 1/2 cup sugar and beat till smooth on medium speed of electric mixer.  Add 1 Tbsp. milk and the flavorings and beat till smooth.  Repeat with sugar and milk twice more.  Adjust frosting to make it of desired spreading consistency by adding more milk if it’s too thick, or more sugar if it’s too thin.  Beat on high speed for several minutes till frosting is whipped.  Frost cupcakes or cake immediately, or refrigerate frosting till reading to use it.  Refrigerate leftovers for several weeks, or freeze.  Yield:  enough for 2 dozen cupcakes or one 2-layer cake. 
One-Bowl Chocolate Cake
Adapted from
Rating:  6 out of 10
1/4 cup + 2 Tbsp. natural unsweetened cocoa powder
3/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 tsp. baking soda
1/4 + 1/8 tsp. baking powder
1/4 + 1/8 tsp. sea salt
1 large egg
1/4 cup + 2 Tbsp. buttermilk (or add 1 tsp. white vinegar to regular milk, let stand 15 min.)
1/4 cup + 2 Tbsp. warm water
1-1/2 Tbsp. vegetable or canola oil
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract

Set out all ingredients one hour ahead of baking to bring to room temperature.  Heat oven to 350F.  Set out a 12-cup cupcake tin and line with 11 paper liners.  (Martha says this makes one dozen, but I got 10 cupcakes.) 

Sift into medium bowl cocoa powder, flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder and salt.  With electric mixer on lowest speed, mix till combined.  Add egg, buttermilk, water, oil, and vanilla.  Stir to combine, then beat on medium speed till smooth, about 3 minutes.  (My batter was smooth well before 3 minutes, so I only beat the batter about 1-1/2 minutes.)

Divide batter evenly among baking cups, using a little less than 1/4 cup each.  Do not fill to the top, as the batter puffs up, then sinks, and you will have cupcake collapsing over the sides.  You only want the batter to rise up to the top, not over.  Therefore, fill the cups almost 2/3 full.  You can see in the photo below that I filled the cups a little higher, and note that when they sank, they spread.  I had to cut the excess off the cupcake before I frosted them.  I’m theorizing there’s enough extra batter in the rims for one more cupcake, not 2, but I could be wrong. 

Bake 14-16 minutes, or till a toothpick inserted near center returns with just a few crumbs.  Let cool in pan a few minutes, then transfer to wire rack to cool completely.  Place cooled cupcakes in freezer about 10 minutes to facilitate frosting.  Yield:  11-12 cupcakes

Friday, June 25, 2010



This recipe, adapted from Martha Stewart, uses a lot of bananas (3-4).  While you will get a pronounced banana flavor in these moist, mildly sweet treats, you will have to be a banana lover.  For me, I found myself burping banana after one cupcake. 

But I can hardly call these cupcakes, since they are mixed like a muffin and the batter is more like a muffin batter.  Since these are more like muffins than cupcakes, you can even leave the frosting off if you prefer.  The cupcake I sampled had no frosting and it was good by itself.  There is no milk, yogurt or sour cream in these, and Martha recommends mixing them in one bowl.  (Since you have to melt butter, though, it makes more sense to me to first melt the butter, then  mix all the liquids in with the butter before you  add to the dry ingredients.)   The chocolate chips were my addition.  Martha uses a honey cinnamon frosting, but I knew my hubby would never go for that.  The last batch of banana cupcakes I made were frosted with vanilla cream cheese frosting and he moaned that he preferred chocolate.


Yes, Martha has come up with a different recipe, but it’s not high on my list.  My top-rated banana bread, cake or cupcake is still my old Pillsbury recipe.  That being said, for those of you out there who are banana lovers, this may be your recipe.  You definitely will get a banana load from these!

Banana-Chocolate Chip Cupcakes
Adapted from Martha Stewart
Rating:  7.5 out of 10
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 cup white whole wheat flour
3/4 cup sugar (I used 1/2 cup sugar + 1 Tbsp. NuNaturals Stevia) 1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. sea salt
1/2 cup chocolate chips
1-1/2 cups mashed bananas (about 3-4 ripe bananas, depending on size)
2 large eggs
1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract

Heat oven to 350F.  Line a standard 12-cup muffin pan with paper liners.  In a medium microwaveable bowl, melt butter on high, covered, about 45 seconds, or till almost melted.  Set aside to cool slightly.

In a large bowl, whisk together flours, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt.  Stir in chocolate chips.  Add bananas, eggs, applesauce and vanilla to melted butter and whisk till well combined. 

Make a well in dry ingredients.
Add liquids all at once, stirring lightly with a spoon or spatula just till barely combined.  Do not overmix. 

Divide batter evenly among the 12 muffin cups, using about 1/4 cup for each.  Bake 14-16 minutes, or till a toothpick inserted near center returns with just a few crumbs.  Cool on wire rack.  Serve plain or with your favorite frosting.  Yield:  12 cupcakes


Wednesday, June 23, 2010


One of the increasingly popular menu items at Thai restaurants across the country is green papaya salad.  I first heard about this salad from a Burmese refugee living in Texas, but I was unable to find a green papaya.  Then Molly Wizenberg wrote about it in the May 2010 issue of Bon Appetit.  I tried harder to find the green papaya, but continued to strike out.  Finally, green papayas came into season and they were everywhere.  Who knew they were a seasonal item?  
The salad is a perfect example of Thai food:   a beautiful balance of salty, sweet, spicy and sour flavors.   But a firm, hard, green papaya must be used. 

If the papaya is at all soft, you will have a rubbery, chewy and tough salad.

I gave it to my two testers:  my hubby (a Northern transplant to the South), and Brad (a local New Bernian).  They both gave it two thumbs up, way up.  Brad says he eats everything, and Guy says he likes the sweet/hot combo of flavors.   Get the recipe for green papaya salad....

Monday, June 21, 2010


I went on a whoopie pie baking streak.  Three different whoopie pies.  But only one made the grade with me. 
The first was a Food Network Magazine recipe for Red Velvet Whoopie Pies.   red velvet whoopie pies (3)
I found these a bit dry with too much chocolate/cocoa for red velvet.  They weren’t very red because of all the chocolate.  They were delicately cakey and not very sweet.  The over-all flavor is good, but I would not make them again.  I rate them a 6 out of 10.
Next, I adapted a highly rated recipe, Ultimate Maple Snickerdoodles
Instead of cinnamon, I used Chai spice, but kept the maple syrup in.  I sprinkled the tops with Chai spice and sugar instead of cinnamon and sugar.  And I sandwiched them with vanilla cream cheese frosting.  They were way too sweet for me.  The cookies, by themselves, were good though, so I may make them again.  I rate them an 8 out of 10.  They won’t be sandwiched in the future though.
The winner was Whoopie Pie Cookies, a recipe sent to Penzey’s Spices from Candy Johnson.   005
whoopie pies (2)

The cookies are moist, soft, not too sweet and mate perfectly with the sweet frosting.  The only thing I changed was to add some coffee essence to the batter.  This last batch was  received with praises from all.  A definite keeper.

008Whoopie Pie Cookies
Adapted from
Rating:  9.5 out of 10
1/2 large egg (one large egg = about 3-1/4 Tbsp.  1/2 large egg = about 1-1/2 Tbsp.)
2-1/2 Tbsp. vegetable oil
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. vanilla powder  (or 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract added with wet ingredients)
1/4 cup natural unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/8 tsp. sea salt
1/4 cup buttermilk (or add 3/4 tsp. vinegar to sweet milk and let stand 15 minutes)
1/2 tsp. coffee essence -- optional (equal parts instant coffee powder + coffee liqueur)

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

In medium bowl, whisk egg, oil and sugar till smooth.  On wax paper or in small bowl, whisk together flour, cocoa, vanilla powder (if using), baking soda and salt.  Add 1/3 of the dry mixture and beat with spoon or spatula till combined.  Now add 1/2 the milk and the coffee flavoring (and vanilla extract if using) and beat again till combined.  Repeat, ending with flour mixture.  Do not overbeat, just be sure to combine all ingredients well. 

Drop batter by tablespoons onto cookie sheets, several inches apart.  Bake 8-10 minutes, until top springs back when lightly touched.  Remove  to wire racks to cool.  When cool, spread filling between two cookies to make sandwiches.  Yield will depend on size of cookies, but expect about 12 sandwiches from 24 cookies.

Marshmallow Creme Filling
1 stick butter or Smart Balance 50/50 Butter Blend
1 cup powdered sugar, sifted first
1 cup marshmallow creme or fluff
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract

In medium bowl, combine all ingredients and beat till light and fluffy.

Saturday, June 19, 2010


Here is a super-easy recipe that makes a perfect appetizer for company.  Just combine the sauce ingredients in a bowl, grill the mussels then add them to the sauce.  Toss it all together and serve.  
Grilled Mussels with White Wine Sauce
Source:  Coastal Living, July 2003
Rating:  9 out of 10
2 pounds mussels
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice, divided
6 Tbsp. butter or margarine, melted
1 cup drinking-quality dry white wine
1/4 tsp. hot sauce
1/2 tsp. dried crushed red pepper
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/8 tsp. sea salt
1/8 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1/3 cup coarsely chopped fresh parsley

Remove beards on mussels; scrub shells well with a stiff brush.  Discard open or cracked mussels.  Set aside.

Combine 1/4 cup lemon juice, melted butter, wine, hot sauce, red pepper and garlic; set aside.

Sprinkle mussels with salt, black pepper and 2 Tbsp. lemon juice.  Place mussels in a grill basket (I put the mussels in a baking pan).  Grill, with lid closed, over high heat (400F – 500F) about 10 minutes or until shells open.  Discard any unopened mussels.  Add mussels to lemon mixture; toss well.  Drizzle with remaining lemon juice, and sprinkle with parsley.  Serve immediately.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010


007[1] Fresh peaches are in season, but I still had peaches in my freezer from last year.  So I made roasted peach butter that was so effortless, even I was amazed.  Then I used most of the peach butter to make these fantastic cupcakes.  Whether you have fresh or frozen peaches on hand, this recipe is great.  Read more....

Tuesday, June 15, 2010


Indonesian pork tenderloin
Pork tenderloin on the grill is one of my fave entrees.  Too bad my fussy hubby doesn’t care for it.  I’ve tried many different marinades, and even ka-bobs, but he just doesn’t like pork tenderloin.  He will sit down and eat a few pieces, but he’d rather have a fatty, juicy steak.  Who wouldn’t?  But one thing we both agree on:  leftover cold pork is great in a sandwich. 

This recipe had its start on Allrecipes, where it was rated 5 stars by 59 reviewers.  It calls for stir-fry sauce, which I didn’t have, so I subbed brown sugar.   Of all the pork tenderloin marinades I’ve tried, I really like this one the best.  Slightly sweet, with a kick from red pepper and tang from lime juice, the flavors meld beautifully with the pork. 
Indonesian pork tenderloin (4)
Indonesian Pork Tenderloin
Adapted from Allrecipes
Rating:  9 out of 10
2 Tbsp. brown sugar
2 Tbsp. lime juice
2 Tbsp. low-sodium soy sauce
1/2 tsp. freshly grated ginger
1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 pork tenderloin (about 1 to 1-1/4 lbs.)

Combine all ingredients except pork in a plastic resealable bag.  Massage to distribute ingredients well.  Add pork; seal; refrigerate for 30 minutes, or up to 8 hours.

indonesian pork tenderloin (2)
Remove pork from fridge 1/2 hour before grilling.  Heat gas grill to hot (400-425F).  Sear pork on both sides, about 3-4 minutes each.  Turn one burner off and place pork on the turned-off burner; close lid.  Cook pork about 20-25 minutes, or till thermometer inserted in center registers 155F, turning once and basting with marinade.  Transfer pork to a cutting board and let rest for 10 minutes before slicing on a diagonal for larger slices. 
Indonesian pork tenderloin (3)
Yield:  4 servings
Leftover pork makes wonderful sandwiches.

Now let me tell you about the Nature Valley Chewy Trail Mix Fruit and Nut Bars Giveaway on Nanbon's Corner. You might win a case of granola bars plus a $25 gift certificate to Sam's Club.  Get right over there and sign up because the deadline of June 21 is looming.  And please mention that Judy's Kitchen sent you.

Saturday, June 12, 2010



In my mind, there is nothing better than a slice of New York-style cheesecake.  Firm, cheesy, buttery and rich – it needs no topping, no adornment because it is sheer perfection.  Today's cheesecake,however, is not New York-style cake.  It’s made with ricotta, and even though flour is added to the batter, it doesn’t produce the characteristic firmness that New York-style cheesecake is known for.  Instead, the cake is light, yet rich and cheesy.  As our neighbors so aptly said the other evening when we dined together and ate this for dessert, “You can eat a nice slice of this and not feel like you’re weighed down for the rest of the evening.” 

Although my fave cheesecake will always be NY style, there is room in my heart for others, and this one has made its way in.  The filling contains some Amaretto (almond liqueur), and the peaches are heated in a skillet with peach preserves and more liqueur.  Almonds are in the crust also, and these flavors all blend well.  Everyone gave this dessert two thumbs up, way up.  Though it’s not my fave, I’m rating it highly because we all enjoyed it thoroughly and I would make it again.

Ricotta Cheesecake with Almond Liqueur-Glazed Peaches
Adapted from Taste of Home Magnolia Dream Cheesecake
Rating:  9 out of 10

1/2 cup toasted almonds
3/4 cup graham cracker crumbs (I used my homemade crackers)
3 Tbsp. butter, melted

Cheesecake Filling:
1 (15-oz.) container Part-Skim Ricotta cheese, room temperature
12 oz. Neufchatel cheese,  room temperature
1 (8 oz.) container lite sour cream,  room temperature
1 tsp. vanilla powder (or vanilla extract)
Big pinch of sea salt
1 cup sugar
3 Tbsp. + 1 tsp. flour
2 Tbsp. almond liqueur (such as Amaretto)
3 large eggs, room temperature

Glazed Peach Topping:
1/4 cup peach preserves or jam
About 3 cups peeled, pitted, sliced ripe peaches
1/4 cup almond liqueur (such as Amaretto), or Peach Brandy

Heat oven to 325F.  Place a greased 8-inch springform pan on a double thickness of heavy-duty foil.  Securely wrap foil around pan.
In work bowl of food processor, combine almonds and cracker crumbs.  Pulse till almonds are ground.  Add butter and pulse till well combined.  Press onto bottom and 1 inch up sides of prepared pan.  Place pan on a baking sheet.  Bake 10 minutes, or till set and beginning to brown.  Cool on wire rack.

Bring about 1-1/2 quarts of water to a boil; cover; off heat. 

Increase oven temperature to 375F.  Wipe work bowl with damp paper towel.  Combine cheeses, sour cream, vanilla and salt.  Process till smooth and no lumps remain, scraping down sides and bottom in between pulses.  Add flour and liqueur; pulse till combined, about 5 seconds.  Add eggs, one at a time, pulsing about 5 seconds after each.  Pour into cooled crust.

(Please note:  This cheesecake will not rise and will not crack.)  Place springform pan inside a large baking pan; add 1 inch (about 1-1/2 quarts) of hot water to larger pan.  Place on center rack of oven; close door; reduce heat to 300F.   Bake about 1 hour 30 minutes, or until center is almost set and top appears dull.  Remove springform pan from water bath.  Cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes.  Carefully run a knife around edge of pan to loosen; cool 1 hour longer.  Refrigerate overnight.

Next day, heat preserves and peaches in large skillet on medium heat till peaches begin to give off their juices and liquid starts to boil.

Turn heat to high and add liqueur.  Cook peaches over high heat till liquids start to reduce and peaches become tender.  Reduce heat back to medium and gradually transfer tender peaches from skillet to a wide bowl to cool.  (Place in refrigerator for faster cooling.)  Cook remaining liquid in pan till about 4 Tbsp. are left.  Reserve this for brushing on tops of peaches. 

After peaches are cooled, arrange them over top of cheesecake, beginning with outer edges and working in towards center.  Pour any remaining liquid from peaches into the reserved glaze and stir together.  Brush over tops of peaches.  Carefully cut slices by using a very sharp serrated knife and gently cutting through peaches so as not to disturb their placement.
Yield:  8-10 servings

Thursday, June 10, 2010


graham crackers (2)
Here’s the question of the day:  Is it really worth it to make homemade graham crackers? 

My answer:  I think it depends on how often you eat graham crackers.  I mean, really.  If you only occasionally use them for making graham cracker crusts, then why bother?  If you or your family members like to munch on them as a snack or treat fairly often, then definitely make your own.  Who wants to eat all that partially hydrogenated stuff and God knows what else on a regular basis? 

I’m not a muncher.  I’m a baker and I give away most of what I bake.   My graham crackers will wind up at the bottom of a cheesecake.  So why should I mess up my kitchen and drain my time by making something  that will be so infrequently used?  That being said, as I taste-tested the crackers, I found that I could very quickly become addicted to these things.  The nutty whole grains and buttermilk lend nice flavor to these tender, mildly sweet, crisp and buttery crackers.  If you make these, I’m sure you’ll agree that homemade graham crackers made with butter are far superior to the store-bought ones made with questionable ingredients.  

My first batch was made using Alton Brown’s recipe, with changes recommended by reviewers.  They were good, but I was still searching.  The recipe below is from The Washington Post, and it was better than Alton’s.  If I ever make graham crackers again (doubtful), I will try using light brown sugar instead of granulated. 

Homemade or store bought, the choice is yours.  But you should try these just once to see what all the flak is about. 

Homemade Graham Crackers
Adapted from
Rating:  9 out of 10

9 Tbsp. + 1 tsp. unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling
1-1/3 cups whole-wheat flour
4 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. sea salt
4 Tbsp. buttermilk (or 4 Tbsp. milk + 1/2 tsp. white vinegar)

Combine butter and sugar in bowl of stand mixer or hand-held electric mixer with heavy-duty motor.  Beat on medium speed until light.  Combine flours, baking powder and salt on a sheet of parchment paper or wax paper.  Reduce sped to low; add flour mixture, then buttermilk in several increments, ending with flour.  You should have a soft dough.  Divide in fourths, then wrap each portion in plastic wrap.  Refrigerate for 1 hour, or until well chilled. 

Heat oven to 325F.  Line baking sheets with lightly greased parchment paper.  Lightly flour a work surface.  Working with one dough package at a time, lightly flour top of dough.  Roll out to a rectangle with a thickness of slightly less than 1/4 inch.  Cut out with cookie cutters, or cut into squares or rectangles of desired sizes.  Prick with fork to make vent holes.

Re-roll scraps only once, or just put irregular pieces on the pan and bake (especially if you’ll be making them into crumbs).  Bake one pan at a time on middle rack for about 8-10 minutes,* then turn crackers over and bake about 8-10 more minutes, or till creackers are lightly browned and baked through.  Let cool on baking sheets before serving or storing.  (*Baking time will depend on thickness of cracker and your individual oven.  Please use baking time as a rough guide, and watch the crackers carefully so as not to burn them or underbake them.) 
Now make your crumbs.  Break the crackers into pieces and put them in the work bowl of a food processor.
Pulse till you have crumbs.  It won’t take long at all, because these crackers are tender and crisp.  You can nibble on some of the pieces before you pulse them.  So good.
Yield:  About 2-1/2 cups crumbs

Tuesday, June 8, 2010


I’ve been wanting to make these scones for some time.  The recipe won second prize in the Better Homes & Gardens Prize Tested Recipe contest for March 2008, “Frozen Fruit to the Rescue” category.  Since blueberries are in season now and are plentiful and cheap, I decided to use fresh instead of frozen berries.
What can I say about these scones?  They have a delightful flavor, are not too sweet, and the berries are the star.  I was disappointed that I didn’t taste the lime and that the cornmeal did not make these as crisp as I would have liked.  That being said, I ate too many of them.  After tasting one with the almonds that are supposed to be sprinkled over the top, I opted to keep the others with just the simple lime-sugar drizzle. 
Will I make these again?  Probably not, but they were nice for a change and I’m glad I tried them.  If you do try them, I'd love for you to leave a comment.

Cornmeal-Blueberry Scones
Adapted from BH&G Prize Tested Recipes, March 2008
Rating:  7 out of 10
1-1/3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2/3 cup yellow cornmeal
2 Tbsp. granulated sugar
1-1/2 Tbsp. packed brown sugar
1/2 tsp. sea salt
1-1/2 tsp. finely grated lime zest
1-1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. baking soda
6 Tbsp. frozen butter, in one solid piece
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 large egg
1 cup fresh or frozen blueberries, blotted dry with paper towel
1 tsp. cornstarch

Heat oven to 450F.  Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper; spray with non-stick cooking spray.

In a large bowl, whisk together flour, cornmeal, sugars, salt, lime zest, baking powder and baking soda.  I used whole-grain, stone-ground cornmeal.

Grate frozen butter over the flour mixture, using large holes of box grater.

With fingers, work butter into flour, but leave some butter pieces the size of small peas. 
Work quickly, so the butter doesn’t get too warm. 

Make a well in the center of the flour mixture.  In small cup or bowl, whisk the buttermilk and egg till frothy.  Add all at once to the flour mixture and lightly stir with spoon or spatula, just till barely combined.  Toss blueberries with cornstarch and fold in gently to batter.  Drop onto baking sheet, using about 2 Tbsp. for each of 15 scones.  Bake 10-12 minutes, or till just golden.  Test doneness with a toothpick, being careful not to hit a blueberry.  Cool on wire rack.  014
While still warm, drizzle each scone with some Lime-sugar glaze .  Yield:  about 15 small scones

Lime-Sugar Glaze
1 cup powdered sugar
3-4 tsp. lime juice

Combine powdered sugar and lime juice.  If more liquid is needed, thin with milk or cream till glaze is of drizzling consistency. 

Saturday, June 5, 2010


These were supposed to be “Nantucket Cookies,” made with white chocolate chips or chunks and dried cranberries, and sprinkled with flakes of sea salt.  I skipped the salt, used chopped bittersweet chocolate and dried cherries and called it a day.  And what a day it was!  A delicious one to be sure.  I highly recommend these, though I must say they are extremely rich.001
Cherry-Bittersweet Chocolate Chunk Cookies
Adapted from “Salty Sweets” by Christie Matheson
Rating:  9 out of 10
INGREDIENTS:  2-1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. fine sea salt
2/3 cup unsalted butter, softened slightly
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup brown sugar
1-1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
2 large eggs
1 cup dried sweetened tart cherries
1 cup good-quality bittersweet chocolate, chopped

Heat oven to 375F.  Line baking sheets with parchment paper.  In medium-size bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda and salt; set aside.  In bowl of a stand mixer fitted with paddle attachment, beat butter with sugars and vanilla on low speed till combined.  Beat in eggs one at a time.  Slowly add flour mixture to bowl, beating on lowest speed after each addition.  Stir in cherries and chocolate pieces.  Use an ice cream scoop or two spoons to drop balls of dough (about 2 Tbsp. each) onto prepared baking sheets. 

Bake 8-10 minutes, until set and just golden.  Let cookies cool on baking sheets for a minute, then transfer  to wire rack to cool completely.  Yield:  About 30 cookies (yield will be dependent upon size of cookie).