I love to make cakes for people. Not just random, anyone next in line people, but my friends and family. My usual rule is the higher the better. I’m madly, madly in love with 3 layer cakes. They make me beyond happy. There is something about the all those layers stacked up, filling gently oozing out and swirls and swirls of icing. Never mind the decorating part, ooohhh! When I get one of those cakes done, the sense of accomplishment is so very sweet. Turning it around for a last look, nodding, yep, they’re gonna like this. I just know that with each bite they’re going to feel the love. Mercy! Feel the love! CAKE = LOVE. Okay, before you start looking up the closest Mental Health facility (do they have spas?) I am aware that cake is not love (sob) and there won’t be a tent revival in anyone’s mouth when eating a piece of cake.  I was just letting you in on the giddy delirium that happens at 2am when you finally finish one of those suckers. But I digress.

Sour Cream Lemon Cake will not make you giddy, it’s not a 3 mile high show stopper, and I’ve never put icing on it.  An abundance of powdered sugar sometimes (I can get carried away with that), a fruit sauce might get dribbled over now and then, but never icing.  This cake is very simple to put together, there are no scary ingredients, or stacks of cake pans, and lists of a plan of attack need not be attached to your fridge.  One bowl, one pan, one cake.  Embellish or not.  It’s good, tender and delicately tangy, and appropriate for almost any occasion.  The LBD of cakes.  So you know, I will only make this cake in twos from now on.  There will be one in the freezer, ready to be unwrapped, put on a plate and served so that anyone who drops by for tea will think that there must be a bit of magic in my home.  I might suggest that you do the same.  Oh, and pssssssttt? Cake does equal love.

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Not a marshmallow in sight. For the longest time, the only sweet potatoes I saw were either covered in bubbling marshmallow goo, or baked in a pie. A pie that kinda tasted like pumpkin, but not really. It was stickier and not as creamy. I prefered pumpkin. As you can see, my sweet potato reference was limited. Then there’s yams. The word feels funny coming out of your mouth. While I know they’re different, I’m not exactly sure of the distinction so I looked it up for you. We are talking about sweet potatoes here. Bright orange, moist and so very good. I’m seeing sweet potatoes show up on all kinds of menus, from the fanciest places to fast food joints. Surely you’ve had sweet potato fries? Seriously, are they fantastic or what?

Now I have a sweet potato biscuit recipe for you. No fooling, you’ve got to try these biscuits. They are just made for butter and honey. Ham? Absolutely. Bacon? Did it. With some apply jelly. Wowsers. I would serve these along side a fried chicken dinner. You could gussy these up with pork belly or duck confit and serve them as appetizers. (I just talked myself into that, so if you’re coming to dinner at my house in the near future, get ready.) The best part? Easy. So easy. Roast the sweet potatoes ahead of time, even days ahead of time, and you’ll have these biscuits put together in 5 minutes. Hot, fragrant biscuits out of your oven in no time. Pale orange (pretty!) sweet potato biscuits. Do try them, I’m fairly certain you’re going to fall for them like I did.

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Chef Elise Wiggins is here! I got to sit down and talk with Chef Elise of Panzano about home cooking, flavor profiles, and recipe development. Not only that, she shared a recipe with me, which I’m sharing with you, AND I got to taste one the dishes on the new menu. I know, right? Let me tell you, this woman is a force of nature. When I arrived at Panzano she was finishing up a staff meeting, talked to me while cooking through the lunch rush, and smiling for the video camera that was her next appointment. She is like her food, vibrant, approachable, and thoughtful. With a beautiful smile that lights her whole face, she was gracious and generous.

One of the first things we spoke about is her total immersion in cooking and food. She says she’s always known that she wanted to be a chef. One of her earliest memories was being held by her mom who was putting her little hands into cool cookie dough. The cookies they prepared made her family happy. Cookies = happiness. That’s what she was going to do, cook and make people happy. I asked her if she wasn’t a chef what would she be doing. She said she couldn’t imagine doing anything else and had never thought of doing anything else. She’s a cookbook junkie (like me) who spends her days off reading cookbooks, getting inspiration, and creating new dishes in her mind. There doesn’t seem to be much that she does that doesn’t involve food or cooking in some way. She’s out sourcing local ingredients and suppliers, leading cooking classes, or grabbing a bite at a favorite restaurant. Her current fave is really good mexican, other than Italian of course.

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Panade.  According to Judy Rodgers of Zuni Cafe, it translates to “Big Bread Thing”. Which I guess it is.  I think it’s as much about the onions and whatever else you put in it as the bread.  It has caramelized onions in it.  I almost automatically love anything with caramelized onions.  Then there’s cheese. Cheese is always good. When this version of panade is done it’s a light, souffle-y creation. I used beef stock in this, which made it very onion soup-ish. The bread soaks up the broth, the onions and cheese melt into the bread, need I say more?  Also, it’s a great way to use day old bread. You can even save money and buy the day old in the bakery if, like me, you don’t always have loaves of bread around. Now I’ve made another version of panade, which was more soup like. Both are wonderful, and I’ve been looking at her recipe for quite a while.  (Don’t you just love the Zuni Cafe Cookbook?) It’s warming up here, spring has definitely arrived. Nights are cool and breezy, perfect to curl up in a chair with a bowl of this warming your hands and tummy.

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…of milk and honey

” ….a land flowing with milk and honey”.  The phrase conjures an image you can settle into. Green and lush, softly warm, with a gentle sweet fragrance.  A pillow-y chair in morning sunlight that you can curl up in and sip your tea.  Santa Barbara is such a place for me.  A long weekend there is an affirmation that all is right. Prince Charming and I recently spent a weekend there.  A beautiful hotel, sunny, lazy mornings, and evenings filled with the scent of night jasmine.  Perfection. Oh, and fabulous food.  What has all of that to do with the picture of an avocado up there? I’m going to tell you.

One evening, we made reservations for dinner at 8 pm.  By 6, we were hungry. We went into town very early thinking that we’d sit at the bar and have drinks and appetizers until our table was ready, and of course, since we were there they’d give us our table early.  Ha! The joint was jumping, not a square inch to even stand in to see if we could wait for a seat at the bar.  We would have to wait for our appointed time and come up with Plan B.  Plan B was “we’ll wander through town until we find a place to drink and hopefully have a bite until 8”. Gratefully, I wasn’t wearing stilettos and actually had shoes that I could wander around on. Fingers entwined, we start on our journey. Cross the street, turn the corner, wait, what’s this?  “This” turns out to be a zen/funky/retro tapas bar called…….Milk and Honey. (The circle is complete!)

We happily enter and settle into a pillow filled banquette table.  We’re handed a drink list and menu and quickly become even happier.  Blood orange martini, why yes, thank you!  Single malt scotch, of course!  We order. They have cool, funny names for their dishes which I can’t remember, but we have bacon wrapped dates, goat cheese in a thick, tomato sauce, and avocado hummus.  We were blown away by the avocado hummus which neither of us ever had before.  We actually finger boxed for a moment to get the last piece of pita to scoop the final bit up with.  Prince Charming won, popped the last bite into his mouth with ummms, an “I’m in heaven face”, followed by “wow”.  After another round of drinks we went on to dinner and enjoyed every scrumptious bite.  We even sat next to a minor Food Network celeb! What do we remember most about that night?  Avocado hummus.  I knew that I’d be making that soon.  Weekends end, no matter how much we don’t want them to, and we have re-enter real life.  😦

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The Name Game

Sometimes, words can elude me.  I can stammer, totally lose the next word in the middle of a sentence, and stumble along while hunting for the right words. A title for this post completely stumped me.  This is a recipe for Peppers stuffed with Chicken and Quinoa with a Creole Sauce.  Lengthy, and frankly, boring. Various arrangements of those words didn’t work, and finally editing it down to just Stuffed Peppers was equally apathetic.  I was trying different combos, assorted word substitutions, when I found myself singing “pepper pepper bo bepper, banana fana fo fepper……”.  Yikes.   Anyhow..

For some unknown reason stuffed peppers have been on my mind.  My mom used to make them when we were growing up, and I hated them.  We were a clean plate family.  No leaving the table until you cleaned your plate.  My father would tell us how good they were, my Mom would be all “Well, that’s what we’re having”, and I devised ways to either eat it as fast as possible or hide it and dispose of it.  She stuffed green peppers with ground beef and white rice, then baked them with canned creole style sauce called Sauce Auturo.  Somewhere in my teen years the Sauce Auturo became tasty and the filling was acceptable.  I never found a way to like the green peppers.  While I’m a fan of red and yellow peppers, especially roasted ones, green bell peppers are still not a favorite. When I was learning to cook, I would make the dishes that my Mom made, knowing that I could call her and get directions.  Occasionally I made stuffed peppers, and found that if I made them with red peppers it was more than bearable.  It’s been years, many years since I’ve made stuffed peppers so I can’t tell you why they’ve been in the back of my mind for months now.  So here it is.  Re-done, updated, and pretty tasty, if I do say so myself.  If you come up with a better name for them, I’d be interested in hearing that!

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Blood Orange Marmalade

Blood Oranges.  You love ’em or you hate ’em.  Most of the haters I know seem to base their dislike purely on the name and appearance.  Use the term “blood” in the title of anything food related and you’ll get an automatic ‘squick’ from almost all Americans.  It’s how we were raised.  It’s okay.  There are an awful lot of us, hopefully more, that are taking an interest in where our food comes from, and in the case of animals, where and how they lived, and how they died.  We’re trying make sure that what we put into our bodies is as good as possible and honor the animals by using as much as possible from each one.  We’re facing the fact that there is blood involved. But I digress, this is about lovely, deep and vibrantly hued oranges.  These that you see here are tiny little oranges, about the size of those baby clementines and not as deep red as I would have liked.  Still, they were beautiful.   The flavor, oh the flavor! Blood oranges have that traditional orange flavor but with a tart, raspberry-ish infusion.  It’s a deeper and softer taste, one that makes you want to sit back and savor it.  It’s slower than the usual bright, acidic, okay, time to go juice that we chug in the morning.  While they’re here, try them in cocktails, cook with them, make sorbet.  I guarantee that you’ll fall in love with their lovely red-orange color and their captivating taste.

This picture is just for fun.  I think it looks cool even if it didn’t work the way I wanted it too.  Happy accidents!

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Please let it be spring

I’ve got a serious jones for spring.  I’d do almost anything for it to be here, drive down a dark alley, pawn my jewelry, lie to my mama.  But it’s not even the middle of March yet.  And in Colorado, our snowiest month usually, a blizzard is a lot closer than spring.  We’ve had quite a few lovely days, but in March it’s a wary sort of enjoyment.  We smile and say “Isn’t it great, so warm!” while our eyes are searching the sky for the slightest hint of a snow cloud.  You have to be ready for anything in March here, but the only thing I’m ready for is spring.  So much so that I even bought a bunch of winter asparagus all the while pretending that it was the sweet, tender green of the first shoots of the season.  I brought them home, stuck them in water, and let them hang out on the counter while I pondered the best way to fool myself, I mean enjoy them.  I finally decided on a quickly blanched, smothered in Sauce Gribiche presentation. Now for those of you that don’t know what Sauce Gribiche is, it’s basically a sauce made out of hard-cooked eggs, capers, cornichons, shallots, some sort of acid, herbs and oil.  There are those in the more mayonnaise camp, emulsifying the yolk, oil, and adding a bit of mustard, then adding the rest.  And there are those in the more vinaigrette camp.  Both ways are wonderful, but today I’m on the vinaigrette side.  I wanted a tart, acidic partner to the asparagus.  So I went with a riff on the Chez Panisse recipe.  I mean seriously, guys, you just can’t go wrong with anything from Chez Panisse!  I still have the menu from the first dinner I had there, and I remember that I tried so hard to be calm but I strongly had to resist the urge to jump up and shout “Holy Mother of Elvis Aaron Presley people, this is Chez Panisse”!  But I didn’t, and I haven’t yet, and I promise I won’t.  But every time we go, I’m immediately in the happy place.

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This is where it all starts.  One freshly washed, less than perfect, organic apple.  A Braeburn, I believe.  The humble catalyst that ends with one of the most soul satisfying desserts I know.  Bread pudding.  Guys, I can’t tell you how much I love bread pudding.  It gets made more than several times a year in my house, and if I could eat whatever I wanted whenever I wanted, I’d make it every week.  The variations and combinations are endless.  I’ve made bread pudding with cake layers, with pieces of brownies thrown in, out of stale bakery goods of almost any kind (donuts, croissants, danish, and once with kinda stale turnovers that turned out so surprisingly delectable), out of almost any kind of bread, and various combinations of all of the above.  And recently, I’ve been a bit fixated on savory bread puddings, but more on that later.   So this is how it began.  Standing in the kitchen, a bit antsy.  I want to make something, but don’t have a plan in mind.  Quite a few of the things that I’ve been planning for you would require a trip to the store for ingredients I don’t have.  But I’m in my comfortable clothes, it’s really grey and cold out there, and it’s going to snow any second.  Gah, I don’t want to go to the store!  So, I stand in front of the open refrigerator, I stand in front of the open cabinets, I pull out the freezer drawer and peer into its depth for a couple of minutes.  I contemplate the bowls of fruits and veggies on the counter, I pull out the drawers with all the baking pans and doo dads, I stare out at the park and watch the people running who are so bundled up against the cold they look like multi-colored Michelin Men.   As all of what I’ve stared at for the last few minutes swirls around and starts to settle, the mental checklist comes up.  Eggs? Check.  Milk or cream?  Check.  Butter, sugar, vanilla? Check, check, check.  Bread?  Frozen brioche will do nicely, check.  Then my gaze falls on the apples.   And a vision of Tarte Tatin jumps to mind, nah….but, the caramelized apple part sounds good.  So, apples? Check.  That’s how this recipe came together.  Not exactly rocket science, but it all worked out very nicely.

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Roasted Roma Tomatoes

Pomodoro al Forno.  Roasted tomatoes.  Unbelievably simple.  Unbelievably good.  I don’t know about where you are, but here in Colorado we don’t have much in the way of locally grown anything right now.  In fact, the term locally grown won’t be applicable for several months.  Sigh.  My available options are the supermarket or small specialty grocery stores, and it’s a toss-up which is better.  Small store has prettier displays and produce that’s shined and placed just so, but is it better than what you get in the supermarket?  Maybe marginally.  It’s this time of year that I start to miss the Farmer’s Market, and with each passing week my longing will grown until I’m counting the weekends until it will open.  Even tho’ I know they won’t have much produce out, and it’s too early for the local signs to come up, the sight of the booths and tents will calm me.  Until then, I use an organic fruit and produce vendor that delivers each week right to your door.  It’s a pretty cool concept, and it keeps you cooking and eating your fruits and veggies ’cause they’re right there in front of you.   Imported from all over, my veggies certainly weren’t picked 20 miles away, but it’s easy and priced reasonably.    Each week you have a selection of what they have available, and it can be fun.  Kind of like the mystery box.  This is what you get, now, what are you going to make.  Which brings me back to tomatoes.  You thought I’d never get there, didn’t you?

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