Pumpkin Pie, Ginger High, Meringue in Your Eye, Oh My

Pumpkin Streusel Pie to Knock Your Socks Off_Dana Zia

Check out these fabulous and decidedly uncommon pumpkin pies from four Portland, Oregon food stars.

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?

Dreamy, Creamy, No-Bake Pumpkin Butter Cheesecake

Dreamy, Creamy, No-Bake Pumpkin Butter Cheesecake

I have developed dozens of cheesecakes over the years. At one point, I even launched a cheesecake company.

But a recent request from a reader made me realize that my focus has been almost exclusively on baked cheesecakes. A quick scan of my files shows only two no-bake cheesecakes. This post is one small and very tasty step toward correcting that omission.

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.

Spicy Ciabatta & Cornbread Stuffing with Italian Sausage, Wild Mushrooms & Fresh Herbs

Spicy Ciabatta & Cornbread Stuffing with Italian Sausage, Wild Mushrooms & Fresh Herbs

f I could have only one dish this Thanksgiving, it would be a tossup between this stuffing and this tart. Wait, I also need these rolls, these mashed potatoes, and this gravy. Okay, it’s hopeless; may as well throw in this salad and this turkey. But even though each of these dishes is memorable, I bet this stuffing wins “Best of Show” at our Thanksgiving table this year. I can’t seem to get enough of it.

Spiced Apple Cider Brined Roast Cornish Game Hens with Apple Cider Mustard Glaze

Spiced Apple Cider Brined Roast Cornish Game Hen with Apple Cider Mustard Glaze

A large roast turkey is considered mandatory for many families as part of the massive meal that typifies Thanksgiving. It’s big, bold, beautiful, and definitely celebratory. When you have a large crowd to feed, there is no grander way to go. But what if your family is small, dispersed across the country, or for whatever reason, you long for a more intimate but still festive dinner with only a few close friends?

Romanesco, Applewood-Smoked Bacon, Cranberry & Pecan Salad

Romanesco-New

True confession. This is my first real encounter with romanesco. Tempted by it many times over the years at the Portland Farmers Market, this past weekend, I succumbed. I bought two heads without a clue what to do with them. A member of the brassica oleracea family, romanesco has an exotic, almost alien beauty and can be a little formidable to the uninitiated.

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.

Decidedly Different Cranberry, Walnut & Currant Tart

Decidedly Different Cranberry, Walnut & Currant Tart

Every fall about this time, I am sitting cross-legged on the flour, surrounded by stacks of dessert cookbooks and culinary magazines. I’m looking for a cranberry tart for Thanksgiving. A UNIQUE, MEMORABLE, WOW-INDUCING tart worthy of the most spectacular meal of the year. And I’m willing (okay, eager) to try (okay, eat) several cranberry tart contenders before making the final cut.

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.

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.

Peppermint Lime Kaleidoscope Cookies

Gift Bags of Peppermint Lime Kaleidoscope Cookies

What a whirlwind it’s been in the OtherWorldly Kitchen. Flour, flour everywhere–along with nuts, sprinkles, chocolate, cookie cutters, baking sheets, and cooling racks. And of course the ever ready digital camera. I’m not quite ready to end the madness, so I’ve actually started developing cookies for next year. Two down, ten to go

Coconut Vanilla Lime Shortbread

Christmas Cookies: Coconut Vanilla Lime Shortbread Stacks

To my palate, coconut and lime are a pairing made in heaven. Coconut on its own is subtle and seductive, like a lazy summer afternoon. Add lime, and it’s party time.

I admit I may be biased on this, as I love lime with almost everything. It is definitely my favorite citrus fruit and our frig is always well stocked. Not a panic if I run out of lemon, but let the lime stash dwindle to almost zero, and it’s Costco-run time. (Thank God for Costco, by the way, as limes are often super expensive elsewhere.)

Toasted Pecan Gems

Toasted Pecan Gems

Have you ever been in a kitchenware store and upon spying a new piece of equipment, baking pan, or whatever, think, “Ohhh, I really NEED that?” But then if the person with you asks what you need it FOR, you mumble something incomprehensible under your breath. Because the truth is you have no idea what you need it for, but you need it nonetheless.

Peanut Butter Ginger Shortbread

Peanut Butter Ginger Shortbread with Chopped Peanuts and Melted Chocolate

This cookie started out innocently enough. I have never put peanut butter in a Christmas cookie and the thought occurred, “Why not?’ But I definitely didn’t want a chewy peanut butter cookie, even though I love them to distraction. To my way of thinking, Christmas cookies must keep for weeks, and that means they need to be nearly moisture-free after baking. Chewy cookies are almost always best on the day they are baked.

Moon over Tunisia (Baharat) Butter Cookies

Moon over Tunisia Butter Cookies

The flavor of these intensely buttery cookies is definitely exotic. It conjures up scenes of ancient ruins, mysterious night, and distant moon. With a generous dose of fragrant spices—sweet paprika, black pepper, cumin, coriander, cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, and nutmeg—these cookies are likely to be like none you have ever experienced.

Lemon Gingerbread Caramel Bars

Lemon Gingerbread Caramel Bars

The idea for this cookie popped into my head after seeing a picture of that classic combination, gingerbread with lemon icing. Could I get those flavors into a cookie?

On the first attempt, I under baked the shortbread and put too much molasses in the caramel. It wasn’t that the caramel was bad per se, but it definitely overwhelmed the more delicate flavor of the shortbread. So I cut the molasses by half, but then for some ungodly reason decided to double the ginger. Wrong move; way too much ginger.

Chocolate & Warm Winter Spice Butter Crisps

Chocolate & Warm Winter Spice Butter Crisps Tied with Ribbon

Just as no Christmas cookie collection is complete without at least one ginger spice cookie, there must also be at least one chocolate cookie in the mix. For this year’s Twelve Days of Christmas Cookies: Silver Bells collection, there are two chocolate cookies. They are similar in construction (at least for the shortbread component) but the spicing and shaping is different for each. For the Chocolate Toasted Coconut Bars, the shortbread dough is spread into a baking pan and the depth is close to ½-inch. For these cookies, you want to roll the dough very thinly and cut with a simple cookie cutter of your choice.

Mary’s Christmas Quilt Cookies (Cinnamon Hot & Orange Shortbread)

Mary's Christmas Quilt Cookies (Cinnamon Hot & Orange Shortbread)

Long ago, in a far away world called the University of Washington School of Art, there was a lone fiber artist who unapologetically extolled the power and deep meaning of color to her comrades who believed with all their hearts that any color other than gray was an indication of naiveté and gross pandering to the unenlightened masses, for whom beauty was—GASP—a virtue.

Ginger Spice Stars

Ginger Spice Stars

Just because a cookie contains what I call Gingerbread Spice, a blend of ground ginger, cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, and cloves, with perhaps a little cardamom thrown in for good measure, that doesn’t mean it has to taste like every other gingerbread cookie you’ve ever eaten. There’s a long history behind this the gingerbread cookie, but there is also a lot of latitude and surely many new approaches that have yet to be tried.

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.

Espresso Orange Butter Cookies

Espresso Orange Butter Cookies

A twist of lemon peel with espresso is a classic pairing, but for supreme indulgence, I prefer orange peel and a spot of chocolate with a tiny pot of French press coffee.

And that combo, folks, is the inspiration for this very adult cookie. I simply couldn’t resist putting three of my favorite flavors together in one delicious morsel. I’m actually surprised that I didn’t think of it years ago. Nevertheless, better late than never, as the saying goes.

Silver Bells (Chinese Five Spice Butter Cookies)

Silver Bells (Chinese Five Spice Cookies)

I have always loved bells, both looking at them and listening to them. Whenever I’m at the New Renaissance Bookstore in Portland Oregon, I rush over to the wonderful bells selection and play them all, slowly, first one, then another. I’m sure the staff loves to see me coming through their door.

In certain meditation CDs, a single bell is sometimes used to signify the beginning or ending of a section. It has the effect of both grounding and silencing the mind. For a brief second, or maybe it’s a split second, the mind is empty and the most exquisite silence takes the place of the usual dirge. It’s like a reminder to come home to oneself.

Twelve Days of Christmas Cookies: Silver Bells

Twelve Days of Christmas Cookies: Silver Bells

Welcome to LunaCafe’s 3rd annual Twelve Days of Christmas Cookies celebration. I’m so excited to share this year’s Silver Bells collection with you. The song by the same name puts me in a festive mood, especially when sung by this crooner.

The symbol of the bell is rich is meaning across almost all cultures. Ringing of bells is said to bring good fortune and bliss, and I hope these fragrant, buttery, spicy, crisp, and hopefully surprising cookies will bring the same to you and yours this holiday season.

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.

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.

A Cup of Spicy Christmas Tea

A Cup of Spicy Christmas Tea

I love the smell of aromatic spices in the house. I love inhaling warm wafts of spicy goodness while cradling a cup of hot tea in both hands. Comfort is the word that comes to mind, but an elemental comfort that is hard to describe. At these moments, I know in the deepest way that no matter what is appearing in my life, all is somehow, inexplicably, as it should be and thus perfect. This feeling sometimes runs counter to all logic, and yet there it is as I sip my spicy mulled tea.

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.