I love to give and receive homemade Christmas gifts. So, today I want to share two recipes with you that make great gifts. The first is a classic: fudge with walnuts. Since I was little our family has always made a batch of fudge at Christmastime. Unfortunately, the recipe got lost a couple of years ago when my mom moved. Fortunately, Art Smith's recipe is really good, and close to what we remember of our original recipe, so we started using that one. I've made a couple of adjustments and now it's perfect.

The second is Coconut Dulce de Leche, a recipe that was featured in Bon Appetit a few years ago. It's made with coconut milk instead of cream making it perfect to give to your vegan or lactose intolerant friends. But, don't reserve it just for them. Anyone who likes coconut will love it drizzled over ice cream and topped with toasted coconut. Roy prefers it over vanilla ice cream, but to me, drizzled over chocolate is the way to go.

Walnut Fudge

4 1/2 cups granulated sugar
2 sticks unsalted butter
1 cup evaporated milk
1/4 teaspoon coarse kosher salt
Two 12 ounce packages semisweet chocolate chips
Two 7 ounce jars marshmallow cream
2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, finely chopped
1 tablespoon vanilla
2 cups chopped walnuts

Spray a 13 x 9 inch baking pan with cooking spray. Bring the sugar, butter, milk, and salt to a boil in a large heavy-bottomed pan (I use my dutch oven) over medium-high heat, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Continue to stir and cook for about 5 minutes more until a candy thermometer reads 234 - 240 degrees. Remove from heat.

Add the chocolate chips, marshmallow cream, unsweetened chocolate, vanilla, and walnuts and stir until well combined. Pour into the prepared pan and spread evenly. Cool completely.

To give as a gift: The fudge can be stored in an air-tight container at room temperature for two weeks. Cut into small squares and package in small containers or wrap in food-safe clear bags and then pop into a small box. Give instructions to your recipients to consume within two weeks. This makes a lot of fudge so you will have plenty to give away.

Coconut Dulce de Leche

Two 14 ounce cans unsweetened coconut milk
1 1/2 cups packed golden brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon coarse kosher salt

Bring all the ingredients to a boil over high heat in a large, wide saute pan. Then reduce heat to medium and simmer until reduced to 2 1/2 cups, about 25 minutes, stirring occasionally. Pour into glass containers and let cool completely.

To give as a gift: The coconut dulce de leche can be stored for one month in the refrigerator. Sterilize three half-pint jars in the hottest setting on your dishwasher. When you are ready to store the hot mixture, pour it into these jars, screw on the lids and let cool completely on your counter before moving to the fridge. This recipe makes enough to fill the three jars and leaves you with some extra for yourself. Label the jars, add a ribbon, and include instructions letting your recipients know they should consume it within one month and that it is best served over ice cream (coconut based for lactose-free friends) with toasted coconut. 


Thanksgiving Recipes

Miles is really into animal sounds these days. Lately we've been asking him, "What does a turkey say?" to which he responds, "go go go." At least he's got the first letters of "gobble" down.

It's almost Go Go Go Day, so I wanted to share some Thanksgiving recipes with you. Some are already posted to this blog like my apple crostata, butternut squash lasagna, and butternut squash salad.

This year I will be making my maple dark chocolate chip pecan pie and green beans with shallots and garlic. (These green beans are an easy and light side dish. If you want to make them, simply blanch your green beans in boiling water until they just begin to soften. Drain and transfer to a bowl of ice water to shock them. Once they have cooled drain again. You can do this in the morning and then store them in the refrigerator until later. When ready to serve, heat some olive oil in a skillet. Add sliced shallots and chopped garlic and cook for 1 minute. Add the blanched green beans. Cook until heated through. Season with salt and pepper.)

One recipe I make every year is Ina Garten's cranberry sauce. It is really, really good. I love that she puts in an apple; it's pectin thickens the cranberry sauce. You can make this recipe a few days in advance and simply pop it out of the fridge to come to room temperature for a few minutes once you're ready to serve.  Also, while it's still warm from the pan a spoonful over a scoop of vanilla ice cream is not a bad way to treat yourself.

Fresh Cranberry Sauce

12 ounces fresh cranberries
1 3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 cup water
1 granny smith apple, peeled, cored and diced
Zest and juice of 1 lemon
Zest and juice of 1 orange

Place cranberries, sugar and water in saucepan over medium heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until skins begin to burst, about 5 minutes. Reduce the heat to low and add the apple, zests and juices. Cook for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat and allow to cool. Store in an air-tight container in the refrigerator until ready to serve.

Makes approximately 4 cups.



When I was a kid our family vacations usually involved driving somewhere. After all, plane tickets for five people were expensive. Finally, the summer after I graduated from high school, we all took a trip to Maui along with my aunt and uncle. We were so excited to finally be going on a plane, and we were thrilled that that plane would be taking us to Hawaii. That is until we all got food poisoning on the second day of the trip. Yep, five of seven of usgot it and we were violently ill for the rest of the week. We were so disappointed. The trip we had longed for was basically a waste.

Fortunately, Roy and I were in our friends' wedding on Oahu in 2005, so I finally got to enjoy a nice Hawaiian vacation. During that trip I remained food poisoning-free, and I discovered how much good food was to be had in Hawaii. Roy and I have always talked about going back.

We had the chance to go back last week thanks to the generosity of Roy's company. We spent three days on Oahu in Honolulu and four days on Maui in Lahaina.

Daily view of Lanai while drinking coffee at Ono Gelato Company

The North Shore


I must have been too excited to eat because I didn't take a single picture of all the great food I ate. Nevertheless, here is a list of my favorite eateries:


Ono Gelato Company - They make both great coffee and delicious gelato, so this is a good stop anytime of the day. I enjoyed a macadamia coconut latte all four days that we were in Lahina and two of the days I had to stop back in for an afternoon gelato.

Star Noodle - We went for dinner on our last night in Lahaina and wished we had more time there to go again. They have a great variety of ramen-style soups, other asian noodles and small plates to share. We loved every dish we had.

The Fish Market Maui - They cook up fish that was caught that morning making all their selections incredibly fresh. Get the ahi sandwhich. I would have never thought of seared ahi as a sandwhich, but let me tell you this was the best tuna sandwhich I ever ate. With a thick steak of seared ahi, wasabi aioli, caramelized onions, cabbage and tomatoes, you can't go wrong.


Fort Ruger Market - A friend who was born and raised on Oahu took us to this little market when we visited seven years ago. The plate lunches were so good we knew we had to go back this time around. We loved the kalua pig and lomi salmon plate lunch. Be sure to order ocean salad, macaroni salad, and poke to get a good sampling of everything. And be sure to share.

Matsumoto Shave Ice - Perhaps one of the most well known shave ice joints on the island, it's easy to see why this north shore establishment has been in business since 1951.

Liliha Bakery - we sampled the eclair (because I can never pass up an eclair), a cream puff and a coco puff (a cream puff filled with chocolate pudding and topped with Chantilly cream). All were delicious.

Leonard's Bakery - The place to go to get malasadas (Portuguese-style doughnuts). Get the original which is simply a ball of dough deep fried and rolled in sugar. They are so fresh and so perfectly fried that we managed to make them our morning snack each day.

Back at home I wanted to make something coconut macadamia flavored inspired by my daily latte so I came up with this muffin. I think these will tide me over until my next trip.

Coconut Macadamia Nut Muffins

1 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup whole wheat flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 cup light coconut milk
1/4 cup melted coconut oil
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup sweetened shredded coconut, divided
3/4 cup chopped macadamia nuts, divided
1/4 cup brown sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and place rack in middle position. Line 12 cup muffin tin with paper liners.

In a large bowl whisk together flours, baking powder, salt, and granulated sugar. In a separate bowl whisk together coconut milk, coconut oil, egg, and vanilla. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry and mix until barely combined (a few streaks of flour remaining are okay). Add 1/2 cup sweetened coconut and 1/2 cup macadamia nuts and fold until just incorporated. Do not overmix the batter. Divide batter among the 12 muffins cups. In a small bowl mix together the brown sugar and remaining coconut and macadamia nuts. Sprinkle the mixture evenly over the muffins. Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, about 18 minutes. Cool in pan on wire rack for 5 minutes. Then carefully remove muffins from tin and allow to cool completely on rack.

Makes 12 muffins.

Notes: coconut oil is solid at room temperature like butter. Simply melt a small scoop for a few seconds in the microwave and then measure 1/4 cup of the liquid. Store the muffins in an air-tight container at room temperature for up to two days or wrap each in plastic wrap and freeze for up to one month. 


KCRW 4th Annual Pie Contest

My Maple Dark Chocolate Chip Pecan Pie won 3rd place in the nut pie category at KCRW's 4th Annual Good Food Pie Contest!

With over 200 pies entered I feel great about placing, especially since several of the winners were professional bakers. Although it felt great to place, I was having fun at the event even before they called my name. The contest was held this past Saturday at Hancock Park at LACMA. It was open to the public who could come and taste three pies at the event for free. It was nice to hang out on the lawn talking to the public as they approached me to taste my pie, chatting with fellow bakers, and listening to Anne Litt DJ. Also, I did feel special to have an impressive panel of judges taste my pie.

I've been practicing my pies recently. I made eight test pies with varying crusts and fillings until I landed on two that I liked: an apple, pear and cranberry pie and the winning maple chocolate pecan. We were required to bake a pie for the public and another pie for the judges, which means I made an additional four pies, bringing me up to a grand total of a dozen pies in the past two weeks.

Roy and I have been joking that we're on a pie diet, but it really isn't that far from the truth. And Miles has been in on the pie action too. He helped me press the pulse button on the food processor which he thought was hilarious. As I was baking one day Miles kept pointing to me and saying "pie." Great, he rarely says "mama" and now he thinks my name is "pie." I can only blame myself though and it was pretty cute.

I landed on the winning pie pretty easily. One of my first thoughts was to make was a pumpkin mascarpone pie with ground pecans in the crust. The filling did not work at all but the crust was delicious. I kept the crust and began focusing on what I really wanted in a pie. I thought of some of my favorite things: chocolate and nuts. I decided to make a pecan pie even though I had never made one before.

As I thought about the pie I knew that I did not want it to be overly sweet as most pecan pies, in my opinion, are.  I remembered that my uncle, who is an avid pie baker, once told me that the trick to pecan pie was to use maple syrup instead of corn syrup (sorry all you southerners out there). I wrote out everything I thought should be in the filling, including some sea salt and a bit of lemon juice to balance the sweetness. And you know what? I loved it the first time I made it. Now, for research sake I decided to alter the filling ratios slightly and melt the chocolate instead of keeping it in whole chips. I didn't like the second pie nearly as much as the first, so for the contest I went back to the original filling. And I was happy that I did.

As always, I've included the recipe at the bottom of the page. Enjoy!

Thank you KCRW and especially Evan Kleiman and the Good Eats crew for a wonderful event!

Apple, Pear, Cranberry

Maple Dark Chocolate Chip Pecan

My pie was one of the first to be gobbled up.

The judges' pie awaiting the final vote.

Evan Kleiman and me

Celebrating with my boys

Maple Dark Chocolate Chip Pecan Pie

3 tablespoons chopped, toasted pecans
5 teaspoons sugar
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
5 tablespoons cold butter
3 tablespoons cold vegetable shortening
3-4 tablespoons ice water

3 large eggs
1 cup grade B maple syrup
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons butter, melted
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 teaspoon lemon juice
2 1/2 cups chopped, toasted pecans
3/4 cup dark chocolate chips, frozen

Make the crust: Cut the butter and shortening into 1/2 inch cubes and place in the freezer while you work with the other ingredients. Pulse the nuts and sugar in food processor until nuts are ground to the texture of sand. Add flour and salt and pulse a few times to combine. Add the butter and shortening and pulse until the pieces of butter and shortening are large pea to walnut size. Add 3 tablespoons of ice water and pulse until the dough begins to come together but does not form a ball. You should be able to pinch the dough together with your fingers and it should stick together. If it is still too dry to do this add the other tablespoon of water so that it does. Transfer the dough to plastic wrap, flatten into 6 inch disk and place in the refrigerator for at least one hour or overnight.

Once the dough has rested pull it from the refrigerator and allow to soften enough to roll out (how long this takes will depend on the temperature of your kitchen). On a lightly floured surface roll the dough into a 13 inch round.

Gently wrap the dough around the rolling pin and carefully transfer it to a 9.5 inch pie pan. Fit the dough into the pan and trim the overhang so you only have 3/4 inch overhang. Tuck the dough edges under to create a clean border and then crimp into fluted pattern. Freeze dough 30 minutes.

Place one rack at lowest position and another rack at the middle position in the oven. Preheat to 400 degrees for at least 20 minutes. Remove pie shell from freezer and line with foil. Fill halfway with pie weights or dried beans. Bake on lowest rack for 15 minutes. Peel away foil - if it comes away easily, continue to remove all foil and pie weights from pie. If it sticks, return to the oven in 2 minute increments until the foil doesn't stick to the dough anymore. Keeping the pie on the bottom rack, reduce oven to 350 degrees and continue to bake for another 5 minutes until crust is very lightly golden.

Filling: Meanwhile, whisk together first 9 ingredients until smooth. Stir in pecans and chocolate chips. When the pie shell is done baking, remove from oven and pour the filling into the hot shell. Return to middle rack of oven and continue baking for 40-45 minutes more, rotating once halfway through baking. Let cool completely before serving.

Makes 1 pie. 

Notes: Be careful not to overwork the dough. The easiest way I found to do this is to roll from the center toward you, then rotate the dough a quarter turn and roll toward you again. By continually moving the dough it should be less likely to stick and you should only have to add a small amount of flour during the rolling process. If it is still sticking, it may have gotten too warm and you may need to return it to the refrigerator to chill again. If it cracks as you roll it then it may still be too cold and you may need to wait for it to warm up for a few more minutes.  

The pie is actually better the next day, making it the perfect recipe for holiday entertaining. 


Goodbye Summer

It feels like summer is gone. The days are already getting shorter. In fact, today we had some weird weather and it rained for half the day. Although summer won't officially end until September 21st, Labor Day always marks the end of the summer for me.

We spent our Labor Day walking by the beach in the morning and BBQing with friends in the afternoon. I was in charge of dessert, and I wanted some sort of berry dessert before summer ended. I scrolled through my mental files of berry desserts that I liked and I remembered a cake that my good friend Yvonne made me when Miles was born. She brought me a fresh strawberry cake, and it was so good that I have thought about it many times since that day.

I set out to make the cake but then I started to second-guess myself. Was it some sort of postpartum sleep-deprived sugar craving that made me think the cake was so good? No, I told myself, Yvonne is a good baker, and that cake must have been good, even to normal, non-sleep deprived people.

So, I made the strawberry cake and I was not disappointed. This is a simple cake topped with lots of fresh strawberries, many of which sink into the cake giving it some lovely jammy pockets. Unfortunately, I only got a picture of the cake on my phone before I took it to a potluck, so it's not the prettiest picture ever.

Anyway, don't let that detour you from making the cake! For all my talk of summer ending, for those of us who live in Southern California we know that September is still really hot. That means there is plenty of time to make this cake before summer is really gone.  Here is the recipe, adapted from Martha Stewart.

Strawberry Cake

3 cups all-purpose flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
12 tablespoons unsalted butter at room temperature, plus more for pan
2 cups plus 3 tablespoons granulated sugar, divided
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 cup milk
1 1/2 pounds strawberries, hulled and halved
Lightly sweetened whipped cream for serving, optional

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and set rack to middle position. Butter 9 x 13 inch baking pan.

Sift together flour, baking powder and salt and set aside. Place butter and 2 cups sugar in stand mixer fitted with paddle attachment. Beat on medium until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add eggs and vanilla and mix on low until combined. Add the flour mixture and milk in 3 alternating increments beginning and ending with the flour.

Spread the batter in the prepared pan. Place strawberries cut side down on top of batter, placing them as close together as possible. Sprinkle the remaining 3 tablespoons of sugar evenly over the top of the cake.

Bake for 15 minutes. Then lower temperature to 325 degrees and continue to bake until the cake has become puffed and golden and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, about 45 to 55 minutes more. Let cool on wire rack. Serve with whipped cream if desired.

Cover loosely with plastic wrap and keep at room temperature for up to 2 days.

Serves 12-16


Watermelon Lemonade

What do you do when life gives you 10 watermelons and 75 lemons all in one week? Well, besides trying to give away as many as possible, you make watermelon lemonade!

Our lemon tree is going nuts as usual, but most of our garden has given up for the summer (save for the endless stream of zucchini). However, even as the majority of the plants are done for the season, the watermelons are just now ready. It has been worth the wait. It is sweet and juicy, and we've been happily snacking on it daily.

This drink has been perfect in the intense heat we've been experiencing the last few days. I've already made two pitcher-fulls since Saturday.

Watermelon Lemonade

1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup water
1 1/2 cups freshly squeezed lemon juice
12 cups cubed watermelon

Make the simple syrup: Place the sugar and water in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Stir occasionally until the sugar dissolves, 3-5 minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool.

Working in batches, puree the watermelon in food processor (no need to remove seeds if your watermelon has them). Strain the watermelon puree through a fine mesh strainer into a large bowl, pressing on the pulp and seeds to extract as much liquid as possible.

Stir together the simple syrup, lemon juice and watermelon juice in a pitcher. Store in the refrigerator for up to one week.

Makes 2 quarts. 


Stone Fruit

In the summer there is nothing better than biting into a perfectly ripe, sweet peach... or nectarine, or plum, or apricot for that matter. All year I look forward to eating as many of these fruits as I can. Miles is enjoying them too. He can easily eat a whole peach in a few minutes.

Recently I enjoyed some stone fruit in a salad featured in the latest issue of Bon Appetit as well as a dessert that I often like to make when it's hot (no oven required!).

Peach Salad with Gorgonzola Cheese and Plum Dressing

2 black plums
4 teaspoons red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon honey
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
Salt, freshly ground black pepper
6 cups mixed greens
2 peaches or nectarines, halved, pitted and cut into eighths
4 ounces crumbled Gorgonzola or blue cheese
1/4 cup roasted Marcona or regular almonds

Dressing: Cut the plums in half, remove the pit and roughly chop. Place in a small saucepan with 3/4 cup water and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and continue to simmer for 15 minutes until the plums have broken down. Remove from the heat and let cool. Strain the plum mixture through a fine mesh sieve into a small bowl. Whisk in the vinegar, honey and olive oil. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Place the greens on a large platter. Scatter peach slices, cheese and almonds over. Drizzle with dressing and serve.

Serves 4.

Note: Dressing can be made one week ahead and stored in an air-tight container in the refrigerator. 

Grilled Nectarines with Vanilla Ice Cream

2 nectarines or peaches
1 tablespoon melted butter
1 tablespoon brown sugar
Vanilla ice cream
Raspberries, optional
Toasted, sliced almonds, optional

Heat a grill pan or nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Cut each nectarine in half and remove the pit. Brush the cut sides with some of the butter and sprinkle with the brown sugar. Place the nectarines cut side down on the pan and cook without moving for about 3 minutes. Then flip over and cook for one more minute on the other side. Remove from the heat.

Place one or two scoops of vanilla ice cream in a bowl. Nestle two nectarine halves into the bowl. Sprinkle with raspberries and almonds if using.

Serves 2.


Blanco y Negro

It's been hot lately.

In college I had the chance to spend a month abroad in Spain. It was hot there too. Luckily the Spaniards have the perfect cold treat: A blanco y negro. If you go into an ice cream shop and ask for a blanco y negro you will get a glass layered with coffee granita and vanilla ice cream. It's perfect for a hot day because it's doubly cold with icy granita and cool ice cream. In each bite you get a creamy, sweet, vanilla coffee flavor that is delicious. 

I somehow managed to eat a lot of blancos y negros during that month abroad using these types of justifications: "I'm in Spain, and I don't know when I'll be back here again, so it doesn't really matter that I already had a few this week." Or, "Yesterday I was in Madrid but today I'm in Alicante, so it makes sense to have one again now that I'm here." Or just, "¡Hace calor! I better get a blanco y negro to cool down." 

I've never seen a blanco y negro sold in the US, but fortunately it's easy to make at home. Here is how I do it:

Blanco y Negro

4 cups hot freshly brewed strong regular or decaf coffee
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 quart premium vanilla ice cream

In an 8 x 8 x 2 inch metal or glass baking dish stir together the coffee, sugar and vanilla until the sugar dissolves. Cover with foil and place in the refrigerator until well chilled, about 3 hours or overnight. Place the covered baking pan in the freezer. Stir and scrape the mixture with a fork every hour until frozen, about 4 hours. At the 4 hour mark, scrape granita down length of pan forming icy flakes. Return to freezer until ready to serve. When ready to serve place a couple of large spoonfuls of the granita in a glass. Top with a small scoop of vanilla ice cream. Top with another layer of granita and another scoop of vanilla ice cream. 

Serves 4-6.

Note: The granita can be kept in an air-tight container in the freezer for up to 3 days.


My Garden

Zucchini blossom

Remember several months ago that I said my yard was mostly dead grass except for my lemon tree? Well, Roy has gotten the grass to be green again and planted an amazing garden. He's growing green beans, lettuce, spinach, arugula, swiss chard, cherry tomatoes, jalapenos, anaheim chiles, bell peppers, cucumbers, watermelon, zucchini, and yellow squash as well as a bunch of herbs including rosemary, basil, thyme, chives, parsley, cilantro, and mint. Needless to say we've been enjoying a lot of fresh veggies!

Cherry tomatoes, green beans, swiss chard

Watermelon, lettuce

Along with all these veggies comes some creative ways to use them. The zucchini have been especially abundant. I've been sauteing it, making zucchini pancakes, baking it into muffins and bread, and also making it in my favorite preparation: chocolate zucchini cake. 

If you are put off by the thought of putting zucchini in a chocolate cake, don't be. You don't taste it and it makes the cake moist. This is one of my favorite cakes. Here is the recipe, adapted from Saveur magazine:

Chocolate Zucchini Cake

2 medium zucchini, trimmed and grated on the large holes of a box grater
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, plus more for greasing the pan, at room temperature
2 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1  teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup canola or vegetable oil
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 cup chocolate chips
1/4 cup confectioners' sugar

Place the shredded zucchini in cheesecloth or kitchen towel, gather the corners, and then squeeze out as much water as possible. Set aside. 

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Butter 9 inch cake pan. Sift together cocoa, flour, baking soda and salt into bowl and set aside. 

Beat butter and granulated sugar on medium speed in a large bowl with hand or stand mixture until fluffy, about 3-4 minutes. Add oil and beat until incorporated. Beat in eggs one at a time, then add vanilla. On low speed beat in flour mixture and buttermilk and 3 alternating batches. Stir in zucchini and chocolate chips.

Pour batter into prepared pan and bake until toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, about 70-80 minutes. Remove from oven and cool in pan on wire rack. Invert onto plate and sift confectioners' sugar over before serving.

Serves 6-8.

Note: The cake is best served on the day it is baked, but it can be stored in an air-tight container for three days. 


Feeling French

"Here, this is how the French eat strawberries," my mom said to me one day when I was in high school. As she said it, she set down a bowl of whole strawberries, a small cup of sour cream and another small cup of brown sugar. I looked at her incredulously, "Really? Sour cream?" I hated sour cream growing up. If we went to a Mexican restaurant I always completed my order to the waiter like this: "I'll have the (insert dish) without sour cream." It didn't matter if what I was ordering didn't even come with sour cream. I still said it. I could not risk having a glop of it on my food. (If only I knew that I was missing out on lovely Mexican crema, something that I enjoy today.)

Why my aversion to sour cream? I really don't know. I've never been a very picky eater. All I can think is that sour cream is not sweet, and for someone with a sweet tooth, well, sour cream just never made sense to me. That is until my mom had me dip a whole strawberry in the sour cream and then dunk it into the brown sugar, little clumps of sugar sticking to the cream like sand. How could such a simple and strange (to me) combination taste so good?  From then on I decided to give sour cream another chance, and today I love it in both savory and sweet preparations.

You don't need a recipe for this, but here are the basic ratios you can use for two people.

Strawberries with Sour Cream and Brown Sugar

1 pint fresh strawberries (in season and the best you can find)
1/4 cup sour cream (don't be tempted to get light)
1/4 cup brown sugar

Place each ingredient in a separate bowl, and dip the whole strawberries into the sour cream and then the brown sugar.

Continuing on my French theme, I've just finished reading David Lebovitz's book The Sweet Life in Paris. You may remember that I mentioned him when I made his chocolate macaroons last year. Anyway, I gobbled up this book and I can't wait to try all the recipes. 

Speaking of French recipes, I recently received a copy of Jacques Pepin's book Essential Pepin. I also cannot wait to try all the recipes in that book - though wait I must, there are 700 recipes in the book!

I started my journey into that thick book with an easy and classic French dish on the same night we ate the strawberries. Here is Jacques' recipe for quick ratatouille. Basically you can cook most of the vegetables at the same time instead of doing individual batches for each vegetable as is the classic method. It was garlicky and juicy and we happily enjoyed it with a few pieces of fresh baguette on the side. 

Quick Ratatouille

1/4 cup olive oil
3 white or yellow onions, cut into 1 inch cubes
1 green bell pepper, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
1 eggplant (about 1 pound), unpeeled cut into 1 inch cubes
4 small zucchini, cut into 1 inch cubes
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
6 garlic cloves, sliced
4 tomatoes (about 1 1/2 pounds), cut into 1 inch cubes
1 cup chopped fresh basil
Freshly ground black pepper

Heat oil in large saute pan or dutch oven over high heat. Add the eggplant, bell pepper, onions, zucchini, red pepper flakes, and salt and cook for 5 minutes. Reduce heat to medium, cover and cook for 25 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add tomatoes and garlic and cook for an additional 5 minutes. Add black pepper to taste. Transfer to bowl and let cool to room temperature. Stir in half the basil. Sprinkle remaining basil over individual bowls when ready to serve.

Serves 6 as a side dish or fewer people as a main course. 

Note: I used a mixture of summer squash and zucchini because that's what I had on hand and it worked well. 


Another Birthday Cake

Roy requests lemon chiffon cake and blueberry ice cream every year for his birthday. This weekend we celebrated his birthday, so I made the usual. I also made him a dinner of the best fried chicken (seriously, check it out), mashed potatoes and green beans. You may have noticed that I like to show people that I love them by cooking or baking them things. As you can see, I love my husband very much. We both happily devoured this meal and dessert at about 9:00 p.m., which is a little late to eat, but we actually got to eat slowly and peacefully since Miles was in bed.

Happy Birthday Roy!

Here are the recipes for the Lemon Chiffon Cake (adapted from Williams Sonoma Baking) and my Blueberry Ice Cream. The combo of these two is like summer on a plate. I certainly don't mind making it every year.

Lemon Chiffon Cake

1/2 cup lemon juice (from 3-4 lemons)
2 tablespoons grated lemon zest
2 1/4 cups cake flour
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup canola or vegetable oil
1/4 cup water
6 large eggs separated, at room temperature
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar

2 cups confectioners' sugar, plus extra if needed
2 tablespoons lemon juice, plus extra if needed
1 tablespoon heavy cream

Position rack in middle of oven and preheat to 325 degrees. Have an ungreased tube pan ready.

Sift together the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt into medium bowl. In a large bowl whisk the oil, water, egg yolks, lemon juice, and lemon zest together until well combined. Using a rubber spatula gently fold the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients.

In another bowl, combine the egg whites and cream of tartar. Using a stand or hand mixer fitted with the whip attachment, beat on medium-high speed until soft peaks form.

Using a whisk, gently fold in 1/3 of the egg whites into the batter. Then use a spatula to fold in the remaining egg whites until just combined. The batter will be foamy. Pour the batter into the tube pan.

Bake until a toothpick inserted come out clean, about 45-50 minutes. Remove from the oven and invert pan into wire rack. Let cake cool upside down in pan for 45 minutes.

Then loosen the cake from the pan by rotating a tapping the sides of the pan against a towel on the counter top until the cake disengages from the sides of the pan. Using the center tube pull the cake out of the pan. Spray the wire rack with nonstick spray. Invert the cake onto the rack and use your fingers to gently remove the cake from the bottom of the pan. Pull the pan bottom and tube out of the cake. Set the cake right side up and let cool completely.

Glaze: mix together the sugar, lemon juice and cream until smooth. Add a few extra drops of lemon juice if the mixture is too thick or more sugar if it's too thin. Place a piece of parchment under the rack to catch the glaze. Drizzle the glaze over the cake. Allow the glaze to set for one hour.

Serves 10-12

Note: The cake is best served the day it is baked. After that enjoy leftovers for a couple more days by storing in an air-tight container at room temperature. Also, a word about using a tube pan. It is left ungreased so that when the egg whites cause the cake to rise the batter clings to the side and is able to climb as high as it can. This makes for a nice light cake. Also, the cake is cooled upside down in the pan so that it doesn't compress as it cools and stays nice and fluffy. Don't worry, it won't fall out of the pan. 

Blueberry Ice Cream

2 1/2 cups (about 12 ounces) frozen blueberries
1/2 cup water
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
1 tablespoon lemon juice
pinch of salt
2 cups heavy cream

Bring all ingredients except heavy cream to a boil in medium saucepan, stirring occasionally to dissolve sugar. Once it has come to a boil, turn off heat and allow to cool 15 minutes. Then transfer to a blender and blend until it is as smooth as possible (remove the center of the blender lid for heat to escape). Strain into a large bowl and refrigerate for at least 3 hours or up to overnight.

Stir in heavy cream. Process in ice cream maker according to manufacturer's instructions. Freeze in an air-tight container for about 3 hours before serving. Can also be made up to 3 days ahead. Keep stored in an air-tight container.

Makes about 1 1/2 quarts.

Note: I like to get wild organic frozen blueberries. They are easy to find year round may be more affordable then fresh blueberries. Of course feel free to use fresh blueberries if you have some nice ones on hand. 


Birthday Cake

Newborns cry a lot. Miles cried a lot when he was little, so Roy made up a song for him a few days after he was born. "Little baby Miles, keeping happy all the while, with your little baby smiles, you're so happy all the while..." And, this simple little song about being happy seemed to make Miles happy. The song became something you could hear regularly in our house. We are constantly singing variations of it even though Miles really doesn't cry that much anymore. Over the past year it has become ingrained in our heads.

This year has gone by quickly. Miles turned one this week, and a few days before his birthday I started singing "Little baby Miles" and then I stopped and thought, no he's big boy Miles now. And I suddenly felt sad. Where had my little baby gone? Although I'm loving Miles at age one, that first year seemed too pass much to quickly. I had an irrational mommy moment thinking "Oh my gosh, before I know it he's going to have a license and drive away from the house!"

Luckily my craziness was reigned in by making a cake for him. We had a few people come over to celebrate this birthday. The poor little guy has some eczema that is aggravated by dairy and eggs, so I had to make a vegan cake for him. The cake turned out cute and he liked digging into it. I got the cake topper on Etsy (love that site).  I won't share the recipe here though as it wasn't very tasty. Vegan butter = weird aftertaste.

Luckily everyone else got cupcakes. Chocolate with vanilla frosting, yellow cake with chocolate frosting, and chocolate with Nutella frosting. I'll share the recipe for the Nutella frosting in a future post, as it was so good that I'm sure I will be making it again.

Instead the recipe I will share today is Texas Sheet Cake from America's Test Kitchen. About a week earlier we celebrated Miles birthday with our Bible study, and I made this cake then. One of my favorite cakes that my mom would sometimes make for my birthday is Art Smith's Auntie's Chocolate Cake. The two cakes are similar - chocolate cake and warm chocolate pecan icing poured over the hot cake. But, dare I say it, I think I like this Texas Sheet Cake better. I think the main difference is that this icing has less confectioner's sugar than the Auntie's cake. And that means more chocolate flavor. So, I guess we basically celebrated Miles' birthday with my favorite cake. That's okay though because before I know it I'm sure he will be requesting whichever cake ends up being his favorite. And then driving off with his license.

Happy Birthday Sweet Boy!

Texas Sheet Cake

2 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs plus 2 yolks
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/4 sour cream
8 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
3/4 cup vegetable oil
3/4 cup water
1/2 cup dutch-processed cocoa powder
Cooking spray

1 stick unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup dutch-processed cocoa powder
1 tablespoon light corn syrup
3 cups confectioners' sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 cup toasted chopped pecans

Cake: Adjust rack to middle of oven and heat to 350 degrees. Grease 18 x 13 inch rimmed baking sheet with cooking spray. Whisk together flour, sugar, baking soda and salt in large bowl. Whisk together eggs and yolks, vanilla, and sour cream in another bowl until smooth. Heat chocolate, butter, oil, water, and cocoa in large saucepan over medium heat, stirring occasionally until smooth. Whisk chocolate mixture into flour mixture until incorporated. Whisk egg mixture into batter just until smooth. Pour into prepared pan. Bake until toothpick inserted comes out clean with a few moist crumbs attached, about 18 -20 minutes. Transfer to wire rack and immediately begin making icing.

Icing: Heat butter, cream, cocoa and corn syrup in large saucepan over medium heat until smooth. Remove from heat and whisk in confectioners' sugar and vanilla. Spread warm icing over hot cake and sprinkle with pecans. Let cake cool on wire rack for one hour. Then refrigerate for one more hour. (At this point you can cover the cake tightly with foil or plastic wrap and refrigerate for up to 2 days.) Bring to room temperature before serving. Cut into 3 inch squares and serve.

Serves 24.



Scones are nice any time of the year, but I think they are especially good on a warm, sunny morning or afternoon. Since the weather has been nice I decided to make scones last week. Today I will share the basic and easy recipe that I usually use to make scones. This dough is nice and buttery and flaky. You can use any fruit and/or nut combination that you like. If you have a food processor, then you can make these in a few minutes. Even if you don't, they are still easy to make. Simply put the dry ingredients into a large bowl, cut in the butter with two knives, then stir in the cream, almonds and cherries until combined.  

This recipe is adapted from the Williams-Sonoma Baking cookbook. 

Cherry Almond Scones

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 granulated sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
6 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into half inch pieces
1/2 cup dried cherries, roughly chopped
1/4 cup sliced almonds, toasted and cooled
3/4 cup heavy cream

2 tablespoons heavy cream
1 tablespoon granulated or turbinado sugar

Position rack in middle of oven and heat to 425 degrees. Line sheet pan with parchment paper.

Combine flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, and lemon zest in food processor and pulse 3 times to mix. Add the butter and pulse 7 or 8 times until the mixture forms crumbs the size of peas. Scatter the cherries and almonds over the dough. Pour in the heavy cream and pulse just until moistened.

Turn dough onto lightly floured surface and press together gently until the dough clings together. Press dough into a 7 inch round. Cut round into 6 wedges and place on prepared pan. To make the topping, brush the top of each scone with cream and sprinkle with sugar.

Bake until golden brown, 13 to 17 minute. Transfer to wire rack and cool slightly. Serve warm or at room temperature either plain or with your favorite jam.

Makes 6 scones.

Note: Can be made 2 days ahead and stored at room temperature in an airtight container.

A little scone thief!


Feliz Cinco de Mayo

Yesterday we celebrated Miles' cousin Kate's 2nd birthday, and because it was Cinco de Mayo there was a Mexican theme. Becca, my cousin-in-law, made a ton of yummy Mexican food - spicy chicken and beef fillings for tacos, beans, salsas, chips, corn salad, fruit, and a guacamole that I helped smash containing about 20 avocados. Let's just say that I should work out because my arm was sore after all that mashing.

Miles had a good time playing with his cousins, crawling to try to keep up with them as they ran around. The party took place near their pool, and Miles was dying to get in the water. Time to sign up for swim classes this summer! Later, after all the playing and present opening, there were cupcakes and churros for dessert.

Becca asked me to make horchata - a Mexican cinnamon rice drink. If you live in a place with a lot of Mexican food then I'm sure you've had it. If you've never tried it, think about it next time you have Mexican food. It's milky sweetness is a perfect contrast to the spice found in many Mexican dishes.

I referred to my trusty Paletas cookbook by Fany Gerson and I adapted the horchata recipe that I found in there. This book is great if you want to make a variety of Mexican style frozen treats and she also includes a section on aguas frescas, hence the horchata recipe. This recipe is the basic way to make horchata - rice, cinnamon, sugar, but some recipes also call for almonds.


1 1/3 cup medium or long grain rice
6 cups warm water
2 two-inch cinnamon sticks
6 cups whole milk
1 1/2 cups sugar
Ground cinnamon

Pulverize rice in batches in coffee or spice grinder until the texture is like sand. Whisk the rice powder and cinnamon sticks with the water in a large bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator for at least 8 hours or overnight.

Place entire mixture in blender (including cinnamon sticks) and blend until as smooth as possible. This may take a few minutes. Pour through a fine mesh strainer or cheesecloth set over colander into a large bowl or pitcher. Press on the solids with the back of a spoon to extract as much liquid as possible. Whisk in milk and sugar. Adjust according to your taste adding more sugar if you like it sweeter, more milk if you like it thicker or more water if you want to thin it out. Keep cold until ready to serve. Serve over lots of ice with a sprinkling of ground cinnamon.

Makes 3 quarts.


The Perfect Match

Coconut and chocolate were made to go together. This is a fact.

Perhaps my first dabble into this perfect pairing was in 3rd grade. That was the year I started making my own lunch for school. I know that seems young, but I was really independent and wanted to control what I was eating each day. My mom said that I had to make sure to pack a piece of fruit each day along with my PB&J, but she didn't give any other specific instructions. If you've read my other posts you know that we were a pretty health conscious family. There were no Ding Dongs to pack into my lunch. We did always bake though, so sweetened shredded coconut and chocolate chips were often in the house. I would place a handful of each inside a small, blue container - you know the thick kind you used in the 80s that they really don't make anymore - and take it in my lunch box.

So, there I would sit at the school lunch table. My friends with their Twinkies and me dipping into the shreds of sweet coconut and chocolate chips with my little spoon. They said it was weird, but perhaps they were secretly jealous.

When I saw a recipe for a coconut cake with chocolate chunks in it a few years ago in Bon Appetit I had to try it right away. I was not disappointed. This cake is very moist and it is just the right amount of coconut and chocolate. Don't be put off by the orange zest. It enhances the flavor of both the coconut and the chocolate.

Coconut Cake with Dark Chocolate Chunks

1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 stick unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 teaspoons (scant) finely grated orange zest
2 large eggs
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract, divided
1 14 oz can unsweetened coconut milk, divided
6 oz bittersweet chocolate (such as Ghirardelli), roughly chopped into 1/2 inch pieces, divided
1/2 cup sweetened shredded coconut
3/4 cup powdered sugar, sifted

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour a 9 inch cake pan with 2 inch high sides. Sift flour, baking powder and salt into bowl. Stir in unsweetened coconut and set aside. Open the can of coconut milk and pour into a bowl. Whisk the mixture to recombine the liquid and the solids that may have separated. Measure out one cup and set aside. Beat the butter, granulated sugar and orange zest in a hand or stand mixer on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add eggs, one at a time, and beat well after each addition. Beat in vanilla. Add the flour mixture in 3 additions alternately with the 1 cup of coconut milk in 2 additions, beating until just blended after each addition. Fold in half of the chocolate pieces. Pour the batter into prepared pan. Top with remaining chocolate pieces and sweetened coconut.

Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, 50 to 60 minutes. Loosely tent with foil if the coconut browns to quickly. Transfer to wire rack to cool in pan for 45 minutes.

Meanwhile, whisk the powdered sugar, 2 tablespoons of coconut milk and remaining 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract together in a medium bowl. Add additional coconut milk in 1/2 teaspoon increments until mixture is thin enough to drizzle over the cake. Reserve remaining coconut milk for another use.

Once the cake has cooled 45 minutes, run a knife around the side of the pan to loosen, place the rack on top of the cake and flip cake out on to rack. Then place platter on cake and flip over again so cake is right side up. Drizzle with glaze and allow to cool completely.

Note: This cake is best the day it is made, but you can make it one day ahead if you would like. Cover and keep at room temperature. 



We've lived in our house for four months now, and the backyard is still mostly dead grass. Let's see - work on backyard - okay added to the never ending list of things to do. The good news about the backyard is that there is a huge and abundant lemon tree! The tree looks like it's 50 years old. Our house is 70 years old so this is possible, though I know nothing about the lifespan lemon trees. I've always wanted a lemon tree and now I have one that is currently producing more fruit than I can possibly use. In an attempt to use up some lemons, I made a lemon loaf cake from my Barefoot Contessa At Home cookbook. I make this cake a few times a year because it's really easy and really good. Now I'll be tempted to make it all the time. 

Please leave a comment and tell me your favorite way to use lemons if you're so inclined. I would love some new ideas!

Lemon Loaf Cake

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup plain whole-milk yogurt
1 1/3 cups sugar, divided
3 eggs
1 tablespoon grated lemon zest
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice, divided
1 cup confectioners' sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 8 1/2 x 4 1/4 x 2 1/2 inch loaf pan with cooking spray. 

Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt into small bowl. 

In another bowl, whisk together the yogurt, 1 cup sugar, eggs, zest and vanilla. Whisk the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients. With a rubber spatula, fold the vegetable oil into the batter until it is fully incorporated. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake until toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, about 45-50 minutes. 

Place pan on wire rack and allow to cool for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, cook 1/3 cup lemon juice and remaining 1/3 cup sugar in a small saucepan over medium heat until sugar dissolves and mixture is clear, about 5 minutes. 

Once the cake has cooled 10 minutes, carefully remove it from the pan and place on rack over a sheet pan. Slowly pour the lemon-sugar mixture over the warm cake and allow it to soak in. Cool cake completely. 

For the glaze, whisk together the confectioners' sugar and remaining 2 tablespoons lemon juice. Pour over cake. 

Serves 6-8.