What’s Blooming in Your Kitchen?

Brownie Blooms

I know your time is precious but this will be quick and easy. All you need is a lovely flower mold like the one pictured below from Nordic Ware and a boxed brownie mix.

Prepare the molds by spraying them with cooking spray then dusting with flour.

Prepare the brownie batter by following the instructions on the box for cake-like brownies. Using a tablespoon, fill the molds three-quarters full. Bake at 350 degrees for 10-12 minutes until a toothpick comes out clean.

Cool in pan and gently remove. Sprinkle with confectioners’ sugar. Arrange on a pretty tray and punctuate with fresh berries for added flair.

If you have lots of time to spare, use your favorite brownie recipe. But if you are like me this particular week, there is no time, yet I still volunteered to take something to work for a special event.

Brownie Blooms…just in time for spring!

A Wintertime Dessert

Please come in for a Wintertime Dessert Party.

“Baby, It’s Cold Outside” (Listen to this while you read…)

Snow and frigid climes are still blowing in many parts of the country. In some regions it’s just a little colder than usual. Some call these the dark days. No better time for a little end-of-winter cheer to lift our spirits as we wait for spring.

Pick a Friday night and invite people in for dessert. It doesn’t have to be as fancy or orchestrated as what I did here. You set the tone. If you’re not inclined to bake, buy a store-bought cake (cheese cakes are great), brew some decaf coffee, and open a bottle of dessert wine or champagne. For an easy and appealing cookie tray, buy Archway Dutch Cocoa Cookies from the cookie aisle, arrange them on a platter, sprinkle with confectioners’ sugar and punctuate with fresh strawberries.

Hint: This is a great way for you to show a little hospitality if you aren’t inclined to fuss over the prep. Just because you don’t make the food yourself or set a fancy table, doesn’t mean you can’t invite a few friends in for chat and sustenance. Who doesn’t love dessert? It’s a nice winter way to reacquaint with friends or get to know new ones.

The posting here is a re-post from last February. The idea was a hit so I thought I’d share it again.

Stay warm.

 [From February 2011, includes Creamy Apple Cheese Tart recipe]

When Rich Moss, director of admissions at The Heights where our 11-year-old son goes to school, asked me if my husband Bill and I would host the headmaster and prospective parents this month, I immediately said “Of course. I’ll do whatever you need!”

At the same time I said yes, I began to scheme. I am thinking… how many people and what does he want? You see, extending the welcome is easy for me; however, our home, a Victorian-style, is designed with small rooms and cozy nooks and crannies. It is perfect for our small family and fine for wandering/mingling parties.

However, Rich’s get-together seemed like it called for one room where everyone could eat, listen, and engage in questions and answers.

I asked Rich about the format. He suggested, “Just have some coffee, whatever you are comfortable with.”

“Coffee-Schmoffee!” No way were we just having coffee! I can’t pass up the chance to use my imagination and have some fun in the process. Thus, “A Wintertime Dessert” was born. I figured I could use the dining room table as large as possible and use the adjoining bar with seating that connects to the kitchen. It would be cozy depending on the final numbers, but it would work. Guests would have plenty of space for dessert without a lot of serving and removing plates.The acoustics were good so everyone would be able to hear and feel part of the discussion.

Low lighting set the mood with small white candles placed in crystal, shimmering holders with a low centerpiece using white roses, magnolia leaves, and ivory and pale mint-colored crystals. All this was accompanied by ivory linens, stemware in various shapes and sizes, and fine china. (The china story is another blog for another day.)

A visit to the sommelier helped me choose the dessert wines. I described my desserts and he suggested a champagne, a Bordeaux table wine (Chateau Loupiac-Gaudiet), and a port. The port was my favorite. Even though the Bordeaux came highly recommended for the desserts, it did not taste good to me…too much like cooking wine. I should have known and followed my gut when he suggested it. On the evening of the event, Bill and I exchanged covert glances when we both sipped the Bordeaux and knew to steer the guests toward the other two choices.
The menu: my own apple/cheese tart creation, strawberries, cream, and “Outrageous Chocolate Cookies” along with the wine and/or coffee and tea.
As the guests arrived, large snowflakes began to fall…a perfect backdrop for this February get-together. Everyone stayed much longer than the event was planned for. It is with great pleasure that I fuss and make it look like I didn’t. All the pre-planning is worth it and a dessert party is perfect for an occasion like this. The hosts can also relax because with the right preparation it is easy to pull off.

I should mention that I also invited the children of the parents. That made it easier for people to come rather than get babysitters. The children were treated to their own kids-type desserts in the basement family room along with an older sibling I paid to supervise them. Their parents were able to relax and really listen and ask questions without feeling rushed to get home. (Hey…three of the four families decided to attend the school after that night and subsequent meetings with the school!) I would say “A Wintertime Dessert” was a success!

A dessert party without chocolate would miss the mark. I have many chocolate recipes but I was in the market for something new, so I turned to the Internet and found just the thing. When I read the ingredients, I could taste it!  So, this cookie won the day. The recipe is from MarthaStewart.com and aptly called Outrageous Chocolate Cookies.

A dessert party —  I’m sticking with it!

Creamy Apple Cheese Tart

Creamy Apple Cheese Tart


  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 3/4 Tablespoon cinnamon
  • 5 (approx) Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and sliced

Prepare the topping first so it is ready to go when you have the rest done. Mix sugar and cinnamon together and toss with apples.


  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened, not melted
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon, optional

Cream the butter, sugar and vanilla. Blend in flour and cinnamon. Spread the soft dough in a 9-inch spring form pan (removable bottom). I like to use one with fluted sides. Use fingers to make sure dough is evenly spread on bottom and up sides, 1/4 inch from the top.


  • 8 oz softened cream cheese
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla

Cream together cheese and sugar, add egg and vanilla. Mix and pour into the crust.

Arrange apples over filling. Bake at 450 degree for 10 minutes. Reduce heat to 400 degrees and bake for 25 minutes. Cool before removing outer ring from pan.

I like to serve with a dollop of whipped cream on the side with a fresh berry or two.

A February Coffee Break, Brazilian Style

Cheese buns by Luciana.

I met the lovely Luciana, originally from Brazil, when be both attended the Kelley bread-making session in January. She said she wanted me to try a traditional Brazilian food from her native country — Pao De Queijo or “cheese buns” as Luciana calls them. When I got her invitation to come for coffee and cheese buns, I accepted with pleasure and anticipation.

I left my office that morning about 10:30 saying I was going for Brazilian cheese buns and would be back later. Coffee-break envy came over the faces of my co-workers. When I arrived at Luciana’s she greeted me at the door saying with only a slight panic in her voice, “We have no water.” However, she was unflappable with her hospitality and invited me to see cheese buns waiting patiently in the pan to go into the oven.

A Tap at the Door

Alicia from Buenos Aries, Argentina, and Luciana’s friend, came bearing a freshly-made cheesecake from Whole Foods topped with strawberries and kiwi. We sat at the lovely table prepared by Luciana to enjoy hot Brazilian coffee (strong and good) and the much-anticipated cheese buns.

“Try the cheese buns first with nothing on them,” suggested Luciana. I bit into the slightly crunchy outside and a soft and chewy inside. The warm, pleasantly-doughy, spongy-light bun, punctuated with a hint of cheese, was delicious! Luciana said she used cream cheese to make the dough soft and moist and parmesan cheese for the flavor. She said you can also use cheddar cheese or a personal favorite of hers, feta cheese.

Luciana had considered making and selling these locally, but when she calculated the cost, there would be little profit, if any, due to the cost of the tapioca starch flour. The cheese buns are made with Bob’s Red Mill Tapioca Flour, and due to their very nature, are gluten-free. The flour can be purchased at Whole Foods, some grocery stores, health food stores, or online. The flour is not expensive if you are making these for yourself, but if you were to make them in volume, it would be. Alicia’s cheese cake with fresh fruit was a perfect sweet treat for a cold day.

A Blast from the Past

The coffee break at Luciana’s brought back fond memories of my trip to Brazil in 1995. As was the custom, my hosts in Brazil served coffee and something sweet usually in the evening as lunch was the main meal of the day. Funny how I have no memory of these cheese buns. We must have had them! South American hospitality was one of my cherished memories from my visit.The coffee break with Luciana and Alicia reminded me of the good times I had in Brazil.

Not for the Faint of Heart

Luciana, mother of a 5-year-old boy (Astor), and Alicia, mother of two girls, ages 8 and 10 (Karla and Greta), had plenty to say. Alicia, whose husband is here on an assignment, welcomed the chance to practice her English.

Our conversation was not for the faint of heart. We delved deeply into U.S. politics, religion, and about raising children. These young, brilliant and beautiful women hold firm to family values. They are both stay-at-home moms who often feel the pressure to work outside the home — not from their husbands but from society that suggests women have to do it all. Luciana says sometimes she feels “guilty” that she isn’t doing something else besides raising their son.

“What could be more important than your work as a mother,” I asked? Of course, often woman have to work outside the home for economic reasons, we weren’t talking about that. I shared my experience in that I was able to work from home for seven years when my son was born, going into the office as needed for meetings. Now, I am back in the office full time with flexibility to pick up my son from school and continue my work at home. I am lucky — my job as an editor lends itself to working from home and my employer was amenable, in fact, it was my boss’ idea when I became pregnant with our son. We talked about how more employers are making room for smart women (and men) who need flexibility for their children. Everyone wins.

Luciana and Alicia

Alicia drove the point home when she asked, “If we leave our children for others to raise, what will the next generation look like?”

I have to say, and I think Luciana and  Alicia would agree, the greatest work we do is raising our children. I left uplifted and inspired (not to mention nourished) on my walk back to the office. And to think it all happened because of cheese buns!

Pao de Queijo (Brazilian Cheese Buns)

  • 2-1/2 cups cassava/tapioca flour
  • 2/3 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/2 cup oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup feta cheese
  • 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese – enough to give the desired texture

In a saucepan boil the milk, oil and salt together. Pour the flour in a large bowl and make a well in the center. Add the boiled liquids and mix well until you have homogeneous dough. Let it cool down for about 20minutes.

Add the eggs and cheese and mix very well. Knead it to make it smooth.

Make little two-inch balls and bake them on a baking sheet at 425 degrees for 15 to 20 minutes. Eat while hot.

“Necessity is the Mother of Invention” — King Cakes for Mardi Gras

Read on for this easy-to-make King Cake.

A few years ago about this time, in my exuberance, I volunteered to make King Cakes for Mardi Gras for my son’s school. I had no idea what was involved. I just raised my hand and said “King Cakes” because I knew they were associated with Mardi Gras. I left knowing I would figure it out later when the time came.

What is Mardi Gras?

Mardi Gras (“Fat Tuesday”) is the time from the Epiphany culminating on the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday which begins Lent, a time for penance and fasting. This year, Mardi Gras is on February 21. Here are some of the various names for the celebration. No matter where, it always involves a feast before the fast.

  • New Orleans/France: Mardi Gras
  • Brazil: Carnival
  • Italy: Carnivale
  • Germany: Fastnacht or Fasching
  • United Kingdom and Ireland: Shrove Tuesday

King Cakes

The King Cake takes its name from the biblical three kings who visited the Christ child on January 6, the Epiphany. In the Gulf Coast region of the United States, the tradition was brought to the area by colonists from France and Spain. King Cake parties in New Orleans are documented back to the eighteenth century. The most traditional style of King Cake is a ring of twisted bread similar to that used in brioche topped with icing or sugar, usually colored purple, green, and gold, the traditional Mardi Gras colors. Purple for justice. Green for faith. Gold for power.

Each cake is baked with a tiny plastic baby representing the Baby Jesus, or some type of trinket or bean. In the south, whoever finds the trinket must provide the next King Cake or host the next Mardi Gras party.

Now, Back to My Problem

All I know is I had to produce 10 King Cakes in a short time and I had no idea how to do it. I did my research on the Internet and found the Louisiana-style King Cake — a cinnamon-roll-like cake inside with sugary icing and traditional Mardi Gras-colored sprinkles on the outside.

I found the KingsCakeShop.com and Haydel’s Bakers, both in Louisiana, who were long-time bakers of this authentic cake. Oh that’s easy, I’ll just place an order and they can be shipped right to the school. Job done. Wait…King Cakes ordered from Mardi Gras town, although wonderful and authentic, ranged from $35 to $60. Okay…that times 10 cakes equals around $500! What did I volunteer for again?

Making them myself was an option but, really, ten of them? Brioche-like? Twisted yeast bread with fillings of cream cheese and cinnamon? Cinnamon-roll-like? Ten King Cakes by when? Once again, I had gotten myself in over my head.

I had to think fast. No way would I back down on my promise so I started thinking. Soon my easy, inexpensive King Cake version was born! I call the recipe, Easy King Cakes You Can Make When You Have to Make 10 of Them. And you know what? They are delicious too. So, all you busy people, go ahead and make a King Cake this year and impress everyone. Enjoix and laissez les bons temps rouler! 

“Easy King Cakes You Can Make When You Have to Make 10 of Them”

  • Prep time: 8 minutes per cake
  • Baking time: 25-30 minutes per cake
  • Decorating time: 10 minutes per cake, if that
  • Cost per cake: Approx. $7

    Simple ingredients


  • 3 cans cinnamon roll ready-to-bake dough (12.4 oz. can)
  • 1 can cream cheese frosting
  • Sprinkles – purple, green and gold
  • One naked plastic baby (Can be bought at party stores or places that carry baking items. These are specially made to withstand high baking temperatures.)

Pop open all three tubes of cinnamon rolls and put in a bowl. Knead all the rolls together and on a lightly-floured surface, roll the dough into a tube-like form.

Shape the dough into a ring.

Shape the tube into a ring. If you want your King Cake to be bigger, use more cans of cinnamon rolls.

Bury the naked baby deep into the dough.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Place the ring on the sheet and bake for 25-30 minutes.

Bury the naked baby in the dough before baking.

Let cool and when still slightly warm, ice the cake with the icing from the three cans. Supplement with cream cheese canned frosting.

Decorate the icing with sprinkles of purple, green and gold, the colors of Mardi Gras.


I Give My Hearts to You

When it comes to matters of the heart, there are no short cuts. That’s why you have to make these from scratch. Simple ingredients make up these Linzer Heart Tearts, just in time for Valentine’s Day.

I was thinking all day about making these but I am on a deadline for my magazine, the family stuff, that project in the basement…

But, you know, the deadline always gets met, the basement project isn’t going anywhere, but Valentine’s Day comes once a year. As soon as I started baking, our son walked in the kitchen and said, “I smell goodness.”

So, make these for someone you love. Or make them for yourself. No matter who they are for, make them with love.

Happy St. Valentine’s Day to all of you!

Linzer Heart Tearts made with love.

Linzer Heart Tearts (no, that is not a typo)

  • 1 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt:
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 Tablespoon pure vanilla extract
  • 2 cups flour
  • raspberry preserves

Beat together first three ingredients (butter, sugar salt). Add egg and vanilla and beat until fluffy. Add the flour until mixture forms a ball. Chill dough one hour.

Roll onto lightly floured surface, about 1/4-inch thickness. Cut out and place on ungreased cookie sheet

Bake at 325 degrees for 15 minutes.

Cool cookies and spread half of the cookie with raspberry preserves and sprinkle with confectioners’ sugar.

Hint: If you want the raspberry to show, cut a small heart into the big heart.

“Parting is Such Sweet Sorrow”

Peppadew Pepper Baskets

“Parting is such sweet sorrow, ” says Juliet to her love, Romeo, in Scene II in Capulet’s Orchard. But for me, it’s the parting of the sweet piquanté peppers and the good times we had together in the test kitchen.

This is the last recipe in this week-long treatise on Peppadews that began on Super Bowl Sunday. If you’ve been following along, you already know what a Peppadew is and what wonders it brings to a variety of dishes. If not, please take a few minutes to browse the blogs so can you catch up with the rest.

The Pull of Pierre Peppadew: The story of my good fortune to receive a shipment of Peppadews from “Pierre Peppadew” (our endearing name for Pierre Crawley). My friend Melanie joins me in the test kitchen to create new recipes. Recipe #1 was Peppadew Pesto Rolls. (Five Stars)

Peppadew Proliferation: Recipe #2 Mushrooms Stuffed with Peppadew and Sausage. A real winner! (Five Stars)

Stuff It, Peppadew Recipes #3: Shrimp and Feta Stuffed Peppadews taught us something about Peppadews (Three Stars with a caveat.)

Peppadew® Pepper Baskets

Pierre Crawley is from Peppadew® Fresh. The Peppadew Pepper Basket is from their test kitchen where Chef Monica Cipully creates hundreds of Peppadew delights. This recipe is one of hers.

Filo baskets from the oven.

The “basket” is made from filo dough which I love working with. Its delicate, paper-thin sheets never disappoint and it’s always light and buttery. The only thing we did differently was to bake the filo inside the ramekins.

The recipe said to turn the ramekin upside down and use it as a mould. We thought it would be less crumbly (as filo can be) if you didn’t have a ramekin to hold it together while eating. (Am I always this contrary?) I admit, I do want to try it the Chef Monica way next time.

Result: Perfection! The taste of the Peppadew always comes through but we could still taste the other veggies along with a slight sweetness from the puree and the sugar. I will definitely make these again. They would be great as a starter or served at a luncheon with chicken salad. Melanie ate one for breakfast the next day. I’m already thinking of a variation on the filling, with Peppadews as a main ingredient, of course.

Thank you, Pierre, for sending me the Peppadews. I hope that I have contributed to your mission of “educating U.S. consumers, chefs and retailers about the Peppadew® fruit, its story, flavor, and unique applications.”

So with bittersweet regards, I bid adieu to the Peppadew. (For now, anyhow.)

Peppadew® Pepper Baskets From Peppadew® Fresh

  • 1 pack (7 oz) filo pastry
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 medium-size zucchini squash cut into small slices
  • 8 oz mushrooms
  • 1 crushed clove of garlic
  • 2 tsp tomato puree
  • 2 tsp sugar
  • 12 chopped Peppadew Sweet Piquanté Peppers
  • 1-2 tbsp Peppadew® Sweet Piquanté Peppers liquid
  • 2 oz melted butter

Take 2 tbsp of liquid from a 14.75 oz jar of Peppadew® Sweet Piquanté Peppers. Gently fry the zucchini squash, mushrooms, garlic, tomato puree and sugar in the olive oil until soft. Add the Peppadews® and their liquid and season to taste.

Put eight upturned Dariole moulds or ramekins on a baking sheet. Brush with melted butter. Cut filo pastry sheets in half and layer three pieces over the mould, brushing each sheet with melted butter. Bake for 10-12 minutes until golden brown at 400°F. Gently reheat the mixture and pile into the moulds.

Chef Cipully suggests serving serve as a starter (we concur) or snack with either new potatoes, salad or green vegetables.

Stuff It — Peppadew Recipe #3

It was my pure good fortune that Pierre Crawley of Peppadew™ Fresh shipped me jars of Peppadews. What are they? Why am I so excited? Read the full article here.

Melanie and I set out to create original recipes with these sweet piquanté peppers grown in the Limpopo province of South Africa. Chef Monica Cipully of the Peppadew Fresh test kitchen showed many wonderful recipes on their website, but we were in a creative mood.

Recipe #3 was born out of a look in the fridge and pantry to see what we had. Melanie had some leftover cooked shrimp from Friday’s dinner and some feta cheese. (Wheels spinning.) Here’s what she created.

Shrimp and Feta Stuffed Peppadews

There's a lesson in these Shrimp and Feta Stuffed Peppadews.

  • 1/2 cup cooked diced shrimp
  • 1/2 cup feta cheese
  • 2 green onions, diced
  • Olive oil
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • Peppadews (whole)

Combine shrimp with feta cheese and green onion. Drizzle in a little olive oil, maybe a tablespoon or two, to moisten the mixture. Season with black pepper to taste (not too much, as the Peppadews themselves are spicy). Stuff the Peppadews with the shrimp mixture (it helps to use a baby spoon, if you have one hanging about). Sit the stuffed peppadews upright in a small baking dish.  Bake at 375 for 20 minutes.

Three-Star Rating: Okay we admit, not as great as the first two recipes. Good, but not great. Why? Melanie analyzes the dish as we sample and sip (wine of course!):

The Peppadews are small and their taste is strong. Feta cheese is also strong and they’re fighting each other. Meanwhile, shrimp is relatively mild. I don’t think crab would do it either. Filling them with hot crab dip might work, but one made with cream cheese, not feta. Now, a green salad with a Peppadew dressing, with shrimp or crab and chopped Peppadews on top would probably be great.”

Melanie is talking about my salad dressing where you substitute the Peppadew brine for vinegar. Never throw that brine away after you eat all the Peppadews.

Why did we include this recipe? We want to show how fun it is to use what you have on hand and experiment. In this case the Peppadews deserve to show up and, with a little tweaking, they could. For a succulent stuffed Peppadew recipe, see Ring in the New with Peppadew.

PS: Even though this only got a three-star rating, there wasn’t one Peppadew with shrimp and feta left of the plate!

See our first two creations: Peppadew Pesto Pinwheels and Mushrooms Stuffed with Peppadew and Sausage

Coming Next: Chef Monica Cipully’s Peppadew Pepper BasketsYou Don’t Want to Miss This!