Ding Dong Derivative

Why I have nostalgia for snacks I never actually ate as a kid is something for me to take up with my therapist. And when I say “my therapist”, I actually would be referring to my cat, or dog, or husband, or any poor soul who happens to be in the room listening to my audible reflections.

My mom did not allow “junk food” in her house. We had sweets, but everything was always made from scratch, and was mostly for special occasions. Snacks were cheese or a piece of fruit. Candy was for halloween, and ready-made cream filled cupcakes were for other people.

As a kid, I was always so envious of the kids with the silver wrapped delight in their lunch, while mind held an orange, or a christmas cookie; whiich is how I made it well past my 18th birthday before I ever had a ding-dong.

Without belaboring the point, skip the store-bought and make your own. You won’t be sorry.

devil’s food cake

3 oz bittersweet chocolate chopped
1 1/2 cups hot coffee or hot water or mixture of the two (i use espresso with water)
3 cups granulated sugar
1 1/2 cups cocoa powder
2 1/2 cups flour
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1 1/4 tsp kosher salt
3 extra large eggs
3/4 cup vegetable oil
1 cup sour cream + 1/2 cup milk or 1 1/2 cups buttermilk 
1 tsp vanilla

melt bittersweet chocolate in hot water/coffee.  Sift dry ingredients together (including sugar). Mix together the chocolate/coffee mixture, milk, sour cream and vanilla. In a mixer beat the eggs with the oil until thickened and doubled in volume (about 3-5 minutes).  Alternately add the dry and wet ingredients to the mixer, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients.  Mix until just incorporated.Bake in 2-9″ rounds that have been prepared with cooking spray and lined with baking paper.
 *note…for ding dongs, i make in a sheet pan and use a cookie cutter to cut the rounds.
Oven temp should be 350 and bake until tester comes out clean. For the sheet pan, it will go fast…about 20 minutes. For the cake rounds allow about 50 minutes, but check on it after 30 minutes.

creamy filling

1 cup milk
5 Tbs flour
1 1/4 cup powdered sugar
1/2 cup shortening or lard–room temperature
1/2 cup unsalted butter–room temperature
1/2 tsp vanilla
pinch salt
Over low heat, cook milk and flour in a saucepan until it makes a thick paste. Use a whisk to break up lumps. Let cool.  In mixer using whisk attachment, beat shortening, butter, sugar, salt and vanilla. Add in cooled flour paste and whip until light and fluffy.  Add more sugar if you want a sweeter taste.


1/2 lb bittersweet chocolate–chopped
1/2 cup cream
1 Tbs granulated sugar
1 Tbs corn syrup
2 Tbs butter
Heat cream with sugar and corn syrup over medium heat.  Once cream begins to simmer and sugar is dissolved, pour over chocolate and butter. Let chocolate melt and then whisk together until it is thick and shiny


Cut rounds of the chocolate cake. Spread a layer of filling on top of one round and top with a second round.  Fill in nooks and large gaps with a bit more filling.  Place in fridge to harden.  
Meanwhile make ganache.  
Set cakes on a cooling rack over a lined sheet pan.  Pour ganache over cooled cakes and gently tap the rack to move the ganache over the cake. Use a small spatula warmed over a flame to nudge and smooth out the ganache. Let cool at room temp or in the fridge if you are in a rush.  You may loose some of the gloss if you refrigerate.  Serve as is, or wrap in foil for authenticity

Boxing Day Pate {chicken liver pate}

I’ve celebrated boxing day a few times. In my first experience of “celebrating”, while living in the UK, I found myself going from store to store in my village; finding locked door and closed signs. Even with mail delivery two times a day, I didn’t get the memo that commerce ends when Christmas celebrations begin.

Boxing day is a lovely tradition and much more meaningful than half-off sales and crowded malls.

This simple pate rounds out a simple buffet. Or if you fancy yourself a bit more posh, a nice glass of champs, a cool jar of caviar, and this on a silver tray would have the Queen bowing to you.

Chicken Liver Pate

1/4 cup shallots–finely diced
1/2 cup salt pork –diced
2 large garlic cloves–smashed but kept whole
2 Tbs olive oil
1 lb chicken livers–well trimmed
1 cup chicken broth
leaves from 1 sprig thyme
pinch black pepper
1 stick butter
3 generous tablespoons cognac

In a saute pan with non-sloping sides, heat the olive oil and toss in the garlic, the shallots and the salt pork. Cook on low until the shallots begin to soften. Wash and dry the livers. Toss them into the shallots and oil and let brown, but don’t cook all the way through. This will only take a few minutes. Toss in the thyme and black pepper, then pour in the chicken broth. Cover the pan and let cook until the liver is cooked through and everything else is softened. Remove from heat and immediately tip everything into a food processor. Add the butter in chunks and process until you have a nice thick paste. Pour through a fine sieve into a clean bowl. Stir in the cognac and then pour into ramekins or gifting jars. For a nice presentation, you can top with clarified butter and a fresh sprig of thyme.

Bean and Barley Chili

I enjoy soups and stews year ’round, but this pleasantly cool weather makes me want to hunker down with a stick to your ribs kinda meal. But, stick to your ribs sometimes also means, stick to your thighs {if you smell what i’m cooking}.  This recipe is vegetarian, and very low in fat.  I might be so bold as to say, Guilt Free.  It uses dried beans, so it will cost you a bit of time in the soaking, but is well worth it.

I make a huge pot and freeze the leftovers; mainly because Mike is a meat eater.  Say vegetarian chili to him, and all he hears is “I didn’t make dinner tonight.”

Bean and Pearl Barley Chili

1 bag 15 bean soup mix–beans only * save the flavor packet for something else
water for soaking beans
1 onion– diced
2 celery ribs–diced
2 carrots–diced
1 pasilla chile–diced
1 cup mushrooms–diced
1/4 cup chili spice mix
1/4 tsp cayenne
4 Tbs tomato paste
1 cup pearl barley –uncooked
6 cups liquid * I use 4 cups vegetable broth ad 2 cups beer
1 generous Tablespoon grated bittersweet chocolate
salt and pepper to taste

Soak the bean in water overnight or use whatever method you are most comfortable with for softening dried beans.  Drain.  In a heavy stock pot, cook onions, celery carrots, pasilla, and mushrooms in a bit of olive oil, until they soften and just begin to brown.  Toss in chili spice and cayenne and give it a turn or two to coat everything.  Add the pearl barley and stir to coat.  Stir in the tomato paste, liquid, and chocolate, then toss in the beans and cook until they and the barley are tender.  It should take about an hour over medium heat.  Do not let boil, just simmer.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  Serve with all your favorite chili fixins.

Pumpkin Pots de Creme

I’m not much for the pumpkin spice hype that comes in play at the first sign of frost. I am however, a pumpkin fiend. I love it sweet, I love it savory. With butter, as butter, warm and spicy; it brings me joy. While we have ripe pumpkins coming off the vine this early September, I’m not quite ready to jump head first into pie mode. This time of year, when it is warm during the day, but the sunrise and set are accompanied by a slight chill, I make custard. Not quite a pudding, pots de creme are a perfect spotlight for a delicate blend of spices and rich pumpkin puree. Something quite important when making these….you must not overcook. Pull these out of the oven before they are fully set.

Pots de Creme
(makes 5-6)

1 cup pumpkin puree
5 egg yolks
1/2 cup + 2 Tbs dark brown sugar
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup whole milk {i use goat milk}
generous pinch kosher salt
1/4 tsp ground ginger
generous pinch cardamom, allspice, cinnamon, fresh nutmeg
whipped cream -for serving

If using fresh pumpkin puree, make sure it is very smooth. Set aside. Whisk {either by hand or with electric mixer} eggs and brown sugar until the sugar is completely melted and the eggs seem lighten in color and thicken a bit. Heat the milk, cream and salt in a saucepan until bubbles just start to form. Slowly whisk the hot milk into the egg until well incorporated. You are tempering the eggs with the hot milk. Whisk in the pumpkin puree and the spices. Run through a sieve into a spouted measuring cup. Use a spatula to scrape as many pumpkin solids as possible through the sieve. Give a good stir.

Pour into oven safe cups or small ramekins. This is meant to be served and eaten in small portions; think demitasse cups, tea cups, small bowls or ramekins. 4-6 ounces each.

Allow any air bubbles or foam to subside. Remove any remaining foam by skimming with a spoon.

Place in a cake pan or casserole dish. Place in an preheated 325F oven. Once in the oven, prepare a bain marie: pour enough hot water in the pan {careful to avoid getting water into the custard} to reach about halfway up the side of your custard cups. The bain marie will help to keep a constant temperature on the custard.

The length of time in the oven depends on the size of your baking vessel. Begin checking at 12 minutes. Tap the cup or bowl and look for gentle ripple (like that of a pebble in a pond). If you have a gentle ripple, then go ahead and remove from oven and allow to cool to warm in the water bath. If the custard isn’t quite done, continue to check every few minutes. If you check on them and they are completely firm, remove from the water bath immediately.

Do not put in the refrigerator hot, but place in the fridge once only slightly warm. Allow to chill completely and serve with a generous dollop of whipped cream

A properly cooked pots de creme is creamy, almost mousse like and silky. Once overcooked it can be a bit grainy and have an eggy flavor to it. Undercooked will result in a runny custard.

Coconut Frozen Yogurt

I’m going to tell you a secret.  Frozen yogurt is supposed to taste like yogurt that is frozen. It isn’t supposed to taste like sweet cream, or air.  It is a rule that a nation of serve yourself fro-yo stores doesn’t know. Allegedly.

Because we have dairy goats, this recipe uses goat yogurt, but you can substitute with cow or sheep as you like.  The end result has a yogurt tang to it…which is intentional.  It tastes lightly sweet, very creamy and very coconutty.


Coconut Frozen Yogurt

3 cups plain {unsweetened} yogurt
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup coconut flakes {sweet or unsweetened–your choice}
1 1/2 cups coconut cream
1/4 tsp coconut extract {optional}

Heat the coconut cream, sugar and coconut flakes in a saucepan until just simmered and the sugar has melted. Allow to cool for 10 minutes. Stir into the yogurt and add the coconut extract, if using. Cover and refrigerate overnight or at least 4 hours. Churn in your ice cream maker according to manufacture’s instructions.


I learned to make pizzelle at the knee of my great-aunt rose when I was quite young. She was an amazing baker and a real stickler about cleanliness. It was more than once that the “no lick” rule was enforced. Each time i lift my pizzelle iron from its tattered and batter-scarred box, I am reminded of holidays past. Memories of my dear aunt rose float richly in the fragrance of these cookies.  The season begins…

3 1/2 cups flour
1/4 tsp kosher salt
1 Tbs + 1 tsp baking powder
4 eggs
2 egg yolks
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
3 Tbs Anise flavored extract
4 oz unsalted butter–melted and cooled
Combine the flour, salt, and baking powder in a large bowl. In another bowl, whisk the eggs, yolks, sugar, extract and melted butter. Stir into the flour mixture. this batter will be nice and thick, similar to a pate a choux. Drop by the spoonful onto a hot pizzelle iron. Check after 60 seconds for color. You want it to be a light blonde in color. Do not undercook, undercooked pizzelle will not get nice and crispy. Sprinkle with a bit of powdered sugar and serve.
You can form these into cones or cups, or even cut in fourths while they are still warm.
I like to use them for large and beautiful ice cream sandwiches…or rolled and filled with a bit of brandy flavored whipped cream…but I mostly like them just as they are

Italian Fig Cookies {cucidati}

To be honest this is more of a st. joseph’s day treat than a christmas one but truth be told they are good any time of year. Be warned this is not a fig newton facsimile. These are spicy and heady; filled with riches wrapped in a buttery italian pastry called pasta frolla. My presentation isn’t typical either. These are typically rolled in a tube-shape and cut in sections. On a cookie tray I find them to stay fresher longer, when presented like this.

italian fig cookies

pasta frolla
4 cups flour
2/3 cups granulated sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1 1/4 tsp kosher salt
1 cup unsalted butter–cold and cut into pieces
4 large eggs
1/2 tsp vanilla
using a food processor, pulse together the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt a few times to ensure fully mixed. drop in the butter and pulse until the butter has incorporated completely turning the mixture into a powder. add the eggs and vanilla and continue to pulse until the dough forms a ball. remove and wrap in plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator for a few hours or overnight.

12 oz dried figs (i use calimyrna)
1/2 cup currants or raisins
zest of 1 orange finely grated
1/3 cup blanched, slivered almonds–toasted
1/3 cup bittersweet chocolate–cut into pieces or chips
3 heaping Tablespoons apricot preserves
3 Tbs dark rum
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
light pinch ground cloves
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
egg beaten with a bit of water for egg wash
powdered sugar glaze or royal icing for decoration
sprinkles for decoration

If the figs are hard and dry, place them in a bowl of hot water to soften, drain and then proceed with recipe. Dice the figs and place in a bowl with the rest of the ingredients. Stir to fully incorporate. place the entire mixture in the food processor, fitted with steel blade and pulse until you have a paste. Place in the refrigerator until ready to use.
Roll the dough out to 1/4″ and cut with a small round, plain or scalloped cookie cutter. Place just a small bit of fig on top of half the cutouts. Brush a bit of egg wash with a brush on the outer edge of the dough. Place a second piece of dough on top and press with tines of fork or toothpick to seal. Brush top with egg wash. Bake at 350 for about 10 minutes. You have to watch to see that they don’t burn, you want them just starting to brown on the bottom. When cool, leave plain or drizzle a bit of powdered sugar glaze (powdered sugar and milk to a runny consistency), or royal icing and add a few sprinkles.

Warm Brie & Date Bites

At the first sign of frost and chill, I begin dreaming of kitchen comforts.  I begin to categorize in my head all of the delicious things I will prepare, and the perfect gloaming light in which I will photograph them.  Stews, braises, puddings, cakes, savory lamb shanks cooked under the most perfect crust with just the slightest untidy boil-over {meant to look homemade and charming, just shy of a mess} flash behind my eyes, like the world’s best slide show.  I will tap the perfectly worn, turn of the century board from my vast selection of props, slide a piece of irish linen {just so} at the perfect angle and pose my dish as if it were Gigi Hadid on Capri.

That is always the plan.  Bless my heart for having such a great imagination.

The reality is this.  I’m dreaming of kitchen comforts, but I would gladly toss them aside for a kitchen cleaner.  I’m positioning our meals between bottle feeding goats and mucking out chicken coops.  I own beautiful dishes and linens and worn boards, but find myself opting for those pieces that are within reach in my tiny kitchen.  And when I say in reach, I am being literal.

When we have company, I channel my imaginative moments.  I {she said sheepishly} create a scene. A “why yes, we always have cocktails and warm truffled marcona almonds on the deck.  Here, please stave the chill with one of these throws we keep tucked behind the bar for moments like this”scene.  Maybe I don’t go that far…but I go pretty far.  Why I do it, is not up for discussion.  But how I do it is.

I keep it simple; putting together things that can hit more than one note, and can be mostly prepared in advance.
These warm brie & date bites are a wonderful treat that pairs well with champagne, bourbon neat, or mulled cider.

Warm Brie & Date Bites
10 mini brie rounds {i have found them at trader joes}
puff pastry; defrosted and chilled
10 large dried dates; pits removed
maldon salt {or your favorite sea salt}

Slice the top off each brie round (it is best if they are cold for this step).  Prepare a sheet pan by lining with parchment paper or a silpat.   Using a cookie cutter, cut 10 rounds from the puff pastry that are only slightly larger than the brie. Using a knife, cut strips of puff pastry as wide as the brie bites are high. Using a pastry brush, one at a time,  brush the 1 round and  1 strip with water.  Place the brie on top of the round then wrap with the strip, making sure the ends meet or slightly overlap.  Cup the brie in your hand to make sure the bottom is attached to the strip.  Leave the open top exposed {the end without rind should be facing up}.  Butterfly the pitted date and place, gooey side down, on top of the brie.  Continue with remaining brie rounds.  Place in refrigerator to chill for a minimum of 30 minutes.
At this point you can cover and keep in the refrigerator overnight.
When you are ready to bake, preheat oven to 400F.  Space the bites with at least 1″ between them and bake until golden brown.  Depending on your oven, this could be 15 minutes or it could be 30 minutes. Start checking on them at 15 minutes.  When the pastry is puffed and golden brown, remove from oven.  While still warm, drizzle with honey and sprinkle a bit of sea salt on each one. Serve warm or room temperature.

Bangers & Mash

Several years ago, Mike and I enjoyed a quick trip to London.  My good friend Rebecca lives outside of London proper, but popped into the city to treat us to lunch at a fancy restaurant.  In typical American fashion, we eschewed the fancy and ordered pub style lunch.  And in typical British fashion, Rebecca didn’t flinch.  I lived in London, which now seems a lifetime ago, for several years.  I always ordered bangers and mash when found on a menu. Its one of those meals that everyone has a version of, and everyone’s mum made best.  I always found the meal to be hearty, comforting, and delicious.  My version here is an attempt to copy the version we had on our last visit to London.


Bangers and Mash
mushroom gravy
1 stalk celery–finely diced
1 carrot–finely diced
1 onion–finely diced
pinch salt
3 cups beef stock
1 bay leaf
3-4 sprigs parsley
2 sprigs thyme
2 oz unsalted butter-softened
3 Tbs flour
3 crimini mushooms–sliced
4 crimini mushrooms–diced
Cook the celery, carrot, and onion in a bit of olive oil until just softened. Add the beef stock all at once and stir. Toss in the sliced mushrooms, the bay leaf , the parsley and thyme. Cover and let simmer for at least 30 minutes but up to an hour. Strain. Return the liquid back to the pot. Mix together the butter and flour in a bowl. Add the warm stock, a bit at a time to the butter-flour mixture, whisking to make a smooth paste. Once you have a runny paste (much like toothpaste), whisk it into the broth until smooth. Toss in the diced mushrooms and simmer until it thickens and the mushrooms soften–about 10 minutes.

4 bangers
4 thick cut bacon rashers
1/2 bottle lager
Put bangers and bacon in a sided saute pan. Pour in beer and simmer until the beer has completely evaporated. Add just a bit of olive oil and allow it to continue to cook until the bangers are cooked through. Your pan will get really dark and scary looking. Don’t worry…it won’t damage (fill the pan with water and slowly simmer on the stove, it will clean right up)

5 smallish yukon gold potatoes–peeled and halved
1/2 stick of unsalted butter–room temp
2 oz cream chese–room temp
salt and pepper
Boil potatoes in salted water. drain and return to pot. Toss in butter and cream cheese and mash. Add enough milk to get your desired consistency. Once you add the milk, you have to be mindful. Do not whip and beat endlessly. If you do, you may end up with gummy mash–yuck. Better to have a lump or two.  If you like silky mashed potatoes, run them through a ricer before adding butter and cream cheese. add salt and pepper to taste.
To Assemble
Place a generous portion of potatoes on your plate. top with the sausage and enough gravy to make you smile. Top with a rasher of bacon.

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