Recipes so good it oughta' be a sin!

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Eggnog Cake

Merry Christmas, Happy Chanukah, and Happy New Year to everyone! We had a lovely little holiday here at Sugar Pies. I got a new Kindle e-reader which I'm coming to love. I honestly never thought I'd join the e-book trend because of my love of paper books. However, after just a few minutes not only was I finding it easy to read but since I read so often in bed just touching a button to turn pages was wonderful. I'm afraid I'm hooked. While I won't give up real books totally, I'll certainly be making more space on my shelves by switching to e-books for a big portion of my reading.

During the holidays a friend commissioned her Christmas dinner dessert from me. My first thought was a sumptuous Eggnog Cheesecake. This would be a brand new recipe for me because my friend, Nora, wanted something she hadn't had before from my kitchen. Of course, this meant either trying out a new recipe or developing one quickly. I opted for trying a new recipe. Long story short, the cheesecake itself was fantastic. In Michael's words it was "to die for." Unfortunately, I hated the crust. It came out far too moist and soggy and while it looked good on the spring form pan tray, it didn't look so hot when plated. I certainly couldn't send that out. So it went into the refrigerator for us to consume.

Lacking a lot of time, I quickly returned to cakes which I can do in my sleep. I threw together a very moist and rich butter bundt cake flavored with eggnog and spices. It's quite delicious and was a hit, I hear, at Nora's dinner. However, I also hear that they would have been happy with the soggy crust cheesecake. I sent Nora a piece when she picked up her cake and she loved it - despite the less than stellar crust. Obviously, that gingersnap crust is optional and when I do it again I might omit a crust completely.

The Eggnog Cake can also feature a little bourbon (I love Southern Comfort in this). It's an optional ingredient which I added to my home version. You didn't think I wouldn't do two so I could taste, did you? The SoCo gives it a little extra oomph. I used it both in the batter and lightly brushed over the warm cake before glazing.

This cake is great glazed or plain. Nora's was glazed with a butter, eggnog and sugar glaze which was quite rich and finished with a sprinkle of nutmeg. My home version was left plain. Both are wonderful and the cake bakes up so nicely that you can get away with sprinkling it with a bit of powdered sugar if you want to forgo the glaze.

Put this little cake in your files for next Christmas or try it out for your New Year's party! You'll be glad you did!

Eggnog Cake
Description: The perfect cake to celebrate the holiday season!


  • 1 1/2 cups butter, softened
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 3 tbs. Southern Comfort, divided (optional)
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp Kosher salt
  • 1 cup refrigerated eggnog
  • 1/3 cup butter
  • 1/4 cup refrigerated eggnog
  • 4 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 tsp. Southern Comfort (optional)


  1. Preheat oven to 350°. Grease and flour a 10-inch Bundt pan and set aside.
  2. In bowl of electric mixer fitted with paddle attachment cream together butter and sugars until fluffy.
  3. With mixer on slow speed, add eggs and yolk one at a time, mixing after each addition. Add vanilla and 2 tbs. of Southern Comfort (if using). Add Sour cream and mix well.
  4. In separate bowl, combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, and kosher salt. With mixer on low speed add flour mixture alternating with eggnog - beginning and ending with flour.
  5. Pour into prepared cake pan and bake for 45-55 minutes or until cake is golden brown and a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Allow cake to cool in pan for 10 minutes then turn out on wire rack to cool completely. If using the Southern Comfort, brush the top of the cake with remaining 1 tbs. while still warm.
  6. When cake has cooled completely, place powdered sugar in a large bowl. Melt butter with eggnog and Southern Comfort (if using) in a small saucepan. Pour into bowl with sugar and whisk until combined. If glaze is too thick add just a bit of hot water to thin. If too thin add a bit of powdered sugar until you get the consistency you desire. A thicker glaze tends to work well on this cake.


The glaze for this cake is quite rich. If you wish a more subdued flavor, simply sprinkle with powdered sugar before serving.

Preparation time: 10 minute(s)
Cooking time: 55 minute(s)
Number of servings (yield): 12
Culinary tradition: USA (Southern)
Copyright ©2011.
Recipe by Sugar Pies.

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Saturday, December 10, 2011

Cinnamon Coffee Cake

It seems like forever since I posted anything! Normally, this time of year I'm knee deep in baking for the holidays. Unfortunately, events have transpired to put a hitch in my holiday baking plans.

The day after Thanksgiving Michael wasn't feeling well. Actually, he hadn't been feeling well for a couple months. He was complaining of shortness of breath and a dry cough that kept him up at night. His doctor diagnosed "Post Viral Cough" which supposedly is a cough that hangs around after a cold or the flu. Finally, it was bad enough that he was exhausted and could barely go from room to room without having to rest. The Friday after Thanksgiving he deigned to go to the ER at University Medical Center.

The doctors and residents were able to figure out this wasn't a "Post Viral Cough" but rather congestive heart failure. Long story short they discovered he has several things wrong with his heart. He spent a few days in the hospital and is now on a number of medications as they try to rehabilitate his heart and let it strengthen and repair. He's also on a new "heart healthy" and low sodium diet. Obviously, that is challenge for me in the kitchen since my cooking fortes are Southern and French - meaning a stick of butter or a cup of cream in pretty much everything! But, I'm trying and so far he's liked my low sodium and heart healthy dishes.

Obviously, with all this going on my baking has taken a big hit. I had planned to do big trays for friends, family, and others but have had to put that on hold because I've fallen so far behind.

I did manage to throw together a little snack cake/coffee cake this morning, though. I really love this cake and have made it a couple times. In fact, it was going to go up right after Thanksgiving but, well, you already know. The original recipe was found in the Penzey's Spices catalog. We have one of their stores a few blocks from here and I've become a big fan. Their spices are so fresh and interesting. I simply won't buy grocery store spices now. Their catalog is wonderful and full of great recipes, too.

In this recipe I use their Ceylon Cinnamon which is one of the few true cinnamons available today. The Ceylon variety is very popular in Europe where it's complex and soft flavor are more appreciated than the overpowering cinnamon used here in the states. I adore the citrus notes that can be tasted in this variety and it has become my "go to" cinnamon for use in my traditional recipes. I highly recommend giving this one a try.

I've also become a big fan of Penzey's Mexican Vanilla extract. The first time I opened a bottle of this stuff in the store and took a whiff I was blown away! It has an incredibly complex and floral scent. The taste is also incredibly smooth with none of that slight alcohol bite you find in many supermarket vanilla extracts. Unfortunately, they don't seem to have this one available in their online store.

This little cake is really easy to throw together in a few minutes and pop in the oven for a wonderful breakfast dessert, brunch, or coffee break. It even works if you forget the cinnamon which I admit I have done! In that case it has a lovely buttery flavor that shines through and the brown sugar and vanilla streusel (sans cinnamon) is very rich with hints of molasses flavors. So, if you want to purposely leave out the cinnamon you can have a whole different flavor experience with the same cake!

: Cinnamon Coffee Cake
: A buttery and spicy cake perfect with coffee or as a breakfast or brunch dessert.

  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp. kosher salt
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter (cold)
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup dark brown sugar
  • 2 tbs. flour
  • 2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 2 tbs. melted butter
  • 1/2 cup chopped pecans (optional)

  1. Preheat oven to 375°. Grease and flour an 8x8-inch baking pan.
  2. In bowl of electric mixer fitted with paddle attachment stir together flour, baking powder, salt, and sugar. Cut butter into small pieces and add to dry ingredients. Beat at low to medium speed until the mixture resembles cornmeal.
  3. In 2 cup measuring cup, whisk together the egg, milk, and vanilla. Add to dry ingredients and beat on low speed just until combined.
  4. Pour half of mixture into prepared pan.
  5. In a small bowl mix together the ingredients for the streusel. Sprinkle half of the streusel mixture evenly over the batter in the pan.
  6. Top the streusel with the remaining cake batter and smooth the top. Sprinkle remainder of the streusel mixture over the top of the cake.
  7. Bake in 375° oven for 20-30 minutes or until cake is golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
  8. Allow to cool in the pan about 5-10 minutes then invert on a plate. Invert again on a wire rack and allow to cool. Cut in 2 inch squares and serve.

The batter can be made up to a day ahead and refrigerated in the pan covered with plastic wrap. To prepare the refrigerated cake: reduce the oven temperature to 350° and bake an extra 15 minutes or until done.

Preparation time: 10 minute(s)
Cooking time: 30 minute(s)
Number of servings (yield): 8
Culinary tradition: USA (General)

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Friday, November 18, 2011

Brown Sugar Cookies

Imagine for a moment a cookie made with no spices that relies on its flavor from butter and butter alone. What do you think it might taste like? Perhaps those butter cookies so popular around the holidays? Something like shortbread, maybe?

What if I told you it elements of caramel and butterscotch. What if I told you that you could taste hints of ginger or molasses in the finish? You wouldn't believe me. But it's true. This sugar cookie gets is flavor from that incredible magic known as "brown butter" or as the French say "beurre noisette." The flavors in this simple and easy to make cookie are astounding. You truly will find hints of caramel and butterscotch along with some lovely notes of ginger and molasses (depending on the quality of the butter and brown sugar you use).

Honestly, I fell in love with this cookie. I also found that eating them on the second day was even better as the flavors mixed and melded even more.

When you bake these you probably will remove them from the oven thinking they are not done yet and you'll be right. These are deliberately undercooked to preserve their wonderful chewy texture at the center. If you cook these until they are completely done your cookie won't have that magical chewy texture and beautiful flavor notes. So be sure to follow the directions about removing them at about 12 minutes and allowing them to sit on the cookie sheets for an additional five before putting them on a wire rack to cool completely.

Oh, while I'm thinking about it. I'm working on recreating Mama's Fruit Cake for the holidays. My nephew and niece found her original handwritten notes and sent them to me. Of course, like many of Mama's recipes there are important parts that seemed to be kept in her brain and not written down on the paper! It might take a couple tries to get it right, but when I figure out the secret formula, I'll be sharing here.

If you're one of those people who make jokes about fruitcake be prepared to be embarrassed. This thing is killer and beyond belief good!

: Brown Sugar Cookies
: Brown sugar and browned butter give these cookies a magical mixture of flavors. Adapted from Cook's Illustrated - America's Test Kitchen

  • 14 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
  • 3 cups packed dark brown sugar, divided
  • 1/4 cup white sugar
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp.baking powder
  • 1 tbsp. vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1 large egg plus 1 yolk

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F and line two baking sheets with parchment.
  2. In a small light bottomed skillet, melt 10 tbsp of the unsalted butter. Continue to cook until the milk solids begin to brown, 2-4 minutes. Transfer to a bowl, add the remaining 4 tbsp of cold butter, and set aside to cool, 15 minutes.
  3. In a shallow dish, combine 1/4 c packed brown sugar with white sugar, rubbing with fingers to break up the brown sugar. Set aside.
  4. Whisk together flour, baking soda and baking powder in a small bowl.
  5. In a large mixing bowl, combine remaining 1 3/4 c brown sugar with cooled melted butter, along with vanilla and salt. Add egg and yolk to butter and sugar and stir well. Add flour mixture and stir until well-mixed and no pockets of dry flour remain.
  6. Turn dough onto a board and pat into a rough circle. Cut circle in four equal pieces, then divide each piece into six equal pieces, for a total of 24 cookies. Roll each piece into a ball, then roll in the mixed sugars to coat, then place onto lined cookie sheets, about 2 inches apart.
  7. Bake one tray at a time for 12-14 minutes, spinning the tray front to back at the halfway point. They will appear underdone. Let sit on the tray 5 minutes to finish cooking, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
Preparation time: 10 minute(s)
Cooking time: 12 minute(s)
Number of servings (yield): 24
Culinary tradition: USA (General)

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Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Old Fashioned Tea Cakes

The weather has changed here in the desert. A cool Sunday with rain late in the evening has given way to temps in the 50's during the day and in the 30's at night. Although we're supposed to warm up in the 60's or low 70's by the end of the week, the beginning of the week has been a chilly one. I've even had the fireplace going trying to stave off using the heater at least for a few more weeks.

I'll admit, though, that I like the change. Heat just doesn't agree with me. Of course, with cool weather comes the desire for warm drinks. Hot tea, hot coffee or hot cocoa always seem to hit the spot when the weather turns cool. When  you wake up in the mornings and spot some snow on the mountains a little bit of hot tea with some tea cakes really sets the tone for the day.

This recipe for tea cakes is adapted from one in Sugar, Sugar: Every Recipe Has a Story . I played with the spices just a tad in this because I wanted something that would stand up nicely to strongly flavored tea or coffee. The result was fabulous. These little cookie/cakes are addicting. I've been trying to limit my intake of sweets to what a normal person would have but these pretty much blew up my intentions. I bagged up a couple dozen of these with the intention of getting them out of the house. Guess what. They didn't make it. I blew through one bag sitting in front of the fire watching movies and the other bag keeps calling my name!

The texture of these cookies is delicate and cakey. The spices give them wonderful flavors that meld together and scream Autumn: nutmeg, ginger, and a little allspice. When I did these I used vanilla sugar and left out the vanilla extract. However, I'll quote the recipe with regular vanilla extract since most people don't keep vanilla sugar in the pantry.

I think you'll really enjoy these delightful little cookies. They stand up nicely against even the strongest teas or flavored coffees.

: Old Fashioned Tea Cakes
: Delightful cookies with spices that pair perfectly with tea or coffee.


  • 1 cup vegetable shortening
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 3/4 cup whole milk
  • 5 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 tsp. ground nutmeg
  • pinch of ground ginger
  • pinch of allspice


  1. In bowl of electric mixer fitted with paddle attachment, beat together the sugar and shortening until creamy. Meanwhile, whisk together the flour, salt, baking powder, soda, and spices in a separate bowl.
  2. With mixer on low speed, add eggs one at time beating after each addition until incorporated. Add the vanilla.
  3. Add half of the flour mixture and beat at low speed until incorporated. Add the milk and then the remaining flour mixture and blend until smooth.
  4. Remove bowl from mixer and wrap with plastic wrap. Refrigerate at least two hours.
  5. Preheat oven to 350°. Line baking sheets with parchment paper or use nonstick aluminum foil. Scoop dough into one tablespoon mounds onto cookie sheet. Leave about 1-2 inches between each cookie. Dip a fork in flour and create a cross on the cookies by piercing with the tines. Bake cookies for 10-12 minutes or until edges begin to brown. Allow to cool on baking sheet for 1-2 minutes then remove to a wire rack to cool completely. Store in airtight container.
Preparation time: 10 minute(s)
Cooking time: 10 minute(s)
Number of servings (yield): 12
Culinary tradition: USA (Traditional)

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Sunday, October 30, 2011

Apple Fritters

With a few apples still left from my various apple dishes since our trip to the orchard, I decided to try a recipe from America's Test Kitchen for Apple Fritters.

But, before I get to the fritters, I need to vent. Obviously, I'm from the south. For years I've listened to people make jokes about a southern standby - grits. The jokes and disdain have been endless, from a scene in My Cousin Vinny to friends who have acted shocked when told grits are just ground corn boiled with water. Sometimes you'd think you'd suggested someone from up north eat dog food the way they react to grits.

But now a big trendy side dish is polenta. Honestly, I had little idea what it was. Someone said it was made "with corn" but I'd never really bothered to find out more. Then I was watching a cooking show on TV and they were doing Parmesan Polenta. The host started off with a big pot of boiling water. That looked pretty familiar. Then they explained about the polenta itself. It was ground corn. Ground corn? That's grits. OK, then we take the "polenta" and put it in the boiling water with a pinch of baking soda (an old grits trick) and some salt. You stir it, then you let it simmer, then stir it, then let it simmer and finally rest. Then you mix in some cheese and serve it. That's cheese grits except we usually use cheddar in the south.

I actually found myself laughing. Serve someone Creamy Parmesan Polenta and they'll swoon over a trendy new dish. Give them some good old fashioned cheese grits and they'll act like you're a rube. I swear, food trends leave me shaking my head sometimes.

Anyway, back to apple fritters. This recipe was pretty good. I didn't particularly care for the glaze called for in the original as it was far too thin and soaked right into the fritters leaving them a bit soggier than I would like. I'll give you my recipe for a nice glaze that won't be soaked up by the fritter so you'll have a nice interior texture and pretty tops.

Cider is called for in the recipe but if you find that you don't want a really strong apple flavor to the dough (since you're using diced apples in the fritter) you can always substitute apple juice which is lighter in flavor.

: Apple Fritters
: Fresh apples and cider combine in a delightful fried pastry.


  • 2 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, and cut into 1/4-inch pieces
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon Salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 3/4 cup apple cider
  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • 3 cups peanut or vegetable oil
  • 3 cups confectioners' sugar
  • 1/4 cup apple cider


  1. Spread prepared apples in single layer on paper towel–lined baking sheet and pat thoroughly dry with paper towels. Combine flour, granulated sugar, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg in large bowl. Whisk cider, eggs, and melted butter in medium bowl until combined. Stir apples into flour mixture. Stir in cider mixture until incorporated.
  2. Heat oil in Dutch oven over medium-high heat to 350°. Following step 1, use 1/3-cup measure to transfer 5 heaping portions of batter to oil. Press batter lightly with back of spoon to flatten. Fry, adjusting burner as necessary to maintain oil temperature between 325 and 350 degrees, until deep golden brown, 2 to 3 minutes per side. Transfer fritters to wire rack set inside rimmed baking sheet. Bring oil back to 350 degrees and repeat with remaining batter. Let fritters cool 5 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, whisk confectioners’ sugar and cider, in medium bowl or large glass measuring cup until smooth. Top each fritter with 1 heaping tablespoon glaze. Let glaze set 10 minutes. Serve.

If you would like a lighter apple flavor in the dough or glaze, substitute apple juice for apple cider.
Preparation time: 5 minute(s)
Cooking time: 6 minute(s)
Number of servings (yield): 8
Culinary tradition: USA (General)

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Monday, October 24, 2011

Homemade Cracker Jack

"Buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jack. I don't care if I ever get back!" Who doesn't know those lines from the old song "Take Me Out to the Ballgame." Right now the peanuts and Cracker Jack seem very appropriate with the World Series in full swing and most people associate that delightful caramel concoction of peanuts and popcorn with baseball. For me, however, Cracker Jacks mean Halloween.

When I was growing up we lived several miles outside our small town. Each Halloween my parents would drive me into town to trick or treat in my grandparents' neighborhoods, those of my aunts and uncles, and their old neighborhood. It was always so much fun and at each stop at extended family there were usually special "family" treats awaiting. One of my aunts always had homemade cookies or candy for the family kids, others would have caramel apples or other delights. My grandmother, Nanny to me, always had Cracker Jack for her grandkids.

I loved getting to Nanny's house and collecting my box of Cracker Jack. It was always a battle to keep them in my Halloween bag until we got home because I wanted to start eating them immediately but even more dire was the need to get to the prize! Whatever little piece of cheap plastic nonsense that was in the box was pure gold in a six year old's mind! As an adult I kept Nanny's tradition alive by having Cracker Jack on hand for our friends' and relatives' children who came by for Halloween.

To me, Cracker Jack with its delicious combination of peanuts, caramel, and popcorn signal Halloween and Autumn. As I was waiting for Michael to get home so we could watch the Packers and Vikings I decided to whip up a batch of homemade Cracker Jack. The recipe is quite simple and I think it probably approximates the original Cracker Jack sold in the 1890's at baseball games with its gooey and clumpy quality.

When Cracker Jack was first introduced it consisted simply of the molasses and sugar mixture with peanuts and popcorn. Later on it was produced in large drums with the addition of oil to keep the popcorn from clumping together in large blobs. That's the Cracker Jack we're all familiar with in the boxes (or now in the ugly foil bags). Alas, since Frito-Lay bought the company the venerable Cracker Jack seems to be in decline. They switched out the wonderful cardboard (and recyclable) boxes for plastic and foil bags (non-recyclable) and done away with the cool prizes (I don't consider a sheet of paper a "prize"!) Maybe, one day, someone will resurrect the company and restore Sailor Jack and Bingo the dog to their rightful place on a BOX of Cracker Jack.

If you're craving some Cracker Jack, give this recipe a try. It's utterly addictive. Michael got into it before I had supper ready and ate two bowls. After supper when we finished watching or pre-taped game he polished off another bowl! I added a little Fleur de sel to the final version by sprinkling it over the slightly warm and still gooey mixture. I think that made a lot of difference as you get this wonderful little hit of saltiness with the caramel flavor of the sugar and molasses. If you don't have Fleur de sel you can use regular Kosher salt.

You might notice that I bounce back and forth between Cracker Jack and Cracker Jacks in this post. In the south we refer to Cracker Jacks (with an "s") to mean the popcorn, peanut and candy mixture. The actual name of the product is Cracker Jack (no "s") and depending on where you are that's singular or plural. So, if you're below the Mason-Dixon line you'll ask for a box of Cracker Jacks. 

This recipe is adapted from one published by NPR in an article on food at Fenway Park in 2006. The original calls for popping the popcorn in the microwave using a paper bag and oil. Honestly, I don't see the value in doing that. To make enough for the recipe you either have to use a pretty big paper bag which most of us can't fit in our standard microwave or you end up doing two or three batches. I pop corn in the microwave all the time (without oil) to save calories, but if you're dowsing the popcorn in sugar, corn syrup and molasses - honestly, what's the use? I preferred using my handy dandy old fashioned popcorn popper with a dash of butter flavored oil. I got all my popcorn in one batch and it wasn't that sort of tough texture that sometimes happens in the microwave (not to mention the requisite burned kernels in the middle of the bag!)

: Homemade Cracker Jack
: The classic ballpark (or Halloween) treat brought home to the kitchen.

  • 1/2 cup unpopped popcorn
  • 2 tbs. vegetable oil (or butter flavored popcorn oil)
  • 1/2 cup shelled peanuts (Spanish if you have them)
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup light corn syrup
  • 1 tablespoon molasses (you can use 2 tablespoons if you love molasses)
  • 1 teaspoon Kosher salt
  • Fleur de sel for sprinkling (optional)

  1. Preheat oven to 350°.
  2. Pop the popcorn using a popcorn popper or large pot on the stove according to package directions. Pour popcorn into a large bowl and add peanuts.
  3. In a saucepan mix together the brown sugar, corn syrup, molasses and salt. Heat over medium-low until the butter is melted and the sugar has lost its grainy appearance. Pour over the popcorn and peanuts and stir well.
  4. Pour the mixture onto a baking sheet and place in oven for 10-12 minutes. Stir once or twice while in oven. The mixture will be very wet and gooey at this stage! Remove from oven and allow to cool and solidify and cool on the baking sheet. Store in airtight containers.
  5. Your baking sheet will look a mess with the caramel stuck to it, but just soak in some hot water and it will come clean quickly!
Preparation time: 10 minute(s)
Cooking time: 10 minute(s)
Number of servings (yield): 24
Culinary tradition: USA (Traditional)

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Saturday, October 22, 2011

Apple Butter

I don't know what inspired me to go out and get some canning supplies. Maybe it was all those little jars of preserves I saw the other week at the apple orchard that were selling for upwards of $7 a jar. Maybe it was all the junk and chemicals in every jar of salsa, jam, or jelly in the grocery store. Maybe it was just wanting to do something I've never done without my mother or grandmother being in the kitchen. Whatever it was I decided to pick up some supplies and try my hand at some Apple Butter.

I started with Apple Butter because it is fairly easy to do and there's a nice selection of apples in the grocery stores right now. I chose to use some Fuji apples which I found in three pound bags for about $3. Since the original recipe I was working from called for about three pounds of apples it seemed tailor made for my first solo run at preserving.

This recipe works best in half-pint jars although if you want to use pints you can. I just don't think most people will use up a pint of Apple Butter after opening it before it goes bad though. But maybe you're an Apple Butter fiend and can clean out a jar in a sitting.

I have tweaked the original recipe (which is from Mary Mac's Tea Room in Atlanta) to up the flavor profile a bit. The original is pretty plain and straightforward but I wanted something that had a little more "oomph!" So, I adjusted the seasonings slightly and added two "secret" ingredients to this: a pinch of ginger and a bit of Calvados. Compared with the fairly simple butter we purchased at the orchard, the addition of these two little items gives a whole new life to this Autumn standby!

If you've never canned or preserved food before, don't be afraid. I'd not even thought of this in 20 years or more. I remember watching and helping my mother and grandmother when I was just a kid, but I've never tried it as an adult. After a little reading to refresh my memory most of it came back to me. Hot water preserving really is very simple. Basically you need sterilized jars which can be done either on the "sanitize" cycle of a dishwasher or by boiling the jars and lids for about 10 minutes. Then you just need to keep your jars warm until ready to use - the "plate warmer" or "dry" cycle of the dishwasher is perfect for that chore. Lastly you just need to fill your jars to the prescribed volume, slap on the lids and rings and process in the hot water bath for the required length of time. After processing they just need to cool for about 12-24 hours and then they're ready for the pantry for up to a year. Easy, peasy!

By the way, if you're not in the South or along the coasts, check your city's elevation. I almost forgot to do that because I've never lived anywhere above 1,000 feet. As it turns out Tucson is over 2,200 feet so I had to adjust my processing times up just a bit. For more information and recipes related to canning and preserving check out the National Center for Home Food Preservation at the University of Georgia.

I'm considering selling some of my apple butter (and maybe a few other preserves). If you're interested leave a comment. A half-pint will run about $5.25+shipping. 

: Apple Butter
: Sweet, spicy and oh, so good! The perfect use for extra Fall apples.

  • 1 cup apple juice (or cider)
  • 3 pounds cooking apples, peeled, cored, and cut into wedges
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups packed brown sugar
  • 2 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp. ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp. ground allspice
  • 1/4 tsp. ground cloves
  • 1/4 tsp. garam masala
  • 1 tbsp. Calvados (apple flavored liqueur)
  • 2 tbsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • Pinch of kosher salt
  • 4 half-pint glass jars with lids and rings

  1.  Please visit this link if you are unfamiliar with canning and preserving!
  2. Place the apple wedges in a medium stockpot with water. Bring to a boil and boil for 5 minutes. Reduce heat to a gentle boil and continue boiling for 30 minutes or until apples are soft.
  3. Process the apples in batches using a blender or food processor with the apple juice or cider. Pulse just until the apples achieve a nice consistency - like applesauce. You don't want to liquefy the apples or make them too smooth.
  4. Transfer the processed apples to a large sauce pan and add the spices, sugars, Calvados, and lemon juice. Bring to a boil and cook for five minutes. Reduce heat to a simmer and continue cooking for about 45-50 minutes, stirring frequently until the mixture thickens and holds its shape on a spoon.
  5. While the apple mixture is cooking prepare your half-pint jars for preserving. Sterilize the jars and lids using the sanitize cycle of a dishwasher or wash in hot, soapy water and then boil for 10 minutes in a water bath. Keep the jars warm until the apple butter is ready to avoid breakage.
  6. When apples are ready, transfer to jars leaving about 1/4-inch headspace. Remove any air pockets and adjust volume if necessary to maintain proper headspace. Wipe the rims of the jars. Put on lids and rings and process in boiling water canner for 10 minutes (if below 1,000 feet). Remove top from the canner and allow jars to rest for five minutes. Remove from water and allow jars to cool for 12-24 hours. Apple butter may be eaten immediately if you are not canning.
Preparation time: 30 minute(s)
Cooking time: 1 hour(s) 30 minute(s)
Number of servings (yield): 4 half-pint jars
Culinary tradition: USA (Traditional)

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Sunday, October 16, 2011

Recipe & Cookbook Review: Sugar, Sugar

One of the perqs of being a moderately (minimally?) successful food blogger is receiving the occasional cookbook to review. Earlier this week I opened the mailbox to find a copy of Sugar, Sugar: Every Recipe Has a Story by Kimberly Reiner and Jenna Sanz-Agero and published by Andrews McMeel Universal. I have to admit being intrigued not only by the name but the cover photo which features a stack of cookies topped by a statue of a buffalo. I would learn later that the cookies are called Buffalo Chip Cookies and feature lots of whole grains like cornflakes, oats, and nuts.

Reiner and Sanz-Agero are mommy bloggers at Reiner also has a fudge company, Momma Reiner's Fudge which has been featured by Oprah and Rachel Ray. Additionally, the two are lawyers and Sanz-Agero a former lead singer for the band Vixen. I'll admit that sometimes I'm a little nonplussed with the "mommy blogger turned author" thing. I don't assume all women should stay at home and raise the kids and I sort of get tired of the whole "mommy" culture as though men don't do domestic duties of any sort or we're all lumbering lummoxes everywhere but at the barbecue grill. However, despite the occasional antiquated (although tragically hip) idea such as cookie swaps should be "all girl" and what not, Reiner and Sanz-Agero do manage to produce a work worthy of any kitchen shelf no matter whether the baker is male or female.

Being an amateur food historian as well as baker, I particularly enjoyed the personal stories that accompanied the recipes. While the authors readily admit taking some artistic license with some of the stories, they are intriguing and enlightening. In the recipe for Rugelach, for example, the story indicates that one traditional ingredient is missing from the heirloom recipe because her grandparents could probably not afford to buy it. Thus the recipe is subtly different and unique.

The book is for the most part a recipe compendium with the authors acting as editors, testers, and commentators. Many of the recipes seem to have been collected through their efforts at their website The book even includes a form and information on how to submit your recipes for inclusion on the site or in future publications. That said, unlike many collections these recipes seem to have been tried by the authors and their notes are often enlightening in tricky situations. Likewise, the copious notes and tips are welcomed in such a work. Many are redundant to anyone who has minimal experience in the kitchen but some are quite intriguing like using a bamboo sushi mat to make perfectly round logs for rolled cookies.

The sweets in this book cover all the basics from pies and cakes to cookies and confections. Many of the recipes will be fairly familiar but there are some surprises to be found in the pages making this an easy to read and follow book well worth adding to your cookbook collection. Their website is

My test recipe for the book was Oatmeal Carmelitas which feature rolled oats, chocolate, caramel and pecans in a bar cookie. These were very enjoyable and I loved the caramel with the pecans. I actually sprinkled a little fleur de sel over the caramel before baking because I simply adore the flavor of salted caramel. If I were to make any changes to the recipe it would be the addition of a little vanilla to the cookie crust for more flavor. I admit that I found the topping to be a bit too crumbly for my taste. Half of it ended up on the counter because it simply did not bind well to the filling. In the future I think I will use a bit more for the crust than the recipe calls for and make a thinner stopping. Regardless, the taste was phenomenal and I loved the texture after allowing these to come back to room temperature before eating!

: Oatmeal Carmelitas
: Chewy and delicious with caramel, pecans, and chocolate.

  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1 cup butter, at room temperature
  • 1 1/2 cups packed light brown sugar
  • 2 cups quick-cooking oats
  • 14 oz. soft caramel candies, unwrapped (or Kraft caramel bits)
  • 1/2 cup evaporated milk
  • 1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
  • 1 cup chopped pecans (optional)

  1. Preheat oven to 350°. Grease a 9x13-inch baking dish. Set aside.
  2. In a large bowl whisk together the flour, baking soda, and salt. Set aside. Place the butter and brown sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and beat on medium speed until creamy. Slowly add the flour mixture and blend until incorporated. Use a wooden spoon or spatula to fold in the oats. Mixture will be crumbly. Transfer half (about 3 cups) to the baking dish. Using your fingers, gently press the mixture evenly into the bottom of the dish. Bake for 10 minutes to set.
  3. While the crust is baking, place the caramels and milk in a small saucepan. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly until the caramels are melted. Remove from the heat and allow to cool slightly.
  4. Remove the crust from the oven and sprinkle the chocolate chips and pecans evenly over the top. Carefully pour the caramel mixture on top and spread evenly. Sprinkle the remaining crumb mixture over the top. Bake 15-20 minutes, until lightly browned. Remove from the oven and allow to cool to room temperature. Refrigerate at least 2 hours or until the bars are set and firm. Cut into 2-inch squares.
Preparation time: 10 minute(s)
Cooking time: 35 minute(s)
Number of servings (yield): 12
Culinary tradition: USA (General)

Disclaimer: The publisher, Andrews McMeel Universal provided a review copy of this work to the author of this blog.

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Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Apple Kuchen

Or to be more precise, Apfel Kuchen. This happens to be one of those desserts that has been adapted so often that it's hard to figure out what the original version might be. I've seen versions that are true cakes. I've seen versions that are tarts. I've seen versions that are pies. I've seen versions that are sort of like an apple bread pudding. You name it and it's out there.

Of course, kuchen is simply the German word for cake. This version actually comes from German families in the Midwest and features a cakey crust topped by tart apples and a cinnamon streusel topping. It's actually pretty simple but oh, so good!

When I was making this I had the doors and windows open because it was such a lovely cool day here in the desert. As neighbors were taking their afternoon walks it was quite amusing to see them slow as they passed our house and take a sniff. That's how good this smells when cooking!

I really enjoyed this with the fresh tart Granny Smith apples we got in Willcox last week. However, if you prefer something else you can use whatever baking apples you prefer. The Granny Smith variety holds up nicely in the oven so the end result has more texture. But, if you want something that is more like a pie filling, choose another, less hardy variety.

: Apple Kuchen
: Delicious apple treat that is pefect for fall. Featuring cinnamon streusel over baked apples and a flaky crust.

  • 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 cup cold, unsalted butter, diced
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 2 tsp. milk
  • 1/4 tsp. pure vanilla extract
  • 4 apples, peeled, cored and sliced
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 2 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 2 tbsp. unsalted butter, diced

  1. Preheat oven to 325°. Grease a 9x13 or 8x12 glass baking dish with butter or non-stick spray and set aside.
  2. In bowl of electric mixer fitted with paddle attachment combine flour, sugar, salt, baking powder and butter. Mix at medium speed until mixture resembles small peas. In a separate small bowl beat together the egg yolks, vanilla, and milk. Add to flour mixture and blend until dough comes together.
  3. Press dough into prepared baking dish. Arrange the apple slices in rows on top of the crust.
  4. Combine the ingredients for the streusel and mix together until the mixture resembles small peas. Sprinkle the mixture evenly over the apples and crust.
  5. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes until crust is golden and apples are nicely glazed with the streusel. (If using a smaller size pan increase cooking time to 45-50 minutes.)
  6. Remove from oven and serve warm, but not hot.

If you prefer a softer and less tart apple you can use Macintosh for a melt in your mouth result.

Preparation time: 10 minute(s)
Cooking time: 35 minute(s)
Number of servings (yield): 12
Culinary tradition: German
Calories: 250
Fat: 11g

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Friday, October 7, 2011

Day Trip: Apple Annie's Orchard & Farm

Apple Annie's Orchard in Willcox, AZ
Fall fell on Tucson in a big way. Sometimes it seems we have two seasons: Summer and Winter. It's either 100 degrees out and dry as a bone or it's chilly and damp! Today turned out to be the latter in Tucson.

I've been wanting to make a run down to Apple Annie's in Willcox for awhile now. They have apple orchards as well as a large farm that grows veggies. I figured it would be a great way to spend to a day and pick up some excellent farm fresh produce for the kitchen. Buying stuff at the market trucked in from Mexico and South America does get a little old when you're from the south a used to farmer's markets and roadside produce stands everywhere.

I'm not sure Michael was 100% convinced it was a good idea. It was overcast and drizzling rain in Tucson at noon when we finally decided to leave. The temp was hovering around 55 degrees and I had to go back inside and pillage through the drawers until I came up with some long pants! Good news, though, my weight loss is evident as I had to really pull the belt tight on the pair I haven't worn since March!

Michael in the Orchard
Despite the weather we hit I-10 toward Willcox and arrived about 2:30 in the afternoon. This was plenty of time to pick some apples for ourselves before closing time. Alas, being a weekday the place was dead. I finally found the one employee in the "bakery and fudge shop" and we got supplies to hit the orchard. It was a nice walk if a little windy. The sun was shining in Willcox and the temperature was about 70 degrees. But the apples were not to be seen. There were dozens that had fallen and were inedible but very few on the trees. We saw maybe one or two worth picking during our entire walk around the orchard. Finally, we decided to just buy some of the pre-picked ones they had in their bins. I got some Red Delicious which Michael enjoys eating along with some Granny Smith to either bake or make into a pie or something. Michael also got some Apple Bread and Apple Butter in their little store. Amazingly, they also had cheese curds but since they were not made in Wisconsin (who heard of Cheese Curds from Ohio?) Michael wouldn't have them. 

We were hoping for better luck at the farm so drove the six or seven miles down the road. The pickings were better there. The fields were beautiful and full of peppers and sunflowers as well as gorgeous orange pumpkins.  We ended up with a huge bag of squash, zucchini and cucumbers. We also got some green beans and a big bag of sweet corn. They had huge displays of pumpkins and other squash so we got a little pumpkin and a larger one for our Halloween decorations. I'd seen some Apple Cider doughnuts at the orchard but managed to resist temptation. When I ran across them again at the farm, I couldn't hold out and had to try some. Yes, they are delicious! I did exercise some modicum of control though and did not eat the entire half dozen!

Lady Snow among the Pumpkins.
We decided to stop off at a Popeye's and pick up some chicken and have a picnic at a rest area between Willcox and Benson. Since we had Snow with us we didn't want to eat in a restaurant where we'd have to leave her in the car. We'd stopped at this rest area as we came into Arizona in 2008. At the time there was snow all over the boulders that surround it. Honestly, it felt almost cold enough to snow when we got out! The thermometer said 63 degrees but with the wind and being in the shadows of the hills... it felt about 30 degrees!

When we finally made it home Michael decided to try some of the corn and put on a couple ears to eat while watching TV. It really was worth the trip - sweet and delicious.

Despite a cold and rainy start to the day, we had a good time and it was nice to get out of town for the day. We've been in Arizona for 3 1/2 years now and there are so many places we've never even bothered to explore. Lots of places Michael has been to years before and he's the type of person that doesn't care to see some place twice. If he's seen it, that's it. So, I relish those times when we actually go somewhere further than the center of the city or the yearly jaunt up to Prescott Valley for the holidays. I inherited my mother's wanderlust but just like her managed to settle down with a man who prefers home. I guess the apple doesn't fall far from the tree.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Potage Parmentier (Potato and Leek Soup)

It probably seems like leeks are making it into a lot of stuff lately. That's because they don't let you just buy one leek in the market. So, I've had to use up the few that came in the bunch. Honestly, never cooking with leeks before it's been something of an experiment but they've become big hits around here. We've enjoyed the subtle onion flavor they impart to things.

So, as I tried to come up with something for last night's menu I hit upon a true French classic - Potage Parmentier, or Potato and Leek Soup. This is one of those classic Julia Child type recipes that is very adaptable to what you have on hand, provided you have at least potatoes, leeks, water, and either butter or cream. But you can use up other veggies you have handy as well.

If you're hitting Google Translate and coming up blank on "Parmentier" that's because it's actually a proper name. Long, long ago during the Seven Years War there was an army pharmacist named Antoine-Augustin Parmentier. Parmentier was captured and thrown in a Prussian prison. While there he was forced to eat potatoes. For us that wouldn't be such horrible punishment (especially me) but for Parmentier as a Frenchman it was "quelle horreur!" The French only used potatoes for animal feed and actually banned the cultivation of the potato for human consumption because they thought it was poisonous and contributed to leprosy. So, Parmentier was aghast but he ate them rather than starve.

A few years later as he conducted research on nutrition he remembered eating the potatoes and suggested they might be good for patients with dysentery. His research won him a prize in 1772 and the French medical establishment declared potatoes edible that same year. But, all was not well. The religious community still held the belief that potatoes were inedible and blocked Parmentier from cultivating them in his test gardens or feeding them to patients regularly. So Parmentier decided to try some guerilla marketing. He began hosting lavish dinners with dignitaries and royalty where he served various potato dishes. He even posted armed guards around his personal potato patch so that people would think the potatoes were extremely valuable. He would then remove the guards and let the local residents "steal" his treasure!

It wasn't until a famine in 1785 that people in France finally embraced the lowly, but oh so versatile potato. By 1795 and the opening of the Napoleonic wars the potato was even being cultivated in the gardens of the Tuileries to stave off famine and hunger.

And there you have the story of Potage Parmentier a lovely French soup made with leeks and potatoes that will not only stave off hunger at your dinner table but keep your guests coming back for more!

This version, adapted loosely from Julia Child, features the traditional leeks. I've found a shortcut to chopping and peeling potatoes in the form of hash browns. I had pulled out my bag of Yukon Gold potatoes to start peeling and chopping when I happened upon my bag of hash browns in the freezer. I had exactly the amount needed for the recipe. I've used hash browns in the past to speed along other potato soups like my Baked Potato Soup. Rather than peel and chop, I decided to use my hash browns. It works perfectly in this recipe and can save you a step if you're doing a multi-course meal.

Potage Parmentier can also contain more than potatoes and leeks. This is a real peasant soup so other vegetables can add lots of flavors. I chose some left over carrots I had in the fridge. Traditionally, this is finished with butter or cream to give the soup it's creamy texture. I decided to use butter but also added about a tablespoon of sour cream (Creme Fraiche would be even better if you have it.) I liked the very hint of tartness in the background. I also used chicken broth in place of water as the soup base. I like the flavor complexity of the broth and it gives the soup a little something extra. This is one of those times when using a store bought broth is best, however. If you make your own it might be a little too good and overpower the veggies. Store bought broths tend to have just a bit of the chicken flavor without being so strong or rich. I suggest Swanson broth in this. The addition of the broth made the scent of the soup while cooking nearly irresistible!

To garnish this you can use finely chopped green onion, chives, or herbs. I didn't have any chives or green onion on hand, so used a little cracked pepper with some dried rosemary and dill weed.

I really enjoyed making this soup because it is simple and easy. Michael loved it as a first course to the chicken breasts stuffed with spinach and onions. Another benefit of Potage Parmentier is that it can be served hot, room temperature, or chilled and remain delicious!

So, as Julia would say "Bon apetit!"

: Potage Parmentier (Potato and Leek Soup)
: A classic French soup that can be served hot, cold, or room temperature. Adapted from Julia Child.

  • 1 lb. potatoes, peeled and diced (or use hash browns)
  • 3 cups leeks, thinly sliced (white and tender green parts only)
  • 2 cups carrots, sliced into coins (optional)
  • 2 quarts chicken broth
  • 1 tbs. kosher salt
  • 1 tbs. cracked pepper
  • 4 -6 tbs. heavy cream or 2 -3 tbs. softened butter
  • 1-2 tbs. sour cream or creme fraiche (optional)

  1. Pour chicken stock into large pot with leeks, potatoes and carrots (if using). Bring to a boil then reduce heat to a simmer. Partially cover and cook for 60 minutes or until vegetables are very tender. Season with salt and pepper.
  2. Puree the soup using either an immersion blender or allow to cool slightly and transfer to a regular blender. Blend until smooth. Return to pot if using a regular blender. Adjust seasonings as needed.
  3. When ready to serve stir in butter or cream and sour cream or creme fraiche (if using). If soup is too thick, add water until it reaches the right consistency. You want a thick soup but not so thick it resembles whipped potatoes!
  4. Ladle into bowls or a soup tureen. May be served warm, cold or room temperature. Garnish as desired with chives, sliced green onion, parsley or herbs of choice.
Preparation time: 10 minute(s)

Cooking time: 1 hour(s)
Number of servings (yield): 4
Culinary tradition: French
Calories: 259
Fat: 10.3
Protein: 7.2

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Sunday, September 25, 2011

French Onion Soup (Soupe a l'Oignons)

It has been one of those weeks around here. Michael came home with yet another cold/upper respiratory infection. He was feeling so bad on Friday he actually canceled students. That's something he very, very rarely does.

So, since he had to work all day today I decided to make him something special for supper. He loves French Onion Soup and always is very excited when we dine out and the soup du jour happens to be French Onion. While he was home for lunch and napping I decided to run to the market and get the couple extra ingredients I needed to fix some for this evening.

This is one of those recipes that takes a fair amount of time but really is not that labor intensive. The biggest part of this is leaving your onions alone to caramelize. If you can manage to make yourself put them on and just walk away you've accomplished half the battle. Luckily for me the Clemson game happened to be on ESPN here in Arizona so I put on my onions and settled in to watch them take on FSU. (Go Tigers!)

Michael seemed to enjoy this version of the classic French Onion Soup despite the horrid cold so I hope you'll give it a try. It really is a great soup to have in your repertoire.

: French Onion Soup
: Caramelized onions, red wine and broth create a classic french soup!

  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter
  • 4 onions, sliced
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 fresh thyme sprigs
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 cup red wine
  • 3 heaping tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 2 quarts beef broth
  • 1/4 cup sherry
  • 1 baguette, sliced
  • 1/2 pound grated Gruyere cheese

  1. Melt the stick of butter in a large pot over medium heat. Create a bouquet garni by tying together the bay leaves and thyme sprigs with a bit of kitchen twine. Add the onions, garlic, bouquet garni, and salt and pepper and cook until the onions are very soft and caramelized, about 25-30 minutes. Add the wine, bring to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer until the wine has evaporated and the onions are dry, about 5-15 minutes. Discard the bouquet garni.
  2. Dust the onions with the flour and give them a stir. Turn the heat down to medium low and cook for 10 minutes to remove the raw flour taste. Add the beef broth and sherry, bring the soup back to a simmer, and cook for 10-20 minutes. Season, to taste, with salt and pepper. Keep the soup warm until ready to serve.
  3. When ready to eat, preheat the broiler. Arrange the baguette slices on a baking sheet in a single layer. Sprinkle the slices with the shredded Gruyere and broil until bubbly and golden brown, 2 to 4 minutes.
  4. Ladle the soup in bowls and float several of the Gruyere covered baguette slices on top.

Alternative: Ladle the soup into bowls, top each with 2 slices of bread and top with cheese. Put the bowls into the oven to toast the bread and melt the cheese. 

Preparation time: 15 minute(s)
Cooking time: 1 hour(s)
Number of servings (yield): 6
Culinary tradition: French

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Friday, September 23, 2011

Pommes de Terre à la Boulangère

Recently, I discovered a new cooking show I enjoy immensely. It's French Food at Home with Laura Calder and was originally produced by Food Network Canada. It's now made its way to the Cooking Channel here in America.

I've really enjoyed Calder's take on French cuisine and particularly her use of rather simple but delicious dishes rather than the more intimidating and overly involved ones normally presented (Sorry, Julia.)Additionally, Calder has an enjoyable style that keeps her explanations on track so her audience isn't confused. In addition, the music on the show by an Ontario musician, Mike O'Neill is quirky and fun. I recently tried to find his music online because I thought it would be perfect to put on when cooking. Alas, Mr. O'Neill created the music specifically for the series and has never released it, despite huge numbers of foodies begging for an album of his quasi-French Jazz sound.

This recipe was recently featured on the show. Pommes de Terre à la Boulangère (literally "Potatoes from the Bakery" or Bakery Style Potatoes) is actually a very simple recipe that packs a lot of taste punch. This is one of those French cafe classics that you can prep in no time, pop in the oven to cook, and forget for a couple hours. It's baked rather low and slow. You will find versions that ramp up the heat to ungodly temperatures and zap it in minutes! I think that high heat method kills the dish because you want the flavors in this to meld together and the potatoes to become soft in the centers and underneath but crisp on the top and edges. Zapping it at 450 or 500 degrees defeats that purpose and you'll end up with a super crispy top that is too brown.

Michael really enjoyed this simple French classic and since it's rather easy to do we'll be revisiting it often for supper.

I made only a couple slight changes to the recipe presented on the show. For one, I added leeks to the onions for a bit more depth of flavor. I like the subtle onion flavor of leeks against the more prominent onion flavor. I also used Yukon Gold potatoes which have the most wonderful creamy texture when cooked. I happen to like Rosemary with potatoes so used that instead of thyme (or herbes de Provence). In France this is sometimes served with a light cheese topping. I chose Parmesan to top the dish, but you can use Swiss or other cheeses that you enjoy - or leave the cheese out entirely.

: Pommes de Terre à la Boulangère
: A French Cafe classic of potatoes, onions, and cheese in a casserole.

  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 3 large onions, thinly sliced
  • 1 leek, thinly sliced
  • 2 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes, thinly sliced
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • Fresh thyme sprigs, leaves picked
  • 2 cups Chicken stock (or beef stock)
  • 1 cup Parmesan Cheese (optional)

  1. Preheat oven to 300°.
  2. Wash and thinly slice onions, leeks, and potatoes.
  3. In large skillet, melt half of the butter over medium-high heat. Gently saute the onions and leeks until they are translucent and just beginning to brown. Remove from heat.
  4. In casserole dish, spread a layer of onions mixture and top with layer of potatoes. Sprinkle lightly with thyme leaves, salt, and pepper. Repeat with second layer of onion mixture and more potatoes. Sprinkle top with remaining thyme and a little salt and pepper. Slice remaining butter and drop pats on top of casserole. Pour chicken stock into casserole pan and cover with foil.
  5. Place casserole in preheated oven and bake for 2-3 hours until liquid has been absorbed or cooked off and potatoes are moist and tender. Uncover for last hour of cooking for a crisper edges on the potatoes. Sprinkle with cheese if using during last 20-30 minutes of cooking.
Preparation time: 10 minute(s)
Cooking time: 4 hour(s)
Number of servings (yield): 12
Culinary tradition: French

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Friday, September 9, 2011

Tailgatin' at Home

Beer brats on french rolls, Confetti Corn, extra brats and Homemade Potato
Chips with Wisconsin Chedder and Parmesan Cheese.
We're geared up for another season of Packers' football here at Sugar Pies. You might wonder why a southerner is such a Packer fan. Wouldn't it be more appropriate to follow the Panthers or Falcons or even the Saints? Well, when you get absorbed into a big Wisconsin family it's hard not to become part of the "The Pack." It's even harder when that family is from about 60 miles north of Green Bay! So, thanks to Michael, I'm a Packer fan.

In honor of the kickoff of the 2011 regular season we decided to do a little tailgating at home. I thought nothing could be better than boiling up some beer brats and pairing them with some "green and gold" dishes as well as some good old Wisconsin cheddar.

The beer brats featured sauteed caramelized onions with green and yellow sweet peppers served on French rolls. I had two side dishes, the first was my homemade chips topped with Wisconsin cheddar and Parmesan cheeses and the second was Confetti Corn featuring sweet corn, peppers and onions sauteed in butter and olive oil. It was a meal fit for Lambeau Field!

I'd originally intended to caramelize the onions fully but when I missed the opening kick-off and they were still being reticent about developing their color (although they were nicely done) I decided I couldn't wait any longer! So, you'll notice the onions aren't as beautifully browned as I would have hoped!

And if you're wondering, I severely limited my intake so as not to bust my new calorie budget (so far 10 pounds lost!) Michael, was fortunate enough not to have to worry about that.

Of course, the perfect dessert for the meal was watching the Pack's 42-34 win over the Saints! Note to Jimmy Graham of the Saints: the Packers are 2-0 against teams who have tried to do "the belt" move. Son, you are cruisin' for a bruisin' as we say in the south. Of course, it's even stupider when your team is in the midst of losing by 9 points. I normally cheer on the Saints when they aren't playing the Packers but now... not so much. Next week will be a conundrum. The Saints with their dumb tight end or "da' Bears" - flip a coin.

PS: This just in!  Sugar Pies has now gone mobile! Go to to get an app for your phone. It's free and it has alerts so that you'll know whenever we have anything new. What could be better?

Beer Brats
  • 1 package Johnsonville Brats
  • 48 ounces quality beer
  • 1 small onion diced
  • 1 cup diced bell pepper
  • 3-4 garlic cloves minced
  • 1-2 tbs. butter
In large pot over medium high heat, melt the butter and lightly sautee the onions, bell pepper and garlic. Add beer and bring to a boil. Place brats in beer and boil for 12-15 minutes or until done.

Grill top finish: Arrange charcoal in single layer at medium high heat. Lightly oil grill grate and place brats on grill, turning often to evenly brown.

Stove top finish: Lightly oil a grill pan over medium high heat. Place brats on pan and turn until evenly browned on all sides.

Place the beer mixture in a pan deep enough to cover the brats and hold any brats not being served immediately in the warm beer mixture to preserve moisture and taste.

Serve brats on lightly toasted french rolls with condiments of choice (we prefer caramelized onions).

Caramelized Onions
  • 2 pounds sweet onions or yellow onions, peeled and sliced into half rounds
  • 3 tbs. butter
  • 1 tbs. olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp. fresh thyme
  • 2 tbs. dry sherry
  • 2 tbs. white wine vinegar
  • salt and pepper to taste
In a medium dutch oven over medium low heat melt the butter with the olive oil. Toss in the onions and thyme and toss to coat. Cover the pot. Allow onions to sweat for 10 minutes. Uncover the pot and continue to cook over medium low heat for 25-35 minutes, stirring occasionally until the onions are lightly browned. Add the sherry and white wine vinegar along with salt and pepper and continue to cook for about two more minutes or until most of the liquid is absorbed and reduced.

Confetti Corn
  • 2 tbs. good olive oil
  • 1/2 cup chopped sweet onion (or red onion)
  • 1 small orange bell pepper, diced
  • 1 small green bell pepper, diced
  • 2 tbs. unsalted butter
  • 4 cups of yellow corn kernels (about 5 ears)
  • 1/4 cup diced green onion (optional)
  • 1 1/4 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tbs. minced fresh parsley
Heat olive oil over medium heat in a large saute pan. Add the onion and saute for 5 minutes until the onion is soft. Stir in the bell peppers and saute for additional 2 minutes.

Add the butter to the pan and allow it to melt. Add the corn, green onion salt and pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, for 5-7 minutes or until the corn loses its starches. Stir in parsley or other herbs and season to taste. Serve hot.

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