Crumb Cake Crazy


Seems just about every family and culture has some form of crumb cake recipe. New Yorkers claim the cake as their own, preferring a lighter, yellowy version with about a 50/50 cake to crumb ratio.  All the pop foodies have their own rendition of it, as well, and even Starbucks carries it as a staple in their display case. No doubt about it, crumb cake is a beloved breakfast treat around the globe.

Our house is no exception, where my mom’s version makes an appearance every few weeks on the rotation of a.m. snack offerings. Simply referred to as “that coffee cake” by hubby who prefers it to just about any other offering, ours gets an additional kick from a full teaspoon of nutmeg. Donned Spanish Coffee Cake by mom, this recipe uses oil instead of butter and sour cream in place of buttermilk.

No matter the ingredients, one that cannot be substituted is the cinnamon. The heady aroma of the oil in the bark draws a crowd with it’s exotic perfume. Said to stimulate brain activity, cinnamon is filled with antioxidants. Many studies promote the idea that the spice slows blood sugar absorption when used in high carbohydrate foods such as cake. In a nutshell, cinnamon is what makes this cake a winner.

Recipe for Spanish Coffee Cake



Daily Double

IMG_0466Cooking doubletime saves time and energy. Buying in bulk and multiplying meals stretches money and menu. All of it adds up to more for less, my kind of win-win equation. The days may be longer but my list of things to do doesn’t get shorter, leaving me no abundance of spare time to squander.

On an especially busy night try placing a jumbo pack of chicken breasts or thighs on a sheet pan with cherry tomatoes, onions and some sprigs of rosemary all drizzled with olive oil. After 45 minutes to an hour in an oven the meat comes out sublimely golden, juicy and fragrant. Pilaf from a box and green salad from a bag complete the Sunday supper. It looks impressive but takes little effort. The one pan bake even cleans up easily if you cover the pan in foil.

If you shred the chicken before putting away the leftovers you are ready to go for the next night’s enchiladas. Except for the dried up sprigs of rosemary all the roasted vegis can get chopped and put into the enchiladas as well. The carmelization of the ingredients deepens the flavor of the ensuing dish the next night.

If your family balks at the same protein two nights in a row, the enchiladas can be baked, cooled and held over until the next night. Like most dishes with flavorful sauces, it improves as it sits and melds together. Or wrap tighly in foil and freeze for another evening when you’ll be glad to have something ready to pull out and bake.

Multiple meal cookbooks abound including those that create a month’s worth of menus. I don’t want to spend a whole day in the kitchen prepping and I lack the extra room in my freezer for dozens of containers. However, a premade dinner or two, stashed in the freezer, gives me the option to go out and walk the dog or ride my bike rather than cook. These physical activities also give me permission to indulge in the Haagan Daz ice cream and Klondike bars that take up that extra room in our freezer.

Recipe for Creamy, Dreamy Chicken Enchiladas

New Circles

IMG_0450After 20 plus years in the same occupation, I took a leap of faith and resigned my position. Scary as the initial jump was, I spent the ensuing year traveling, taking classes and exploring new pursuits. The problem with long term employment is boredom. It becomes rote, easy and ho-hum. If necessity is the mother of invention, then repetition must be the father of change. To stay fresh, grow and expand one must reinvent periodically.

Still gleefully unemployed a year later I was approached to help a similar organization as a bandaid to a fix they were in. Though I tactfully tried to bow out, I ended up signing on to help for just a few months. The time couldn’t pass quickly enough and I knew to my core that I had to stop resting on my laurels and launch this time. I was ready to transform.

New careers demand stretching,sharpening of skills and forming new networks. The upside is creativity, personal growth and new relationships. The past year has brought some folks across my path that are diverse but share common affinities for food, cooking and celebration.

One such couple owns and operates a stellar senior living facility in Santa Barbara, California. Their entire mission is a tribute to their shared heritage, hence the name Hertitage House. From their website’s cool and retro sepia pix of residents and staff to the heartwarming stories, I fell hard for this venture. No surprise that they even post recipes from their resident’s favorite menus. The legacy of shared recipes is a true gift.

One of these recipes is for Heritage House Honey Drops. Just one little bite connects me not only to their past, but forges a new future of learning about the work they do, the quality they strive for and the difference they are making. All of this reinforces why we seek new careers, new adventures and always new recipes.

Recipe for Heritage House Honey Drops

Light & Bright

The bright, unseasonably warm weekend made me yearn for tri-tip on the grill and an IMG_0441equally sunny side dish. Tired of the same-ole-same-ole baked potato and inspired by the bowl of Meyer lemons rescued from the last freeze, I lightened up a favorite pasta with bright citrus zest.

We all love fettucine Alfredo but abhor the calorie laden after-effects. I decided to switch out some of the cream for chicken broth and the other portion for half and half to make the dish more reasonable on the new year quasi-diet. Parmesan added a little cheesy zest without overdoing the fat and leeks mellowed the flavors of the garlic in the sauce. The grand finale was fresh lemon zest sprinkled in at the end making it as bright as the fleeting afternoon sun.

I chose bowtie pasta to look like lemony butterflies on the plate and make an interesting side for the kiddos. It was a lovely accompaniment to the juicy steak and spicy broccoli rabe. The only decision was whether to open a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc to compliment the cheesy pasta or a big bold red to power up the meat. In the end a nice Shiraz from New Zealand covered all bases.

As we polished off the wine on the patio a little breeze came in from the north reminding me that the brief interlude of warm weather was about to end. The forecast was rain, rain and more rain for the next few days. Plenty of time to make soup with the leftover meat and not worry about what kind of wine to open. With St. Patrick’s Day right around the corner Guinness and stew will be easy to figure out.

Recipe for Lemon Fettuccine

Make Ahead Mornings


My favorite Saturday is the one without plans. No organized events scheduled, no rushing off to an appointment and no tasks needing to be performed, just a lazy, laid back morning devoid of busyness and activity. On those rare weekends I look forward to lingering over a cup of coffee in my pajamas and reading the newspaper at my leisure. The perfect breakfast for this kind of morning is the one made the night before.

Strata is the ticket. Basically an egg and bread pudding that soaks overnight and can just be popped into the oven to bake while lounging around. More savory than the French toast version, it satisfies my man clan. My basic strata recipe has an almost fondue style taste which is delicious as is or lends well to the addition of other proteins or vegetables.

There are as many takes on this dish as there are cultures who make it. A slight change of spices can alter the theme and open up endless possibilities. The benefit of this version is the reduction of milk products in exchange for wine and broth, making the flavor more robust and the calorie load lighter.

I recommend finding or making room for a Saturday you can stay home and enjoy this one-dish wonder. It is easy to prepare, bakes up fast and requires little clean up, leaving more time to dawdle, piddle or dink around.

Recipe for Basic Strata

Sweet Heat in the Cold of Winter

After the fabulous and varied holiday food fest, January menu planning just seems blah. Add to that the chill in the air and the bleak landscape, and I just don’t feel inspired to cook with my usual energy. Scanning the new year cooking magazines it’s all about juice fasts and cleanses. Again not much to get excited about. Where is a foodie to turn?

What I love about the South is the no-holds-barred, no excuses approach to indulgence in everything from Bourbon to pork fat. Southerners live it up year round. That’s probably why I subscribe to their magazines (and lifestyle) even though I don’t live anywhere near them or even visit often. The January cover of Southern Living Magazine sports Maple Pecan Sticky Buns with a byline, “half the calories and crazy good”. There you go, justification instead of guilt.

IMG_0435Tempting as that was, I confess that I reverted back one issue to find a chicken salad made with pepper jelly and pecans. A little kickin’ in the chicken with yummy regional pecans for crunch. Flavors from both north and south of the border married, perfectly to liven up a salad one day and a pita pocket the next. Sweet and heat in just the right measure, a true winter pick-me-up.

The best thing about breaking open a jar of pepper jelly in the dead of winter is that you have at least half a jar to make into something else. You can always take the simple route and spread a healthy layer over goat cheese as an appetizer or pour it over meat as a no-fail glaze. My final ode to the south is to slather the jelly on top of a grilled cheeseburger as a sweet nod to the regional pimento spread Southerners love so dearly. A fat and happy finish to a jar of peppery bliss.

Recipe for Chicken Salad from Southern Living


A new year brings resolutions to try new things, fix old things and get healthy. In that IMG_0434vein, I cracked open my latest, greatest, hot-off-the-press Christmas present cookbook, persuaded my hubby to paint the baseboards and signed up for a fifty-mile bike ride. An admirable start for mid-January.

Dana-Lou-Sous-Chef gifted me with the season pick Dahlia Bakery Cookbook. Determined to learn why Giada DeLaurentis called Tom Douglas’s doughnuts, “the best thing she ever ate”, I pounced on the opportunity to try this famous treat over the holidays. By the end of the two day process I was underwhelmed but undeterred. My on the agenda was to make berry muffins that were equal to the effort. Note to self, start with the simpler fare, not the famous fuss.

On another note, home renovations that involve bright, white paint make everything else not only dull by comparison, but look dingy looking as well, spurring you into a total room makeover. My advice is to start in a small room like a bathroom to preserve your budget, sanity and marriage, thereby leaving time to actually perform resolution number three….getting healthy.

No fan of exercise, I’m on a lifelong quest to find a recreational activity that yields both healthy and pleasurable results. I have found that events where food is served at regular intervals and people rally around a cause tend to be more socially satisfying and help mask the boredom of exercise. Using this theory, I selected a middle range ride with proceeds benefiting children and food provided by local civic groups. I plan to pace myself through my good intentions so that I won’t burn out by March. I don’t plan to cook my way through Tom’s cookbook this year, paint the entire house or work up to a century bike ride. I do intend to to ride far enough to burn off the bakery calories and to keep my bike riding hubby happy enough to keep painting well into 2013.

Recipe for Reasonable DoughnutsIMG_0436

Sweet Potato Switch Up

IMG_0437Some folks ring in the New Year with a pot of black-eyed peas. Although I’ve tried to follow tradition, I just haven’t taken a liking to those two-toned legumes. I found this white pea with a black eye just looks better than it tastes, so I decided to look to another starch for my January One, one-pot wonder.

Sweet potatoes, savory as well as sweet, have that comfort food appeal  that fills the warmth category to a tee. I came across a recipe in Southern Living Magazine that combined the root vegetable with smoky chipotle peppers to add another layer of interest. The density of the potato makes it perfect for a puree style soup that can be thinned with broth or apple cider. Topped with a swirl of sour cream laced with lime juice and a handful of bread croutons it makes a meal.

For a chilly New Year’s Day, spent indoors watching bowl games, this zesty potage is play-off perfect. Spicy enough to keep you awake and perfect to pair with a black and tan, it won’t put you into a comfort food coma. Don’t worry if you missed the Rose Bowl, Hawaii Bowl or Gator Bowl, there are at least a dozen more to go. And if you feel the urge for a little Black Eyed Peas, tune into your favorite playlist while you simmer your soup.  You’ll find that you “Just Can’t Get Enough” of this hearty, healthy winter bowl.

Recipe for Sweet Potato Soup from Southern Living

Tiramisu Perfected

Our Christmas Eve tradition is to finish up the gift wrapping, attend Christmas Eve service and return home to my hubby’s luscious cheese-laden lasagne. Years of me working every Christmas Eve led to this tradition, but thankfully it has continued even though I’ve changed jobs. My job is to make the salad and dessert and invite the guests. Piece of cake, or as the case this year, piece of tiramisu.

I’ve taken a number of stabs at making this this beloved Italian triffle laced with rum and espresso over the years. IMG_0438Gathering recipes from cookbooks, little Italian nonnas and restaurants, I’d never quite mastered the Romanesque darling. This year, however, an old technique and a new trick yielded a exceptional Christmas Eve dessert.

Even though I’ve survived many a dish containing raw eggs, I was hesitant to stir the glossy yolks into my creation. An internet recipe gave me an idea to temper the eggs in a simmering pan like another Italian custard, zabaglione. The resulting custard cream was silky and rich providing a perfect base for the espresso and rum. A healthy pound of imported mascarpone cheese elevated the dairy richness. To infuse even more pronounced flavor, I added some of the rum and espresso to the whipped cream. This new addition did just what I had hoped and enhanced the spongy cake layers with another jolt of java.

Boozy, nutty, creamy and chocolaty flavors fused together into the most sublime “pick me up” dessert you could imagine. Paired with a cup of my hubby’s famous caffè espresso I was ready to wait up for good ole Saint Nick. When I finally did nod off into a winter night’s sleep, it wasn’t visions of sugarplums dancing in my head. It was clouds of spongy cake floating like snow over a very content nonna.

Recipe for Tiramisu

Little Red Eggs

IMG_0382The most wonderful time of the year does indeed come with “parties for hosting” which necessitates creative planning and preparation. Several birthdays and anniversaries add to our familiy’s holiday calendar every December extending the party menu for days. Last weekend, no less than five days and seven food fests nearly exhausted even my festive imagination.

The five day span began with a school party for a kindergartner and ended with a dessert blitz that would send any sugar seeker over the edge. In between were the more sensible menus that included real food to balance the glucose gluttony of the season. Midway was an appetizer get together with our foodie friends that actually proved the most challenging. I wanted something not too heavy, too cheesy or too sweet but with enough panache to wow my culinary clan. No small task.

Tired of sausage and meatballs I decided to default back to my French roots and make something with eggs. Careful not to overplay the quiche card, I opted for the more dramatic souffle. Wanting small, bite-sized servings I decided to try using the cute paper rings available at cooking stores like Williams Sonoma and Sur La Table. Slightly taller than a cupcake liner and smooth they made the perfect Christmas cup for my little puffs.

The only downside to these little gems is that souffles have a tendency to deflate or “fall” once out of the oven. My regal little crowns did sag a bit on the trip over to the event, but no matter. Their clever red coats, scripted with holiday cheer redeemed the magic, and in the end they received plenty of accolades from the crowd. It’s true that dressing in holiday glam can perk up the spirit, even if you are just a lowly egg.

Recipe for Appetizer Souffles