Chinese Cracker Jacks

Chinese Cracker Jacks

Many moons ago, as director of the Yankee Kitchen Cooking Schools, I had the opportunity to work with the inestimable Barbra Tropp of the China Moon Café in San Francisco. She came to Seattle to teach a series of classes for the school and the first thing she wanted when she arrived was a whirlwind shopping tour of Chinatown.

The Sticky Gingerbread of My Dreams

Gingerbread cake Serving 2

I began this exploration with a question. “What is the difference between sticky and regular gingerbread?” Put another way, “What makes sticky gingerbread, well, sticky?” A couple of rounds of baking later, I had identified the differences. Namely, sticky gingerbread starts with a fluid, molasses-heavy batter, which, if not over baked, creates a beautifully moist cake, which if wrapped and refrigerated for a day or two and then brought back to room temperature, has a dense, chewy, somewhat sticky texture.

Heavenly Hot Chocolate Mix–with Seven Variations

Heavenly Hot Chocolate

I adore Hot Chocolate, as distinct from Hot Cocoa or Drinking Chocolate. Definitions abound, but which is best?

Homemade Vanilla Marshmallows (Angel Kisses)

Homemade Marshmallows on Serving Plate

Okay, I know there are a zillion recipes for homemade marshmallows on the web, each claiming to be the lightest, fluffiest, springiest, tastiest, BEST marshmallows in the entire universe. But I’m giving you a marshmallow post this holiday season anyway for the following reasons.

Marbled Spiced Cranberry & White Chocolate Cheesecake

Slice of Marbled Spiced Cranberry & White Chocolate Cheesecake

I am very for­tu­nate that the newest mem­ber of our fam­ily, Christo­pher Weaver, LOVES cheese­cake. Because I love to cre­ate end­less vari­a­tions, and can’t afford all those calo­ries hang­ing out in the fridge taunt­ing me. Chris is a work­out machine, so he doesn’t worry a fig about calo­ries. If there are a few slices of cheese­cake left after a fam­ily din­ner, he saves me by tak­ing them home.

Spicy Sausage & Fresh Herb-Stuffed Crimini Mushrooms

Spicy Sausage & Fresh Herb-Stuffed Crimini Mushrooms

With New Year’s parties coming up, it’s time to corral all your favorite appetizer recipes and decide which ones will make the cut this year. If you’re planning a standing-room-only cocktail party, tasty tidbits that can be finished off in one or two bites are de riqueur. Since there are only 1-2 bites to each tidbit, those bites must SING. Which means big, bold, memorable flavors that keep all of your senses awake and wanting more.

Holiday Gifts from the LunaCafe Kitchen

Burnt Caramel & Lemon Chevre Brownies

Christmas is the season of giving, and no gift is more welcome than something personal from your own kitchen. Pack your creation in a pretty holiday tin, canister, or gift jar, and you’re ready to make merry. The following are some of my favorite holiday treats, all perfect for giving.

Seeded Bread Crisps

Seede Bread Crisps

Have you ever had a dish haunt you for years and years? Or perhaps one particular component of a dish? Have you tried repeatedly to reproduce that dish and failed miserably every time? Have you feigned innocence with one after another server to see if you could wheedle out the EXACT instructions for making that elusive something? “This is delicious. What type of bread is it?” “Really? But it’s SO crisp. How long does it bake?” “Parmesan too, eh?”

Deep, Dark, Spicy Gingerbread with Coffee Glaze

Spicy Gingerbread Cake with Coffee Glaze

It never fails. When the temperature drops like a rock and snow is in the air, I start craving gingerbread cake. It’s one of those ultra-comforting sweets that has so sparked bakers’ creativity over the years that it now boasts hundreds of variations. Maybe thousands. Look at the lineup of gingerbread cakes on TasteSpotting.

However, for gingerbread inspiration this year, I had only to open the new Flour: Spectacular Recipes from Boston’s Flour Bakery + Café cookbook by Harvard educated mathematician turned professional baker, Joanne Chang. I scored the cookbook earlier this fall while at the South End location of Joanne’s Flour Bakery in Boston.

Dreamy Creamy Gingerbread Fudge: Two Ways

Dreamy Creamy Gingerbread Fudge

There are few things in the candy domain that cause more consternation or downright fear than FUDGE. Just utter the word in some circles and everyone starts reeling off their horror stories. “Oh I can’t make it. It never works for me.” “I tried it once and it was a big grainy mess.” “I had to dump the whole thing in the garbage.” “It never set up, no matter how many times I tried to make it.” “I followed the directions EXACTLY, and it just didn’t work.”

Well, if any of these remarks sound like something you might say, you have come to the right place. For I, dear reader, am determined not to let a gooey, sticky, hotter than Hades, mass of caramel, with or without chocolate, get the better of ME. No way, no how, ain’t happening.

Naughty & Nice: Chocolate Toasted Coconut Bars

Closeup of Chocolate Toasted Coconut Bars

You know the cookie-confection called a Nanaimo Bar? Well, that’s where this exploration began. But somewhere along the way, it lost the middle layer of custard icing, moved the chocolate topping to the middle layer, and picked up a topping of toasted coconut instead.

Pumpkin Spice & White Chocolate Cheesecake

Pumpkin Spice & White Chocolate Cheesecake

You’ve heard the saying, “Necessity is the mother of invention.” Well, it was definitely the impetus for this Thanksgiving dessert, as I was torn between pleasing my stepdad, Mike, who loves White Chocolate Cheesecake and my daughter’s boyfriend, Chris, who expressed a desire for Peanut Butter Cheesecake (which I quickly swapped for pumpkin in honor of the holiday.)

The combination of the two flavors was even better than I expected, with the white chocolate lending the pumpkin a measure of sophistication.

Fire-Roasted Red Pepper Cheese (Pimento Cheese)

Lead-shot-new

Can you keep a secret? Promise? Okay, here it is. I LOVE the stuff in this jar. Well, at least I used to love it. It was my secret vice.

Quick & Easy, Flaky, All Butter, Short-Crust Pastry

Partially Baked Flaky Short-Crust Pastry

There is really nothing easier than making a tender, flakey pastry crust. For some reason though, the very word “pastry” evokes shudders from otherwise competent cooks. It seems that everyone has, at one time or another, had difficulty with this basic dough. To take some of the mystery out of it, and hopefully some of the fear as well, here is a run-down on what actually happens in the pastry making process.

Curried Seafood Cakes with Fresh Ginger Aioli

Curried Seafood Cakes with Ginger Aioli

I have a passion for seafood cakes of any variety: Dungeness crab cakes, shrimp cakes, fresh or smoked salmon cakes, and varieties yet untried. They are easy to make, but many a fine cook errs by adding too much binder. You want to taste the seafood and the seasoning, not what is holding them together–bread crumbs typically.

Yakima Valley Artichoke Appetizer

Yakima Valley Artichoke Appetizer Fresh from the Oven

This recipe originally came into my files from my sister-in-law and culinary diva, Mary-beth. Or was it from my other sister-in-law, entertaining diva, Priscilla? Well, it was definitely from one of these two remarkable women.

For a few years, many years ago, while living amongst the Bradley clan and their merry circle of friends in Yakima, Washington, this appetizer appeared at EVERY cocktail party. It was a novelty at the time and a darned good one at that. But as the years passed, and we moved to Seattle, I forgot about it.

New Years Eve Quartet of Entertaining Spreads

Smoked Salmon & Caper Spread with Artisan Crackers

I know I’m late for New Year’s Eve, but I didn’t finish these four spreads until just now. Where oh where did the week go?

Nevertheless, I want to share them with you in hope that perhaps you can whip up one or two for tomorrow’s gatherings of friends and family around that big screen TV. They are all very easy and you probably have the needed ingredients in the frig. Well, maybe not the cold-smoked salmon, but if there is a Trader Joe’s nearby, they have a 4-ounce package for a modest price.

Panforte di LunaCafe: Tis the Season

Panforte di LunaCafe, Small Cake

A dried fruit and nut laden Christmas specialty of Siena, Italy, panforte (pronounced pan-FOHR-teh; variously called Panpepeto, Siena Cake, Panforte di Siena, Panforte Nero, and Panforte Margherita) is often described as a type of fruitcake. To call it a cake of any type, however, is, well, misleading. It doesn’t fit my definition of a cake.

It also reminds me nothing of Lebkuchen, a German gingerbread-type cookie, which it is also said to resemble, probably due to the inclusion of honey and warm winter spices in both. But no, it’s not a cookie.

Cranberry Orange Yogurt Pecan Bread

cranberry-bread-lead-shot

This cranberry bread is especially tender because of the softening effect the yogurt has on the gluten in the flour, and it has an appealing acid tang as well. This loaf is as appropriate for breakfast as for afternoon tea, especially during the holiday season.

Hazelnut Honey Toffee Tart with Cranberry Variation

Hazelnut Honey Toffee Tart

Every year when fresh cranberries hit the markets, I immediately stock up, and then almost as immediately, make this delectable tart. OK, to tell the truth, I am in the markets a few weeks early, whining to whoever will listen, or muttering to myself even, about the absence of cranberries. “Shouldn’t they be in by […]

Spiced Pumpkin Sour Cream Upside-Down Coffee Cake

Spiced Pumpkin Sour cream Upside Down Cake with Caramelized Cranberry Hazelnut Topping and Orange Cream

After several testing sessions and a review of dessert cookbooks par excellence, SMS Bradley’s recipe for Spiced Pumpkin Sour Cream Upside-Down Coffee Cake with Caramelized Cranberry Hazelnut Topping is now perfection. An absolutely luscious Fall cake.