Thursday, October 28, 2010


I  don’t know about you, but I was sad to see Erika eliminated from Top Chef Just Desserts last week.  Could the judges have made a mistake?  Shouldn’t Danielle have been eliminated?  Well, if they did make a mistake, it won’t keep me from tuning in.  And though Erika is gone, she left us with her version of Ruth Wakefield’s famous cookie.  One of the judges actually loved Erika’s cookie so much that she asked for the recipe.  Wow, a judge asking for the recipe?  I thought I had better make these.
018 Why Erika chose to call these “chunky” eludes me.  There are no chocolate chunks in the cookie, only chocolate chips. Regardless of what she calls the cookie, I am loving the flavors.  Caramel undertones blend well with buttery walnuts, which I toasted.  The walnuts add a nice crunch, and there are plenty of chocolate chips.  Slightly crispy on the edges, the inside of the cookie is hard to describe.  It's soft, but not too soft.  It's definitely not cakelike, and the brown sugar doesn't quite make it chewy, but gives it an interesting texture.   If you want crisper edges, you'll have to bake the cookies longer, but then I'm not sure what the insides will be like.  I slightly underbaked the cookies, since that's my personal preference.  Eat them up the same day or freeze them, because the crisp edges will soften quickly from the brown sugar and eggs.
Erika’s Top Chef Chunky Chocolate Chip Walnut Cookie 
Adapted from *
Rating:  9 out of 10
1/2 lb. salted butter, cool room temperature
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup brown sugar
2 large eggs
1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract (I used my homemade vanilla)
1/4 tsp. sea salt
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. baking powder
2-1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (about 10.8 oz.)
1-1/2 cups chocolate chips (I used half Ghiradelli bittersweet/half Harris Teeter semi-sweet)
1 cup walnuts, toasted and broken

Heat oven to 345F.  Line baking sheets with parchment paper.  Cream butter and sugars together on medium speed of mixer.  Add eggs, one by one, beating till incorporated.  Beat in vanilla and salt.  On low speed, stir in baking soda, baking powder and flour.  Add chips and walnuts by hand, or, if using Kitchen Aid with paddle attachment, stir in.  Drop dough by
1/4 cup scoops onto prepared baking sheets.  (Dough is sticky.)  Bake 14-15 minutes till set and toothpick returns with just a few crumbs.  (Or bake longer for crisper cookie all the way through.)  Cool on baking sheets 5 minutes to set edges, then transfer cookies to wire rack to finish cooling. 

*Though the ingredients have not been changed, I have listed them in the order they are used, toasted the walnuts, specified a weight for the flour and made the instructions a little more specific than the original recipe.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010


sour cream cupcakes with strawberry jam filling (4)
This recipe, adapted from, is called Halloween cupcakes.  Martha’s cupcakes were frosted with vanilla frosting and decorated with orange and black jelly beans.  I scooped out the tops of my cupcakes and spooned in some strawberry jam, replaced the tops, then iced them with white chocolate cream cheese frosting.  A sprinkling of toasted sliced almonds finished them off.  Everyone loved them.  The cupcakes, though very good, were not as good as my all-time favorite, Southern Living's vanilla cupcakes.  I’ve never found a recipe to top it. 
sour cream cupcakes with strawberry jam filling (3)
You'll get an even dozen cupcakes, and they freeze beautifully.  You can frost these with orange-tinted icing for Halloween, red and green icing for Christmas, or any one of a gazillion ways for whatever holiday or season is at hand.

Jam-Filled Sour Cream Cupcakes
Adapted from
Rating:  8.5 out of 10
    1-1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, lightly spooned and swept
    1-1/2 tsp. baking powder
    1/2 tsp. salt
    1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
    3/4 cup sugar
    2 large eggs
    1-1/2 tsp. vanilla
    2/3 cup reduced-fat sour cream
  • Heat oven to 350F. 
  • Line a standard (12-cup) muffin tin with paper liners. In a small bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt; set aside.
  • With an electric mixer, beat butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Beat in eggs, one at a time, until combined. Beat in vanilla.
  • With the mixer on low speed, gradually beat in flour mixture and sour cream in alternating batches, beginning and ending with the flour. Divide batter evenly among prepared muffin cups.
  • Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center of a cupcake comes out clean and the top is springy to the touch, 20 to 25 minutes. Cool 10 minutes in the pan, then turn out onto a rack to cool completely before spreading with frosting.

Monday, October 25, 2010


tomato apple bacon jam (8)
Here’s a different appetizer, one that’s bound to please all your guests.  The jam is more like a chutney with savory, sweet and sour tastes.  Creamy feta is the perfect  complement to this condiment, but be sure you use a good-quality feta, not the kind you buy in the Kraft cheese section of your store.  Look near the gourmet cheeses to find a top-quality creamy, delicious feta. 
tomato apple bacon jam (5)
Admittedly, this recipe takes a little work on your part.  You do have to cook the jam.  But it’s so worth it to have an appetizer with such unique flavors.  You can find the original recipe on the Better Homes & Gardens website.  It makes about 30 crostini.  If you don’t need that many, try my adapted half version, which yields about 15 crostini. 
Feta Crostini with Tomato, Bacon, and Apple Jam
Adapted from
Rating:  8.5 out of 10
4 slices of applewood-smoked uncured bacon, diced
15 oz. can diced tomatoes, drained
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 medium apple, pared, cored, diced
1/2 small onion, peeled, diced
1-1/2 Tbsp. cider vinegar
3/4 tsp. coarse sea salt or kosher salt
1/8 tsp. black pepper
1/2 loaf baguette-style French bread,  sliced 1/2” thick and toasted* (about 15 slices)
4 oz. feta cheese, crumbled
Snipped fresh chives

In a small, heavy skillet, cook the bacon until it is just browned, about 5 minutes over medium heat.  Transfer to paper towels to drain. 

In a medium saucepan, combine drained tomatoes, sugar, apple, onion, vinegar, salt, pepper and bacon.  Bring to a boil over medium heat and cook, stirring as needed, for about 12 minutes, or till most of liquid is reduced and apples are tender.  Remove pan from heat; let sit for 5 minutes.  (Or refrigerate till needed and rewarm if you are making this recipe in stages.)

Arrange baguette slices on a serving platter.  Top with a dollop of warm jam, some feta and a sprinkle of chives.  (You’ll note that I forgot the chives, though I had them chopped.) 
Yield:  about 15 crostini

*To toast baguette slices, just arrange them on a baking sheet and bake about 3-4 minutes each side at 400F till crispy and just starting to brown.  

Sunday, October 24, 2010


Hummus is one of my favorite snacks, but edamame is something I've avoided.  Green soybeans just didn't sound appetizing to me.  But we recently ate at Chef Pia's in Washington, where the food was awesome.    Especially the edamame hummus.  Harris Teeter had a sale for organic frozen shelled edamame, so I bought a bag.  Then I searched the internet for a recipe and found one at that sounded like it might work .  Just to be sure, I cut the recipe in half to test it.  The beans are already shelled and everything goes in the food processor, so this was a dream to make.  And delicious.  I added more lemon and tahini, reduced the water, increased the olive oil and parsley.  The end result was very close to what we had at Chef Pia's.  Get the recipe for Lemonny Edamame Hummus.

Saturday, October 23, 2010


Company baked beans (3)
Real Boston baked beans, made from scratch,  are good, but they have no “zing.”  This recipe, from The New England Cook Book published by the Culinary Arts Institute of Chicago, 1973, starts out like real Boston baked beans but adds ketchup.  I added onions and garlic.  The end result is a mildly flavorful bean casserole that’s quite pleasant.  I made 1/3 of  the original recipe and baked the beans in a 2-quart Pyrex casserole dish since I don’t have a bean pot.  Leftover beans were placed in 1-1/2 cup freezer containers.  This is a recipe that I’ll use again – it’s quite easy, freezes well, and goes well with hamburgers or barbecued ribs. 
Company baked beans
Company Baked Beans
Adapted from The New England Cookbook, 1973, Culinary Arts Institute of Chicago
Rating:  9 out of 10
1 lb. pkg. dried navy beans
1-1/2 Tbsp. butter or vegetable oil
1 medium onion, chopped fine
1/3 lb. salt pork
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup ketchup
2 tsp. dry mustard
1 tsp. sea salt
1 garlic clove, grated

Rinse and sort beans, discarding broken or blemished beans and stones.  Place in 2-quart heavy pot; cover with cold water and lid and soak overnight.  Drain beans, discarding water.  Return to pot with 1 quart clean cold water; cover and simmer 1 hour.  Skim off foam. 

In the meantime, in a medium skillet, sauté onion in butter till transparent, about 5-6 minutes over medium heat.  Grease a 2-quart oven-proof casserole dish with a lid.  Cut the rind from the salt pork,  then cut into thin slices.  Drain beans, reserving liquid.  Layer in casserole as follows:  1/3 of the beans, 2 Tbsp. brown sugar, 1/3 of the salt pork.  Repeat 2x. 

Pour 2/3 cup of the reserved bean liquid into a small bowl.  Stir in ketchup, mustard, salt, sautéed onions, and garlic.  Pour over casserole; cover; bake at 275F 5-6 hours, adding more liquid as needed.  Uncover during the last half hour to brown the beans slightly.  (Test the beans for doneness by taking one out and eating it.  If it’s tender, it’s done.)  Leftover beans may be frozen for future use.  Yield:  About 6-8 servings

Wednesday, October 20, 2010


Somewhere between soggy and crisp is the perfect texture of a pudding-like caramel crust.  If you don’t know what I’m referring to, then you must try this recipe.  Apple halves are dabbed with butter and wrapped in pie dough, parbaked at a high temperature to crisp and brown the pastry, then topped with a thin caramel syrup and baked at a lower temperature until the apples are tender, the pastry is golden brown on top and the bottom becomes like a warm apple-caramel pudding.  The sweet caramel-apple pastry is beautifully complemented by a sprinkling of sea salt.   Serve these with with ice cream or whipped cream and you will have a dessert made in heaven.
RATING:  8.5 out of 10
Pie dough for a single crust pie
2 apples, peeled, cored and halved (I used Delicious)
4 tsp. unsalted butter, divided into 4 pieces
1/2 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup water
1 Tbsp. unsalted butter
2 Tbsp. apple jack brandy
1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup toasted walnuts, or other nut of choice 
Coarse sea salt

Heat oven to 500F (475F for coated or dark pan).  Roll out pie dough into a 13” circle and cut into 4 wedges.  Place 1 apple half, cored side up onto each wedge.  Fill center of each apple half with 1 tsp. butter.  Carefully fold dough up over apple, pinching seams together to seal.  Place dumplings, seam side down, in greased 8 x 8-inch baking dish.

Bring sugar, water, 1 Tbsp. butter and brandy to boil in small saucepan.  Remove from heat, stir in vanilla.  Set aside.  Bake dumplings about 10 minutes, or till crust begins to brown.  Reduce oven temperature to 350F.  Pour the thin caramel sauce over dumplings (it will thicken as it bakes). 
Bake about 40 minutes longer, or till apples are tender and pastry is golden brown. 

To serve, place a warm dumpling in a dish.  Spoon some sauce over top of dumpling.  Top with some walnuts.  Sprinkle sea salt over all. 
If desired, serve with whipped cream or ice cream.   Yield:  4 dumplings

Monday, October 18, 2010


pimiento pecan cheese crostini
Before we moved to New Bern, I had never even heard of pimiento cheese spread.  The first time I saw it, I thought, "Who would eat a sandwich of this stuff?"  Boy was I wrong.  Pimiento cheese spread is totally addictive, and I am in love with it.  On crackers, on bread, with celery, or as a topping for a burger, I make it often now and keep it on hand for snacks.

Here is yet another use for this marvelous spread:  make a delicious appetizer.  Toasted French bread topped with my version of pimiento cheese and roasted red peppers can be served as is or can be placed in the oven for just a few minutes.  Either way, everyone loves this crostini.  Get the recipe for Pimiento-Pecan Cheese Spread Crostini.

Friday, October 15, 2010


pills onite muffins adapted
As the weather  turns cooler, comfort foods are in order.  These muffins are good on their own as a breakfast muffin.  But frosting them with white chocolate cream cheese frosting  makes them even better as a dessert muffin.  I used jumbo red flame raisins and a Ghiradelli white chocolate bar*, chopped in the muffin, but you could also use Craisins or chocolate chips.  Most, flavorful and not spicy, these muffins are a treat and freeze beautifully.
pills onite muffins adapted (8)
Note:  Do not substitute white chocolate chips for the chopped bar, as the ingredients are not the same.  Read the label and you will see that the bar is better quality.
Overnight Oatmeal Muffins
Adapted from Pillsbury
Rating:  9 out of 10
3/4 cup bread flour, lightly spooned and swept
1/2 cup white whole wheat flour, lightly spooned and swept
1 cup quick (1-minute) oats
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. sea salt
3/4 cup buttermilk (or 3/4 cup sweet milk + 1-1/2 tsp. vinegar)
1/4 cup applesauce
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 large egg
1/4 cup jumbo red flame raisins
1 oz. (about 1/4 cup) chopped white chocolate bar (Ghiradelli, but do not use chips)

In large bowl, combine flours, oats, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon and salt.  Stir in milk, applesauce, oil and egg; mix well.  Fold in raisins and chocolate.  Cover tightly and refrigerate overnight.  (If desired, muffins can be baked immediately.)

Heat oven to 425F.  Grease 12 muffin cups or line with paper baking cups.  Fill muffin cups 3/4 full.  Place in oven; close door; reduce heat immediately to 350F.  Bake 15-17 minutes, or until toothpick inserted in center returns with just a few crumbs.  Serve warm as is, or cool completely and frost with white chocolate cream cheese frosting.  Yield:  12 muffins
pills onite muffins adapted (11)


White Chocolate Cream Cheese Frosting
Source:  Judy’s Kitchen
Rating:  9.5 out of 10

2 oz. (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted
4 oz. (1 premium baking bar) Ghiradelli white chocolate
8 oz. cream cheese or Neufchatel cheese, softened
1 tsp. vanilla extract or vanilla powder
1 cup confectioner’s sugar.

In small pot, melt butter and chocolate over low heat.  Stir to combine.  Cover; refrigerate for at least 1/2 hour.  In medium bowl, beat cream cheese and vanilla.  Gradually add sugar and beat till well combined.  Gradually add cooled chocolate mixture and beat till smooth and fluffy.  Chill again before spreading or piping.   (If you desire a thicker, firmer frosting, just add more sugar.)  Yield:  enough for 24 cupcakes.

Saturday, October 9, 2010


Waynesville, NC, has been surprisingly enjoyable.  A short drive from Asheville, this little  mountain town has some decent restaurants.  We ate a simple but well-prepared steak dinner at Bogart's the night before.  On this day, we had a delicious and very reasonable breakfast at Clyde's, followed by an amazing lunch at Trust, a little eating place in Hot Springs where the chef seems to be practicing for a place on Top Chef.  On-line reviews led us to the Chef's Table for dinner, a small downtown restaurant that could easily be in Asheville, or for that matter, New York.  Two eating areas are separated by the bar and kitchen.  I love that you can see what the chef is doing.
Our meal started with house-made bread served with house-made hummus instead of butter.
The hummus had a coarse mash.  Instead of putting Tahini in the hummus, the chef used black sesame seeds.  It was delicious, as was the bread.
The menu is simple and focused, and we quickly made our choices.  We all skipped the appetizers and went straight to the entrees.  I ordered one of my faves:  shrimp and grits. 
The shrimp were large and succulent, the sauce was divine and the grit cakes were crispy on the outside and creamy inside.  The asparagus was such a nice accompaniment and cooked perfectly.  Absolutely heavenly.
Guy opted for clams and pasta.
He never came up for air and proclaimed it the best clams and pasta he’s had.  Quite an endorsement coming from a 100% picky-eater Sicilian.
Mandy and David (my daughter-in-law and son) wanted Chicken Marsala.
They both loved it, especially the house-made wide pasta.
We were all full, but I just couldn’t think of leaving without trying the Godiva chocolate cheesecake.  Silky smooth, with a chocolate crumb crust, white chocolate and chocolate ganache garnish and caramel sauce, this was some dessert.
We each had a few bites and Mandy and David took the remaining half home.  The cheesecake was totally amazing and worth $8.00.
Chef’s Table is reasonably priced for the quality of the food served.  Service is excellent.  Our server was very attentive and totally tuned in to our wants and needs.  We’ll definitely head back there next time we are in the Asheville area.  If you go, be sure to call ahead for reservations.  They fill up quickly and this is one place you don’t want to miss.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010


On the way back from Orangeburg, SC, we stayed in Waynesville, NC.  Waynesville is an interesting little mountain town outside of Asheville, 3,000 feet high, lying between the Great Smoky and Blue Ridge Mountains.  I asked the owner of the Best Western Smoky Mountain Inn, where we stayed, where we could get some dinner.  After several days of driving and medical tests, we were tired and just wanted to crash.   She referred us to her favorite eating place, Bogart’s, where she said we could get a great steak dinner for $13.99.  A short 5-minute drive took us to the red barn that was already crowded with patrons, though it was not yet 6PM.
Bogart’s is a colorful place, and the bar is a popular destination. 
We were in bear country, and stuffed bears hanging over the exposed rafters reminded us of that.
Though the restaurant was packed, we were seated quickly, and our orders were taken right away.  Bogart’s has a limited menu and an efficient delivery system.  The $13.99 rib eye is 1/2” thick, so we opted for the filet mignon, a 7-oz. steak which is about 1”, more to our liking.
While we waited for our orders, we gazed at the bear just overhead.
Our salads arrived first, with dressing alongside in a cup.  The salad was very fresh and had bacon and cheese on top.  No complaints there. 
The bread was similar to what’s served at the Outback Steakhouse.  
Our steaks were cooked perfectly and not over-charred.  026
My sweet potato was super-huge and delicious.
Our meal was a simple one, no gourmet sauces or special combos of flavors, but it was perfectly executed and very satisfying.  This is a restaurant that I would return to.  Service is great, ambiance is colorful, food is very reasonable and good.  The sun was setting as we left, and we headed back to our motel for a good night’s sleep.