In the mood for Cupcakes!

Cupcakes are everywhere these days and I don’t have to wonder why.  They are fun to make, fun to serve and eat, and so much less intimidating than a whole cake.  When I have time to make cupcakes here at home, I want them to be something a little special.  And it doesn’t have to be hard…just a couple of extra steps and as you will see it is definitely worth the effort.  What do these three have in common?  They are all about the cake, instead of the frosting, which is how we like it around here.  But they also each have a sweet surprise on the inside!


Boston Cream Pie Cupcakes

Tender yellow cake, sweet pastry cream and a quick chocolate ganache and you have the cupcake version of Boston Cream Pie…which is actually a cake, by the way.  After several test runs (all happily devoured) I have settled on the cupcake and the glaze recipes from Gail Gand in her book, Chocolate and Vanilla.  For the pastry cream, I use the recipe from Cooks Country, published in the June 2006 issue.
Makes 12 cupcakes.
Make the pastry cream:
1 1/3 cups heavy cream
3 large egg yolks
1/3 cup sugar
pinch of table salt
1 tablespoon cornstarch plus 1 additional teaspoon
2 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into 2 pieces
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Heat cream in a medium saucepan over medium heat until simmering,  stirring occasionally.  Meanwhile, whisk egg yolks, sugar and salt together in a medium bowl.  Add cornstarch and whisk until mixture is pale yellow and thick, about 15 seconds.
When cream reaches full simmer, slowly whisk it into yolk mixture. (Pour cream slowly and whisk quickly or you might end up with scrambled eggs!) Return mixture to saucepan and cook over medium heat, whisking constantly, until thick and glossy, about 1 1/2 minutes.  Off heat, whisk in butter and vanilla.  Transfer pastry cream to a small bowl, press plastic wrap directly on surface, and refrigerate until cold and set, at least 2 hours or up to 2 days.
Make the cupcakes:
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 large eggs
1 1/2 cups sifted cake flour
1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup whole milk
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line a 12-cup muffin tin with paper cupcake liners.
In a mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the butter on medium speed until light and fluffy, 3-5 minutes.  Add the sugar and continue to whip.  Add the vanilla and gradually mix in the eggs, one by one until well combined.  Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt.  Add the dry ingredients to the butter mixture in 3 batches, alternating with the milk and ending with the dry ingredients.
Pour batter into the prepared pan, filling each slot three quarters full.  Bake for 20-25 minutes, until the cupcakes are puffed, firm in the center and light golden brown on top.  Let cool in the pan on a cooling rack.
To fill the cupcakes, use a small paring knife to remove a plug of cake from the top center of each cake and set the plugs aside.  Spoon a heaping tablespoon of pastry cream into the cavities.  Trim each plug so that it is now a flat coin.  Replace the cake coin on top of the custard  and chill for 30 minutes.
Make the glaze:
1 cup heavy cream
8 ounces semi sweet chocolate, chopped
Heat the cream in a saucepan or in the microwave until almost oiling.  Meanwhile place the chocolate in a medium bowl.  Pour the hot cream over the chopped chocolate and whisk until melted.
Dip the chilled cupcakes in the warm chocolate glaze to coat the top.  Refrigerate until serving.
A peek inside…

Strawberry Shortcake Cupcakes

Inspired by a recipe in the book Cupcakes, by Joanna Farrow, but I had to look further for a really great white cake batter.  I found it in The Best Bake Sale Cookbook, Ever, by Barbara Grunes.   I’ll be using it as my “go to” white cake mix from now on.  No icing here…just freshly whipped cream and beautiful strawberries.
This will make 24 cupcakes.
For the cupcake batter
3 cups cake flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
6 egg whites
2 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup buttercup
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line 2 12-cup muffin tins with paper liners.
Sift together flour, caking soda and salt.  Set aside
In a large bowl, with an electric mixer, beat the egg whites until foamy.  Sprinkle with 1/2 cup of the sugar and the cream of tartar, and beat  until stiff, glossy peaks form.  Set aside.
In another large bowl,  using the electric mixer, cream the butter and the remaining 1 1/2 cup sugar until light, about 2-3 minutes.  Beat in the flour mixture alternately with the buttermilk.  Beat in the vanilla.   With a spatula or large wooden spoon, fold in the egg whites.
Fill each cupcake tin about three-fourths of the way to the top.  Bake until tops are just firm and edges are starting to turn golden, 18 to 20 minutes.   Let cool completely on a wire rack.
For the filling:
2 cups heavy cream
3 tablespoons confectioners sugar
6 tablespoons red current jelly
16 ounces small strawberries
Whip the cream with the sugar until it holds soft peaks.  Set aside 6 of the smallest strawberries and slice them in half for the center of the cupcakes.  Thinly slice the remaining strawberries.  Prepare the cooled cupcakes by removing a plug from the center of each cake.  (You won’t need these again so nibble away!)  Fill the cavity with a couple of spoonfuls of whipped cream and let it spill out onto the top of the cupcake.  Flatten a bit with the back of a spoon.  Arrange the sliced strawberries around the center of the cupcake, overlapping slightly.  Then place a strawberry half in the center of each cake.  Heat the red current jelly in a small saucepan with 2 tablespoons water until melted then brush over the strawberries gently to form a light glaze.  (a silicone pastry brush works really well for delicate glazing)  Store the cakes in a cool place until ready to serve.

“So Much Better Than Hostess” Chocolate Cupcakes

What can I say?? Of course it is easier to run in the gas station and pick up a two pack of those chocolate marshmallow cupcakes we ate when we were kids.  But trust me…they don’t compare.  I would like to invite my nephews, who ate these exact cupcakes this summer at the farm to comment below.  Thanks guys!
Makes 12 cupcakes
1 cup all-purpose flour 
1/2 teaspoon baking soda 
1/4 teaspoon Salt 
1/2 cup boiling water 
1/3 cup cocoa powder 
1/3 cup semisweet chocolate chips 
1 tablespoon instant espresso 
3/4 cup sugar 
1/2 cup sour cream 
1/2 cup vegetable oil 
2 large eggs 
1 teaspoon vanilla extract 
3 tablespoons water 
3/4 teaspoon unflavored gelatin 
4 tablespoon (1/2 stick) unsalted butter , softened
Pinch salt 
1 1/4 cups marshmallow créme (Fluff, or Kraft Jet Puffed Creme)
1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips 
3 tablespoons unsalted butter 

1. MAKE BATTER Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 325 degrees. Grease and flour 12-cup muffin tin. Combine flour, baking soda, and salt in bowl. Whisk water, cocoa, chocolate chips, and espresso in large bowl until smooth. Add sugar, sour cream, oil, eggs, and vanilla and mix until combined. Whisk in flour mixture until incorporated. Divide batter evenly among muffin cups. Bake until toothpick inserted into cupcake comes out with few dry crumbs attached, 18 to 22 minutes. Cool -cupcakes in tin 10 minutes, then turn out onto wire rack and cool completely.

2. PREPARE FILLING Combine water and gelatin in large bowl and let sit until gelatin softens, about 5 minutes. Microwave until mixture is bubbling around edges and gelatin dissolves, about 30 seconds. Stir in butter, vanilla, and salt until combined. Let mixture cool until just warm to touch, about 5 minutes, then whisk in marshmallow creme until smooth; refrigerate until set, about 30 minutes. Transfer 1/3 cup marshmallow mixture to pastry bag fitted with small plain tip; reserve remaining mixture for filling cupcakes.

3. ASSEMBLE CUPCAKES Microwave chocolate and butter in small bowl, stirring occasionally, until smooth, about 30 seconds. Cool glaze to room temperature, about 10 minutes. Cut a deep cone from top of each cupcake (see note below) and fill cupcakes with 1 tablespoon filling each. Replace tops, frost with 2 teaspoons cooled glaze, and let sit 10 minutes. Using pastry bag, pipe curlicues across glazed cupcakes. Serve. (Cupcakes can be stored in airtight container at room temperature for 2 days.) 

note:  To fill the cupcake:  Insert a small paring knife into the top of the cupcake, about 1/4 inch from the edge at a 45 degree angle and work your way around to carve out a cone of cake.  Remove the cone, cut off the bottom of the cone, leaving you with a flat disk.  Fill the cupcake and replace the disk.

In the mood for Peaches!

Peaches are one of those fruits that I would never, ever buy out of season.  Sometimes I wish that I could  find the discipline to buy and eat only local, in season products as Barbara Kingsolver did, and then documented, in her book, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle.  I was fascinated by her year-long challenge and adventure.  But quite frankly, I can’t imagine never eating a banana or pineapple, nor could I bear going all winter with only canned or frozen vegetables and fruits.  But it is an interesting concept and one that I try to keep in mind as I choose produce.  Back to the peaches…knowing that the season is short makes us appreciate them all the more.   Here are three peach recipes that we are enjoying this summer.

Peach Crostata

Now, I’ve made pies and tarts, crisps, crumbles and cobblers….but this is the first time that I have made a crostata.  No particular reason, just never got around to it.  Well, I’m here to tell you that I may never make another proper fruit pie.  This crostata, or free form tart, couldn’t be easier and I just loved the way that the kids would slice off a wedge and carry on their way, no plate, fork or napkin.  Such a casual, fun little pie.  Of course, you could always dress it up for company with a lovely scoop of vanilla ice cream and a sprig of fresh mint.  This recipe is adapted from Frank Stitt’s Southern Table.
(makes 2 small crostatas that will serve 4-6 each)
For the dough:
2 cups unbleached all purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 1/4 sticks unsalted butter, cup into 1/2 inch cubes and chilled
1/4 cup ice water
For the filling:
1/4 cup unbleached all purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
4 tablespoons cold unsalted butter
2 1/2 pounds ripe peaches, pitted, peeled and sliced into 3/4 inch thick wedges
1 large egg yolk, beaten with 1 teaspoon heavy cream, for an egg wash
1 tablespoon coarse or granulated sugar for topping
To prepare the dough, combine the flour, sugar, and salt in a food processor and pulse a few times to blend.  Add the butter and pulse until it is the size of small peas, about 15 times.  With the processor running, add the ice water and process for about 10 seconds.  Stop the processor before the dough comes together.  Turn the dough out onto a sheet of waxed paper, divide the dough in half, and shape it into two disks.  Wrap them in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.
Meanwhile, for the filling, combine the flour and sugar in a small bowl. Add the butter and cut the mixture together with a pastry knife or two table knives until the mixture resembles coarse meal.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Roll each disk of dough into an 11 inch circle on a lightly floured surface.  Transfer to a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.  Place the peaches in the center of the dough circles on the baking sheet and top with the butter sugar mixture.  Begin draping the edges up and over, forming about three pleats.  crimp the pleats and press down to seal.  Brush the pastries with egg wash and sprinkle with the coarse sugar.
Bake the tarts for about 25 minutes or until golden brown.  let cool on a rack and serve warm or room temperature.

Fresh Peach Bellini

Mmm…fresh squeezed peach juice and Prosecco.  This is a refreshing cocktail that is perfect for late summer parties.  Harry’s Bar in Venice is the supposed creator of the peach Bellini.  But theirs is made of  white peach puree and is quite overpriced, if I remember correctly.  This is another recipe from Frank Stitt, a chef and restaurateur from Birmingham Alabama.  Not surprising that a southern chef would know what to do with peaches!
8 very ripe peaches
1 ounce simple syrup ( 1 cup sugar and 2 cups water, simmered for 2 minutes to dissolve. Cool.)
fresh lemon juice to taste
1 bottle prosecco, well chilled
Wash the peaches.  Set a colander over a large bowl and , with clean hands, squeeze the whole peaches one at a time over the strainer to extract every bit of juice possible.  You will need 3/4 cup juice.  Add simple syrup and lemon juice to taste…depending on the ripeness of the peaches, you may need a little more syrup…and whisk to combine.  Refrigerate the peach juice mixture until will chilled.  In a large cocktail shaker or pitcher, combine the peach juice mixture with half of the prosecco.  Let the foam settle and add the remaining prosecco.  Stir and serve.
note:  From my experience making this wonderful drink, you really need very ripe, never been refrigerated, peaches to be able to juice them in the way described.  These photos were taken on a day when the farmers market peaches that I had were just perfect for juicing.  A subsequent time, I had peaches from the grocery that advertised to be local but although ripe, they just wouldn’t release their juice so I ended up peeling and pureeing them to make the Bellini.  While the taste was still very nice, the drink had a thicker consistency so not as light and refreshing.
Fresh Peaches with Whipped Cream and a                 Balsamic Caramel Sauce


If a dessert could be fresh and light, and luxurious and decadent at the same time, this would be it.  And I am already counting up the ways that I will use this caramel recipe this fall and winter. I found this special dessert in At Home with Michael Chiarello.

2 1/2 cups heavy cream
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
3 tablespoons water
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

8 large ripe peaches, halved, pitted, peeled if desired, and cut into 1/2 inch wide wedges
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

Pour 1 cup cream into a small saucepan, bring to a boil over high heat, and then reduce the heat to low to keep the cream hot.

In a large, deep, heavy saucepan, combine 1 cup of the sugar with 3 tablespoons of the water and place over medium high heat.  Heat the mixture, tilting and swirling the pan in a circular motion every now and again, until the sugar dissolves.  As the sugar mixture begins to bubble, watch for crystals developing on the inside of the pan just above the liquid.  Using a pastry brush dipped in water, brush the inside of the pan right above the crystals, so the water drips down and dissolves the crystals back into the liquid.  When the sugar begins to brown, occasionally move the pan to swirl the liquid gently and cook it evenly.  Continue to cook, without stirring, until the mixture is a dark golden brown.  The total cooking time will be 12 to 15 minutes.  Remove the pan from the heat.

Very carefully, add the hot cream to the sugar mixture a few tablespoons at a time.  The liquid will bubble up dramatically, so watch for spatters.  Stir the sauce, place over medium heat, and cook for 1 minute.  Pour into a heatproof bowl and add the vinegar and 1/4 teaspoon of the salt and mix well.  You should have a bout 1 1/4 cups sauce.  You will only need 1/2 cup for this recipe; cover and reserve the remainder for another use.

Put the peaches in a bowl.  Add the lemon juice and the remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt and toss lightly to coat evenly.  Divide the peaches evenly among individual glass bowls.  Cover and refrigerator to chill the fruit.

In a bowl, using a mixer or a whisk, whip the remaining 1 1/2 cups cream with the remaining 2 tablespoons sugar until stiff peaks form.  Cover and refrigerate until serving.

To serve, plop a spoonful of whipped cream into each bowl of peaches.  Drizzle 1 tablespoon of the  sauce over each bowl.  Serves 8


In the mood for Cinnamon!

10 reasons to eat cinnamon

(according to the website,

1.  It can help lower cholesterol
2.  It can help regulate blood sugar
3.  It can relieve arthritis
4.  It is a natural food preservative
5.  It can boost cognitive function and memory
6.  It has an anti clotting effect.
7.  It can cure yeast infections.
8.  It can fight e coli infection.
9.  It has been shown to fight leukemia and lymphoma cancer cells.
10.  It is a good source of manganese, fiber, iron and calcium.
OK OK, I know that in the recipes below, I have mixed this miracle spice with a lot of other ingredients that may counteract some of these benefits but I prefer to focus on the positive and eat cinnamon as much as possible.

Cinnamon Baked Fruit

This brilliant dessert is a bit like a cobbler. 
The ginger cookies not only made it quick and easy, they, along with the cinnamon, give it an amazing aroma and flavor.  Use the thick crunchy ginger cookies, not the super thin type.  Any fruit that bakes well would work in this recipe.  It was inspired by one published in the UK magazine, Delicious.
3 ripe peaches, roughly chopped
1 banana, roughly chopped
1 cup fresh cherries, pitted and quartered
3/4 cup coarsely broken ginger cookies, plus 2-3 more cookies finely crushed for garnish
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
2 tablespoons light brown sugar
butter for coating the baking dishes
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Place the fruit, ginger cookies, cinnamon and sugar in a bowl and mix together gently.  Butter 4 shallow baking dishes lightly, divide the fruit mixture among them and bake for 10-12 minutes, or until fruit is bubbling around the edges.  Cool slightly and serve warm with vanilla ice cream, dusted with cinnamon and a sprinkle of finely crushed ginger cookies.  

Cinnamon Scones

This is probably my most requested recipe and yet I hesitate to post it.  Not because it is a closely guarded secret but rather because the cinnamon chips have recently become so darned hard to find.  I use the Hershey’s Cinnamon Chips and in the last year or two they have disappeared from the shelves.  You can order them online, of course, or there is a similar product available on the King Arthur Baking website.  Otherwise, keep yours eyes open…I found them this week at Sunset Foods in Lake Forest, IL.  
2 cups all purpose flour
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
5 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1 1/2 cups cinnamon chips
1 cup heavy cream
For glaze:  whisk together 1 cup powdered sugar with a light sprinkle of cinnamon and just enough milk (it will only take a tablespoon or two) to get a consistency that you can drizzle with a fork. 

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
In a large mixing bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder and salt.  Cut in the cutter with a pastry knife until mixture looks like coarse crumbs.  (alternately, you can mix the butter into the dry ingredients with your fingers)  Stir in the cinnamon chips and make a well in the center.  Stir in the heavy cream just until dry ingredients are moistened.  Take care not to overwork the dough and resist the urge to add more cream…it is OK if the dough is crumbly.  On a lightly floured surface, gently pat the dough into a rectangle about 12 by 3 inches.  Cut the rectangle in half, then cut those pieces in half again, which will give you 4 squares.  Cut each square twice diagonally to get 4 triangles from each.  Place on a parchment lined baking sheet and bake for 15 minutes or so, until edges are just turning golden.  Cool on a wire rack and use a table fork to glaze with confectioners sugar glaze.  Let glaze dry and serve.


One of my children once said, “It’s hard to be in a bad mood when there are Snickerdoodles in the house!” Like the best sugar cookie but with so much more personality.  I don’t usually like to cook with shortening but I make an exception for these cookies…it’s for the texture…crisp yet chewy.  This is a recipe from Baking Illustrated.  Hints for getting the best results: use parchment paper, try to make the cookies uniform in size, bake until just starting to brown around the edged and no more… the centers will be soft and puffy but will collapse back down and set as they are cooling.

2¼ cups (11¼ ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons cream of tartar
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
12 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened but still cool
¼ cup vegetable shortening
1½ cups (10½ ounces) granulated sugar, plus 3 tablespoons for rolling dough
2 large eggs
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon, for rolling dough
Adjust oven racks to upper- and lower-middle positions.  Preheat the oven to 400ºF.  Line baking sheets with parchment paper.  In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cream of tartar, baking soda and salt; set aside.  In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter, shortening and 1½ cups sugar on medium speed until well combined, 1 to 1½ minutes.  Scrape down the sides of the bowl, add the eggs, and beat again until combined, about 30 seconds.  Add in the dry ingredients and beat at low speed until just combined, about 20 seconds.
In a small, shallow bowl, combine the 3 tablespoons sugar and the cinnamon for rolling the dough.  Stir well to combine.  Working with a heaping tablespoon of dough each time, roll the dough into 1 inch balls  Roll the balls in the cinnamon sugar mixture and place them on the prepared baking sheets, about 2 inches apart.
Bake until the edges of the cookies are beginning to set and the center are soft and puffy, 9-11 minutes, rotating the baking sheets front to back and top to bottom halfway through the baking time.  Let the cookies cool on the baking sheets 2-3 minutes before transferring them to a wire rack to cool completely.

In the mood for Blackberries!

Well, it is the first day of July and the farmers markets are in full swing here in North Carolina.  Last Friday I picked up a basket of the biggest, sweetest blackberries that you have ever seen.  In, A Skillet Full, a Cookbook of Traditional Southern Lodge Cast Iron Recipes and Memories, 87 year old Bertha Russell Gonce is quoted as saying, “We have blackberries growing beside the fence in front of our house.  We pick them in July, but we have to watch out for ticks, chiggers and snakes.”  I guess that I got off easy because all I had to do was pull over at a roadside farm stand outside of Boone, NC to find these beauties.  You will find Miss Bertha’s recipe for Blackberry Cobbler below.



Bramble Custards


Blackberries, the fruit and the bush, are known as brambles in parts of the UK.  Brambles are actually thorny plants in the genus Rubus, in the rose family, and not surprisingly raspberries and boysenberries belong to the same group.  So I’m calling this a Bramble Custard because 1) it sounds charming and 2) you can certainly make these with raspberries or any other berry in season for that matter.  Above you will see that I have made them it little 2 1/2 ounce ramekins…a great size for a light dessert.  See photo below for a larger version, about 1/2 cup, which had to be cooked about 10 minutes longer.  I adapted this recipe from one in Petite Sweets, by Beatrice Ojakangas.
12 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
3/4 cup whole milk ricotta cheese
2 large eggs
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup heavy cream
3 cups fresh berries
1 cup water
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon fine lemon zest
1 teaspoon corn starch mixed with 1 tablespoon cold water
Preheat the oven to 250 degrees.  Have ramekins available.  This made 16 servings in my little white ramekins and 7 in the larger green ones.
In a large bowl, using an electric mixer, beat the cream cheese until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes.  Add the ricotta and mix until blended.  Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing until completely incorporated.  Add the vanilla, sugar, and cream and mix until combined.
Spoon the batter into the ramekins and place them in a large rimmed baking sheet and place the sheet on the oven rack.  Carefully pour enough hot water in the baking sheet, around the ramekins, to reach about halfway up the sides.  Bake for 30-45 minutes, until set.  The tops will not have browned at all.  Remove ramekins from the water bath and set aside to cool slightly, then refrigerate until chilled through.
To make the fruit glaze and topping:  Place 1 cup berries in a saucepan with the water, sugar and lemon zest and bring to a boil over high heat.  Reduce heat and simmer for about 10 minutes while you occasionally stir and mash the berries to release all of their juices.  Remove from heat and strain the berry mixture to remove the pulp and seeds.  Wipe any remaining seeds out of the saucepan and return the now smooth berry sauce to heat gently.  Stir in cornstarch mixture and stir for a minute or two until it thickens slightly.  Remove from the heat and gently stir in the remaining blackberries.  Set aside to cool. (note:  you can make a sauce like this from any type of berry and you can adjust the amounts of water, sugar, and cornstarch as needed, based on the size and sweetness of your berries and on the berry/sauce ratio that you prefer.  It’s a flexible process.)
Top the chilled custards with berries and sauce and either serve right away or refrigerate until needed.  You can make the custards the day before you need them if you like and cover them, refrigerated.  The berry sauce can also be made ahead of time and kept covered at room temperature but I would wait until you are within a few hours of serving to top the custards.

Blackberry Salad with Goat Cheese and Candied Pecans

Andrew Swallow, of Mixt Greens restaurant in San Francisco, is the creator of this beautiful recipe.  He calls it “Berry” (using strawberries and blackberries) and has published it in the Spring section of his new book, Mixt Salads.  Perhaps in California, good blackberries can be found year round but for me this is pure summer.  In any case, it is a genius combination of flavors.  (The changes I made to this recipe were very slight, except for one, which I won’t describe because I think it must have been a typo in the original.)
Candied Pecans
2 cups pecans
2 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon minced shallot
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon fresh minced thyme leaves
1 teaspoon honey
1 cup canola oil
salt and freshly ground black pepper
8 ounces mixed greens
1 pint blackberries
2 teaspoons of fresh mint, finely slivered
2 teaspoons of fresh basil, finely slivered
4 tablespoons goat cheese
salt and freshly ground black pepper
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
In a bowl, toss together the pecans, sugar, salt, cumin, cayenne pepper and 1 tablespoon water.  Spread this mixture on a sheet pan and bake for about 10 minutes, or until just toasted.  Watch carefully.
For the dressing:  Combine the vinegar, shallot, mustard, thyme, and honey in a blender.  Slowly add the oil in a stream and blend until emulsified  Season with salt and pepper.
For the salad:   Gently toss together the greens, blackberries, mint, basil, and pecans with dressing and serve with a tablespoon of the goat cheese.  Makes 4 servings.

Blackberry Cobbler

Here is Miss Bertha’s cobbler, as mentioned at the start of this post.  Note that the topping does not form a crumbly crust but rather sinks into the cobbler.  While this may not be the the most beautiful of desserts, it is mighty fine served just barely warm with a couple of scoops of premium vanilla ice cream.
1 1/4 cups flour, divided
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup butter, plus 3 tablespoons
1 cup sugar, divided
1 egg
1 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 cups fresh, unsweetened blackberries
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Combine 1 cup of flour, baking powder , and salt,  Set aside,  in a mixing bowl, beat together 1/2 cup butter and 1/2 cup sugar until fluffy.  Add the egg and beat.  Combine milk and vanilla and add with dry ingredients to the butter mixture,  Pour into a greased 2 quart casserole.   Spoon the berries over the batter.  Combine the remaining 1/2 cup sugar, 1/4 cup flour. cinnamon, and 3 tablespoons butter.  Mix until crumbly.  Sprinkle over the berries.  Bake for 30-35 minutes.  

In the mood for Bananas!



Individual Vanilla Bean Banana Puddings

serves 4
As much as I love banana pudding, I never served it until I figured out how to make it a bit more elegant.  Real vanilla beans and brown sugar take it to a new level and serving it in individual portions is key.  This is the perfect make-ahead dessert.
2 cups whole milk
1/2 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
6 egg yolks
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch
1 tablespoon cold, unsalted butter
3 bananas (2 diced and 1 sliced)
1 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon confectioners sugar
mini Nilla Wafers
Heat milk and vanilla bean in small saucepan.  As soon as it reaches a boil, remove from heat and set aside to let the vanilla bean infuse the milk.
     Whisk egg yolks and brown sugar together until fluffy.  Add cornstarch and whisk until smooth.  Remove vanilla bean from warm milk and discard.  Whisk 1/4 of the hot milk into egg mixture until incorporated.  Then whisk in the remaining milk.  Strain this mixture back into the saucepan and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until pudding is thick and starting to boil slowly.  Remove from heat and stir in the butter.
Dice 2 of the bananas (about 1/4 inch) and stir into the pudding.  Fill individual ramekins about half full then add a layer of mini Nilla Wafers.  Add pudding to reach the rim of the ramekin.  Cover each ramekin with plastic wrap, pressing wrap to make contact with pudding and refrigerate until cold.  Whip the cream with the confectioner’s sugar.  To serve, garnish puddings with banana slices, a dollop of whipped cream and a mini Nilla Wafer, if desired.

Banana Muffins


I’ve made countless batches of banana muffins over the years and this one is my current favorite.  It is adapted from Sara Foster’s Banana Nut Muffin recipe in her book Fresh Every Day.  I like to put the pecans on top because they get nice and toasty and keep their crunch.  And, this also makes it easier if you want to make a batch of muffins, half with nuts and half without.
2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs
3 over ripe bananas
1/4 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup pecans, broken into pieces
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Line a muffin tin with paper liners and lightly grease the top of the pan.  Whisk together flour, baking powder, soda, nutmeg and salt.  In a separate bowl, beat together butter and sugar until light and fluffy.  Add eggs, bananas, sour cream and vanilla and stir until the flour is just incorporated…do not over mix.  Fill the muffin tins until batter is just below the top of the paper liner.  Cover batter with broken pecan pieces and bake 25-30 minutes.  To test for doneness, I gently touch the top center of a muffin…it should spring back lightly.

Strawberry Banana Crunch


When I was trying to decide upon a third banana recipe to add to this post, I suddenly remembered a treat from long ago, when I was in school in Memphis, TN.  The Squash Blossom was a health food store that had soft serve frozen yogurt and this combination of strawberry frozen yogurt, fresh banana slices and granola was my absolute favorite.  This was frozen yogurt that tasted like yogurt…not like fake ice cream.  So I set out to recreate it and was not surprised to find that I still love it.  The frozen yogurt is tart, the bananas sweet and creamy, and the granola adds the perfect crunch. I’m sure that The Squash Blossom had a clever name for this treat but I can’t remember it and they closed years ago.  Here are recipes for an amazing strawberry frozen yogurt and a yummy, easy granola… but don’t forget the bananas!
Strawberry Frozen Yogurt
This is Jeni Britton’s recipe from Food and Wine magazine, June 2008
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice plus 1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
One 1/4-ounce package unflavored powdered gelatin
12 ounces strawberries, hulled
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup light corn syrup
2 cups plain whole-milk yogurt
1/2 cup heavy cream
Fill a large bowl with ice water. Pour the lemon juice into a small bowl. Sprinkle the gelatin on top; let stand for 5 minutes.
Meanwhile, in a blender, puree the strawberries until smooth; you should have about 1 cup of strawberry puree.
In a small saucepan, combine the strawberry puree with the sugar and corn syrup and bring to a boil. Cook over moderately high heat until the sugar dissolves completely, about 1 minute. Remove the strawberry mixture from the heat and stir in the lemon gelatin until it melts.
In a medium bowl, mix the yogurt with the lemon zest and the hot strawberry puree. Stir in the heavy cream. Set the bowl in the ice water bath and let stand, stirring occasionally, until the strawberry yogurt is cold, about 20 minutes.
Pour the strawberry yogurt into an ice cream maker and freeze according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
Pack the frozen yogurt into a plastic container. Press a sheet of plastic wrap directly onto the surface of the frozen yogurt and close with an airtight lid. Freeze until firm, about 4 hours.
Vanilla Scented Granola
This recipe was published in Bon Appetit in March of 2002.
Nonstick vegetable oil spray
4 cups old fashioned oats
1 cup sliced almonds
1/2 cup (packed) light brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup honey
2 tablespoons sugar
4 teaspoons vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 300 degrees.  Lightly spray large baking sheet with nonstick spray.  Mix next 5 ingredients in large bowl. Combine oil, honey, and sugar in small saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium heat.  Remove from heat and stir in vanilla.  Pour hot liquid over oat mixture and stir well.  Using hands, toss mixture until thoroughly mixed.  Spread granola on baking sheet,  Bake until golden brown, stirring occasionally, about 30 minutes.  Cool completely.  Store in airtight container at room temp.

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 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.