Biscotti for tea…Chai Biscotti

Spicy.  Exotic.  Cinnamon, cardamom and cloves.  Spices that warm my soul.  As I enjoy dipping a biscotti into my espresso or wine, I realized I would love to have a little something to dip in my tea.  Chai is one of my favorites.

My daughter works part time in a café surrounded by the aromas of freshly prepared coffee and tea drinks.  It’s a large but cozy café where you could snuggle up and spend a few hours sipping a warm drink and reading a book.  I gravitate to those places, those feel-good places that allow me to stop my busy life and relax and totally enjoy the moment.  If I can’t be at a cozy coffee shop or ocean side café, I can still create the mood right at home as soon as I settle in with one of these chai biscotti.   Since Gina has been working at the cafe’ she has taken a liking to chai drinks.

Crisp and lowfat these are ideal for a light snack and perfect for tea.   Lightly sweetened a simple, almost biscuit-type cookie but with an intense, uinique flavor.   I found a recipe in a Cooking Light magazine many years back and tweaked the recipe with extra spices and switched the white flour to a white/wheat blend and substituted agave for the sugar.  The original recipe used 1 cup sugar.  Whole wheat pastry flour is another option.

Chai Biscotti 

Adapted from Cooking Light Magazine , November 2000

2 ¾ cup wheat/white blend flour

2 tablespoons vanilla sugar * (or plain sugar)

3 Chai tea bags or 1 tablespoon loose tea

2 teaspoons baking powder

¼ teaspoon salt

1 ½ teaspoons ground ginger

1 ½ teaspoons ground cinnamon

1 ½ teaspoons ground allspice

1 ½ teaspoons ground cardamom

1/2 teaspoon ground cloves

¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

¼ cup agave

1 tablespoon Grand Marnier liquor (or triple sec or orange juice)

3 large eggs

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine flour and next 10 ingredients (flour through nutmeg) in a large bowl. Combine the oil, liqueur, agave and eggs, whisking well to combine. Pour egg mixture into the flour mixture and stir to combine well. Mixture will be dry and crumbly. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead lightly about 7 to 8 times.

Divide the dough in half. Shape each portion into an 8 inch long roll. Place rolls on a baking sheet sprayed with cooking spray or use a slipat. Flatten the tops of each roll slightly.

Bake at 350 for 30 minutes. Remove from oven and cool for 10 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 325 degrees. Cut each roll diagonally into thin slices. Place the slices on the baking sheet and bake 20 minutes. Biscotti will continue to crisp and harden as they cool. Cool completely and store tightly covered in a tin. Makes about 2 ½ dozen.

 * I keep a separate container of sugar with a few vanilla pods tucked in the middle.  The vanilla pods gently infuse the sugar with a light vanilla flavor and aroma.

Country Style Pork Ribs in Italian Sauce

I am not a “slow cooker” gal.  I own a crockpot but it’s used for specific dishes.  Those that add a bit of convenience to my life; such as making stock when I don’t have the time to stay in and watch my stock pot or making chilli and being able to keep it warm through a football party and coming home after work to simmering French Onion Soup.  Gently simmered Country Style Ribs is another favorite for my crock pot. 

I love how pork sweetens tomato based sauce; it’s always a key ingredient in my Italian Sauce.  When my mother added pork neck bones to the sauce, it was the first I would grab for.  My mother, always watching her figure, would limit me to taking just one as they did contain that meltingly good fat!  Funny how I find myself now stopping my daughter with the same reasoning when she get’s excited to grab a neck bone!   My Italian Sauce is always made in my extra large stock pot, not ever in a slow cooker, as it needs to be stirred lovingly throughout the long five-hour process.  But these Country Style Ribs, after an initial searing in a skillet, can be placed in my crockpot with sauce and seasonings and simmered slowly without a need for stirring.  I love to prepare this on an early Sunday morning having it slowly cook all day while I bike ride or run my errands and come home to wonderful aromas in my kitchen and a meal ready to go!

Chunks of tender pork in a sweet Italian sauce is a rustic, comfort meal.  The pork will just fall off the bone and I serve it mixed in spaghetti or topped on spaghetti squash (my mother definitely instilled in me those healthy habits).  The ribs do contain some fat and I trim off a bit of it, but the little fat on it is truly necessary to making these ribs so tender.  Lots of freshly grated parmesan cheese and I’m in heaven.

Country Style Ribs in Italian Sauce

6 meaty country style ribs

2-3 tablespoons olive oil

Kosher salt and pepper

1 tablespoon mixed dried Italian seasonings (basil, oregano)

1 medium onions, chopped

2 garlic cloves chopped

¼ cup red wine

3-4 cups of homemade sauce or 1 jar prepared tomato basil sauce

2 tablespoons tomato paste

1 bay leaf

1 teaspoon dried oregano

1 teaspoon crushed red pepper (optional, for a spicy version)

Heat olive oil in large skillet. Pat the ribs dry with paper towels and sprinkle with salt, pepper and Italian seasonings. Place as many ribs as possible in skillet, without crowding or touching. Sear each side until nicely browned and remove to place in slow cooker. Add onions and garlic to skillet and sauté for about 5 minutes or until softened. Stir in the wine and tomato paste and cook, scraping up the bottom the pan. Pour the onion and garlic mixture over the ribs and add in the tomato sauce and seasonings. Cover and cook on low for about 6 hours or until the meat is tender and coming away from the bones. Discard any loose bones and bay leaf  breaking up larger pieces. Pour over spaghetti and serve hot.

Amaretto Rice Pudding with Toasted Almonds

Creamy, dreamy Amaretto Rice Pudding with Toasted Almonds.  The simplest comfort dessert raised to new heights of pleasure with Amaretto and vanilla infused Arborio rice and a crunchy topping of slivered toasted almonds.  I love this rice pudding for its intensity of aroma and flavor.  From beginning to end, this dessert is a labor of love.  Gently stirring the rice and adding more milk as it thickens and softens.  The vanilla bean immediately fills my kitchen with a calming aroma.

I find this to be a classy rice pudding and definitely perfect for a dinner party or a romantic party of two.   It reminds me of a favorite cocktail, Toasted Almond, with Amaretto, coffee liquor and light cream.  It can be made the day before and served chilled or room temperature.

Amaretto Rice Pudding with Toasted Almonds

Adapted from Giada De Larentis, Lemon and Almond Rice Pudding

3 cups almond milk (split)

1/2 cup Arborio rice or medium grain brown rice

1 tablespoon maple syrup

1 vanilla bean, seeds scraped

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/8 teaspoon fine sea salt

1/4 cup dried cranberries (optional)

2 tablespoons amaretto liquor

¼ cup sliced almonds, toasted

Bring the rice, 2 cups of almond milk, maple syrup, salt, cinnamon, vanilla bean seeds and (optional) dried cranberries to a boil.  Stir well, reduce heat to simmer and cover pan to simmer 20 minutes.  Gently warm the remaining 1 cup of almond milk and stir into the rice mixture. Keeping the saucepan now uncovered, bring back to a simmer and stir often for another 20 minutes.  When the rice is creamy, stir in the amaretto until absorbed.  Mixture may still be runny but will thicken as it cools.  Spoon the rice pudding into bowls.  Cover and refrigerate for at least 4 hours.  Sprinkle the chilled pudding with sliced almonds and serve.  If choosing to serve for breakfast, omit the amaretto liquor 🙂

Pistachio Cranberry Biscotti

My biscotti jar has been empty lately since the overload of holiday sweets.  It is very rare that I don’t have homemade biscotti on hand as biscotti are a treat I can enjoy at any time of the day.  To me, biscotti are never overly sugary; just the perfect sweet ending to my dinner dipped into the last sips of wine.  An afternoon break of biscotti dunked into espresso melts into softness for a relaxing treat and a quick pick me up to finish off my day.  And a late morning breakfast of a large latte and biscotti completes that lazy weekend feeling!   

So no doubt having an empty biscotti jar was killing me!  Pistachio and Cranberry is a much loved combo of mine and a favorite in my cookie trays for the holidays.  These biscotti’s are overload chunky!  In fact, some will crumble when cutting, but that’s always my bonus for nibbling!  But to avoid slicing into the nuts and causing any crumbling, chop the pistachios just slightly.  The taste will still be amazing!

Pistachio Cranberry Biscotti

2 ½ cups all purpose flour

1 ½ teaspoon baking powder

½ teaspoon salt

½ cup sugar

½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter at room temperature

2 eggs, room temperature

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 cup shelled pistachios, chopped

1 ½ cups dried cranberries

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line baking sheet with slipat or parchment paper.

Whisk together flour, baking powder and salt in bowl.  Mix sugar and butter in large bowl with electric mixer until creamy.  Add eggs and vanilla mixing until well combined.  Add flour mixture a third at a time, mixing well afer each addition.  Stir in pistachios and cranberries with a spoon.

Divide dough into two parts on the baking sheet.  Form each dough piece into a log.  If dough is sticky, slightly wet or lightly flour hands.  Bake for 25 minutes or until tops are lightly browned.  Reduce oven temperature to 325 degrees.  Cool on baking sheet for 10 minutes. 

Remove logs to a cutting board and slice logs diagonally into ½ to ¾ in thick slices.  Place slices back on baking sheet and bake for 20 minutes.  Transfer biscotti to wire rack to cool completely.  Store in airtight container.

Lemon Chicken Soup

Sunshine, warmth and yummy goodness are in this bowl of chicken soup.  Avgolemono (av- go- le- ma- no) is a classic Greek soup made with egg yolks and lemon juice quickly whisked into simmering broth.  I use this method in various soups I make to lighten and liven the flavor; as I did in the White Wine Soup previously posted. 

Lemon juice and fresh parsley takes chicken soup to a whole new level of brightness and the yolks gently thicken the broth.  Typically rice would be used in a Greek lemon soup; I chose to add pastina to the soup for its delicate lightness and only used small diced carrots and onions to further brighten the soup.   

 A bowl of this gentle sunny soup definitely cheered up my dreary Monday!

Lemon Chicken Soup

6 cups homemade chicken stock or low-sodium broth

1 tablespoon olive oil

2 boneless skinless chicken breasts

Salt and pepper

1 small onion, chopped

3 carrots peeled and chopped

1 bay leaf

¾ cup pastina

2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped

3 tablespoons freshly squezed lemon juice

3 large egg yolks

 Heat oil in large stock pot.  Season the chicken with salt and pepper and saute until lightly browned on both sides.  Remove to a plate.  Lower heat and add onion and carrots, cooking until softened and lightly browned, scraping up bottom from bits of chicken.  Pour in the broth, bay leaf and chicken breasts.  Bring to boil, cover and simmer over low heat until chicken is cooked through about 10 minutes.

Remove chicken to a cutting board and continue simmering soup.  Add in pastina.  Fork shred or cut chicken into bite sized pieces.  Return chicken to pot and reduce to very low.

Whisk the lemon juice and egg yolks together in a small bowl.  Continue whisking constantly while gradually adding 1 cup of the hot soup into the egg mixture.  Whisking quickly will temper the eggs so they do not curdle or scramble in the soup.  Add the lemon/egg mixture into the soup continuing to whisk until soup thickens slightly.  Stir in fresh parsley and adjust to taste with additional salt and pepper.  Remove bay leaf.   Serve at once.  Leftover soup may curdle a bit when reheated, but the taste will remain the same.

Chocolate Turtle Ganache Cake


    Recipes I have loved and cherished over the years never seem to fail me. Especially when I hear of a birthday at the last minute and need to whip up a cake quickly. I can rely on these recipes and this one will fool anyone that it was made from a box mix! Yes, so easy, but the taste and appearance is like a cake made from scratch.

What can I say, chocolate, pecans, caramel. Decadent, rich ganache glaze drips over a moist chocolate cake and an ooey-gooey layer of caramel, chocolate and pecans. This cake is elegant and so party worthy.  Served slightly warm, about 4-5 hours after baking, it will melt in your mouth.  I have also served the cake with ice cream or whipped cream along with a drizzle of chocolate or caramel sauce. Yum.

Chocolate Turtle Ganache Cake

Adapted from Betty Crocker

For the cake:

1 box Devils’d food cake mix

1 1/3 cup water

½ cup vegetable oil

3 eggs

1 bag (14 oz) caramels

½ cup evaporated milk

1 cup chopped pecans

1 cup semisweet chocolate chips

For the Ganache:

½ cup heavy cream

1 cup semisweet chocolate chips

1 teaspoon instant coffee granules

2 tablespoons chopped pecans for decoration (optional)

Preheat oven to 350. Spray bottom of 9 inch spring form pan.

In large mixing bowl, beat cake mix, water, oil and eggs with electric mixer on low spped 30 seconds, then on medium speed 2 minutes, scraping bowl occasionally. Pour half of the batter into the pan. Bake 22 minutes. Refrigerate remaining batter.

Meanwhile, in a 1 quart saucepan, heat caramels and evaporated milk over medium heat, stirring frequently until caramels are melted. Stir in pecans. Pour caramel mixture over warm cake in pan. Sprinkle with chocolate chips. Spread with remaining batter. Bake 25 – 30 minutes until toothpick comes out clean and cake springs back when lightly touched. Run knife around sides of pan to loosen cake. Cool at least 30 minutes. Remove from pan and place on cooling rack.

For the Ganache, coook the heavy cream, chocolate chips and instant coffee in the top of a double boiler over simmering water until smooth and warm stirring frequently. Pour the glaz evenly over the top making sure to cover the entire cake and sides. Tilting the rack helps to smooth the glaze and drip over the sides. Decorate with chopped pecans if desired. Store loosely covered at room temperature.

The BEST Peanut Butter Chocolate Blondies

I love it when a recipe just bakes up perfectly. As often as I bake, I do have those times when my cookies are flat, when my layered pies bubble into each other, when breads are not as light and airy as I prefer. I know my problem is that I tweak recipes. Which is okay to do for general cooking where I adjust to my taste and style, a little of this and more of that. But when baking, it’s more a science of exact measurements. Yet still, I tweak.

My desire to bake blondies for my January EMS treat grew into desiring a peanut butter taste and why not, chocolate too!  I also had to double the recipe; which doesn’t always work for baking.  But in the end, two large baking sheets produced amazing peanut butter chocolate blondies! The recipe below is for a 9×9 pan or an 8×8 pan; obviously the 8×8 will be a bit thicker. Doubling the recipe as I did worked fine and fit my 11 x 17 pan. These bars would be great for bake sales as they can be wrapped up individually and easily make a large quantity.

My home was filled with an amazing aroma of warm baked peanut butter and chocolate. Such sweet torture for anyone who entered my home as I posted a note; “Sweets are for a client – Don’t touch!!”

The BEST Peanut Butter Chocolate Blondies

Adapted from Redbook

1 cup unbleached all purpose flour

¼ cup cake flour

3/4 teaspoon baking powder

½ teaspoon baking soda

1/8 teaspoon salt

1/3 cup natural creamy peanut butter

½ cup unsalted butter, softened

¾ cup packed brown sugar

¼ cup sugar

1 egg

1 egg yolk

1 teaspoon vanilla

½ cup peanut butter chips

½ cup chopped peanuts

½ cup mini chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 9×9 pan and line it with parchment paper allowing paper to extend the sides of the pan for lifting out blondies after baking.

Whisk together the flours, baking powder, soda and salt and set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, beat together the softened butter and peanut butter until very smooth. Add the sugars, egg and yolk, vanilla and mix in well. Remove the bowl from the mixer and using a wooden spoon add in the flour mixture, followed by the chips and peanuts. Stir to until combined.

Scrape dough into the prepared pan and spread evenly. Bake for 25 – 30 minutes until the blondies are a golden brown and tooth pick comes out clean. Cool blondies completely on a cooling rack. Slice into 12 squares.