Thursday, November 29, 2012

Friday Night Bites | Pumpkin Caramelized Onion Pizza

Yesterday we had the first of many storms to hit the Bay Area.  It was filled with heavy down pours and gusty winds.  If you are familiar with the lay of the land in the bay area, you know that we have many counties relatively close together along with unique traffic patterns.  Not too mention, quite a bit of traffic.  I needed to be in multiple locations for various meetings for work.  I actually traveled across different 5 counties during the day and covered quite a bit of distance.  In the midst of my travels I contended with heavy down pours and strong winds along with highways that had built up water.  It was quite a day indeed.  The good news is that I made it home safely.

We are expected to have similar storms through Sunday this week.  With that, it is a perfect time to make comfort food for our Friday Night Bites that we celebrate each Friday evening.  Pizza and beer is a classic pairing and perfect for a casual evening at home. If you know me, I need to add the Authentic Suburban Gourmet spin.  With my slight obsession this year with pumpkin, I created a pizza with roasted pumpkin and caramelized onion.  I felt this combination was a marriage made in heaven.  I tossed in some fresh sage leaves and really good white cheddar cheese.  The result was a combination of savory fall flavors on top of rich crispy yet chewy pizza dough.  Completely satisfying!

We have a tradition in our family that over the holidays, especially during Christmas, my brother brings the latest vintage of the AnchorSteam’s Christmas Ale.  Each year a new recipe is created and varies slightly from the prior year.  As the label at the top states for the 2012 vintage – “This is the thirty eighth “Our Special Ale” from the brewers at Anchor. It is sold only from early November to mid January.  The Ale’s recipe is different every year, as is the tree on the label, but the intent with which we offer it remains the same: joy and celebration of the newness of life. Since ancient times, trees have symbolized the winter solstice when the earth, with its seasons, appears born anew.”

With the rich, dark spiced ale, I felt this was a perfect pairing for the fall pumpkin and caramelized pizza.  I made each pizza more of an individual serving size since it was just hubby and I; however, you could cut into smaller pieces and serve to a small crowd.  The recipe is a bit “loose” so you can increase or decrease the amount of each ingredient you put on top to customize to your preference. Enjoy!

Pumpkin Caramelized Onion Pizza

Pizza dough (handmade or store bought) (I used Trader Joe’s)
1 Cup Roasted Fresh Pumpkin, cut into small cubes
1 Large Onion, peeled, cut in half and sliced thin
2 Tablespoons Butter
1 teaspoon sugar
Olive oil
Fresh sage leaves
Garlic powder
White cheddar cheese


Take one sugar pumpkin and cut into quarters and remove seeds and pulp.  With a sharp knife, cut away the outside skin.  Then cut into ½ cubes.  Lay onto a sheet pan with sides and toss with olive oil and salt.  Bake for 30 minutes at 350 degrees or until tender.  Remove from oven and set aside to cool.

Caramelized Onions:

Slice a large onion in half, peel the skin and slice each half into thin slices.  Use a large skillet.  Over medium heat, melt the 2 tablespoons of butter, then add the sliced onions, sugar and season with salt and pepper. Over medium heat, toss everything together to completely coat the onions.  Stir frequently and cook until golden brown.  Should be about 15 to 20 minutes.  Set aside.


Preheat oven to 500 degrees

Shape the dough into mini pizzas or one large, your preference.  Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle desired amount of garlic powder over dough.  Spread the desired amount of caramelized onions and then put the desired amount of the roasted pumpkin cubes over the onions.  Season with a bit of salt and pepper.  Sprinkle the desired amount of grated white cheddar cheese on top.  Add some of the fresh sage leaves over the cheese.  Bake on a pizza stone for best results. Cook until the edges of the pizza are golden brown – about 15 minutes.  Add a few fresh sage leaves prior to serving.  

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Cardamom Pear Crisps + "Desserts in Jars" Cookbook Giveaway

Desserts in Jars what a perfect concept!  They are easy, compact, simple and easy to serve.  Desserts in Jars is a new cookbook from Shaina Olmanson from the popular blog Food for MyFamily.  Shaina has a pedigree of accolades to her credit – from being ranked in the top ten in’s 2011 list of the 100 best food blogs for moms to being named a “Top 10 Family Cooking Blog” by My Life Scoop.  Kudos to Shaina! 

Emily from Harvard Common Press reached out to me to ask if I would like to participate in Shaina’s “Blog Tour” to promote her lovely new book.  My response was – “I would be happy to be part of Shaina’s Blog Tour.” A few days later, my very own copy of the book arrived at my doorstep.  With an eye catching cover that draws you in immediately, I could not help but be curious to see what delightful desserts could be served in jars.  At the beginning of the book, there is a dedication that reads – “For my grandmother, who taught me how to give a piece of myself through the food I make.”  That statement resonated with me, since learning to cook from my mother and grandmother, I too love to cook and share with others.

After browsing numerous times through Shaina’s mouth watering book, I kept coming back to the Cardamom Pear Crisps.  The close contenders were the Classic Apple Pies, Peach Bourbon Pies and the Espresso Crèmes Brulee.  Trust me; those will be made at one point – that is for sure. I am a bit obsessed with cardamom these days and with pears in season, this was a no brainer.  Not too mention, the weather is chilly and what a perfect way to enjoy dessert, with a warm jar of goodness.  I tweaked the recipe slightly by adding more lemon juice, less corn starch, more cardamom and candied ginger versus the ground variety.  The result was pure heaven!

I was fortunate enough to have an interview with Shaina to gain her perspective on desserts, inspiration, recipe development and some personal insights.  Please enjoy getting to know Shaina:

When did your love for cooking begin and who was your inspiration?
As cliché as it may seem, my love for cooking started extremely young, and while my mom cooked every day, it was my grandma who inspired me. She created these elaborate and elegant meals, and she showed love to her family by feeding them.

What was your inspiration for starting a food blog?
I had a few friends and an old roommate who just didn't know how to cook, not even the basics, and it pained me to see that this necessary skill was skipping a generation. Everyone needs to eat, and there were people who were completely reliant on processed foods and restaurants to prepare even the simplest of meals for them. I wanted to encourage everyone to embrace cooking and eating well as a way of life again, old or young, busy or just lazy.

What is your all time favorite dessert, and why?
Ice cream. Sure, I love all the things you can put ice cream on, and lately I've been a bit obsessed with apple pie and I have a longstanding love affair with cheesecake, but when it comes down to it, it's the ice cream that gets me. Salted caramel is my favorite flavor, but I am always trying new flavors. There is a shop (Izzy's) near my house that continuously rotates their flavors. Their Summit Oatmeal Stout and their Irish Moxie (coffee, whiskey, Oreos) are two that I can never pass up when I find myself at the counter. When I travel I seek out ice cream and gelato shops over bakeries, and if you can get both in one go, even better. In Portland, Oregon I headed to Salt & Straw to try their buttermilk sweet corn sorbet. Dominique Ansel Bakery in New York makes a kouign amann gelato sandwich that makes me weak in the knees. (They also make a great avocado toast, if you're into savory fare.)

What inspired you to write your latest release – Desserts in Jars?
Desserts in jars have been around long before I wrote a cookbook about them. I had been getting more and more requests by contracts to produce pies and cakes and puddings using the jars as the serving vessels, and it then materialized into a book. The jars are great for serving or shipping, and they're cute and sustainable at the same time. They have a bit of old school charm, and once you eat the dessert you can use them over and over or use them for something completely different. (I store my office supplies in jars on my desk.)

How did you come up with all of those wonderful recipes for the book – Desserts in Jars?
Many of them are inspired just by things I like to eat, serve, and make anyway. I try to keep my ingredients seasonally paired, and then I just thought about what I would enjoy eating or what might look cute presented in a jar. There is inspiration everywhere if you know to watch for it.

How did you find the time to write a cookbook, publish your food blog and take care of your family?
Freelance writing is my full-time job. I use my blog as a résumé for work that I hope to acquire, and since I work full-time, I suppose I juggle it like any other working mom: We're all a bit crazy and wonderful at multitasking. My house—particularly my kitchen—is just messier more often since it also serves as my workspace. Oh, and I have props where most people have tchotchkes.

Thank you Shaina for your time and interesting insights – is there anything else that you would like to share with my readers?
Thank you so much for having me! I hope you enjoy the book, and happy baking!

I am excited to announce that each of you have a chance to win a copy of Shaina’s new cookbook – Desserts in Jars.  The cookbook giveaway is generously supplied by The Harvard Common Press.  This contest is open to US resident only, my appologies to my international friends.

Congratulations to our Winner - Cindy Brickley!  I will send you a quick email to obtain your information, so I can arrange to have this lovely cookbook sent to you!  

True Random Number Generator  24Powered by RANDOM.ORG

How to Enter: 
  • Leave a comment on this post and would love to hear what dessert idea you have to make in a jar.
  • Entries/Comments accepted until 9pm (PST), Sunday, December 2nd, 2012
  • One winner will be randomly selected and notified by email.
  • This contest is open to US residents only, my apologies to my international friends!
 Bonus Entries:
  • Become a fan of Authentic Suburban Gourmet on Facebook. Leave an additional comment to let me know you became a fan.
  • Follow Authentic Suburban Gourmet on Twitter. Leave an additional comment to let me know you became a fan.
  • Follow Authentic Suburban Gourmet on Pinterest and Pin this giveaway with the cover photo from this post.  To qualify for the bonus entry - Leave an additional comment to let me know you followed and pinned the cover photo.

Cardamom Pear Crisps

Makes 6 Jars

Pear filling:

4 to 5 Large Red Anjou Pears
Juice of two lemons
¼ cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground cardamom

Crisp topping:

½ cup flour
½ cup rolled oats
½ cup packed dark brown sugar
1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon crystallized ginger, minced
½ teaspoon ground cardamom
Pinch of salt
8 tablespoons butter, softened

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Make the filling.  Core the pears and cut them into ¼ inch slices.  Put the pear slices in a large bowl.  Add the lemon juice and toss gently to coat the pears to keep them from browning.  Mix in the sugar, cornstarch, cinnamon and cardamom.  Fill six 8-ounce jars with the pears to ½ inch from the top.  The pears will cook down a bit and some of the topping will drip down in between the pears.

Make the topping. In a separate bowl, stir together the flour, oats, brown sugar, cardamom, crystallized ginger and salt to mix well.  Add the butter and use a fork (or your fingers) to incorporate it into the dry ingredients until the mixture is crumbly.

Spoon the topping over the pears to cover, and use the back of a spoon to pack the topping down tightly.  Place the jars 2 inches apart on a large baking sheet.  Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until the pears are cooked through and the topping is light golden brown.  Remove from the oven and let cool slightly on the baking sheet.  Serve warm.  Can top with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream for extra decadence.  Enjoy!

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Pecan Thumbprint Cookies with Cranberry Chutney

I love, love this time of year.  The weather just looks and smells like the fall season with winter around the corner.  Here in the Bay Area, we are beggining to experience rain and often chilly nights.  It is the perfect weather for having a fire at night and tons of blankets for watching our favorite television programs.  Hubby and I are currently making our way through the "Countdown to Christmas" which features new holiday movies on the Hallmark channel.  They are "feel good" movies that 9 out 10 times have a romantic story behind them.  Okay, we are saps for a great romantic storyline.  Smile.

Along the holiday themed time of year is when I accomplish quite a bit of baking and especially baking a ton of tasty cookies.  Hubby absolutely adores both Spritz and thumbprint cookies.  Yesterday was the kick off to the cookie baking festivities.  I love putting a different or unique spin on recipes and making them my own.  The Pecan Thumbprint with Cranberry Chutney is such a cookie.

I tweaked this recipe and added my favorite "proven winner" chutney to produce a spectacular new holiday favorite.  The combination of flavors, colors and textures makes this the perfect holiday cookie.  Be careful – these will not last long in your house.  Happy Holidays!!

Pecan Thumbprint Cookies with Cranberry Chutney
Makes between 36 and 40 cookies

3 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup sugar
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 t. tablespoon salt
1 large egg, lightly beaten + 1 tablespoon water
¾ cup toasted pecans, chopped fine

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Beat together butter and sugar with a mixer on medium speed until pale and fluffy, then beat in vanilla. With mixer on low, gradually add flour and 2 teaspoon table salt, and beat to combine. Press dough together in plastic wrap or into two balls, and then roll into 1 1/4-inch balls. I used a small cookie scoop to ensure each cookie was uniform in size. Dip each ball in beaten egg with water, and roll in the pecans. Place balls on parchment-lined baking sheets, and press an indentation into each with your thumb. Bake for 10 – 12 minutes, then remove sheets from oven, and re-press indentations. I used the end of a rounded knife to push the dough down. Let cool on wire racks. Repeat with remaining dough. Fill each thumbprint cookie with a teaspoon of the Cranberry Chutney.

Cranberry Chutney
Makes about 10 to 11 half pint jars.
4 t. Olive Oil
2 C. Onion, fine dice
8 T. Fresh Ginger, minced
¾ C. Orange Juice
Zest of 2 oranges
5 (12 oz) packages of fresh cranberries
2 ¾ C. Sugar
½ C. Red Wine Vinegar
½ t. Salt
In a large pot over medium heat, add the olive oil and the minced onions. Sauté over medium low heat for about 15 minutes or until the onions are translucent. Add the minced ginger and cook for 2 to 3 minutes, then add all of the other ingredients and stir well. Cook over medium heat for 30 to 45 minutes until the mixture is thickened. After the first 15 minutes you may need to turn down the heat and let is simply simmer.
Process your canning jars by either sterilizing in the oven for 15 minutes at 225 degrees or boil them for 5 to 10 minutes. Fill each jar to almost the top with leaving ½ inch clear. Top with lid and tighten slightly. Process in boiling hot water and place each jar on the canning rack. Remove with canning tongs onto a towel and let cool. Each lid should not pop and be completely sealed. Tighten the lid, label and store in a cool dark place.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Friday Night Bites | Ham and Cheese Palmiers + Thanksgiving Reflections

Happy Thanksgiving to each and everyone!  Thanksgiving is a day to reflect on all of the gifts we have.  Be thankful. Be grateful. Be appreciative. Be with family and friends. Be able to give back in a small or large way to others.

I am personally thankful for so much - my wonderful hubby, terrific family, great friends, health, rewarding career and to work for a special company and my cute doggie Max. I am very thankful for all of YOU, my faithful readers of my blog.  These are at the top of the list, but I could go on for quite sometime, but won’t bore you.  I do work for an outstanding organization that is like a second family.  Our Director of Human Resources sent an email out to the entire company to ask everyone to share what they are grateful for.  The response was overwhelming with high percentage of the company responding – that speaks volumes.

An “All Employee” email was sent out yesterday revealing what everyone was thankful for.  The common theme was family, friends, and the wonderful organization we work for.  A few unique items were thrown in such as being thankful for Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers music, but if that is what that person is thankful for – more power to him or her. Smile.  At the top of the email was a quote that sort of says it all…..  Acknowledging the good that you already have in your life is the foundation for all abundance”  Eckhart Tolle.

With Thanksgiving Day being the kick off to the holiday season, a big part of the many celebrations is food.  Today we will be celebration the holiday with my parents and my siblings and their family – I can’t wait to see everyone.  Each year we divide and conquer the food duties.  I am in charge of bringing the appetizers. Surprise huh?  Wink. Smile.  I am bringing a quick and tasty appetizer that has been a staple for quite sometime.  It is the perfect appetizer to make when you need a last minute appetizer that will impress your guests.

My Ham and Cheese Palmiers are quick, easy and pack a punch of flavor.  The presentation looks like you slaved for hours in the kitchen.  A perfect pairing for these delights is your favorite Chardonnay.  One of my all time favorite Chardonnays is from Grgich Hills Estate.  They craft their wines from grapes that are organic and biodynamic along with no malolactic fermentation which in turn retains the acidity.  The aromas and flavors found from this wine are tropical fruits, orange blossom honey and toasted almonds.  There is certain richness and butter tones as you sip through this delightful wine. 

Ham and Cheese Palmiers 

1 sheet puff pastry, thawed 
2/3 cup (lightly packed) Jarlsburg cheese, shredded
4 to 6 slices of Black Forest Ham
1/3 cup Pesto (handmade or store bought)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Use a non-stick baking sheet.

On a lightly floured work surface, roll out puff pastry to 1/4 inch thick. 

Spread the pesto over the entire pastry leaving 1/3 inch free of pesto along the edges.  Sprinkle the grated Jarlsburg over pastry and then lay the ham over the cheese to cover.

Roll one side tightly to the middle, then roll the other side to middle and press slightly together. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill for 30 minutes in the refrigerator. Use a sharp knife, cut into ½ inch slices thick. 

Place on prepared baking sheet spacing the rolls 1 inch apart. Bake 12 to 15 minutes, or until rolls are puffed and golden. Let cool 10 minutes before serving. 

Monday, November 19, 2012

Fleur de Sel Caramel Carmelita Bars | Secret Recipe Club

It is Secret Recipe Club time again.  Boy how time flies.  Not familiar with secret recipe club, well let me let you in on the secret.  No pun intended.  Wink. Smile.  It is a group of talented food bloggers who are paired monthly with another blogger in the group.  You have time to browse through your assigned blogger’s blog to find the perfect recipe that you want to make.  When reveal day comes along, you can see who was matched with you and what recipe they chose from your blog.  It is so much fun to see what folks select and how they adapt it to their own personal style.

This month I was assigned to Danielle from Hugs & Cookiesxoxo. She is a mom to two wonderful boys named Jaden and Jakey and she calls her husband - "Prince Charming" - that is super cute.  She teaches first grade and loves baking, cooking, blogging and spending time with her beautiful family. She has numerous recipes that are tantalizing and can cure any sweet tooth.  After browsing through her blog several times, I kept coming back to the Carmelita Bars.  They have been on my list for quite sometime and this was the perfect opportunity to make them.

Caramel is one of my favorite things.  After analyzing the recipe, I thought I would create my own caramel squares versus the ones from the store.  The fleur de sel caramels recipe is from InaGarten of the Barefoot Contessa fame and as like the Carmelita bars, that recipe had been a “must make” for quite some time.  If you click here, you can see my post for the fleur de sel and I have also included in this post.  I must warn you, it is highly addictive.  Smile.

I brought these Carmelita Bars to one of my offices the next day and they flew off the plate like wild fire.  In fact one person in the office, who shall remain nameless, ate over 10 of them that day. I am sure they hit the gym after work.  Smile.

Fleur de Sel Caramel Carmelita Bars

2 cups flour 
2 cups quick cooking rolled oats 
1 1/2 cups packed brown sugar 
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup butter, melted
16 fleur de sel caramels (see recipe below)
2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 cup chopped pecans

Preheat oven to 350º. Grease 9 x 13 inch pan.

In large bowl, combine flour, oatmeal, sugar, soda and salt. Stir to blend. Add melted butter and mix till well combined. Reserve half the crumbs, about 3 cups. Press remaining crumbs into bottom of pan. 

Cut the fleur de sel caramels into small pieces and spread over the bottom layer of the crumb mixture. Sprinkle crust with chocolate chips and pecans then top with reserved crumbs, pressing gently to secure.

Bake for 20-25 minutes or till golden brown. Cool at least one hour before cutting.

Fleur de Sel Caramels

Vegetable oil
1 ½ cups sugar
¼ cup light corn syrup
1 sup heavy cream
5 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon fine fleur de sel, plus extra for sprinkling
1 teaspoon vanilla

Line an 8 inch square pan with parchment paper and brush the paper with oil, while allowing the paper to drape over 2 sides.

In a deep saucepan combine ¼ cup water, the sugar and corn syrup and bring them to a boil over medium-high heat.  Boil until the mixture is a warm golden brown.  Don’t stir; just swirl the pan to mix.  Watch carefully, as it will burn quickly towards the end.

In the meantime, in a small pan, bring the cream, butter and 1 teaspoon of fleur de Sel to a simmer over medium heat.  Turn off the heat and set aside.

When the sugar mixture is a warm golden color, turn off the heat and slowly add the cream mixture to the sugar mixture.  Be very careful, it will bubble up violently.  Stir in the vanilla with a wooden spoon and cook over medium-low heat for about 10 minutes reaches 248 degrees (firm ball) on a candy thermometer.  Very carefully pour the caramel into the prepared pan and refrigerate for a few hours, until firm.

When the caramels are cold, pry the sheet from the pan onto a cutting board.  Cut the sheet in half.  Starting with the long side, roll into one piece of the caramel up tightly into an 8 inch log.  Repeat with the second piece.  Sprinkle both logs with fleur de sel, trim the ends, and cut each log in 8 pieces.  Cut glassine or parchment papers into 4 x 5 inch pieces and wrap each caramel individually, twisting the ends.  Store in the refrigerator and serve the caramels chilled.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Fleur de Sel Caramels

I absolutely love caramel!  If you were to give me a choice between chocolate and caramel – the choice would be a resounding thumbs up for caramel. Still love chocolate, but if had to choose, caramel is the winner. With the explosion of flavored, salted and burnt caramels – I am in caramel heaven. 

Several years ago, I had bookmarked this recipe from Ina Garten and finally got around to making these delightful caramels.  The result was amazing.  They were creamy, soft and had a perfect balance of rich caramel flavor along with the hint of salt from the fleur de sel - simply sublime.

Yesterday numerous college friends and I celebrated our dear friend Pam’s milestone birthday.  It was such a remarkable day to be with long time friends and catching up on everyday life and a bit of gossip thrown in for good measure.  Wink.  It still astounds me how fast time is flying by and hearing about everyone’s kids growing up.  Some are heading off to college while others are still in middle school and high school. 

Perhaps it is just my opinion, but I truly believe that everyone is aging extremely gracefully and life is treating everyone well.  Good friends are a treasure.  Despite everyone living busy lives, it seems like yesterday when we are able to get together and spend time with each other. 

As a quick preview, tomorrow is the big reveal for the Secret Recipe Club and my selection will incorporate these fleur de sel caramels.  I brought them to one of my offices and let’s just say that one person (who will remain nameless) ate over 10 of the delights I made. 

These caramels were so simple to make and worthy of being highlighted for my Simply Sublime series.  Thank you Ina for another foolproof recipe!!

Fleur de Sel Caramels

Vegetable oil
1 ½ cups sugar
¼ cup light corn syrup
1 sup heavy cream
5 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon fine fleur de sel, plus extra for sprinkling
1 teaspoon vanilla

Line an 8 inch square pan with parchment paper and brush the paper with oil, while allowing the paper to drape over 2 sides.

In a deep saucepan combine ¼ cup water, the sugar and corn syrup and bring them to a boil over medium-high heat.  Boil until the mixture is a warm golden brown.  Don’t stir; just swirl the pan to mix.  Watch carefully, as it will burn quickly towards the end.

In the meantime, in a small pan, bring the cream, butter and 1 teaspoon of fleur de Sel to a simmer over medium heat.  Turn off the heat and set aside.

When the sugar mixture is a warm golden color, turn off the heat and slowly add the cream mixture to the sugar mixture.  Be very careful, it will bubble up violently.  Stir in the vanilla with a wooden spoon and cook over medium-low heat for about 10 minutes reaches 248 degrees (firm ball) on a candy thermometer.  Very carefully pour the caramel into the prepared pan and refrigerate for a few hours, until firm.

When the caramels are cold, pry the sheet from the pan onto a cutting board.  Cut the sheet in half.  Starting with the long side, roll into one piece of the caramel up tightly into an 8 inch log.  Repeat with the second piece.  Sprinkle both logs with fleur de sel, trim the ends, and cut each log in 8 pieces.  Cut glassine or parchment papers into 4 x 5 inch pieces and wrap each caramel individually, twisting the ends.  Store in the refrigerator and serve the caramels chilled.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Friday Night Bites | Jalapeno Cheddar Crackers

I pre-ordered the new Barefoot Contessa Cookbook – Foolproof and it finally arrived last week at my office.  I could hardly wait to browse through all of the recipes to see what I would make first.  After looking through, the Jalapeno Cheddar Crackers just leaped off the page and those would be the first recipe.

I have to say that I am not a jealous person, but today I was.  I was browsing facebook today and saw a few of my co-workers who went to Palo Alto to attend Ina Garten’s in person book signing.  How cool that they got to meet Ina!  If you asked me which celebrity chef I would love to meet and hang out with, it would have to be Ina.  I have all 7 of her books and this new one makes eight.  Ina has a knack for making simple recipes that always come out perfect and taste fantastic.  It is only appropriate that her latest book is titled – “Foolproof”. 

I read the recipe over a couple times and decided to double the jalapeno and substitute the chipotle chili powder for the traditional version.  I found some extra sharp white cheddar cheese from Trader Joe’s that was simply perfect.  I just had to indulge in a slice or two of cheddar while making the dough. 

These crackers are simple, jam packed with flavor and perfect for the Friday Night Bite series.  You can make the dough ahead of time, then simply slice and bake.  You can kick these up a notch by serving a bit of chili jam along side.  A great wine pairing for these crackers is a crisp Sauvignon Blanc.  One of my all time favorites is from KimCrawford from Marlborough, New Zealand.  It is a high-spirited wine that is overflowing with flavors of pineapple and stone fruit with a hint of herbaceousness.  On the nose is a spray of citrus and tropical fruits along with a slight grassy undertone.  It is bright, fun and consistently a perfect Sauvignon Blanc in my book.

Jalapeno Cheddar Crackers

Makes 32 to 34 crackers

2 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon baking powder
14 tablespoons cold butter, diced
5 ounces extra sharp white cheddar, grated
2 tablespoons minced seeded jalapeno pepper
½ teaspoon chili powder
3 tablespoons ice water
1 egg beaten with 1 tablespoon milk, for egg wash
Fleur de sel or sea salt

Place the flour, salt and baking powder in a food processor and pulse to mix. Add the butter and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse meal.  Add the cheddar, jalapeno, and chili powder and pulse again.  With the food processor running, add the ice water all at once.  Continue to pulsing until the mixture begins to form a ball.  Dump the dough onto a floured board and roll it into a 14-inch log.  Wrap in plastic and refrigerator for at least one hour.

When ready to bake, preheat the oven 400 degrees.  Line a sheet pan with parchment paper. 

Cut the dough in 3/8-inch thick slices.  Place the crackers on the prepared sheet pan, brush with the egg wash, and sprinkle with the fleur de sel.  Bake for 12 to 15 minutes, until golden brown.  Serve slightly warm or at room temperature.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Savory and Spicy Nuts

The last few evenings in the Bay Area have been extremely chilly.  It is great for staying inside with a roaring fire and a lovely glass of cabernet sauvignon along with watching a great movie.  Hubby and I certainly enjoy our television time.  I must admit that BravoTv captures the majority of our time.

Yes, hubby enjoys watching the Real Housewives series with me, with the exception of one city which will remain nameless.  I on the other hand love all cities.  Bravo certainly has a knack for casting, editing, and storytelling with real people or shall I say hiring an entertaining cast of characters. Several co-workers are fascinated by this series along with me.  Sometimes when others who don’t engage in this addiction hear us talk, they think we are talking about people we really know.  In a way, we do know them.  Smile.  It is simply a great escape from the day to day stresses.

While sitting watching television there is nothing better than a tasty crunchy snack.  Recently I came across this recipe for this savory and spicy nut snack and knew it had to be created soon.  The recipe could not have been easier and the majority of the ingredients most folks probably already have in their pantry.  If not, a quick stop to the grocery store would do the trick.  I changed up the recipe slightly by combining macadamia nuts along with the pecans and increasing the garlic powder and dried mustard requirements to kick up the flavors.  The outcome is an addictive snack that I had to put some “portion controls” on by serving in a small bowl – otherwise I would eat more than I needed.  Enjoy this simply sublime snack!

Savory and Spicy Nuts

2 cups pecan halves
2 cups macadamia nuts
5 tablespoons butter, melted
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
1 ¼ teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon ground mustard
½ teaspoon Tabasco sauce, or to taste
½ teaspoon cayenne pepper, or to taste

Preheat oven to 300 degrees

Place the nuts in a large mixing bowl.  In another bowl whisk together the melted butter, Worcestershire sauce, salt, garlic powder, ground mustard, Tabasco and cayenne.  Pour the butter mixture over the nuts and stir until well combined.  Taste a nut and add more Tabasco or cayenne if desired.

Arrange the nuts on a large sheet pan and bake for 20 to 22 minutes until toasted and lightly browned, stirring halfway during cooking time to prevent burning  Remove from the oven and cool completely, tossing occasionally, before transferring to an airtight container.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Friday Night Bites | Bourbon Cocktail Meatballs

Hubby LOVES a great cocktail meatball!  If he could enjoy these little nuggets of joy everyday, I am sure he would.  Recently on Pinterest, one of my social media addictions (smile), I came across this recipe and immediately pinned to make and share on my weekly series – Friday Night Bites. I essentially doubled the sauce recipe, altered a few measurements and added a bit of garlic powder.

We had plans last weekend to get together with one of our neighbors for wine and appetizers.  This gathering had been completely overdue.  With exceedingly busy lives, it seems more challenging to set aside time to simply enjoy getting together with friends and get a mutually convenient date on the calendar.  Last weekend was that weekend – we made it work – yeah!

We enjoyed a mini progressive wine and appetizer get together.  Hubby and I started over at our neighbor’s house to enjoy a lovely bottle of Riesling from Germany along with a beautiful spread of tasty appetizers.  The final stop in this mini progressive appetizer dinner was our house.  We joked by asking each other, “Who was going to drive to the next house?” If you know me, I never want my guests to go hungry, so of course I cooked up a feast of appetizers.

The Bourbon Cocktail Meatballs were the hands down favorite.  They could not be simpler to make.  I served a 2009 Sonoma Valley ‘Montecillo’ Cabernet Sauvignon from Keating Wines. This wine has dark fruit that was prominent on both the palate and nose, along with hints of cedar and a smoky edge and was perfectly balanced.  I picked up three bottles on my last trip to Sonoma. In my opinion, this is a hidden gem of a winery in Sonoma and well worth a visit!

Bourbon Cocktail Meatballs

1 Pound Frozen Meatballs (I used the party meatballs from Trader Joe’s)
1 Cup Ketchup
1 Cup Brown Sugar
½ Cup Bourbon Whiskey
2 Teaspoon Fresh Lemon Juice
2 Teaspoon Worcestershire Sauce
¼ Teaspoon Garlic Powder

In a medium sauce pan, combine all of the ingredients except the meatballs.  Mix until well combined.

Place the frozen meatballs into the sauce and combine.  Let cook on medium heat until slightly bubbly.  Reduce the heat to low and simmer for at least one hour.  Serve with toothpicks or small cocktail forks.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Chocolate Espresso Sandwich Cookies

It has been a week since super storm Sandy pounded and devastated so many people on the East Coast.  I can’t help but want to extend a helping hand to all of the folks in need.  It is heart wrenching to watch the television and see the images of destruction that so many have endured.  My company’s founder is matching the donations that each employee gives to the American Red Cross – that will be my initial outreach to help.  I believe the Red Cross is the best organization to bring immediate assistance to all in need. 

Last weekend I introduced my weekend series, Simply Sublime.  It will focus on recipes that are simple yet full of flavor without a million ingredients.  Sublime to me, means the melding of flavors which creates that “wow” factor for your senses.  While browsing through Pinterest, I came across this recipe for Lemon Sandwich Cookies from Bakers Royal. I became instantly inspired.  I was not quite in the mood for lemon but chocolate and espresso were on my mind.  With a few tweaks, I transformed it into my version of Chocolate Espresso Sandwich Cookies. 

I used a piping bag to create the cookies.  It was quite a work out for my arms, so I am warning you now.  Smile. The dough is rather stiff and a bit of elbow grease is required. I just kept thinking about the end result and the beautiful cookies that would soon be.  They reminded me of something that the Queen of England might enjoy while sipping tea.  I love hosting tea parties and my next one needs to include both versions – a bit of lemon along with this chocolate espresso delight.

I sent the entire batch with my hubby the next day for his team to enjoy.  When he got home to report back, there was an overwhelming thumbs up. 

Chocolate Espresso Sandwich Cookies

Makes 20 to 24 Cookies


½ Cup Butter, softened
1/3 Cup Sugar
½ Cup Confectioner Sugar
1 Large Egg, plus one egg yolk
3 Tablespoon Dark Cocoa Powder
1 ½ Cup Flour
3 Tablespoons Cornstarch

In an electric mixer, cream together the granulated and confectioner sugar until light and fluffy.  Add in egg and egg yolk until combined.  Next add the cocoa powder until well mixed.  Add the flour and cornstarch slowly until all is incorporated.

Transfer the dough to a pastry bag fitted with a large star tip.  Pipe the dough in a circular motion working from the outside toward the center.  Should be about 1 ½ inches wide.  Bake at 350 degrees for about 10 minutes.  Remove and let cool on a wire rack.


4 oz. Cream Cheese, room temperature
¼ Cup Butter, softened
1 Cup Confectioner sugar
1 Tablespoon Instant Espresso Powder (Use a bit less if desired)

Beat the cream cheese and butter until combined.  Add the sugar and espresso powder and mix well.


Spread about a teaspoon or two of filling on underside of chocolate cookie and place a second chocolate cookie bottom side down on top of filling.  Dust with powdered sugar if desired.  Keep in an air tight container to keep fresh.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Friday Night Bites | Zucchini Crostini

Can you believe that today is November first?  I am grappling with how quickly time is going this year.  I know fall is upon us, since we in the Bay Area have already had a few rain storms along with our Indian summer.  This weekend it really hits home, we turn the clocks forward.  Yikes – it will be dark so early.  The good news is that it gets lighter earlier, which will make easier to get out of bed during the work week.

It is also time for Friday Night Bites - my weekly series that highlights a tasty appetizer along with a delightful wine pairing.  While browsing through recipes a few weeks ago, I came across this recipe for Zucchini Crostini. I altered it slightly. Say “Zucchini Crostini” a few times out loud and you will begin to laugh.  Are you laughing yet? Smile.

I am completely game for a fun Crostini that packs bursts of flavors and this one certainly did not disappoint.  My hubby is not a zucchini fan; however, over the years I have been able to convert him.  He certainly enjoys my zucchini soup and my stuffed zucchini with sausage and melted mozzarella cheese.  Now with this appetizer, I can add another zucchini favorite to the list.  The key is to make the mixture at least an hour ahead of time to let the flavors meld together, then top the toasted Crostini.

I pulled a 1998 V. Sattui Morisoli Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon from our wine cellar to enjoy.  As my hubby said, it had that “library smell”, which means you could tell that it was aged well.   He associates the library smell with the scent from old library books, which is a good thing I guess. Smile.  The library scent can also be translated to black truffle, cedar, dusty earth and leather which were present on the nose.  On the palate, deep black cherry, wild blackberry and plum and chocolate were evident.  Overall, it was an extremely enjoyable wine that we enjoyed with our zucchini Crostini. 

(My Instagram photo of our wine)

Zucchini Crostini

Makes 20

3 to 4 medium zucchini (about 1 pound)
2 teaspoons salt, plus more to taste
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/3 cup shredded basil

2/3 cup marcona almonds, toasted and finely chopped
1 tablespoon thyme leaves, chopped
1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
½ teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil (plus extra to brush crostinis)
Freshly ground black pepper
1 Sour dough baguette, cut into ½ inch slices (About 20)

Using a box grater, coarsely grate the zucchini. Place the shredded zucchini in the middle of a clean kitchen towel and sprinkle with the 2 teaspoons of salt. Let sit for 5 minutes, then squeeze the towel to remove excess moisture. Repeat until as much liquid as possible has been released, then transfer the zucchini to a bowl.

Add the garlic, basil, almonds, thyme, Parmigiano-Reggiano, lemon juice, lemon zest and 4 tablespoons of the olive oil to the zucchini; toss to combine. Season to taste with salt and pepper and refrigerate for an hour.

Brush each slice of the baguette with olive oil on both sides and bake at 350 for about 10 minutes.  Flip the Crostini halfway through the baking time to ensure even browning.  Add more time if needed until each one is golden brown. Let cool. Top each slice of bread with about 3 tablespoon* of the zucchini pesto and serve immediately.