Sharing a seriously fun love for food

Month: February 2018

Chocolate Meringue Cookies

Chocolate Meringue Cookies

Some days I crave chocolate. Actually any day in my opinion is a good day for chocolate! It’s been raining – a lot. I’m always skeptical of baking any type of meringue when the humidity is high but I decided to risk it and luckily it paid off!

This is an old cookie recipe which are often among my favorites. With just a few steps they’re off to the oven and you end up with amazing results. This is a cookie with a delicate, crisp meringue crust and somewhat gooey interior loaded with toasted pecans and pure vanilla tones accentuating that deep chocolate flavor. A splash of champagne vinegar brightens and stabilizes the meringue base.

You end up with so much flavor packed into such a small morsel!

Though the humidity doesn’t impact these Chocolate Meringue Cookies there are a few tricks to anything meringue. First, make certain there is nothing but egg whites in your egg whites. If you even suspect that you broke a yolk and a little slipped into the egg whites – toss it and start over. You also want to make sure that your mixing bowl and beaters are free of butter or any type of shortening. Either of these mishaps can prevent your meringue from transforming into stiff, beautiful peaks.

Let the egg whites come to room temperature. This will help to produce a full, fluffy meringue. And add the sugar slowly, about a tablespoon at a time. The slow addition of sugar allows the crystals to dissolve into the egg whites resulting in a silky meringue.

These cookies only take about 30 minutes from start to finish.  A quick fix for any chocolate emergency!

Chocolate Meringue Cookies

6 ounces bittersweet chocolate chips, about ¾ cup

2 extra-large eggs whites, room temperature

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

½ teaspoon champagne or white wine vinegar

½ cup sugar

¾ cup toasted chopped pecans

Melt the chocolate chips either in the top of a double boiler or on low heat in your microwave.

Heat just until the chips are melted taking care not to scorch the chocolate. Set aside to cool.

In a mixing bowl add the egg whites, the vanilla extract and the champagne vinegar.

Using the whisk attachment beat the egg whites starting on low speed until foamy. Then raise the speed to medium-high and beat until soft peaks form.

Slowly pour the sugar into the meringue about a tablespoon at a time, beating on medium speed. Scrape down the sides of the bowl to make certain all the sugar is mixed into the meringue.

Beat until the meringue is glossy and stiff peaks form.

Add the cooled chocolate and the chopped pecans, gently folding in by hand just until the chocolate, pecans and meringue are blended together, taking care to not deflate the meringue.

Working with a teaspoon and a small spatula, drop by the spoonful onto a Silpat lined baking sheet (or parchment paper that has been lightly sprayed with a cooking spray). Leave about 2” between cookies.

Bake in a 350-degree oven for 10 minutes. Let the cookies cool on the pans for a few minutes to set then move them to a wire rack to cool completely.

Store the cookies in a sealed container.

Tortellini Soup

Tortellini Soup

This is a light but hearty soup and quick to get on the table. It is a soup that I made frequently when Emily was little and time was on the short side. I had lost track of the recipe but recently ran across my handwritten copy. Time to see if this soup was as good as I remembered.

With its deep, savory flavors Tortellini Soup is simple to make, using basic pantry staples plus a few fresh ingredients.

The base of this Tortellini Soup starts with a classic trio – celery, sweet onion and garlic gently sautéed in butter and olive oil. Chicken stock, stewed tomatoes along with spinach, arugula and basil are added then everything simmers together creating a rich, wonderful broth.

To finish the soup, cheese-filled tortellini are tossed in and cooked until tender.

Yes – it’s as good as I remembered! Top it with shaved Parmesan cheese, add a side salad, some warm ciabatta bread and you’ve got dinner on the table in an easy hour!

Tortellini Soup

1 tablespoon butter

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 stalks celery, chopped – about 1 cup

1 small sweet onion, chopped – about 1 cup

2-3 cloves garlic, chopped – about 1 teaspoon

½ teaspoon kosher salt, or to taste

¼ teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper, or to taste

6 cups chicken stock

1/2 – 1 tablespoon concentrated chicken bouillon, more or less to suit your taste*

1 can stewed tomatoes, 14.5-ounces, breaking or cutting up the tomatoes into bite-size pieces

1 package frozen spinach, 10-ounces

¼ cup fresh arugula

1 teaspoon dried basil, or 2 tablespoons fresh, chopped

1 package cheese filled tortellini, 9-ounces

Shaved or grated Parmesan cheese for serving

Melt the butter and the olive oil in a Dutch oven or stockpot over medium heat. Add the chopped celery and the chopped onion and cook until they begin to soften and are slightly translucent, about 8-10 minutes.

Stir in the chopped garlic along with the kosher salt and cracked black pepper. Cook for an additional 3-4 minutes to soften the garlic.

Add the chicken stock, ½ tablespoon chicken bouillon, the stewed tomatoes, frozen spinach, arugula and the basil. Continue cooking over medium heat for about 20-30 minutes to allow the stock to reduce a bit and the flavors to meld together.

Add the tortellini and cook for about 10-12 minutes or until the pasta is tender.

Ladle the soup into bowls and garnish with Parmesan cheese.

*The amount of concentrated chicken bouillon needed will depend on your chicken stock and your personal taste.


The Brandy Alexander – Here’s to Toasting Dessert!

The Brandy Alexander – Here’s to Toasting Dessert!

It’s the weekend and I’m trying to decide whether to make dessert or a cocktail to toast the end of this wet, rainy week. Good news – this cocktail, this after dinner drink, this dessert – whatever you want to call it, is the perfect way to cap off the week.

Desserts served in the form of after dinner drinks were quite popular in my parents’ day. Like many classic cocktails and beverages, the Brandy Alexander dates back decades and the recipe for its predecessor the Alexander is over a century old. The Alexander, which is made with gin took a turn along its journey and brandy replaced the gin creating the Brandy Alexander.

The Brandy Alexander comes in two luscious forms. The original is made with a fine cognac or brandy, plus dark crème de cacao and rich, heavy cream. These wonderful ingredients are shaken with ice until well chilled and served with a fresh grating of nutmeg.

The second version, the Frozen Brandy Alexander is somewhat a grownup milkshake. This thick and luscious drink starts with the cognac and dark crème de cacao but the cream is replaced with thick, heavenly vanilla bean ice cream before a dusting across the top with fresh nutmeg.

If you like the bolder flavor of cognac, go with the cream version. Looking for a sweeter, more decadent drink then you can’t beat the Frozen Brandy Alexander.

Can’t decide which one to make? Heck, make both!

Brandy Alexander

4 ounces fine, aged cognac or brandy, 8 tablespoons

2 ounces dark crème de cacao, 4 tablespoons

2 ounces heavy cream, 4 tablespoons

Ice for shaking the cocktail

Fresh nutmeg

Pour the cognac, the dark crème de cacao and the heavy cream into a cocktail shaker.

Add enough ice to reach the top of the ingredients. Cover the shaker and shake until the cocktail is very, very cold.

Strain the cocktail into coupe glasses. Add a fresh grating of nutmeg across the top and serve immediately.

Makes 2 cocktails.

Frozen Brandy Alexander

4 ounces fine, aged cognac or brandy, 8 tablespoons

2 ounces dark crème de cacao, 4 tablespoons

1-1/2 cups vanilla bean gelato or ice cream

Fresh nutmeg

Add the gelato to a blender along with the cognac and the dark crème de cacao.

Process until smooth. Pour into a brandy snifter or other rimmed cocktail glass. Add a grating of fresh across the top and serve.

Makes 2 cocktails

Note: If you like a more “frozen” version – pour the cocktail into a freezer-proof container and freeze for 30 minutes to an hour. Before serving, stir to combine.


Orange Rolls

Orange Rolls

It’s funny how food can evoke such strong memories and nostalgic feelings, both through aroma and taste. We all have at least one or two guilty food pleasures – many from our childhood. And when we encounter them again we are instantly transported back. One of mine happens to be orange rolls that stir sweet memories of my Mom.

Mom was a great cook but in her early fifties found herself single and starting over. Like many working women finding free time for cooking was and still is a challenge. But when it came to Emily she would always find even a tiny bit of time to cook with her. Enter those sweet orange rolls and another generation of memories. In a pinch for time Mom did a throw back to a convenience item and pulled out those pre-packaged orange danish rolls- they did the trick!

Emily and I have talked about them fondly through the years and it’s been a very long time since I had one. I felt certain I could recreate a version from scratch. I started by pulling out the recipe for the sweet dough we use for our cinnamon rolls.

The recipe for the sweet dough is a favorite and one my dear friend Jane and I used when we were catering. The addition of mashed potatoes to the dough keeps the rolls soft and tender making it possible to bake these rolls a day in advance.

The filling was the tricky part. Cinnamon could easily overpower the citrus and I wanted a pure orange flavor. After searching through volumes of recipes I found several that offered variations of a butter-based sweet filling loaded with fresh orange zest. And best of all,  the warm rolls are frosted with the same citrus-infused confection.

A combination of butter, powdered sugar, a bit of orange juice and a lot of orange zest makes the perfect filling and topping for these tender rolls.

The orange-sugar mixture is very soft and part of this filling will make its way to the bottom of the rolls creating a sweet, citrus-infused layer. Rolling up the dough and cutting the rolls can be a bit messy but it’s worth it!

A quick tip – if you’re new to making yeast bread having an instant-read thermometer on hand is extremely valuable. All-Clad makes a great digital version. Checking the temperature of liquids is important to yeast. Liquids that are too hot will kill the yeast but you need some heat for the yeast to grow.

This recipe makes a lot of rolls – at least 24-30 and the recipe for the filling makes an ample amount for filling and topping the rolls. If you want a variety, cut the recipe for the filling/topping in half and divide the dough. You can make cinnamon rolls from the other half. (Our recipe for cinnamon rolls is posted on our blog under breads in the Recipe Index.) Either the dough or prepared rolls can also be refrigerated for a day or two.

The scent and bright flavor of oranges are nestled into the layers of warm, sweet dough with a dollop of orange sweetness spread across the top… Delicious memories.

Orange Rolls

For the dough:

2 packages dry yeast, ¼ ounce each (I use rapid rise yeast)

½ cup warm water, 110-115 degrees

1 teaspoon granulated sugar

2 medium potatoes, peeled, cooked and mashed as smooth as possible; measure out 1 cup

2 cups scalded milk (heated until steaming and foamy, just below boiling)

½ cup vegetable shortening

1 cup granulated sugar

2 extra-large eggs, lightly beaten

2 teaspoons kosher salt

7 cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for rolling out the dough

In a small bowl or measuring cup, mix the yeast, the warm water and the sugar; set aside to proof, about 5-10 minutes. Make sure the container is large enough for the yeast to expand.

In a large mixing bowl pour the scalded milk over the shortening then mix on low-speed using the heat from the milk to dissolve the shortening. Cool to lukewarm, about 110-115 degrees.

Slowing stir in 4 cups of the flour, 1 cup sugar, 1 cup of the mashed potatoes, the eggs, kosher salt and dissolved yeast.

Add the remaining 3 cups of flour, one cup at a time mixing well after each addition.

The dough will be very soft and slightly sticky.

Place the dough in a large bowl, that has been lightly sprayed with a cooking spray, turning the dough once to coat.

Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and set it in a warm spot to rise until it is doubled in volume, about an hour.

For the filling and topping:

6 cups powdered sugar, sifted to remove any lumps

12 tablespoons butter, room temperature

8 tablespoons orange zest, about 6-8 oranges

6-8 tablespoons orange juice

Combine the powdered sugar, the softened butter, orange zest and 6 tablespoons of the orange juice, adding more if needed to just bring the filling together.

This makes a large batch, enough to easily cover 30+ orange rolls.

To make the rolls:

Pull out half of the sweet dough and place it on a surface dusted with flour, tossing to coat so that it is easy to handle.

Roll the dough into a rectangle.

Spread about a quarter of the filling over the dough, spreading to the edges on the narrow side of the dough.

Gently roll the dough working from one end to the other. Some of the filling might come out and it’s a bit messy, but it’s okay! Keeping the seam on top helps keep it in place. Using a sharp knife cut the dough into slices that are about ¾” thick.

Place the rolls in a baking pan that has been sprayed with a cooking spray making sure the bottom is well coated. Repeat with the remaining dough.

Cover and let rise until doubled in size about 45 minutes.

Once the dough has risen, bake in a 350-degree oven for 20-25 minutes or until the tops are golden.

Let the rolls cool until slightly warm and spread the remaining powdered sugar mixture over the tops.

Cabbage Rolls

Cabbage Rolls

It’s windy and damp out and rain is headed our way so comfort food seems in order. Truly, comfort food is always welcome when you’re from the South! So I went digging through some old recipes and decided cabbage rolls would hit the spot.

Cabbage rolls all too often fall in the same bucket as their food cousin – meatloaf. You’re either super excited they’re on the menu or you’re looking for leftover pizza in the fridge instead. To be fair, cabbage rolls are often victim to the same fate as meatloaf. All to frequently they’re bland chunks of meat rolled into a leaf with some type of equally bland sauce over the top.

This recipe for cabbage rolls come from various family recipes and has gone through a bit of tweaking through the years. Cabbage rolls are essentially small “meatloaves” tucked into tender cabbage leaves then baked in a beautiful tomato sauce. But instead of simply using ground beef, these cabbage rolls are a blend of ground sirloin, ground lamb and sweet Italian pork sausage. Layers of flavor and texture are woven into the rolls with currants, toasted pine nuts and sweet onion.

The sauce is a light, simple tomato sauce with a hint of sweetness. Nothing complicated – just enough to enhance the flavor of these beautiful rolls.

Cabbage rolls are not hard to make but they do take a bit of time, mainly in prepping the cabbage leaves. Once the cabbage leaves are steamed the rest of this dish comes together quickly.

You can prep the entire dish a day in advance, cover and refrigerate. Then when you’re ready to cook them simply let the cabbage rolls rest at room temperature for about 30-45 minutes then pop them in the oven. This recipe makes about 14-16 cabbage rolls, serving about 6-8.

Tender cabbage rolls bathed in a delicate, hot bubbly tomato sauce – and tucked inside is comforting goodness!

Cabbage Rolls

2 extra-large eggs

2/3 cup half and half

2 teaspoon kosher salt, divided

1 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper, divided

¾ cup seasoned breadcrumbs

3 cups tomato purée

¼ cup dark brown sugar

½ teaspoon dry mustard

1 pound ground sirloin

1 pound ground lamb

1 pound sweet Italian sausage

½ cup chopped sweet onion

¼ cup currants

¼ cup toasted pine nuts *See note at the bottom of the recipe

1 large head of green cabbage, rinsed and cored

1 can plum tomatoes, 14-ounces, broken up into pieces

1 can tomato sauce, 15-ounces

1 small can tomato paste, 6-ounces

For the meat filling:

In a large mixing bowl, whisk the eggs, the half and half, 1 teaspoon kosher salt and ½ teaspoon black pepper together then add the breadcrumbs and mix well. (The breadcrumbs will soak up the liquid.)

In a separate bowl mix the 3 cups of tomato purée with the brown sugar and the dry mustard.

Combine the breadcrumb mixture with the ground sirloin, ground lamb, the Italian sausage, the chopped onion, currants and toasted pine nuts. Measure out 1-1/2 cups of the tomato purée sauce and add to the meat mixture reserving the rest of the sauce for later.

Mix gently until everything is well combined, cover and refrigerate while you steam the cabbage leaves. (Overworking ground meat will make it tough when cooked.)

To steam the cabbage leaves:

Place a steam rack in the bottom of a large stockpot. (If you happen to have a pasta insert for your stockpot, this is ideal.) Pour enough water into the bottom of the stockpot to just come to the bottom of the steam rack. Heat over medium-heat until the water is simmering. Using either a spider, tongs or large spoon carefully set the cabbage in the pan, placing any loose leaves on top to steam. Be careful – the steam can burn you quickly!

Cover and steam for about five minutes or until the outer leaves are tender and starting to turn a bit translucent. Remove any loose leaves and transfer the head of cabbage to a large cutting board or baking sheet.

Gently pull away the outer leaves being careful not to tear them. Once they’re steamed and tender the leaves will pull easily away from the head of cabbage. Place the steamed leaves on paper towels to drain and cover with foil. This will allow the heat to continue steaming the leaves while you cook the rest of the cabbage. You want the cabbage leaves pliable enough to fold.

Place the head of cabbage back in the stockpot and continue steaming until you have about 15-20 steamed cabbage leaves. Steam some extra leaves in case one or two tear.

For the sauce:

Take the reserved tomato purée and add the tomatoes, the tomato sauce, the tomato paste, 1 teaspoon of kosher salt and ½ teaspoon black pepper. Stir until smooth and blended.

To assemble:

Spread about 1 to 1-1/2 cups of the tomato sauce in the bottom of large baking pan that has been lightly sprayed with a cooking spray. You want to just cover the bottom of the pan.

Take one of the steamed cabbage leaves and place a scoop of the meat mixture in the center, about ½ cup – this will vary depending on the size of the cabbage leaves.

Fold the bottom of the leaf up over the meat, and then fold in the sides and then the top.

Place the rolls fold side down on top of the sauce. Continue until all the meat is wrapped in the cabbage leaves, tucking the cabbage rolls close together in the pan. Spoon the remainder of the tomato sauce over the top.

Cover and bake at 350-degrees for about 45 minutes to an hour or until the internal temperature reaches 160-degrees.

*Toasting pine nuts will bring out their flavor and crunchiness. To toast, place the pine nuts in a skillet large enough to spread them in a single layer. Cook over medium-heat stirring frequently for about 5-8 minutes until golden. Keep a close eye on them – pine nuts can burn quickly!


Salmon and Spinach – En Papillote

Salmon and Spinach – En Papillote

Someone dear to me recently told me if a dish couldn’t be cooked in 30 minutes or less they probably would never make it. I’m sure there is a need for an intervention for such thoughts towards cooking but I love her dearly so I’ll let this slide. If you resemble this remark and in all honesty at some point in time we all do, then this is a great dish for you. Cooking en papillote is simply French for, well – cooking in parchment paper. Quick and simple. And yes, you can do it.

I discovered this method of cooking years ago when I was asked if I would cater a working lunch for a dozen people… and they wanted salmon. This dish starts with fresh center-cut salmon that is brushed with buttery olive oil then layered on a bed of fresh spinach.

Aromatics of fennel and shallot are added then brightened with citrus. To finish, top with slices of fresh orange and fennel fronds. A handful of fresh ingredients and that’s it!

Seal everything together in a pouch of parchment paper and in less than 20 minutes you have a delectable, succulent piece of salmon with tender vegetables.

And if you want to prepare the salmon in advance, just use foil instead of parchment – it holds up better to the juice from the citrus. Lightly spray the foil with a cooking spray to prevent the spinach and salmon from sticking. You can assemble the pouches and refrigerate for a few hours or overnight. When you’re ready for dinner, pull the pouches from the fridge and let them rest at room temperature for about 20 minutes. This will take the chill off the salmon so it cooks evenly.

This recipe is for four but can easily be adjusted for a party of one or a party of twelve! Serve the salmon directly from the pouches or remove and plate with a side of couscous. Easy and wonderful!

Salmon and Spinach – En Papillote

4 center cut salmon fillets, skin removed if desired

4 cups fresh spinach

1 large shallot, sliced thin – about ½ cup

1 fennel bulb, cored and sliced thin, about 1 cup; fronds reserved

2 large oranges, sliced

4 teaspoons orange juice

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper

Lay out four sheets of parchment paper, each about 20” long. Place 1 cup of the fresh spinach on half of the parchment, leaving enough edge for folding. Top with the sliced shallot and fennel, dividing evenly between each pouch. Sprinkle each with 1/8 teaspoon kosher salt and 1/8 teaspoon pepper. Drizzle 1 teaspoon orange juice of each.

Place the salmon fillet on top of the bed of spinach and brush with olive oil. Sprinkle each fillet with 1/8 teaspoon kosher salt and 1/8 teaspoon black pepper.

Top the fillets with 2-3 slices of orange; layer fennel fronds across the top of the oranges.

Fold the other half of the parchment paper over the salmon and spinach. Starting at the corner, fold pleats in the paper to close the paper around the salmon.

Place the pouches on a rimmed baking sheet and bake at 400-degrees for 18 minutes. (15 minutes if you like the salmon a bit pink in the center.)

Dinner in less than 30 minutes!

Strawberry Cake with Strawberry Buttercream Frosting

Strawberry Cake with Strawberry Buttercream Frosting

I seldom (almost never) buy boxed cake mixes and the same for Jell-O. But there are certain recipes that require an exception to the rule and this strawberry cake is a very good reason for such an exception. My Dad’s Mother, Grace Pearl never made plain gelatin but used it to make glorious cold salads or delightful desserts. This is but one example of such a dessert!

This is a cake I’ve made for years and I’m fortunate enough to still have Grace Pearl’s handwritten version taped to the inside of one of her cookbooks. I made this cake frequently for Emily on Valentine’s Day. Her first year in college I baked this cake in my Grandmother’s cake pan – you know, the metal ones with the plastic snap-on lids and shipped it to Auburn. Her friends either thought her Mother was crazy or they grabbed a fork!

This strawberry cake recipe has been around for decades and never disappoints. Moist and loaded with real strawberries it’s then topped with a luscious strawberry buttercream frosting! And best of all – this cake is ridiculously easy to make.

The base for the cake starts with a white cake mix. The original recipe called for a 20-ounce package but through the years the boxed cake mixes have gotten smaller by weight. So get one as close as you can find to 20-ounces. The most common size seems to be 16.25-ounces. The strawberry flavor is ramped up with a small box of strawberry gelatin.

The buttercream frosting recipe makes a very soft frosting, perfect for a 9” x 13” cake. I’ve included a variation with the addition of meringue powder to make the frosting more stable for cupcakes or layers cakes. (Meringue powder can be found at many specialty stores and is also available online.)

Perfect for Valentine’s Day, Christmas or a special birthday – no matter your baking skills this is one heirloom recipe worth passing down!

Strawberry Cake with Strawberry Buttercream Frosting

For the cake:

1 package frozen strawberries, 10-ounces, thawed

3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1 package white cake mix, 16-20-ounces

1 small package strawberry gelatin, 3-ounces

1 cup vegetable or canola oil

4 extra-large eggs, room temperature

Gently crush the strawberries to release the juices, blending the berries and the juice. Divide the berries in half, saving one-half for the frosting. Take 1 tablespoon from the berries reserved for the frosting and mix with enough water to measure ½ cup.

In a large mixing bowl add the flour, the cake mix and the strawberry gelatin.

Mix together until it’s well blended. Add the ½ cup strawberry-water and the vegetable oil, blending together on low-speed.

Still using low speed, add the eggs one at a time, blending well after each one.

Then beat the batter on medium speed for 2 minutes.

Gently fold in the remaining portion of berries reserved for the cake.

Pour the batter into a 13” x 9” x 2” cake pan, that has been sprayed with a cooking spray or fill 24 lined muffins cups, each about ¾ full. (You can also make a layer cake using two 9-inch layer pans that have been greased, floured and the bottoms lined with parchment paper.)

Bake at 350-degrees for 20-25 minutes or until the cake tests done. Check the cupcakes at around 15-18 minutes; they sometimes cook faster depending on the size of muffin cups.

Cool completely on a wire rack before frosting.

To make frosting for cupcakes or layer cake:

2 sticks butter – 1 cup, at room temperature

2 tablespoons meringue powder

2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

1/8 teaspoon kosher salt

3-1/2 cups powdered sugar, sifted to remove any lumps

4-5 tablespoons reserved strawberries

Add the butter to a large mixing bowl and beat on medium speed until the butter is light and fluffy.

Add the meringue powder, the vanilla extract and the kosher salt and blend into the butter on low speed.

Still using low speed, mix in 1 cup of the powdered sugar. Add 4 tablespoons of the reserved berries and the remaining powdered sugar, blending in a cup at a time.

Continue mixing until the frosting is smooth and creamy. This makes enough to frost 24 cupcakes or one) 2-layer cake.

To make frosting for the 13” x 9” cake:

1 stick of butter – ½ cup, at room temperature

3 to 3-1/2 cups powdered sugar, sifted to remove any lumps

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Pinch of kosher salt

3-5 tablespoons reserved strawberries

Add the butter to a large mixing bowl and beat on medium speed until the butter is light and fluffy.

Add the vanilla extract and the kosher salt and blend into the butter on low speed.

Mix in 1 cup of the powdered sugar on low speed. Add 3 tablespoons of the reserved berries and the remaining powdered sugar, blending in a cup at a time.

Continue mixing until the frosting is smooth and creamy. If you want an even softer frosting add more of the reserved berries.


Pecan Praline Ice Cream Puffs with Praline Coffee

Pecan Praline Ice Cream Puffs with Praline Coffee

Pecan Praline Ice Cream Puffs – delicate pâte à choux pastry shells filled with luscious butter pecan gelato topped with a warm toasted pecan praline sauce. It’s an easy dessert that is rich, decadent and perfect for any special occasion. This amazing dessert should have a wonderful after dinner coffee so pairing the Praline Ice Cream Puffs with a delectable Praline Coffee, well why not!

There is one night in the year guaranteed we never eat out – Valentine’s Day. In all honesty we really don’t make a big fuss over Valentine’s Day (life with an engineer!) but I do try to make something special to toast the day. The Ice Cream Puffs are from an old recipe that recently bubbled back up in my memory. And since it’s one of those days on the calendar where sweets are abundant this dessert duet seems fitting for the day.

The Ice Cream Puffs are a fun twist on the classic cream puffs and they’re especially divine when paired with this delightful Praline Coffee!

Though this dessert course might sound like a laborious endeavor it really only involves cooking two items – the pâte à choux shells and the praline sauce. If you’ve never made pâte à choux don’t be intimidated by its name. It’s a basic pastry dough made with water, kosher salt, butter, flour and eggs. It’s not at all difficult and takes little time to make.

The praline sauce only takes about 20 minutes to pull together. It starts with staples and pantry ingredients you might already have on hand – butter, dark corn syrup, half and half, and brown sugar then it’s finished with a pure vanilla extract. The result is a rich, creamy and buttery sauce loaded with crunchy, toasted pecans.

The coffee is a simple blend of ingredients. It’s a wonderful recipe from one of my favorite cookbooks, “Southern Cocktails” written by Denise Gee. It begins with a bold dark roast coffee with a splash of half and half, a bit of butter (think hot buttered rum!) and sweetened with a touch of Praline Liqueur.

And if you find you need to make things ahead of time, whip up the sauce and refrigerate it. Assemble the ice cream puffs with the gelato tucked inside them. Place them on a baking sheet, cover tightly with plastic wrap and freeze. Then when you’re ready for dessert, pull the ice cream puffs out of the freezer, warm up the praline sauce and serve!

Who needs a box of chocolates when you can have the rich, luscious flavor of pralines – times two!

Pecan Praline Ice Cream Puffs with Praline Coffee

2 pints butter pecan gelato or ice cream – more if you like a lot of gelato (I use Talenti Southern Butter Pecan Gelato – it’s amazing!)

For the pastry shell – Pâte à Choux:

1 cup water

½ cup butter

¼ teaspoon kosher salt

1 cup all-purpose flour

3 extra-large eggs

In a heavy saucepan combine the water, butter and salt. Heat over low until the butter melts.

Raise the heat to medium. As soon as the liquid begins to boil add the flour and stir.

Continue stirring until the batter comes together in a ball and is smooth.

Transfer the dough to a stand mixer and beat on medium-low until the batter is velvety in texture.

Let the dough to cool to a lukewarm temperature. (You don’t want to add eggs into a hot dough!) Once the dough is cooled a bit, on medium-low speed add the eggs one at a time beating well after each one. You should have a soft, smooth dough.

Line baking sheets with Silpat liners or parchment paper. Drop or scoop the dough into rounds, about 1-3/4” – 2” each leaving 2” between pastries. A medium size ice cream scoop works really well for this.

Bake the pastry dough in a preheated 400-degree oven for 30 minutes, then reduce the heat to 350-degrees and bake for an additional 5 minutes. You can check to see if they pastry shells are done by removing one from the oven, if it holds its shape they’re finished baking. (I’ve never had an issue if you bake for the specified time, so don’t panic!) Carefully poke a small slit into the side of each pastry shell with a sharp knife to allow the steam to escape. This prevents them from becoming soggy on the inside while they cool. Remove the shells from the baking sheets and set them on a wire rack to cool.Makes about 16 pastry shells. You can freeze any extra shells for about two months.

While the pastry shells bake and cool make the Praline Sauce.

Praline Sauce

¼ cup butter

½ cup rough chopped, toasted pecans

1 cup half and half

¼ cup light or dark brown corn syrup (Dark corn syrup will give the sauce a deeper flavor and color, but if you only have light on hand that will work.)

¾ cup dark brown sugar

1 tablespoon cornstarch

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

In a small saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the toasted pecans and cook in the butter for 3-5 minutes. Now we’re toasting the pecans in some butter!

Pour in the half and half and corn syrup, stirring until mixed.

In a small bowl whisk the brown sugar and the cornstarch together until well blended. This prevents the cornstarch from lumping when its mixed into the hot liquid. Add the sugar mixture to the saucepan.

Cook the sauce stirring frequently until it is creamy and thick, about 6-8 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the vanilla. Serve warm. Refrigerate any extra sauce.

To assemble the cream puffs:

Using a serrated knife cut the tops off the pastry shells. Using your fingers, gently remove any loose pastry to create a cavity for the gelato.

Fill each pastry shell with one large scoop of gelato.

Place the top back on the pastry shell covering the gelato. Spoon the warm praline sauce over each ice cream puff. Serve immediately! The recipe for the ice cream puffs will feed 8 with two ice cream puffs per person.

Praline Coffee

¾ cup hot, dark roast coffee

3 tablespoons half and half

½ tablespoon butter

¼ cup Praline liqueur

Mix the coffee and the half and half together.

Add the butter and stir until melted.

Pour in the Praline liqueur. Praline liqueur is very sweet, I reduced the amount from the original recipe. But if you want to add more, feel free – just keep the “sweet factor” in mind! Serve in small coffee cups, about 4-ounces. Garnish with whipped cream if desired.

Makes 2-3 servings

Strawberry-Almond Scones and Chocolate Chip-Almond Scones… A Delicious Idea for a Valentine’s Brunch!

Strawberry-Almond Scones and Chocolate Chip-Almond Scones… A Delicious Idea for a Valentine’s Brunch!

It’s the weekend and Valentine’s Day is around the corner. That’s a perfect excuse to make something special for brunch. This is a twist on our Apricot-Pecan Scones with flavors that will make you think Cupid surely had a hand in making them!

The Strawberry-Almond Scones have chunks of dried, sweet strawberries and the Chocolate Chip-Almond Scones are loaded with chocolate chips. Both are buttery and tender with toasted almonds, a richness from the cream and eggs plus the essence of pure vanilla and almond extracts.

Topped with a brush of egg wash and a sprinkling of sugar that special someone will be thrilled!

If you’ve never made scones they’re really not all that difficult. Using a stand mixer makes quick work of bringing the dough together. The most important thing is to use a light hand – don’t overwork the dough once you’ve added the flour or the scones will be tough.

Make sure the butter is very cold. I cube my butter then place it in the freezer for about 15 minutes. Those bits of butter make the scone light and tender, just like in biscuits or pastry dough. You want the butter cold so it melts in the oven, not before.

Once the dough is mixed together, divide it into two portions. Then fold the strawberries into half of the dough and the chocolate chips into the other half. If you want either all strawberry or all chocolate chip just adjust the measurement to a full cup. And if you decide to mix the two together, you can add the strawberries and chocolate chips in with the almonds while you’re mixing the dough in the stand mixer.

And since it’s Valentine’s Day have a little fun and pull the heart-shaped cookie cutters. All the scones won’t be perfect in shape but hey, neither are any of us!


Strawberry-Almond Scones and Chocolate Chip-Almond Scones

2 cups all-purpose flour, plus 1-1/2 tablespoons to dust the fruit and nuts and extra for rolling the dough

¼ cup sugar, plus 2-3 tablespoons sugar for sprinkling on top (for sprinkling you can use granulated or raw sugar)

1 tablespoon baking powder

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1-1/2 sticks unsalted butter (12 tablespoons), very cold and cut into small pieces

2 extra-large eggs

1 cup heavy cream

½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract

½ teaspoon pure almond extract

½ cup dried strawberries, chopped into small pieces

½ cup chocolate chips, regular or mini

1 cup toasted slivered almonds

Egg wash:

2 tablespoons half-n-half

1 extra large egg

Add the 2 cups of flour, sugar, baking powder and kosher salt into the bowl of a stand mixer and mix on low until combined. Toss the cold pieces of butter into the flour mixture.

Using low speed, blend until the butter has started to combine with the flour and is in small pieces.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the eggs, cream, vanilla and almond extracts until well combined.

Using low speed, add the egg and cream mixture to the dough and mix into the flour. The dough will look wet and somewhat sticky.

Mix the almonds with ½ tablespoon of the extra flour and add to the dough. Slowly mix into the dough, taking care to not over mix.

On a large floured surface, turn out the dough working it together adding just enough flour to handle it. Divide into two pieces.

Dust your hands with flour and gently press each of half of the dough into rounds, indenting slightly in the center to add the strawberries and the chocolate chips.

Dust the dried strawberries with 1-1/2 teaspoons of flour. Add about 1/3 of the strawberries to one of the halves of dough, folding and gently blending into the dough.

Continue until all the strawberries are folded in and combined in the dough.

Repeat with the other half of the dough adding the chocolate chips.

Pat or roll each half of the dough out to a thickness of about ¾”. Using either a biscuit cutter or cookie cutter, press straight down into the dough, dusting the cutter with flour as needed.

Place the scones on a large baking sheet, lined with either parchment paper or Silpat liner. Chill for about 15 minutes before baking to help the scones keep their shape while baking.

In a small bowl whisk together the 1 extra-large egg and the 2 tablespoons half and half for the egg wash.

Before baking, lightly brush the tops of each scone and sprinkle the tops of each scone with sugar.

Bake in a preheated 400-degree oven for 15-18 minutes or until golden in color.

Serve warm or at room temperature. And Strawberry Almond scones pair wonderfully with a fruit filled chicken salad!

Banana Nut Bread

Banana Nut Bread

I’ve been going back through some of our very early posts, doing some updating and pulled this one back up. Most of us have a handful of recipes that are frequently requested and for me, this falls into that bucket. Banana Nut Bread is probably one of the most popular of all quick breads and this is a great recipe worth sharing.

Quick breads are great for breakfast or brunch, snacks or dessert and one of my favorite things to make when taking gifts of food to friends. Rich and buttery with a tender crumb from the buttermilk, this recipe yields beautiful loaves of bread – golden mahogany in color, with the delicate sweet flavor of bananas and loaded with a crunch of toasted pecans.

The best tip I can offer to anyone making banana nut bread – use really, really ripe bananas. No artificial flavoring, please no. Instead, use those bananas lying on your counter looking all dark and wretched, they’re perfect for baking. I seem to always end up with two or three bananas left uneaten from a bunch. So I peel them and freeze them – they’ll keep for 3-6 months in your freezer and will be on hand when you’re ready to bake anything with bananas.

Some additional notes:

*Always start with butter and eggs at room temperature. This helps to create a light and tender bread.

*Once you’ve added the flour be careful not to over mix the batter; mix just until the flour disappears. All that care you took with the butter and eggs will go out the window if you over work the flour.

*Bring out the flavor in those pecans. Spread them out on a baking sheet and toast them for about 8 minutes in a 350-degree oven. Toast a batch and freeze the extra for later.

True to a quick bread, this Banana Nut Bread comes together, well quickly! Best of all, it gets better by the day. The flavors meld together and intensify plus the bread is actually more moist the day after you bake it. Make a loaf or two for you and maybe one for a friend!

Banana Nut Bread

2 sticks butter, 1 cup – room temperature

3 cups sugar

4 extra-large eggs, room temperature

2 cups buttermilk

3 teaspoons baking soda

4 cups flour

5 bananas, mashed well (4 if they’re large) – about 2 cups

1 cup toasted rough chopped pecans

2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

Cream the butter on medium speed until light and whipped.

Slowly add the sugar to the butter, pouring in about ½ cup at a time. Continue beating the butter and sugar until its well blended and fluffy, about 3-5 minutes.

Using low speed add the eggs one at a time, mixing into the butter and sugar before adding another.

In a separate bowl or measuring cup mix the buttermilk with the baking soda. (I use a 4-cup measuring cup to allow room for the buttermilk to expand and it will expand!)

2 cups of buttermilk will quickly expand into 4 cups once you add the baking soda!

Stir the flour into the batter on low speed adding about a cup at a time.

Pour in the buttermilk about a third at a time, beginning and ending with the flour. Blend just until the flour is mixed into the batter.

Add the mashed bananas, the toasted pecans and the vanilla extract.

Mix on low speed just until the bananas, pecans and the vanilla extract are blended into the batter.

Pour the batter into 3 small or 2 large loaf pans that have been greased and floured or sprayed with cooking spray and lined with parchment paper.

Bake the bread at 350-degrees for 55-60 minutes for the small loaves, 70-80 minutes for the large loaves. If the bread starts to brown too much on top, cover loosely with foil. When the bread is done it will be golden brown in color, the bread will just start to pull away from the edge of the pan and a toothpick inserted in the center will come out mostly clean.

Cool the bread in the pan placed on racks for 5-10 minutes then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. This bread freezes beautifully. To freeze, wrap it tightly in plastic wrap and drop it into a freezer bag.