It’s Autumn…isn’t it?!?!?

So it’s officially the second day of Autumn  ~ my very favorite season! Pumpkins, football, back-to-school, changing colors, Halloween, Thanksgiving, holiday preparations…all combine to make such sweet times full of traditions that encourage us to slow down and enjoy our families and friends, even as we return to more structured days. More wonderful tradition was added to our family calendar this year with the joyous occasion of my daughter’s wedding to her high school sweetheart ~ a dessert adventure that merits it’s own write-up ~ making September an even sweeter month.

Living in Southern California presents a challenge for us “Fall Fanatics”, since September typically brings the hottest, most humid days of the year. This weekend was no exception…temperatures in the 90’s and humidity that made my hair curl…but I still am compelled to bake! I did make something delicious that provided a wonderful compromise, though: Speculoos Cookie Butter Ice Cream. Adapting a recipe I had for a peanut butter-based ice cream, the frozen result was an irresistible, silky smooth, gelato-like treat that tastes of cinnamon and Gingerbread (in short, Fall!). I can tell that this recipe will be a keeper!

If you haven’t tried the Speculoos Cookie Butter from Trader Joe’s (Trader Joe’s Speculoos Cookie Butter) you should do so as soon as possible. The taste is a bit reminiscent of Gingerbread, but not quite so strong, with undertones of cinnamon.  You can’t go wrong with that combination. It’s delicious on bagels and toast, bananas, or all by itself ~ but my first thought upon tasting it was, “I wonder if I can make ice cream with this!”

I searched through my favorite ice cream cookbook, Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams At Home, and found a recipe for The Buckeye State Ice Cream.  Since it’s a peanut butter ice cream, I guessed it would suit my purposes.  And so it did!  There are a few steps, but I guarantee it is well worth the effort!  Here’s my recipe for Speculoos Cookie Butter Ice Cream (this recipe makes about 1 quart):

1 cup low fat Milk
1 cup Half and Half
1 Tbsp. + 1 tsp. Cornstarch
3 Tbsp. Cream Cheese
1/2 cup Trader Joe’s Speculoos Cookie Butter
1/4 tsp. fine Sea Salt
1 1/4 cups Heavy Cream
2/3 cup Sugar
3 Tbsp.Molasses
2 Tbsp. Dark Corn Syrup
1 tsp. Vanilla Bean Paste (or pure Vanilla Extract)
2 tsp. ground Cinnamon

In a small cup, mix 2 Tbsp. milk with the cornstarch until smooth and set aside.

In a large bowl (or ideally, an 8 cup measuring glass with a pour spout), place the cream cheese and cookie butter and microwave at 50% power just to soften.  Whisk together until smooth and add the salt.

In a 4 quart sauce pan, combine the remaining milk, half and half, cream, molasses, corn syrup, vanilla and cinnamon.  Whisking over medium-high heat, bring the mixture to a boil and boil for 4 minutes.  Remove from the heat and whisk in the cornstarch mixture slowly.  Keep whisking so you don’t have any lumps.  Return the pan to the heat and bring the mixture back to a boil, whisking constantly, for about 1 minute, until the mixture thickens.  Remove from the heat, and gradually pour the hot liquid into the cream cheese-cookie butter mixture, whisking until smooth.

At this point you can cover the mixture by putting saran wrap directly on top and refrigerating until cool, but Jeni’s quick-cool method is better:  Fill a large bowl with ice and water.  Pour the hot mixture into a zip-top freezer bag (I double-bag it), and seal.  Remember, the mixture is very hot; be careful.  Place the mixture into the ice water bath and let it sit for about 30 minutes, at which time the mixture will be cool enough to pour into your ice cream maker (resist the urge to pour some of the mixture into a cup to drink on the spot!).  Freeze according to manufacturer’s directions, then place into a freezer-safe container and place a piece of parchment paper directly on top of the ice cream, then cover with an airtight lid.  Definitely reward yourself with a taste of  “soft-serve” ice cream from the ice cream freezer bowl now!  Freeze until firm, at least a few hours; overnight is best.  Serve plain or with crunchy cinnamon topping…either way, it’s divine!

I know, I know…there’s a lot of “good stuff” in here…cream, half and half, sugar, molasses…but since it’s very rich, a little scoop goes a long way.  So it’s definitely okay to eat this treat, anytime, but especially on an unbelievably hot and humid September day when you’re looking to escape the heat with a little taste of fall.  Bon appetit!


From Paris with Love

At long last, I am in France! Munich, Salzburg and Dachau filled our first days with so many sights, sounds and sensations…and then we arrived in Paris yesterday…for me, a much anticipated return to my favorite city in the world. I can barely keep up with the many thoughts and descriptions in my head ~ the lovely city of Munich with its wonderful open air market and friendly people, the beauty of Salzburg and the thrill of seeing places long dreamed of since watching The Sound of Music as a little girl, the intense emotion that cannot be described when walking through the grounds of Dachau, haunted by the train tracks outside the main gate and feeling the powerful spirit and strength around me of the people who endured the atrocities that occurred there. The beautiful, tiny white flowers growing in the grass at Dachau lifted my spirit and reminded me that beauty returns, and that we all have the opportunity to make our world better by treating others with kindness and respect.

Being in Paris brings intense emotions
of a different sort. As the train pulled into the station happiness filled my heart…although it had been 28 years since my last visit, I felt like I had never left. A whirlwind afternoon of touring around the city that included the Cathedral of Notre Dame and a delicious slice of Quiche Lorraine from a street cart planted my feet firmly on French soil; seeing the reactions of others who are here for the first time was such fun too. It is an amazing privilege to watch young people fall in love with the city and it’s history and charm. Today we visited the chateau of Versailles, so overwhelming in its splendor that it brought tears to my eyes more than once. The opulent and striking architecture, amazing gardens and gorgeous and historic interior are almost too much to take in…but I savored every moment. Climbing the stairs to the first level of the Eiffel Tower brought more emotions of a bittersweet nature as I took in the sights and sounds of the city from high above, and felt my mom’s presence.

I think I could write all night ~ but tomorrow is another wonderful day in the city…more experiences to treasure before we travel to Giverny and other destinations in beautiful France. So
much more to share in the coming days and weeks ~ I’ve hardly started talking about the food yet! I will be a little sad to leave Paris but I’ve promised myself that it won’t be another 28 years before I return.

For now, bon nuit! We’ll talk recipes
for Quiche Lorraine very soon…Bon appetit!

Testing 1-2-3!

Happy Summer! After two years of planning and a year of counting down, Europe awaits! This week I return to Paris, the City of Lights, love, and fabulous food. My inner French girl and cooking goddess are eager to return after too many years, excited to visit destinations across France that I have always wanted to see. Traveling with my son (a high school senior) on this school trip is going to be an amazing experience; I can’t wait to hear his perspectives and his impressions of the places we will visit: Salzburg, Munich, Dachau and then France ~ Paris, Versailles, the D-Day Beaches in Normandy, Provence, Cannes, Monaco and Nice…the joy of sharing this time with him is not something I can adequately describe in words. And that’s how I ended up here…trying to learn how to blog from a Kindle Fire. I can keep in touch from across the pond and post some pictures of our excellent adventure. Thanks to a very patient friend who answered lots of my questions about blogging from here, it looks like I’ve made it through my first off-the-computer post! Have a virtual cake pop to celebrate with me…here’s to lots of available wi-fi for blogging, lots of happy times in the Old World, and lots of recipes and tips to share in the coming months. Now I just have to pack…always a challenge…a girl’s gotta have choices, right? A votre sante et bon appetit!

Time Flies…

…when you’re living life.  It’s so hard for me to believe that it’s been almost a year since my mom passed away, and almost a year since I’ve posted on my blog.  It wasn’t at all intentional…time flies faster than we realize.  I’m happy to be back, and excited to share new found recipes, and some thoughts along the way, with you.

For tonight, something light, a comfort cake that’s not too sweet, not too heavy…it’s just right! It’s a slight variation on the Fig Preserves Cake in theTaste of the South Southern Cakes issue.

Although I followed the recipe and used fig preserves on the first bake, this time I’ve made it with the Fig Butter you can get at Trader Joe’s (it’s delicious!).  Substitute the same amount of Fig Butter for the fig preserves.  The smooth texture of the Fig Butter makes the cake even softer and the rich fig taste is divine, complimented by the lemony cream glaze.  It’s a quick and simple cake to put together, and baking it in a 6 cup bundt pan   (rather than in the round pan shown in the magazine) dresses it up for a special occasion ~ or makes an ordinary day extraordinary!

And since we all know how time can fly, don’t miss an opportunity to make any day special, by counting your blessings, cherishing time with friends and family, or…baking a wonderful cake…like this one.  It’s okay to eat the Fig Butter Cake ~ Bon appetit!

A Mother’s Day Story

Every year, much thought goes into finding just the right gift for Mother’s Day.  This year, my mother and I received an early gift – a moment – that I’d like to share with you.  Initially it may not sound like a gift but I think in the end you may agree that nothing else could have been better.

This past Thursday, my mom passed way after an incredibly brave battle with a rare form of oral cancer that lasted more than 11 years.  During this time, surgeries, radiation and chemotherapy impacted every aspect of her life.  The cancer attacked her from all sides-physically, mentally, and emotionally.  Perhaps worst of all, after her second major surgery in 2002 until her passing, she was unable to eat solid food-my mom, who loved to cook and entertain, who would offer you treats and would say, if you told her you weren’t hungry, that “hunger has nothing to do with it!”  

Through it all, she remained fiercely independent.  She travelled, she joined support groups and sewing guilds, she fostered and adopted several cats, she shopped (another favorite pastime), and she continued to cook for others even though she could not enjoy the fruits of her own labor.  The love and support of many wonderful friends helped her to stay strong and active.  No matter what challenge the cancer threw her way, she refused to give in.

But in the end, as hard as she fought, the cancer won.  And in the last hours of her life we found for each other the gift that we will always treasure.  It was very important to me that I be with her in the end as I worried that my mom would feel alone and apprehensive about what would happen when she passed.  I was very grateful to have had the opportunity to travel to her in time. 

She slept peacefully as I sat with her through Wednesday night, mostly in what I hoped was comforting silence, holding her hand.  Occasionally I would talk to her and in one of these moments, I said, “It’s alright if you are ready to go.  Don’t worry, don’t be afraid, you won’t be alone.  Many who you love are waiting for you, and I will hold your hand here until you can reach the hands on the other side.”  Early Thursday, in the quiet of the sunrise, her breathing slowed.  I told her again that everything would be okay, that I loved her.  She moved her hand toward mine and I took it, and she held my hand firmly until her breathing stopped.  The devastating sense of loss was immediate and stronger than I could have ever prepared for it to be.  And yet, in the sadness, there is joy (my moms’ middle name) in the fact that my prayers for her peaceful passing were answered-and that we had the rare opportunity to share a moment together that transcended time and space, as mom began her journey home.

I’m sure you won’t be surprised that I am shedding tears as I write this-tears of sadness at the loss of my mom and for all that she valiantly endured,but tears of thankfulness too, for the wonderful gift we were given, and the amazing comfort that this gift continues to bring me.

For all of us who have attended funerals and memorials, we know that there is love, comfort and sustenance in the feasts and sharing of food that is part of these events.  And this story ends no differently: there is comfort and healing in the preparation and sharing of foods that bring happy memories to life.  On Mother’s Day many years ago, I made a Tiramisu for dessert that my mom talked about whenever she reminisced about her favorite foods.  And so, for you mom, my “cupcake take” on the dessert you never forgot.  Happy Mother’s Day, with all my love.

(Really Easy) Tiramisu Cupcakes

Make your favorite yellow cake batter (yes, you can use a boxed mix if you’d like); add 2 tsp. pure vanilla extract to the batter.  Prepare your cupcake tins with liners and preheat your oven to the temperature specified on your recipe.  Bake the cupcakes according to recipe directions and cool them completely before frosting.

Meanwhile, make the Chocolate-Espresso Ganache:

Place 12 oz. of chopped semi-sweet chocolate in a bowl.  In a saucepan, heat 1 1/2 cups heavy cream until just simmering.  Pour the cream over the chocolate and let it sit for a minute, then stir until the chocolate has melted and the mixture is smooth.  Mix in a tablespoon or two of strong brewed coffee.  Cool slightly, then cover the ganache with saran wrap (place the wrap directly on the ganache so it doesn’t form a “skin” on top).  Refrigerate until the mixture thickens to spreading consistency, about an hour.

Make the Whipped Cream:

In a bowl (chilled if possible) with an electric mixer (beaters chilled too), whip two cups heavy cream until slightly stiff peaks form.  Add in two tablespoons powdered sugar, a tablespoon of hazelnut liqueur and a teaspoon of pure vanilla extract, and mix in.  (Take care not to over beat.)

On the cooled cupcakes, spread a tablespoon of the chocolate espresso ganache.  Place the whipped cream in a piping bag and pipe it decoratively on top of the chocolate.  You can also just dollop a spoonful of the whipped cream on top-it will still look fabulous.   Serve with fresh raspberries and a sprinkling of confectioner’s sugar.

Remember, it’s okay to eat the cupcake-“hunger has nothing to do with it!”  Bon appetit!