Pumpkin Spice Cake With A Creamy Mascarpone Swirl

Pumpkin Spice Cake With A Creamy Mascarpone Swirl

Pumpkin Spice Cake With A Creamy Mascarpone Swirl


Back when she was little, my daughter Rachel didn’t like pumpkin pie. For a minute or two each year, I would contemplate sending her to an orphanage a la Oliver Twist style, until she got so hungry that even my pie looked good. Honestly, I think I always just wanted someone to hold a bowl out to me and say (in a cockney accent) “May I have some more, sir?” Though no, I have no idea why they would be calling me sir. I have rather prominent boobs. Hard to mistake me for a guy. But I digress.

Now, she goes back and forth. One year she hates pumpkin pie and then another she’ll like it. Go figure. I think we all know a pumpkin pie hating weirdo though. I’m looking at YOU, Kim, you pepsi swigging pumpkin hater.ย  So what can you do? Especially since it’s so hard to find an orphanage. Make something ELSE pumpkin flavored and refuse to let them have any stuffing, turkey or cranberry sauce until they eat something pumpkin. WHAT!? It seems reasonable enough to me.

Thursday we will be bringing meals over to the volunteer firefighters who have to work and one of the things I’m bringing is one of these cakes. The recipe makes two and who better to share with than the gentlmen who will come save my home from burning if I drink a bit too much Cabernet while I cook? ๐Ÿ˜›

This came from the Saveur web site. They are pretty much my favorite cooking magazine and this cake is one of the reasons why. This is moist, not overly sweet, thus perfect after a heavy meal, has a touch of crunch from crispy edges and the pepitas on top. I changed it just a bit. The original called for just plain mascarpone and I know my family well enough to know that unsweetened dollops of a creamy cheese wouldn’t work. I’m glad I changed it. The cake really is NOT that sweet so the mascarpone flavored with a touch of sugar and vanilla was a nice counterpoint to the cake itself. I also added more spice (and deleted the cardamom because I didn’t have any nor the cash to buy any) than they called for and I’m again glad I did. It could use maybe even a bit more than what I added.

You know the drill….

Pumpkin Spice Cake With A Creamy Mascarpone Swirl

  • ย 3 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon cloves
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons grated nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 16 ounce can pumpkin puree (NOT pie filling)
  • zest of one orange (I used 1/2 teaspoon of orange oil)
  • 1 1/4 cups canola oil (I used vegetable and it was fine. I don’t like canola oil)
  • 8 ounces mascarpone cheese, room temp
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons heavy cream or half and half
  • 1/4 cup pepitas
  1. Heat oven to 350. Grease and flour two 8 inch cake pans. I used 9 inch pans and this was still fine; made a nice thick cake.
  2. On a small bowl, combine the mascarpone, 1/4 cup of sugar, 1 1/2 teaspoons cream and 1 teaspoon vanilla extract. Mix well and set aside
  3. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, baking soda and spices.
  4. In a large bowl, combine the pumpkin, eggs, sugar, oil, orange zest and canola oil. Mix well.
  5. Add the flour mixture to the pumpkin mixture. Beat well until thoroughly combined. Divide the batter between the two pans.
  6. Dollop the mascarpone mix evenly over the two pans. Use a butter knife to swirl it into the batter lightly. Sprinkle the pepitas evenly over the two cakes.
  7. Bake at 350 for about 35 to 40 minutes or untila wooden toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean. Let cool in pan for about ten minutes, then turn out of pan to finish cooling.

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Old Fashioned Fruitcake

Old Fashioned Fruitcake

Old Fashioned Fruitcake



A couple of weeks ago, I asked on the blogs facebook page if the readers liked or hated fruitcake. I was fully expecting a lot of “ewwww, I HATE fruitcake!”. But to my surprise, the vast majority of the responses were people saying they either loved it or had at least learned to appreciate it. Yep… fruitcake. Candied peels, unnaturally dyed cherries and pineapple, the whole kit and kaboodle.ย  I was totally tickled since I have always loved fruitcake.

About ten years or so ago, I started making my own. I got the recipe from The New Doubleday Cookbook, one I used to have, but have since lost *sobs* (excellent cookbook btw… if you can find it, get it). Luckily, a few years ago, I was able to find the exact recipe on an about.com site. Yay! This is a typical fruitcake recipe, similar to what one would get at a higher end grocery or through mail order. But even though the fruits are expensive, this is still cheaper than buying one prebaked, plus you know the ingredients going in and the biggest plus, it tastes ten times fresher. ANDDDDDD, you soak this bad boy in a rum or brandy soaked cheesecloth (you can sub apple juice) to up the drunken goodness lol.

This isn’t at all difficult. But you DO need to get this made now for it to be ready for Christmas eating. It is a two day process to make it then it ripens in the soaked cloth for 3 weeks. Could you eat it immediately? I suppose so, but trust me, it tastes far better as it ages. Also, the original recipe calls for making this in a ten inch tube pan. I use two loaf pans; one large, one 8 inch. It works perfectly and that way I have one cake I can soak in rum and one I soak in juice to be kid friendly. Otherwise, I have changed this recipe very little. I add a bit more dried fruit, more vanilla and almond extract, less nuts, no currants and that’s about it. Ok, so maybe I’ve changed it more than I realized lol. Regardless, I’m going to write this as I make it.

You know the drill…. ๐Ÿ™‚

Old Fashioned Fruitcake

  • Fruit Mixture-
  • 1 1/2 lbs fruitcake mix (found this time of year in any grocery store, usually near or in the produce section)
  • 8 ounce container candied lemon or orange peels (your preference)
  • 8 ounces raisins
  • 8 ounces golden raisins (can use a full lb of one or the other if you prefer)
  • 8 ounce container candied cherries
  • 8 ounces finely chopped pecans or walnuts, toasted
  • zest of 2 large lemons (about 2 tablespoons)
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup orange marmalade
  • 1/4 cup brandy, rum or orange juice
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract
  • Cake-
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 3/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon cloves
  • 1/4 teaspoon allspice
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup unsalted butter, room temp
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 6 eggs
  • Cheesecloth for wrapping
  • Rum, Brandy or Apple Juice for soaking
  1. Place all the fruit mixture ingredients in a large bowl. Stir well to mix. Cover the bowl and let it sit overnight at room temp.
  2. The next day, preheat oven to 250 degrees and grease and flour the bottom of either a 10 inch tube pan or two loaf pans.ย  Put a large shallow baking pan filled with boiling water on the bottom rack of your oven.
  3. In a medium bowl, combine the flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, allspice, baking powder and salt. Stir to combine.
  4. In a large bowl, cream together the butter and sugar. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.
  5. Pour the dry ingredients into the bowl of wet ones. Beat just enough to thoroughly blend. Now, carefull spoon the fruit mixture into the bowl of batter. Stir well to combine and make sure all the fruit is covered well in batter.
  6. Pours into the prepared pan or pans. Bake at 250 degrees for approximately 4 1/2 hours, until the cake has shrunk slightly from the sides of the pan and/or until a skewer inserted in the middle comes out with only a few moist crumbs on it. MOIST, not liquidy.
  7. Cool in the pan on a rack for one hour. Loosen the edges with a butter knife then carefully turn out onto the rack to finish cooling. When completely cooled, wrap the cake(s) in a rum, brandy or juice soaked cheesecloth, then wrap tightly in foil. Let ripen for at least 3 weeks. This can be aged even longer. Just make sure to redampen the cheesecloth every three weeks. Just remember, the more you soak this, the more alcohol is getting into it, so don’t eat and drive! ๐Ÿ˜›

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Nutella Cocoa Krispies Treats

Nutella Cocoa Krispie Treats

Nutella Cocoa Krispie Treats

Yes… yes, you read that correctly. Rice Krispie treats on Nutella flavored steroids.But even better… made with Cocoa Krispies. Why? Because we all know I’m a big believer in the premise of if you can make the calorie, sugar and fat count higher, go for it! ๐Ÿ˜›

Some of my readers may recall that it took me ages to get on the Nutella bandwagon. Truthfully, I’m still not 100% on it. I’m kind of that person running behind the bandwagon, holding a cookbook in one hand, a bag of candy in the other yelling “Hey! wait for me!!” as the wagon rushes off into the distance and everybody else gets on the newest bandwagon. I’m always a few years behind on the trends because well… I’m ornery.

These are amazingly good. The Nutella flavor is subtle but if you were to add more Nutella to it, they wouldn’t set correctly. These are gooey, very chocolatey, sticky and did I mention gooey? They’re also easy as anything could be. The cream in them btw, is simply so that the marshmallow mixture doesn’t scorch while you’re stirring to get the marshmallows and the Nutella to melt.

You know the drill. Get to cookin’!

Nutella Cocoa Krispies Treats

  • 26 ounces marshmallows (one 1lb bag and 1 10 ounce bag)
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened plus extra for greasing pan and hands
  • 1 cup Nutella
  • 8 cups Cocoa Krispies Cereal
  1. Line a 13×9 inch pan with nonstick foil. Grease the foil with about 1/2 tablespoon butter. In a large heavy bottomed pot, melt the 6 tablespoons butter over medium heat.
  2. Add in the marshmallows and Nutella. Stir constantly over barely medium heat (about 4 on an electric stove) until the marshmallows and Nutella are melted and well combined.
  3. Turn off heat and QUICKLY add in the cocoa krispies and stir until the cereal is well coated with the marshmallow mixture.
  4. Turn out into the buttered pan and using lightly oiled or buttered hands, press the mixture into the pan.
  5. Either chill for about 2 hours if you like your krispie treats firmer or let set at room temp for a few hours until firm enough to cut.

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Deep Dish Pecan Pie

Deep Dish Pecan Pie

Deep Dish Pecan Pie

I love the whole idea of Thanksgiving. Beyond the obvious loving the meal part (I am a turkey fiend), there is something about the knowledge that on a day when I am sitting down with my family to our Thanksgiving meal, so are millions of other Americans here and abroad. I get a mental image of so many other families saying grace before they eat as they join hands. I think of them laughing as they enjoy the meal, many, just going by odds, laughing over the same lame jokes (oh my gosh, mom burned the pies AGAIN!) at the exact same time. I smile when I think of the kids all over America asking for the 10th time “can we have dessert now?” when all the adults want to do is sit back and catch up with each other over a cup of coffee and a glass of wine. It all gives me chills… the nationwide brotherhood so to speak, the idea that when it comes down to it, we are all one people. I feel the same way at Christmas when I think of so many opening their present early morning as they try not to yawn over the hour (though yes, I know not everyone celebrates Christmas) and on July 4th. So many things join us together as a nation, as a large extended family and Thanksgiving is one of those times.

One of the things I look forward to every year is Pecan Pie. As much as I love it, I can’t seem to bring myself to make it at any other time than Thanksgiving. It just feels wrong. But, so that some of you having a horde of family and/or friends over this Thanksgiving can have a good recipe, I made an exception this year. The things I do for you *she says as she shoves a spoonful of pie into her mouth*. This is a BIG pie. It will easily serve about 12 to 16 people unless you make the slices huge. It’s also not quite as tooth achingly rich as the pecan pie I posted last year. For me, it is a toss up which I prefer. This one is sturdy enough to hold a slice in your hands but it lacks the goopiness of the other. This one isn’t as sweet, but then again, this is ME here… I have no problem with sweet hehe. So what will I do? I’ll make both here. Then I have my sweet gooey pie and my husband has one that’s not as rich, cause he’s a wimp. Either way though, this is fantastic with some lightly whipped cream or as I like it, just with some warm cream poured around it.

You know the drill… ๐Ÿ™‚

Deep Dish Pecan Pie

  • Crust-
  • 3 1/2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons solid shortening, such as Crisco, chilled in freezer and sliced thin
  • 2/3 cup ice water (you may not use it all)
  • Filling-
  • 3/4 cup dark brown sugar
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 cup white (clear) corn syrup
  • 1 1/4 cups dark corn syrup
  • 6 eggs, beaten well
  • 1/3 cup unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 3/4 cup coarsely chopped pecans
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  1. For crust- In a large bowl, combine the flour, salt and sugar. Stir to combine. Dump in the shortening and using a pastry blender, quickly cut the shortening into the flourย  until you have a crumbly mixture. You want there to still be some lumps in here, so don’t make it too fine.
  2. Add your ice water, one tablespoon at a time, mixing with a fork after each, until a small piece of the dough holds together in a ball when gently squeezed. When the dough is ready, wrap it in foil and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes, but up to 2 days if you’re making the dough ahead of time.
  3. While the dough chills, make your filling. In a medium saucepot, combine the sugars and corn syrups. Bring to a boil over medium high heat and let boil for three minutes.ย  Set aside to cool slightly.
  4. When cooled down, slowly drizzle two cups of the sugar mix into the eggs, whisking all the time. This will temper your eggs and prevent them from scrambling when added to the sugar mix,. When you have whisked in all two cups, then pour the eggs into the saucepot with the sugar mix, again whisking the whole time. Then add in the vanilla and the pecans. Set aside.
  5. Make your crust- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and get out a 13×9 inch baking pan. Flour your working area well. Get the chilled crust, lay down on the work area and press it rather flat with your hands. Then roll out into a rectangle (you may have to help it keep the correct shape by periodically reshaping it as you roll) about 3 inches larger than the pan all around.
  6. Use a spatula to gently pry the dough off of the board or counter and roll it around the rolling pan to transport it to the pan. Gently drape it into the pan and press down into the bottom and edges of the pan. Crimp the top edges as desired.
  7. Pour the filling into the pie shell. Bake at 350 for 15 minutes, then turn the oven down to 325 to finish. Remove form the oven when you can insert a butter knife halfway between the edge and the center of the pie and it comes out clean, about 60 to 75 minutes. The pie will finish cooking form it’s own residual heat. Let this cool completely before you try to slice it or you will end up with a liquidy mess. If you want warm slices, simply reheat them in the microwave for about 10 seconds per slice.

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Ramblings & Reviews III

Hello! It’s been a while since I’ve done one of these! But with the holidays coming, there are a lot of things to review! Add in that the weather is getting colder and I don’t know about you, but I start looking for creamier skin products and hair products to fight the Winter dry skin and hair frizz. So lots to review there too.

First off- I’m sure many of you have seen that Gingerbread seems to be the current craze in the Christmas Limited Edition flavors? Well, so had I. I was totally stoked over it since that’s one of my fave holiday flavors. But talk about disappointment! I bought the new Gingerbread M&M’s, the new Gingerbread Twix and the new Gingerbread Oreos. All three…well…sucked. The Gingerbread M&M’s actually had the effect of making both myself and my husband gag when we smelled them. They are reminiscent of sweaty gym socks. And the taste? About what one would imagine those same socks tasting like. The only one who will eat them is my 18 year old and he will eat anything with sugar lol. But even he says they taste “weird”. The other two; twix and Oreos? They didn’t make me gag but neither did they make me want to waste any daily calories on them. The Twix also has an off, chemically smell and the flavor is just boring. Plus the cookie is very dry and crumbly. The Oreos? Just bland and boring and also not worth the money. Save your cash and buy some of the other things I’ll review today!

DSCF2812

Gingerbread flavored sweets

Next thing isn’t holiday per se but it WOULD make a great stocking stuffer (in this 3 pod trial size) for anyone who has a Keurig. I bought these Archer Farms Vanilla Bean Creme Brulee K-Cups on a whim at Target and wow, they’re yummy! You can smell both the vanilla and the caramelized sugar smell as they brew and you can also taste both flavors, which is hard to find in a flavored coffee. So go grab some if you like the flavor combo.

Archer Farms Vanilla Bean Creme Brulee K Cups

Archer Farms Vanilla Bean Creme Brulee K Cups

When colder weather hits, my already fine flyaway hair gets dry and frizzy. Yet, when I try to use those extra moisturizing shampoos, I end up with hair that looks like I haven’t washed it in weeks after barely a day. This Moroccan Argan Oil shampoo from Organix doesn’t do that. It leaves my fine hair really soft and I don’t have to hide it by pulling it back into a ponytail after like 10 hours because it looks greasy. Plus, it smells fantastic. It leaves just a subtle scent on my hair but it’s definitely there.

DSCF2810Last review for this week-

We all know I’m not the worlds most healthful eater. I DO however like dried fruit. Now, no preaching about how the calories are concentrated just as much as the fruit flavor. I know this. I don’t eat buckets of it a day. I saw the Dried Figs at Trader Joes and couldn’t resist them and I’m soooo glad I didn’t. These are amazing. If you’ve ever eaten a Fig Newton, you’d love these. They aren’t all hard and impossible to chew like some dried fruit. These are soft and chewy and truly taste like the inside of a Fig Newton but without the added sugar. Plus, the price was outstanding. Not even 3 dollars for the tub. Can’t beat that! I’d show you a full container but…well… mine has only 2 figs left in it lol.

Trader Joes Dried Figs

Trader Joes Dried Figs

On the rambling side of the post, cause I sure didn’t ramble up there hehe, I think Autumn is unofficially over. We had some spectacular colors this year. I had hoped we would since we had such a wet Summer, which is what makes the trees brighter in Fall. But now the trees have dropped all their leaves and they are hunkered down for cold weather. That’s ok; so are we. Wood stove has already been used more than once and my dads old Mickey Mouse blanket with the hole in it has taken up residence on my recliner to keep the chill off. Here’s what it looked like here a week ago; not anymore though.

 

View from the front porch

View from the front porch

 

Have a great week this coming week, everyone!

Creamy Cheesy Cheeseburger Macaroni & Cheese

Cheeseburger Macaroni & Cheese

Cheeseburger Macaroni & Cheese

I remember when I got married at 20. While I knew more or less how to cook and had been doing it for about ten years at that point, the main things I had made up till then were baked goods and home made candy. Dinners were pretty simplistic when our mom wasn’t home. So when my then husband and I moved to Germany and I was cooking for us both, it was…interesting… to say the least. One of the things I made we simply called “goop”. It involved taking a box of cheap mac and cheese, browning a pound of ground beef and mixing them. That was it. No seasoning, nothing. Also no nutrition and not much flavor hehe. Early home made Hamburger helper. Then when I had five kids, all fairly young, to feed, and I was working, the real hamburger helper became an easy stand by. Same concept; brown the beef, mix into the pasta. Easy, quick, with a flavor reminiscent of sewer water but the kids liked it.

Nowadays however, I prefer to make my version of it. Making it yourself leaves you with at some idea that there is a modicum of nutrition in there and no cheese that is powdered. Mind you, this is NOT diet food by any stretch of the imagination. What it is however is tasty, filling, hearty for a cool night and kids and adults both love it. The flavor actually does remind you of a cheeseburger from a fast food place that shall remain unnamed.ย  You have your ketchup and mustard, the dill pickle, even the little bits of re-hydrated dried onions.

My photo here bites donkey weenies. It was dark, I was feeling well and no matter how I tried, I couldn’t get decent light. So trust me, this is far better than my photo portrays it as being lol. Also, this makes enough for dinner on 2 nights so if you don’t want that cut this recipe in half ๐Ÿ™‚ย  I like the whole recipe myself. Gives me one night of leftovers, thus more time to be lazy and watch reruns of Army Wives. Win Win situation for me!

You know the drill…

Cheeseburger Macaroni & Cheese

  • 1 1/2 lbs elbow macaroni, cooked, drained and set aside
  • 2 lbs ground beef (chuck works best in this)
  • 2 lbs mild cheddar cheese, shredded
  • 1 lb Velveeta or American cheese, shredded or cubed
  • 1 1/2 cups milk
  • 2 eggs, beaten (bad eggs, bad eggs! Sorry; I’ll stop now.)
  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter
  • 3 tablespoons dill relish
  • 2 tablespoons mustard
  • 1/4 cup ketchup
  • 2 tablespoons dehydrated chopped onions
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Brown your ground beef over medium high heat. Drain, mix with your pasta and set aside. Bring your milk to a simmer in a heavy bottomed pot.ย  Add in the Velveeeta cheese; stir constantly over medium heat until the cheese is melted and the mixture is smooth.
  3. Take about 1 cup of the mixture and slowly drizzle into the beaten eggs, whisking constantly. This tempers the eggs and prevents them from turning into scrambled eggs when you add them to the milk.
  4. Pour the eggs into the pot of milk/cheese and stir constantly until combined. Cook over low heat for about 3 minutes. Remove from heat. Add in the ketchup, mustard, dill relish and dried onions. Set aside.
  5. Butter a large (3 quarts at least) baking dish. Add in half the pasta/beef mixture. Now cover with half the shredded cheese, then with half the cheese sauce mixture. Repeat this layering one more time. Sprinkle with additional cheese if desired but even I have to say it doesn’t need it. I know, right?! ME… saying you don’t need more cheese! Drizzle with some extra ketchup just to up the whole burger factor.
  6. Bake uncovered at 350 degrees until bubbly and golden brown, about 30 minutes.
  7. Served with a side salad and rolls, this makes and extremely kid friendly dinner. ๐Ÿ™‚

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Fleur De Sel Caramels (Salted Caramels)

Fleur De Sel Caramels

Fleur De Sel Caramels

The fancy name sounds so purty, but it’s just salted caramels. I was about to say “just plain old salted caramels”, but that would have been an insult to these rich creamy pieces of goodness. There’s nothing plain about these. There’s also nothing difficult. Back when I first made my Homemade Caramel Sauce, I was one of those people that assumed that something that tasted so decadent had to be hard to make. Nope; flat out easy. Now don’t get me wrong. You walk away from this during the caramelizing of the sugar, you will end up with every smoke detector in a ten mile radius going off, an embarrassing fire department visit, a ruined pan that no amount of soaking will save and worst of all…. NO CARAMEL! And while this isn’t hard, it is not a put the pot on the stove during ANY step and go sit and watch The Real Housewives Of The Amazon Rainforest sort of thing to cook. You need to stick close by.

Is it worth it? You tell me. Your choice is this- go spend 5 bucks at Trader Joes for a container of caramels that, while good, gives you about 20 caramels for the price and STILL isn’t as good as homemade. Or you could go buy a bag of Kraft or Brachs caramels that are cheap but..well, you can tell they are cheap. Very little flavor, the mouth feel isn’t the same and you get what you pay for. OR… you can spend about 6 bucks and get a 9 inch pan of gloriously burnt sugar tasting, creamy rich “OMG, if I eat any more of these, I’m gonna weigh 500 pounds but they are so damn good!” caramels. So you choose. ๐Ÿ˜€

Also, if you prefer just regular caramels, just omit the salt in the caramel and on top. Regular caramels at your service. Fat girl pants optional.

P.S.- If you don’t have Fleur De Sel, you can use any coarse grained salt. Just don’t use table salt.

You know the drill….

Fleur De Sel Caramels (Salted Caramels)

  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2/3 cup light corn syrup
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 2 cups heavy cream, warmed
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temp, cut into 4 pieces
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon fleur de sel

Make sure you have all your ingredients at hand. Have the cream measured and nearby and to save time, just grind your salt right into the cream as well as pour the vanilla in it and make sure your butter is unwrapped and at the ready. Then set it all aside right by the stove. Line a 9 inch square pan with foil (preferably the non stick kind.). Butter the foil, bottom and sides. Set aside near the stove.

  1. Get a nice deep heavy bottomed saucepot. At least a 4 quart one. Combine the sugar, water and corn syrup in the pot. Bring to a boil over medium high heat. Swirl the pan a couple of times while cooking but do NOT stir it. If you stir caramel as it’s cooking, you stand a good chance of ending up with grainy, gritty caramel.
  2. Boil until the mixture has turned a nice dark golden brown color. Do NOT leave the stove during this step. When it is the right color, immediately move it to a cool burner. Pour in the cream mixture all at once and carefully drop in the butter. This is going to sputter like crazy so be prepared. Just pour and then give it a minute to settle down some.
  3. Set it back on the stove over medium high heat. Don’t stir. Just swirl the pot a few times carefully to combine the mixture. You can, very carefully, if you have to, use a wooden spoon and gently stir in the middle of the mixture, making sure to not touch the sides or bottom of the pan. But just the one time to get things combined.
  4. Keep the mixture over medium high heat and cook to 245 degrees. Use a candy thermometer or good instant read thermometer to get an accurate reading. This will take about ten minutes.
  5. When it gets to 245 degrees, take off the heat and immediately pour into the prepared pan without scraping the bottom of the pot. If there’s any left in the bottom, just let it cool and consider it the cooks treat. ๐Ÿ™‚
  6. Allow this to sit overnight or until firm. You can refrigerate it and it will get firmer much quicker but it also makes it a bit more difficult to cut, though not hard if you have a good knife. Cut into about 48 pieces, using a sharp knife.
  7. Sprinkle more fleur de sel on top of each piece and either wrap in plastic wrap or put in mini candy cups. These are perfect for Christmas gift giving!

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Baby Eggplants Stuffed With Lamb, Fruit & Montasio Cheese

Baby Eggplant Stuffed With Lamb, Fruit & Montasio Cheese

Baby Eggplant Stuffed With Lamb, Fruit & Montasio Cheese

This past September, I was contacted by a lovely lady named Jill who invited me to enter the “Legends From Europe Market Basket Recipe Contest For Bloggers”. Knowing that I need to work on my confidence in recipe development, I gave a resounding but shaky yes. In this contest, the bloggers get assigned a specific product, either a variety of Prosciutto or a specific cheese. The assignments are random and I got Montasio cheese. This wasn’t a cheese I was familiar with and I worried about finding it in my rural area. Luckily, a bulk liquor store with a great gourmet department had quite a bit of it. Whew! So it was on to the taste testing. Let me just say, this cheese is actually quite delicious. There are different types of Montasio and they vary some by flavor as well as firmness. The one I got is akin to a good Parmigiano in texture; firm, easy to grate and with a nice bite to it. The flavor is reminiscent of Swiss cheese but rather as if Swiss and Parmigiano had a love child. ๐Ÿ˜› It’s lucky I bought a lot, because we absolutely love it.

I obsessed for the better part of a month over what to make but what finally decided me was when I saw some baby eggplant at the store. The cute factor won out lol. What’s weird is how I cook when I’m developing. There is little to no research, and I fly by the seat of my pants. I’m one of those people who does far better if I don’t plan things, just get in there and do it. That way of cooking worked well here. These stuffed eggplants are amazingly good. You have the meatiness of the lamb combined with the sweetness of the fruit, the sharpness and creaminess of the cheese, then the herbs and spinach joining with a slight bite from the curry and the red pepper flakes. Give this a try; I think you’ll be pleased.ย  And if you find a good source of the Montasio cheese? Stock up. This cheese is wonderful!

Baby Eggplants Stuffed With Lamb, Fruit & Montasio Cheese

  • 5 baby eggplants
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 1 lb ground lamb
  • 3 minced shallots (about 3.5 tablespoons)
  • 1 cup onion, chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1/2 cup coarsely chopped dried apricots
  • 1/2 cup coarsely chopped dried figs
  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries
  • 1/2 cup toasted slivered almonds
  • 1/2 teaspoon curry powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon garam masala
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 lb frozen spinach, thawed, drained and squeezed as dry as possible
  • 3 cups grated Montasio cheese, divided (use the large hole on a box grater)
  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Grease a 13×9 inch baking pan. Slice each eggplant in half and lay cut side up in the baking pan. Brush them with one tablespoon of the olive oil. Bake at 375 degrees for 20 minutes. When done, set aside to cool.
  2. While the eggplant cooks, pour the remaining 1 tablespoon olive into a large saucepan. Over medium heat, saute the lamb, shallots, onions and garlic in the olive oil until the meat is browned and the aromatics are limp and translucent. Drain well, then place back in the pan.ย  Return heat to medium.
  3. To the lamb, add the apricots, figs, almonds and cranberries. Stir to combine then add the next 7 ingredients (through the black pepper). Stir and let cook for five minutes over medium heat, stirring occasionally. When done, add in the spinach and stir well. Remove from heat and set aside.
  4. Use a sharp knife to cut along the inside edges of each eggplant half, making sure not to cut through the skin and leaving about a quarter inch thick shell.
  5. Scoop out the insides of the eggplants and either discard the pulp or use for another purpose. Lay each eggplant back on the baking dish, cut side up. Lay them close to each other for support.. Sprinkle 1/2 cup of the Montasio over the insides of the eggplants.
  6. Add 2 cups of the remaining Montasio to the stuffing mixture in the pan. Stir well to combine.
  7. Stuff each eggplant half with about one third to one half a cup of the stuffing mixture (a slightly larger eggplant half can hold a touch more, smaller ones a bit less), pressing down lightly and mounding it up. The stuffing mix is fairly dense so it’s easy to compact and mound. You may end up with a few spoonfuls of the stuffing mixture left over. It’s wonderful fresh from the pan too, so eat up!
  8. Return to the 375 degree oven for 20 minutes or until the eggplant is easily pierced with a fork through the side. Ten minutes into cooking, remove the pan from the oven. Sprinkle the remaining 1/2 cup Montasio cheese over the eggplant halves and return to the oven for the last ten or so minutes of cooking time.
  9. Use a large spatula to carefully remove the eggplants from the pan and transfer to a serving dish. Garnish as desired and serve one half as an appetizer serving or two as an entree.

Cinnamon Roll Coffee Cake

Cinnamon Roll Coffee Cake

Cinnamon Roll Coffee Cake

I have a confession to make… again. I have a lot of those, don’t I? When my brother, sister and I were kids, we would swipe money from my mothers coat pocket (she was a waitress and that”s where she hid her tips) and go to the corner store to buy junk food (I was the youngest so I blame them for corrupting me). It was usually either ice cream (Steve got vanilla, Sandra got Butter Pecan and I always got Neapolitan) or what we referred to as “pop and things”. Things were generally Hostess snacks; again, we all had our favorites. I got Ho Hos, San got Cupcakes and Steve got Suzy Q’s. Sometimes however, I would change it and with my ill gotten wealth, I would buy an entire Hostess coffee cake. You know the ones I mean. They were rectangular in shape with this white icing on top that was so slick and so plastic in texture that you could practically peel the whole thing off in one sheet. Which I did. And then ate. Often.ย  I have to admit, that until Hostess went out of business (and even though they are back, I’ve seen no signs of the coffee cake), I would still buy one every couple of years (using my own money now lol) and eat it. I no longer peeled off the icing and ate it, but I still loved them. Nasty, dry, preservative filled… but they were a taste of childhood. That’s all that mattered was the momentary chance to be 8 again… to be free of major life worries and also to not think about the empty calories.

Now however, I DO tend to make coffee cakes form scratch when I want them. I prefer yeast risen ones but every once in a while I just want one quicker. So when I saw this recipe in Cuisine magazine, I knew I wanted to try it. The idea of cinnamon roll flavor without the rolling and cutting was too much to resist.

Be warned- this is rather fussy in the prep for a coffee cake. Is it worth it though? Yes. If you like cinnamon, like sticky toppings and tender cake, you’ll find it worth the time and fuss. You will use more than one bowl, which I try to avoid but you can’t with this and you need to be quick turning this out onto a plate or the topping sticks to the pan. So basically, follow the directions I have here to a T and you should be fine. The changes I made to this were the addition of some orange zest, nutmeg and more cinnamon in the streusel as well as some vanilla extract, cinnamon and nutmeg in the batter as it didn’t call for any spice at all.

You know the drill…

Cinnamon Roll Coffee Cake

  • Caramel Topping-
  • 3/4 cups packed brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • 1 cup toasted chopped pecans
  • Streusel-
  • 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup flour
  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter, cold
  • 1 tablespoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1 tablespoon orange zest
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • Cake-
  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk
  • 1/4 cup vanilla yogurt or plain sour cream (if you use Greek yogurt, use an extra 2 tablespoons buttermilk to offset the thickness of the yogurt)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temp
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9 inchย  cake pan or spray with cooking spray.. Make SURE to use a 2 inch deep pan, not the typical 1 1/2 deep one. I found mine at Target so I have now given you a good excuse to go shopping at Target ๐Ÿ˜€ if you use a shallower one, it WILL overflow.
  2. In a small bowl, mix together all your caramel topping ingredients except the pecans; stir well to mix. Spread in the prepared pan, sprinkle the pecans on top and wash the bowl; trust me, otherwise you’ll finish this and have 628 bowls to wash :-p
  3. For the streusel, whisk together the brown sugar, flour, spices and orange zest in a small bowl. Using a pastry blender, cut in the cold butter until fine crumbs form. Set aside.
  4. For the cake, combine the flour, spices baking powder, salt and baking soda. Set aside.
  5. In a large measuring cup, whisk together the buttermilk, yogurt or sour cream, eggs and vanilla. Set aside.
  6. In a large bowl (hey, I warned you about all the bowls ๐Ÿ˜› ) cream together the 1/2 cup butter and the 3/4 cup sugar just until combined. Alternately add the flour mixture and the buttermilk mixture, starting and ending with the flour mix. Only beat until just combined each time.
  7. Spoon half of the batterย  on top of the topping in the pan. Smooth to the edges (I started with a rubber spatula for this but ended up using my clean finger. it worked better.) then sprinkle on half of the streusel. Spoon on the rest of the batter, smooth, then sprinkle on the rest of the streusel.
  8. Bake cake at 350 degrees for 50 to 60 minutes or until a toothpick (or my usual one; a wooden skewer) comes out clean.
  9. Leave in pan for only about 2 minutes; then run a knife along the edge to loosen it and quickly invert it onto a plate. If any of the topping sticks to the pan, scrape it off and smooth it onto the top of the cake. Either finish cooling or eat it while it’s nice and toasty warm.


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