Pumpkin Cupcakes Worth Repeating

You can never have too much pumpkin, especially in the Fall, and my Pumpkin Streusel Cupcakes with Maple Cream Cheese Frosting are perfect for at-home munching, tailgate parties, or a lovely dessert.

The cupcake recipe is adapted slightly from the Pumpkin Patch Cupcakes in Martha Stewart’s Cupcakes:

  • Preheat your oven to 350F and line muffin tins with cupcake papers. 
  • Sift together: 4 cups cake flour, 1 tsp. baking soda, 1 Tbsp. plus 1 tsp. baking powder, 1 teaspoon salt, 1 generous Tbsp.pumpkin pie spice, 1 Tbsp. ground ginger, and 1 tsp. salt.
  • With your mixer on medium-high, cream together 1 cup sweet butter (at room temperature) and 2 1/2 cups packed light brown sugar until pale and fluffy.  Add 4 eggs ~ one egg at a time ~ beating until incorporated.  Scrape down the sides of your mixing bowl as necessary. Reduce the speed to low and add the dry ingredients in three batches, alternating with two additions of 1/2 cup buttermilk (for a total of 1 cup).  Mix just until combined.  Add 1 1/2 cups canned pumpkin puree (not pie filling) and beat just until combined.
  • Use a 1/4 cup measure or scoop to fill your cupcake cups about 3/4 full.  Top with a spoonful of Streusel Topping: with a pastry cutter (or two butter knives) combine 1/2 cup cold butter, 1/2 cup quick cooking oats or chopped walnuts or pecans (your choice), 1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar and 2 tsp. pumpkin pie spice.  You will have leftover topping, which is delicious on a loaf of pumpkin bread or on top of a fresh coffee cake.
  • Bake the cupcakes until they are golden brown and spring back lightly when you touch them in the center, approximately 18 minutes.  Cool n the pan 10 minutes, then remove to a wire rack to cool completely before frosting.

  • For the Maple Cream Cheese Frosting: combine 2 (8 oz.) packages cream cheese, softened, with 1/2 cup room temperature sweet butter.  Mix at medium-high speed until smooth and creamy.  Add a tsp. of Maple Extract and mix just until combined. Add in 4 cups (1 lb.) powdered sugar and mix until smooth.  Add in a few tablespoons of heavy whipping cream and mix at high speed until the frosting lightens and becomes fluffy.  (It won’t be as light as whipped cream, of course, but you will notice a definite difference in the texture.)  *NOTE: I usually make the frosting the night before so it has a chance to set up; this way it will hold it’s shape if you use a pastry bag and tip to frost. 
  • When the cupcakes have cooled completely, frost them with a pastry bag and tip or an offset spatula.  Decorate as you wish (I used Maple Jelly Beans on this batch). Store them in the refrigerator and take them out about a half hour before you plan to serve them.

It’s okay to eat Pumpkin Streusel Cupcakes with Maple Cream Cheese Frosting during any season…but I do especially crave them in the fall.  And I know you and your fellow pumpkin fans will love them too.  
Bon appetit!

Say “Oui!” to Crock Pot Normandy Pork!

This past weekend a dear friend and I visited Le Potager, a a lovely French store that carries beautiful home decor items, including antiques.  They were in the midst of their annual French Apple Harvest event, which included a sampling of delicacies made with apples galore.  The French Bean Salad with a Cider Vinegar Dressing was delicious, as was the Apple Sorbet, which I plan to make soon!  But the best dish was a beautiful stew with pork, apples, shallots and cider…so wonderful that I couldn’t wait for them to post it on their website and looked up the recipe online that very night.  I made it for dinner this evening, and it was every bit as tasty as it was before, so I just had to share this with you!

I will say that there are a few steps and it does take time to prepare ~ although once you get it into the Crock Pot you’re free for the next 6 hours.  It isn’t difficult, though, and as usual, when I highly recommend a recipe that is more time consuming it’s because I think it’s well worth it.  And this one definitely is.  The complete recipe can be found here: Crock Pot Normandy Pork with Apples, Shallots & Cider.

Normandy, in Northwest France, is known for its farms and orchards, specifically apples and pears.  Many of the traditional dishes in this region are made with apples, and augmented with Calvados, apple brandy made in Lower Normandy (Basse-Normandie).  

Below are my pictures and notes for you.

The major difference in my preparation was because I used my slow cooker that has the capability to brown and sear meats and vegetables and then shift to slow cooking (to ostensibly use less pans…although this recipe required lots of dishes anyway).  So instead of pouring the sauce into the Crock Pot and adding the apples to heat while browning the shallots and meat in another pan, I did the browning in the pot set at a 425F saute, then turned it to slow cook on high setting, added the apples, and poured in the sauce. It tasted exactly the same, so if you have the slow cooker with this capability, feel free to use it.  In fact, it may have added even a little more depth to the sauce because all the juices from the meat and shallots were in the same pot.

Here are the ingredients:

To thicken the chicken stock, heat the stock and add a mixture of 1 Tbsp. corn starch and 1 Tbsp. water whisked together until smooth.  Stir over low heat until you have the desired thickness.  Then add it to the other sauce ingredients.

Next, peel the shallots (it’s a lot of shallots…which are like onions…so if you have a great way to peel without crying, please let me know…I was a mess when I finished this step!)  Cut the pork into large cubes, trimming off any big pieces of fat.

Brown the shallots in your pan or slow cooker set to saute.  You want them to get coated with a lovely caramel color.  Then add the Balsamic Vinegar and stir, and remove from the pan.  Add the meat and brown it in stages; you want a great sear and caramel color here too, as it adds a ton of flavor, especially to slow cooked meats.  Do this in batches if you need to.  Don’t crowd the pan or the foods will steam rather than sear and you won’t get the color or flavor you’re going for.  (This is why I love my slow cooker with the ability to sear, saute and slow cook in the same pot…if you use your Crock Pot often this may be a good investment for you.)

Cut up your apples (the recipe says to cut them in half but I cut them into quarters as they were pretty big). Add the pork, shallots and apples to the pot and pour in the sauce mixture.  Note: I took the Thyme leaves off the stems and mixed them into the sauce so I wouldn’t have to fish out the branches later.  I also sprinkled some additional Thyme leaves on top before serving each individual dish.

I think the colors here are beautiful.  When a dish looks this pretty before it’s done you know it’s going to be good!

And Voila!  Now you can cover and let it cook for about 6 hours (the recipe says 6-10 hours but mine was done at just under 6…if you want or need to cook it for closer to 10 you might want to turn it to low heat after the first couple of hours).

When it’s just about done, you’re ready for the last ingredient that will really boost the flavor: a couple of Tbsp. of Calvados (or a little more if you like…)    If you don’t want to use it you don’t have to, or if you’d prefer to just spoon a little over the top of each serving, you can do that as well (that’s what they did at Le Potager and it gave it a more elegant feel, as well as being delicious).

This dish is so flavorful, and very satisfying without being heavy.  Serve it with rice, or even more French, with mashed potatoes.  Don’t be put off by the fact that it takes a little more time to prepare, it’s absolutely worth it.  It makes a lovely meal for a small or large group (this will serve about 8).  It’s a dish that can be made the day before and then reheated in the Crock Pot, so it’s versatile too.  Give this a try and enjoy ~ Bon Appetit!

Crock Pot Normandy Pork
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
A delightful and delicious slow cooker meal with apples, shallots and pork in a beautiful sauce that includes apple brandy.
Recipe type: Dinner
Cuisine: French
Serves: 8-10
  • 3 lbs pork shoulder, trimmed of fat & cubed
  • 4 -6 apples, cored & halved
  • 1½ lbs shallots, peeled
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • 2 Tbsp. butter * I use Land O' Lakes Butte with Sea Salt and Olive Oil; it has great flavor and a higher smoke point.
  • 1 Tbsp. olive oil
  • ½ pint sweet apple cider
  • 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
  • 6 ounces creme fraiche or 6 ounces sour cream
  • 2 Tbsp. Dijon Mustard
  • ¼ pint chicken stock, thickened
  • fresh thyme or 2 teaspoons dried thyme
  • salt
  • black pepper
  • 1 -2 tablespoon calvados or 1 -2 tablespoon brandy
  1. Trim the pork of any thick fat and cut into large cubes of about 4" square or even bigger - it shrinks with cooking & works better with larger pieces of meat.
  2. Peel the shallots and set to one side.
  3. Halve & core the apples and set to one side with the shallots.
  4. Turn the crockpot onto High. Mix the cider, apple cider vinegar, creme fraiche, mustard, salt & pepper, thyme & thickened chicken stock together in a bowl and pour into the crockpot.(If using fresh thyme - add it last.) Add the cored and halved apples and replace the lid while you brown the pork & shallots.
  5. Heat up half the butter and half of the olive oil in a large skillet or wok-type pan, one with fairly high sides. Or, if you have a slow cooker that has settings to sear, make it all in the cooker.
  6. As soon as the butter is very hot but not burning, brown the shallots in batches - you want the shallots to have a deep caramelized color and to be just softened on the outside. When all the shallots are done, put them all back into the pan - turn up the heat & add the balsamic vinegar and stir briskly making sure all the shallots are well coated.
  7. Add the shallots & Balsamic vinegar mixture to the crockpot.
  8. Heat up the remaining butter and oil, adding more if necessary & start to brown the pork pieces, again do not overcrowd the pan - they need to be well colored & seared to seal in the juices. As the pork pieces finish browning, add them to the crockpot.
  9. When all the ingredients have been added to the crockpot, give all it a good stir with a wooden spoon. If using fresh thyme, pick about 4 large sprigs and place on top of the Normandy Pork - the leaves fall off during cooking & leave the bare branches for throwing away!
  10. Cook on high for between 6 - 10 hours.
  11. Just before serving, pour in Calvados and mix through. Serve each person with 2 -3 pieces of pork, a cooked apple half and 1 or 2 shallots; add a dollop of creme fraiche on the side & garnish with Thyme & a fresh Apple sliver if desired.
  12. Pour the remaining sauce and serve alongside; for extra flavor, add just a few drops of the Calvados on top of each serving (adults only for this, please)!
  13. This is beautiful served on top of a dollop of mashed potatoes.
  14. To cook in an conventional oven: follow recipe as above, but cook in a La Creuset type oven proof dish; pre-heat oven to 350F and cook slowly for about 6 hours, checking after 4 hours. It will cook quite happily for up to 8 hours if this helps in your time management, you may have to turn the oven down to 250F after 4 hours for a long slow 8 hour cooking time.
There are many recipes for Crock Pot Normandy Pork found on the web. This is my adaptation of the one on Food.com.


Terrific Tortilla Soup!

As the weather cools down, wonderful chilis, soups and stews are perfect game day foods.  They’re versatile and practical since you can make them ahead of time and reheat; in fact, the flavors are often better the second day after all the ingredients have had time to “marry.”  They’re delicious, comforting and filling, before or after the game, and they make wonderful dinners and lunches all through the fall and winter seasons.
This recipe came originally from a good friend as a yummy Chicken Tortilla Soup.  But I always end up playing around with spices and ingredients, adding some and removing or changing others ~ which is what I’ve done here. So this is my morphed version of the recipe, using turkey for the fall.

Turkey Tortilla Soup 
1 turkey breast, cooked and cut into bite-sized pieces or shredded (you can also use precooked turkey breast)
1 large onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
½ orange bell pepper, diced
½ yellow bell pepper, diced
1/2 cup shreeded carrots
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 ½  tsp Chipotle Chili Powder
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp ground cumin
1 – 28 oz can diced tomatoes, with juice
1 qt. chicken broth
1 c water
1 can corn kernels, drained
2 cans white kidney beans, drained
1 can pinto beans, mashed (with liquid)
1 small can sliced olives
1 -4 oz can chopped green chile peppers
Kosher salt and pepper, to taste
¼ c chopped fresh cilantro
¼ cup sliced chives
broken tortilla chips (your favorite brand)
sliced avocado
Cotija cheese, crumbled
Cheddar/Mexican Cheese Blend, shredded
Crème Fraiche or Sour Cream
Lime wedges
In a large soup pot, pour the oil and heat to medium.  Add onion and sauté in oil until soft.  Add the bell peppers and carrots, and sauté a few minutes more, then add the garlic and sauté 1-2 more minutes (you don’t want to add the garlic too early as it will burn easily). 

Stir in chili powder, oregano, cumin, tomatoes, broth and water.  Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low, and simmer for 10 minutes.

Stir in corn, olives, chiles, cilantro, white beans, pinto bean puree (I know, it doesn’t look pretty but it will add flavor and thickness to the soup)*, and turkey.  Simmer for 20 minutes.  Taste for seasoning and add salt and pepper as necessary (remember the broth has salt in it already, and you’ve used chili powder so taste it first before you add more salt or pepper!)  Remove from heat.  *The bean puree will act as a thickener for the soup.  If you prefer a thinner soup, leave the bean puree out, or just add a little.

Allow soup to cool slightly, and serve in individual bowls.  Top with your choice of toppings ~as many or as few as you’d like!

This is one of those really flexible recipes that you can build as you like, with your favorite meats, flavors and toppings.  You can use chicken or cooked pork (carnitas), or even ground or shredded beef in this soup (if you use ground beef I would suggest using beef broth).  If you don’t like some vegetables and want to substitute with others, go for it.  If you don’t like it too spicy, use 2 tsp. regular chile powder as opposed to the Chipotle Chili Powder, which packs more heat.  You can make this ahead of time and reheat on low in the Crock Pot; you can even freeze it and defrost and reheat another time.  This makes a good 10-12 servings, so if you have a small group you can make the whole recipe and freeze half.

Stay warm inside and out ~ and as always, enjoy!

Crazy for Caramel Corn!

Caramel corn is one of my favorite munching foods and this recipe is delicious.  I usually have people tell me it’s the best Caramel Corn they’ve ever had and they can’t stop eating it (that’s the best compliment ever)!  It’s perfect for this time of year for this treat~ fall, football season, Halloween, Thanksgiving and the holidays.  But I do make it year round; usually I take a big bowl of it when I go to a Superbowl party, for example.  It’s one of those things that most people don’t make on their own, so they are extra appreciative when they receive a homemade batch.


Tailgating…with Style!

Many moons ago when my (at that point future) husband and I were shopping for supplies to make a steak dinner, I reached for a bottle of White Zinfandel.  He put the bottle back and reached for a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon instead.  I said, “Oh, I don’t like red wines.”  And he said, “That’s because you haven’t had them with the right foods!”  And he was so right.  (Hey, I was only 23…what did I know from wines??) From that point on, I began to learn how foods and wines complimented each other.  Red wines and red meats bring out the best in each other…and this is true of chocolate and red wines as well. 
These brownies, adapted a bit from Better Homes and Gardens Christmas Cookies 2012, are a stunning dessert.  They pack a powerful chocolate punch, and are dressy enough for a party, an elegant tailgate, or a casual after-game dessert gathering.  Less flour means a fudgier (rather than cakey) texture. They don’t “taste like wine”; the wine simply brings out the intensity of the chocolate flavor, and the sweet-tartness of the cherries gives just the right balance.  Whether or not your team gets the “W” these brownies will ensure that your gameday is a sweet one.

Take these treats to your next game day party… your fellow tailgaters will be very grateful!

Cherry Cabernet Brownies
1 cup dried cherries, chopped
½ cup Cabernet Sauvignon
¾ cup sweet butter, cut into pieces
5 oz. dark chocolate, chopped (I use one 4.97 oz. package Trader Joe’s 72% cacao bars)
2 cups sugar
3 eggs, room temperature
1 ½ tsp. vanilla extract
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. baking powder
¼  tsp. baking soda
¼ tsp. salt
Preheat your oven to 350F. 
Line a 9 x 13 inch baking pan with foil and grease and flour the foil.  A neat trick to lining the pan with foil is to turn the pan over and cover it with heavy duty foil, molding it to the shape of the pan. 

 Carefully remove the foil, keeping its shape, and turn the pan right side up. 

 Set the molded foil inside the pan and gently and carefully fit it into the pan so it’s snug. 

 You can grease the pan with shortening and then flour it, or you can use Baker’s Joy, a cooking spray with flour in it.  My Gramma Omi loved Baker’s Joy and so do I!

 Measure the Cabernet and chop the dried cherries.  Put them both into a small saucepan and bring just to a boil over low heat.  Remove from the heat and set aside. 

 In a bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt, and set aside.

 Place the butter and chocolate into a medium saucepan and melt together over low heat, stirring until smooth.  (Don’t leave this on the stove; watch the heat and stir constantly so the chocolate doesn’t burn.)

Remove from the heat and stir in the sugar, then whisk in the eggs one at a time. 

 Stir the flour mixture into the chocolate mixture until combined.

Stir in the undrained cherries (which will have absorbed much of the Cabernet by now).

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake approximately 30 minutes, or until the brownies just begin to pull away from the sides of the pan.  Cool completely on a wire rack. 

Make the Chocolate Cabernet Glaze:
6 oz. dark chocolate, chopped (same chocolate as above, one package plus one more ounce)
3 Tbsp. sweet butter
3 Tbsp. Cabernet Sauvignon (the same kind you used in the brownies)
In a small saucepan, combine all the ingredients over low heat, stirring until smooth.  Spread over the cooled brownies in the pan (an offset spatula makes easy work of this).  

Let sit for about two hours, until the glaze has set.  These can be stored at room temperature, but I refrigerate these until I’m ready to cut them.  Use the edges of the foil to lift the brownies out of the pan, and use a knife dipped in hot water and dried between cuts for the best presentation.  

You can cut the brownies into bars or squares, or even cut them into small squares and put them in mini-cupcake papers for bite-size treats.  Enjoy with a cup of coffee, a glass of milk, or of course, a glass of Cabernet!  Bon apetit!