Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Whimsy Dessert

Holiday desserts seem to take center stage every year. I love to make and give show-stopping desserts but they can stop you in your tracks if your holiday list is long and winding.

Fear not because a trifle is just the thing. The word trifle comes from the French term ‘trufle’ which means something whimsical and of little consequence. Trifles are easy and the whimsy can be your inner creative foodie running amok. The basic ingredients are cake, fruit and cream. Have fun and put flavors together to create your own whimsical showpiece dessert this holiday.

Black Forest Trifle
layers of chocolate, cherries and whipped topping

This recipe is for a 5 inch trifle bowl.

2 boxes Brownie mix
1/4 cup cherry liqueur, if desired
2 21 oz. Cherry pie filling
2 8oz. frozen whipped topping, thawed
(you may have some brownies and whipped topping left over)

Prepare brownie mixes according to box. Cool and cut into bite size squares. Brush brownies with liqueur. Place half of the brownies at the bottom of a trifle bowl or large round clear bowl. Spread one can of pie filling over brownies. Spread 1 contain of whipped topping over pie filling. Place remaining brownies on whipped topping. Spread remaining pie filling and finish with whipped topping. Garnish with chocolate shavings.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Peanut Butter aka Nut Meal

Creamy, chunky, natural and chocolate are a few choices for peanut butter lovers. In the beginning, terms like peanut porridge, nut meal and nut butter where used to describe this very versatile and nutritious food we have come to know as peanut butter.

Peanut butter has come a long way. So, in honor of National Peanut Butter Lover’s Month I thought it would be nice to look back at peanut butter's humble beginnings. Here are a few notable dates and people linked to peanut butter aka nut meal.

1890 – George A. Bayle Jr. processed and packaged ground peanut paste as a nutritious protein substitute for people without teeth.

1895 – The Kellogg brothers’ patient the “Process of preparing nut meal”.

1899 – Almeeta Lambert published the first nut cookbook “The Complete Guide to Nut Cookery”.

1903 – Dr. George Washington Carver began peanut research. He developed more than 300 uses for peanuts.

1904 – C H Sumner introduced peanut butter to the world at the Universal Exposition in St. Louis.

1908 – Krema Products Co. began selling peanut butter. They are still in operation today in Columbus, OH.

1958 Jif is introduced and now operates the world’s largest peanut butter plant. They churn out 250,000 jars a day.

Peanut Butter Swirl Brownies
This peanut butter swirl looks and tastes wonderful with any brownie mix.

1 box brownie mix
1 8oz. cream cheese (softened)
½ cup confectioners’ sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 egg
½ cup creamy peanut butter
2 tablespoons melted butter

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray 9 x 9 pan with cooking spray and line with parchment paper. The parchment paper makes for an easy removal. Spray again over paper.

Prepare brownie mix according to package. Pour into prepared pan. In a small bowl mix cream cheese, sugar, vanilla, egg, peanut butter and melted butter until smooth. Drop dollops of peanut butter mixture onto the brownie batter. With the tip of a knife cut and twist peanut butter mixture through brownie mix until you create a swirled effect.

Bake for 30-35 minutes. Cool in pan for 20 minutes and gentle lift brownies out of their pan and cut into squares.

Yield: 9 large squares or 16 small squares

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Pomegranates - are they worth the mess?

Yes, they are worth every ruby stain.

The pomegranate arrives late fall each year just in time for the holidays. With its medium thick ruby red rind and crimson, soft yet crunchy, sweet-tart seeds, they are both beautiful and delicious.

The pomegranate has been cultivated since ancient time throughout the Mediterranean region of Asia, Africa and Europe. Today the San Joaquin Valley in California is the only concentration of commercially grown pomegranates in America. The primary commercial growing regions of the world go back to its roots in the Near East, India and Southern Europe.

This red ball of seeds has recently found itself on the top of many 10 ten healthy food lists. The nutritional research finds that they are high in potassium, fiber and vitamin C. In addition, the antioxidants help retard aging and can neutralize about twice as many free radicals as red wine and seven times as many as green tea. It’s no surprise that pomegranates are making their way into many food items and becoming a must have in healthy diets.

To enjoy these little powerhouse beauties carefully cut the crown (top) off. Then cut the pomegranate into 4 sections. Place each section in a bowl of water. Pull the seeds away from the white pith of each section. Discard the skin and pith from the water. Next, strain out the water. Each and every seed is ready for baking, juicing or hand to mouth eating.

Pomegranate Orange Muffins
Wonderful orange flavor with crunch.

2 cups all-purpose flour
½ cup sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon of orange zest (about 2 oranges)
1 ½ cups pomegranate seeds (1 pomegranate)
1 cup milk
1 egg
¼ cup oil

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line or butter muffin tins.

In a large bowl, mix flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Stir in orange zest and pomegranate seeds. Make a well in the center.

In large measuring cup, blend milk, egg and oil. Pour liquid into the well. Sir until batter is moistened. The batter will be lumpy. Spoon batter into 12 large tins or 24 small tins, filling each to the rim. Bake in a 400 degree oven until lightly brown, about 15 minutes for large muffins and 12 minutes for small. Remove muffins from pans. Serve warm or cool.

Yields 12 large or 24 small muffins

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Breakfast Around the World

We have all heard the phrase, “Breakfast is the most important meal,” and it is. Breakfast is essential for weight management and refueling our glucose levels, which in turn fuels our body with energy. These two factors alone should debunk any notion about skipping breakfast.

Seeing that September is All American Breakfast Month I started to ponder, what does the world wake up to? My research of countries around the world leads me to the conclusion that there are three pillars of a good breakfast. The prefect breakfast trio is composed of proteins, carbohydrates and caffeine.

First, eggs or some kind of protein was usually on the plate. In Costa Rica, gallo pinto is the national dish. It is a combination of fried rice, black beans, sour cream and fried or scrambled eggs. In Madagascar, kitoza, strips of beef grilled over a fire, is served alongside gruel (thin porridge). In India, appam, a thin crepe-like rice pancake filled with meat, potatoes and/or vegetables, is a popular breakfast food.

Next, after protein, bread or starch was consumed. In Turkey, ekmek, bread made with wheat flour is served with preserves, honey or butter, is very popular. And in China, the primary starch is rice with small amounts of vegetables and meat.

On top of the list was coffee, tea or cocoa. In Argentina, submarino, steamed milk with bittersweet chocolate melted into it, is the supreme breakfast beverage. In Greece, you may order your coffee sketo (without sugar), metrio (medium-sweet) or glyko (very sweet). In India, kahva, a green tea with sugar, cardamom and ground almonds, is the beverage of choice in Kashmir.

People of the world have spoken and have united with their cups of coffee, tea and cocoa in the morning. We can’t deny the fact we all need a little kick-start in the morning. But remember to add some protein and carbs to that cup of joe, tea or cocoa.

Buon giorno!
Bonos dies!

Café de Olla (Mexican Spiced Coffee)
A wonderful cinnamon aroma with a lightly sweet syrupy flavor.

6 tablespoons of coarse coffee
¾ cup piloncillo (brown sugar)
4 whole cinnamon sticks
4 whole cloves
½ an orange, peeled and sliced
6 cups of water

Place all ingredients in a pot and bring to a boil. Let steep for 5 minutes. Strain and serve hot or iced.

Yields: 6 servings

Monday, August 4, 2008


If you are like me, and the millions of Americans who indulge in ice cream, you may have found yourself in the ice cream section numerous times this summer. The average American consumes 5.7 gallons of ice cream a year. So, that is about a ½ gallon a month. It looks like I am not so average; when it comes to ice cream I am above average.

I am always on the look-out for new flavors – root beer float, birthday cake, peach cobbler – just to name a few. But what about ice cream desserts. You know, that special molded treat that takes hours to create and makes everyone oh and ah. Baked Alaska, Bombe and Spumoni come to mind.

Baked Alaska and Bombe are made with cooked custard and meringue, which are great if you have the time. Spumoni, on the other hand, is one molded ice cream dessert that stands up to the wow fact and can be easy to make as well.

Spumoni comes from Naples, Italy. There are no hard and fast rules to this dessert. It is basically comprised of three flavors, which traditionally are pistachio, chocolate and cherry plus nuts, candied cherries and whipped cream. You may substitute cherry with strawberry or raspberry. And your choices of molds are several; bombe, metal mixing bowl or loaf pan. In the United States August 21 is National Spumoni Day. Did someone say Celebrate?

Easy Spumoni
For this spumoni I used a loaf pan. You may use a round mold. I like the loaf pan because each serving includes all three flavors.

2 cups pistachio ice cream
¼ cup chopped pistachios
2 cups chocolate ice cream
1 cup whipping cream
¼ cup sugar
¼ cup chopped maraschino cherries

Line the bottom and sides of one metal loaf pan with wax paper. Evenly spread one layer of pistachio ice cream on the bottom. Sprinkle chopped pistachios on top. Spread chocolate ice cream on top of the pistachio ice cream layer. Place the pan in freezer. Mix whipping cream and sugar and whip to soft peaks. Fold in cherries. Spread whipped cream mixture over chocolate ice cream. Smooth top. Freeze for 2 hours.

Yields: one loaf, 8 servings

Sunday, July 6, 2008

July is National Ice Cream Month

Peas, tomatoes, avocados, corn and beer - sounds like the fixings for a fine summer picnic. But these are a few “exotic” ice cream flavors I’m itching to try. The faint at heart, or weak at stomach, may be reluctant to try these off beat flavors but a true gastronomic adventurer will dive spoon first into tomato ice cream and love every spoonful. Old favorites like strawberry, chocolate and vanilla will always hold a special place in all ice cream lover hearts but for something different with zing, one must give avocado ice cream a try and what better time than July, National Ice Cream Month.

Anyone armed with a home ice cream maker and a few choice ingredients may just stumble upon a replacement to their store-bought mint chocolate chip or cookie dough ice cream favorites. So, clear a spot in your freezer for some ice cream with kick and smack.

Chocolate Stout Ice Cream
This ice cream has a very intense chocolate flavor with a strong beer bite near the finish. Chocolate and beer enthusiast will enjoy every spoonful.

4 (1.45oz.) dark chocolate candy bars
1 cup milk
1/2 cup sugar
3 egg yolks
1 cup light cream
1 cup Guinness stout
1 tablespoon vanilla extract

Break chocolate bars into small pieces and place in a large bowl. Set a mesh strainer over the bowl.

Warm milk and sugar in a medium saucepan. In a medium bowl whisk egg yolks. Slowly pour warm milk mixture into egg yolks. Whisk constantly. Place mixture back into the saucepan.

Stir the mixture over medium heat with a wooden spatula, until the mixture thickens and coats spatula. Pour the custard through the strainer over the choclate pieces. Stir until melted. Add beer and vanilla. Let cool in refrigerator.

Freeze in ice cream maker according to the manufacturer's instructions.

Yield: 1 quart

Avocado Ice Cream
I love this ice cream because it is so quick, easy and delicious.

4 ripe avocados
1 cup sugar
1 cup sour cream
1 cup light cream
1/4 cup lime juice (6 or 7 limes)

Slice the avocados in half and remove the pits. Scoop out the flesh and cut into small pieces.

Puree the avocados, sugar, sour cream, light cream and lime juice in a food processor or blender until smooth.

Freeze in ice cream maker according to the manufacturer's instructions.

Yield: 1 quart

Monday, June 2, 2008

Iced Tea, Summer's Elixir

With the summer heat fast approaching it’s time to make some room in your fridge for iced tea. Iced tea may just be the king or queen of summer drinks. June, National Iced Tea Month, is the prefect time to revisit iced tea.

During the 1904 Worlds Fair in St. Louis, Missouri, iced tea became vogue. Richard Blechynden, India Tea Commissioner and Director of the East Indian Pavilion, was having trouble serving hot tea to fair goers, considering the scorching heat of the summer day. He quickly decided to serve the tea over ice and the crowds loved it. The rest, they say, is history. Today 85% of the tea consumed in America is over ice.

The oldest recipe for iced tea can be found in many 1800’s cookbooks, these recipes where called punches. They were made with green, not black, tea with touches of alcohol, sugar and fruit.

A number of recent studies suggest that tea (black, green, hot or iced) can prevent cancers and may prevent heart disease. The chemical polyphenol in tea has powerful antioxidant properties. Polyphenols deactivates cancer-causing agents by neutralizing tissue-damaging free radicals.

I know lemonade is sweet and tart, but iced tea can refresh and protect your health. Besides, you can always make lemonade-iced tea.

Strawberry Mint Tea
I like the delicate taste of green tea with strawberries but if you are out of green tea, black tea will work just fine.

6 cups of water
½ cup sugar
8 green tea bags
1 pint of fresh strawberries, stems removed and quartered
a handful of fresh mint, chopped

Boil water in large pot. Add sugar, tea, strawberries and mint. Turn off heat and stir. Let steep for 15 minutes. Remove tea bags. Let steep and cool for 30 minutes. Pour through a fine-meshed sieve into a gallon container. Add enough water to fill container. Serve over ice.
Yield: one gallon

Ginger Iced Tea
The spicy bite of ginger is refreshing to the end.

6 cups of water
7 black tea bags
4 1” pieces of ginger, about 3T chopped
½ cup sugar

Boil water in large pot. Add sugar, tea and ginger. Turn off heat and stir. Let steep for 15 minutes. Remove tea bags. Let steep and cool for 30 minutes. Pour through a fine-meshed sieve into a gallon container. Add enough water to fill container. Serve over ice.
Yield: one gallon

Monday, May 5, 2008

From Garden to Plate

The sky is clear. The sun is shining brightly. Spring is aglow and bursting with color. The April rains have come and gone. Their job is complete, they have left May flowers and I am hungry for slow, lazy days and edible flowers.

Edible flowers add the perfect touch to desserts, salads and drinks. I especially love flowers crystallized. They instantly transform delicate flowers to candy like beauties. Before you don your plate with flowers there are a few rules to enjoying their beauty and taste.

First, make sure they are not treated with any insecticides. The best way to insure safe flowers is to grow your own. Second, if you are allergy-prone, it's best to skip flowers altogether. And last and most importantly, always check to see if they are edible. Some common edible flowers are Dandelion, Fuchsia, Impatiens, Jasmine, Lilac, Primrose, Pansy, Safflower and Squash blossom. A few flowers to avoid are Buttercup, Daffodil, Hyacinth, Lily of the Valley, Mistletoe and Sweet pea.

This list is by no means complete. You can search the web for a more extensive list. There are several books on the subject as well.

Edible Flowers: Desserts and Drinks by Cathy Wilkinson Barash
Edible Flowers: From Garden to Kitchen by Kathy Brown
Edible Flower Garden by Rosalind Creasy

So, go ahead and enjoy the warm spring days ahead and don't forget to take some time to eat the flowers. The edible, safe and insecticide free, flowers.

Crystallized Flowers
Crystallized flowers can instantly transform any dessert to something extra special.

1 egg white
caster sugar (superfine sugar)
Edible flowers (free of chemicals)
wax paper
paintbrush and tweezers

Lightly beat egg white. Carefully hold one flower at a time with tweezers. Paint each petal evenly with egg white. Sprinkle sugar on all surfaces. Place flowers on wax paper to dry for at least an hour. After the first drying check for any missed surfaces. Reapply egg white and sugar to any uncovered surfaces.

Let dry complete for 48 hours. Sort, layer (with wax paper) and store flowers in an airtight jar for up to three months.

Friday, April 4, 2008

The Many Tastes of Licorice

Offer someone licorice and odds are they will expect a black soft chewy candy that taste, well like licorice. But "licorice candy" can also be strawberry, cherry and chocolate flavor. The majority of licorice candy produced in America is flavored with anise, which taste like licorice. Now if you are in the produce section looking for something unusual to serve for a special dinner you may be tempted to try something labeled anise, which is actually fennel. Is your head spinning? Let's take a closer look at licorice and licorice flavor.
Licorice is an herb, Glycyrrhiza glabra, which is processed and sold primary as an extract. Anise is a spice, Pimpinella anisum, and is harvested for its seeds. Star Anise is a spice, Illicium verum, that is sold and used dried. And Fennel is an herb, Foeniculum vulgare, which can be found in the produce section in most grocery stores and is eaten raw or cooked. Licorice root contains glycyrrhizic acid, the plants major component, which is extremely sweet. Anise, star anise and fennel contain the chemical anethole, which mirrors true licorice flavor. All four have been used to treat a variety of lung disorders.

With so much to choose from no wonder April 12 in National Licorice Day. I checked, mail will be delivered that day and banks will be open. I will celebrate with a bag of black licorice candy. If you feel like exploring give fennel a try, besides it's in season.

Star Anise Rice Pudding
This sweet and spicy rice pudding is the grown-up comfort food.

2 cups water
1 cup arborio rice
1 13.5 oz can coconut milk
1 teaspoon of five-star powder (see note)
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup shredded sweeten coconut
1 cup milk

Place water and rice in a large saucepan and bring to a boil. Boil for ten minutes. Add coconut milk and spices and simmer for 15 - 20 minutes or until thick and creamy. remove from heat. Stir in brown sugar, coconut and milk. Cool in refrigerator for 2 hours. Additional milk can be added if too thick.

Yield: 4 cups

Five-Star Powder
This traditional Chinese spice can be purchased in many grocery stores. If you can not find it you can make your own. It has an unique complex flavor - sweet, bitter, sour, pungent and salty.

2 star anise, pods and seeds
1 teaspoon whole peppercorns
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
1 teaspoon whole cloves

Combine all ingredients and ground in a coffee mill.

Yield: 2 tablespoons

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Sorrel, a Glimpse of Spring

Ah, March and spring is at our doorstep with all of its color and green bounty awaiting our welcome. It may still be a bit cold and windy but the promise of spring is ours.

One of my favorite spring plants/food is sorrel. It grows back every spring in my small garden box. In fact, some winters, if it is mild, it is still available for picking.

The unique taste of sorrel is like no other. It has a lemony bitter tang that burst with every bite. Sorrel is a very popular herb in France. It is used in sauces, soups, salads, drinks and eggs. It is rich in vitamin A, B1, C and potassium. Sorrel will grow throughout the summer and add flavor to many dishes. Create a space for sorrel in your garden you will not be disappointed.

Online sources for sorrel seeds:


Sorrel Omelette
The tang from the sorrel and creamy feta are delightful in this omelette.

10 sorrel leaves, stems removed
2 teaspoons butter, divided
2 eggs
1 tablespoon water
salt and pepper to taste

Cut sorrel leaves into thin strips. Saute in pan with 1 teaspoon of butter until leaves have wilted and turned dark green. Remove pan from heat.

Beat eggs, water, salt and pepper lightly, then stir in sorrel. Melt remaining butter in omelette pan. Add eggs when butter hot and bubbling. Give pan a good shake and left edges with spatula. When eggs are cooked, fold 1/3 of eggs over and then the other 1/3 over. Side omelette onto a plate and enjoy.

Yield: one serving

Monday, February 4, 2008


Seeing that it is February, now may be a safe time to start talking about cookies again. The most versatile cookies, in my opinion, are Biscotti. The dough can be easily altered to cover a huge range of sweet flavors, as well as savory ones.

Biscotti in Italian means "more than one cooking or baked twice". (Bis - more than one, cotto - cooking) Some similar National versions are the German zwieback, British hardtack, Jewish mandelbrot, Greek paxemadia and Russian sukhariki.

Bsicotti have been around since Roman times. A Tuscan baker served them with wine. This quickly spread across Italy prompting countless versions to pop up throughout the Italian countryside. The dry texture and long shelf life make them perfect for travelers.

The following recipe can easily be adapted to create something new by simply replacing the lemon and poopy seeds for something else. Go ahead and have some fun. Be creative and dazzle your taste buds. The holidays are over; why not celebrate with some biscotti.

Lemon Poppy Seed Biscotti
This light, sweet crunchy cookie is perfect for dunking.

1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
2 eggs
1 tablespoon lemon zest (about 2 lemons)
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 tablespoon poppy seeds
1 teaspoon lemon extract

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. In a large bowl mix sugar, butter, eggs and lemon zest until smooth and creamy. Add flour, baking powder, poppyseeds and extract to sugar mixture. Mix well.

With floured hands shape dough into a 16" x 3" log and place on a cookie sheet. Bake for 25 minutes. Remove log from oven, let cool for 5 minutes on pan. With a serrated knife carefully slice the log into about 18 cookies. Bake cookies addtional 10 minutes on each side. Cool completely on wire rack.

Yield: 18 cookies

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Vanilla Bean, the Edible Orchid

Vanilla conjures up many things when mentioned. One may remember the rich vanilla taste in homemade vanilla ice cream on a summer day, a vanilla candle that gives off a warm and soft smell or a steamy hot vanilla mocha cappuccino. Either way you can't help but be enveloped by its sweet exotic lure.

Vanilla beans or pods are an edible fruit of an orchid, vanilla frafrans. Of the thousands of orchids, the vanilla plant is the only one that produces an edible fruit. A small, trumpet-like flower grows on a vine, when the flower opens it is hand-pollinated to produce the fruit, vanilla pods.

Once the fruit is matured to a green bean, the vanilla beans are harvested and cured. The curing process takes 3 to 6 months. Curing begins by wrapping the beans in blankets, then bundled in straw mats and heated for 24 to 48 hours. The beans are then laid out in the sun to cure, then wrapped back up and allowed to sweat overnight for several days. At this point the beans are dark, oily and pliable. A few more months of drying in the shade are needed to complete the curing process. During the curing process the beans develop their distinctive vanilla flavor.

Vanilla beans are well worth the extra effort to purchase. They keep very well in airtight containers ready to enhance many memorable sweet dishes and not so sweet dishes, like bread.

A few vanilla bean sources on line are :




Vanilla Bread
This bread taste best toasted. It has a light crunch and sweet vanilla aroma.

1 cup warm water
1 pkg dry yeast
1 tbsp sugar
1 tsp sugar
3 tbsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup milk
4 to 4 1/2 cups of all-purpose flour

Mix water and yeast together in a large mixing bowl. Let stand for 5 minutes. Add sugar, salt, vanilla, milk and 2 cups of flour. Beat for 3 minutes. Add remaining 2 cups of flour and beat until a soft dough forms. Place dough on a floured surface and knead for 5 minutes. Add flour as needed to keep dough from becoming sticky.

Place dough in a large greased bowl, cover and let rise for one hour.

Punch two holes in dough. Remove dough from bowl and shape into a loaf. Place dough in a greased loaf pan, (9x5x3) cover and let rise for 30 minutes. Bake in a preheated 350-degrees oven for 50 minutes. Remove from pan and cool on a wire rack.

Yield: one loaf

Vanilla Bean Extract
Homemade vanilla extract may take some time but in the long run it will be a great investment or wonderful gift.

5 vanilla beans
2 cups vodka, brandy or rum

Cut beans into 1-inch pieces. Place beans and vodka into a clean jar and cover tightly with lid. Store in a cool dark place for 6 weeks. Use as needed.

Yield: 2 cups