I'm amazed at how superior your vanilla is!
- Des, The Grommet

Guinness Gingerbread Cupcakes with Lime-Vanilla Frosting

 Adapted from David Lebovitz’ Ready for Dessert

In honor of Irish heritage (mine and a lot of other Americans who also have Irish ancestors), I wanted to make something special for those who celebrate St. Paddy’s Day. Unfortunately, the Irish are not known for their desserts. However, Guinness Stout is in every Irish pub and is the beverage of choice on March 17th.

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Mushroom Barley Soup

What’s not to love about soup? It doesn’t require a lot of kitchen experience to make a good soup. It’s warming, nutritious, and good any time of the day, especially when it’s chilly or wet outside or you’re under the weather. Further, soups are a great way to use up leftovers, and soup, like pasta, makes an inexpensive, comforting meal. I keep quarts of homemade soup in my freezer for all the reasons noted above, and Mushroom Barley Soup is one of my favorites.

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A Riff on Marcella Hazan’s 3 Ingredient Pasta Sauce

If the name, Marcella Hazan, doesn’t trigger immediate recognition, it’s understandable, as she slipped quietly into the American culinary world in the 1970s, bringing with her an introduction to a world of Italian cuisine quite different from the overcooked pasta, insipid tomato sauces and mediocre pizza Americans ate in the 1950s and 60s. (The difference was captured beautifully in the 1996 film, The Big Night, highly recommended if you are a fan of good Italian food.) 

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Pumpkin Chiffon Cake

Pumpkin and vanilla were meant for each other. Ditto with all the spices in this incredibly light, moist, delicious cake. Really, what could say autumn better than a freshly baked Pumpkin Chiffon Cake, a Pumpkin Pie or Pumpkin Spice Latte? Over the years I’ve really come to appreciate really fresh spices. I grate my nutmeg and grind allspice and cinnamon in a coffee grinder dedicated just for spices. The flavors really pop when they’re fresh. And our dear vanilla is the backup chorus once again, making sure all the flavors work synergistically.

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Crusted Baked Chicken with Mozzarella and Pesto

Recently I found an interesting re-do on Chicken Parmigiana in a magazine. The recipe came from  Kitchen Remix, by Clarkson Potter. I’m surprised that somehow I never had the wildly popular Chicken Parmigiana, or maybe I saw it on a menu but chose not to order it. Who knows? What caught my eye about this recipe is that this summer my teen grandsons are putting their stay-at-home time to good use by learning to cook. This delicious recipe sounded like the ideal easy chicken dish to teach them, from the crushed potato chip crust to the creamy mozzarella topping that could then be popped into warm buns with more melted cheese, and eaten as a sandwich.

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Savory Herbed Cheddar Shortbread

These are the appetizer of your dreams, the kind you’d most want with a beverage of choice at the end of a work-week, or sitting outside with friends on a late summer afternoon while dinner cooks on a grill. Or just about anytime you want something both savory and soothing. My only caveat is that these Herbed Cheddar Shortbread cookies are very addictive, so be prepared!

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Easy, Delicious Cheese Souffle

I have a confession to make. Until yesterday, I have never made a cheese soufflé. This is a somewhat startling revelation given I’ve been cooking since I was five years old. When I was younger, I was intimidated by the idea that it might fail and I would have what I assumed would look like a pancake. (It won’t). This was of especial concern if I had guests waiting for a spectacular dinner that failed.

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Earthy Delicious Baked Mushrooms with Cheese

Mushrooms are so amazing! They make a flavorful meat substitute and help to strengthen our immune system, a big plus during the winter and early spring. Using a variety of mushrooms adds more flavor and texture to this easy-to make dish. The mushrooms can be cooked ahead of time, then baked just before dining.  It’s good as an entrée, side dish or appetizer.  Use a cast iron skillet as I did, and it can go from oven to table and remain warm as cast iron cools down slowly.

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Fresh Cream of Celery Soup

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Celery soup appears to have fallen by the wayside over the years, as has celery in general. It’s too bad as celery is a nutritional powerhouse as well as low in calories. And, it tastes good! I remember as a child even Campbell’s canned soup had Cream of Celery, which was often used in condensed form for the liquid in the ubiquitous casseroles of the 50’s. Actually, maybe that’s reason celery soup fell out of fashion; the canned version wasn’t anything to write home about. At any rate, I really like this soup and I hope you’ll try it as it’s really good. On a cold afternoon or evening, add a grilled cheese sandwich and you’re set.

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Almond Rum Cake

This delicate Rum Almond Cake was conceived as a coffee cake  but it deserves to be elevated to a much higher status if for no other reason than it’s too boozy for a 10:00 am coffee break! As you can see from the photo, it was the ideal New Year’s Eve cake — moist, flavorful and rich enough that a small slice was sufficient.

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The Vanilla Queen’s Apple Crisp

Nothing says autumn like the crunch of a fresh apple, flavorful juices flooding your mouth, triggering thoughts of autumn and hardwoods blazing with color.  While I hate to let go of summer stone fruits, by September I’m ready for apple season to officially begin. Apple Crisp or a blended fruit crisp are a pleasurable way to celebrate. I found and adapted the following recipe years ago; the consensus of at least 100 people is that it’s the best Apple Crisp, bar none, that they’ve ever had. Obviously, I concur.

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Jam Cakes

Jam Cakes are a quick, cheerful, dessert with ingredients that you’re bound to have, unless you  haven’t been to the store in weeks. The recipe makes six or more cupcake size “cakelets,” depending on the size of your tins.  Perfect when you can’t stop thinking of something sweet but you don’t want an entire cake. That said, the recipe is a snap to double. 

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Maple Vanilla Custard

Custards are a special comfort food that kind of fell off our collective radar in the last 30 -40 years, but they really deserve a place at the table. Eaten warm on cold, rainy or snow-slushy days, or room temperature, even chilled with fresh fruits in warm, sunny weather, they offer us a sense of well-being. What I love about Maple Vanilla Custard is the symbiosis of these two flavors as they play off each other. Maple syrup brings a delicate, almost woodsy sweetness that is complemented by the more complex flavor profile of pure vanilla. The magic happens when the flavors explode on the palate and tongue. Worries fall away, the awfulness of a sore throat eases, and for a few minutes all’s well with the world.

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Apple Fritters

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It’s apple season again. Makes me think of returning to school with the ubiquitous apple in my lunch box. How about you?
 
While the supermarkets carry the standards like Red Delicious, you can usually find the tastier heritage varieties filling the farmers markets and countryside fruit stands. Yesterday when I drove the back roads of Watsonville to visit a friend, there were rows of trees loaded with Yellow Delicious, Newtown Pippins, Jonagolds and other heritage varieties. I picked up some Jonagolds and Yellow Delicious at my local farmers market; the old fashioned apples are worth seeking out.
 

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Chocolate Whoppers — An Irresistible Cookie!

Does anyone ever really get tired of homemade cookies? Whether it’s a broken heart, a badly stubbed toe, a big disappointment or a bad day at school or work, a couple of cookies with milk, coffee or tea, can make things right again, or at least, a lot better. And, let’s face it: chocolate is a near miracle ingredient for almost everyone. So, when I saw this recipe for Chocolate Whoppers, I knew I had to bake  and share it. Thank you, Donna Maurillo for posting this very chocolatey deliciousness in our local paper!

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