Homemade Peanut Butter Cups

I'll admit it.  This one is probably only for those truly experimental, adventurous kitchen creatures out there.  Not that it is a difficult process, but that the product is so readily available on the supermarket shelf.  I also must say that the process of making these little cups is fun and the result is all the reward you could want.  And the extra made at home bonus---no preservatives or other unwanted garbage in your food!

These cups stand up to anything you can find in a store.  My quartet of taste testers all marked "better" on their sheets.  They are at the very least comparable in taste to any brand of peanut butter cup.  They also make for a great opportunity to involve the kids in the kitchen.


Sunday Dinner

How exciting is spätzle? Why it's, uh, well...  spätzle are German egg dumplings that are a welcome side to many stews, roasts like sauerbraten, and even swedish meatballs.  And that is good enough.  It has a role and fills it well.  What more can you ask from any dish?

I like to use milk rather than water for a richer taste. I also add a bit of Dijon mustard for a little flavor enhancement.  Traditionally, spätzle are made with a spätzle maker, but I don't have one.  I have heard of people using colanders or food mills, but the easiest method for me is to use a large-holed, slotted spoon.  I place a small amount on the spoon and use a separate spoon or spatula to force the batter through the holes into the hot liquid. This allows me to work with just a little of the batter at a time. The spätzle cook very quickly and if over cooked become dense and chewy.  So keep a close eye on them.  

Once cooked, they can be pan fried in a little butter until the edges are browned and crisp, but I like to keep it simple and enjoy their delicate texture with just a drizzle of melted butter and a sprinkle of fresh parsley.

Sunday Dinner two years ago
Sunday Dinner one year ago


Pumpkin Pie Ice Cream

Pumpkin truffles, pumpkin tart, pumpkin rice crispy treats---whaddaya say we round out the fall lineup with some ice cream?  Not just any old ice cream, but pumpkin pie ice cream, a dessert lover's dream.  

The original recipe called for heavy cream, but I took it easy on the waistline and used half-and-half.  I increased the cinnamon a tad and added some ground cloves because that's what I like in my pumpkin pie.  The tablespoon of bourbon keeps the custard from freezing rock hard and lends a little spike, but it certainly can be omitted.

This frozen goodness has all the deliciously wonderful qualities of a piece of pumpkin pie with a dollop of whipped cream on top in each creamy spoonful.  And you'll save calories and carbs because there is no crust☺!


Apple and Fennel Slaw

An unseasonable mid-week warm up has pushed my braised red cabbage off the menu.  So in order to satisfy my craving for that cruciferous vegetable, this cool and crisp slaw comes in to play.

Tart green apples and aromatic fennel are combined with thinly sliced cabbage.  As much as I enjoy the raw, anise-like flavor of fennel, it is better suited for this recipe when it is briefly blanched.   Chilling the apples, fennel and cabbage in ice water helps them retain a nice crunch.  Just remember to thoroughly dry them before tossing with the dressing.  A soggy slaw is not good eats.  Sweetness, tartness, and plenty of crunch make this slaw a winner salad or side to many pork and chicken sandwiches and dishes. 


Sunday Dinner

Rosemary Grissini

Simple Salad with Caesar Vinaigrette
Roasted Garlic and Parmesan

Caramel Budino with Salted Caramel Sauce

I would like to fit a spoon with a miniature camera before plunging it through the layers of this dessert.  There is the cream, the layer of caramel, the budino (Italian for pudding), then the chocolate cookie crumbs of the base.  If you are able to get each component on your spoon on one trip to the bottom, you will be rewarded with a richly complex mouthful of yummy.    

An added bonus is that the budino and caramel can be made in advance.  In fact, I have even assembled them the day before.  Before serving I top it with whipped cream and reserved cookie crumbs for garnish.  This recipe has it all--taste, texture, and an aesthetically pleasing appearance in individual portions.


Italian Cream Cake

It was my birthday this past Wednesday.  How old?  Old enough to make this cake and eat it, too.  

I can't tell you how many times I have had this cake for my birthday.  But I can tell you how many times I have made it-- once.  My mother was always there to bake one for me even after I was grown with children of my own.  But this year my parents headed South for the winter a little early and that left me one option-- ask mom for the recipe and bake the cake myself.

The cake is a simple yellow cake that is flavored with coconut and pecans (finely chopped for me).  The frosting *oh my the frosting*  is basically a classic cream cheese on steroids.  More butter, more cream cheese, and more sugar?? Yes, please!

I know how tasty and moist the cake is.  I know how unbelievable the frosting is and I even know how delicious a slice is with some good vanilla ice cream.  But what I don't know is why this is called an Italian Cream cake.  Do you?  Seriously, if anyone out there knows, please let me know.


Chile con Queso

When your college football team wears orange and blue and has Illinois on the side of its helmets, there is not much joy to be found on Saturday afternoons this fall.  Much of that lack of enjoyment (or outright discomfort-- wow they are bad!) can be made up with a bowl of this chile con queso.  One chip turns into twenty and pretty soon the sting of football agony is coated with a soothing layer of deeply delicious cheesy happiness. And if your team is good, the dip adds to the good times.  It's kind of like beer in that way.  Moving on....

The original recipe called for Monterey Jack and Colby cheeses, but I prefer the taste and melting properties of Chihuahua and American.  You could use one can of Ro-Tel, but I like my queso chunky with lots of veggies, so I use a whole can of tomatoes, a whole can of green chiles, and fresh jalapenos for more kick.  The addition of the smoky chipotle chiles makes for a trifecta of chile goodness that will have you going back for more.


Sunday Dinner

Baked Brie with Pear Compote

Cassoulet with Toulouse Sausage, Lamb Stew and Duck Confit

Chocolate Mousse (in minutes)

With a certain birthday coming up this week ☺, it is my turn to plan the Sunday dinner menu.  I have been in the kitchen for several days now making all of the components for the main event, so I wanted something fairly easy to make for dessert.  This chocolate mousse really does come together in less time that the traditional version.  Rather than separating the egg yolks from the whites and beating them separately, they are beaten together until thick and doubled in volume.  I like to flavor the mousse with some Kahlúa and vanilla, but you could use any liqueur or extract that you prefer.  A little orange zest and Grand Marnier might be nice if you like that combo.  Or how about some Framboise and fresh berries??  I could go on and on.

Although it comes together quickly, there is no compromise from the rich, creamy and satisfying indulgence that a mousse offers with each spoonful.  Garnish the top with a little more whipped cream and some grated chocolate for a special touch.


Salted Caramel "Ding Dong" Cake

You may recall that we had an early birthday celebration on Sunday for my youngest daughter, Mabelle.  Since she has a river of chocolate running through her veins, I knew a good chocolate cake was to be on the menu.  However, at the time, I didn't know how good☺.  And now...  good doesn't even begin to describe this cake.  

The cake looks like a giant Ding Dong (hence the name)-- the beloved Hostess snack cake for any die hard Little Debbie fans out there.  The recipe is long and looks daunting, but it's really no more difficult than other frosted layer cakes.  It can be made a few days in advance (bonus for entertaining) and in my opinion, it improves with age.  The ganache seals the cake, keeping it moist and flavorful.  If you like chocolate, caramel and cream, you will fall in love with this cake as your fork brings each heavenly layer to your increasingly appreciative taste buds. 


Creamy Skillet Penne with Sausage and Broccoli

After a quick glance at the above photo, one might think that I slaved in the kitchen putting this pasta together.  A pasta, sausage and vegetable dish with a hearty and creamy sauce would require at least two pans and a strainer, right?  Wrong.  This is a one pan meal---making it perfect for a weeknight dinner.

The pasta is toasted first with the vegetables. This process brings out a nutty flavor.  Then it is simmered in wine, stock, and cream just until tender.  The broccoli is added halfway through cooking, so it retains its bright color but is tender to the bite.  Parmesan cheese, fresh herbs, and  some good balsamic vinegar are stirred into the cream mixture to round out the rich and hearty flavor.  A delicious, one pan meal with something for everybody that is perfect for busy weeknights?  Sign me up!


Sunday Dinner

Creamy Gouda-Horseradish Spread

Steak and Frites
Mushroom Ragout
Green Salad with Balsamic-Dijon Vinaigrette

Salted Caramel "Ding Dong" Cake

On Tuesday, my youngest daughter Mabelle is turning 8, so it is her turn to plan a Sunday birthday dinner menu.  I think she did a fine job, but we did run into a problem with the appetizer.  Mabelle loves clams, but my other two children not so much.  In comes this handy recipe to make everyone happy.  We'll save the Clams Casino for another time.  Not only is this spread a delicious starter to our meal, it also doubles as a weeknight way to use up leftovers.  Want to know how I use it?

Brush a slice of country bread with a little bit of olive oil and place it under the broiler until golden brown.  Spread the toast with a some of the leftover cheese spread, layer on some thin slices of leftover steak or roast beef, then top it off with some caramelized yellow onions and some freshly ground black pepper.  Grab your knife and fork and dig in☺.  


Spiced Pumpkin Rice Crispy Treats

Oh my heavens are these ever good!  They are the love child of the classic pumpkin pie and the childhood favorite.  And they aren't just flavored with pumpkin pie spice, they have actual pumpkin purée in the mixture.

With the added moisture from the pumpkin purée, I was a bit concerned about how the texture would hold up.  Then I remembered the trick I used in the pumpkin cream cheese truffles to remove excess moisture.  I also browned the butter to remove even more moisture along with the added nutty flavor element it provides.  I use my standard rice crispy treat recipe, which is different from the classic.  I like my treats big, with extra marshmallow and crispy crunch.  Instead of the traditional 9- x 13-inch baking pan, I use a smaller, 7 1/2 - x 12 1/2- inch one.  That gives me about 15 (2 1/2-inch) squares that are 1 1/2-inches tall. 

I use a good 1/2 teaspoon of the homemade pumpkin pie spice and a nice drizzle of white chocolate.  It is visually appealing and adds another flavor profile that pairs well with the pumpkin and spice. These are excellent treats for Halloween and are well received on the holiday dessert table when you are too full for that slice of pie.  These provide a ton of flavor with a little less guilt.


Homemade Pumpkin Pie Spice

Like the apple pie spice, pumpkin pie spice is a great way to combine spices that you already have on hand without spending extra money at the store.  It is nice to have at your disposal during the holiday baking season and it also makes for a nice gift (along with some homemade pumpkin purée) for the baker in your life☺.


Cheddar Cheese Soup

This is one of the first soups I make when the temperatures begin to dip. The taste is perfect after a long walk in the woods with the dogs or a chilly morning on the soccer fields.  It is warm, creamy, and cheesy without being too heavy.

A mixture of onions, carrot and celery (the French Holy Trinity) make up the bulk of the mirepoix, but I like to add a little garlic as well.  This recipe is thickened with flour and stock, giving it a clear flavor edge over the canned, condensed varieties.  Chicken stock is used for the body, but vegetable stock can be used for a vegetarian version.  It is all pureed until smooth and creamy.  *(Bonus for those of you who have picky vegetable eaters---they will never know what's in it other than cheese.)*  I like to use half-and-half instead of cream for calorie and texture concerns.  I use a quality aged white cheddar (the yellow color comes form the pureed carrots).  Remember that this is cheese soup, so use the good stuff and grate it yourself.  Serve it with with a handful of croutons and cayenne pepper for a kick.