Thursday, December 30

Cranberry sorbet

I made this cranberry sorbet as part of my annual ice cream birthday party.  I've done it for a few years now and I always like to use different recipes for the social.  After I had all my ice cream recipes gathered (oreo cheesecake, lemon curd, Irish Car Bomb with Guinness ice cream and a Bailey's Irish Creme swirl, honey vanilla coconut, basil, dulce de leche, and sweet cream), I realized that all the flavors were heavy and cream-based and there wasn't anything light and fruity.  After a quick search, I settled on the season-appropriate cranberry sorbet

I've made sorbet before and it froze rock-hard, even with alcohol. For this cranberry sorbet, I waited to churn it until shortly before the party.  I needn't have worried, though. I've had it in my freezer for 2 weeks now, there is nary an icy chunk to be found, and it's still as good as when I first made it. We can thank the Grand Marnier for that; there's just enough to keep it soft and enhance, without overwhelming, the cranberry.

This sorbet exceeded my expectations! It was tart and sweet and it was fairly creamy (as far as sorbets go). One of my guests had the brilliant idea of pairing it with the lemon curd ice cream and it was super yummy!

Cranberry season may be winding down, but there is still plenty of time to make this sorbet, so hop to it!

Cranberry Sorbet
Barely adapted from UseRealButter who, in turn, adapted it from David Lebovitz.

The liqueur is optional, but highly recommended.  The flavors really work together but, more importantly, it keeps the sorbet scoopable directly from the freezer.  If you nix the liqueur, you'll need to let the sorbet stand at room temperature for about 10 minutes before scooping.  Also, if you don't have any Grand Marnier, I bet you could substitute vodka, but go easy on it. 

Makes about 1 quart.


  • 1 1/2 cups cranberries, fresh or frozen
  • 1 cup water
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups cranberry-raspberry juice
  • 2-3 teaspoons Grand Marnier (optional)


Heat cranberries, water, and sugar in a medium saucepan until liquid begins to boil. Let boil for 1 minute then remove from heat and cover. Let stand for about 30 minutes. Purée the cranberries and their liquid in a blender or food processor then press through a sieve to remove the cranberry skins and seeds. (conversely, you could use a food mill fitted with a fine disk). Stir in the juice and the liqueur. Chill the mixture thoroughly, then freeze it in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

Monday, November 29

Cashew butter cookies

Now that Thanksgiving is over, we can focus on Christmas! Here are those cashew butter cookies I promised in the oh-so-Thanksgiving-appropriate cashew nut butter post.

Just like the Key West lime coconut butter cookies, these cookies were a result of another nut-butter fail.  I don't think I mentioned it in the cashew nut butter post, but my cashew butter was extremely dry and thick.  It was barely spreadable.  I worked with it as long as I could, but after that, I knew some cookies were in order.  

(L) Cashew butter, (R) Coconut butter

I actually made these the same day as the coconut butter cookies and it was a toss up as to which ones Tara and I liked better.  These cashew butter cookies were a little softer, richer, and more like peanut butter cookies.

Regardless, if you normally make peanut butter cookies for your cookie exchange, consider these cashew butter cookies instead.  Or, better yet, make both - 'Tis the season for giving!

Honey cashew butter cookies
Adapted from Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook, 75th year anniversary

This is another riff off the classic peanut butter cookie recipe.  The only thing I changed, aside from using cashew butter, was subbing in 1/4 cup honey for the brown sugar.

  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1/2 cup cashew butter
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • Granulated sugar


Preheat oven to 375F.  In a large mixing bowl beat butter and cashew butter with an electric mixer on medium to high speed for 30 seconds. Add the granulated sugar, honey, baking soda, and baking powder. Beat until combined, scraping sides of bowl occasionally. Beat in egg and lime until combined . Beat in the flour, stirring if necessary. If the dough is difficult to handle, cover and chill for about 30 minutes.

Shape dough into 1-inch balls. Roll in additional granulated sugar to coat. Place 2 inches apart on an ungreased cookie sheet. Flatten by making crisscross marks with the tines of a fork. Bake for 9 to 13 minutes (less for softer cookies) or until bottoms are lightly browned. Transfer to a wrack and let cool.

Wednesday, November 24

Cashew nut butter

I realize that tomorrow is Thanksgiving and I should probably post a more appropriate recipe, but this is what I have ready, so this is what you get!  There are a few Fall/Thanksgiving appropriate dishes on the blog that you can check out if you need some last minute inspiration, though.

I enjoy making my own nut butter flavors at home.  They're relatively easy and you can experiment with any number of nut/flavor combinations you can think of. I'm still experimenting with flavors, but so far, I've made plain pumpkin seed butter (can't wait to try this with some cinnamon, nutmeg, or ginger or all 3), maple cinnamon pecan butter (OMG, to die for, recipe coming soon), and this cashew butter.   

Nut butters can be used in the same way that you would use peanut butter: sandwiches, cookies (recipe coming up for cashew butter cookies), granola, smoothies, etc.

For the sandwiches below, I made a "Peanut butter & jelly" sandwich, but with the cashew butter and lingonberry preserves (cranberry sauce would work well, too). I gotta say, it was a pretty outstanding sandwich as far as PB&J goes.

Cashew nut butter

This is more of a concept than a hard and fast recipe; you can scale this up or down and add as little or as much flavorings as desired.  I prefer to roast my own nuts so I can add any liquids before roasting and allow for caramelization.  However, you can use already roasted nuts and add your liquids in the processor; just use a little bit less.  Also, if you don't want to add the honey, you shouldn't need to add any oil; for some reason the honey clumps up the cashew butter.


  • 16oz (1 pound) cashews
  • 2-3 Tablespoons honey, or to taste
  • ~1 teaspoon salt
  •  5 teaspoons oil (I used a combo of grapeseed and coconut)


Preheat oven to 350F.

Coat cashews with honey (and any other flavorings).  Roast for 8-10 minutes, stirring occasionally,  until they're a light golden brown; keep an eye on them because under done is better than over done in this case! 

Place nuts in food process and process until the texture doesn't change anymore, stopping regularly to scrape down the bowl.  The nuts will go through several stages (check out the above pic) and it might take awhile - 15 minutes or so. Add the salt and slowly pour in the oil.  Process until you get a fairly smooth consistency.

I store my nut butters in old glass peanut butter jars.  They'll be fine out of the fridge for a few months, but if you're unsure, you can store them in the fridge.


Friday, November 19

Couscous and sausage stuffed mushrooms

My meals have been less than inspired lately. It's been difficult for me because not only does Tara have the dietary restrictions due to her Porphyria, but she's pretty picky, too; top that off with the fact that she's still recovering from jaw surgery and you could understand my frustration. Soooo, we've been eating lots of pastas and cobbled together meals of leftovers.

Mark Bittman to the rescue! The NYT recently re-shared Bittman's Top 101 Head Starts on the Day from 2009.  I found so many ideas that I ended up making my own list of favorites.  Expect to see some of them in upcoming posts.  

A few things:

First, I normally have a loooong turn around time from cooking/eating a recipe to blogging about it.  Not this dish.  I made it just a few days ago and it was so good that I had to post about it as soon as possible.  Plus, it's perfect for Thanksgiving.

Second, HUGE apologies for the bad quality of photos.  I was working with the double whammy of my iPhone and bad lighting.  Normally, I wouldn't blog a recipe if the pictures looked like these, but Tara loved this dish, so I had to share. Again, it was that good!

Third, Bittman doesn't give very detailed instructions, so I kinda had to wing it as far as writing the recipe.

Couscous and sausage stuffed mushrooms
Adapted from Mark Bittman, via The New York Times (#39)

I changed a few things in the "recipe" based on what was on hand and how much time I had.  Mainly, I used couscous instead of rice, a shallot instead of onion and garlic, and a mixture of Fontina and Gruyere cheese instead of the Parmesan.  In the spirit of the recipe, I didn't measure, so take the ingredient amounts as a guide rather than an absolute, especially with the couscous, bread crumbs and cheese.


  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 8 oz button, cremini, or portobello mushrooms
  • 2 smallish mild Italian sausages, removed from casings and crumbled
  • 1 shallot, chopped
  • 1-2 cloves garlic, minced (optional)
  • ~ 3/4 cup cooked couscous
  • 1 egg
  • ~ 1/4 cup soy free bread crumbs (I used Ian's Panko.)
  • ~ 1/4 cup of grated cheese


Preheat your oven to 350F.

Add oil to a large skillet over medium heat.  Cook the sausage until it begins to brown. While the sausage is cooking, trim mushrooms and chop stems (do this first if you're not confident in your speedy kitchen skills).

When the sausage starts to brown, add stems, chopped onion, and garlic (if using).  Stir often.  (Time saving tip: Grate your cheese while waiting for the mixture to cook.)  When the mixture is cooked, remove from heat and transfer to a bowl.  Add cooked couscous, egg, bread crumbs, and cheese. The mixture should stick together a little bit, so feel free to add cheese and bread crumbs as needed.

Spoon the stuffing into the mushroom caps (and ramekins for the extra mixture) and bake until tender, about 15 minutes.

Vegetarian option:  Increase the mushrooms to 12-16oz.  Dice half and cook with the stems.  Season with black pepper and fennel.  

Onion free and garlic free option:  Replace the shallot and garlic with 1-2 stalks of diced celery.

Thursday, November 18

Foods with soy

This is the 4th edition of my ongoing series, "Foods you didn't know had soy."  I am constantly amazed at how many foods have soy; at least once a week, I'll ask Tara (or somebody random if they're standing next to me at the supermarket), "Did you know that this had soy?! WTF?"  Be sure to check out the rest of the series

1. Meal replacement shakes

Boost Nutritional Energy Drink, Chocolate, 8 Ounce Bottle (Pack of 24)

2. Microwave popcorn

Pop Secret Homestyle Flavor, Microwavable Popcorn, 10-Count, 35-Ounce Box (Pack of 2)

3.  Protein bars

PowerBar Performance The Original Energy Bar, Chocolate,12 Count - 2.29-Ounce Bars (Pack of 2)

Most, but not all, protein bars use soy as their protein.

4. Container frosting

Duncan Hines Creamy Home-Style Classic Vanilla Frosting, 16-Ounce Canisters (Pack of 8)

Every style of frosting that I checked out at my regular supermarket had soy in it.  Needless to say, I was pretty surprised. 

5. Rainbow sprinkles 

Cake Mate Rainbow Decors, 1.75 Ounce Bottles (Pack of 12)

This was the biggest WTF?  I mean, sprinkles?  Really?

Note: While not all varieties of a product contain soy, each of the items pictured above does. For most items, there are a variety of alternatives; some, however, may be harder to find than others.

Monday, November 15

Granola with quinoa and seeds

I eat granola almost every weekday morning for breakfast, but until recently, I've never actually made my own.  Any of the recipes I saw seemed too complicated or they had ingredients that I didn't want to use like corn syrup and/or oil (wtf?), or or they included nuts/seeds that I didn't have. So, even though I always check every recipe that I see, I've never once attempted to make it...until I saw a recipe for Quinoa Granola over at Fake Ginger.

At the time, I had a huge amount of red quinoa that I wanted to get rid of (even after using it in the Quinoa and sausage stuffed acorn squash), so it seemed like the perfect opportunity to both make granola for the first time AND use up the quinoa. I can't say that I would have ever thought to use quinoa in granola, but it makes sense since it's actually a seed.

Unfortunately, once I made and tasted the recipe, I wasn't entirely happy with the outcome.  First, it wasn't sweet enough.  Second, there was so much quinoa that, because it turned hard during baking, it made for difficult eating.

But, all was not lost because I finally realized just how easy it was to make granola and how infinitely customizable it is! Initially, I set out to make granola that tasted similar to my favorite commercially available granola, Oats and honey by Cascadian Farms.  So, I modified the original recipe primarily by increasing the honey and decreasing the quinoa; I also added some other nuts, seeds, and flavors.  I've made it several times now and each version is better than the previous.

See the puffed rice in the mix?

As a bonus, I found that I could make this granola gluten free without spending a ton of money on gluten free oats.  I've tried a few batches with puffed rice, both mixed and 100%, and it ended up working very well.

[Our camera is on the fritz so these pics below (plus the header pic) were taken with my iPhone.  Not too shabby, might I add.]

Inspiration from Fake Ginger

~10 1-cup servings

For the mix that's pictured above, I used a combination of puffed rice and oats; a nut and seed mix that included 1 cup walnuts, 4 tablespoons each of pumpkin and sunflower seeds, 4 tablespoons quinoa (rinsed and spread out to dry), and 2 tablespoons sesame seeds (which are on the restricted list, but Tara isn't eating this stuff anytime soon, so no worries); and for the fruit, I used cranberries. 

  • 6 cups old-fashioned oats and/or puffed rice
  • 2 cups mixed nuts and seeds
  • 1 cup applesauce (or baby food)
  • 3/4 cup honey
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon molasses
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • pinch salt
  • sprinkle cinnamon
  • 1 cup dried fruit
  • Optional additions: flax meal, protein powder, wheat germ


Preheat oven to 300.  Coat a baking dish or 2 with oil (preferred) or line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, combine oats, nuts, and seeds. Set aside.

Stir together applesauce and/or baby food, honey, molasses, vanilla, salt, and cinnamon. (This is where I add in my optional ingredients, too.  I feel that mixing it with the liquids gives it a better distribution.)  Taste and add more flavorings as needed. Pour over oat mixture and stir to moisten all of the ingredients. Spread the mixture onto prepared baking dish.

Bake for 40 – 50 minutes, stirring occasionally, until granola is golden and slightly crunchy (Don't cook it until it is totally crunchy because it will crisp up as it cools).  Remove from oven and stir in dried fruit.  Let cool and store tightly covered.

Notes: If you don't have a glut of baby food like us and are using applesauce, you may want to leave out or reduce the sugar, especially if you're not that into sweet stuff.  By the same token, if you are using a flavored or sweetened protein powder, you may want to decrease or eliminate both the sugar and the vanilla.


Monday, November 8

Penne a la vodka

I know people like to knock Rachael Ray, but all of her recipes that I have made (and it's only been a few) were very approachable and relatively easy to make.  This recipe is no exception.  I mean, even Deb from Smitten Kitchen made it.

Rach's dish is somewhat annoyingly titled: You Won't Be Single For Long Vodka Cream Pasta.  But, it is Tara's favorite meal that I make for her.  She requests it for her birthday every year plus she likes me to make it for special occasions. Other people buy their wives flowers; I make mine penne a la vodka!  So, even though I haven't been single for many years (almost 10, people!), it certainly keeps me from being single again!

(By the way, the Decadent Duo for Decadent Duos: Chocolate Cups with Whipped Cream from the same episode is pretty phenomenal.) 

I've tweaked this recipe so much over the years, per Tara's requests, that we've pretty much made it our own. Mainly, I added some heat with red pepper flakes and made it chunkier by increasing the amount of shallots, adding cut up stewed tomatoes, and eliminating the chicken stock.    

Incidentally, I rarely drink any form of alcohol - I can count how many drinks I imbibe in one year on one hand - and I certainly don't buy alcohol for drinking.  So, the first time I had to buy vodka for this recipe (normally I send Tara), there was a sale on the larger, 1.5 liter, bottles.  The irony of a non-drinker buying a rather large bottle of vodka was not lost on me.  Also ironical is how decently stocked our liquor cabinet (shelf, actually) is due to my willingness to use multiple varieties in my cooking and baking. 

Penne a la Vodka
Liberally adapted from Rachael Ray

Serves 4

If you want to make this alcohol free, swap the vodka for a half cup of chicken or vegetable broth (or water in a pinch); add it in with the tomatoes.

  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 4-5 shallots, chopped
  • 2 cloves (or 1-2 teaspoons from a jar) minced garlic
  • red pepper flakes to taste (~1/4 tsp)
  • 1 cup vodka
  • 1 large (28 oz) can crushed tomatoes*
  • Salt and pepper to flavor
  • 16 oz penne pasta
  • ½ cup heavy cream
  • 20 leaves basil, shredded/torn (optional)
  • grated parmesan cheese (optional)


Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Add oil, butter, and shallots.  Gently saute shallots for 3-5 minutes to develop sweetness.  Add garlic and red pepper flakes to the pan and saute for a minute or so.  Add vodka to the pan and reduce by half (2-3 minutes).  Add tomatoes to pan.  Bring sauce to a bubble and reduce heat to simmer.  Season with salt and pepper.

While sauce simmers, bring a large pot of salted water to boil.  Dump in the pasta, boil for a minute or so and turn off the heat, add 1 tablespoon of the oil, and cover.  Let sit for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, or until the pasta is cooked to your liking.  Once done, drain and return to the pot.

Stir cream into sauce.  When sauce returns to a bubble, remove from heat. Toss hot pasta with sauce and basil leaves.  Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese, if desired.

*Note: Regarding the tomatoes, for a thinner sauce, use the 28oz can of crushed tomatoes; for a super chunky sauce, use a 28oz can of stewed tomatoes, chopped; finally, if you need to compromise like I do, use one 14.5 oz can of stewed tomatoes, chopped, and one 14.5 oz can of crushed tomatoes.  The 14.5 oz can of crushed tomatoes can be a bit difficult to find (I know Muir Glen makes it), so you may need to double the recipe.  But don't worry, it freezes really well.

Tuesday, November 2

Orzo with mushrooms, tomatoes, and sausage

In the process of my pantry cleaning, I realized that we had a large amount of orzo so I have used it for several different meals.  I've discovered that there is something about the texture of freshly cooked orzo that makes me happy.  Typically, you'll see orzo used in soups or pasta salads, but I like to pair it with sauces (like regular noodles) or stew-type things like chili (where I would normally use rice).  

A perfect example is the above meal: orzo with pesto, mushrooms, tomatoes, and sausage, which is both vegetarian-friendly and vegan-friendly.  I'm not including any recipe because there's really not much to it.  I boiled orzo pasta just like I would regular pasta - Watch it though, because it cooks up quick!  Then I combined it with some homemade pesto, topped it off with sauteed mushrooms (because we all know how much I love them) and diced tomatoes.  Leave it that way for a vegan side dish or add a sprinkle of Parmesan and some sliced sausage on the side and - Voila! - a fairly quick weeknight meal.

Monday, November 1

2 years ago, today...

Tara and I declared our love to each other in front of our family and friends.

Clearly, we had a lot of fun doing that...

I had so much difficulty choosing what cake flavor I wanted, that I got two cakes.  We got them from the grocery store.  They may not look all that fancy, but they sure tasted great!

Carrot cake torte.

Red velvet.

Here's to the rest of our lives together!
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