Thursday, December 29, 2011

Twelve Favorites of 2011

It is hard to believe that another year has flown by!  I can't believe that it is almost 2012.  This time last year I swore off sugary foods.  In reviewing the posts, I lasted until the first of January when I posted an amazing and easy Black Forest Trifle.

There is a reason...isn't there always!  I was assigned dessert for our New Year's Eve dinner get-together.  After that I did make it to the end of the month before indulging....good thing swearing off sugar wasn't a resolution, I would have failed miserably.  Moving on....I want to share some of my favorites from 2011.

There was a wonderful Dutch Cheese Soup from last winter that I will need to make again.  It was delicious and perfect for a cold January.

Another winter favorite of mine was the Steak and Guinness comforting!

And then...Cookies and Cream Cupcakes...cupcake oh cupcake you are so divine!

Seafood Gratin was a smash with the Gourmet Group.

And then...Individual "Little Fella Cheesecakes"!

As things warmed up, I discovered Rum, Date, and Pecan Ice Cream.  Yummy!

A variation of my usual Chicken Picatta was delicious!

I can't leave out my favorite salad of the year:   Crab, Mango and Avocado Towers!

I learned how to prepare scallops!  Scallops Provençal has become a regular part of our rotation!  They are delicious!

My favorite Sweet Mustard Shrimp Appetizer is made over and is so delicious and a perfect do-ahead dish!

We do tend to eat a lot of seafood so I cannot let the year's favorites slip by without mentioning Salmon and Tomatoes in Papillote!  Perfection!

I wish all of you a blessed New Year!  

Rotini and Sausage with Spicy Tomato-Vodka Sauce

Pasta seems to be on the menu frequently these days.  After thinking about it I decided it was totally comfort food.  It feels good to eat pasta for dinner!   Along with the pasta, I wanted sausage.  So I morphed a recipe to match!

Rotini and Sausage 
with Spicy Tomato-Vodka Sauce
adapted from Fine Cooking, March 2006

1/2 pound mild Italian Sausage (some hot sausage may be mixed in)
2 cloves garlic, minced
3/4 tsp crushed red pepper flakes; more to taste
2 Tbs extra-virgin olive oil
1 28 oz. can diced tomatoes
3 Tbs vodka
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano (I used shredded.)
1/4 cup flat-leaf parsley
3 Tbs heavy cream
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
3/4 pound rotini (about 4 cups)

In a skillet cook the sausage, crumbling it into small pieces.  Drain and set aside.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.

In a large saucepan over medium-high heat, add the olive oil.  When hot, add the garlic and red  pepper flakes.  Heat until they are fragrant and sizzle about 30 seconds.  Add the tomatoes and their juices and the vodka, bring to a boil.  Reduce the heat so there is a steady simmer, cover with the lid slightly ajar, and cook to intensify the flavors and reduce the sauce slightly (by about a quarter), 10-15 minutes.

Puree the tomatoes using a hand blender (or a regular blender).  After pureed, stir in the sausage, 1/4 cup of the Parmigiano, the parsley, cream, salt and pepper,  and more red pepper flakes, if you desire.  Simmer to incorporate the cream and reduce the sauce slightly, about 5 minutes.  Reduce the heat to low, cover and keep warm while the pasta cooks.

Cook the pasta, stirring occasionally, until it's just tender, 10 to 12 minutes.  Drain well and return the pasta to its pot.  Add the sauce, set the pot over medium heat, and cook, stirring, to let the pasta absorb some of the sauce, about 1 minute.  Serve immediately.  Sprinkle with the remaining 1/4 cup Parmigiano.


I am participating in Foodie Friday hosted by Michael at Designs by Gollum!  Take a look at the virtual cookbook!

Friday, December 23, 2011

Beef Daube

Beef Daube...sounds good, maybe even mysterious, but what is it?  A Daube is a classic French stew that is made with inexpensive beef braised in wine with vegetables, garlic and herbs.  It is usually prepared in a braising pan but I used my enamel-coated, cast-iron Dutch oven.

This was a heavenly stew with deep rich flavors.  We loved it and since there are only two of us, we loved it a lot!  I served it for lunch and dinner on subsequent days...and yes, I could have frozen it...but we loved eating it.

I combined two recipes to get the combination of ingredients that I wanted, but I used the technique and directions from Dorie Greenspan's cookbook, Around My French Table.

Beef Daube
adapted from Around My French Table

4 slices thick-cut bacon, cut crosswise into  1-inch-wide pieces
1  3 1/2 pound beef chuck roast, fat and any sinews removed, cut into 2 to 3-inch cubes
2 Tbsp Canola oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper
2 yellow onions, quartered and thinly sliced
6 shallots, thinly sliced
3-4 garlic cloves, bruised
1 1/2 pounds carrots, trimmed, peeled, halved crosswise, and halved or quartered length-wise
8 oz. small (button) Cremini mushrooms, left whole.  If large, cut in half.
3 ribs celery
3/4 cup beef stock
1 1/2 T tomato past
2 T flour
1/4 cup Cognac
1 750-ml bottle fruity red wine (I used a Central Valley Syrah that was perfect!)
1 bouquet garni - 3-4 thyme sprigs, 2 parsley sprigs, 1 rosemary sprig, leaves from 1 celery stalk, tied together in a dampened piece of cheesecloth

Preheat oven to 350° F.  Place oven rack in center of oven.

Cook bacon in Dutch oven until browned.  Transfer bacon to a bowl.

Dry the beef with paper towels.  Add 1 Tbsp oil to the bacon fat and warm it over medium high heat, then brown the beef, in batches, on all sides.  Do not crowd in the pot.  Transfer the browned meat to the bowl with the bacon and season lightly with salt and pepper.

Pour off the oil in the pot (don't remove any browned bits stuck to the bottom of the pan), add the remaining tablespoon of oil, and warm it over medium heat.  Add the onions and shallots, season lightly with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring, until the onions soften, about 8 minutes.  Add the garlic, carrots, celery.  Stir everything to cover with a little oil.  Add the tomato paste and stir for 1 minute, then stir in the flour.  Pour in the brandy, turn up the heat, and stir well to loosen any bits on the bottom of the pot.  Let the brandy boil for a minute, then return the beef and bacon to the pot,  pour in the wine and beef broth, toss in the bouquet garni.  Stir.

When the wine comes to a boil, cover the pot tightly with foil and the lid.  Place in oven and allow to braise undisturbed for one hour.

Pull the pot out of the oven, remove the lid and foil and stir everything.  Add the mushrooms to the pot.  If it looks as though the liquid is reducing by a great deal  (unlikely), add water to cover the ingredients.   Re-cover the pot with the foil and the lid.  Return to the oven and cook for another 1 1/2 hours (total cooking time is 2 1/2 hours).  At this point the meat should be fork tender - if not, return to the oven for another 30 minutes.

Taste the sauce.  If you prefer the sauce to be more concentrated, pour it into a saucepan and boil over high heat reducing it to your preference.  Taste and adjust seasoning.

Remove the bouquet garni and the garlic.  Skim off the surface fat.

Serve the beef and vegetables moistened with the sauce.


This is the perfect comfort food!  

Monday, December 19, 2011

Garlic Mashed Potatoes

It's chilly outside.  
It's kindof chilly inside.
It's time for something warm and comforting.
Today, that would be mashed potatoes!

I was trying out a new recipe for Beef Daube.  So there had to be mashed potatoes, but not just any potato, it was perfect day for garlic mashed potatoes!!  This potato recipe comes from Melissa's Cuisine.  It is once again time for the Secret Recipe Club and this month, Melissa was my pal!

Melissa says she spends most of her time away from work, in the kitchen cooking up great things to eat.  She also said that she started running to avoid all the pounds that could be gained from spending so much time cooking!  Good point Melissa....being health conscious is a good thing and it can be hard for those of us who love to cook and love to eat what we cook!

That said, potatoes are healthy!  I love potatoes and they were going to be a great accompaniment to the beef daube that was in the oven.

Garlic Mashed Potatoes

Serves 4

You will need:
4 potatoes, peeled and cubed
4 large garlic cloves, peeled and halved
About 1/4 cup sour cream
About 1/4 cup chicken broth
2 Tablespoons milk
2-3 Tablespoon butter
1/4 cup fresh herbs of choice: I used a little parsley with chives for garnish.
kosher salt to taste
dash of fresh ground pepper

1. Put potatoes and garlic in a large pot with salt and enough water to cover. Bring to a boil, then simmer for 20 minutes until potatoes are tender.

2. Drain and return potatoes and garlic to pan.

3. Using a masher breaker down the large chunks of potato.

3. Add sour cream, milk, butter, and herbs to potatoes.

4. Using an electric mixer, whip, adding chicken broth in parts until potatoes are at the desired consistency. 

5. Season with salt and pepper to taste. 


These were absolutely perfect with the Beef Daube that is coming in the next post...unless the Christmas Cookies pop up first!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Butternut Squash and Apple Soup

One can never have too many butternut squash recipes.  It is a vegetable that has a wonderful flavor and it isn't overwhelming when used with other ingredients.  It always pairs nicely with apples; so when I saw the Contessa's recipe for Butternut Squash and Apple Soup in Barefoot Contessa Parties,  I decided to give it a try.

Butternut Squash and Apple Soup

2 Tbsp unsalted butter
2 Tbsp olive oil
3-4 cups chopped onion
2 Tbsp mild curry powder
2 large butternut squash
1 1/2 lbs sweet apples (I used gala and honey crisp.)
2 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp fresh ground pepper
2 cups apple cider (I used Honey Crisp Cider.)

Warm the butter and olive oil in a large stockpot over low heat.  Add the onions and curry powder and cook, uncovered, for 15-20 minutes, until the onions are tender.  Stir occasionally, scraping the bottom of the pot.

Peel the squash cut in half, and remove the seeds.  Cut the squash into chunks.  Peel, quarter, and core the apples.  Cut into chunks.

Add the squash, apples, salt, pepper, and two cups of water to the pot. Bring to a boil, then cover, reduce the heat to low, and cook for 30-40 minutes, until squash and apples are very soft.  Process the soup through a food mill or puree it coarsely in the food processor.  (I used the blender.)

Pour the soup back into the pot.  Add the apple cider and enough water to make the soup the consistency you like; it should be slightly sweet and quite thick.  Check the salt and pepper and serve hot.


This soup is pureed coarsely.  I love biting into pieces of squash and apples!  This was an excellent soup!

Friday, November 25, 2011

You're 15 Minutes Away from Scallops Provençal

For our anniversary we decided that we would go out to lunch and stay in for dinner and cook something special.  "Something special" to us means some kind of seafood.  This night it was scallops. I must admit that I have never been much of a scallop eater.  They are usually blah and chewy so I was a bit nervous about preparing them for our anniversary dinner.  With the saute pan in hand, It was going to be the night to master the scallop!

I had seen Ina Garten as she raved about her scallop dish, and I must admit that they always looked delicious so I pulled out her cookbook, Barefoot in Paris.  The recipe for Scallops Provençal looked perfect and appeared easy enough.  We were only minutes away from a great anniversary dinner.  Truly, minutes...scallops cook quickly!

Scallops Provençal
by Ina Garten

Serves 3-4

1 pound fresh bay or sea scallops
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
All-purpose flour for dredging
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, divided
1/2 cup chopped shallots (2 large)
1 garlic clove, minced
1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1/3 cup dry white wine
1 lemon, cut in half

If you're using bay scallops, keep them whole. If you're using sea scallops, cut each one in half horizontally. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, toss with flour, and shake off the excess.

In a very large sauté pan, heat 2 tablespoons of butter over high heat until sizzling and add a single layer of scallops. (Do not crowd the scallops in the pan.) Lower the heat to medium and allow scallops to brown lightly on one side without moving them, then turn and brown lightly on the other side. This should take 3 to 4 minutes total. 

Melt remaining butter in the pan with scallops; add shallots, garlic, and parsley and sauté for 2 more minutes, tossing the seasonings with the scallops. Add the wine and cook for 1 minutes longer. Add salt and pepper to taste.  Serve immediately with a squeeze of lemon juice.


This was the perfect anniversary dinner.  I do believe that I am now a fan of the scallop!  Scallops Provençal is even my new favorite recipe....what a great flavor...and cooked to perfection.

If you are looking for a cookbook to add to your library, Barefoot in Paris would be a great addition.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Being Thankful

I have been blessed in many ways.  When I saw Ralph Waldo Emerson's Thanksgiving reflection, I was immediately drawn to it.  It is simple and also expresses my thankfulness.

For each new morning with its light,
For rest and shelter of the night,
For health and food,
For love and friends,
For everything Thy goodness sends.

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882)

During the few years I have been blogging, I have been blessed with many new friends, cyber-friends. I choose to count cyber-friends as friends.  While we do not usually meet face-to-face, some of us do when the occasion presents itself.  Some of my friends have shared books, sentiments, thought provoking quotations, cooking gadgets, "how-to's", numerous comments, and great discussions with me.  I am appreciative and feel blessed to belong in such a helpful and caring community.

I must mention the lovely Maya Angelou book of poetry celebrating the phenomenal woman that Marilyn at Delights of the Heart shared with me.  What a delight it was to read (no pun intended).  She also tucked some tea from Thailand and a pendant inside!  I have appreciated Marilyn's thought-provoking questions, reflections and sentiments this year.  While I thanked Marilyn privately, I didn't say thank you publicly.  Thank you, Marilyn!

The newest kitchen gadget in my house are Star Pancake Molds!  Can you imagine how cute pumpkin pancakes are going to be in these darling molds?  Thank you Kathleen at Cuisine Kathleen for these cute molds and the cupcake stencils that were tucked inside and the occasional email to check in and say hello!

I never knew there were so many kind, thoughtful and delightful folks out there!  Thank you for making me think and reflect and for taking the time to stop by and leave an occasional comment.  You always make me smile.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Beef Tenderloins with an Herb Crust

It is once again time for the Secret Recipe Club post.  I enjoy having the opportunity to really explore a blog and select something to prepare that sounds delicious!  This club offers just that opportunity.  We are all assigned a blog to peruse, find a dish to prepare, prepare said dish and post.  This month I met Amy at Amy's Cooking Adventures.

Amy explains that she was motivated to begin cooking when she had her first son.  Suddenly it was very important what she fed her family.  She started exploring resources to help her prepare healthy meals....thus began Amy's Cooking Adventures!

I found a recipe for Beef Tenderloins with an Herb Crust that sounded great and since I just happened to have two medallions in the freezer and herbs in the garden, it was easy for me to decide to prepare it!

I did change the cooking procedure as it was still warm outside rather than cook the tenderloins in a skillet, we selected to go to the barbecue.  I was hesitant at first because I didn't want the herbs to fall off, but the herbs weren't lost to the coals...

Herb Tenderloins with an Herb Crust
adapted from Amy's Cooking Adventures

½ cup flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
2 tbsp fresh rosemary, finely chopped
1 ½ tbsp fresh thyme, finely chopped
1 ½ tsp coarse salt
1 tsp coarsely ground black pepper
4 beef tenderloins, cut ¾ inch thick (about 1 pound)
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil

In a shallow baking dish, thoroughly mix together the parsley, rosemary, thyme, salt, and pepper.

Using the palms of your hands,your fingertips gently flatten the beef tenderloins to about ½ inch thick.  (I barely flattened the tenderloins.)

Coat the beef tenderloins by gently pressing them into the herb mixture on one side, and then the other.

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over high heat.  When the first wisp of smoke appears, use tongs to set the coated beef tenderloins into the pan in a single layer.  Cook until darkly browned, about 3-5 minutes.  Flip and cook on the other side, until deeply browned, another 2-3 minutes (or to desired doneness).  (Mr. T and I elected to barbecue the tenderloins.)

Transfer cooked tenderloins to a warmed platter and rest for 5 minutes before serving.


We were thrilled with the meal!  I prepared some roasted smashed potatoes and steamed some squash to accompany the tenderloins.  I would make this again.  It was delicious.

Take some time to peruse Amy's blog, you won't be disappointed.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Tomatillo-Braised Pork Loin Revisited

A number of years ago, a Rick Bayless cookbook was on my SIL's Christmas list.  At the time, I hadn't heard of Rick Bayless and had no idea what I had been missing.  I purchased Mexico One Plate at a Time.  Of course I perused it before I wrapped it...then, I purchased a second copy!  Since that time we both must own at least three of Rick's cookbooks.  I have never been disappointed in his recipes.

The first recipe I prepared was the Tomatillo-Braised Pork Loin.  Since then, I have prepared the dish at least four times.  I love the "heat" of the tomatillos and chilies in this dish.  I love the way the potatoes absorb the wonderful flavor of the juices.

I know my daughter and SIL like to shred the pork and make tacos from it.  I like it sliced with lots of the sauce poured over.  Either way, it is delicious.

Tomatillo-Braised Pork Loin

1 1/2 tablespoons rich-tasting pork lard or olive or vegetable oil
1 2-pound boneless pork loin roast, untied if in two pieces
1 pound (10 to 12 medium) tomatillos, husked and rinsed
Fresh hot green chiles to taste (roughly 3 serranos or 1 jalapeòo), stemmed
1 medium white onion, sliced
3 large garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
1 or 2 large sprigs fresh epazote, plus extra for garnish
OR 1/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro, plus a few sprigs for garnish
10 small (about 1 1/4 pounds total) red-skin boiling potatoes, scrubbed and quartered

Browning the pork. In a medium-size (4- or 5-quart) Dutch oven or other heavy pan with tight-fitting lid, heat the lard or oil over medium. When quite hot, lay in the pork loin (if there is more than one piece, don’t crowd them or they’ll stew rather than brown). Brown well on one side, about 5 minutes, turn it over and brown the other side. Remove the pot from the heat and transfer the pork to a plate; set aside the Dutch oven or pan to use for the sauce making.

The sauce. Roast the tomatillos and chiles on a baking sheet 4 inches below a very hot broiler until darkly roasted, even blackened in spots, about 5 minutes. Flip them over and roast the other side — 4 or 5 minutes more will give you splotchy-black and blistered tomatillos and chiles that are soft and cooked through. Cool and transfer everything to a food processor or blender, being careful to scrape up all the delicious juice that has run out onto the baking sheet. Process until smoothly pureed.

Set the pork-browning pan over medium heat. When hot, add the onion and cook, stirring regularly, until golden, about 7 minutes. Stir in the garlic and cook a minute longer.
Raise the heat to medium-high, and, when really sizzling, add the tomatillo puree all at once. Stir until noticeably darker and very thick, 3 to 4 minutes. Add 1 1/2 cups of water and the epazote or cilantro. Taste and season with salt, usually 1 teaspoon. Stir everything thoroughly.
Braising the pork. Heat the oven to 325. Nestle the browned pork into the warm sauce, cover the pot, and set in the oven. Cook 30 minutes.

While the meat is cooking, simmer the potatoes in heavily salted water to cover until tender, about 10 minutes. Drain and set aside.

When the pork has cooked 30 minutes, nestle the cooked potatoes into the sauce around the meat, re-cover and cook about 10 minutes longer, until the pork registers about 145 on a meat or instant-read thermometer. The meat will feel rather firm (not hard) to the touch, and cutting into the center will reveal only the slightest hint of pink.

Serving the dish. With a pair of tongs and a spatula, transfer the pork to a cutting board. Let it rest there for 3 or 4 minutes while you finish the sauce: Spoon off any fat on the top of the sauce, taste the sauce and season it with additional salt if you think necessary. Spoon the sauce and potatoes onto a warm, deep serving platter.


This is comfort food from South of the Border!  Great for those cold days ahead.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Spicy Tuscan-Style Sausage Ragu in your Slow Cooker!

It was a cold and windy kind of weather.  It was a day for baking and a day for comfort food.  It was a day for the slow cooker!  A cold day, with yummy aromas coming from the kitchen.  A day for the fireplace.

I recalled seeing a recipe for Spicy Tuscan-Style Ragu that Mari at Once Upon A Plate had posted.  She described it as thick and rich...she was right!  This was a different kind of sauce from my usual, also.  I don't normally use just sausage and I had never tried making it in a slow cooker.  What a great idea, except about mid-day we lost electricity.  Not to worry it came back on...only to go off again.  This time it stayed off for a long time.  I decided I had no choice but to go to the stove top.  Just as I dumped everything into the pan, the electricity came back on.  Geez....

It did finish cooking.  It was Easy! Aromatic!  Delicious!  I bought the cookbook.  Yes, I have a cookbook weakness.  Take a look.  You may find yourself adding The Italian Slow Cooker to your library.

The sausage proportions may be adjusted to your taste.  We like a spicy dish so I evened out the amount of sweet to hot sausage.  I agree with Mari, this dish needs a sturdy, chunky pasta!

Spicy Tuscan-Style Sausage Ragu
Adapted from The Italian Slow Cooker

Makes 10 cups

2 Tbsp olive oil
3/4 pound sweet Italian pork sausage, casings removed
3/4 pound hot Italian pork sausage, casings removed
1 large red onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1/2 cup dry red wine
1 28 oz can Italian peeled tomatoes with their juice, chopped
1 28 oz can tomato puree
Salt to taste
1 cup heavy cream

In a large skillet, heat the oil over medium heat.  Crumble the sausages into the pan and cook, stirring frequently to break up the lumps, until the meat is lightly browned.  Add the onion and garlic and cook until the onion is tender.

Add the wine and scrape the bottom of the skillet.  Pour the contents into the slow cooker.  Add the tomatoes puree, and a pinch of salt.  Cover and cook on low for 5 hours.  Stir in the cream and cook for 1 hour more, or until the meat is very tender.  Taste for seasoning.

I garnished with shaved Parmesan and a chiffonade of basil.  Yum!


I will make this dish again but I will probably go to the butcher and buy some bulk sausage.  I could eat another plate of this!!

Be sure to visit Mari at Once Upon A Plate.  Her blog is so much fun and each recipe is a keeper!

I am participating in Foodie Friday hosted by Michael at Designs by Gollum and Fusion Fridays hosted by Jane Deere.

Broccoli-Ham Strata

This recipe is a standard at our house.  I love that I can do the preparation the night before and bake in the morning.  It is one of those dishes that travels well and is also perfect for those times when you have overnight company or during the holidays when you need something different in the morning or for brunch.

The original recipe came from our Guild House.  I have mentioned the Guild before.  It is a non-profit whose main objective is to organize volunteers to conduct fundraising activities to assist and support the Henrietta Weill Memorial Child Guidance Clinic. It is a worthy cause...and they have never served a bad meal!

The only change that I made to the recipe was in the selection of bread.  I prefer to use sourdough bread in a strata as opposed to plain white bread.  I think it gives a better texture to the dish....and tastes better, too!

One thing I have noticed with this recipe is that it is much better if you are able to push down on the top to make certain that the top layer of bread is saturated with the liquid.  I also find that I end up adjusting the temperature to 350° F. the last twenty minutes.  In my oven it doesn't firm up within an hour.  Keep an eye on it as cooking times will vary oven to oven.

Broccoli-Ham Strata
adapted from Guild House Cookbook

Serves 12

1 loaf sourdough bread, crust removed, slice into 1/2 inch thick pieces
1 lb. cheddar cheese, grated
1 pkg (10 oz) frozen chopped broccoli, thawed and drained
2 cup ham, finely chopped and well packed
2 T minced instant onion
6 eggs, slightly beaten
3 1/2 cups half and half
1 tsp salt
1 tsp dried mustard
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce

Thaw and drain broccoli; set aside.  Place slices of bread in the bottom of a well-greased baking dish (9 X 13).  You may need to  cut some pieces so the the bottom is covered.  Reserve some of the bread for the top.  Sprinkle grated cheese over the bread, saving enough for the top.  Ad the well-drained broccoli, distributing evenly.  Sprinkle the onion over the broccoli.  Layer the ham over the onion.  Arrange the remaining bread on top.

Combine the eggs, half and half, salt, mustard, and Worcestershire Sauce.  Mix well and pour over the bread.  Cover and refrigerate overnight.  Bake, uncovered, on a baking sheet, for one hour at 325° F.  Cover with foil if the strata becomes too brown.  Sprinkle with grated cheddar cheese the last 5 minutes of baking time.  Let stand 10 minutes before serving.


Taking a picture in a moving motor home was an interesting activity.  The vibration wasn't helpful!

We enjoyed our one day trip to some of the Central Coast wineries.  My part was to bring a breakfast dish.  It was delicious!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

A Wine Tasting Adventure

Early Saturday morning a group of friends and neighbors got together for our Great Wine Tasting Adventure.  We had planned to visit six wineries and had both lunch and dinner reservations.  We piled into a neighbor's motor home for a short two hour drive to the first winery, Tobin James Cellars.  The tasting room has a western flair and club members are known as the James Gang!

With a glow we traveled to Chumeia Vineyards where the Winemaker, Les Nesbitt, told us about the winery and his award wining wines.  Check out the many recipes featuring good food and wine on their website.

 Next on the list was Sculpterra.  I was intrigued by the sculpture garden that surrounds their elegant tasting room.

Lunch was next.  We had reservations at Cass Winery where we had an outstanding gourmet lunch in their Library Room.

Robert Hall Winery was our next stop.  My favorite wines are from Robert Hall.  Their Sauvignon Blanc is my very favorite.  We talked with Robert Hall and learned that he went into the wine business after his second retirement!  We had a great tour of the caverns.  Sadly, I had left my camera  in the motor home!

Our last winery was Wild Horse Vineyards.  I spent my time looking at cookbooks and yes, I couldn't resist purchasing just one.  Our last stop was dinner at McPhee's Grill in Templeton.  A delicious meal and time to head for home...

It was a long day and gee, with the time change, we got to add one more hour to the day!  I used mine for sleeping!

It is time for Outdoor Wednesday hosted by Susan at A Southern Daydreamer.

Monday, October 31, 2011

The Best Apple Cake

I thought I had found the best recipe for apple cake.  I was wrong!  I found it this year.  I had volunteered to make the dessert and the appetizer when our gourmet group met this month.  As I reviewed the recipe I had been sent I noticed that there was actually very little difference between my old recipe and this one.  But, this one had coconut I do love coconut so I was eager to try it.

I did hate the thought of using the bundt pan after the last adventure but I read through all of your comments and recommendations and decided that I would generously prepare the pan!  It seemed to  work, the cake came out of the pan without a problem!

I also opted to use the glaze from previous recipe instead of the one that Paula used.  Many of the reviews said the cake was too sweet.  I knew that my glaze wasn't going to over-power everything and it saved me a trip to the store for buttermilk!

Fresh Apple Cake
adapted from Paula Deen's "Grandgirl's Fresh Apple Cake from Georgia"

Preheat oven to 325°

2 cups sugar
3 eggs
1 1/2 cups vegetable oil
1/4 cup orange juice
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1 Tbsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp cloves
1 tsp nutmeg
1 Tbsp vanilla extract
3 cups peeled and finely chopped apples
1 cup shredded coconut
1 cup chopped pecans

4 Tbsp butter
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup light brown sugar
Pinch of salt
1/2 cup heavy cream

In a large bowl combine the sugar, eggs, oil, orange juice, flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and vanilla extract and mix well.  Fold in the apples, coconut,  and pecans.

Pour the batter into the prepared bundt pan and bake until a tester comes out clean, about 1 1/2 hours.

Melt butter in a saucepan over low heat. Stir in both sugars and salt, cook over medium-low heat for two minutes. Add cream and boil for two minutes, stirring constantly.

Pour about 2/3 over the cake while hot. Cool. Invert. Drizzle remaining glaze over the top.


With one bite this cake moved to the top of my list!

I am sorry that I have been a bit on the slow side with cooking and posts lately...unfortunately, I have what is called a frozen shoulder...along with a torn tendon and a tear in the rotator cuff.  Life has been a bit painful!

I am linking up to Fusion Fridays and Foodie Friday today!

Monday, October 24, 2011

Bacon and Cheese Stuffed Mushrooms

It was a pleasure to be assigned Marla's blog, Family Fresh Cooking, for The Secret Recipe Club reveal today!  Marla's goal is to provide her family with fresh wholesome foods and foster a lifestyle of mental and physical fitness.  Her blog is inspiring.  I had a very difficult time deciding what to prepare.  After browsing through many recipes I stumbled upon Bacon and Cheese Stuffed Mushrooms that Marla prepared for a virtual dinner and fund raiser last fall.  They looked delicious and I knew that my family would really like them.

Bacon and Cheese Stuffed Mushrooms
adapted from Family Fresh

Yield:   12 mushrooms
Cook Time:  20 minutes

12 medium Crimini Mushrooms, rinsed and pat dry
3 Tbsp bacon, cooked crisp and crumbled, set aside 1 Tbsp for topping
1 ounce cheese cut into pieces (I used Brie and Parmesan)  set aside 1/2 for topping
1 tsp fresh thyme, finely chopped; reserve some tops for garnish
1 Tbsp chopped chives, reserve some tops for garnish
1 clove garlic, crushed or a pinch of garlic salt
a twist of fresh black pepper
pinch of smoked paprika

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Cook bacon until  crisp, let cool, crumble and set aside.
Gently remove the stems from the mushrooms and finely chop.
Spray a non-stick skillet.  Over medium heat saute mushroom stems, chives, thyme with crushed garlic or garlic salt, fresh ground pepper and paprika.  Mushrooms should be very soft.  Remove from heat.  In a medium bowl combine 2 Tbsp bacon with the mushroom mixture.  If you are filling with two types of cheese, divide the mixture between  two bowls.  Add the cheese to the bowl(s).

Place mushroom caps snugly in a baking dish.  With a small spoon gently fill the mushrooms with the mixture(s).  Top each stuffed mushroom with the remainder of the cheese and bacon crumbles.  Bake for about 20 minutes until the cheese is melted.  Garnish with the thyme and chives.

The Secret Recipe Club provides bloggers an opportunity to make a recipe from an assigned blog and share it on reveal day.  If you blog and love to prepare  recipes from other bloggers,  this is the club for you!

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Eggplant Parmigiana - My Favorite Way to Eat Eggplant!

You know that you have been making the same recipe for a very long time when you open the cookbook and find crayon scribbles on the page!  I remember the day.  My oldest was two and she wrote me a message at the top of the page while I was making Eggplant Parmigiana.  She actually left me a few messages, learning to turn the page was a big deal back then.  She has turned many pages since that day.

I have never found a recipe better than the this one.  The sauce is thick and rich.  There aren't words to describe the wonderful aroma that wafts through the house; nor, can I describe how heavenly it is when I take the first bite!

The original recipe is from the Redbook Cookbook.  I have stuck to the original recipe over the years except when it comes to the spices.

Eggplant Parmigiana
adapted from The Redbook Cookbook

1 large eggplant
2 eggs, slightly beaten
3 Tbsp water
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 cup flour
1/2 cup fine dry bread crumbs
1 cup olive oil
Tomato Sauce (recipe below)
1 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
1 8 ounce package mozzarella cheese, grated (I sometimes use the 12 ounce package.)
3 Tbsp butter or margarine

Peel eggplant and cut into 1/2 in slices.  Mix eggs, water and salt.  Dip eggplant in flour, dip in the egg mixture, and finally in the bread crumbs to coat evenly.  (I usually line up three pie tins, one for each of the egg mixture, one for the flour and one for the bread crumbs.)

Heat 1/4 cup olive oil in a large skillet over moderate heat.  Cook the eggplant until lightly browned on both sides, adding the remaining olive oil as needed.  Drain the eggplant on paper towels.

Heat the oven to 350° F.  Pour Tomato Sauce into the bottom of a shallow 3 quart baking dish.  Arrange a layer of eggplant slices over the bottom  of the dish.  Sprinkle with some of the Parmesan cheese and then with part of the mozzarella cheese.  Repeat layers with the remaining eggplant slices and the cheeses.  (Reserve some of the mozzarella cheese for the top. I never have enough unless I buy the larger package!) Dot with butter.  Bake 30 minutes, until cheese is lightly browned.  Serves 8 to 10.

Tomato Sauce

1/4 cup olive oil
1-2 cloves garlic, minced
1 12 ounce can tomato paste
2 cups water
1 generous tsp basil
1 tsp marjoram
1 Tbsp sugar
1/4 tsp salt
A few twists of fresh ground paper

Heat olive oil in a saucepan over moderately low heat; add garlic and cook until tender.  Add tomato paste, water, basil, marjoram, sugar, salt, and pepper; mix well.  Cover and simmer 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Makes 3 cups of sauce.


I had no idea what to do with the eggplant when Mr. T proudly brought it in from the garden.  (I don't ever remember my mom cooking it.  I guess she could have cooked it but if she did, I didn't eat it!)
Finding this recipe was like finding gold!  It has become a favorite at our house and it made me love eggplant!!

It was a hectic week at our house.  After I recovered from whatever bug had zapped me, my mom became ill.  After trips to the doctor, urgent care, emergency rooms and finally a few days in the hospital, she is fine.  It was a long week for her.

There certainly wasn't much cookin' going on at our house.  I would have loved to have come home to a nice plate of Eggplant Parmigiana!

While late, I am linking to Foodie Friday at Designs by Gollum and Fat Camp Friday at Mangoes and Chutney.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Planning Halloween Treats

I have always loved the fall.  Not only is it a the reprieve from the heat, but the foliage starts to change, the days grow shorter and it is time to cozy up by the fireplace, enjoy comfort food and plan fun foods for the holidays!

I don't believe that Halloween qualifies as a holiday but it is an annual event the can't be overlooked.  It is just plain fun.

I have been under the weather the last few days and haven't done anything new and exciting for Halloween and since I still have time,  I probably will.  But, in the meantime, let me share some fun goodies from the past.

Witch's Wands were fun to make.  It is easy enough for the kids to make and tasty!  Just the right combination of salt and sweetness.

Great Pumpkin Cookies were just that, great!  They spread and flattened during baking but were tasty.  I used the Libby Pumpkin Cookie recipe.

For a party, my daughter made Creepy Deviled Eyeballs!  They were tasty even if they were green!

Cheesecake Pops are great and can be decorated for any season! They are so much fun to make!

Everybody gets to wear a costume, even my daughter's dog, Abi.  I am  not certain that she thought it was such a wonderful idea.

I am linking to Fusion Fridays, Foodie Friday, and Fat Camp Friday.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Climbing White Mountain

It is Outdoor Wednesday and Mr. T has prepared a guest post!  His latest adventure was climbing White Mountain.....a fifteen mile round trip hike.

What are the facts?

  • White Mountain is the third highest peak in California at 14,246 feet.
  • It is located East of the Sierra Nevadas.
  • White Mountain is in the rain shadow of the Sierra Nevadas and has a very dry almost "moon-like" climate and appearance.  
  • This area has the perfect conditions for the world's oldest living trees, the Ancient Bristlecone Pine.
  • The oldest of these trees is over 4,700 years old!
...Ready....let's go!

Are you crazy? was the most common response when I asked my hiking buddies if they wanted to hike up White Mountain.  I had done the hike on two other occasions but the last time was eleven years ago!  Sometimes if you want to do it you just have to do it alone.

On the way I came upon a small group of Big Horn Sheep.

After hiking six and a half miles, the goal was in view.  

The stone hut at the top of the mountain is a high elevation laboratory maintained by the University of California, Berkeley.  It is their high altitude research station.

This is a view from the top looking back from where I came.

I waited at the top for the next group of hikers so that I could have my picture taken at the top as proof that I made it!

A bonus to the hike was visiting the Bristlecone pine interpretive walk.  They are the oldest living trees on earth and have a graceful beauty despite their age and growing conditions.

I totally enjoyed the hike.  I took my time and enjoyed myself.  It is hard to find words to describe the peace that I felt doing the hike solo.

I am participating in Outdoor Wednesday hosted by Susan at A Southern Daydreamer.