recipe: apple cake with toffee crust

October 31st, 2012 | Posted by admin in Desserts | RECIPES - (0 Comments)

Everything apple is what I want in the fall… apple pie, apple crisp, caramel apples, and this apple cake from “Food & Wine”!  It is an explosion of brown sugar, caramel, and apples.  It’s a special dessert to serve for a fall get-together or even for Thanksgiving.  Enjoy!


• 3 cups all-purpose flour
• 1 teaspoon salt
• 1 teaspoon baking soda
• 1 ¼ cups vegetable oil
• 2 cups granulated sugar
• 3 large eggs
• 2 large Granny Smith apples—peeled, cored and cut into 1/2-inch dice
• 1 stick unsalted butter
• ¼ cup heavy cream
• 1 cup light brown sugar
• 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract


• 1 ½ cups granulated sugar
• ½ cup water
• 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons heavy cream
• 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
• 1 tablespoon brandy


• 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
• 2 tablespoons light brown sugar
• 3 large Granny Smith apples—peeled, cored and cut into 8 wedges each
• 1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
• 2 tablespoons water
• Vanilla ice cream, for serving




• Preheat the oven to 325°. Butter and flour a 9-inch springform tube pan. In a medium bowl, whisk the flour with the salt and baking soda. In a large bowl, whisk the oil with the granulated sugar. Whisk in the eggs one at a time. Add the dry ingredients and whisk until smooth. Fold in the diced apples with a rubber spatula. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and bake in the lower third of the oven for about 1 hour and 15 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean. Let cool slightly.

• Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan, combine the butter, cream and brown sugar and bring to a boil over moderate heat, stirring. Remove the toffee glaze from the heat and stir in the vanilla.

• Place the warm cake (still in its pan) on a rimmed baking sheet. Pour the hot glaze over the cake and let it seep into the cake, poking lightly with a toothpick. Let the cake cool completely, about 2 hours. Invert the cake onto a plate, and invert again onto another plate, right side up.

• In a medium saucepan, combine the sugar and water and bring to a boil over high heat, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Using a moistened pastry brush, wash down any sugar crystals on the side of the pan. Cook without stirring until a medium-amber caramel forms, about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and quickly but carefully stir in the cream and butter. Simmer the sauce over moderate heat for 2 minutes, then remove from the heat and stir in the brandy. Pour the toffee sauce into a pitcher.

• In a large skillet, melt the butter and the brown sugar. Add the apples and cinnamon and cook over moderately high heat, turning the apples once or twice, until they are tender and caramelized, about 10 minutes. Add the water to dissolve the caramel in the skillet, then transfer the caramelized apples to a plate.

• Slice the cake and serve with the caramelized apples, toffee sauce and vanilla ice cream.


MAKE AHEAD: The unmolded cake can be stored in an airtight container overnight at room temperature. The toffee sauce can be refrigerated for up to 1 week; reheat gently before serving. The apples can be made up to 2 hours ahead and kept at room temperature.



This is the butter I use.  It is the best for baking and anything else you use butter for.  Seriously, I always have a pound of butter in my fridge and a pound in my freezer.  I’m not sure what makes this butter better… it’s creamy, smooth, delicious, works best in all my baking recipes, and from one of my favorite places “Minnesota”.  This butter both salted and unsalted is an absolute must in my pantry!



Co-nun-drum: “An intricate and difficult problem with a seemingly impossible solution.”  That’s one of many definitions I found when searching multiple dictionary sources.

The Wagner family produces this intriguing red. They are most famous for their Caymus (Cabernet) and Belle Glos (Pinot Noir) labels which are highly sought after high-end wines. You may be familiar with their Conundrum white blend, which has been around for a long time, but this is only their second vintage of this red blend.

As with the white blend, they won’t tell you exactly which grapes are used in the red, thus the “conundrum” in trying to figure it out. But it doesn’t take but a sip to figure out that this wine is intriguing, delicious and very versatile. I picked up on the dried berries and chocolate tones and found it to have a medium length finish that makes it easy to keep coming back to even after your meal is finished.

My good friend Jim brought this to a dinner party last month and it was a big hit, so “thanks Jim”! The winery lists the price at $22 but we’ve been able to find it for $13-$15. No need to wait on this one, it’s ready now and will satisfy for several years to come.



recipe: ‘nana cream pie

October 29th, 2012 | Posted by admin in Desserts | RECIPES - (0 Comments)

What could be better for dessert than a delicious homemade Banana Cream Pie?  I have never made this pie before and the banana cream is luscious.  If you love whipped cream, bananas, and old-fashioned vanilla wafers, then you’ll love this pie.  This recipe is from a wonderful dessert cookbook called “Back In The Day Bakery Cookbook”, by Cheryl & Griffith Day.  This is a collection of recipes from as they say “the best little bakery in the south’.  I can’t wait to try the S’More Pie, stay tuned next week!  I need to get a kitchen blowtorch to melt the marshmallows.



• 5 large egg yolks
• 6 tablespoons sugar
• 3 tablespoons cornstarch, sifted
• ¼ teaspoon fine sea salt
• 2 cups half-and-half
• 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
• 3 tablespoons banana liqueur, such as crème de banana, or 2 teaspoons banana extract
• 2 ½ tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into cubes, at room temperature
• 1 recipe Nilla wafer piecrust, prebaked (Recipe below)
• 3 large bananas, cut into ¼-inch-thick slices, plus more for decorating
• 1 recipe fresh whipped cream (Recipe below)
• Freshly grated nutmeg for garnish
• Nilla wafers for decorating




• In a heatproof bowl, whisk together the egg yolks, sugar, cornstarch, and salt until thick and pale in color.  Set aside.

• In a medium saucepan, heat the half-and-half to just below a boil.  Whisk about 1 cup of the hot half-and-half into the egg yolk mixture to temper the yolks, so they won’t curdle, then, continuing to whisk, add the remainder of the half-and-half in a steady stream.

• Set the bowl over a saucepan of simmering water (do not let the bottom of the bowl touch the water) and cook, whisking constantly, until thickened, 5 to 7 minutes.

• Remove the bowl from the heat and whisk in the vanilla and banana liqueur or extract until well combined.  Let the filling mixture sit for 2 to 3 minutes to cool slightly, then whisk in the butter until the custard is smooth and silky.  Place a piece of plastic wrap directly on top of the custard so that a skin does not form and let cool for 30 minutes, or until it reaches room temperature.

• When the filling has cooled, pour half of it into the prepared piecrust.  Add a layer of the sliced bananas, followed by the rest of the filling.  Cover with plastic wrap and place it in the refrigerator to chill for at least 3 hours, or overnight.

• Pile the whipped cream on top of the pie with a spatula.  Sprinkle with grated nutmeg and decorate with vanilla wafers and banana slices.  The pie is best served the same day, but it can be covered and refrigerated for up to 3 days.

TIP – Here is a great way to prevent bananas from turning brown in your pie.  Using a pastry brush, brush them with lemon or orange juice.  Other liquids you can use are lime juice, pineapple juice, orange soda, or lemon-lime soda.




RECIPE: Fresh Whipped Cream

• 2 cups heavy cream
• ¼ cup confectioners’ sugar


• Using a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment (or in a large mixing bowl, using a handheld mixer), whip the cream on medium speed until is starts to thicken.  Add the confectioners’ sugar and beat until the cream holds nice soft peaks.





RECIPE: Nilla Wafer Piecrust

• 3 ½ cups Nilla wafers
• 2 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour
• 2 tablespoons sugar
• Pinch of fine sea salt
• 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature


• Position a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

• Put the cookies in a zip-top plastic bag and pound them with a rolling pin until they become coarse crumbs.  Alternatively, pulse the cookies in a food processor.  You should have 2 cups.

• In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or in a large mixing bowl, using a handheld mixer), mix the cookie crumbs, flour, sugar, salt, and butter on low speed until the crumbs and flour are evenly moistened, 3 to 5 minutes.  You may be tempted to add more butter – don’t.

• Press the dough evenly over the bottom and up the sides of a 9-inch pie dish.  Bake for 6 to 8 minutes, until golden brown.  Let cool completely before filling.



places to go: publican quality meats

October 24th, 2012 | Posted by admin in PLACES TO GO - (0 Comments)

I hadn’t yet made my way to Publican Quality Meats… so I went to check out the shop and sandwiches.  The roast beef was excellent and I am a big fan of the spicy slaw.  I’d recommend this as a fun casual lunch spot.

Lamb and pork belly sausage, feta, cilantro, and piperade on a Franks ‘n Dawgs lobster roll.

Roasted cabbage, Gruyere, and Russian dressing on country bread with pear salad – Dante cheese, greens, celery, and tarragon mustard vinaigrette.



recipe: monte cristo

October 18th, 2012 | Posted by admin in Entrées | RECIPES - (0 Comments)

This may not be the classic Monte Cristo; it is my version of the sandwich to accompany your tomato soup.  It makes a grilled cheese seem a bit more special.  Really this can be changed up to include turkey or any other favorite sandwich meat.



• 1 Loaf of good bakery butter crust bread
• ¾ lb Black Forest ham, shaved thin
• ½ lb Swiss cheese, thinly sliced
• 6-8 oz Gruyere Cheese, shredded
• Dijon mustard
• 2 eggs
• ½ cup of whole milk
• 2-3 tablespoons butter



• Whisk eggs and milk together in a low wide bowl.

• Assemble sandwich, spreading mustard on one side of each piece of bread.

• Start with two slices of Swiss cheese, then several slices of ham, mound it, next shredded Gruyere, and top with bread.

• Place sandwich in egg bath turning to get both sides.

• Place in a pan or griddle with melted butter.  Cook on each side till very crisp.  (I like to cut off crusts before assembling but it’s not necessary.)



fall is here!

October 18th, 2012 | Posted by admin in UPDATES - (0 Comments)

I’m not sure why I am such a fan of fall.  It does represent the end of summer and the start of winter.  Maybe it’s the cool crisp air that I love or possibly the spectacular colors that fill my senses with awe.  I will never tire of looking up at those gorgeous trees.  I love the contrast of colors and each day a new surprise awaits my eyes.  As for cooking this time of year, there are so many choices.  I want comfort food, hearty soups & sandwiches, roasts, and pastas. I love using up the last of the garden veggies.  I cannot get enough apple desserts, pies, crisps, crostatas, cakes, and caramel apples.  So bear with me as I navigate through fall.  Did I mention my love of anything pumpkin!  A walk in the woods, the smell of fallen leaves… coming home to a house filled with good food and friends, there is really nothing better.


Have you heard of Mourvedre? It’s a grape of French origin and is often used as a blending grape in what are known as GSMs (Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre). It adds structure and complexity when blended with other grapes.

France, Australia, Spain and the U.S. use Mourvedre mostly for blending, but there are some wine makers who have done a great job of crafting this grape as a single varietal bottling. Here we have a California grown Mourvedre by Cline.

Cline Cellars produce a lot of wine, specializing in Zinfandels from northern California, but they have quite a few value wines and are worth keeping an eye on from vintage to vintage. In this case, they have delivered a Mourvedre from Contra Costa County in the bay area near San Francisco.

I’ve had several bottles of this wine and I love it. It has left me lingering on the aromas and provides a lengthy finish for a wine in this price range. It received 88 points from the Wine Spectator and I found it at Total Wine for $11.99. The release price is listed at $16. Here’s the write up from James Laub:

Well-focused mint and wild berry fruit is supple and generous, with a spicy, road-tar edge. Well-balanced, intense yet graceful. Drink now through 2018. 14,788 cases made.

Drink it now or hold on to it for the next few years and see how it develops. Cheers!



recipe: lemon risotto with asparagus

October 17th, 2012 | Posted by admin in Entrées | RECIPES - (1 Comments)

I have actually never made risotto before.  I was apprehensive given the fact it is a difficult dish to prepare correctly, meaning the consistency… keeping it creamy but not over cooked is hard.

I used a large skillet that provided a broad base so the rice cooked evenly.  I stirred the rice constantly adding the broth as the liquid reduced and this too was a key to getting the rice cooked perfectly.  I suggest using a thinner asparagus as it works better in this dish.  You can also add some crispy pancetta to make this a meal in itself.  I really enjoyed the lemon flavor with the rice and asparagus.  I love the flavor of leeks but shallots or onions also can be substituted.  Make the dish first, then play with flavor and substitutes veggies your next time cooking.  Enjoy!



• 3 (14 ½ oz) cans fat-free, less-sodium chicken broth
• 1 tablespoon olive oil
• ½ cup finely chopped leeks
• 1 ½ cups uncooked Arborio rice
• 2 teaspoons grated lemon rind
• ½ cup dry white wine
• 3 cups steamed (still crisp) asparagus, cut diagonally into1 inch pieces
• ½ cup (2 oz) grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
• 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
• 2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves



• Bring broth to a simmer in a large saucepan (do not boil).  Keep warm over low heat.

• Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat.  Add leeks; cook 5 minutes or until tender, stirring frequently.

• Add rice and rind; cook 2 minutes, stirring constantly.  Stir in wine, and cook 3 minutes or until the liquid is nearly absorbed, stirring constantly.

• Add 3 ½ cups broth, ½ cup at a time, stirring constantly until each portion of broth is absorbed before adding the next (about 20 minutes).  Stir in asparagus.  Add remaining broth, ½ cup at a time, stirring constantly until each portion of broth is absorbed before adding the next (about 10 minutes).

• Remove from heat; stir in cheese and juice.  Sprinkle with thyme.




more containers for fall

October 17th, 2012 | Posted by admin in FLOWERS | Outdoor - (2 Comments)

A beautiful big grass, a variety of cabbages, a few mums, pumpkins, and bittersweet… makes a wonderful combination.