Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Nachos with Beer-Braised Carnitas

This is a great way of preparing shredded pork to fufill your wildest Mexican food dreams. Real Mexican food takes patience. It takes soul. It takes love. And it takes meat. Tacos and Nachos are incredible made with beer-braised carnitas. "Braised"...even the word sounds delicious! Enveloping your kitchen in spicy aromas, this recipe ruins you for ever again using those little spice packets in the supermarket. Make it a day ahead for Taco parties or in Nachos for an outstanding appetizer at a SuperBowl party...Originally found and altered from a Bon Appetit.com February 2013 recipe. Yield: 6 cups meat--ennough for two or three huge cookie sheets of Nachos.

Ingredients for Beer-Braised Carnitas:

1 7 oz. can Chipoltle Peppers in Adobo sauce (I used Embasa brand)
4 lbs. pork tenderloin or skinless boneless pork shoulder cut into 2" pieces ( I use half of a HUGE 9 lb plus Costco pork tenderloins for this--saving the remainder for other dishes)
4 naked garlic cloves, smashed
12 oz. beer (such as Modelo Especial or Budweiser)
4 garlic cloves, smashed, peeled and chopped
4 t kosher salt
2 C water


Note: You can make these 3 days ahead or freeze them for later. In fact, it is BETTER made the day before you need them.  Simply eheat them adding 1/2 C water in a covered pot. Add more water as needed.


Remove 2 chilis from the can. Stem chilies (if they aren't already), halve lengthwise and discard seeds. Chop them up. In a large pot bring all ingredients to a boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer, stirring occasionally, until pork is fork-tender, 60-80 minutes. Uncover pork; simmer until liquid evaporates and pork begins to brown--20-25 minutes. Continue to cook, stirring frequently and scraping bottom of the pot until pork is shredded and browned, 10-15 minutes.Add 1 C water to pork; cook, scraping up browned bits from bottom of pot, for about 1 minute. Use to fill tacos, enchiladas or as a meat addition for nachos.

Ingredients for Nachos

2 bags (9 oz.) thick, authentic, tortilla chips--salted (if you don't live in the Southwest find the best chips you can)
Beer-Braised Carnitas--sprinkle all over the chips randomly. About 4 cups.
chopped green onions--about 1 1/2 C
shredded sharp cheddar and
Monterey Jack cheese, shredded
2 pts sour cream (optional)
Sliced olives (optional)
Guacamole (optional)
Salsa (NOT optional)


Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease 2 large-rimmed baking sheets with nonstick spray or oil. Divide ingredients evenly between the two sheets, layering ingredients by literally sprinkling them on in the order they are listed above. Bake, one sheet at a time until sheet is melted, 20-25 minutes. Plate as is or with dollops of sour cream and sliced olives on top. Serve with a bowl of salsa and quacamole on the side,

Saturday, July 13, 2013

WOW! Crispy Won-Tons

Catagory: Appetizers
Difficulty: Medium
Not Healthy

Ever had fried won-ton skins at a chinese restaurant? These days, you don't get any meat in them. But back in the day, there was a little splotch of spicy pork in the middle of each won-ton. You would dip those crunchy little guys in red sweet and sour sauce....mmmm yumm. The problem is-- through the years, the restaurant won-ton meat splotch got smaller and smaller until it disappeared completely! No matter, make your own instead using this recipe my mom found long ago on the won-ton skin package. This is a WOW appetizer when served at parties.


1 pkg. 3/4 ground pork
8 water chestnuts, chopped
1/4 C finely chopped green onion
1 T soy sauce
1 t salt
1 t cornstarch
1/2 t grated fresh ginger or 3/4 t ground ginger
2 pkg. won-ton skins, cut into 2-inch squares

Mix ingredients together in a medium-sized bowl. Wrap a splotch of mixture in won-ton skins as directed on package. You CAN put them together like they do in the restaurants by cutting 12  2-inch squares and laying them all out on a cutting board. Brush with a tiny ammount of water around the sides of each square. If you use too much water it will be a soggy won-ton. So don't.  Place a splotch (bout the size of a small gumball) of meat mixture in the middle. Press down a bit so it's no longer round.  Put the same size square of won--ton skin exactly on top of each water-brushed square. Press all the way around the square so each square adheres to the other, except where the meat splotch is. Deep fry no more than 4 at a time in a medium-sized pot of vegetable oil (you can try coconut oil--but I haven't yet) until golden brown. Repeat until you run out of won-ton skins. Serve warm with ready-made sweet and sour sauce (such as Kikkoman).

Chrissie's Hot Crabby Dip

Catagory: Appetizers
Difficulty: Easy
Not Healthy

Chrissie was one of my first bosses...and she was a great cook! She was raised the old-fashioned way like I was. That meant she was taught how to entertain from the time she was a child. As children we had to go around and serve hot appetizers to our parents's guests when they came for dinner. Looking adorable if possible. This was hard when your hair had huge tangles in the back, like mine always did. I did my best to comb over the tangles and smiled a lot.
I don't usually like messy dips at parties--but this is a really good one. Serve with water crackers or those amazing little brioche toasts they have at Trader Joe's. Very elegant and delicious.


1 large cream cheese block
1 or 2 T mayonnaise
1 T chopped onion
1 T chopped parsley
1 T horseradish
6 oz. crabmeat (canned is OK, fresh is always better)
2 T sliced almonds

Mix ingredients together and transfer to an oven-proof bowl or mini-casserole. Heat in a 350 degree oven until bubbly. Serve in the middle of a platter surrounded by crackers.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Coconut Rum Black Bottom Pie

Catagory: Desserts
Difficulty: Hard
Not Healthy At All! Just make it for special occasions!

My mom used to occasionally make black-bottom pie for her parties. A cool vanilla cream pie with a thin layer of rum-laced chocolate on the bottom and whupped cream on the top, it was irrrsistable. If I ever would want to be stuck on a deserted island with one food--that would be it.With a refrigerator too, of course.

Note: Yes, I would plug the refrigerator into the sand. One must be optimistic, don't you think?

Mom had rum in the chocolate of her pie, but I thought "Why not get even more tropical and add coconut to the vanilla cream?" So, after a little experimentation, which included one runny pie and two types of chocolate that didn't taste right, this is the recipe I came up with. I think the mild chocolate "Pot de Creme" that makes for the 'black bottom' balances especially well with the coconut cream on top. The crust has the perfect amount of buttery crispness combined with just a enough of that traditional Crisco flavor to make a good contrast to the sweeter filling. See what 'cha think! Note: the pie shell was adapted from a recipe on Epicurious.com. from an old 1997 "Bon Appetit" recipe. The chocolate Pots De Creme 'black bottom' was altered from an old 1970's "Bon Appetit" recipe. And the Coconut Cream recipe was based on one for Vanilla Cream Pie Filling from "Joy of Cooking".

Pie Crust ( You can buy one. But don't unless you're desperate)


1 1/2 C flour
1 1/4 t sugar
1/2 t salt
1/3 C solid vegetable shortening cut into pieces
1/4 C plus 1 T chilled unsalted butter--cut into pieces
5 T ice water (or a little more if you need it)

Overly Detailed Directions: Combine dry ingredients in food processor. Using on/off turns--cut in shortening and butter until a coarse meal forms. Blend in enough ice water, 2 T at a time, to form moist clumps. Gather dough into ball. Flatten into a 5 or 6-inch round disc. Wrap in plastic and chill until firm--at least one hour (can be 24 hrs if you like--or freeze the dough until you need it). Let dough soften slightly before rolling it out on a floured board or clean, flat surface. After rolling out the dough into a large (13") circle, slide it into the pie dish. After cutting off excess dough, crimp the edges. If this process seems too difficult, google "How do I make a pie crust ?". It's all there with pictures...that I am too lazy to take for this blog.

Place a 13- inch square of parchment or wax paper into the uncooked pie shell. Fill pie shell with pie weights or dried beans or raw rice. This weighs down the pie shell so it doesn't lose it's shape while it cooks. Put a foil "collar" over the edges of your pie crust to prevent over-browning. There are new-fangled rubber pie crust collars you can purchase online...but (sigh) I don't have one yet.  Bake shell at 475 degrees for 10 minutes then reduce heat to 350 degrees and bake for another 15-20 minutes. Lift paper and beans out of shell.  If the bottom of the pie still looks or feels a little raw.. put it back in the oven until it's crisp to the touch. When it's done, cool it somewhere the cat can't get it... then fill with a short layer of Chocolate Cream Filling and a long layer of Coconut Cream.

Quick Chocolate Rum Cream Filling:


6 oz  semi-sweet gold-bagged Guittard chocolate chips. Semi-sweet NOT bittersweet. ( I tried several types of more expensive chocolate-- but this had the most chocolate flavor with the least bitter aftertaste.)
2 T sugar
1  T rum or 1 t rum extract (I get the little "airplane-sized" bottles at the liquor store)
1 egg
3/4 C milk--heated to just boiling


Place chocolate into blender. Pour hot milk into blender and blend until chocolate melts. Then add other ingredients and blend until smooth. Pour 3/4 of the mixture into the cooled pie crust.  Reserve the rest in  ramikens or bowls to enjoy later with whipped cream as a snack. Refrigerate all until firm--at least 2 hours or overnight. If you are as tired as I am, you will gladly wait 24 hours to make the rest...

Coconut Cream Pie Filling:

1 1/3 C sugar
1 C flour
1 t salt
4 C whole milk
6 egg yolks (slightly beaten in a small mixing bowl)
4 T butter
1 t vanilla
1 t coconut extract
1/4 C flaked, sweetened coconut, packed

1 C heavy cream
1 T powdered sugar
1/2 t vanilla


In the top of a double boiler combine sugar flour and salt. Add 2 C milk and cook over (not in) boiling water 10 minutes or until mixture thickens ( I would do the whole 10 minutes even if you think it's already thick). Remove from heat and pour 1 C of the mixture into the eggs and mix vigorously. When smooth, return eggs to the rest of the hot mixture and cook until thickened to the point that it coats a spoon and no longer falls off the spoon in a steady stream. Remove from heat, add butter and extracts, mixing thoroughly with a spoon. Finally, sprinkle coconut on top and evenly distribute throughout the cream. Cool slightly before adding to crust.

Whip cream until it forms soft peaks, add sugar and vanilla and beat until stiff peaks form. At this point you can either spoon your whupped cream on top of the pie or pipe it on. Yes, I have heard whupped cream is more flavorful when it is served softer, but I like it to stand up and be noticed on top of a pie. It should stand up and say "Hi there! I'm yummy!" Refrigerate until serving.

Note: This is a fantastic, show-off dessert. Hang the calories. Go for a long jog afterwards.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Stuff I Have In My Freezer...

Common Sense dictates that we are resourceful with what we have. Waste is out, saving money is always in. So I use my freezer a lot! No...I don't have a huge freezer in my garage. But I do use my regular-sized refrigerator freezer it for a lot more than ice. Here are some examples...
  1. Frozen ice trays of Meyer lemon juice (because it goes our of season so fast).
  2. Freeze egg whites individually in ice trays or mini-containers for future smoothies or meringues. One white per container. Take out the "egg-white cube"and refrigerate in a cup to defrost overnight. Use the same way you would use non-frozen whites.
  3. Meat from Costco--divided individually in plastic freezer bags in family meal-sized or individual portions.
  4. Put chicken breasts from Costco in individually plastic- wrapped servings in freezer bags.
  5. Frozen Shrimp (I rarely pay for fresh--good quality frozen is fine and dandy)
  6. Large quantities of salted and unsalted butter from a BBS.
  7. Casseroles--in meal-sized servings (I use plastic containers or individual casseroles for this)
  8. Nuts--they keep forever when frozen--just use the bags they came in and seal the top securely
  9. Dried fruit (who really uses dried fruit that often?--freeze the leftovers after Christmas is over)
  10. Breads of all kinds (especially French bread)--I cut it up and put it in bags so I don't have to defrost a whole loaf for a dinner for two. Freeze gluten free and French breads right away after you get them home from the store--they go stale very quickly.
  11. Sauces: Pesto sauce...Marinara...Chocolate sauce...Make 'em fresh and freeze 'em.
  12. Bundt Cakes...coffee cakes and unfrosted cake layers--this is a great way to prepare desserts way ahead! Wrap them very very well in plastic then in foil! If you have a small family--wrap individual servings in plastic and place in a freezer bag before freezing.
  13. Turkey (buy a frozen one for an extra low price at Christmas or Thanksgiving and eat it in February)
  14. Vegetable and fruit pies--preferably uncooked. Wrap in plastic then foil.
  15. Apples --if you buy a huge tray at Costco--and can't eat them all--peel and slice apples first, then load in freezer bags for when you have time to make apple pie or applesauce!
  16. Soups--oh gosh this is the best use of a freezer of all! To avoid using an ice-pick and stabbing yourself..do freeze soup in meal-sized portions in plastic freezer containers.
  17. Berries... these freeze well in plastic freezer bags--but don't look as good as fresh when defrosted. Use them for pies or cobblers...fruit sauces or smoothies. Not for salads or strawberry shortcake.
  18.  Pasta--a friend of mine always has Spaghetti Bolognese always at the ready in her freezer. Lasagna and Ravioli works well too! Freeze any pasta with a good thick red sauce. My friend uses plastic freezer bags--I use freezer containers because I like to stack 'em.
  19. Grated Parmesan cheese--not the best thing for the cheese--but it does work if you have too much to use.
  20. Salmon--or whatever else Uncle Si catches for you. Prepare and freeze individual portions in plastic wrap AND foil.
  21. Cookie or Pie dough--fabulous! Drop cookie dough is frozen best in balls. Pie dough should be in a large"round scone" type disc ready to roll out when thawed. Wrap well in plastic and foil against "freezer taste". 
  22. Bacon bits or cooked bacon. Whenever I make bacon I make the whole package. If we don't eat it I freeze it to add to scrambled eggs or braised vegetables later. I also save the "Hormel" or "Kirkland" already prepared real bacon bits in the freezer instead of the fridge. It just makes sense.
  23. Chicken or Turkey stock--whenever I buy a rotiserie chicken I use the carcass to make stock. Freeze it for later use in soups and sauces or what -have- you. I use 2-C sized freezer containers. 
  24. Crepes--yes French Pancakes. They freeze well for a week or so. I have a great hi-protein recipe for-a them in my blog. See "Trader Vic's Crepes" on "Being Erma.blogspot.com. Stack them with parchment or waxed paper in between each crepe. Put in a freezer-proof bag or container. To thaw-- unstack and leave them on the counter for 20 minutes.  Heat them up in the microwave for 30 seconds and fill with jam or other fillings. Nom-nom! 
  25. Ice--we have an over-achiever ice-maker. It is "The Little Ice-Maker That Could". I don't know why, but it always makes so much ice that it makes it impossible for anyone but my hubby to pull the ice-drawer out. So when we have large parties--we just keep bagging ice for a few days instead of buying it.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Caramel Latte Cupcakes--Oooh!....

Catagory: Desserts
Difficulty: Sorta Hard (due to it's length)

I'm a frosting person. Yep...that's why I go to weddings--for the frosting.  It can't be too sweet and it should perfectly balance with the cake. And most of the time I go for light and airy cakes and frostings. I don't know why--maybe it's a throwback to a childhood miserably spent without Twinkies? Another thing we were miserably without in our kitchen when I grew up were rubber spatulas. You need rubber spatulas to fold in egg whites and to scrape the sides of fluffy frosting and cake bowls, yes? So, now I have 4 rubber spatulas. And I make a lot of cakes that are light--like Twinkies but with better ingredients. Here's one with an incredible carmel latte filling that I just love!

This incredible filling is balanced by plain butter cupcakes. But in order to make the whole thing light and airy...I used whipped cream frosting to balance it all out. It worked!! Decoration? --an easy little squiggle of caramel on the top.  Almost as good as kissing my husband! ( Hey! Maybe I should squiggle caramel on top of Alan? heh)

Butter Cake:


16 T unsalted butter...softened
3 C cake flour...sifted
2 1/2 t baking powder
1 t salt
1 C milk
2 t vanilla
1 1/2 C sugar
4 eggs

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Put 24 cupcake liners in cupcake pans. Set aside. Whisk together in a bowl:
flour...baking powder...salt in a bowl--set aside. Combine milk and vanilla in a small bowl and set aside. In a medium bowl fitted with a paddle or with a hand mixer...cream butter and sugar until pale and fluffy. Add eggs...one at a time...beating well after each addition. On low speed... add dry ingredients in 3 batches and wet ingredients in 2 batches. Increase speed to high and beat until batter is smooth...about 5 seconds. Divide batter among cupcake pans. Bake about 15 minutes until center springs back when touched with a finger. Let cakes cool for 10 minutes in pans then invert onto wire racks to cool thoroughly before filling and frosting.

Caramel-Latte Filling or Frosting:


1 1/2 C unsalted butter... soft but still cool and cut in cubes
1/4 t salt
4 oz. cream cheese.... soft but cool and cut in cubes
3 C powdered sugar
3/4 C caramel sauce (use leftover sauce for caramel squiggle decoration)
1 T warm water mixed with 1/2 t instant espresso (such as Medaglio D'Oro or Starbucks VIA)
Optional Topping: crunched-up toffee (Heath Bar has this out in bags in the chocolate chip section of your grocery)

Using a standing mixer fitted with a paddle attachment or a hand-mixer and beat butter and salt until fluffy. Add the cream cheese and beat until fully incorporated and smooth. Reduce the speed and add the powdered sugar a little at a time. Mix until fully incorporated. Add the caramel sauce and then the warm water mixed in a tablespoon with powdered espresso.

Whipped Cream Frosting: Whip 1 pint whipping cream in a chilled (preferably metal or ceramic) bowl with chilled beaters until frothy. Gradually add 1/2 C powdered sugar...then vanilla. Beat until stiff enough to pipe on top of cupcakes ( at the moment stiff peaks form).

Assembly:  Bake the cupcakes. While cakes are baking make the Caramel Espresso Filling... whip the Whipped Cream Frosting and put in the refrigerator until cupcakes are cool. Core cupcakes with a paring knife...carving a cone-shape into the cupcake with the large end at the top --about 1-inch wide. This is so there is enough room for  filling to truly achieve the full cupcake experience. Fill cupcakes with filling--I use a dinner knife. Then...using a pastry bag--pipe whipped cream onto cake. Drizzle leftover caramel sauce over the cupcakes by swinging a fork dipped in sauce over the tops of the cakes lined up on a baking tray or clear counter space covered with parchment or paper. Alternative: use Heath Bar toffee crunch to sprinkle on top.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Huckleberry Buckle with Lemon Sauce

Catagory: Desserts
Difficulty: Easy

I remember picking huckleberries in the early morning light near my grandmother's vacation cabin. It was in Northern California redwood country--where the air is as soft as the branch-strewn loam under your feet.  Behind the cabin were bushes plump with huckleberries, growing all silver and blue in the morning sun.  A tiny berry, they are perfect for childish fingers to gather. My sister and I would fill empty coffee cans with them, enjoying the occasional tangy handful until  juice ran in purple streaks down our faces. Then we would run to the cabin (bringing what we hadn't eaten), and beg our mother to make a rare dessert called "Huckleberry Buckle".

A "Buckle" is kind of like a "Crisp" as well as being first cousin to a "Cobbler". They're similar; all being some kind of yummy, sticky cake baked with fruit , spices and sugar. The "buckle" refers to how the top of this struesel-clad cake looks like after it bakes. Bumpy and uneven...  buckled, like an old wood floor.

This is my great-grandmother, Sarah Robinson's, recipe.  Her family came over the Oregon trail in covered wagons. But you don't need a covered wagon to make Huckleberry Buckle. You just need huckleberries or ollaliberries or blackberries or mixed berries. Serve it warm from the oven...with whupped cream or vanilla ice cream.


1/2 C shortening
1/2 C sugar
1 egg
2 t baking powder 
1 C flour
4 1/2 t baking powder
1/3 C milk
1 pint huckleberries (or other slightly sour berries)
1/2 C sugar
1/4 C butter
1/3 C flour
1 t cinnamon

Lemon Sauce:
1/2 C sugar
1 C hot water
1 T cornstarch
pinch salt
1 egg yolk (separated from white)
3 T lemon juice
2 T butter


Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease an 8"X 8" pan. Cream shortening, and sugar then add 1 egg and combine. Sift 1 C flour and 2 t baking powder together and add to the creamed sugar mixture with 1/3 C milk. Put in pan. Sprinkle 1 pt. (2 cups) berries over the top. Crumble together and put over this: 1/2 C sugar, 1/4 C butter, 1/3 C flour, 1 t. cinnamon. Bake 40 minutes at 350 degrees.

For Sauce: In a saucepan combine 1/2 C sugar, 1 C hot water, 1 T constarch and a pinch of salt. Bring to boil, for 15 minutes. Put over boiling water in the top of a double boiler. Add 1 egg yolk, 3 T lemon juice and 2 T butter. Stir well till thick and serve over the top of large helpings of warm Buckle. Total comfort food heaven!

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Addictive Carrot-Feta Salad

Catagory: Salads
Difficulty: Easy-ish
Very Healthy

This is so good it should be registered as an addictive substance. My daughter brought something similar to this to our last Mother's Day Barbeque. It's her new "go-to" pot-luck salad. It can be yours, too, if you have a good food processor with a grating attatchment! The taste is very unusual because of the cumin and the Harrisa. Harissa is sort of a chili paste mixed with with garlic, coriander, salt and cumin. It's extremely inexpensive--but make your own by finding a recipe online if you don't have a specialty store nearby. Very Middle Eastern, very pretty, very YUM!  Adapted  from "Smitten Kitchen.com" which acknowledges Cuisine Magazine.


1 pound carrots, peeled, trimmed and coarsely grated ( I used a pack of peeled baby carrots)
1/2  C sliced black olives (drained)
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 crushed clove of garlic
3/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon paprika
3/4 teaspoon Harissa (very hot--don't use heaping spoonfuls!)
1/2 teaspoon sugar
3 T lemon juice
1/4 C flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
1/4 C fresh mint, finely chopped
1/2 C fresh coriander, finely chopped
2/3 C crumbled feta


Saute garlic, cumin, paprika, harissa and sugar in the oil until fragrant, about one to two minutes in a small pan. Remove from heat. Throw in  lemon juice and a pinch of salt. Add to carrots and sliced olives. Add the herbs and toss with a fork.  Put in refrigerator for at least an hour to meld the flavors and add the feta just before eating. Please serve the same day as you make it. It's fabulous but does not age well!

Memorial Day Barbequed Beans

Catagory: Side Dishes
Difficulty: Easy
Not Very Healthy

Tired of the same old barbequed or baked beans, boo-boo? Here's something a little different. It's an old-fashioned recipe from the 1970's, so it is tried and true. Great for a Memorial Day picnic!


1 15 oz can each: chili, kidney, black beans and  a large (32 -36 oz) can baked beans
1 can baby lima beans (or one defrosted frozen package)
1 lg. onion--chopped
1 clove garlic ((minced)
2 T vegetable oil
1//2 T chili powder
1 can tomato soup, undiluted
2 t Worcestershire sauce
1/4 C brown sugar
1/4 C cider vinegar
1 t salt

Directions:  Drain beans that come without sauce. Combine and cook together in a slow cooker or in a casserole at 350 degrees for 1 hour and 15 minutes.  Then uncover and bake an additional 15-20 minutes.
Note: If casserole gets too soupy, sprinkle on a couple of spoons of flour and mix until thickened.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Butter Cake with Perfect Chocolate Cream Cheese Frosting...For My Lauren

Catagory: Desserts
Difficulty: Medium-Hard

For all of you who like frosting that is not too sweet but sweet enough to be sunshine on a cloudy day--this recipe is for you. I created it for my very grown-up daughter Lauren. She has lots of nick-names too: Munchkin...Bee-Bee...Miss Lauren...Boo-Boo etc. She is also "Chef Lauren" because she had a cooking column in her high school paper. She is a fabulous cook!  But when she has her birthday she always wants the same cake: Butter Cake (the Duncan Hines mix) with Fudge Frosting (whatever ready-made is on sale). This is because that's what I made her every year when she was a little girl. This year... now that I have more time to cook, I am going to try to lure her away from prepared mixes and plastic tubs with a from-scratch version. I recently found the most delicious butter cake recipe EVER in Saveur magazine. It's so moist and buttery... with a very fine crumb which can only be achieved with cake flour. I paired it with a Perfect Chocolate Cream Cheese Frosting. All for you Lauren! Love you! Yield: 8 servings


Butter Cake:
16 T unsalted butter
3 C cake flour
2 1/2 t baking powder
1 t salt
1 C milk
2 t vanilla
1 1/2 C sugar
4 eggs (at room temperature--or warmed while still in shells in a bowl of hot tap water for 5 minutes)

Perfect Chocolate Cream Cheese Frosting:
12 oz. cream cheese
1 C sifted good cocoa ( I like Droste)
1 stick salted butter (softened)
1 1/2 t vanilla
6 C powdered sugar
Add one or two t milk if needed


Heat oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour three 9-inch cake pans and set aside. Whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt in a bowl and set aside. In a small bowl, whisk together milk and vanilla in a bowl and set aside. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted witha a paddle, cream butter and sugar on medium-high speed until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. On low speed, alternately add dry ingredients in 2 batches. Increase speed to high and beat until batter is smooth, about 5 seconds. Divide batter in prepared pans and smooth top with a spatula or knife. Bake cakes until a tester inserted in the middle comes out clean, about 25 minutes. Let cakes cool for 20 minutes in pans, then remove to wire racks if you have them. If you don't--that's OK. Keep them in the pans. I usually can't find my own racks. I think I used them last Christmas to spray walnuts gold.

For Frosting: Mix first three ingredients in a medium-sized bowl on medium speed until creamy. Add vanilla. Gradually add 6 C powdered sugar 2 C at a time--beating on high speed the last few minutes. Be sure and let the frosting "rest" for a couple of hours either in the refrigerator or on the cake or cupcakes before you serve them. For some reason this makes any bitter aftertaste of the cocoa go away. I don't know why. Ask Alton Brown when you see him.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Seattle Grilled Salmon

Category: Fish
Difficulty Rating: Easy

If you ever go to Seattle, visit Pike's Place Fish Market. It's FUN! The guys there yell a lot of crazy things and throw huge fish around like they're baseballs. They also have wonderful seafood salads and sides and great smoked salmon. There's something they have called " Salmon Candy" which sounds awful, but is really a sweet smoked salmon. Since Seattle is so far away--I found an alternative that's really good and reminds me of Pike's Place. It's not as sweet at "Salmon Candy" but it has a wonderful combination of smoked paprika and honey that make for a similar taste. My hubby gave it a big thumbs up! Common Sense Tip: get a large quantity of Wild Salmon fresh in season at Costco or another Big Box store and wrap what you don't use right away in portion-size pieces. Wrap  first in plastic then in foil and freeze. Recipe Yield: enough for 2 very small fillets or salmon slices.


1 T thyme (fresh)
1 clove garlic (crushed)
1 T dk. brown sugar or Palm sugar
1 T honey
5 t smoked paprika
sea salt to taste
pepperto taste

Combine all these together in a small bowl with a fork. Really mash it. Then, slather it on top of your salmon fillets after they have been patted dry.  Grill on the side without glaze. Put a piece of foil on the grill and flip  salmon over on the glazed side to finish cooking. Take the skin off the salmon when it is light and flakey, yet still moist. Transfer it to a plate with lots of oven-roasted potatoes and enjoy!

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Chocolate Cupcakes with Peanut Butter Filling and Chocolate Ganache

Don't you just love the combination of Peanut Butter and Chocolate? These cupcakes are like big Reeses Peanut Butter Cups. The first time I saw the idea for these was when I was watching a TV show that reviewed all the best cupcake places in New York. So I tried to make one up of my own. In the midst of trying out diffferent combinations, I realized that I liked the peanut butter filling A LOT! I am not super wild about dark chocolate so I used it for the frosting as well as the filling. Then I used  the ganache as just a drizzle over the top of the cupcakes. HOWEVER, If you absolutely adore dark chocolate, you can just divide the recipe for the peanut butter filling in half, and use it for filling only. Then, use the ganache as a glaze for the top of the cupcakes. It's GORGEOUS--especially after topping each one with a half of a small-size peanut butter cup Yield: 23-24 cupcakes


Black Magic Cupcakes (or Cake):

1 3/4 flour
2 C sugar
3/4 C cocoa powder
1 t salt
2 eggs
1 C strong black coffee
1 C buttermilk
1/2 vegetable oil
1 t vanilla extract


Combine flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, and salt in a large mixing bowl or stand mixer. Add eggs, coffee, buttermilk, oil and vanilla. Beat at medium speed for two minutes. Batter will be thin. Pour batter winto a two greased and floured cupcake pans or a  9x13" pan or two 9-inch cake pans. Bake at 350 degrees until cupcake springs back when touched with a finger. Cool in pan 10 minutes, then move to a cooling rack.

Peanut Butter Filling and Frosting: (divide recipe in half if you decide to use the Chocolate Glaze as frosting)

2 C creamy peanut butter (I like JIF)
12 T unsalted butter, softened but still cold, cut in pieces
2 C sifted powdered sugar
1 t vanilla

Measure peanut butter and unsalted butter in a large bowl and  a mixer until combined. Add powdered sugar and vanilla. Continue mixing until fluffy.Set Aside.

Chocolate Ganache or Drizzle:
3/4 C heavy cream
9 oz. Guittard semi-sweet chocolate chips or 3.4 oz the best semi-sweet chocolate you can afford
1 T unsalted butter with pinch salt or 1 T salted butter
12 small peanut butter cups without papers (plus a few extras to snack on) or a small box of peanut brittle.

This glaze is so easy it's ridiculous. in a microwave-safe glass bowl, heat the heavy cream and butter for 1-2 minutes until mixture just bubbles. Add the chocolate chips. Let chocolate chips melt for a minute. Then stir constantly until thick and creamy. Set aside till cool.  If you do not have a trivet to set the bowl on, use a baseball cap that's lying around on the kitchen sink. Works fine.


After cupcakes are cool, hollow out a 1-inch hole with an apple corer or a sharp knife in the middle of each. I use a paring knife to cut the hole in an upside-down cone shape--small end down. It looks pretty and provides more room for filling. More is more with filling! Using a dinner knife or a pastry bag to fill each hole with peanut butter buttercream. Now you have two choices:  If you love rich, dark chocolate, using a dinner knife, smooth ganache thickly over the top of each cupcake. If you aren't fond of dark chocolate, do consider frosting the cupcakes, preferably using a pastry bag, with peanut butter buttercream and just drizzle the ganache on top of the frosting. Finish both versions of the cupcake by putting a half of a peanut butter cup in the middle of the top. A little edible gold leaf sprinkled on would look nice too. Alternatively, munch up peanut brittle or Butterfingers candy bars and sprinkle on the top. Delish!

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Beef Stew with a Spanish Accent...

Category: Beef
Difficulty Rating: Easy-Medium
Healthy except for the fat (which isn't all that bad according to some folks)

It's Common Sense to make beef stew. It uses tough cuts of inexpensive beef to make delicious and healthy meals. Even better-- you can make it in large quantities and freeze it in individual portions! I LOVE Julia Child's Beef Bourginon--which is French beef stew with red wine and bacon. This stew is sort of like Julia's, satisfying and rich , but it's oh so much easier! What gives it the Spanish accent is the Spanish Pimento olives and the Serrano Ham. Serrano is the Spanish version of Proscuitto, a thin, salty, cured Italian ham. Since the ham is thin, it ends up crumpling up in succulent little scraps that have absorbed all of the stew's flavors. Common Sense Tip: if you have Canadian bacon or even regular bacon you can use that instead of Serrano or Proscuitto. Save your money--it will still almost be as good. Serve with big chunks of bread and large glasses of good wine! Adapted from a recipe from a Spanish cookbook featured on HouseBeautiful.com by Ines and Simone Ortega. Yield: Serves 6. Freezes very well!

3 lb.s beef stewing meat (ask your butcher to cut up some chuck into chunks)
3 T olive oil
2 large onions, finely chopped
2 T flour (Pamela's GF works fine)
1 lb. can stewed plum tomatoes
1 C chopped Serrano or Proscuitto ham (or Canadian bacon)
1/4 t Bouquet Garni  mixed dried herbs OR a real Bouquet Garni made of 1 clove garlic, 1/4 t oregano, 1 sprig parsley and 1 bay leaf tied in a small cheesecloth pouch with string.  Note: I use a piece of clean old  sheet instead of cheesecloth--who has cheesecloth always on hand, anyway?
3/4 C  white wine
1 C Spanish pimento-stuffed olives


Heat the oil in a large pot or a Dutch oven. Add the beef, in batches, and cook, stirring occasionally, until evenly browned. Rmove with a slotted spoon and set aside. Drain off most of the oil, leaving enough to just cover the bottom of the pan. Reheat. Add the onion and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, for about 8 minutes until just beginning to brown. Sttir in flour and cook, stirring for about 2 minutes. Add tomatoes and cook about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally and breaking them up with a spoon. Return the beef to the pan, add ham and wine. Season with salt and add the bouquet garni. For best results: if using a bouquet garni pouch, wet it with warm water before adding to the pot. Mix well, and cook for an additional 5 minutes. Pour in water to cover and simmer for at least 3 hours. Meat should be very tender when done.

While stew simmers, cover olives with water in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil, then lower heat and simmer for 1 minute. Drain olives and add to stew, cooking for 10 minutes. Remove and discard the bouquet garni. Serve in a warmed dish or individual casseroles.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Lemon Curd Layer Cake

Category: Desserts
Difficulty: Hard-ish (make the cake one day, make the frosting the next)

My neighbor Emilie called me and asked me come up to her house to have a slice of this. We are walking buddies. I thought I was in shape, but it's a long, VERY steep driveway and I arrived panting at her doorstep. She was there, at the door, with a couple of slices of this cake. "It's the last of it," she said " and I wanted to make sure you tasted it". She handed the plate to me as if it were pure gold. It was! It is now one of my very favorite cakes and I am going to make it for my next birthday. The recipe originally came from the March 1999 issue of Bon Apetit magazine. Yield: Serves at least 8


For Lemon Curd:
2 1/3 C sugar
2 t cornstarch
1 C fresh lemon juice
4 large eggs
4 large egg yolks
3/4 C (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into 1/2 -inch  pieces

For Whipped Cream Frosting:
3/4 C powdered sugar
2 C chilled whipping cream

For Cake:
1 1/2 C cake flour
1 1/2 C sugar
2 1/2 t baking powder
3/4 t salt
4 large egg yolks
1/4 C vegetable oil
1/4 C orange juice1 1/2 t grated lemon peel
8 large egg whites
1/4 t cream of tartar

Thin lemon slices, halved and patted dry


Lemon Curd:
Combine 2 1/3 C sugar and 2 t cornstarch in heavey medium saucepan. Gradually whisk in fresh lemon juice. Whisk in eggs and yolks; add butter. Whisk over medium heat until curd thickens and boils, aboutt 12 minutes. Pour intto medium bowl. Refrigerate until cold, at least 5 hours. Note: Can be prepared 1 week ahead. Cover and keep refrigerated.

Whipped Cream Frosting:
Sifted powdered sugar into a large bowl. Add 1 1/4 C lemond curd until just blended. In medium bowl, beat cream until firm peaks form. Fold cream into curd mixture in 3 parts. Chill until firm--at least 4 hours.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and put parchment on the bottoms of 3 9-inch pans. Whick 1 1/2 C cake flour, 1/2 C sugar, 2 1/2 t baking powder, and 3/4 t salt in large bow. Add 4 yolks, 1/4 C vegetable oil, orange juice, lemon peel and 3/4  C Lemon Curd to bowl (do not stir).  Combine whites, and 1/4 t cream of tartar in another large bowl. Using electric mixer, beat whites until soft peaks form. Gradually add remaining 1 C sugar, beating until stiff but not dry. Using same beaters, beat yolk mixture until smooth. Fold whites into yolk mixture in 3 additions.

Divide batter among the 3 pans. Bake until testers inserted in the center comes out clean, about 25 minutes. Cool cakes in pans on racks 15 minutes. Turn cakes out onto racks; peel off parch ment. Cook cakes completely.


Spoon 1 C frosting into pastry bag fitted with plain round tip; refrigerate bag. Place 1 cake layer on cake platter. Spread top of cake layer with 1/3 C curd then 1 C whipped cream frosting. Top with second cake layer, spread with 1/3 C curd and I C frosting. Top with third cake layer. Frost the top and sides of cake--reserving 1 C of whipped cream frosting. Spread a "puddle" of lemon curd in the middle of the top of the cake--leaving at least a 3/4-inch  border around the top of the cake. Pipe reserved frosting around the top edge of the cake. Place lemon slices at intervals in the piped edge. 


Thursday, May 9, 2013

Chocolate Mousse Cupcakes with Raspberry Chambord Filling

Catagory: Desserts
Difficulty: Hard --requires patience (best if you make the cupcakes one day and do the rest the next day)

When I started making these cupcakes--a rich combination of a fluffy chocolate cake, glorious French chocolate mousse and spiked raspberry preserves; I knew they would be difficult. The cakes themselves came out fine. So, I was feeling pretty confident when I started to pipe the raspberry/Chambord  filling into the middle of the cupcakes. Unfortunately, while I was filling the pastry bag I forgot to put my finger over the tip and therefore managed to pipe a large quantity of raspberry/Chambord right into my lap. As 1/2 cup of preserves rushed in thick raspberry tributaries down my jeans leg, I looked at it in shock. I had decorated my SELF! I threw my head back and laughed. Zen baking: Be the Cupcake!

1 3/4 C flour
3/4 C unsweetened cocoa powder
2 C sugar
2 t baking soda
1 t baking powder
2/4 t salt
1 C buttermilk
1/2 C vegetable oil
2 t vanilla extract
2 large eggs--at room temperature*
1 C strong, piping hot coffee

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line cupcake pan with liners and set aside. In a large bowl...sift together dry ingredients. Then mix together with a fork or a large whisk. In a medium bowl, whisk together buttermilk, vegetable oil, vanilla and eggs. While mixing on low speed, slowly add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients. Mix to combine...but do not over mix! Slowly add hot coffee, mixing until just combined. Don't bruise the chocolate! (heh)  The batter should be thin--break up any lumps with a fork.  Pour the batter into each cupcake liner from a measuring cup. Wipe off cup after each pour.  Bake for 14-15 minutes, without opening the oven. After 14 minutes, test for done-ness by pressing a finger lightly on top of a cake. If it springs back--it's done! If it makes an impression, leave 'em in there for a couple of minutes (every oven heats differently). Once done, cool for 10 minutes in pan then transfer to a cooling rack to continue cooling. While they cool, make the Chocolate Mousse...this is the hard part.


6 oz. semi-sweet chocolate, in chips or chopped (a good chocolate is best-- I like Dagoba or Guittard. But if saving money, use Nestle's or Baker's chocolate, not Hershey's)
3 T unsalted butter
3 egg whites
3 egg yolks
1/2 t cream of tartar
1/4 C
1/2 C heavy cream (very cold)
1/2 t vanilla
2 additional T sugar

Warm 3 eggs (in shells) in a hot tap water in a bowl if they are not room temperature. Keep them in there at least 5 minutes. Place the chocolate and butter in the top of a double-boiler or a heat-proof bowl on top of a pot of barely simmering water. Stir with a wooden spoon till smooth. Remove from stove and cool slightly--chocolate should still be liquid.Separate eggs, reserving whites in a medium bowl and whisk the yolks into the chocolate mixture one at a time. 

Beat egg whites in medium bowl until foamy. Add cream of tartar and continue to beat. Gradually shisk in 1/4 C sugar and continue beating until stiff peak form. Beat the cream in a chilled bowl until it begins to thicken and foam. Add remaining 2 T sugar and the vanilla. Continue to whup cream until it holds soft peaks.
Gradually fold in the egg whites into the chocolate mixture with a rubber spatula. When the egg whites have almost disappeared, delicately fold in the whipped cream until the mixture , stopping the minute it is no longer two-tone. Don't rush this--slow and steady wins the race! Refrigerate until ready to frost cupcakes.

Raspberry Filling:
Use 1 C (or more) raspberry preserves for this. If you want to make it really fancy mix together 1 C raspberry preserves with 6 t Kirsch or Chambord liquer. Take an apple corer and core each cupcake. Using a knife and spoon or a piping bag with a large tip...push a small ammount of the preserves into the cupcake. Be careful to put the piping tip deep inside of the cupcake BEFORE you put the raspberry mixture into the piping bag. Do it one teaspoon at a time--otherwise it will get all over your counter and you! I know this because I am sitting here with rasberry filling all over my jeans.

After filling cupcakes, frost with a pastry bag and a large pastry bag tip. I use a swirl pattern--you can do what you want. Place a fresh raspberry in the middle of the top for fun---and if you have extra chocolate--grate some on top. I would refrigerate these a few hours or overnight before serving! I was amazed at the difference this made.


Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Fresh Fruit Tart...

Catagory: Desserts
Difficulty: Easyish --just because the recipe is long doesn't mean it's hard!

In the summer of 1993 someone brought a fresh fruit tart with a cookie crust and a cream cheese filling to a party I attended and a near riot broke out. It came from "The Farm" bakery in Aptos and it was a brand new concept to all of us. Still popular in 20013...it kind of reminds me of a fruit pizza!

Using fresh fruit like strawberries, kiwi, seedless grapes, nectarines and  blackberries placed artistically in concentric rings makes this a gorgeous dessert. The only thing I don't like is that when people eat this you can hear them chewing seeds. It's the kiwi and strawberry seeds! Aaaaaaah! If you're warped like me...you can leave the kiwi out, they're the worst, but I wouldn't leave out the strawberries. They just taste too darn good. Just wear earplugs or something. Once I actually peeled strawberries for a man I loved because he couldn't stand seeds. Now that was crazy!  Stick with me schweetheart, and you'll have all kinds of psychological problems! This started out with Paula Deen's recipe for "Fresh Fruit Tart"which I combined with another recipe. Yield: a 12" tart -- Serves 8-10

Note: If you make the crust and the filling one day and fill it with fruit the next, the crust will stay crisp and the flavors will meld. If you make it and eat it all the same day --that works too. It's showy and as easy, as well... pie!


1/2 C powdered sugar
1 1/2 C flour
1 1/2 C butter, softened and sliced (if you don't want to make crust you can always use Pillsbury Sugar Cookie refrigerated dough-- this homemade version, however, is more like shortbread and is less sweet)

1 (8-oz) pkg. cream cheese--softened
1/3 cup powdered sugar (if you like things super-sweet use 1/2 C)
1 t vanilla extract

Fresh Fruit Topping:  
(use 3 C or more of any combination of those listed below--be free to be artistic!)
Strawberries (cut in half or quarters--looks pretty as a "star" in the center of the tart)
Peaches or nectarines (sliced thinly)
Seedless grapes (slice in half and lay sliced part down for easy eating)
Red pears (sliced thinly)
Kiwi (sliced thinly--you can overlap these when you lay them on the crust--artsy)
Star Fruit (sliced thinly--best used on top of another fruit like bluebeirries or in the middle of the tart)
Exception to fresh: canned mandarin oranges--super easy--no slicing!


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In a food processor, combine the dry ingredients and butter in a food processor and process until it forms a ball . If it won't form a ball your butter wasn't soft enough--keep processing. Lacking a food processor, use two forks to keep cutting the butter into the flour mix until you have a dough texture.  Press dough into a 12-inch tart pan with a removeable bottom. If you (or the kids)eat any of the dough you may have to use a 10-incher. Be sure and push the dough flat and squish it into the side indentations of the pan. This takes a little muscle. You may have to enlist a passing male to help. Put pie weights or dried beans in the unbaked crust to discourage shrinkage and pop in the oven for 10-18 minutes until lightly browned.  Remove and cool.

Mix filling ingredients together in a small bowl with a mixer and spread thickly on cooled crust. Pat dry washed fruit and apply to cream cheese layer in concertric circles starting with the middle and working outward. Make fruit glaze...

Fruit Glaze:
1/2 C fruit juice ( apple, peach, pineapple)
1/4 C sugar
1 T cornstarch (mix with a T of water before adding)
OR: warm up some honey or melt some apricot jam in a small sauce pan to use for glaze


Combine fruit glaze ingredients in a saucepan and heat to a simmer. Simmer until thick and remove from heat. Cool slightly before brushing on to fruit.  Did your cat eat up your pastry brush? In a pinch...use a scrape of paper towel to brush on the glaze. Hey...stuff happens! I refuse to run to the store for one item. Be creative.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Wonderful Sticky Buns

Catagory: Breads
Difficulty: Easy-Medium (because they have to rise overnight)

Went to a farm today for a ladies' brunch. There were about 15 women there.  The farmhouse was a lovely Victorian-style home surrounded by well-kempt chickens and donkeys and sunflowers planted in rows. The air was fresh and cool. We got to scratch and pet the donkeys--who really are just people with hooves. The chickens reminded me of women in groups. They are very chatty. And whenever a new person comes to their pen they waddle over to that person in rapt expectation of being fed.  Our hostess, Carrie, was one of many people who fed us chicks this morning. She made these terrific Sticky Buns that tasted like cinnamon love and carmelized joy. We indulged...happily cackling to ourselves and each other.


1 C brown sugar
1 C  unsalted butter plus 3 T butter
1 C chopped pecans
1 Bridgeford Bread dough log--partially thawed
1/2 C white sugar
6 t cinnamon


Heat oven to 200 degrees and turn off. Put Bridgeford Bread dough log in a greased bread pan, cover loosely and let rise 45 minutes in the oven. Meanwhile in an 9X9-inch (preferably Pyrex) pan, sprinkle 1 C brown sugar. Drizzle 1 C melted unsalted butter on top of sugar. Sprinkle 1 C chopped pecans over all. Set aside. Take bread dough out of oven and set on a clean surface sprinkled with 2 T flour.  Roll out the thawed Bridgeford Bread dough into something close to a rectangle. Spread evenly on top of rectangle: 3 T melted butter, 1/2 C white sugar, then 6 t cinnamon. Roll dough up like a jelly roll, and pinch the ends. Cut into about 12 (pinwheel) slices about 1"to 1 1/2" thick. Pinch the end of each pinwheel so that the filling doesn't get out while they bake. Place pinwheels on top of sugar/butter/cinnamon mixture in Pyrex pan. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in the refrigerator overnight or until the dough has doubled in volume. Bake at 330 degrees for about 30 minutes until done. Loosen edges and invert onto serving plate.
Eat with coffee or tea and cackle!


Thursday, April 25, 2013

Quinoa Salad

Category: Salads
Difficulty: Easy-Medium

I am writing this in 2013 when 4 food items are in vogue: quinoa (a brown rice-like grain), fava beans, faro, and edamames. If you don't know what they are please look them up on the internet.  I LOVE quinoa! However... there are some people who don't like it.  I call it "Quinoaphobia". It usually hits those that haven't tried it. They stare at the grain and gasp "What IS that?". Then they run away. You can see them tearing down the street ...hair streaming behind them yelling "Nooooooo
Quinooooaaaawww!" It's not that it looks bad--it's nice looking, it's just that it's...new. Except red quinoa. Red quinoa is a little scarey.

So the question is: are you adventurous enough to eat quinoa?

It makes a dandy salad. This one is very like a traditional Tabbouleh salad in taste --but with lovely rice-like quinoa as a base. Common Sense Tip: Quinoa packs a lot of protein! So it will fortifye you instead of making you want to take a nap. When it's a salad it's very wet. Serve it in a pretty bowl lined with lettuce-leaves or as individual servings in lettuce-leaf cups. Use it as a lacto-ovo vegetarian lunch--low fat and relatively inexpensive.Yield: Feeds about 5 as a side dish.


1 C quinoa (dry)
2 C water
2 C sliced grape tomatoes
1 chopped--peeled cucumber
1/2 C sliced kalmata olives
3/4 C crumbled Feta cheese
1 1/2 T olive oil
1/2 lemon--juiced
1 t oregano (if you don't like oregano--use basil)
1 t salt
1/4 t pepper

Combine quinoa and water in a saucepan. Boil. Reduce heat, simmer 15 minutes--until all water is absorbed. Combine vegies, add quinoa and tomatoes and herbs. Mix well. Add olive oil, lemon, and sprinkle feta on top. Toss and chill overnight or at least 4 hours before serving.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013


Category: Fruits and Vegetables
Difficulty: Easy

My mother used to run. When I was around 12 she started running up and down the roads of Portola Valley. For fun and for health. Soon the whole nation was running! To this day I am convinced mom started it. Just like Al Gore invented the internet.

Eventually the whole family started to run. My sister, her husband Tad, my husband Alan, mom and I started running in races like "Bay To Breakers" and "Wharf To Wharf".  Alan and I wore matching shirts that my sister Laura made for us and very tiny shorts that would NOT fit us now. Races were like parties--we talked to people as we jogged. Smiled at the very fit naked gay guys wearing singlets. Ho-Hum. Well, at least they had good bodies...

 After runnning the race (badly) the Shelby family and our family would have gourmet food and lots of wine and beer. It was fun! So fun that I think the only reason Alan ran was to be able to go to the picnic afterwards! Here's one of the utterly delicious recipes...it's inexpensive and keeps beautifully!

This is originally from the Oakland- East Bay Junior League Cookbook called "California Fresh". Pine nuts are very pricey...and not necessary...but you can put them in if you wish! Yield: serves 8-10


1/2 /C olive oil
6 T fresh lemon juice
1/4 /c loosely packed chopped fresh mint leaves
1/4 C loosely packed chopped fresh parsley
3 chopped green onion white parts ( including about an inch of each green portion)
1/2 t minced garlic
3/4 t cumin
3/4 t salt
1/4 t ground pepper

1 C bulger wheat ( such as Kasha )
1/2 C boiling water
1/2 C pine nuts (optional)
2 medium tomatoes seeded and finely chopped or 8 oz. "grape tomatoes" sliced in half

Combine dressing ingredients in a small bowl with a whisk. Set aside. Add boiling water to bulger and stir to moisten evenly. Immediately stir in dressing, optional nuts, and tomatoes. Set aside for at least 8 hours or refrigerate overnight to allow"vulgar bulger" to soften and absorb dressing. To serve...line a serving bowl with romaine lettuce and fill  with tabbouleh. OR-- serve it in a large "sand-pile" mountain on a platter. Garnish with fresh mint leaves . You can always opt to cut a few extra tomatoes into "flowers" and put them in the midst of randomly placed bunches of  fresh mint leaves around the edge as well.  Just don't let the stems of the mint show!

Note: Keeps well several days in the refrigerator

California Organic Salad...

Catagory: Fruits and Vegetables
Difficulty: Easy
Very Healthy

We are so blessed to be in California. Home of fresh organic vegetables and fruits. When we visited Iowa in winter a few years ago, our daughter Lauren started going into "Fresh Vegetable Withdrawal Syndrome".  It is marked by a certain panting noise as the infected person scrambles to find a green bell pepper at a nearby Target to eat whole. Which is what she did.

This salad is one fresh example of California's riches Part of it's appeal is that it's was so darn pretty! The other secret was that it's ingredients are fresh and organic.  Really... I know it's expensive... but it just makes sense to buy pesticide-free. For one thing...they do taste better. And I mean...why would you want to put things in your body that have had bug spray on them or in them? Yucky!


mixed organic lettuces (at least 15 oz.)
4 avocados
8 small vine-ripened tomatoes cut in quarters
2 washed and sliced English cucumbers
Feta cheese ( 6 oz. --crumbled)
red bell peppers (siced very thin)


Wash...dry and crisp lettuces if they aren't pre-washed. Put in a large bowl or pile on a platter. Arrange on top the tomato quarters...the sliced cucumbers ...the red bell peppers...the avocadoes and sprinkle with crumbled Feta. Toss right before serving on individual plates or putting on the buffet table. Have dressing available in small bowls with spoons or in cruets:

Tahini Bottled dressing (in the refrigerated section of New Leaf)
Balsamic Vinegar and Olive Oil  (just whisk together equal parts with a pinch of salt and drizzle over the salad after it's on the plate).

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Greco Casserole-- Great for Potlucks!

Catagory: Main Dishes
Difficulty: Easy-Medium (chopping and boiling involved)
Almost But Not Super Healthy

The mainstay of most working mom's freezers is the all-mighty casserole. OK pizza is a mainstay too. But casseroles freeze well and taste great when re-heated. It's also easy and inexpensive to serve at Potlucks. I am a Christian, yup, an unapologetic Jesus Freak. Christians go to a lot of Potlucks. There is no meeting without eating! In fact studies have shown that the average newly-wed couple gains 12 lbs in their first year of wedded bliss because of Potluck parties. This very traditional potluck casserole has been popular since the 1960's. My mom used to make it and us kidlets loved it! It's also called "More" casserole in some cookbooks due to the fact that everyone who tastes it always want more! 2014 Update: Make it with non-GMO organic corn--OK?


2 lbs ground beef ( you can try ground turkey but it won't taste as good)
1/3 C chopped onion
3/4 C chopped green pepper
2 6-oz. cans tomato paste
1 can corn
one small can stewed tomatoes (or peel 3 fresh and quarter them)
1 t sugar
2 t salt
2 t chili powder
1/2 t garlic salt
pepper to taste
8 oz. egg noodles or shell pasta
8 oz. shredded cheddar cheese (medium sharp)


Cook beef and green pepper in skillet until beef is brown and crumbly. Drain off oil. Mix rest of ingredients in a bowl and add them to skillet and simmer. Bring all to a boil and add noodles. Cook with top off until noodles are done. Put in a greased cassserole. Cover with shredded cheddar and keep oven at 350 degrees for 15 minutes. Serve hot and cheesy!

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Anzac Cookies...

Difficulty: Easy
Oh Forget Being Healthy Today!

Napa is a wonder of great restaurants and cute shops. It can be very romantic.We stumbled on a great section of the historic part of town that included "Sweetie Pie's Bakery".  Oh man. This bakery had amazing platter-sized cookies...voluptuous cupcakes...lavish layer cakes and luscious pies.  However, we picked out this humble cookie because we love oatmeal. "What's an ANZAC?" We said. Biting into it--we were not disappointed. An ANZAC is a very chewy and deliciously sweet oatmeal cookie. Looking it up on the Internet, I found they're named ANZAC because that's the abbreviation for Australian and New Zealand (military) Corps. Apparently women used to send them to their sweetheart soliders who fought in the war. I found several recipes from "Down Under" online. This was the best. Yield: 12 huge cookies (5" in diameter)


1 C oats (Quick Oats are best)
1 C coconut (the no-sugar kind)
1 C flour
1/2 C sugar
1/2 C brown sugar (don't pack)
4 oz. butter (one stick)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix first 5 ingredients in a medium bowl. Melt 1 stick butter in saucepan...add 2 T corn syrup. Dissolve soda in water...add to butter mixture. Don't worry if it froths a bit. It should. Measure in 1/3 C measure scoops onto a parch-ment lined pan. Make into a ball then squash with the heel of your hand. Bake 10-12 minutes until just light brown.

Note: If you have no unsugared shredded coconut in your town...you can always put your "Angel Flake" into a colander the night before you make the cookies...run cold water through it for a few minutes to wash off the sugar and oil ...and let it dry on paper towels for the next day's baking.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Carol Lawless's Curried Chicken Salad...

Catagory: Main Dish
Difficulty: Medium (lots of chopping--really easy if you use a Rotisserie Chicken)
Sorta Healthy-- has lots of vegetables!

This was one of two salads served at my daughter's fabulous wedding shower put on by Carol Lawless in 2011. As we entered her garden we were treated to a view of 3 tables set up outside with a green arched canopy over all. Glorious roses bloomed pink and red in the garden. Our hostesses' wedding china gleamed on white tablecloths with green linen napkins. The weather was perfect as we sipped lemonade and basked in Carol's beautiful hospitality. The food was a divine gift from heaven.

Most of the time Curried Chicken is rawther sodden. Gloppy. It's delish...but it hits your stomach like a ton of bricks. This salad is different. The head of cabbage lightens the whole thing up! Do try it for your next outdoor party. It's a winner.


4 baked ckinless/boneless chopped chicken breasts--season with Garlic Salt and/or Lemon Pepper before baking OR using 1 Costco Rotisserie Chicken or 2 regular size Rotisserie Chickens.
1 head Napa cabbage, finely chopped
1 bunch green onions,  finely chopped
1/2 C raisins (can use both dark and golden if you like)
1/2 C roasted/salted sunflower seeds
1 bag Croutons (your choice of flavor--I use garlic/butter flavor)

1 C Best Foods or Trader Joe's Real Mayonnaise
2 T Apple Cider Vinegar
2 T honey
Garlic Salt
Lemon Pepper
a few daches of Worcestershire sauce
a few drops green Habanera sauce
2 Tablespoons Curry powder ( yes...LOTS)
1 T milk

Whisk together dressing ingredients in a small bowl in the order shown. Layer salad  ingredients in a large bowl and toss with dressing  ONLY when ready to sit down and eat--to keep salad crisp.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Ginger-Peanut Chicken-Salad Wraps

Catagory: Chicken
Difficulty Rating: Easy to Medium (depending on if you cook your own chicken or not)

It is now Indian Summer in Santa Cruz County. Often our hottest time of year. It was so hot for my daughter's wedding in October last year that my polyester zipper almost melted! We couldn't get it open!  No problem--we sewed me into the dress after breaking the zipper. Finally evening came with cool breezes and tall glasses of iced lemon water. Perhaps it's a hot evening for you tonight? How about something refreshing....like salad? This tastes like Chinese Chicken Salad in a tortilla . It's got so many vegetables--it's a one dish meal! Common Sense Tip: use a cooked rotisserie chicken from Costco or another store instead of making your own. From "Cooking Light" magazine, I don't know what year.Yield: 8 wraps. 280 calories each...

Note: You can substitute a pre-cooked rotisserie chicken (Costco?) instead of cooking your own. That makes it really easy!


1 t olive oil
24 oz. cooked chicken (rotisserie chicken or saute 4 chicken breasts with a sprinkle of salt until done)
1 C chopped seeded peeled cucumber
3/4 cup chopped red bell pepper
1 1/2 T sugar
1 T minced peeled ginger
3 T minced peeled fresh ginger
3 T fresh lime juice
1 T low-sodium soy sauce
1/4 t ground pepper
1  crushed garlic clove
1/4 C creamy peanut butter
2 T water
3 T chopped fresh cilantro
8 (8-inch) GF tortillas or large iceberg lettuce leaves
4 C chopped romaine lettuce


Shred cooked or packaged sliced chicken into bite-sized pieces. Toss chicken...cucumber...and bell pepper together in a large bowl; set aside. Place the sugar and the next 6 ingredients in a blender and process until smooth.Add peanut butter and water; process till smooth. Scrape sides. Add to bowl with chicken mixture;stir well. Add cilantro and toss. Warm tortillas according to package directions...or just use cold. Spoon 1/2 C chicken mixture into each tortilla and top each with 1/2 C lettuce; roll up like a burrito. If you elect to use lettuce leaves instead of tortillas--carefully roll the lettuce leaf around the chicken mix like a burrito without the extra lettuce topper. Serve with tall glasses of something cold!

Friday, April 5, 2013

Steak with Wine and Mushroom Sauce

Category: Main Dishes
Difficulty Rating: Medium
Not Very Healthy Atall

This is the answer to the question: "What would my husband like for dinner on his birthday?" Most men love steak. It sort of appeals to something deep and primative inside. My husband is almost half Viking in ancestry. The only thing better than eating meat on his birthday would be going out and pillaging a hapless village somewhere.

Something this rich and this good should be saved for special occasions. The sauce is a fabulous recipe by itself.  It can only be improved by one thing: a light sprinkle of blue cheese on the top. Ooooooo!

This makes a lot of sauce, so there will be enough to serve on top of 4 New York steaks if you have a larger group. Yield: 2 servings (with sauce leftover to freeze)


5 T unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
2 T extra-virgin olive oil
2 12-oz ribeye or New York steaks
Salt and pepper to taste (sea-salt or kosher salt is best, but not mandatory)
2 shallots, minced (or substitute 1/3 C minced yellow onion)
1 lb. cremini mushrooms, sliced
1 C red wine
1 C chicken stock
2 t corn starch mixed with 1T of water
2 T sherry
2 T chopped parsley and/or 2 t blue cheese

Heat skillet to a medium-high heat. Add 1 T butter, oil and shallots; cook for 1 minute. Add sliced mushrooms; cook, stirring, for 5 minutes. Add red wine; bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and cook until syrupy; 8-10 minutes. Add stock; reduce heat slightly and cook 4-5 minutes. Whisk in cornstarch mixture; bring to a boil. Add sherry; cook until thickened, 2-3 minutes. Remove from heat; whisk in remaining butter, herbs, salt and pepper. Grill or broil steaks until done to your taste.
Put on plates and pour sauce over the top then garnish with chopped parsley and/or 1/2 t crumbled blue cheese per steak. Serve with roasted or smashed potatoes!

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Lamb Chops with Cilantro-Mint Sauce

Category: Main Dish
Difficulty Rating: Easy

This recipe is so quick and good! It's got that lip-smacking tang that makes you want more and more. Common Sense Tips: Lamb is expensive...so be sure and  get the chops at your local Big Box Store in spring when they're almost reasonable. Also, you won't need more fresh ginger root than a piece the size of your thumb even if you double the recipe. DO double the sauce recipe and freeze some for later! You will want some for another night. My daughter found this--it's by Wolfgang Puck. Yield: 8 chops (serves 4)


 2 t minced fresh ginger
1/4 C packed fresh mint leaves
1/4 C packed fresh cilantro leaves
1 T honey
1/4 C rice wine vinegar
1/2 C canola or other mild vegetable oil
8 rib lamb chops--up to 3/4-inch thick--or regular lamb chops
Fresh mint and cilantro for garnish


In a food processor fitted with the metal blade combine all of the marinade ingredients and process until completely blended and smooth. Taste and adjust the seasonings accordingly.  Place the lamb chops in a re-sealable plastic bag and pour in 1/4 C of the marinade. Turn the lamb in the bag to coat it evenly. Close the bag and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes or up to 4 hours--turning once or twice. Refrigerate the remaining marinade to use as a sauce. Grill chops. Place lamb chops on serving plates and criss-cross the ends if you used rib chops. Spoon the remaining refrigerated sauce over the top and garnish with mint or cilantro leaves. Scrumptious!

Wedding Mac N' Cheese...

Catagory: Side Dish
Difficulty Rating: Medium-Hard (lots of pans)
Not Healthy At All!

Recently, I helped out at Lindsay Stover's wedding and had the best Macaroni and Cheese I have ever tasted. Pam, the caterer, served a variation of Wolfgang Puck's CUT steakhouse version. I couldn't stop eating it. There I was, supposed to be helping and I was EATING instead. After I recovered from my carbo high, I asked  Lindsay and her mom Cindy to ask for the recipe. Pam was nice enough to share it.

Well, I have to tell 'ya this recipe was a flop the first time I made it. Why? I just didn't have the right cheese combination. I had used a pricey Irish cheddar that was just ...too mild. I needed a fierce cheddar. My daughter (bless her) suggested Cracker Barrel Aged Cheddar in the black packaging.   If you use this cheese, unlike many gourmet Mac N' Cheese recipes, it's not horribly expensive. Hurray! I did add half cup of shredded mozzerella at the end to create a little more gooey instead of silky texture. I also used Panko instead of brioche bread crumbs...but you can use what you want!  Yield: 4- 5 servings of Mac N' Cheese. Double or quadruple this recipe to feed more people! Freezes well!


8 oz. elbow macaroni (you can also use a small-size penne or cavatappi)
3 T unsalted butter--plus more for greasing the baking dish
3 T all-purpose flour (or a gluten-free blend if you use GF pasta)
1 small bay leaf
1/2 medium white onion (sliced)
3 1/2 C whole milk
1 t sea salt or table salt (add more to adjust to taste after you add the cheese)
1 t. black pepper ( I used 1/2 t)
1 oz.Parmesan
10 oz. shredded Cracker Barrel Aged Cheddar (black label)
3 oz.shredded Gruyere
Optional:  1/2 C shredded mozzerella cheese (add at the last minute)
1 C Panko bread crumbs or brioche crumbs (smashed Saltine cracker crumbs work in a pinch)
Optional: Truffle oil


Preheat an oven to 375 degrees. In a large pot cook elbow or penne macaroni following directions on the package until al dente. While pasta is cooking use a  2 quart saucepan over medium heat to melt the 3 T butter. Stir in the flour until blended --about 1 minute. Add the bay leaf and sliced onion. Slowly whisk in the milk until smooth. Simmer whisking occasionally until the mixture starts to thicken for about 7 minutes. Remove the bay leaf and onion at this point--or you will be SORRY. Bay leaf  has a very strong taste! Simmer and whisk for another 7 minutes until mixture is as thick. Sauce should be creamy...not grainy. If it's grainy, throw it all out and do it again!  Whisk it more often on the second try.  Remove from the heat and stir in 3/4 C of the aged Cheddar, Gruyere and Parmesan until melted. Season with more salt and pepper to taste. At this point the pasta is probably done. Drain the water by putting it in a colander run cool water through it and set aside.

Put the drained macaroni back into the  pot you boiled it in... fold the cheese sauce into it then add the 1/2 C mozzarella if you decide you want to use it.  It's not good for the mozzerella to completely melt into the sauce like the other cheeses at this point. But if it does...it's OK. Transfer to a 9X12" or 1 qt. greased baking dish.  Sprinkle with Panko or brioche bread crumbs and remaining cheddar cheese. Drizzle (optional) truffle oil over the top. Bake until the crumbs are golden and the cheese is bubbly--about 30 minutes. Let stand for 10 minutes before serving. 

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Chicken Pot Pie with Butternut Squash

Category: Main Dish
Difficulty Rating: Medium-Hard
Somewhat Healthy--lots of vegies

It seems everyone is eating more vegetables these days.  However, making some (especially pint-sized)) people eat vegies is hard. Try this recipe. Your persnickety eaters will love it.  And if you ever want to show off for your mother-in-law, or treat your favorite friends with a luncheon, make this. It's pretty! Adapted from a 2013 Bon Apetit magazine recipe "Skillet Chicken Pot Pie With Butternut Squash".  Yield: 4 servings--260-300 calories each.


1/4 C olive oil
1/2 onion, chopped
4 garlic cloves, chopped fine
3 heaping t. Herbs De Provence
1 small bunch kale, center ribs and stems removed
1/4 C all-purpose flour
3 C low-sodium chicken broth
1/2 rotisserie chicken, meat torn into bite-size pieces
3/4 C frozen peas, defrosted 
1 sheet frozen puff pastry, thawed (such as Pepperidge Farm...god bless 'em)
1 large egg
salt and pepper

Place a rack in the upper third of oven; preheat to 425 degrees. Heat oil in an 8" heavy skillet over medium/high heat. Add onions; cook stirring occasionally until they start to brown. Reduce heat to medium-low. Add garlic to skillet and cook just until garlic begins to brown. Add kale and season with salt and pepper. Cook, tossing often, until wilted, about 4 minutes. Sprinkle flour over all. Cook, stirring occasionally,4 minutes.

Stir in broth--1/2 C at a time. Add squash. Bring to a boil. Reduce and simmer until is just softened and broth is thickened--8-10 minutes. Add chicken and defrosted peas to skillet and season to taste with salt and pepper. YUM! It's fine to serve this creamy chicken and vegies over rice and stop here if you like, but topping it with a puff-paste crust  makes it really special...

Crust: Fill 4 greased ramikens or one large greased soufflĂ© dish with chicken mixture.  Unfold pastry and smooth any creases. Cut out squares that will fit on top of whatever baking dishes you are using. The squares should be large enough that the corners will hang over the sides of the dish(s). Whisk egg with 1 tsp. water in a small bowl. Brush pastry with egg wash and cut 4 small slits with a sharp knife in the top to vent. Bake until pastry is beginning to brown 15-20 minutes. Then reduce temperature to 375 degrees and bake until pastry is brown and crisp about 15-20 minutes longer. Let cool 10 minutes before serving. This is also fine made a day ahead--saving the baking for just before dinner.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Italian Sausage and White Bean Stew

Category: Main Dish
Difficulty Rating: Easy
Healthy if you use chicken Italian sausage

I thought I was done blogging...but then I tried this recipe. It was just too darn good not to include in my collection. Adapted from a 2013 Bon Apetit issue it will knock your winter socks off your cold little feet. Double the recipe and freeze some!It can be made with Chorizo if you like a spicy sausage--but personally I prefer a really good Italian. Common Sense Tip: get a good chicken Italian sausage at your local specialty store (like WholeFoods).  Yield: 4 servings


2 T. olive oil
1 lb. fresh chicken Italian or Chorizo sausage links
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
4 garlic cloves,minced
1/4 t. dried thyme
2 15 oz. cans white kidney beans
2 C low-sodium chicken broth
Salt (kosher or sea-salt is best) and pepper to taste
5 oz. baby spinach (about 10 cups)
Smoked paprika (optional)


Heat 1 T oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add sausage and cook whole. Cook until browned and cooked through. Transfer to a paper towel on a plate to drain. Note: you can use blobs of sausage that is not in links. It's often less expensive.

Reduce heat to medium. Heat remaining 1 T oil in the same skillet. Add onion garlic and thyme. Cook until onion is softened 5-8 minutes. Add beans and broth and cook. Crush a few of the beans as you go to help thicken the sauce as you stir. Season with salt and pepper. Add spinach  by handfuls and cook just until wilted.  Slice sausage and fold it into stew. Add water to thin if needed. Divide stew among bowls and sprinkle with a bit of smoked paprika if desired.