Monday, December 21, 2009

English Toffee Pudding

Once upon a time there was a little cafe in Winnetka, Il. called "The Pretty Good Cafe". This was a comfy, cozy neighborhood cafe with the most wonderful homemade food and desserts. The owner, Gail, ran it with the help of her son and a few friendly staff. It was a frequent meeting place for breakfast or lunch for me and my friends. I can't tell you how many times I went in there for the English Toffee Pudding alone. Each time I would beg Gail for the recipe, and if she was in the mood she'd give me a hint, but never the recipe. Eventually, due to unfortunate circumstances, Gail closed the doors on the Pretty Good Cafe. But...not before she did the most wonderful thing! She printed a cookbook containing all of the recipes she served in the cafe for all of her loyal customers to enjoy! O.M.G.!!! I now had the recipe for the E.T.P. I adored. But wait...was that a good thing?? I could now whip up a batch whenever I felt like it. This, of course, led to a diet once the novelty wore off. But I am forever thankful to her for this warm, homey, amazing recipe. I have tried several others, but trust me, this one is the best.

English Toffee Pudding

3 1/2 cups boiling water
1 Tbls. baking soda
12 oz. pitted dates, chopped
3 Tbls. flour
1 1/2 sticks of butter
2 1/4 cups granulated sugar
3 eggs
3 cups flour, sifted
1 Tbl. baking powder

Bring water to boil in a saucepan. Chop the dates with the 3 Tbls. flour in the food processor. They need to be chopped fine or they will show up as pieces in the final product.
When the water is boiling, turn off the heat, add the baking soda and the date mixture. Stir to combine and set aside to cool to room temperature (you can refrigerate to speed the process).

In a large mixing bowl or mixer, cream butter, sugar and eggs, beating well. In a separate bowl sift flour with baking powder.

When date mixture is at room temperature (not before or you will ruin the pudding) add to egg mixture, alternating with the flour mixture until both have been incorporated.

Pour into a 9x13 greased pan and bake at 375* until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean - about 1 hour.

Toffee Topping

6 Tbls. butter
2/3 cups brown sugar
1/3 cup + 1 Tbls. whipping cream

Put all ingredients in a saucepan over medium heat, stirring until combined and bubbling. Remove from heat.
Poke holes in the top of the warm cake with a the handle of a wooden spoon. Spread toffee mixture over the cake as evenly as possible, making sure it gets into all the holes. Place the pan under the broiler for about 1 minute until the top is bubbly - keeping watch so it doesn't burn. Remove and cool or serve immediately. This also freezes well. If you freeze it, defrost and then reheat in the oven until warm. You can then slice it or scoop it out into bowls and serve with vanilla ice cream or creme fraiche. Thank you Gail!

Note: If you have never had English Toffee Pudding, it is really a cake, not what we think of as a pudding. It is rich, dense and caramelly. And, oh, so delicious!

Friday, December 18, 2009

Baked Onions Au Gratin

This is recipe from my friend Judy that has always been a favorite side dish of ours. If you are making a filet of beef for the holidays, consider trying this. It couldn't be easier and is quite tasty.

Baked Onions Au Gratin

8 medium onions; peeled, halved and sliced into 1/4 inch slices (about 6 cups)
2 Tbls. butter or more as needed
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup dry cocktail sherry
1/8 tsp. pepper
1/2 cup shredded swiss cheese
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 375*

In a large frying pan, over low heat, saute half the onions in 2 Tbls. butter, stirring occasionally. Saute until limp - 5-10 minutes. Do not discolor or carmelize. With a slotted spoon, remove to 1 1/2 quart baking dish. Saute remaining onions, using more butter if necessary. Add to onions in baking dish, along with cream, sherry, and pepper. Stir to mix. Top with swiss cheese and then the parmesan cheese. Bake until bubbly and the top is lightly browned - 15 - 20 minutes. 6 -8 servings

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Engish Muffin Appetizer

This is another favorite at Christmas time in our family. Much less involved than previous posts, but equally delicious. For lack of imagination, we just refer to it as the "english muffin appetizer".

English Muffin Appetizer

1 package of english muffins
1 1/2 cups of cheddar cheese - shredded
1/2 cup of mayonnaise
1 small can black olives - sliced
3 scallions, some of the green tops included - thinly sliced
1/2 tsp. curry powder - or to taste

Preheat oven to 350*

Combine all ingredients excluding english muffins

Cut english muffins into quarters and spread each quarter liberally with cheese mixture. Place on foil lined cookie sheet and bake until melted, bubbly and golden. Serve. Easy and yummy!

p.s. you can make the filling days in advance and refrigerate until ready to use.


Well, all I can say is "be careful what traditions you begin". In our household, Christmas would not be Christmas without spanakopetes. No, we're not Greek. Here's how it began... for many years, on Christmas Eve, I would have a appetizer/dessert fest. One of the appetizers was the spanakopetes. My kids adored them, and that was that. I have made them every year since whether I had the time or not, because, like I just wouldn't be Christmas without them. And, really, who wants to disappoint their kids? Not me. So my strategy is to set aside a day after Thanksgiving to make the little buggers. Luckily, they freeze beautifully, and you can make them in advance. Which is always a good thing for any recipe, especially around the holidays.


2 10 ounce packages frozen, chopped spinach, thawed
1 - 1 1/2 cups butter, melted
3/4 cup onion, finely minced
3 eggs, beaten
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
1/8 tsp. nutmeg
1/4 cup fresh bread crumbs
1 cup farmers cheese
1/2 lb. feta cheese, crumbled
1 package phyllo pastry sheets, defrosted

Defrost spinach and with your hands, squeeze out all the excess moisture. In a large skillet melt 2 Tbls. of the butter and saute the minced onion until translucent. Add the spinach, and saute for a few minutes until most of the moisture has evaporated. Remove mixture to a large mixing bowl and let cool. When cool, add beaten eggs, salt, pepper, nutmeg, both cheeses, and bread crumbs. Mix together until completely combined.

Setting up: (Dawn style)

Cover table with plastic tablecloth. Unwrap phyllo and unfold. Using a pizza wheel or kitchen shears cut the phyllo sheets lengthwise into 1 1/2 -2 inch strips. Stack the strips together into one stack and place on a sheet of wax paper. Cover with another sheet of wax paper, and then lay a damp (not wet) kitchen towel over that. This keeps the phyllo strips moist. If left uncovered, they will dry up and crumble - so remember to keep them covered in between using them. Line several rimmed cookie sheets (that will fit in your freezer) with wax paper and bring them to the table. On a hot pad, place your pan of warm, melted butter next to you, along with your bowl of spinach mixture. Now you are ready to roll!


Place one phyllo strip on the work surface and with a pastry brush, brush the entire strip lightly with the melted butter. Place a second strip over the first strip and again brush lightly with the melted butter. Now place a generous tablespoon of spinach mixture on the right hand corner of the strip. From right edge fold over filling and then bring up on an angle to begin folding back and forth into a triangle shape for the entire length of the strip (like folding a flag). Fold them as tightly as you can - otherwise the filling will leak out when you bake them. Place triangle on cookie sheet and brush the top with the melted butter. Continue on for each triangle until you have used all the spinach mixture, placing each sheet in the freezer as it is filled. During this process, you will have to reheat your butter to warm it up a few times, possibly having to add more butter if you run low. When the triangles are frozen, remove them and store in one layer in freezer zip lock bags or layer them between sheets of wax paper in a plastic storage container and place back in the freezer. all of your triangles are comfortably nestled in your freezer, patiently waiting until you are ready to bake and serve them. Phew!

To serve:

Preheat your oven to 375*

Line rimmed cookie sheets with parchment paper or foil. Place your triangles about 1-2 inches apart and bake until golden. Now you are ready to serve these flaky, savory little bundles of deliciousness. Mmmm. So gooood! The effort of preparing them has become a distant memory, while eating them is heavenly and becoming addictive. Now, if they become a tradition in your family, don't say I didn't warn you!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Apple Chutney

Years ago a good friend of mine gave me her favorite chutney recipe, and it soon became mine. It's so versatile. As an appetizer, you can spoon it over a brick of cream cheese or goat cheese, or brie, and serve with crackers. Or you can serve it alongside a roast pork, or poultry. It combines all the wonderful fall / winter flavors; apples, cinnamon, cloves and ginger. So delicious!

Apple Chutney

1 1/2 cups apple cider vinegar
3 cups granulated sugar
1 1/2 lbs. granny smith apples - peeled, cored, and cut into 1/2 incch pieces
3 Tbls. lemon juice
3 garlic cloves - minced
1 2oz. piece fresh ginger - peeled and minced
1 1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. red pepper flakes
1 1/2 cups golden raisins
2 Tbls. yellow mustard seeds
2 Tbls. cinnamon

Bring vinegar and sugar to a boil. Simmer for 10 minutes. Remove from heat. In a large bowl, toss apples and lemon juice together.

Combine: garlic, ginger, salt, and red pepper in food processor and pulse until finely chopped.

Add apple and garlic mixtures, raisins, and mustard seeds to vinegar/sugar mixture, and simmer over low heat until apples are tender, stirring occasionally - for about 45 minutes. Cool completely, cover, and refrigerate. Now you're good to go. Enjoy!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Coconut Pound Cake

I have a friend (you know who you are) who has no confidence in her cooking / baking skills. And yet.. anytime I have eaten anything she has cooked or baked it has been truly good. Better than good. Really yummy...really. Hmmm...false modesty perhaps? Nope. Not with this chick. She just hides behind her abilities and never takes a bow. So, to honor and shine a light on her, I am sharing one of her recipes that I love. A perfect, dense, moist, buttery, coconut pound cake.

Coconut Pound Cake

2 sticks unsalted butter
2 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
1 cup unsweetened Thai coconut milk, shaken
4 large eggs, room temperature
2 cups sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
3/4 cup dry, unsweetened coconut (if not in your supermarket, try a health food store)

Place rack in bottom third of oven - preheat to 350*

Grease a bundt pan and dust with flour.

Sift flour, baking powder and salt together in bowl. Heat butter and coconut milk in a pan, over low heat, until butter is melted and mixture is warm. Do not let come to a boil. Place eggs and sugar in bowl of mixer and beat on medium speed until thick and pale (about 2 minutes). Add vanilla and blend. Reduce to low speed and gradually add flour mixture until completely combined. Scrape sides of bowl and add coconut. Mix until incorporated. Add warm milk and butter mixture gradually, mixing on low speed until incorporated. Give a final stir with rubber spatula. Pour batter into prepared bundt pan - thump on counter to settle batter. Bake for 60 - 65 minutes testing with a wooden skewer. Don't over bake. Skewer should come out with a few crumbs attached. Cool on rack for 15 minutes before unmolding. Leave cake on rack until completely cooled. Store on platter under a cake dome or wrap completely in Saran. Serve plain or dust with confectioners' sugar or serve with a berry compote. Any way you choose to serve it, it's delish!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Pecan Squares

Imagine your favorite pecan pie...ooey, gooey, sweet and chewy, loaded with toasted pecans. Mmmm. Well, these are like miniature pecan pies only in cookie bar form. Serve them on a sweet tray or make up a tin to take as a hostess gift. So easy and delicious!

Pecan Squares


2/3 cup confectioners' sugar
2 cups all purpose flour
2 sticks salted butter, softened

Preheat oven to 350*

Grease a 9 x 13 inch baking pan. Sift sugar and flour together. Cut in butter using your fingertips or a pastry blender until fine crumbs form. Press dough into prepared pan. Bake for 20 minutes. Remove from oven.


11 Tbls. salted butter, melted
1/2 cup maple syrup (the good kind...not Aunt Jemima!)
3 Tbls. heavy cream
1/2 cup light brown sugar
3 1/2 cups coarsely chopped pecans, toasted (spread out on baking sheet and toast at 350* for 10 minutes - cool)

Mix melted butter, maple syrup, cream and brown sugar together. Stir in pecans, coating them completely. Spread over crust. Return to oven and bake for 20 minutes. Cool completely before cutting into bars or squares.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Pumpkin Spice Cookies

Jingle Bells! Christmas is on the way and I want to share some of my favorite holiday recipes with all of you. I'm going to start with the cookie for the season...pumpkin spice cookies like no other. It's really hard not to gobble them all up before you serve them to guests or send them out as gifts. They are little pillows of spicy goodness encompassing all the lovely, warm, wintery spices we associate with Christmas. Cinnamon, clove, nutmeg and ginger..oh my! Full of plump raisins, dates and pecans. So satisfying. You might want to leave a few out for Santa. I'm sure he'll leave a thank you note.

Pumpkin Spice Cookies

1 cup butter, softened
1 cup of granulated sugar
1 cup canned pumpkin, no spices added
1 tsp. vanilla
1 egg
1 tsp. mapolene flavoring

Cream butter and sugar on medium high in mixer until light and fluffy. Add the pumpkin, vanilla, egg, and mapolene and mix until completely blended.

2 cups flour
3/4 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
2 tsp. cinnamon
1/8 tsp. ground cloves
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
1/4 tsp. ginger
1/2 tsp. salt

Combine all dry ingredients in a bowl and with mixer on low speed, gradually add to the creamed butter mixture. Mix on low speed until completely combined, scraping down the bowl of the mixer several times.


1 cup golden raisins
1 cup pitted dates, chopped
1 cup pecans, toasted (spread on cookie sheet and toast in a 350* oven for 10 minutes - let cool)

Preheat oven to 375*

Line cookie sheets with parchment paper. Use a large cookie scoop (or 1/4 cup measuring cup) and drop dough 3-4" apart on sheets. Gently pat dough down to a 3" disc. Bake one sheet at a time in the lower middle of the oven for 10-12 minutes.The bottom of the cookies should be golden, not brown. Repeat with rest of dough. Cool cookies on a wire rack.


1 cup light brown sugar
1/2 cup whole milk
6 Tbls. butter
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla
1/4 tsp. mapolene flavoring
2 cups sifted confectioners sugar

In a heavy pot, over a medium low flame, combine butter, brown sugar and milk. Bring to a boil, lower flame to gentle simmer and cook for 5 minutes. Take off flame, add vanilla, mapolene, and confectioners sugar. Whisk until smooth. Scrape frosting into large measuring cup and pour over cookies on racks, reheating frosting in micro wave if mixture gets too thick. Let frosted cookies dry on racks and then store in air tight containers using waxed paper between layers. Try not to eat too many :)