Happy 2011! ~ Julia Child’s Clafouti aux Poires

Happy 2011!

I have been on a little Julia Child kick this winter…I watched the movie Julie & Julia again, I am reading My Life in France and I tried a couple of recipes from Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Vol. 1. One of those recipes was for a pear clafouti, which we had as our first dessert of the new year. It’s one of the recipes in the book that isn’t heavy with butter or cream, so I actually followed it pretty closely. The woman knew what she was doing, so who am I to fiddle with her recipes too much? 🙂 The only minor substitution I made was skim milk instead of whole.

Clafouti aux Poires

3 cups peeled, cored and sliced ripe pears (about 1 1/2 lbs)

1/4 cup cognac (I used VSOP Hennesy Privilege)

1/3 cup granulated sugar

1 cup skim milk

Another 1/3 cup granulated sugar

3 large eggs

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

Pinch of salt

1/2 cup all-purpose flour

1 tablespoon butter

Prepare the pears, and let them soak in the cognac and 1/3 cup sugar for about an hour.

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Place the baking dish (I used a casserole dish) into the oven to preheat.

Place the ingredients from the milk to the flour in a blender  along with the remaining cognac and sugar poured out from the pears, and blend at top speed for a minute.

Take your baking dish out of the oven when it is hot, and lightly butter the bottom and sides. Pour a 1/4 inch layer of batter into the bottom. Spread the pears over the layer. Then pour the remaining batter on top so the pears are covered.

Bake on the middle rack for about an hour, or until it is puffed and browned and a wooden skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean. Serve warm.

I hope you enjoy this sweet start to the new year! Bon appétit!

Christmas Cookie Day

Today was Christmas cookie day at our house :). I spent a fun afternoon baking a couple of batches. I found the cutest little cookie cutters at Williams-Sonoma this year that made them extra special. They are shaped like a gingerbread man, a snowflake and a Christmas ornament, but the cool thing about them is that you can add personalized messages that press into the cookie dough design. I made some of our cookies with special inscriptions like the names of our nephews, Miro, Ivan and Zach and this website name.

I used a classic sugar cookie recipe from Cooking Light magazine that can be found at MyRecipes.com. It is a lightened version of the classic, so I followed it pretty closely. It uses less butter than most recipes as well as only egg whites with no yolks, but it has a great trick for rolling so you can get away with less fat without cracking the dough. This recipe doubles nicely if you desire. They are also good with a little icing, though I opted for plain cookies this time around to show off the cute design.

Classic Sugar Cookies

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

Pinch of salt

1 cup granulated sugar

10 tablespoons softened butter

1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

2 egg whites

Combine the flour, baking powder and salt with a whisk in a medium bowl. Place the sugar and butter in a large bowl and beat with a mixer until fluffy. Next, beat in the vanilla and egg whites. Gradually add the flour mixture to butter mixture and beat at low speed until just combined. Divide the dough in half. Shape each half into a puck, about 4 inches across. Wrap each puck in plastic wrap and chill 1 hour.

Unwrap 1 dough puck at a time. Smooth the plastic wrap on your work surface, and put the dough in the middle. Add another sheet of plastic wrap on top, so the dough is surrounded on both sides. Roll the dough in between the plastic until it is about ¼ inch thick. (The plastic allows the dough to stay in one nice piece without more fat.) Chill the dough another 30 minutes.

Preheat your oven to 375.

Remove one portion of dough from the refrigerator at a time. Remove the top sheet of plastic wrap and replace it with a sheet of parchment paper. Run the rolling pin over the parchment a couple of times to smooth the top of the dough. Remove the parchment, and using a cookie cutter, cut your dough into the shapes you desire. Place the cookies about 2 inches apart on the baking sheets lined with parchment paper. Bake at 375 for about 10 minutes or until lightly browned. Cool on the pans for 5 minutes. Then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. Repeat with the remaining dough.

Happy December ~ Springerle

It is Christmas cookie season again, and I decided to try my hand at something new this year called springerle. They are traditional German anise cookies that use a special mold. My parents gave me a metal springerle board last Christmas, and I am part German, so I thought I would give them a try! They are really sweet little pieces of art. 🙂


2 eggs

4 oz powdered sugar

1 teaspoon anise extract

2 cups all purpose flour, plus a little more for the board and rolling pin if the dough is too sticky

1 teaspoon baking powder

Beat the eggs until light with an electric mixer on high speed in a large bowl. Reduce the speed and add the anise and sifted sugar. Beat until well combined. Sift the flour and baking powder and stir them into the egg mixture. The dough will be rather stiff.

Roll the dough to about 3/8 inch thickness. Imprint the dough onto the springerle board and cut apart with a pizza cutter. Place the cookies on a baking sheet (this recipe will make about 2 sheets worth of cookies), and let them dry uncovered overnight. This will allow the designs to stay crisp when they are baked.

In the morning, preheat your oven to 350. Bake the cookies for about 8-10 minutes, until cooked through but not golden.

Our favorite recipe for birthdays or any special occasion ~ Whole Wheat Carrot Cupcakes

One dessert that I make over and over again for special occasions is my favorite carrot cupcake recipe. Most recently, I made a batch for my mom’s birthday this month! (Pictured) They have a surprising amount of carrots, and you really can’t tell you are sneaking in a whole grain with your dessert either. I hope you like them as much as we do!

Whole Wheat Carrot Cupcakes

1 1/2 cups sugar

1 1/3 cups of light olive oil and water mixture (3/4 cup light olive oil, and then top it off with water)

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

3 large eggs

2 cups whole-wheat pastry flour

2 teaspoons cinnamon

2 teaspoons baking soda

Pinch of salt

3 cups grated carrots

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.

In a medium bowl, beat the sugar, oil/water mixture, and vanilla with an electric mixer or a whisk. Add the eggs, 1 at a time. In another bowl, whisk together the flour, cinnamon, baking soda, and salt. Then incorporate half of the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients. Mix the grated carrots into the remaining flour, and add it all to the batter. Mix until combined.

Line your muffin pans with paper liners. (About 20). Scoop the batter into the muffin cups a little over 3/4 full. Bake at 400 degrees for 10 minutes, and then reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees and cook for 30 minutes more, or until a toothpick comes out clean. Check after 25 minutes or so, since ovens can vary.

You can sprinkle them with powdered sugar if you desire, or they are great plain.

Hope you enjoy!

10th Wedding Anniversary ~ Mussels, Clams and Shrimp with Saffron Risotto and Green Olive Relish and Caramelized Pear Cake

Rob and I celebrated our 10th wedding anniversary today with a romantic dinner at home. Cooking is always a fun way to spend time together, and there’s nothing we like more than to create a nice meal and enjoy it outside on a warm summer night. To us, that’s a perfect evening together…The perfect way to celebrate this milestone. The recipes I chose were adapted from the September 2000 issue of Bon Appetit magazine, which I thought was a fun and special way to choose a menu :). Both of the original recipes can be found at Epicurious.com. We had mussels, clams and shrimp with saffron risotto and green olive relish as well as caramelized pear cake for dessert. I followed the risotto recipe pretty closely, except I halved the garlic. It was a romantic anniversary after all! 😉 We also added more seafood than the recipe called for since it was a special occasion. I changed the cake recipe quite a bit, however. To lighten it up a little, I cut the sugar and the butter and I replaced some of the oil with applesauce. I have to say, we didn’t miss it one bit! The presentation looked very fancy, as well, which was perfect for a special finale.

Mussels, Clams and Shrimp with Saffron Risotto and Green Olive Relish

1/2 cup chopped green olives

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley

1 ½ teaspoons lemon zest

2 cups low sodium chicken stock

1/4 teaspoon saffron threads

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1/4 cup chopped shallots

1 cup Arborio rice

2 garlic cloves, minced

1/2 cup dry white wine

1 cup bottled clam juice

20 mussels

15 manila clams

24 uncooked large peeled shrimp

3/4 cup chopped fresh tomatoes

1/4 cup sliced green onions

Lemon wedges

To make the relish, combine the first four ingredients in a small bowl – Olives, oil, parsley and lemon peel. (This can be made the day before and refrigerated).

Bring the stock and saffron to a simmer in a small saucepan. Remove from heat and cover. Heat the olive oil in a heavy large pot over medium heat. Add the shallots and sauté about 2 minutes until they are tender. Add the rice and the garlic and stir 1 minute. Add the white wine and stir until absorbed, about 2 minutes. Add 1/2 cup saffron stock and simmer until absorbed, stirring constantly. Add the remaining stock 1/2 cup at a time, allowing the stock to be absorbed before adding more, stirring frequently until the rice is cooked halfway, about 10 minutes. Add the clam juice, seafood and chopped tomatoes. Cover and simmer until the rice is tender, the mussels and clams open, the shrimp are cooked through and the liquid is absorbed, about 10 minutes. Discard any mussels and clams that did not open. Divide the seafood and saffron risotto equally among 4 bowls. Sprinkle with sliced green onions and serve with lemon wedges and the green olive relish on the side.

Caramelized Pear Cake

4 tablespoons unsalted butter

1/2 cup (packed) golden brown sugar

About 2 pounds Bosc pears, peeled, quartered and cored

1 1/3 cups all purpose flour

2/3 cup sugar

2 tablespoons minced crystallized ginger

1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

3 large eggs

1/4 cup canola oil

¼ cup applesauce

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 teaspoon grated orange zest

1 cup grated peeled Bosc pears

Preheat your oven to 350. Melt the butter in the microwave, and mix it with the brown sugar in the bottom of a 10 inch cake pan. Spread the mixture in an even layer. Arrange the quartered pears in a flower design on top of the sugar. (One tip is to cover the pears in a little lemon juice while you are peeling and quartering the bunch. That way the first ones won’t turn brown while you work on the remaining ones. Then just give them a light rinse and dry before arranging them in the pan).

Whisk the flour, 2/3 cup sugar, crystallized ginger, cinnamon, baking soda, ground ginger and salt in medium bowl. Whisk the eggs, oil, applesauce, vanilla and orange peel in a large bowl. Then mix in the grated pears to the wet mixture. Finally, mix the dry ingredients into the wet mixture until just combined.

Carefully pour the batter over the pears in the cake pan. (It will be a pretty thick batter, but just coax it gently with a spatula to cover all of the pears). Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, about 40 minutes. Cool the cake in the pan for about 20 minutes. Then run a knife around the pan sides to loosen, place a serving plate over cake and invert it onto the plate. Serve warm. (It also refrigerates well if you would like to make it a day ahead. Just microwave the slices for about 20 or 30 seconds to warm through before serving).

We paired the meal with a bottle of Tin Barn Vineyards red wine that our parents gave us for our “tin” anniversary :). The winery was also founded 10 years ago. Perfect! (The Cabernet Sauvignon blend was very yummy…I’d recommend it if you like artfully crafted red Meritage blends).

Happy Seafair ~ Blueberry Blue Angel Muffins

*About the photos

This is Seafair weekend in Seattle, which is an annual summer celebration including hydroplane racing and an air show featuring the Blue Angels. We live very close to the flight path where the Blue Angels fly, so I get a great view of the synchronized air show from my kitchen. Occasionally, the jets come close to breaking the sound barrier and they cause the kitchen to rumble and shake a bit as they fly over!

This year happens to be a cooler and wetter weekend than usual.  I find that when the weather cools down I like to make our home cozy and warm with baked goodies. That along with all of the Seafair festivities inspired me to bake what I’d like to call “Blueberry Blue Angel Muffins!” 🙂

I found a really good blueberry muffin recipe from America’s Test Kitchen and I changed a few things to make it a little healthier. (I used less sugar, I substituted whole-wheat pastry flour for the all-purpose flour and I switched the butter to applesauce.) It takes advantage of the fresh summer blueberries at the market now. The extra non-traditional step of swirling homemade blueberry jam into the muffins makes them very flavorful and special. The lemon zest and sugar topping also gives them a fresh and crunchy finishing touch.

Blueberry Blue Angel Muffins


Cooking spray

1/2 tablespoon lemon zest

cups fresh blueberries

cup sugar, plus 1 teaspoon, plus 2 tablespoons

2 1/2
cups whole-wheat pastry flour

2 1/2
teaspoons baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt


1/4 cup applesauce

cup canola oil

cup buttermilk

1 1/2
teaspoons vanilla extract

Preheat your oven to 425 degrees with the rack in the upper middle position. Spray a muffin tin with nonstick cooking spray.

Bring 1 cup of blueberries and 1 teaspoon of sugar to a simmer in a small saucepan over medium heat. Mash the berries with a potato masher and stir frequently until the mixture is a little thickened and reduced to about ¼ cup. Take off the heat, and let cool.

For the topping, stir together 2 tablespoons of sugar and the lemon zest in a small bowl until combined.

Whisk the flour, baking powder, and salt together in a large bowl. In a medium bowl, whisk 1 cup of sugar and the eggs together until they are well incorporated. Slowly whisk in the applesauce and oil. Then whisk in the buttermilk and vanilla until everything is blended well. Using a rubber spatula, fold the egg mixture and the remaining blueberries into the flour mixture until everything is just moistened.

Divide the batter equally into the 12 muffin cups. Each cup should be completely full. Then put about a teaspoon of the cooked berry jam mixture onto the center of each muffin. Using a chopstick or other skewer, swirl the jam into the batter. Then sprinkle the lemon sugar equally over the muffins.

Bake about 17 minutes, until the muffin tops are firm and a toothpick inserted comes out clean. Cool slightly before serving.

Happy Seafair!

*Watching the Blue Angels air show while enjoying a plate of blueberry muffins on the deck :). As a funny side note, the right photo would have been very very cool since the plane on the right proceded to come straight over our house, but I ran into the kitchen when he got closer! Ha ha! They are *loud.*

A little anniversary celebration ~ Fresh Sweet Corn Flan and Affogato

Every August 1st, Rob and I celebrate two little anniversaries. It marks the day I moved to Seattle, as well as the day Rob and I moved into our current house together. We celebrate all kinds of little anniversaries like this one. They give us an excuse to have a nice dinner or to do something special. I figure who can’t use more excuses for little celebrations? 🙂

This year we had dinner in our backyard under our grape trellis with a bunch of candles glowing all around. I chose a summery menu that was a reflection of the best of the Northwest, since we were celebrating our home. Along with that theme, we had local Dungeness crab for the main course. It’s a special meal that we don’t have everyday, and it’s one of our very favorite things.

To go with the crab, I made fresh sweet corn flan with tomatoes and basil. This recipe uses very basic summer ingredients and transforms them into something unexpected. I followed the original recipe pretty closely (from Cooking Light magazine, which can be found at MyRecipes.com), so I am passing it along since we enjoyed it so much! I hope you do, too.

Fresh Sweet Corn Flan


Cooking spray

2 1/2  cups fresh corn kernels (about 5 ears)

1 cup skim milk

1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

1 teaspoon unbleached all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

4 eggs

A handful of cherry tomatoes, halved, to taste

A few leaves of sliced basil, to taste

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

Cook the corn kernels in a skillet coated with cooking spray for about 5 minutes or until they are tender. Set aside 1 cup of the kernels for garnish.

Place the remaining corn in a food processor, and pulse until coarsely chopped. Add the milk, cheese, flour, salt, pepper and eggs to the food processor, and pulse until well combined. (It will never be completely smooth, but the kernels will give the mix a little texture).

Pour about 1/2 cup of the corn mixture into 6 ramekins coated with cooking spray. Place the ramekins in a 13 x 9 inch baking pan. Add hot water to the pan to a depth of about an inch up the sides of the ramekins. Bake for 35 minutes or until set. Remove the ramekins from the pan, and cool for about 5 minutes. Invert each flan onto individual plates. Garnish each with corn kernels, tomato halves and basil.

We ended the meal with another very easy, but very delicious dish called affogato. It is just a scoop of ice cream in a cup of coffee. It doesn’t get much simpler than that! 🙂 (As a side note, it means “drowned” in Italian as the ice cream ends up swimming in the coffee.) Since the Northwest is known for coffee, I thought this was a perfect ending to a dinner celebrating the Northwest. I originally saw this dish on the Barefoot Contessa on the Food Network. It is so simple, but we think it is a really extraordinary dessert. I hope you do, too!



Vanilla ice cream or frozen custard

Strong decaf coffee or espresso

Scoop as much ice cream or custard as you would like for each individual serving into a coffee cup, and pour the warm coffee over the top immediately before serving or at the table.

Aah, summer ~ Strawberry Cheesecake Tart

I promised to share my recipe for our favorite strawberry cheesecake tart, and here it is! 🙂 I usually make at least a couple of these tarts in the summertime when strawberries are at their peak. It’s one of our very favorite recipes. It is also pretty enough to share with company. The original recipe is from MarthaStewart.com, but as usual, I changed it a little to make it a tad healthier.

Strawberry Cheesecake Tart

6 full graham cracker sheets

1/3 cup almonds

3/4 cup sugar

4 tablespoons unsalted melted butter, or just enough until the crust is moistened

2 8-oz bars of Neufchatel cream cheese

1/2 cup fat free sour cream

1 egg

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Pinch of salt

Pint of fresh strawberries

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

In a food processor, grind the graham crackers, almonds, and 1/4 cup of sugar until they are finely ground. Add the butter slowly, and process until moistened. (You may not need the full 4 tablespoons). Transfer to a 9-inch tart pan, preferably with a removable bottom. Press the mixture firmly into the pan, and up the sides. Freeze for 15 minutes.

If you have a second food processor bowl, I’d recommend using it now. Otherwise, just clean your bowl and blade very well. Then blend the cream cheese, sour cream, 1/2 cup sugar, egg, vanilla, and salt until the mixture is smooth.

Place your tart pan on a rimmed baking sheet, and fill with the cheesecake mixture. Bake until filling is set, about 30 to 35 minutes.

Cool completely. (The hardest part is waiting!)

I like to top it with fresh cut strawberries. After removing the green portion, slice each berry into 4 or 5 pieces, top to bottom. Then splay them from the center to the edges. (See picture above).

I hope you enjoy this recipe as much as we do! It’s a little bite of summer 🙂

Enjoy a virtual trip to the tropics…Individual Key Lime Cheesecakes

I am reading a summery beach book that is set in the Florida Keys called Happiness Key by Emilie Richards. It’s such a good book that it inspired me to make a recipe with some Key limes! One of our favorite summertime desserts is a strawberry cheesecake tart (I promise to add that recipe soon), so I decided to put a spin on that with limes. I also thought it would be cute to make individual cheesecakes instead of a big one. Tiny little cheesecakes for tiny little fruits. 🙂

Individual Key Lime Cheesecakes

4 ramekins

Cooking spray

1 oz vanilla wafers

1 8-oz package of Neufchatel reduced fat cream cheese

1/4 cup and 1 tablespoon of sugar

1 egg

1 1/2 tablespoons Key lime juice (preferably fresh squeezed)

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Whipped topping such as Reddi Wip

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

Grind the vanilla wafers in a food processor until they are the consistency of sand. Wipe out the food processor well for the next step.

Spray the ramekins with cooking spray. Sprinkle the crumbled vanilla wafers into a thin even layer on the bottom of each.

In the cleaned food processor, blend the cheese, sugar, eggs, juice and extract until very smooth. Spoon the cheese mixture evenly between the four ramekins, covering the cookie crumbs.

Bake until set, about 20 minutes.

Cool for about 10 minutes, and then refrigerate for at least a couple of hours until they are very cold.

Serve with a little dollop of whipped topping and lime zest grated over the top. Maybe even add a couple of the cute little limes on the side of the dish to display what’s inside.

Now I can curl up with my book out on our deck in the sunshine and virtually escape to a beach on the Florida Keys with a mini Key lime cheesecake :). I hope you’ll join me!

PS. You can also make a smaller version of these cheescakes in a muffin tin with aluminum baking cups. Follow the same recipe, but just cook them for a little less time until they are set. After chilling, take them out of the baking cups, and they look like miniature tarts. (Below)

Memorial Day ~ Lime Marinated Pork Tenderloin Medallions with Tomato, Mint and Watercress Salad and Lemon Blini with Raspberry Sorbet

Cheers and thank you to all of the members of our military, past and present!

I attended one of my favorite Williams-Sonoma technique classes this weekend, which featured recipes for Memorial Day. They are free cooking classes held almost every Sunday before the store opens, and you get to taste the creations after they are made. I would highly recommend checking them out! I had a whole Memorial Day menu already figured out, but the samples were so tasty at the class that I changed my mind. We had lime marinated pork tenderloin medallions over a tomato, mint and watercress salad and lemon blini with raspberry sorbet. A very summery menu to kick off the unofficial start of summer! 🙂 This is my take on the recipes I learned. As usual, I tried to make them a tad healthier. For example, I used less salt in the marinade, quite a bit less olive oil for the dressing and more veggies than called for. In the dessert, I used skim milk instead of whole.


Lime Marinated Pork Tenderloin Medallions with Tomato, Mint and Watercress Salad

1 lb pork tenderloin, trimmed of any excess fat

1/2 teaspoon ground coriander

1/8 teaspoon ground cumin

Zest and juice of 1 lime

1 1/2 tablespoons light olive oil

1/4 teaspoon salt

Small garlic clove, minced

2 tablespoons finely minced onion

2 oz chicken stock

1 oz red wine vinegar

1/2 teaspoon honey

1 oz extra virgin olive oil

1 1/2 cups cubed tomatoes (bite size)

2 cups watercress

2 tablespoons fresh mint

2 tablespoons toasted slivered almonds

Cut the pork into uniform medallions, about 1 1/2 to 2 inches thick, and place in a baking dish. In a small bowl, whisk the coriander, cumin, lime zest and juice, olive oil, salt, garlic and onion. Pour the marinade over the pork, mix well so every piece is coated, cover, and refrigerate for 2 hours.

Preheat your oven to 375

Preheat an oven proof grill pan over medium heat. Remove the pork from the marinade, and reserve the remaining marinade. Grill the pork on the preheated pan, about 3 minutes per side. Transfer the pan to the oven, and finish cooking for about 6 minutes, or until cooked through.

Remove the pan from the oven and transfer the pork to a platter to rest under a tent of tin foil. Add the remaining marinade, stock, vinegar, and honey to the pan and simmer together until it is reduced by one third on the stovetop. Whisk in the extra virgin olive oil.

Mix the tomatoes, watercress, mint and almonds in a large bowl. Toss the warm dressing into the salad and serve with the pork on top.

Serves 2

Lemon Blini with Raspberry Sorbet

1/2 cup part skim ricotta cheese

1/2 cup skim milk

1 full egg (separated) and 1 egg white

2 tablespoons sugar

Zest and juice of 1/2 lemon

3/4 cup unbleached all purpose flour

1/2 tablespoon baking powder

Two pinches of salt

Store bought raspberry sorbet

In a large bowl, whisk the ricotta, milk, egg yolk, sugar, lemon zest and lemon juice until the mixture is smooth. Sift the flour, baking powder and a pinch of salt over the ricotta mix and stir until everything is combined.

In a separate bowl, whisk the egg whites until they are frothy. Add one more pinch of salt to this, and continue whisking until you have soft peaks.

Fold 1/3 of the egg whites with a spatula into the ricotta mix, and then gently fold the remainder of the whites in.

Preheat a pan over medium low heat and spray with cooking spray. 1 tablespoon at a time, drop the mixture onto the preheated pan. (This will make each blin about 3 inches in diameter.) Make sure not to crowd the pan. Cook about 2 minutes per side, until golden on the outside and cooked through.

Serve with small melon ball sized scoops of raspberry sorbet for a nice compliment to the mildly sweet lemony pancakes.

Serves 2, with leftovers

By the way, I’d like to note that I’m normally not a huge watercress fan. I find it too peppery and strong for my taste. But this dressing mellows out the flavor, so I actually enjoyed it! I think I’ll be eating more of this vegetable in the future with this new recipe. I’d recommend trying it if you find you steer away from peppery greens like I do.

I should also mention these aren’t technically blini, which are made of buckwheat flour and often served with caviar. But these are sweet little dessert pancakes along the same lines as that classic. Whatever you call them, I hope you enjoy!

Happy St. Patrick’s Day! Chocolate Guinness Cupcakes

Happy St. Patrick’s Day! I made a batch of festive chocolate Guinness cupcakes to celebrate one of my favorite holidays. I started with a recipe from the Food Network, and I switched it up a bit to make it a little healthier. These make a lot of cupcakes, but this recipe also divides in half nicely. Then you’ll just have half a bottle of beer to finish while you bake. 🙂 (If you decide to go this route, use a full egg and one egg white.) Or, the cupcakes also freeze well, so you can keep them for quite a while if you decide to make the full batch. These have actually become a favorite at our house even when it isn’t anywhere close to St. Patrick’s Day. I hope you like them as much as we do!

Chocolate Guinness Cupcakes

3/4 cup cocoa powder (unsweetened)

2 cups sugar

2 cups whole-wheat pastry flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 bottle or can of Guinness

1/2 cup canola oil

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

3 eggs

3/4 cup non-fat sour cream

Before you begin, preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

Whisk together the cocoa, sugar, flour and baking soda in a large bowl and set aside. In a separate bowl, blend the Guinness, oil and vanilla. Add the eggs, 1 at a time, and blend until incorporated. Then mix in the sour cream. Gradually mix the dry blend into the wet blend. Spray 24 muffin tins with cooking spray and divide the batter equally. Bake for about 12 minutes, rotate the pans, and bake for another 12 minutes. They should have a nice little dome and be set in the middle.

Sprinkle with a fine dusting of powdered sugar if you wish.

These go very well with a glass of green sparkling wine. 🙂 Again, we chose what has become our sparkling wine of the year, Sofia Blanc de Blancs. It is so fun to be able to pick up just one or two little individual cans at the store when we are having a festive moment. Sláinte!

Valentine’s Day/Chinese New Year ~ Moo Shu Pork and Homemade Fortune Cookies

This year Valentine’s Day (and our engagement anniversary) and Chinese New Year happened to fall on the same day, so we celebrated everything together with a romantic Chinese dinner at home. I love to celebrate holidays from all over the world in my own little way. It gives me one more way to spice things up with special moments. Who can’t use another reason to celebrate in the dark winter months? I tried two new recipes, and I would recommend them both if you would like a quiet night at home with Chinese take-in ~ Moo shu pork and homemade fortune cookies. It was an adventure in the kitchen, and I now have a greater appreciation for what my favorite local Chinese restaurant does after trying these dishes! The dishes were a little healthier since I could control the salt, cuts of meat, etc. Plus, we could make our own personal fortunes for each other to open, which was a fun bonus of making our own fortune cookies. (Is it cheating if you write your own fortunes?) 🙂 The first recipe I tried was Moo Shu Pork. The original recipe was from my favorite Cooking Light magazine, and it can be found at MyRecipes.com. I used simple cremini mushrooms instead of shiitake and wood ear to save quite a bit of money. But other than that detail, I followed the recipe pretty closely since it was already a lightened version of the dish.Moo Shu Pork2 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce

2 tablespoons sake

1 teaspoon dark sesame oil

2 teaspoons cornstarch

1 (1 1/2-pound) pork tenderloin, trimmed of excess fat, and cut into 1 x 1/4-inch strips

4 ounces sliced cremini mushrooms

1/2 cup sliced green onions

3 tablespoons minced garlic (about 12 cloves)

2 tablespoons fresh ginger grated on a Microplane

3 tablespoons sake

3 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce

1/2 teaspoon cornstarch

1/2 teaspoon sugar

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

2 eggs, lightly beaten

3 cups thinly sliced napa cabbage stalks

4 cups thinly sliced napa cabbage leaves

2 tablespoons sake

Hoisin sauce and flour tortillas for serving

Combine the first 4 ingredients in a zip top plastic bag. Add the pork. Seal and marinate in the refrigerator for about an hour, turning occasionally. Remove the pork from the bag, and discard the marinade.

Combine the sliced mushrooms, green onions, garlic, and ginger in a small bowl, and set aside.

Combine 3 tablespoons of sake and the next 4 ingredients (through black pepper) in a small bowl. Stir well with a whisk, and set aside.

Heat 1 1/2 teaspoons vegetable oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the pork, and stir-fry for 3 minutes.

Remove the pork from the pan. Add 1 1/2 teaspoons of vegetable oil to the pan. Add the eggs, and stir-fry 30 seconds or until soft-scrambled. Add the mushroom mixture and stir-fry 1 1/2 minutes. Add the cabbage stalks and stir-fry 30 seconds. Add the cabbage leaves and 2 tablespoons of sake. Stir-fry for 1 minute. Add the pork and the cornstarch mixture. Stir-fry 2 minutes or until the sauce is thickened.

Serve wrapped in warmed tortillas with hoisin sauce.

The second thing my husband and I made together was a batch of fortune cookies. I would recommend doing these with a partner, since they harden very quickly once they come out of the oven. We each filled out personalized little strips of paper for the fortunes, and then opened each other’s for a surprise. The original recipe was from the Food Network.

Homemade Fortune Cookies

1/2 cup all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon cornstarch

1/2 cup sugar

2 large egg whites

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 tablespoons canola oil

1 tablespoon water

Cooking spray for the pans

Write your fortunes on little pieces of paper before you begin.

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees.

In a small bowl, sift together the flour, cornstarch and sugar.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the egg whites, vanilla, oil, and water. Add the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients and mix until smooth.

Working in batches of 4, drop the batter by tablespoons on a baking sheet covered with a silicone mat. Tilt the baking sheet in a circular motion (and use your finger if need be) to spread the batter into 4-inch diameter circles.

Bake until the edges of the cookies are golden brown, about 10 minutes. Remove from the oven, and working quickly, use a spatula to remove the cookies from the baking sheet. Put a fortune into the center of a cookie and fold it in half. Bring the points together with open seams on the outside. Arrange in muffin tins to help keep their shape while they are cooling.

Repeat with the remaining fortunes and cookies.

We paired the meal with Sofia Blanc de Blancs (the same kind of sparkling wine that we enjoyed on New Year’s Day, which seemed fitting) with mandarin orange slices floating in the bubbles for the occasion.

I decorated the table with red (the color of both holidays) and a blend of Chinese New Year and heart decorations for Valentine’s Day and our engagement anniversary. For example, I printed a Year of the Rat image and a Year of the Dragon image, since they were the years that Rob and I were born. That added a little personal romantic touch. I also printed a matching Year of the Tiger image for the middle of the table, which was the year we celebrated today.

Happy New Year! Rice Pudding with Pomegranate Syrup

Welcome 2010! To celebrate this day, I decided to make dinner with an array of lucky New Year dishes from all over the world. I got my inspiration from an article from Epicurious.com. We had thyme coated pork tenderloin, braised lentils with onions and spinach and rice pudding with pomegranate syrup (with an almond hidden in each serving for luck.) Of the three, the dessert was our favorite! Definitely a keeper to make again throughout the rest of the year. The original recipe was from Cooking Light magazine, and it can be found at MyRecipes.com. I followed the recipe pretty closely since it was already a lightened version of traditional rice pudding, but I changed a few little things to lighten it up even more. (For example, I used skim milk instead of 2% and I omitted the butter.)

Rice Pudding with Pomegranate Syrup

3 1/2 cups skim milk

1/2 cup uncooked Arborio rice, sushi rice or other short-grain rice

1/3 cup sugar

1 egg

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

6 whole almonds

2 pomegranates

1/4 cup sugar

6 tablespoons pomegranate seeds

(Or you can cheat a tiny bit and replace one pomegranate fruit with a small bottle of pomegranate juice.)

Combine 3 cups of milk, rice and 1/3 cup of sugar in a medium saucepan, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat. Simmer uncovered for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat. Whisk 1/2 cup of milk and the egg. Gradually stir about one quarter of the warm rice mixture into the egg mixture. Add it all back to the pan, stirring constantly. Simmer uncovered for 30 minutes or until the rice is tender, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat. Stir in the vanilla.

To prepare the syrup, squeeze the juice from the pomegranate halves to measure 1 cup. (Or use a bottle of juice.) Combine the juice and 1/4 cup of sugar in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat. Simmer until reduced to 1/3 cup, (about 20 minutes), stirring frequently.

Spoon the pudding into 6 individual dishes. (Martini glasses are an elegant presentation.) Drizzle the syrup evenly over the pudding, and sprinkle with pomegranate seeds. Also, don’t forget to hide an almond in them for luck in the New Year! 🙂

We also had the classic pairing for this day…sparkling wine. This year I chose cute little individual cans of Sofia Blanc de Blancs by Francis Ford Coppola Winery. They were a unique, economical and fun way to go.

Here’s to lots of luck in the New Year!