Torta della Nonna for My Darling Lily

Miss Lillian Mary Ellen (Lily)

I was pondering how to introduce the newest member of our family to you, dear readers, when my fabuloso sister-in-law, Mary-beth, suggested tying in Torta della Nonna, which truthfully, I knew nothing about. She fell in love with this simple and rich Italian tart in Italy, during a 5-day cooking course, at the beautiful Capezzana Wine and Culinary Center. Mary-beth says she ate a small slice of this tart every day during that stay and wishes she could continue that ritual indefinitely. This is her kind of tart. Let it be known that Mary-beth, former cooking instructor and continuing culinary maven is no slouch in the kitchen. If she says this cake is to die for, I believe it. And I must try it.

However, still unable to utter the “G” word without grimacing, I have been more preoccupied with what my darling granddaughter is going to call me than with announcing to the world that she has, at long last, ARRIVED. Even if that announcement involves a wonderful tart.

Peanut Butter Caramel

Peanut Butter Caramel Ice Cream Sundae with Caramelized Banana & Espresso Beans

A couple of weeks ago, in the post titled, Oh You Great Big Beautiful Blondie, I included a recipe for Caramel Blondies with a Peanut Butter Caramel Blondie variation. The post shows a layer of Blondie batter with dollops of Peanut Butter Caramel over the top and a second layer of batter being spread over the caramel. The lead photo also features the Peanut Butter Caramel Blondie variation.

Strawberry Basil Sour Cream Gelato

Strawberry Basil Sour Cream Gelato

Portland, Oregon is gelato country. Not ice cream country—jeh-lah-toh country. No matter which direction I set out on my walk each day from Northwest PDX, I pass at least one gelato shop along the way.

The challenge is to walk by without stopping in for “just a taste.” One taste always leads to another taste, which always leads to a scoop each of two complementary flavors–one tart fruit based, the other cream based (as in sweet cream, cream cheese, crème fraiche, buttermilk, yogurt, sour cream, or mascarpone). To my palate, it’s a perfect partnership.

Heavenly Chocolate Beet Tea Loaf

Sliced Heavenly Chocolate Beet Tea Loaf

Bless your heart if you are actually reading this post rather than running for cover to another food blog. Yes, I know this combination sounds a tad bit unusual, but I assure you it is Pure Genius.

Lest you think I’m being immodest here, the idea is not mine. The combination was recently featured in Gourmet Traveler, and that’s where I first encountered it.

Oh You Great Big Beautiful Blondie

Three Chewy Gooey Blondies on a Plate

If you are not yet familiar with that chewy, caramel goodness of a bar cookie known as a Blondie, you are in for a WOW taste experience. I can’t imagine how you missed it, however, considering it’s preeminence on the web. To see what I mean, check out the amazing collection of Blondies (with stunning photos) at TasteSpotting, FoodGawker, and DessertStalking. Holy cow!

Peanut Butter & Garam Masala Cupcakes with Creamy Dreamy Peanut Butter Frosting, Peanut Praline & Caramelized Banana

Peanut Butter Garam Masala Cupcakes with Creamy Dreamy Peanut Butter Frosting, Peanut Praline & Caramelized Banana

I know it’s officially summertime in the Northwest, even though the weather has been cold, wet, and generally grey all month. Strawberries are ripe in the fields, but they look forlorn, and I am strangely uninterested.

It’s COLD, and there is this growing emotional need for something indulgent, nostalgic, and comforting. A strawberry isn’t going to do it. I should be eating sprightly salads bursting with all the freshness of early summer, but instead I want cupcakes—golden, tender, completely decadent–peanut butter cupcakes–loaded with swirls of, you guessed it, creamy, dreamy peanut butter frosting.

Toasted Hazelnut & Browned Butter Friands

Toasted Hazelnut & Browned Butter Friands

I first tasted the classic version of these small almond cakes many moons ago at Le Panier Very French Bakery in Seattle’s Pike Place Market. I liked them so much that I would make the trek to the market (about a 30-mile drive from our house in the Cascade foothills) mainly to buy a few friands and enjoy them with an espresso. Of course, strolling the market is its own reward, but the thought of those excellent little morsels still provides extra incentive to get me to Seattle.

When I began looking for recipes for this little French delicacy, I could find no reference to it in any of my French cookbooks. The web was in its infancy at that time and culinary sites and chats had not yet surfaced. Finally, I did locate a single recipe for friands in Gaston Lenotre’s Lenotre’s Desserts and Pastries.

Heavenly Parmesan Sour Cream Pound Cake

LunaCafe's Heavenly Parmesan Pound Cake

A few weeks ago, I posted a story on Metrovino’s Parmesan Pound Cake (Portland, Oregon), which I hope you had a chance to read. It’s all about my adventures with this extraordinary cake (the creation of Metrovino Executive Chef Gregory Denton and Chef de Cuisine Gabrielle Quiñónez), both in the restaurant and in the OtherWorldly testing kitchen.

Metrovino’s Parmesan Pound Cake

Metrovino's Parmesan Pound Cake, My Version

Nearly a year ago, at the newly opened Metrovino restaurant in Portland, Oregon’s Pearl district, I spied a dessert on the menu that sounded so implausible that I was honestly expecting NOT to like it. I mean seriously, parmesan cheese in a pound cake? I had never heard of, much less tasted, such a combination–even though I have a library full of dessert cookbooks and am always on the lookout for creative, out of the ordinary flavor combinations.

Fresh Strawberry-Tomato Dessert Sauce

Bowl of Fresh Strawberries and Tomatoes with Lime

The idea of pairing strawberries with tomatoes originally came to me while perusing one of my favorite culinary sites, FoodPairing, which features dozens of potentially harmonious and sometimes very odd sounding ingredient pairings. (Another great site for this type of exploration is Khymos. Or check out the most comprehensive book ever written on the topic: The Flavor Bible, by Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg. It lists thousands of ingredient pairings favored by some of the world’s most acclaimed chefs.)

Fried Banana Split with Mexican Chocolate Sauce & Strawberry Lime Salsa

Fried Banana Split with Mexican Chocolate Sauce & Strawberry Lime Salsa

As I said in the previous post, Caramelized Ancho Chile & Cinnamon Almonds, are you ready for one of the most spectacular desserts I have ever created? It is so indulgent, so bright, so refreshing, so festive, and so sinful (Using fresh strawberries out of season? Have I gone to the dark side?) that it may well be the PERFECT dessert with which to bid winter a grateful farewell. Goodbye freezing rain, mud, ice, and threats of snow. Goodbye short grey days and long dark nights. Have a safe journey to the other side of the globe, and please please please don’t hurry back.

Caramelized Ancho Chile & Cinnamon Almonds

Caramelized Ancho Chile & Cinnamon Pumpkin Seeds Closeup

Are you ready for one of the most spectacular desserts I have ever made? How about Fried Banana Split with Mexican Bittersweet Chocolate Chile Sauce, Strawberry Mint Salsa, and Caramelized Ancho Chile Cinnamon Pumpkin Seeds?

I flipped on my first bite of this dessert and on each subsequent bite, until I was left with only an empty plate and a serious thought of licking it. I think this is one dessert that you are going to LOVE!

Quintessential Bittersweet Chocolate Sauce

LunaCafe Bittersweet Chocolate Sauce and Strawberries on Ice Cream

Is there anything better in the world than a scoop of the richest vanilla bean ice cream you can get your hands on and a generous topping of an equally rich dark chocolate sauce? Okay, maybe add a couple of perfect strawberries to that picture. And then, since we’re talking perfection here, how about a small handful of toasted almonds as well?

White Chocolate, Cardamom & Coconut Beignet

White Chocolate, Cardamom & Toasted Coconut Beignet on Plate

Whether you call them beignet, zeppoli, bunuelos, crullers, Indian frybread, elephant ears, fritters, funnel cakes, churros, or simply donuts, there is something absolutely magical about freshly fried sweet dough, whether plain, encasing a bit of fruit or chocolate, topped with sugar, or dipped into a creamy, dreamy sauce.

LunaCafe’s Burnt Caramel & Lemon Chevre Brownies

LunaCafe's Caramel  & Lemon Chevre Brownies

Folks sometimes ask what inspires my recipes. Such a hard question. Anything and everything is my truthful response. I am almost always thinking about food.

This brownie recipe, for instance, was inspired by the following nearly concurrent events:

•Sampling goat’s milk cajita in a Mexican grocery store in Portland.
•Making cajita myself.
•The All Chocolate! All Month! celebration at LunaCafe.
•Plan to work cajita into a brownie recipe for the celebration.
•A Brownie Throw Down on The Food Network, which the Vermont Brownie Company won with their chevre brownie.

LunaCafe OtherWorldly Silky Fudgy Brownies

LunaCafe OtherWorldly Silky Brownies Stacked

What I really love about baking is that even if you don’t get the exact result you are going for, you sometimes get a nonetheless marvelous different result. That’s what happened with these brownies, which I intended to be the epitome of chewy chocolate YUM.

Toasted Hazelnut, Honey & Garam Masala Brittle

Toasted Hazelnut, Honey & Garam Masala Brittle

But as I perused further, I saw one resolution that I could easily accomplish TODAY. It said: “Make peanut brittle. No peanuts. Must be exceptional.” Aha! (Did I mention that I have never made peanut brittle or any kind of brittle?)

So I began researching all of my dessert cookbooks this morning. Then I hit the web and looked around there. That took hours and more than 2 cups of coffee. Everyone makes it slightly differently and naming conventions are all over the place. Some cooks make toffee and call it brittle. Some cooks make hard caramel (which I call praline) and call it brittle. One noted cook calls melted white chocolate painted thinly and embellished with raspberry puree, chocolate brittle. EEYIYI!

Cornmeal, Black Pepper & Rosemary Butter Cookies

Cornmeal, Black Pepper & Rosemary Cookies in Cookie Tin

After several weeks of nearly non-stop, high-intensity cookie baking, I present you with the final cookie of this year’s Twelve Days of Christmas Cookies: Starry Night bake-a-thon. TA DA!

In the kick off post, I set the stage for this completely new collection of cookies, most of which break rather dramatically from the traditional holiday cookies of my childhood. I really wanted to push my understanding of what makes a remarkable and thus memorable Christmas cookie. I wanted to try new and exciting flavor and texture combinations. I wanted to stretch myself as a baker. As I say in the Twelve Days of Christmas Cookies: Starry Night kick off post, I intended to throw tradition to the proverbial wind this holiday season.

Brown Butter, Toasted Almond & Toffee Shortbread

Bron Butter, Toasted Almond & Toffee Shortbread

Well, folks, we are almost to the end of LunaCafe’s second annual Twelve Days of Christmas Cookies: Starry Night bake-a-thon. After this post, only one more cookie, and then it’s time to put away all the cutters, stencils, sprinkles, and other holiday cookie baking paraphernalia; plus wipe the flour from every surface in the OtherWorldly Kitchen. And then carefully and lovingly repackage the many large tins of cookies for their final destinations.

But please be assured that I have saved the absolute BEST two cookies for last. We will end this adventure creating the most memorable holiday cookies ever with a bang.

Garam Masala & Candied Ginger Cookies

Group 3

If you have been following along on this year’s Twelve Days of Christmas Cookies: Starry Night bake-a-thon, you know this is my year for putting tradition aside and pushing the holiday cookie flavor envelope. Perhaps this particular cookie pushes the envelope to its most extreme so far. I don’t imagine that these cookies will ring everyone’s Christmas bells, but I must tell you I am already nearly addicted to them. If you’re like me, on the first bite you might think, “What the @#$%^$!” Then on the second bite, the thought shifts to, “Wait a minute, this is Interesting.” Then by the third bite, you are full on IN LOVE. Actually this also describes my first encounters with MauiJim, but I digress. :-)

Trim the Christmas Tree & Eat It Too Cookies

Douglas Fir & Orange Blossom Butter Cookies

That’s right! You can eat the tree! Over the past year, I encountered a fair number of Northwest restaurant dishes and cocktails featuring Clear Creek Distillery’s Douglas Fir Eau de Vie. This pale green brandy is an infusion of hand-picked spring buds of the Douglas fir tree. This intriguing liqueur got me thinking about incorporating Douglas fir buds in my own dishes–especially since I live much of the time in the Cascade foothills surrounded by these incredibly fragrant trees.

Heavenly Brown Butter, Lavender & Lime Cookies

Box of Heavenly Brown Butter, Lavender & Lime Cookies

If you have been reading this blog over the 15 months of its existence, you probably know by know that I am very fond of two flavors to an inordinate degree: lavender and lime. You may even remember the Blueberry Lavender Limeade I created this past summer. That inspired flavor combination still lingers in my mind.

Cranberry, Pistachio & Candied Ginger Shortbread

Cranberry, Pistachio & Candied Ginger Cookies in a Stack

If there is one cookie in this year’s Starry Night collection that positively shouts CHRISTMAS, it has to be this one. If you don’t overbrown the cookies, the sparkling red cranberries, green pistachios, and yellow lemon zest and candied ginger will glow like little jewels. To enhance this jewel-like effect, I like to keep the surface embellishment to just a light dusting of fine, clear sanding sugar, which lends sparkle but doesn’t detract from the colorful bits studding each cookie.

Sweet Parmesan Almond Cookies

Platter shot 7

I’ve never seen a recipe for SWEET parmesan cookies. Recipes for SAVORY parmesan cookies abound, as any Bing Search will reveal. But why not a sweet parmesan cookie?

The inspiration for this unusual cookie comes from executive chef, Gregory Denton, of Portland, Oregon’s Metrovino restaurant. Chef Denton recently shared with me his recipe for MetroVino’s Parmesan Pound Cake, which I fell in love with at the restaurant and will share with you in the very near future.

Comfort & Joy Spice Cookies

Comfort & Joy Spice Cookies

No Christmas cookie collection is complete without at least one old world spice cookie. The smell of these cookies baking in the oven is one of the joys of the holiday season. Thus, every December, I make a triple batch of my favorite spice cookie in the world, Ellen’s Swedish Pepparkakor.

But, remember, this year I challenged myself to come up with an all new collection. So no Pepparkakor, unless the Bradley troops revolt at the last minute (when they discover there are no Pepparkakor), and I am cajoled back into the OtherWorldly Kitchen for a final round of baking.

Merry Maraschino Cherry Cookies

Maraschino Cherry Butter Cookies with Ribbon

Okay, I have a confession to make. I LOVE maraschino cherries. They make me happy. There. I’ve said it.

They’re kitschy, cheeky, and not one bit sophisticated; all perfect reasons, in my book, to adore them. Especially during the kitschy, cheeky, magical holiday season.

Christmas in Provence Cookies

Christmas in Provence Cookies

In Provence, the heart of the Christmas festivities extends over three days (December 24-26), during which time the table is never cleared, thus allowing the angels to partake of the festivities and seasonal delicacies. I kid you not! When I am an angel, this seasonal French celebration is going to be high on my list of earthly visitations. I hope reservations are not required.

Pumpkin Sour Cream Pie with Caramel Walnut Topping

Pumpkin Sour Cream Pie with Caramel Walnut Topping

Every year I develop a new pumpkin pie recipe and add it with a pretend drum roll to the Thanksgiving dessert table. I do this even though no one in the Bradley family, except me and our son Joshua, actually likes pumpkin pie.

So you can imagine my surprise a couple of years ago when we were invited to a Thanksgiving potluck and asked to bring ONLY the pumpkin pie. (How could they know that was my favorite part of the meal?) I used the opportunity to create SIX new pumpkin pies that year and of course brought them all to the potluck, each with a little description alongside. Some folks in that appreciative gathering actually ate a tiny slice from each of the six pies. I was delighted.

To tell you that this pie is beyond delicious is not to do it justice. But perhaps you will get some inkling of how good it is when I reveal that MauiJim ate an ENTIRE LARGE PIECE. Oh sure, he tried to avoid the pumpkin custard while focusing on the caramel, but in the end that effort proved futile, so he ate the whole darned thing. And then he raved about it and asked how long he had to wait to have another slice.

Spiced Apple Cider Caramel Sauce

Spiced Apple Cider Caramel Sauce

This sauce is absolutely delicious. Imagine a dark caramel sauce with the additional flavor and acidity of tart green apples. I love it on everything in the Fall season–over vanilla bean or sweet corn gelato, with warm-spiced roasted apples, alongside pumpkin bread pudding, with beignet or ebelskiver, over delicate cottage cheese pancakes or Swedish flespannkaka (small, crepe-like pancakes with bits of rendered salt pork) , and most especially with Spiced Pumpkin Sour Cream Upside-Down Cake with Caramelized Cranberry Hazelnut Topping and Orange Cream.

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.