Thursday, January 31, 2008

Blueberry Crumb Cake

Ah, Ina has done it again. But then she always does! With me, this woman can do no wrong, literally. (Except for perhaps the Croissant Bread Pudding I recently made, but that was because I apparently detest bread pudding of all kinds, and not because of anything dear Ina did.) I want her home, her kitchen and especially her gardens. Covet, covet. I love nearly all of her recipes. I find them basically uncomplicated but also refined to the palate, thus thoroughly enjoyable.

I saw her make this Blueberry Crumb Cake on her recent Weekend Lunch episode. Frankly it looked divine. I myself am not an obsessive crumb cake personality such as my husband happens to be, but like any other good wife I do try to please him, and therefore decided to make this dessert on his behalf. Little did I know I'd end up eating most all of it myself.

It's just that it was so good. With the lemon zest and the fat, sweet blueberries---I found myself eating three whole pieces at one sitting. Oh the husband had some too, don't get me wrong, just not a whole lot, as most of it was gone by the time he made it home. And so if you like blueberries and crumb cakes of any kind, be sure to try this recipe. It will not disappoint!

My grade: B+
(I piled the streusel on too high, rendering it somewhat dry, which was completely my fault. Had I not, the grade would be higher.)

Blueberry Crumb Cake


For the streusel:
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup light brown sugar, lightly packed
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 pound (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour

For the cake:
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature (3/4 stick)
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon grated lemon zest
2/3 cup sour cream
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup fresh blueberries
Confectioners' sugar for sprinkling

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter and flour a 9-inch round baking pan.


For the streusel:
Combine the granulated sugar, brown sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg in a bowl. Stir in the melted butter and then the flour. Mix well and set aside.

For the cake:
Cream the butter and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment on high speed for 4 to 5 minutes, until light. Reduce the speed to low and add the eggs 1 at a time, then add the vanilla, lemon zest, and sour cream. In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. With the mixer on low speed, add the flour mixture to the batter until just combined. Fold in the blueberries and stir with a spatula to be sure the batter is completely mixed.

Spoon the batter into the prepared pan and spread it out with a knife. With your fingers,
crumble the topping evenly over the batter. Bake for 40 to 50 minutes, until a cake tester comes out clean. Cool completely and serve sprinkled with confectioners' sugar.

Paula Deen's Gooey Butter Cakes

I'm not afraid to admit that I like Paula Deen. I'll shun nothing as long as it tastes great and won't give me a heart attack on the spot. (Four days later? Negotiable.) And Paula Deen's food pretty much always tastes good, plus it's easy. My only fundamental issue with Paula is the use of boxed products in some of her recipes. For example, the recipe I'm posting today, Gooey Butter Cakes, calls for a boxed yellow cake mix. I can see how this would be simpler. How it makes sense. But I tried it with the yellow box mix, and did I like it? No. Perhaps it's my palate, perhaps it's that I'm an elitist. Either way, it tasted too synthetic and, well, false. That's the only way to describe it.

But then my good friend pointed me to Whole Food's Yellow Cake Mix recipe. (Here is another Basic Yellow Cake Mix recipe that looks promising.) Call me dim, but I'd never considered that people spent their time actually making cake mixes. I thought if people wanted to make a cake from scratch, well they were going to go whole hog and make/bake that cake right then and there. Apparently not so, and the result? Homemade mixes. And me? Very pleased.

This means I can enjoy Paula's Gooey Butter Cakes with no palate issues and no elitist regrets. It should be noted that Paula's Pumpkin version of these butter cakes are apparently the best of all butter cake variations. I'll be trying it in the future, make no mistake. My grade: B+

Gooey Butter Cakes
(recipe pinched with thanks from


  • Cake
  • 1 (18.25-ounce) box yellow cake mix (or make from scratch, as I prefer, recipes above)
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, melted
  • Filling
  • 1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, softened
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 (16-ounce) box confectioners' sugar
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, melted
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease a 13x9x2-inch baking pan.
  2. In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine cake mix, egg, and butter and mix well. Pat into the bottom of prepared pan and set aside.
  3. Still using an electric mixer, beat cream cheese until smooth; add eggs and vanilla. Dump in confectioners' sugar and beat well. Reduce speed of mixer and slowly pour in butter. Mix well.
  4. Pour filling onto cake mixture and spread evenly. Bake for 40 to 50 minutes. Don't be afraid to make a judgment call on the cooking time, because oven temperatures can vary. You want the center to be a little gooey, so don't bake it past that point!
  5. Remove from oven and allow to cool completely. Cut into squares. Just remember that these wonderful little cakes are very, very rich, and a little will go a long way.

Ina Garten's Croissant Bread Pudding

I can't help it, I love Ina Garten. She makes everything look so easy and do-able and plus her kitchen is perfect. Are those sun lamps beneath her cabinets, feeding those pots of rosemary and thyme? Knowing Ina, they probably are. Fabulous.

One thing I've never loved, however, is bread pudding. Oh I'm not sure why, I guess I figure if I'm going to eat pudding it ought to be something smooth and sinful like dark chocolate pudding or homemade butterscotch; that's the kind of pudding person I am. Plus bread pudding isn't really pudding, at least according to how I know it. It's usually been more akin to soggy custard bread in a bowl, and who wants to eat that? I mean really.

But then Ina made her Croissant Bread Pudding one fateful Barefoot Contessa episode, and I was sold. I knew I had to try it. It seemed easy enough and as it turns out, it was. My daughter helped me the whole time, gleefully stacking the croissants and then adding the raisins and pouring the custard. We waited anxiously as it cooked, and when the timer rang we couldn't wait to pull it out of the oven.

And it looked wonderful! And the smell? The smell was even better. The pudding was golden brown and a little crispy on top, and we couldn't wait to dive into it. The verdict? Well, my daughter loved it, but me? Alas, and I hate to say this, but I'm still not a bread pudding fan. BUT THAT'S ME. If someone loves bread pudding, then by all means, try this recipe as I'm sure you'll love it. I might sweeten it a bit more if I were to make it again (which I won't), but all in all, I think it came out just as Ina intended it. My grade: B

Croissant Bread Pudding

3 extra-large whole eggs
8 extra-large egg yolks
5 cups half-and-half
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
6 croissants, preferably stale, sliced horizontally
1 cup raisins

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.


In a medium bowl, whisk together the whole eggs, egg yolks, half-and-half, sugar, and vanilla. Set the custard mixture aside. Slice the croissants in half horizontally. In a 10 by 15 by 2 1/2-inch oval baking dish, distribute the bottoms of the sliced croissants, then add the raisins, then the tops of the croissants (brown side up), being sure the raisins are between the layers of croissants or they will burn while baking. Pour the custard over the croissants and allow to soak for 10 minutes, pressing down gently.

Place the pan in a larger one filled with 1-inch of hot water. Cover the larger pan with aluminum foil, tenting the foil so it doesn't touch the pudding. Cut a few holes in the foil to allow steam to escape. Bake for 45 minutes. Uncover and bake for 40 to 45 more minutes or until the pudding puffs up and the custard is set. Remove from the oven and cool slightly. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Serves 8 to 10

Mahogany Beef Stew with Red Wine and Hoisin

Mmmmmm stew. Sometimes it's hard to beat a good stew or pot roast, especially when you live in the Arctic tundra such as I do, with snow and wind and rain freezing everything in sight. It makes you want comfort food; lots and lots of it. Corn breads, mashed potatoes, pot pies, that kind of thing. Oh, and stew.

Growing up, I never liked stew. Maybe it was because of the Dinty Moore-type quality my mother used to make, or all the mushy peas and carrots, or maybe the overly thick sauce. Whatever it was, it killed the stew mood for me, every time. Recently, however, I had to start questioning: how bad could stew be? I loved pot roast, for example, and that wasn't very different from stew, was it? Still, I wanted to find the best stew recipe out there, and so I scoured the internet until finally a good friend turned me on to her favorite stew recipe from (which I believe came from Bon Appetit). I'd actually seen it once or twice in my internet travels, but upon receiving her recommendation, I knew I had to try it.

Keep in mind I didn't have all the hoisin sauce the recipe called for, nor did I ultimately need the cornstarch. I also added Worcestershire sauce fairly liberally and used a Zinfandel, not a Cabernet. In addition I threw in some sun dried tomatoes (something I saw both Ina and Giada do), pearl onions (as opposed to sliced regular), and probably two or three cups of beef stock.

And so did I like it? Boy did I ever. The husband did too, calling it "refined and spectacular". Even the kid enjoyed it, but especially the easy mashed potatoes I whipped up to accompany the stew. Raves all around, and I do hope you'll try it. My grade: A-

Mahogany Beef Stew with Red Wine and Hoisin Sauce


4 tablespoons olive oil
3 1/2 pounds boneless beef chuck roast, trimmed, cut into 2 1/2-inch pieces
3 1/2 cups chopped onions
2 cups Cabernet Sauvignon
1 14.5-ounce can diced tomatoes with Italian herbs, undrained
1/2 cup hoisin sauce*
2 bay leaves

1 pound slender carrots, peeled, cut diagonally into 1-inch lengths
1 tablespoon cornstarch mixed with 1 tablespoon water
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley


Heat 2 tablespoons oil in heavy large pot over high heat. Sprinkle meat with salt and pepper. Add meat to pot; sauté until brown on all sides, about 10 minutes. Push meat to sides of pot. Reduce heat to medium; add 2 tablespoons oil to pot. Add onions; sauté until golden brown, about 15 minutes. Mix meat into onions. Add 1 cup wine, tomatoes with juices, hoisin sauce, and bay leaves. Bring to boil.

Reduce heat to low, cover pot and simmer 45 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add carrots and 1 cup wine. Cover; simmer 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Uncover, increase heat to high; boil until sauce is slightly thickened, stirring occasionally, about 15 minutes longer. Reduce heat to medium, add cornstarch mixture and simmer until sauce thickens, stirring occasionally, about 8 minutes. Discard bay leaves. Season stew with salt and pepper. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Cool slightly. Chill uncovered until cold, then cover and keep refrigerated. Bring to simmer before serving, stirring occasionally.) Transfer stew to large bowl. Sprinkle with parsley; serve.

* Available at Asian markets and in the Asian foods section of some supermarkets.

Serves 6

Perfect Lemon Pound Cake

I am in search of the perfect lemon pound cake recipe because, if I have to be honest, I am a fool for lemons.

Lemon dishes of any kind, provided the lemon is mixed with sugar. Which means I am not talking about lemon on salmon, for example. I am talking about lemonade, lemon bars, lemon cookies, lemon frosting, etc. Which leads me to my recent obsession with lemon pound cake. I tried to make a lemon cake yesterday and to put it politely, it was awful. I've never purported to be a master baker, just a baker who wants to be a master. I don't understand exactly what baking powder is in relation to baking soda, as an example, nor do I honestly care. I just like when my baking works. Oh don't get me wrong, the lemon cake I made was certainly quite tasty, it just felt like a wet sponge on my tongue as I ate it. Not really what I was going for. So what is my point, you ask?

I think I have found a lemon pound cake recipe with some real promise. I shall be making it post haste and then reporting back with my findings. I will also soon be posting about my Dutch Oven BBQ Ribs and my blueberry crumble cake which was omg so good.

What I'm saying is, be patient a little longer. I'll be back after I try this potentially fabulous recipe.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Spinach Salad with Orange Honey Vinaigrette and Gorgonzola

Sometimes you just can't beat a good salad. I typically subscribe to the KISS philosophy (Keep It Simple, Stupid), opting for dark greens instead of light, and less ingredients rather than more. Yes, less is more, as evidenced in this favorite of mine. All you need is fresh spinach, crumbled Gorgonzola for garnish and the following homemade dressing:

Orange Honey Vinaigrette


2 cloves garlic, peeled
2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped
2/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons orange juice
2 tablespoons honey
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
salt and pepper, to taste


With food processor running, drop garlic and parsley down feed tube and let process until garlic is minced.

Turn off machine and remove cover, add all remaining ingredients except salt and pepper, replace cover and process for several seconds until well blended.

Taste and add more honey if you wish, and salt and pepper to taste.

Keep bottled in the fridge and shake well before using.

My grade: A (it's now my favorite vinaigrette, hands down.)

Thanksk to Lennie from RecipeZaar for this recipe.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Chicken with Roasted Vegetables and Gorgonzola

What a weekend. I went on a mini-road trip, only to return home to a typical family whirlwind. Four hours of intense labor later, I collapsed into a ball of wahwah and promptly checked out. Today was a bit better. Still busy, however, I was at least able to throw together a simple and rustic family favorite. The meal, coupled with a well timed bottle of pinot noir, was just what I needed. My grade: A-

Chicken with Roasted Vegetables and Gorgonzola

1 red bell pepper, cut per preference
1 orange red pepper, cut per preference
4 large red potatoes, cubed
3 - 4 large shallots, cut per preference
5 large garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons fresh rosemary (about 2 sprigs)
4 - 6 sprigs thyme
1 1/2 tsp Kosher salt (or to taste)
1/2 tsp coarse black pepper (or to taste)
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1/8 cup quality olive oil plus 2 tablespoons
3 chicken breasts
Gorgonzola to garnish, about a tablespoon per serving


Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Mince garlic, rosemary and thyme, reserve. Cube potatoes; slice shallots and bell peppers. Combine on large cookie sheet with kosher salt, black pepper, butter and olive oil. Mix with hands to distribute herbs and oil/butter evenly. When done, place in oven, roasting anywhere from 45 minutes to 1 hour, depending on how you prefer the tenderness of your vegetables.

Approximately 20 minutes before vegetables are finished roasting, heat 1/8 cup olive oil in frying pan. When hot, put in chicken breasts (I keep the breasts whole and then cube when still hot, but you can cube ahead of time and saute in oil, if you prefer), cooking approximately 4 - 8 minutes per side, depending on thickness of breast. (Make sure not to overcook, which will make the chicken dry.) Take chicken breasts from the oil just moments before they are fully done.

Pull vegetables from oven when chicken is done; you should have about ten minutes left, total, to your roasting time. Add chicken with the rest of vegetables, mixing well. You may like to add a bit more olive oil here if needed. Finish roasting, making sure chicken is fully cooked (but not overcooked!) before taking cookie sheet from oven.

Garnish with Gorgonzola while still hot. Serve with Spinach Salad with Orange Honey Vinaigrette and Roasted Red Bell Pepper Bisque.

Serves 4 heartily

Friday, January 11, 2008

Living Lebowski

It's been particularly spare eating this week. I've been, as usual, too busy, too rushed, too pressured, too a lot of things. I don't prepare "real" dinner meals Monday through Friday, not for myself or anybody who lives with me, God bless them. We eat fruit or cereal or toast at night. Sometimes I'll have a glass of Cabernet Sauvignon and a chunk of smoked Gouda. It's always sufficient. It also seems completely practical to me; there's no rule that we have to eat huge platefuls of casserole each evening, is there?

But I digress. This week, because I've been eating sparingly, I decided that instead of a good Cab, I'd have one ice cold White Russian in the evening as my cocktail of choice. More filling, you see. I'd forgotten what a good drink it is. I can't drink them in large quantities; the milk and the sweet can be overpowering if consumed too enthusiastically. But every once in awhile, like this week, a White Russian is right up my alley. My grade: A+++

The Classic White Russian

2 ounces quality vodka, like Grey Goose or Effen
1 ounce Kahlua or coffee liqueur
Cream (or half-and-half, or milk)


Monday, January 7, 2008

Sinfully Good Mexican Hot Chocolate

I see a can of Swiss Miss and I have a certain reaction. Real chocolate lovers never use mix, of course, and why in the world would they? How can there possibly be real sinful chocolate in that blue can? There isn't.

And so it takes more time, more materials. And sometimes it takes creativity. How do you make a pot of chocolate better? By using real chocolate of course, and real cream, and real vanilla beans. How do you make it more debauched than even that? Just egregiously fabulous? Well, you make that pot of chocolate Mexican, thus rendering it Mexillent.

All you Swiss Missers out there, please stop being Philistines and try this instead. Enjoy! My grade: A+


2 cups half-and-half
2 cups milk
2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp chili powder
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
8 ounces milk chocolate (or white chocolate, or semisweet, or a mix of your favorites)
1 vanilla bean, seeds from
2 cinnamon sticks
cinnamon sticks or vanilla beans for garnish


Warm half-and-half and milk in pot. Add cinnamon, nutmeg, chili powder, seeds from vanilla bean and vanilla extract. Whisk vigorously to blend well (clumped spices are no fun!). When completely blended, add 2 cinnamon sticks. Continue heating.

When mixture is steaming and hot to the touch (make sure not to boil!), add 8 ounces of your chosen chocolate. Melt and blend. Serve immediately, garnishing each mug with a cinnamon stick or vanilla bean, or with whipped cream.

Feeling more grown up? Add two to four tablespoons of dark rum for something extra special.

Serves 4

Southwestern Chicken Chowder with Roasted Poblano Peppers and Corn

I honestly don't know how I came up with this recipe. I will say though that I'm a bit of a soup magician, throwing all kinds of things in a pot and somehow making them taste acceptable. Maybe even fabulous. This chowder was no exception, I have to say. I think I trolled around the Food Network site a bit before concocting it, and could have been inspired by both Emeril and Paula. All I know is, this is some good soup. I realize it looks like a lot of work, but in actuality most of it is prep, and prep can usually be done way ahead of time. I'm just saying, if you like soup---especially hearty southwestern types---you might like to give this a go. My grade: A


¼ cup olive oil
3 large carrots, cut into ½-inch dice or as preferred
2 large onions, cut into ½-inch dice or as preferred
⅛ cup garlic, minced
2 large poblano peppers, roasted and seeded*, diced
16 oz whole kernel corn, roasted
3 or 4 large Yukon gold potatoes
1 teaspoon salt
1½ teaspoon white pepper
1 teaspoon ground cumin, or to taste
¼ teaspoon dried thyme, or to taste
1 tablespoon chicken bouillon granules
3 quarts chicken broth (homemade is better, but if you don’t have any on hand, use low sodium organic)
¼ cup minced cilantro leaves (more or less, to your taste)
1 roasted or grilled chicken, largely diced (store bought rotisserie is fine)
1 stick unsalted butter
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
⅛ teaspoon nutmeg (a pinch)
1 8oz can tomato sauce
2 tsp chili powder
1 tsp ancho chili powder
1 tsp chipotle chili powder**
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup heavy cream


Spread whole kernel corn one-layer deep over cookie sheet. Roast at 400 for approximately 15 - 20 minutes, until kernels brown slightly. Remove from pan; reserve. (If you prefer not to roast corn, that would be fine.)

Peel potatoes and chop, about ¾". Place in pot, cover with water plus one inch. Do not add salt. Cook through; when fork passes through potatoes easily, they are done. Drain and reserve.

Heat oil in large stockpot over medium heat. Add carrots, onions, garlic, poblano peppers (see note #1 below), salt, white pepper, cumin, all chili powders or blends (see note #2 below), and thyme. Saute for 7 to 8 minutes, or until the vegetables begin to soften.

(**For a more creamy soup, when the veggies are tender, add a cup of chicken stock to mixture and transfer to blender. Puree and return to the pot. Alternatively, for half creamy/half chunky consistency, take half (or more, or less) the veggies, add the stock and puree, then return to pot.**)

Stir in chicken bouillon. Add (the rest of) the chicken broth, tomato sauce, cinnamon, nutmeg, cilantro and corn and cook for 10 to 12 minutes, or until the carrots are tender. After this, add potatoes and the chicken and cook, stirring frequently, until the chowder is thick and the chicken and potatoes are heated through.

Shortly before the chowder is done, melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the flour and stir to combine. Cook, stirring frequently, for 3 to 4 minutes to cook the flour. Do not allow the mixture to brown! Ladle 1 cup of the hot liquid from the stockpot into the skillet, whisking constantly.

When the first cup of liquid is incorporated, add another 2 cups of liquid, 1 at a time. Pour the mixture in the skillet into the stockpot, whisking to blend. Cook, stirring frequently, for 3 to 5 minutes longer, or until the mixture begins to thicken. Remove pot from the heat. Stir in cream, blending, heating.

Serve with Monterey Jack Cheese and Sun-dried Tomato Quick Bread and some sangria.

Note #1: Green poblanos are always cooked or roasted. Use broiler or gas oven. After 80% of the skin has blistered, place poblanos in brown paper bag for ten minutes. Then under cold running water rub off tough outer skin, seed and peel, then chop/dice.

Note #2: Canned chipotles work as well, simply mince them and add to soup according to desired heat. Dehydrated chipotles work too; grind them then add according to desired heat.

Note #3:
Go slowly with nutmeg and cinnamon, as these are unique flavors. Some like more, some like less.

Note #4:
Salt and pepper amounts listed are somewhat conservative. Adjust to your personal taste.

Yields 12 - 16 servings.

Monterey Jack Cheese and Sun-Dried Tomato Quick Bread

A wonderfully tasty quick bread, with preparation taking less than fifteen minutes. Cooking time 45 minutes plus, given the reliability of your oven temperature. Bread is done when inserted toothpick is removed clean.


  • 1 1/2 cups unbleached all purpose flour
  • 1 1/2cups Monterey Jack cheese
  • 1/2 cup cornmeal
  • 1/2 cup sun-dried tomatoes, not in oil, chopped as desired
  • 1 4 1/4th oz can black olives, drained, chopped
  • 4.5 oz can green chilies, drained, chopped
  • 1/2 cup white onions, sauteed in olive oil until tender
  • 1/4th cup sugar
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4th cup sugar
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 4.5 oz can green chilies, drained, chopped
  • 1/4th cup olive oil
  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • butter for greasing pan

Preheat oven to 325. Generously grease 9X5 inch loaf pan with butter.

In a large bowl (I used my Kitchenaid), blend all ingredients except for flour. Do not over mix. When done, add flour and combine only until mixed.

Pour into prepared loaf pan, bake for 45 minutes or until inserted toothpick is removed clean. Cool for fifteen minutes then transfer to rack.

Great with Southwestern Chicken Chowder with Roasted Poblano Peppers and Corn.

My grade: A

* adapted from this recipe.