In the mood for simple dessert ideas

I love to bake.  But there are many times when I need, or want, to produce a dessert and can’t find the time to bake from scratch.  That doesn’t mean that I want to settle for less.  Here are three impressive desserts that you can pull off in short order with a box of brownie mix and a mini muffin tin.

 Chocolate Raspberry Bites

Makes 20-24
1 box high quality fudge style brownie mix (I use Ghirardelli) plus whatever ingredients are called for on the box.
1 cup heavy or whipping cream
1 tablespoon confectioners sugar
1 pint fresh raspberries

Preheat oven to 325 degrees
Prepare a mini muffin tin by spraying with nonstick cooking spray.  Mix brownies according to the package directions.  Carefully fill the mini muffin tins about 2/3 of the way to the top.  Use a wet paper towel to remove any dribbles that might burn on the outside of the pan.  Bake 10-20 minutes.  Baking time with depend on the size of your particular muffin tin, as they vary.  Look for the tops to be shiny and crackly, and remove them from the oven when the center is just set.  It is important not to over cook in order to maintain that fudgy quality.  Cool for 10 minutes then remove from the pan and cool completely.  Meanwhile, whip the heavy cream with the confectioners sugar  until it makes soft peaks.  When the brownie bites are completely cool, garnish each with a generous dollop of whipped cream and a big, fat, juicy raspberry.





Mini Chocolate Fudge Sundae Tarts

See the above recipe for method to make the brownie bites.  When they are completely cool, cut each one in half and fill with a tablespoon of your favorite vanilla ice cream.  A metal tablespoon works really well as a mini ice cream scoop.  Press on the top gently to help the ice cream settle into place.  If you are not serving them right away, you can place them in the freezer at this point. Keep in mind, however, that if you leave them in for more than an hour, the frozen brownies will make the dessert more difficult to cut with a fork or spoon.  When it is dessert time, drizzle the little ice cream cakes with chocolate sauce, lightly sweetened whipped cream (see above) and a sprinkle of sweet cocoa powder.

Peanutty Fudge Cups with Pretzel Streusel

See first recipe of this post for method to make brownie bites.  While they are cooling, stir together 1 cup smooth peanut butter, 2 cups confectioners sugar, and 4 tablespoons heavy cream.  Whisk thoroughly, adding more cream teaspoon by teaspoon if necessary to get the consistency of a thick, yet spreadable frosting.  Frost the  brownie bites and sprinkle heavily with crushed salted pretzels.  (a zip lock bag and a rolling pin make for easy pretzel crushing)

In the mood for quick-grilling chicken

I love how quick and easy it is to grill boneless, skinless chicken breasts.   Marinades and basting sauces can take care of any problems that you might have had in the past with bland or dried out grilled chicken.  These three recipes take a little prep work but it can all be done hours in advance.  Then the actual grilling time is very short…perfect for summer evenings.
Grilled Peanut Chicken Kabobs
This recipe is adapted from a book that I found, about 20 years ago, in Crate and Barrel.  It was part of a display for  the summer grilling season and it has been my grilling bible ever since.  It is called Grill Book, New Foods and Flavors for the Grill.
1/2 cup chunky peanut butter
1/2 cup peanut oil
1/4 cup white wine vinegar
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
4 garlic cloves, minced
8 cilantro sprigs, minced
1-2 teaspoons dried red pepper flakes
2 teaspoons chopped fresh ginger

6 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, trimmed and cut into bite sized pieces

Combine first nine ingredients in a blender or food processor.  Blend well to emulsify, adding a few drops of water if the mixture is too thick.  Mix the marinade and the chicken pieces and stir well to coat evenly.  Cover and let marinate in the refrigerator at least 4 hours and preferably overnight.  Thread chicken onto metal skewers and grill over a medium hot heat for 8-10 minutes.  It is best to let the chicken brown well on one side before you try and turn the skewers.  The marinade forms a nice crust that makes it easier to release them from the grill.  Then you can turn them several more times to grill all sides easily.  Serves 4-5

Grilled Lemon Chicken with Thyme Gremolata

(Serves 8)
This is a combination of two recipes.  Does that make it my own?  Not sure… so let me give credit.  The marinade is Ina Garten’s and the Thyme Gremolata is from a recipe in Gourmet magazine in June of 1995.  Everyone loves this chicken.  For children, I sometimes remove the lemon slices, after they have had a chance to sit for a bit to add flavor, and slice the chicken up to serve.  But don’t skip any of the toppings…they are what make this recipe special.
8-10 boneless, skinless, chicken breasts
3/4 cup fresh lemon juice
3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves, or 1/2 teaspoon dried
For gremolata:
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
2 large garlic cloves, finely minced
1 teaspoon finely grated fresh lemon zest
paper-thin lemon slices
Prepare the chicken breasts by trimming away all visible fat and pounding them to an even thickness so that they will grill evenly.  In a bowl, whisk together the lemon juice, olive oil, salt, pepper and thyme.  Marinate the chicken for 4-6 hours.  Prepare gremolata by chopping the thyme leaves, garlic and lemon zest together until you have a very finely minced mixture.  Set aside.  Have the paper thin lemon slices ready as well.
Before grilling the chicken, I recommend removing it from the marinade and using a paper towel to remove excess marinade.  This will help minimize any flare ups on the grill.  Grill the chicken over medium high heat until golden brown on both sides.  Place hot chicken breasts on a serving platter and immediately place 2-3 lemon slices on each breast.  Sprinkle generously with the gremolata and cover the whole platter with aluminum foil and let rest for about 5 minutes to let the flavors melt into the chicken. Serve warm.

Grilled Chicken with Lemon Basil Dressing

 This chicken gets a double dose of flavor from the yogurt marinade and the lemon dressing.  It is based on a Cooks Country recipe for Grilled Chicken Kabobs that was published in June, 2006.  That is  a wonderful kabob recipe (with red onion and red bell peppers) but sometimes I want something quicker and simpler so this is how I do it.
For the marinade:
1/2 cup plain yogurt
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon minced fresh garlic
2 teaspoons dried thyme
2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
6 boneless skinless chicken breasts, trimmed and pounded to an even thickness
For the dressing:
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
Whisk together all marinade ingredients.  Add chicken and marinate 4-6 hours.  Whisk together the dressing ingredients and set aside.
Grill chicken over high heat until nicely browned and just cooked through, about 3 minutes per side depending on their size.  Transfer to serving platter and brush with the lemon basil dressing.  Sometimes I serve these whole but often, I slice the chicken and drizzle with the dressing as seen below.

In the mood for Zucchini!

Three reasons to look forward to an abundance of 
garden-fresh zucchini this summer.


Grilled Zucchini with Parmesan and Basil

Not really a recipe…but probably my favorite way to enjoy in-season, local zucchini.
Wash and trim zucchini and cut into 1/4 inch slices.  I like to cut them on the diagonal in order to create larger slices that will be easier to grill.  Place zucchini slices in a bowl and drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and a squeeze of fresh lemon juice.   Sprinkle with salt and coarse ground black pepper and toss to coat.  Grill over high heat…just 1-2 minutes per side.  I find that by the time I finish getting the zucchini situated on the grill, it is time to turn the first ones.  So while the grilling is labor intensive, it only lasts a few minutes.  Have your serving platter next to the grill so you can place the slices, slightly overlapping, directly on it.  Garnish the zucchini with fresh basil and shaved Parmesan.  (a vegetable peeler works nicely for the Parmesan).  Season with additional salt and pepper if necessary.  Serve hot off the grill or at room temperature.

Sauteed Zucchini with Red Onion, Dill, and Aged Gouda

(serves 4-6)
This recipe is from Smith and Hawkins’ Gardeners Community Cookbook and is attributed to Joan Holmes, from Westminster, MD.  These flavors work perfectly together and I can make a whole meal of this dish.  I’ve changed the cooking technique just a bit from the original recipe because I like to cook onions slowly, over low heat,  and zucchini quickly, over high heat.  So my way, you get sweet caramelized onions and crisp tender zucchini. 
1/4 cup olive oil
1 large red onion, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon thinly sliced garlic
6 medium zucchini, sliced 1/4 inch thick
1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
3 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
1 1/2 cups grated aged  Gouda cheese
Preheat the broiler.
Heat half of the oil in a large skillet.  Add the onions and garlic and saute over medium low heat until they are soft and just beginning to caramelize.  Remove from pan and set aside.  Add remaining oil to the skillet and raise the heat to high.  Add the zucchini and saute until crisp tender.  Remove from the heat and add the reserved onion mixture, dill, salt, pepper, and Parmesan.  Toss gently to distribute the ingredients then transfer everything to a broiler safe gratin dish.  Sprinkle the Gouda over the top and place under the broiler until the cheese melts and turns slightly golden, about 4 minutes.  Serve right away.
This next recipe is so light and fresh and wonderful.  Now, I’ll admit, I’ve come late to the eating raw squash camp.  Probably encountered too many raw squashes on tired crudite platters.  But one day, at the Whole Foods salad bar, I discovered that if fresh, sweet, raw squash has a chance to marinate in a tasty vinaigrette for a bit, it turns into a wonderful thing.  That is why I decided to try this recipe from Bon Appetite this Spring and I was not disappointed.  I did not make my own ricotta although I plan to try that soon.

Zucchini Carpaccio with Homemade Ricotta Cheese

    Bon Appétit | April 2010

by Sisi and Wil Carroll
This beautiful side dish looks complicated but is very easy to assemble. If you don’t have time to make your own ricotta, buy high-quality fresh ricotta.

Yield: 10 servings


5 medium zucchini, trimmed
Coarse kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
2 green onions, thinly sliced
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Homemade Ricotta Cheese
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil


Using knife or V-slicer, cut zucchini into paper-thin rounds. Arrange rounds, slightly overlapping, on large platter. Sprinkle lightly with coarse salt and pepper, then green onions. Whisk lemon juice and oil in small bowl. Drizzle dressing evenly over zucchini. Drop small spoonfuls of cheese all over zucchini. Sprinkle with basil and serve.

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Zucchini baby!

In the mood for Blueberries!


Remember the book, Blueberries for Sal, by Robert McCloskey? “Little Sal picked three berries and dropped them in her little tin pail…kuplink, kuplank, kuplunk! She picked three more berries and ate them. Then she picked more berries and dropped one in the pail – kuplunk! And the rest she ate.” Well, that’s obviously the best way to enjoy fresh blueberries. But here are the three that tie for second place.

Blueberry Scones with Lemon Glaze

(makes 8 large or 16 small scones)

This is basically Tyler Florence’s recipe from his book Real Kitchen. I’ve made these so many times that I have just tweaked the mixing and shaping method a little bit and simplified the glaze. Once you get the hang of it, you can whip these up in just 15 minutes or so.

2 cups all purpose flour, plus more for dusting
1 tablespoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons sugar
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, cold, cut into chunks
1 cup fresh blueberries
1 cup heavy cream
2 cups confectioners’ sugar
a couple of tablespoons fresh lemon juice

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Sift together flour, baking powder, sugar and salt. Using 2 forks, or a pastry knife, or even your fingers, cut the butter into the flour mixture until it looks like coarse crumbs.
Add the blueberries and toss gently distribute them. Make a well in the center of the mixture and add the cream. Now gently fold everything together to incorporate. This is important: don’t overwork the dough or crush the blueberries. You are just trying to moisten the flour mixture so that it will hold together a bit. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Gently press dough into an 8-inch square. Don’t be concerned if the dough is barely holding together. Use a large knife to cut the square into four smaller squares. Cut each of these on the diagonal, either once or twice, depending on whether you want 8 large or 16 small scones. Transfer to a parchment paper lined baking sheet and bake for 15-20 minutes until golden brown. Let cool for a bit before you apply the glaze…otherwise it will just melt off.

For the glaze: sift confectioners sugar into medium bowl and whisk in lemon juice a bit at a time until you get a nice consistency that you can use to drizzle over the scones. (A fork works nicely for glazing.) Let the glaze dry for a few minutes before serving.


Photo shoot supervisor!

Little Lemon-Blueberry Tarts

(makes 24)

IMG_7920This is my own fancied up version of the Lemon Ice Box Pie that I grew up with in Mississippi.

1 package Pepperidge Farm Chessmen Shortbread cookies
3 Tablespoons melted butter
1 can sweetened condensed milk
2 large egg yolks
4-5 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice
I cup heavy cream
1 Tablespoon confectioner’s sugar
72 big fat juicy fresh blueberries
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.To make the crusts: You will need a nonstick 24 count mini muffin pan. These come in several different shapes and sizes. I prefer the more wider and more shallow muffin tins but this recipe will work with whatever shaped pan you have. (However, a nonstick pan is a must.) Process shortbread cookies and melted butter in Cuisinart until finely ground. Press about one heaping teaspoon into each mini muffin well, (amount may vary based on the shape of your muffin tins) making sure to cover the bottom and bringing the crumbs at least halfway up the sides. You can use your fingers for this or the bottom of a little shot glass can help speed up this step.

For the filling: Whisk together the sweetened condensed milk, the egg yolks and 4 Tablespoons of the lemon juice. Taste and add extra lemon juice if needed. Stir well. Fill tart shells with filling. Once again, the exact amount for each tart will vary depending on the size of your muffin tin. Just make sure that the filling just barely reaches the top of your crumb crusts. Bake for approximately 10 minutes. Look for the filling to be a bit puffed up and obviously hot throughout, but you are not waiting for the tops to be browned. Cool tarts for 15 minutes then put the whole pan, uncovered, into the refrigerator to cool thoroughly for several hours.

Whip the cream and the confectioners sugar until it can hold a gentle peak. Wash and dry the blueberries.

When the tarts are completely cold, use a little sharp knife to release the edges of each tart and then reach down with the tip of the knife to gently pop each tart out. Arrange tarts on a serving platter and finish each with a good dollop of whipped cream and three perfect blueberries.


Blueberry Buckle

(Serves 6)








This recipe is from Pure Flavor, by Kurt Beecher Dammeier. It is wonderfully moist coffee cake….perfect for breakfast, brunch or after school snack. You can store it in the fridge and warm slices in the microwave for 20-30 seconds.

1/3 cup all purpose flour
1/3 cup sugar
¼ teaspoon grated lemon zest
pinch of table salt
3 tablespoons cold unsalted butter


8 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
¾ cup sugar
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
½ teaspoon grated lemon zest
1 large egg
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoons table salt

2 cups fresh blueberries, (only if in season) or frozen blueberries

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9-inch round baking pan.

Make the topping by combining the flour, sugar, lemon zest, and salt in a small bowl. Using a fork, cut the butter until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs, Set aside.
To make the buckle, use a hand held mixer or a stand mixer with the flat beater attachment. Beat the butter and sugar on medium speed until fluffy, scraping the bowl once or twice while mixing. Blend in the vanilla and lemon zest. Add the egg and mix on medium speed to combine, scraping the bowl once.
In a separate bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, and salt.
Add the milk and the flour mixture alternately to the butter mixture, beating until smooth on medium to low speed after each addition. Pour the batter in to the prepared pan, top with the blueberries, and sprinkle with the topping.
Bake for 45 to 55 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean when inserted in the middle of the buckle.

The buckle will keep covered in the refrigerator for up to 2 days. You can also wrap it in plastic wrap and freeze it for up to 1 month.