Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Pistachio Cardamom Raspberry Cookies (GF)

While making a batch of my husband’s favorite cookies, I decided to make a variation a bit more to my liking (since I’m not a huge chocolate fanatic). I love the combination of cardamom and pistachios and since I had a bag of shelled pistachios on hand, I thought I’d play around with that idea.

Ready to bake!

Instead of cocoa powder, espresso powder, cinnamon, and coffee syrup used in the original recipe, the new version includes ground and chopped pistachios and ground cardamom. Then I remembered how nice raspberry flavor melds with pistachios and threw that into the mix! As a bonus, almond flour makes them gluten-free (if you’re following a GF diet). The cookies turned out just delicious. See what you think!

Pistachio Cardamom Raspberry Cookies (GF)


1 C almond flour
3 TB softened butter
3 TB powdered sugar
1/8 t salt
1 t ground cardamom
1/2 C ground pistachios*
1/8 C raspberry preserves
1/8 C finely chopped pistachios*

1 Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
2 Mix all ingredients (except finely chopped pistachios) in a bowl until a cohesive dough forms.
3 Wrap dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 30 minutes (it can stay in the fridge a few days before baking).
4 When ready to bake, scoop approximately 1" balls of dough onto prepared baking sheet.
5 With your thumb, make an indentation in each ball and drop about an 1/8 t of raspberry preserves in the center of each cookie.
6 Sprinkle a few of the chopped pistachios on top.
7 Bake 10 minutes.
8 Remove from oven & cool pan on rack for about 10 minutes. Transfer cookies to rack to cool completely. 

Yield: approximately 30 adorable, luscious cookies!

* If your pistachios are roasted & salted, omit the salt in this recipe.

Print here.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

A Winter Escape to Costa Rica and Panama!

Safari Voyager
Bye-bye zero windchills, gray days, and Uggs! Hello 85 degrees, sunny days, and flip flops!

We just returned from a 10 day trip to Costa Rica and Panama, traveling most of the time aboard the Safari Voyager (part of the Uncruise fleet).

Pura vida! Everywhere you go in Costa Rica, to almost any question you may ask, the answer is almost always “pura vida!” This is the Costa Rican version of “don’t worry, be happy!” It means “pure life,” and the friendly people of this tropical nation live it every day. They abolished their military in 1949 and since then invested those monies in healthcare and education for their citizens, providing free healthcare and free college education. Costa Rica has a 96% literacy rate, the highest in Latin America.
Before we boarded the Explorer, we spent a day sightseeing with Costa Rican Trails from our base in San Jose. 
Sloth in the wild!
En route to our day’s destination, our tour guide suddenly told the van driver to pull over — he had spotted a sloth high up in a tree! Our little group quickly clamored out of the van & raced over to the tree where, indeed, a sloth was hanging in the branches. For creatures that are advertised as notoriously slow, this guy could move! It wasn't easy trying to get a good shot of him/her, but this one isn't bad. For me, on day one, to see a sloth in the wild was the highlight of the trip. How our guide managed to see this adorable creature as we were driving, I’ll never know!

We spent the next couple of hours touring the Doka Coffee Plantation, one of the largest growers of coffee beans in Costa Rica (of course, we brought some home) Afterwards, we visited the beautiful La Paz waterfall gardens and wildlife refuge. This was the only rainy day of our otherwise HOT and sunny trip.
La Paz Waterfall Gardens
Coffee beans ready to ship.
Beautiful cougars at the wildlife refuge

Once we boarded the ship and met the crew and our 60 shipmates, our official adventure began. The week was filled with snorkeling, hiking, more incredible wildlife sightings (iguanas, Capuchin and Howler monkeys, sea turtles, dolphins, crocodiles (!) and bird species too numerous to name), and to cap off the week, transiting the Panama Canal.
Capuchin Monkey
Resident of the aptly named "Isla Iguana"
The original canal opened in 1914 and it is an engineering marvel. When you think about the sheer enormity of the effort to join the Atlantic and Pacific oceans without today’s technology, it is a true testament to human ingenuity. 

France was the first country to begin building the canal, however, due to rampant disease and financial troubles, it was soon disbanded. Once Panama obtained its independence from Colombia in 1903, they reached an agreement with the United States for the construction of the canal. It was finished on August 15, 1914, and the US managed it until 1999. After that, Panama took over full operation and it is managed today by the Panama Canal Authority.

The canal is a critical shortcut to save time and money in transporting goods around the world. As of September, 2010, one million ships had transited the canal. The demand for world maritime trade was so great that the canal authority realized expansion was needed. Thus, in 2007, the canal expansion project began. Another huge undertaking, but this time modern technology was employed. In addition, social and environmental impact studies were included to ensure that wildlife, reforestation, archaeological, and paleontological issues were considered. The expansion, which has doubled the canal’s capacity, cost upwards of $5 billion and created over 30,000 jobs. It officially opened in June, 2016.
Huge cargo ship transiting the new canal
Through a series of locks that raises and lowers ships from sea level to the level of Gatun Lake (26 meters above sea level), to allow the crossing of the Continental Divide, and then back down to sea level on the other side, the crossing is quite the event.
Going through the canal
The QE passes underneath the Bridge of the Americas
The crossing itself takes hours, and small ships like the Safari Voyager go through at night. When you begin the access, everyone gathers on the top decks, drinks in hand, to witness the passage. As we made our way toward the Bridge of the Americas (which connects both North and South America), Cunard’s Queen Elizabeth was exiting. That’s one BIG ship! 

On the deck for the crossing!
The ship’s culinary team knows everyone wants to see as much of the crossing as possible, so they set up a terrific outdoor buffet (all other dinners on the cruise are plated table service) to allow guests the freedom to eat outside. 

The captain told us that the ship would cross the last set of locks about midnight, and while I seriously considered sleeping through it, my husband convinced me not to. When would I “do” the Panama Canal again? Probably never. So I set my alarm for 11:55pm, threw on a robe, and headed outside. There were only a handful of us on deck to witness the final phase of the crossing, and while there wasn’t much to see at that juncture, we could say “we did it!” 

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

The Year Ahead

Happy New Year, CT Readers! Hope you all had a happy holiday season.

Here in New Jersey, we are just starting to come out of a deep freeze that we’ve been in since right after Christmas. We’re talking zero degrees and -4 wind chills - definitely not my favorite weather!

I’ve been enjoying reading articles from other writers with their 2017 highlights, and I was just about to start compiling my own recap (Austin, Florida, North Carolina, northern California, Hawaii, lunch at the CIA in New York, and tons of delicious foods here in NJ - I have included a few photos throughout this post from our wonderful 2017 travels), but then I thought, I’d rather look ahead to what’s coming up this year. I’ve always been more of a “looking forward” person. 
Sailing the beautiful waters of Hawaii
Luscious malasadas (Portugese doughnuts) from Leonards in Honolulu
So this month we’re heading off to a small ship cruise of Costa Rica & Panama with UnCruise! We’ll be visiting many of the fabulous national parks in both countries. Costa Rica boasts incredible, diverse wildlife (from monkeys to exotic birds to sloths!), and a tropical paradise home to sea turtles, dolphins, and humpback whales. In-between, there will be kayaking, snorkeling, eating, drinking, and plenty of relaxing in the warm weather (ahhhhhh!). 
Fabulous breakfast biscuit at Buttermilk in Sarasota
The trip caps off with an ocean-to-ocean transit through the Panama Canal. The 48 mile canal is an engineering marvel that took over 75,000 workers to build. My husband crossed the Panama Canal, courtesy of a US government sailing (read: on the way to Vietnam) many years ago and wanted me to experience it, too; I have a feeling this cruise may be somewhat more enjoyable for him :-)
The beautiful Japanese Gardens in San Francisco
To add to our enjoyment of this trip, three good friends will be joining us so I’m sure we will have a fabulous time!
The friendly llamas of Mendocino
Next up, most likely in March, will be a short road trip to the Holy City (Charleston) with another set of friends. We’ve only been to Charleston once and we absolutely loved it. My only negative about this beautiful city from our previous trip was the humidity (definitely not a good hair city!), but the history, art, and FOOD is so wonderful, I will “force” myself to slog through it (believe me, I won’t have to be forced). I’m already starting to make a mind-list of restaurants to hit (Hominy Grill, FIG, Husk, Rodney Scott BBQ to name a few). I absolutely love southern, low country food and there is no shortage of terrific restaurants in Charleston.
Delectable, warm doughnuts and jam at Hotel Ella in Austin
Of course, we’ll probably want to tour one of the gorgeous old plantations (Magnolia Plantation or Drayton Hall?), and maybe (weather dependent) sail out to visit Fort Sumter National Park. Confederate forces fired the first shots of the Civil War at troops at Fort Sumter on April 12, 1861 so this is an important chapter in our history. We didn’t get to Fort Sumter on our last visit due to rain so I’m hoping we can do it this time.

And, finally, in early September we will meet up with another set of friends for a two-week road trip through the "Vacationland" state - Maine! Details are still being formulated, but penciled in as of now, we will start in Portland, meander up coastal Route 1 with gorgeous ocean views around every turn, stopping here and there for lobster rolls, peeky-toe crab rolls, and fresh blueberry ice cream. We’ll visit Rockport (home to Maine’s fleet of tall ships and maybe do a day sail), Rockland (I’d love to stop at the Farnsworth Museum which houses the Wyeth Center, featuring works of Andrew, NC, and Jamie Wyeth), and Camden (just to soak up the beauty of this seaside village). 
Gorgeous sunset in Wilmington, NC

I’m going to try my darndest to snag a reservation at The Lost Kitchen while we’re in the general Freedom area, though it won’t be easy. Then we’ll cross the gorgeous Penobscot Narrows Bridge (the highest bridge observatory in the world, with incredible views up and down the Penobscot River) on our way to Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park (the jewel in the National Park system).
Acadia National Park
After that, it’s uncharted territory as we head inland to Moosehead Lake. Planning about 3 nights at The Lodge at Moosehead Lake in Greenville. Moosehead Lake, the largest lake in Maine, is surrounded by incredible scenic vistas including Mt Katahdin, the Allagash Wilderness Waterway, and parts of the Appalachian Trail. This area offers the opportunity to really get away from it all, and experience the wilderness while hiking, kayaking, or what I’m most excited about, going on a “moose safari!” I’ve wanted to do that ever since reading about this lodge a few years ago. Moose can be elusive but hopefully we’ll see one or two.
Tableside ice cream at the CIA
Of course, we’ll want a little pampering after all that outdoorsy-ness, and luckily the lodge offers that, too.

So that’s our itinerary (so far) for this year. Your intrepid food/baking/travel reporter will be back soon with a full download. Until then, wishing you good food, warmth, and happiness in 2018!

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Chocolate Cream Cups

Greetings, Dear CT Readers!

This holiday season sort of crept up on me! We were away in beautiful Hawaii over Thanksgiving (more about that in a later post) and now Christmas is only two weeks away (aaaaahhhhh!). Additionally, Hannukah is happening right now. So I am WAY behind on holiday baking, but starting to catch up with this delicious little recipe. Read on!

Chocolate batter
I’ve been making these Chocolate Cream Cups for as long as I can remember. My mom made them when I was growing up and they became a family and friend favorite. I have no idea where she got the recipe because I’ve seen similar recipes online but this one is definitely a winner. These adorable little cupcakes were also a top seller when my friend, Phyllis, and I ran I Love Cheesecake (local NJ dessert catering company) many years ago. We baked hundreds of these darlings for our customers because, not only are they yummy, but they are bite-sized. 
Cream cheese chocolate chip filling

Mini cupcake tins ready to go!

Ready for baking!

They are easy to whip together, make enough to feed a crowd (one recipe yields approximately four dozen cupcakes but you can easily double the recipe), freeze well (in fact, they are terrific eaten right out of the freezer, not that I would know anything about that...), and really, what more do you need to know except dark, moist chocolate cake with a luscious cream cheese-chocolate chip filling?! Helllooooo! These are a terrific addition to your holiday dessert table and because they freeze so well, you can bake them now (and cross one thing off your baking to-do list). 

Wishing you & yours a happy and bright Hannukah and a very Merry Christmas!

Terry’s Mom’s Chocolate Cream Cups

Preheat oven to 350.


1 8oz pkg cream cheese
1 egg
1/3 c. sugar
1/8 t. salt

Whip until creamy; then stir in 6 oz pkg chocolate chips (I use mini chips).

In another bowl, combine:

1-1/2 c. flour
1 c. sugar
1 c. water
1/3 c. oil
1 TB vinegar
1 t. baking soda
½ t. salt
¼ c. Hershey’s cocoa powder
1 t. vanilla

Beat until smooth. Line miniature cupcake tins with gem-size cupcake papers. Fill each muffin tin about 1/3 with chocolate mixture & then spoon about ½ t. cream cheese mixture on top of chocolate.  Bake at 350 for 15 minutes.

Makes approx 4-1/2 dozen miniature cupcakes. Store in refrigerator. Cupcakes freeze well (in fact, they are wonderful right out of the freezer...).

Print recipe here.

“Eat Well, Stay Warm, Be Happy”

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

From Breakfast to Dinner in One Post!

Greetings, CT Readers! Hoping November is treating you well. Here in NJ, we are in the midst of an early cold snap (with temps in the 20-30s), much to my dismay. You may recall that I am not winter’s biggest fan but later this week it should get back into the 50s (more normal for this time of year) before the already-hyped “first winter storm” of the season that may blow into the Northeast right around Thanksgiving. Ugh.

I’ve got a couple of recipes for you today: a great granola recipe for breakfast or snacks, and a super easy three-ingredient pasta-sausage dinner.

First, let’s talk about granola. This could be an entire blog post on its own. A few months back I was looking to add some crunch to my morning cereal routine. I am not a sweet cereal person and gravitate toward the healthier section of the cereal aisle but not something that’s 100% cardboard.  I began searching for “low calorie” granola recipes on the web. There must be a zillion granola recipes out there! Culling through the various offerings (no sugar, no nuts, no gluten, vegan), I began my tests. The good news is that granola can be tailored to your own likes and dislikes. The bad news is that it takes alot of trial and error to find that one perfect recipe. And really there is no one perfect recipe because everybody likes something a little different in their granola. But making your own is so easy and requires no special skill or tools, that it really doesn’t pay to buy it.

I won’t bore you with the many recipes I went through. I’ll just cut to the chase and present the recipe that, for me, constitutes the best granola recipe. It’s got that all-important crunch factor, whole grain oats, nuts and seeds for texture, and a bit of sweetness. Of course, you can taper the recipe to your needs/wants.

I add about four tablespoons to one half-cup of my usually boring (but healthy) box cereal and it really jazzes up my breakfast. I also use it as a topping to plain yogurt, and could definitely see it sprinkled over ice cream or over a luxe coconut or vanilla pudding. Hmmmmm, that last one about the pudding just came to me as I was writing; I may have to try that!
maple syrup drizzle

The recipe from Elizabeth Rider, a blogger and health counselor who focuses on healthy eating follows. 

 Prep Time: 10 min Total Time: 20 min 
Serves 4-6 
Use raw, organic ingredients whenever possible. These measurements are flexible; don’t worry too much about being exact. 

2 cups raw, whole rolled oats (aka old fashion oats), preferably organic 
½ cup raw nuts, chopped 
¼ cup raw seeds (sunflower or pumpkin seeds are great) 
½ cup unsweetened dried fruit, chopped (optional) 
2-3 tablespoons grade-b maple syrup or raw honey (or a combo of both) 
2 tbsp virgin coconut oil or other healthy cooking oil 
½ tsp vanilla extract or almond extract 
1 large pinch fine sea salt 
1 t cinnamon
1/4 cup flaked coconut 

Recipe: Preheat the oven to 300º F. Combine all ingredients in a mixing bowl and use your clean hands to mix well and toss to coat; it will be sticky and messy but that’s the fun part.* The coconut oil might be liquid or solid depending on the temperature of the room you are in (it has a melting point of about 75ºF.) Your hands will warm it up and melt it into the mixture if it’s solid, just be sure to mix it all through the other ingredients so there aren’t any chunks of oil left. 

Spread the mixture in a thin layer on a baking sheet and bake for 10 minutes, until very lightly toasted. (To make this recipe completely raw-friendly, dehydrate the mixture 5-6 hours at 115ºF in a food dehydrator instead.) Cool before serving or storing. This granola can be kept in an airtight container in a cool, dry place for up to 2 weeks. I keep mine in a mason jar in the refrigerator at home and in a BPA-free plastic bag when traveling.

*Cook’s Tour note: I always use gloves when mixing food. The directions above are taken directly from the original recipe’s author.
Ready for milk!

On to dinner! The original recipe comes from Proud Italian Cook and is so easy, the author doesn’t even include measurements (I’ve included approximate measurements in my version)! If you are looking for a quick, weeknight dinner, this is it. She used Italian pork sausage with fennel, but since we almost always have Italian chicken sausage in the freezer, I used that. We really enjoyed it the first night but when we were planning to use the leftovers another night, I felt it needed a little “bulking up.” So my recipe includes the addition of pasta shells. You could also throw in some cannellini beans. Technically, my adapted recipe is four ingredients (or five with Parmigiano Reggiano grated over the finished dish) but when the outcome is this delicious, who's counting?!

Let me know what you think about both of these recipes (leave comments below).

I’ll be off-line for a bit while we do some traveling, but I’ll be back soon! Wishing you and yours a warm and wonderful Thanksgiving holiday!

Sausage, Brussels Sprouts, and Pasta with Balsamic Glaze (adapted from Proud Italian Cook)

Serves 2 (with leftovers) or 4 (with no leftovers)

About 1 pound Brussels Sprouts, trimmed and sliced in half lengthwise
Extra virgin olive oil 
salt and freshly ground pepper
4-5 links Italian chicken sausage
about one pound pasta shells
Good quality balsamic glaze
Freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano

  1. Heat oven to 400 degrees
  2. Trim sprouts and slice in half lengthwise
  3. Toss sprouts with about 1-2 TB olive oil, salt, pepper
  4. Place on rimmed baking sheet, cut-side down and roast until tender & golden but not overcooked or too deep a caramelization (about 20-30 minutes). Test to be sure they are done.
  5. In the meantime, remove sausage from casing, place in a skillet on stove and crumble into bite-size pieces.
  6. Cook sausage until completely done, remove and drain on paper towel.
  7. Cook pasta according to manufacturer’s directions and drain.
  8. In a large bowl, combine roasted sprouts with the sausage and pasta.
  9. Just before serving, lightly drizzle with balsamic glaze and grate cheese over top.

If so inclined, a crisp Sicilian Grillo white goes very nicely with this dish. We discovered Grillo during our trip to Sicily in 2016 and when we returned I found this really nice version here in the states.

Eat well, stay warm, be happy!

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Rum Raisin Cake

I know, it’s October and I should really be writing about a pumpkin recipe, right? Listen, I love pumpkin as much as the next person, but I feel like everywhere (EVERYWHERE!) I turn, the word “pumpkin” is screaming at me. From lattes and bread, cookies (even Paleo cookies) and candies, to pancakes, pasta and beer.  I know that pumpkin has a short window in which to take over our minds and diets (basically from October to late November), but I’m going to buck conventional thinking here and give you a recipe for a fabulous cake that will still give you that cozy, warm, autumn feel (and the house smells wonderful as it's baking): rum raisin cake.

I recently got the new baking book from Yotam Ottolenghi and Helen Goh called Sweet. Yotam is the chef-owner of several delis and restaurants in London. He is also a prolific author, having written five cookbooks (I also own his terrific cookbook, Jerusalem), and is a frequent contributor to The New York Times and The Guardian newspapers. 

Helen Goh is a pastry chef who has worked closely with Ottolenghi for many years as his lead product developer. 
bake prep

When Sweet came in the mail a few weeks ago, I set it aside. With cookbooks that appear to have real promise, I like to wait until I have a chunk of time to relax with it. Depending on the time of day, I either get a cup of coffee, tea, or a glass of wine, and settle in. I leaf through the entire book, earmarking recipes that sound good. It’s a lovely way to force myself to “detox” from all things digital, at least for a little while.
my well-tagged copy!
And that’s exactly what I did last week. By the time I was done, there were so many post-it notes sticking out of the book that I knew it was a keeper! My goal was to find a cake to accompany a fall-themed luncheon we were planning. And as you may have guessed, it wouldn’t be pumpkin! 

Helen Goh’s description of how she came up with this cake really won me over: Helen and her son have a tradition of sharing a sundae when they go to an ice cream parlor. On the rare occasion they don’t share, she always orders a rum raisin cone. “This, along with her affection for the rum-soaked retro classic rum baba, was the inspiration for this cake.” I loved this little story. I, too, almost always order a rum raisin cone when I go to our favorite ice cream store in the area, Gelotti’s. The combination of the custardy vanilla oozing with boozy raisins speaks to my soul.

So onto the cake! First off, it’s got a good amount of rum in it. The raisins soak overnight in a half-cup of dark rum. And there’s an additional tablespoon if you make the optional rum-caramel icing.
the gorgeous batter
ready to bake!
just out of the oven
isn't this gorgeous?!

The cake is chock full of butter and sour cream so it’s super-moist. But what really makes this cake stand out is the rum-soaked raisins. The rum infuses the cake with a sweet warmth and the now plump raisins are bursting with flavor. 

Due to time and logistics, I simply dusted the finished cake with powdered sugar (which was lovely), but next time I would try the recommended icing or just add a dollop of whipped cream on the side. You can’t go wrong with any of the additions.
ready for your Fall dessert table

The cake keeps very well wrapped in foil for a few days. In fact, I’m going on day four now and it’s still moist and delicious. 

So, my friends, break out of that same old pumpkin routine and bake up something different! 

Print recipe here.

Happy Fall!

Eat well, stay warm, be happy.