Wednesday, November 30, 2011


For the Nestle holiday cookie contest, I entered Chocolate-Almond Snowballs.  These are fudgy treats covered in white chocolate ganache and coconut.  Two bites of deliciousness.  The dough is made in a food processor, so easy.  The recipe is now on the Nestle Facebook Ap.  You can get it by clicking here.  Once you are at the site, click on "view entries."  Scroll down till you see the above photo.  Unless, of course, you get sidetracked by some of the other great recipes.  This contest has judges, but if you have a spare minute, would love you to leave a comment.  I don't expect to win, but it was fun coming up with an original, easy recipe.  The extra bonus here is that I have a new Christmas cookie and it's one of my top faves.



If you’re looking for the best recipe for these delicate cookies (aka butter balls, Mexican wedding cakes and Russian tea cakes), look no further.   I always thought the best version would have a higher ratio of nuts, but Pillsbury uses fewer nuts in their recipe, producing a more tender cookie.  They also use a higher ratio of vanilla.

I made 3/4 of the full recipe, but used the full amount of flavoring, subbing vanilla  powder for the vanilla extract.  Then I added 1 tsp. of rum (not extract).  Instead of mixing the dough with an electric mixer, I just threw everything into the work bowl of my Cuisinart – so simple and quick.  The flavor and texture of this cookie is outstanding.

Pillsbury’s Swedish Tea Cakes, Adapted
Rating:  10 out of 10
1/4 cup + 2 Tbsp. confectioner’s sugar
1-1/2 sticks (3/4 cup) butter, softened
2 tsp. vanilla powder
1-1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
3/4 cup toasted walnuts
1/4 tsp. fine sea salt
1 tsp. rum (not extract)

In work bowl of food processor, combine all ingredients.  Pulse till dough forms and walnuts are finely chopped.  Shape into 1” balls.  Place 1” apart on ungreased cookie sheets.  Bake at 325F for 15-20 minutes, or till set but not brown.  Immediately remove from cookie sheets.  Cool slightly, roll in powdered sugar.  Cool completely; roll again in powdered sugar. 
Yield:  about 33 cookies

Monday, November 28, 2011

Saturday, November 26, 2011



My Sicilian mother-in-law used to make the most wonderful fig bars.  Unfortunately, I never got her recipe, but this one from a 1960's Pillsbury recipe is not bad.  Of course, you have to love figs, because that’s the main ingredient.  The recipe makes 4 dozen, a nice batch of cookies for Christmas, or any time of the year.

Fig-Filled Bars
Source:  Ann Pillsbury
Rating:  9 out of 10
Sift together………….2-1/2 cups sifted unbleached all-purpose flour
                                   1/4 tsp. salt
Cream………………1/2 cup butter.  Gradually add
                                   1/2 cup sugar and
                                   1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar, creaming well.
Blend in……………...2 unbeaten eggs and
                                   1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract.
Add………………….the dry ingredients; mix thoroughly.  If desired, chill dough for easier
Roll out………………half of dough on floured surface, to a 15x9” rectangle.  Cut into three
                                    15x3” strips.
Spread……………….1/6 of filling down center of each strip.
Fold………………….sides of dough over the filling, using spatula to lift sides, so they just
                                    meet.  Press together slightly.  Cut into 2” bars.  Place, seam-side down,
                                    onto baking sheets.  Repeat with remaining dough. 
Bake…………………in moderate oven (375F) 12-15 minutes, until lightly browned.

Fig Filling:  In a saucepan, combine 2 cups (1 lb.) figs, ground or finely cut, 1/2 cup sugar, 1/2 cup water, 1 tsp. grated lemon rind, 2 Tbsp. lemon juice and 1/8 tsp. salt. Bring to a boil and simmer until mixture thickens, stirring constantly.  Cool.  Yield:  4 dozen

Friday, November 18, 2011


al roker's chili (2)

When I was a finalist at the Branson Taste of Home Great American Pie Bake-off, Al Roker, one of the judges, gave all of us a signed copy of his barbecue cookbook.  In it were several chili recipes, one of which was his.  I doctored it up quite a bit because I like a chili with complex flavors, and his recipe  seemed very one dimensional.  I doctored it so much that I can no longer call it by his name. 

The flavor of this chili is great – it’s everything I would ever want in a chili.  But, after eating it, Guy and I both agreed that we prefer ground meats in our chili, rather than cubes of chuck steak.  Our senior jaws and teeth prefer as little chewing as possible.  It didn’t stop us from eating it though, because this is some good chili.  There’s just enough heat, and it comes in waves so that you don’t get it all at once.  The hot Italian sausage and Hatch chili peppers seem to take turns delighting your tongue with their presence.  Next time I make this, however, it will be with ground beef.

Spicy Chuck Steak-Italian Sausage Chili
Inspired by Al Roker’s Chili
Rating:  9.5 out of 10

2 lbs. chuck steak, cubed in bite-size pieces (or 2 lbs. ground chuck)
1 lb. hot Italian sausage, casings removed, crumbled
2 large onions, diced
12 cloves garlic, grated or diced
1 Tbsp. ground cumin
1 Tbsp. paprika (not smoked)
1 tsp. Mexican oregano, crushed
3/4 cup chopped fire-roasted chiles (I used fresh Hatch chile peppers that I roasted on the grill.)
2 (8-oz.) cans Hunt’s tomato sauce
6 oz. low-sodium beef broth
6 oz. low-sodium chicken broth
6 oz. beer
1 Tbsp. finely ground cornmeal
about 1/2 oz. dark chocolate
1 (15-oz.) can pinto beans
1 (15-oz.) can Northern beans
1 (15-oz.) can dark red kidney beans
Toppings:  chopped scallions, sour cream, shredded Cheddar cheese

Brown beef and sausage in a large Dutch oven.  Do this in batches so as not to crowd the meat. 
al roker's chili (7) 
Transfer meat to bowl; set aside.  Drain fat, reserving about 2 Tbsp.  Saute onions and garlic in reserved fat till transparent, about 7 minutes.  Add cumin, paprika and oregano; stir and cook about 1 minute, then add fire-roasted chiles, tomato sauce, broths, beer, cornmeal and chocolate.  Stir meat back in.  Bring to a boil, stir thoroughly, reduce heat to a simmer and cook about 1-1/2 hours. 

al roker's chili (8)
Add the beans and simmer gently for another 30 minutes. 
al roker's chili (3) 
Serve with toppings listed above.  Cornbread is also a great accompaniment.  Yield:  about 12 servings
al roker's chili

Tuesday, November 15, 2011


perfect yellow cupcakes (3)

This is a great recipe from the April 2010 issue of Ladies Home Journal.  The recipe is actually for a cake baked in a 9-by-13-by-2-inch pan, but I wanted cupcakes.  The cupcakes don’t crown, which could be a good thing or a bad thing, depending on how you view it.  I viewed it as a good thing, because it’s easier to swirl frosting on a flat cupcake. 
perfect yellow cupcakes (2)

The only other problem is that there’s too much batter for 12 cupcakes.  I put the extra batter into a 6” ramekin, so someone got a double cupcake.  I don’t know of anyone that has a 14-cupcake tin, so this was my best solution.  The cupcakes are fluffy, light and moist with a rich buttery flavor.  They really are perfect.
perfect yellow cupcakes

Perfect Yellow Cupcakes
Adapted from Ladies Home Journal
Rating:  9 out of 10

1-1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, whisked then lightly spooned and swept
1-1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
3/8 tsp. salt (I used kosher)
1/2 cup (4 oz. or 1 stick) unsalted butter, soft but still cool
1 cup sugar, preferably superfine (whirl granulated sugar in a food processor)
2 large eggs, room temperature
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup + 2 Tbsp. low-fat buttermilk

Heat oven to 350F.  Line a 12-cupcake tin with paper liners.  Grease a 6” ramekin and line with two wax paper circles to fit the bottom.  

Measure then sift  flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt together in a small bowl; set aside.  In large bowl, beat butter and sugar till fluffy, about two minutes.  Add eggs, one at a time, beating after each addition just till incorporated.  Add vanilla.  Scrape down sides of bowl.  Add flour mixture and buttermilk alternately in three stages, beginning and ending with flour, only beating till each addition is barely incorporated.  Remove and scrape beaters of excess batter.  Using a spatula, stir batter briefly, scraping sides and bottom.  Using about a scant 1/4 cup batter for each cupcake, fill cupcake wells.  Spoon extra batter into ramekin.  Bake cupcakes about 14-16 minutes and ramekin about 20-24 minutes, or till a toothpick inserted in center returns with just a few crumbs.  Cool on wire rack.  Frost as desired.

(Shown:  Double Chocolate Buttercream Frosting)
nfl sundays (9)

Saturday, November 12, 2011


apple frangipane galette (5)

Not quite up for a fussy apple pie?  Make this easier galette with only 1-1/4 lbs. of apples on top of a luscious almond cream filling.  The sophisticated flavors and rustic presentation are perfect for company, or just make the galette for yourself and your family.  You’ll get 6 - 8 servings of a rich, flavorful dessert.  And if you use my new favorite pie dough recipe, you’ll all be raving as much about the uber-flaky pastry as the apple-almond filling.

Apple-Almond Galette
Rating:  10 out of 10

Crust:  Use your favorite recipe, or try my new favorite pie dough recipe.  Chill pie dough in fridge while you make the apple filling and frangipane. 

Apple Filling:
1-1/4 lb. tart apples (4 small) (I used Stayman Winesap.)
2-4 Tbsp. sugar, depending on tartness of apples
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice

Peel, core and cut apples in 3/8” thick wedges.  Combine with sugar, cinnamon and lemon juice in a medium bowl.  Set aside.
apple frangipane galette (2) 
Almond Cream Filling (Frangipane): 
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, very soft
1/2 cup confectioner’s sugar (I used 1-1/2 tsp. NuNaturals Stevia + 1/4 cup confect. sugar)
big pinch sea salt or kosher salt
3/4 cup almond meal or 3/4 cup very finely ground almonds
1 Tbsp. flour
1 large egg
1-1/2 tsp. almond liqueur (You can substitute 1/8 tsp. almond extract, if desired.) 

In medium bowl, whisk together butter, sugar and salt till smooth.  Add almond meal, flour, egg and flavoring and whisk again till smooth and well combined.  Set aside.
apple frangipane galette (3)

Assembly:  Heat oven to 375F.  Roll out pie dough into a 14” oval shape. 
apple frangipane galette (6)

Transfer to a parchment-lined baking sheet.  Spread almond cream filling over dough, leaving a 2” border around edge. 
apple frangipane galette (13) 
Arrange apple slices over almond filling, pouring juices from apples over top.  Fold over border, pleating dough and covering outer edges of apples.  Freeze 10 minutes.

Melt 1-1/2 Tbsp. butter.  Brush folded dough with some of the butter and drizzle remaining butter over apples.  Sprinkle with 2 Tbsp. sliced almonds
apple frangipane galette (17)

Bake 45-55 minutes, or till almond filling puffs up, apples are cooked and crust is golden brown.  Cool slightly before serving. 
apple frangipane galette (18) 
Serve slices of galette with sweetened whipped cream, creme fraiche, ice cream, or as desired.
apple frangipane galette (4)

Wednesday, November 9, 2011


apple frangipane galette
Pie crust made with nonfat Greek yogurt?  Weird, yes, but amazingly tender and uber-flaky, too.  It’s a cinch to mix – right in your stand mixer!  The crust has a wonderful flavor and texture that belie the simplicity of this recipe.   No doubt about it, this has become my new favorite pie crust, thanks to 

Flaky All-Butter Pie Crust with Nonfat Greek Yogurt
Adapted from
Rating:  10 out of 10

1-1/4 cups all-purpose unbleached flour
2 tsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. salt (I used Morton coarse kosher salt)
1/2 cup (4 oz., or 1 stick) cold, unsalted butter
1 egg yolk
1/4 cup unflavored or vanilla nonfat Greek yogurt (thinned with a little milk if too thick)
(You can use regular full-fat, low-fat or nonfat yogurt instead of Greek yogurt, if desired.)   

Using a stand mixer with a paddle attachment, combine flour, sugar and salt on low speed for about 5 seconds. 

apple frangipane galette (7)
Cut cold butter into 8 tablespoon-sized pieces and add to flour.
apple frangipane galette (9)
Mix on low speed for about 45 seconds to partially combine butter with flour mixture.  The mixture will be shaggy with some large pieces of butter.
apple frangipane galette (10)
Whisk egg yolk and yogurt together in small bowl and add all at once to flour mixture. 
apple frangipane galette (11)
Mix on low speed for about 12-15 seconds.  All particles should be barely moistened but not yet coming into a ball.  In other words, you’ll have a shaggy mess that will hold together if you squeeze it between your fingers.  It will not look like it’s thoroughly mixed.
apple frangipane galette (12)
Dump the dough onto a big piece of plastic wrap.  Using the palm of your hand, slide it face down from the middle toward the side of the pile to smoosh the crumbs together and flatten out the big pieces of butter that are still in the dough.
apple frangipane galette (14)
Work your way around the pile until dough is smashed into one big flat clump.  It's still not frangipane galette (15)
Fold plastic wrap up around dough, pressing gently to form a smooth round  patty approximately an inch thick.  You should still be able to see pieces of butter in the dough. 
apple frangipane galette (16)
You can roll the dough out and bake it right away, but I like to refrigerate pie dough for a few hours, or overnight, to develop the best flavor and texture.  To roll out chilled dough, let it rest on the counter, still wrapped, for about 1/2 hour.
apple frangipane galette (6)
Here's the dough, rolled out.  Can you see the pieces of butter?  After your dough is rolled out and fitted into its pie plate, it’s a good idea to chill it again for 1/2 hour.  Dough that’s very cold bakes up flakier.

More tips:  Handle the dough as little as possible and keep it cold.  If it warms too much, put it back in the fridge to get it cold again.  When you fit the dough into a pie plate, don’t stretch it, just lay it in gently.

Monday, November 7, 2011



I never tire of trying new pumpkin pie recipes.  This one is from Better Homes and Gardens November 2010 issue.  BHG included a recipe for Hazelnut Mousse to be used as the pie topping, which I didn’t make this time.  The pie, itself, is spiced and sweetened nicely.  The recipe recommends prebaking the crust, but I opted not to do that, since  I’ve had good luck in the past without prebaking.  But I was using my new Emile Henry pie dish for this pie.    The bottom crust was a little underbaked, so I think I’ll stick to Pyrex for pumpkin pies.  I’m going to include recipe instructions for prebaking the crust and you can decide if you want to skip that step.

I subbed 1/2 cup baked sweet potato for some of the pumpkin to give the pie more flavor, reduced the brown sugar by about 2 Tbsp. and subbed half and half for the milk.  The recipe didn’t specify what kind of brown sugar, so I used dark brown.  I tasted the molasses overtones in the finished pie and wished I had used light brown sugar, so I’m specifying that in the recipe below.  The pie’s texture and flavor were really good, but my #1 pumpkin pie recipe is still the Traditional Pumpkin Pie I made for Thanksgiving 2009. 
My rating for the pie is based on the assumption that the pie crust is cooked all the way through and is not underdone on the bottom, something that I think detracts from a pumpkin pie.  If I had followed the directions (or used my Pyrex pie plate), it would have been cooked properly.

BHG PPie (5)

Better Homes and Gardens Pumpkin Pie, Adapted
Rating:  9 out of 10

Your favorite pie pastry for a 9” pie
3/4 cup pumpkin, cooked or canned
1/2 cup baked or canned sweet potato
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1-1/4 tsp. powdered ginger
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/8 tsp. ground cloves
1/4 tsp. sea salt
2 large eggs
2/3 cup + 1/4 cup half and half
1/4 cup heavy cream
1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
Garnish:  Sweetened whipped cream, toasted walnuts or pecans, caramel sauce

Preheat oven to 350F.  Roll out pastry, flouring work surface and rolling pin as needed, to a circle about 12” in diameter.  Transfer to a 9” pie tin or plate without stretching.  Trim pastry to 1/2” beyond edge of pie plate.  Fold under extra pastry. Crimp edge as desired.  Prick bottom and sides of pastry with a fork. Place in freezer 10 minutes.  Line pastry with foil pie pan, fill with dried beans or pie weights.  Place on a foil-lined baking sheet.  Bake 30 minutes.  Carefully remove foil pie pan.  Bake 5 minutes more.  Cool on wire rack.  (If using rolled refrigerated crust, bake according to package directions.)

In a saucepan, combine pumpkin, sweet potato, sugar, spices and salt.  Cook and stir over medium heat 4-5 minutes to integrate flavors. 

BHG PPie (2) 

Transfer to work bowl of a food processor and pulse till smooth.  Add eggs, half and half, cream and vanilla.  Pulse again till smooth.  Pour into crust.  (Pictured below is an 8” Emile Henry pie plate, which holds the same volume as a standard 9” pie plate.) 

BHG PPie (3) 

Bake for 50 minutes or till center is set.  Cool on wire rack 1  hour. 

BHG PPie (4)

Refrigerate.  Serve with sweetened whipped cream.  Garnish with toasted walnuts or pecans and drizzle with caramel sauce, if desired.

BHG PPie (6)

Tuesday, November 1, 2011


pumpkin soup

The February 2009 issue of Better Homes and Gardens profiled Juliana Hale of the BHG Test Kitchen and her soups, of which this was one.  Juliana grew up in a family of 12 and is a real soup advocate.  Her recipe for pumpkin soup is fairly direct and not overly complicated, but she also included instructions for making spiced croutons for a garnish.  I opted out of the croutons, but if the idea turns you on, just toss some bread cubes with pumpkin pie spice and saute them in hot butter till they’re toasted.

I liked this soup a lot and will be making it again.  It’s easy, satisfying, just sweet enough and has excellent complex flavors.  Though I like some pumpkin soups that have a spicy hot edge, I also like this one that’s just a simple pumpkin soup.  And I’m happy to eat it sans garnishes.  The original recipe yields 8 side-dish servings – too much for me as the only fan of pumpkin soup in my home.  I cut the recipe to 1/4 to yield two servings.  One for now, one for tomorrow.
Better Homes and Gardens Pumpkin Soup
Adapted 1/4 batch without croutons
Rating:  10 out of 10

2 tsp. Smart Balance buttery spread, butter or oil (Juliana uses butter.)
1/2 medium carrot, grated
1 small shallot, chopped (Juliana uses onion.)
1/4 stalk celery, chopped
1/2 clove garlic, grated or chopped
1 cup pumpkin puree (I used a pie pumpkin that I roasted and pureed.)
1 cup low-sodium fat-free chicken broth (Juliana uses less broth plus half and half)
2 Tbsp. water
2 tsp. pure maple syrup
1/4 tsp. pumpkin pie spice
Sea salt and pepper to taste
2 Tbsp. heavy cream or half and half  (Juliana does not drizzle cream over top.)

In a 2-quart heavy pot, cook the carrot in hot Smart Balance over medium heat for 2 minutes.  Add shallot, celery and garlic.  Cook 8-10 minutes, or till veggies are tender.  Stir in pumpkin, broth, water, maple syrup and spice.  Cook another 5 minutes, or till heated through.  Puree in pot with immersion blender, or transfer soup to a blender to puree.  Return to pot over medium heat.  (If soup is too thick, add water to thin to desired consistency.)  Taste to adjust seasonings, adding salt and pepper as desired.  Serve drizzled with heavy cream or half and half.  Yield:  2 servings