Saturday, February 23, 2013


These are possibly the best cupcakes I've ever made, no kidding.  Is it the ultra-light and tender cupcake studded with pecans that have been baked in butter, or is it the amazing salted caramel buttercream that tops them?  Both.  This is a marriage made in heaven.  Yes, this one is worth blowing your diet.  Read more...

Tuesday, February 19, 2013



Lasagne is a wonderful dish for easy entertaining.  You can make it ahead of time, even the day before, hence hassle-free dining.  If you’re a small family and prefer to keep the lasagne for yourself, you can freeze it in smaller portions and have several hassle-free meals from one recipe. 

This particular recipe has wonderful complex flavors and cuts firmly and cleanly and is a little bit easier to make than my previous post on spinach lasagne.  The noodles are moist, not dry.  The sauce recipe yields a generous 3 quarts, giving you more than enough for this recipe.  The leftover sauce can be frozen and used for raviolis or spaghetti at a later date.  Don’t be tempted to use all the sauce on the lasagne, because one of the secrets to a clean-cutting lasagne is to use less, not more, sauce.  Another is to let it sit for 20 - 30 minutes before slicing.

The yield will depend on what you serve with the lasagne and the appetite of your diners, but roughly figure on feeding 12 people.  

Spinach Lasagne with Meat Sauce 
Rating:  10 out of 10
2 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup minced fresh onion
2 cloves garlic, grated or minced
3/4 lb. lean ground beef
1 lb. sweet Italian sausage, casings removed
2 tsp. Morton kosher salt, divided
1 (28 oz.) can crushed tomatoes
2 (6 oz.) cans tomato paste
2 (8 oz.) cans tomato sauce
1 cup low-sodium chicken broth
1 tsp. crushed anise seed
1/3 cup chopped fresh basil
1/2 tsp. crushed fennel seed
1/2 tsp. dried Mediterranean or Greek oregano leaves, crushed
1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper
2 Tbsp. chopped fresh parsley

In a Dutch oven, saute onion in oil over medium heat till transparent, about 4-5 minutes.  Stir in garlic.  Add meats and 1 tsp. salt; mash with fork or wooden spoon till large clumps are smoothed out.  Continue to cook until well browned.  Pour grease off.  Add crushed tomatoes, tomato paste, tomato sauce, broth, anise seed, basil, fennel seed, oregano, cayenne, parsley and remaining 1 tsp. salt.  Reduce heat; simmer, covered, for about 1-1/2 hours, stirring occasionally.  Taste to adjust seasonings, adding more salt if needed.  Sauce may be used immediately, refrigerated for up to 4 days, or frozen for future use. 
Yield:  about 3 quarts

Bring a large pot of water to boil over high heat.  Add 1 tsp. salt (or to taste) to water and 15 lasagne noodles.  Cook, uncovered, stirring frequently, for 8-10 minutes, or till noodles are al dente – just a bit firm to the bite but cooked through.  Drain noodles through colander; rinse with cold water to stop cooking; set aside. 

16 oz. ricotta cheese
1 egg
1/8 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
2 Tbsp. finely chopped parsley
1/2 tsp. Diamond kosher salt
1/4 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese + 1/2 cup for layering
1-1/2 cups frozen, chopped spinach, thawed, drained and squeezed of excess moisture
3/4 lb. mozzarella cheese, coarsely grated
1-1/4 cups shredded Provolone cheese 

In medium bowl, combine ricotta, egg, nutmeg, parsley, salt and 1/4 cup Parmesan with spatula or spoon, mixing well; set aside.   In small bowl, stir together mozzarella and Provolone; set aside.

Heat oven to 375F.  Spray a 9” x 13” heavy Pyrex dish with nonstick cooking spray.  Make an assembly line of sauce, noodles, ricotta mixture, mozzarella mixture and Parmesan. 

Spread a thin layer of sauce on bottom of dish (about 1/2 cup).  Arrange 3 noodles lengthwise over sauce.  Spread with 1/4 of ricotta cheese mixture;  top with 1/5 mozzarella mixture; spoon about 3/4 cup meat sauce over mozzarella; sprinkle with about 1-1/2 Tbsp. Parmesan from the remaining 1/2 cup.  Repeat 3 times.  Lay the final 3 noodles over the top; spread with 1 cup meat sauce; sprinkle remaining mozzarella mixture and Parmesan over top.  Top with foil that has been sprayed with nonstick cooking spray to protect cheeses.  Bake in preheated oven 25 minutes.*  Remove foil; bake an additional 25 minutes, or till bubbling and very hot.  Cool for 20-30 minutes before slicing. Yield: 12 servings

*Baking time is assuming ingredients are at  room temperature.  If you refrigerate lasagne before baking, allow to sit at room temperature for 1 hour before placing in oven, or start in cold oven and increase baking time. 

Tuesday, February 12, 2013


Influenza_Spoon_New_WEB__62433.1358954596.460.504 Feeling achey and feverish?  Coming down with the flu or some other nasty virus?  There is a new product to help you battle the illness:  a citrus sorbet that’s spiked with Maker’s Mark whiskey.   It’s a new take on the old-time remedy of honey, lemon and whiskey. 

Originally called Jeni’s Influenza Sorbet, the product has received so much publicity it’s been renamed to Jeni’s Hot Toddy Sorbet.  Jeni’s, located in Ohio, will ship a pint to you for $12 plus shipping, and I hear the whiskey content is not skimpy.

Even if it doesn’t work to cure your ills, we may have found a new dessert.  You can read all about it at  Type jeni’s influenza sorbet in the search bar.  Or go directly to where you can enter your zip code and find the nearest retail location where you can buy her unique products or place an online order. 

Thursday, February 7, 2013


Here is this year's list of favorite chocolate recipes for Valentine's Day, aka National Chocolate Day.

Frosted Cream Cheese or Goat Cheese Brownies are easier to make than you think.  You don't need a mixer, just a bowl and spoon.  If you don't want to make your own frosting, just spread the top with Nutella or canned frosting or leave these delicious brownies plain.  

Old-Fashioned Cocoa Devil's Food Cake, made with a mixture of unbleached all-purpose flour and white whole wheat flour, is a denser but very enjoyable creation, especially when it’s covered with chocolate ganache, then trimmed with coconut swiss buttercream frosting and toasted unsweetened coconut chips.  You can make it with just unbleached all-purpose flour for a lighter version.

Almost-Old-Fashioned Whoopie Pies never fail to please.  These are made with butter, not shortening, and nonfat Greek yogurt.  Light, moist and chocolatey, these will get you raves.

Chocolate-Almond Cream Pie is a dessert made in heaven.  A tender and flavorful almond graham cracker crust holds a rich and chocolatey filling with a mild almond undertone.  The whipped-cream topping is spiked with almond liqueur and sprinkled with chocolate shavings.  It has my highest rating and will make any celebration memorable.

Banana Chocolate Cupcakes:  Full of flavor, very light and moist, this one is a definite winner!  The banana flavor comes through, but in a background sort of way.  

Chocolate Hazelnut Pudding is silky smooth and creamy with a mild hazelnut flavor hiding under the chocolate. 

Chocolate-Peanut Butter Whoopie Pies are fudgy, tender and flavorful, and hold a wonderfully light peanut butter-mallow filling that really steals the show.  These cookies are sweet, rich-tasting  and utterly delicious.

Chocolate Guinness Cake is everything you ever wanted in a chocolate cake.  The ale bumps up the chocolate flavor and delivers moistness as well.  This is one cake you’ll remember for a long time.

Chocolate Zucchini Muffins are moist, chocolatey, flavorful and even have fiber and some food value.   One muffin will definitely fix your chocolate craving, and you won't blow all your calories.  They have my highest rating and they don’t taste healthy!

Chocolate Cupcakes with Peanut Butter Icing are 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.

Peanut Butter-Chocolate Chip-Heath Bits Cookies are delicious cookies with a nice peanut-butter flavor.  The pecans and semisweet chocolate chips tone down the almost cloying sweetness of the Heath bits.  Just enough crunch, just enough sweetness.  With crispy edges and insides that are soft and almost chewy, these are sure to become a favorite.

100% Whole-Wheat Chocolate Cupcakes with White Chocolate Cream Cheese Frosting are light and moist.  And no one is the wiser…..unless you tell them.  You can make these even healthier by using a sugar substitute and nonfat Greek yogurt in place of the sour cream.

Nutella Mascarpone Cheesecake with Chocolate Graham Cracker Crust is a rich, creamy, firm, New York-style cheesecake that delivers a subtle Nutella flavor from Nutella that is spread over the cooled crust before adding the cheesecake filling.  The filling, itself, has hazelnut liqueur added, and the cheesecake can be topped with shaved chocolate or more Nutella.  Either way, it’s absolutely delicious.

Lava Rocks are chocolatey, chewy delicious little morsels that are also low-fat.

Happy Valentine's Day to all; be sure to spread the love with or without chocolate.

Monday, February 4, 2013


CI no knead bread (10)

I know this is chocolate month, and I should be posting a chocolate recipe, but you can smear Nutella on this fabulous crusty bread and call it a chocolate dessert.  Besides, it’s cold outside, and warm-from-the oven bread slathered with anything sounds pretty good right now.

Jim Lahey and Rick Flaste of Sullivan Street Bakery in New York, authors of the 2009 book “My Bread,” introduced a revolutionary no-work, no-knead method of baking bread sometime in early 2000’s.  The New York Times published one of their recipes, and received more emails for it than any other recipe.  (Now that the hype is over, you can buy their $29.95 book for about $17 through 

America’s Test Kitchen (ATK) got inconsistent results when they tried the Sullivan Street Bakery recipe, so they worked to improve it.  The original recipe condenses bread making from 6 steps to 4, by using a wet dough and letting time do the work.  ATK changed the hydration rate from 85% to 70%.  Instead of using a dip-sweep method of measuring, better results were obtained by weighing the flour.  The success of the recipe hinges on using the correct ratio of flour to liquids.  Instead of just water, ATK added some beer, which they found improved the flavor of the finished bread. 

This was the easiest -- and by far the best -- rustic bread I’ve ever made.  It would easily stand up to the best bakery’s rustic loaf.

America’s Test Kitchen Rustic Almost No-Knead Bread
Rating:  10 out of 10


15 oz. (about 3 cups) unbleached all-purpose flour, plus extra for dusting
1-1/2 tsp. Diamond kosher salt
1/4 tsp. active dry yeast
7 oz. room-temperature tap water
3 oz. mild-flavored beer, such as Budweiser
1 Tbsp. white vinegar

Whisk flour, salt and yeast in large bowl.   Add water, beer and vinegar.  Using rubber spatula, fold mixture, scraping up dry flour from bottom of bowl until shaggy ball forms.    Cover bowl with plastic wrap and let sit at room temperature 8-18 hours. 

Turn dough out onto lightly floured board; knead lightly 10-15 times to form a smooth, round ball; shape into round by pulling edges of dough up onto the middle.  Lay 12” x 18” sheet of parchment over a 10” cast-iron skillet; spray with nonstick cooking spray.  Place dough round in parchment, seam side down; spray dough with nonstick cooking spray also.  Cover with plastic wrap; let rise about 2 hours, until double.  (If you poke a finger into the dough and the dent remains, it’s double.) 

About 30 minutes before baking, adjust oven rack to lowest position; place a 6- to 8-quart heavy-bottomed Dutch oven* (with lid) on rack, and heat oven to 500F.    Remove plastic wrap from dough; sprinkle top with some flour; score top with razor blade or sharp knife, making a gash about 6” long, 1/2” deep.  

Carefully remove heated pot from oven and place on a heat-proof surface; remove lid and place on another heat-proof surface.  Pick up edges of parchment and use like a sling to transfer dough into the hot Dutch oven.  Let any overhang of parchment lay outside the pot.  Cover pot with lid; place in oven.  Reduce heat to 425F; bake 1/2 hour.  Remove lid and bake, uncovered, 20-30 minutes, till bread is deep brown and center of loaf registers 210F on an instant-read thermometer.  Carefully remove bread from pot and place on wire rack to cool.  Let cool 2 hours before slicing. 

Note:  This bread is best eaten the day it’s made, but freezes beautifully.  Cut slices; wrap individually in plastic wrap and place inside freezer bag. 

*Be sure the pot and handles can withstand 500F temperatures. 

CI no knead bread (8)

TIPATK says you need a Dutch oven that can withstand 500F temperatures.  I don’t have one, so I improvised.  Using my 10” cast-iron fry pan with a 9” x 12” pan of steaming hot water underneath, no lid was needed.  Of course, I used a shorter piece of parchment -- 12” x 12” did the trick.

Sunday, February 3, 2013



According to wikipedia,Gianduja (or gianduia) is a sweet chocolate containing about 30% hazelnut paste, invented…during NapolĂ©on's regency (1796-1814).”  Gianduia  (pronounced john-DEW-ya) literally means “sweet nut.”  Nutella, wildly popular first in Europe, now in America, evolved from gianduia and was originally called “Pasta Gianduja.”  In today’s  relaxed language, confections in any combination of nut, chocolate and sugar are loosely titled “gianduia.”

The challenge for the home cook in making chocolate hazelnut cupcakes is extracting hazelnut flavors. has the solution with its hazelnut flavoring, currently priced at $6.25 for 2 oz. plus shipping.   There are additional sizes available, but, for the home cook, 2 oz. might be the wisest choice since Spices, etc. flavorings are only good for one year.  If you sign up for the newsletter at the Spices, etc. website, you will receive an email when specials are offered, as I did when they recently offered free shipping on orders of any size.
I’ve made these cupcakes twice.  The first time was without hazelnut flavoring, the second time was with it.  There is just no flavor comparison.  The hazelnut flavors in the second cupcake and frosting were superb and truly make this dessert stand out.  My taste testers loved it, and I have to agree.  You can use unbleached all-purpose flour and regular sour cream to get a richer, softer-textured cupcake, or you can get a sturdier cupcake with bread flour and nonfat Greek yogurt.  Both ways produce a moist cupcake.

Instead of using Nutella for the filling, I used Jif Chocolate Hazelnut Spread, but you may use any brand of chocolate hazelnut spread you prefer.  


Gianduia (Chocolate Hazelnut) Cupcakes
Rating:  10 out of 10


1 cup Gold Medal bread flour, whisked, then lightly spooned and leveled*
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. Diamond kosher salt
1/3 cup chopped Ghiradelli 32% cacao Milk Chocolate bar – 4 squares, 1.75 oz.**
1/3 cup natural unsweetened cocoa powder (I used Penzey’s natural hi-fat)
1/4 cup + 2 Tbsp. hot coffee (
decaf is ok) 

1/2 cup room-temperature nonfat plain Green yogurt, preferably Fage.***
1/2 cup canola or vegetable oil
3/4 cup sugar
2 large eggs, room temperature
1 tsp. Spices, etc. hazelnut flavoring
2 Tbsp. Frangelica or generic hazelnut liqueur
About 1/3 jar Jif Chocolate Hazelnut Spread (or Nutella) to fill cupcakes
One recipe Gianduia (Chocolate Hazelnut) Buttercream Frosting
Toasted chopped hazelnuts for garnish

*Bread flour makes a sturdier cupcake, but you may substitute unbleached all purpose flour if you prefer, for a slightly softer and lighter cupcake. 

**You may substitute 1/3 cup good-quality bittersweet or semisweet chocolate chips or chocolate chunks, if desired.  

***You may substitute regular sour cream for a richer, softer cupcake.  

Line a standard 12-cup muffin tin and a 12-cup mini-muffin tin with paper liners.  Spray inside of liners with nonstick cooking spray, if desired.  Set oven rack to center position.  Heat oven to 325F. 

In medium bowl, sift together flour, soda and salt.  In small bowl, stir together chocolate, cocoa and coffee till smooth.  Set aside to cool.  In large bowl, whisk together yogurt, oil, sugar, eggs, hazelnut flavoring and liqueur till smooth and well combined.  Whisk in cooled coffee/chocolate mixture.  Gently stir in flour mixture using spatula or spoon.  Divide batter evenly among muffin cups, using a scant tablespoonful for mini tins and about 3 Tbsp. each for standard tins.  Bake standard cupcakes 15-17 minutes, minis 10-12 minutes, or  till a toothpick inserted near center returns with just a few crumbs.  Cool completely on wire rack. 

Using a cupcake corer, remove center of cupcakes.  (Cored pieces make great snacks with a dab of Jif and frosting.)  Fill each cupcake with  chocolate hazelnut spread.  Frost with Gianduia Buttercream Frosting, or add about 1/2 tsp. hazelnut flavoring and 1 Tbsp. hazelnut liqueur to your favorite chocolate frosting.  Sprinkle some toasted chopped hazelnuts over each cupcake, if desired.

TIP:  The Cuisipro cupcake corer is available for about $5 online.  I purchased through with other items that were eligible for free shipping and paid no shipping charges.

Saturday, February 2, 2013



World Nutella Day is coming soon, and I've been getting ready by baking and creating with my favorite flavor combo:  chocolate and hazelnuts.  Today, I'm posting the frosting recipe I just created.  It's a sweet, rich, smooth milk-chocolate frosting with wonderful hazelnut flavor that goes perfectly with not-so-sweet gianduia (say john-DEW-ya) cupcakes that are filled with Chocolate Hazelnut Spread.  You may substitute good-quality semisweet or bittersweet chocolate chunks or chips for the Ghiradelli bar, if desired, to get a slightly darker frosting.

Gianduia (Chocolate Hazelnut) Buttercream Frosting
Rating:  10 out of 10


4 Tbsp. unsalted butter, soft
1-2/3 cups confectioner’s sugar, divided
About 4-5 Tbsp. heavy whipping cream
3 Tbsp. natural unsweetened cocoa (I used Penzey’s natural hi-fat cocoa) 

1 Tbsp. Frangelica or generic hazelnut liqueur
3/4 tsp. Spices, etc. hazelnut flavoring
1.75 oz. (half the bar) Ghiradelli 32% cacao milk chocolate bar*, melted, cooled

   *You may substitute 1.75 oz, about 1/3 cup, semi-sweet or bittersweet chocolate. 

In medium bowl, cream butter.  Gradually add 1 cup sugar, beating till smooth after each addition.  Alternately beat in cream with a mixture of cocoa and remaining 2/3 cups sugar, beating till smooth after each addition.  Beat in liqueur and flavoring.  Add more cream or sugar, if needed to get proper consistency.  Gradually add cooled chocolate and beat on high till frosting is whipped.  Refrigerate for 1/2 hour before using to allow frosting to firm up.  Yield:  enough to generously frost 12 standard cupcakes and 12 minis.

TIP:  I used a 2D tip to get deep swirls.  Start in center of cupcake top, make circles going towards outer edges, then work the second layer back into the center, pulling up as you end. 

Friday, February 1, 2013


dill potato salad

If you like dill, then you’re gonna love this potato salad.  My taste testers gobbled this up, and I enjoyed it as well.  The dill flavor is infused by cooking the potatoes with chopped dill, drizzling the cooked potatoes with dill vinegar, and adding dill vinegar and minced dill to the dressing.  Once you taste this, you will understand why dill and potatoes were made for each other.  There is a downside to this recipe, though.  The potato salad does not keep well.  The flavors deteriorate quickly and by the third day the salad is not edible.  So you can make this for your next gathering, but plan on eating most of it the day it’s made and finishing it up the next day. 

P. S.  Our favorite potato salad is a 1970-something recipe titled “All-American Potato Salad,” but when my dill crop comes in, I’ll be making this Dill Potato Salad again.

Dill Potato Salad
Adapted half recipe from Cook’s Country Rating:  9 out of 10


2 Tbsp. white wine vinegar
1-1/2 Tbsp. minced fresh dill, divided use
1/4 cup dill leaves and stems, chopped
1-1/2 lbs. Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and cut into 3/4” pieces
1/2 Tbsp. Morton kosher salt + 1/4 tsp. for dressing
1/8 tsp. white pepper
1/4 cup mayonnaise
2 Tbsp. nonfat Greek yogurt*, or sour cream
1-1/2 tsps. Dijon mustard
2 green onions, green parts only, thinly sliced

*Fage Greek yogurt tastes most like sour cream.  Most Greek yogurts are extremely tart.

Combine vinegar and 1/2 Tbsp. minced dill in bowl and microwave until steaming, 30-60 seconds.  Cool 15-20 minutes.  (Remaining 1 Tbsp. dill is stirred into finished salad.)

Meanwhile, place 1/4 cup dill leaves and stems in disposable coffee filter and tie closed with kitchen twine.  Bring potatoes, dill sachet, 1/2 Tbsp. salt and enough cold water to cover by 1 inch to a boil in heavy pot over high heat.  Reduce heat to medium and simmer until potatoes are just tender, about 10 minutes.  Drain potatoes; transfer to large bowl, discarding dill packet.  Drizzle 1 Tbsp. cooled dill vinegar over hot potatoes and gently toss.  (Remaining dill vinegar is added to dressing.)  Refrigerate 30 minutes, stirring once.

In small bowl, whisk together mayo, yogurt or sour cream, remaining dill vinegar, mustard, 1/4 tsp. salt and white pepper.  Pour over cooled potatoes.  Stir in green onions with remaining 1 Tbsp. minced dill.  Cover and refrigerate 30 minutes to blend flavors.  Taste to adjust seasonings, adding more salt and pepper, if needed.  Yield:  4-6 servings