December 13, 2019

Cranberry Sauce Crumb Cake


for the cake:

1/2 cup light brown sugar
6 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 egg, at room temperature
2 cups flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
pinch salt
3/4 cup milk, at room temperature
1 cup whole berry cranberry sauce (I used this apple-cranberry sauce)

for the crumb topping:

1/2 cup light brown sugar
1/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon allspice
pinch nutmeg
pinch salt
1 1/4 cup flour
1/2 cup butter, melted and cooled slightly


Preheat oven to 350. Butter and flour an 8x8 inch pan. Set aside.

for the cake:

In a large bowl or in the bowl of a stand mixer, cream the sugar and butter with an electric mixer. Beat in the egg and vanilla. Whisk the flour, baking powder and salt together in a small bowl. With the mixer on low add the flour and milk alternately to the butter mixture, stopping with flour. Spoon the batter into the prepared pan. Smooth with the back of a spoon to form an even layer. Spread the cranberry sauce over the batter in an even layer. Set aside.

for the crumb topping:

In a small bowl, whisk together the sugars, cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, salt, and flour. Pour in the butter and use a fork to coat the mixture in butter, leaving large crumbs unbroken. Sprinkle evenly over the cake. You may have some crumb mixture leftover. Bake 1 hour or until a toothpick in the middle comes out with just a few moist crumbs. Cool completely on a wire rack before serving.

My thoughts:
My husband is from NYC where crumb topped cakes rule supreme. The more crumbs the better! Crumb cakes and coffee cakes are closely related but aren't always the same thing. Crumb cake always has a crumb topping while coffee cakes (cakes made to eat with coffee, not coffee-flavored cakes) may or may have a crumb topping. Don't confuse them with New Jersey crumb buns (which we see in bakeries around Baltimore too) which have a crumb topping but a yeast based cake base.

 The best New York-style crumb cake has a tender cake but very crunchy topping. This cake has both and a surprise ingredient: cranberry sauce! My husband is also a big fan of cranberry sauce and we make it a fair amount when cranberries are in season but since we are only two people, we end up with a bunch leftover. Why not combine the two?

For this recipe, I created a sweet, vanilla-based cake then topped it with cinnamon apple-cranberry sauce and a spiced crumb topping. It really takes a classic crumb cake to a new holiday-worthy level. This would be amazing served on Christmas morning. Or the day after to use up some cranberry sauce! 

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Apple Cinnamon Cranberry Sauce


2 cups fresh or frozen (not defrosted!) cranberries
1 medium-large Stayman-Winesap apple, small dice (skin-on)
1 cup Honeycrisp apple cider
1 cup sugar (to taste)
1 short cinnamon stick (or long if you really like cinnamon!)

Place the cranberries, apple cider, sugar, and cinnamon sticks in a medium saucepan and, stirring occasionally, cook for 20 minutes over medium-high heat to reduce and thicken. Remove the cinnamon stick and serve.

My thoughts:
Not to be confused with cranapple sauce which would be applesauce (ick) spiked with cranberries, this a cranberry sauce with just a hint of apple. We actually used an apple we picked way back in October--our poorly insulated enclosed porch comes in handy in these situations--and some unfiltered (soft) apple cider I picked up at Trader Joe's. It's on the sweet side so we used a little than a cup of sugar so start with a scant cup and work your way up as needed to cut the tartness. It's a very satisfying whole berry cranberry sauce yet super simple. We served it with a sort of meat pie we made with a layer of chicken, mushrooms, celery and onions with a light gravy, topped with stiff mashed potatoes then a layer of stuffing made from an old loaf of bread from our local Italian store, mushrooms, onions, and celery but you can serve it alongside anything.

I used the leftovers to make this cranberry sauce crumb cake.

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December 11, 2019

Gingerbread Chocolate Chip Blondies


1/2 cup butter, melted and cooled slightly
1 tablespoon light brown sugar
1 tablespoon molasses
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
pinch ground mustard
pinch salt
1 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon allspice
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon mace
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 cup flour
1 egg (2 if you like them a bit cakier)
1 cup bittersweet or semi-sweet chocolate chips


Preheat oven to 350. Generously butter an 8x8 inch baking pan. Set aside

In the bowl of a stand mixer or in a large bowl using a hand mixer, mix together the butter, sugar, molasses, vanilla and spices until smooth. Beat in the flour then the eggs until well-combined. Flour in chips.

Scrape into the prepared pan. Use a spatula to evenly spread the batter in the pan. Bake 25-30 minutes or until a toothpick comes out with a few moist crumbs and it looks "set". Cool completely on a wire rack prior to cutting and serving.

Store in an airtight container.

My thoughts:
This recipe basically came to me in a dream. I was trying to fall asleep then suddenly thought "gingerbread blondies" and emailed that to myself sometime after midnight. The next day, I obviously had to make them! I actually don't love love love traditional gingerbread in cookie or cake form. It's fine and I like the flavors but I find it a bit boring texture-wise. Blondies, on the other hand, have a pleasing chewy texture and you can add chocolate chips to them. Blondies are the true winner here. If you have pre-mixed gingerbread spice, feel free to use that but the spices are pretty basic and most mixes don't have my secret ingredient--dry mustard (mustard powder) which adds the weenciest touch of heat and some real depth. At any rate, these are some of the most flavorful, festive blondies around! Each bite is a chewy, chocolatey, spice delight. 

I feel like I say this every time I bake but it's true. I forget how easy it is to make some things! Blondies are easier than brownies because while you have to melt butter, you don't have to melt chocolate which is much more tricky. These came together in like 10 minutes then baked for about half an hour. Then they had to cool for what seemed like forever but I put them on the chilly enclosed porch to speed that up a bit. They slice very, very well if you are someone who cares about that sort of thing, with very neat edges. These would be amazing additions to a cookie tray to hand out to the neighbors you actually like.

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December 09, 2019

Fruitcake Cookie Bars


1 cup flour PLUS 1/4 cup (divided use)
3  cups fruitcake mix candied fruit (a mix of candied cherries, pineapple, citron, lemon peel, and orange peel)
3/4 cup coarsely chopped pecans
3/4 cup light brown sugar
1/2 cup butter, at room temperature
1 egg, at room temperature
1 teaspoon orange zest or dried orange peel
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1/4 teaspoon cardamom
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
2 tablespoon cognac
pinch salt


Preheat oven to 350. Butter and flour a 13x9 inch pan. Set aside.

In a small bowl, toss together the 1/4 cup flour with the fruit and nuts to coat. Set aside.

In a large bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer, beat together the butter and sugar until well combined. Beat in egg then mix in the remaining 1 cup flour, spices, baking soda, and salt with a hand or stand mixer. Fold in the fruit/nut mixture. Spread the thick dough in an even layer in pan.

Bake 35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool completely, in pan on a wire rack, about 1 hour.

Cut into 24 bars. (3x8)

My thoughts:
I actually made these last year so close to Christmas, I just took some pictures and wrote up the recipe to save for this year. I try not to post seasonal recipes too close to the holiday so you actually have time to buy the ingredients and make the recipe. I don't assume most people have fruit cake mix candied fruit at their fingertips!

This time last year I was reading  Jenny Han's To All the Boys I Loved Before trilogy when they finally came available to download from the library after the popularity of the Netflix movie that summer. The main character, Lara Jean bakes a lot in the books and in one book her friend Peter was very insistent that she make fruitcake cookies. I honestly had never heard of fruitcake cookies before but I had a ton of candied fruit leftover from developing recipes for a client and thought why not give it a try? They seemed perfect for the season. There were very few details of what these cookies were actually like in the book so I started from scratch.

I wanted to give cookies to my neighbors so I thought bar cookies might be easier to than a rolled or drop cookies (Jenny Han really needs to start including recipes in her books) for the yield I wanted and to ensure that each bite had a good chunk of fruit and/or nuts in it. Plus they look so pretty all sliced up!

These bars are very fruit and nut packed and have all of the rich flavors of fruitcake but hopefully none of the negative associations regular fruitcake has acquired. They are very much a cookie in texture. Don't skip the coating the fruit and nuts in flour step--this ensures that they don't stick together, evenly distribute in the dough and don't sink to the bottom while baking.

Everyone who had these loved them! Even people who didn't think they liked fruitcake went back for me.

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December 06, 2019

Leafy Vegetable Soup with Gondi (Chicken-Chickpea Dumplings)


for the dumplings:

3 cloves garlic, grated
2 onions, grated
1 egg
2 cups toasted chickpea flour*
1 pound ground chicken
2 teaspoons ground cardamom
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
pinch cumin
2 tablespoons neutral-tasting oil or schmaltz
freshly ground black pepper

for the soup:

1 bunch rainbow chard, stems and greens chopped
1 onion, sliced into quarter moons
3 cloves garlic, sliced
1 stalk celery (with greens), sliced
1 bunch green onions, sliced
2 carrots, sliced
2 parsnips, sliced
64 oz chicken stock
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
freshly ground black pepper



Mix together the dumpling ingredients until smooth in a large bowl. Refrigerate in an airtight container overnight.

*Sold at Middle Eastern grocery stores. Or buy plain chickpea flour and toast it in a dry skillet. Cool before use.


for the dumplings:

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Form the dumpling mixture into 1 1/2-2 inch balls (about 12-15) drop into the boiling water and cook for 45 minutes or until they are fully cooked (remember they have raw chicken in them!). They will float fairly earlier on but don't be tricked!


In a large pot, sauté the chard stems, onion, garlic, celery, green onions, carrots, and parsnips until the onions are soft and translucent. Add the stock, thyme, salt and pepper and simmer for 20 minutes. Add the rest of the chard and simmer another 20 minutes or until the vegetables are soft and the dumplings are ready.

Ladle the soup into bowls, add dumplings.

Refrigerated any leftover soup and dumplings separately  (to avoid the dumplings absorbing all of the broth) and re-heat up together in a pot.

My thoughts:
This is one of those dishes where  I came across a mention of once and thought it was unusual but then once I had heard of it, I came across references to it everywhere. It's an Iranian dish that is apparently popular in the Iranian Jewish community at Passover. Chickpeas are one of those ingredients where there is some debate over whether it is okay to eat at Passover or not. A lot of Ashkenazi Jews don't eat any legumes during Passover but in 2016, it was ruled that they were fine. It's all a bit complicated and personal to many people but if this is an issue for you, then you know what you can or want to eat. 

Luckily, it is not Passover now! While I think this soup would be great then, I don't normally want to make some big soup dish when it is potentially warm and sunny out. No thank you! Deepest, darkest winter? Soup's on! 

This soup looks sort of like matzah ball soup (which may explain the popularity at Passover when matzah rules) but these dumplings are made of toasted chickpea flour and ground chicken so the meat in the dumpling, not the soup! I've made meaty dumplings before when I made Marak Kubbeh Adom (Beet Soup with Meat-filled Dumplings) but these are so much easier than that was! Here the chicken is basically the glue that holds the dumpling together. I cooked them separately like I do matzah balls, not only with leftovers in mind (when stored in soup dumplings tend to soak up all the broth and fall apart) but because there is raw chicken in there and they need to be fully cooked. I didn't want to overcook the veggie soup at the expense of the gondi. 

Like I do when I make matzah ball soup, I also made the soup more hardy than recipes I found online. I often see matzah ball soup at restaurants where the matzah balls are the star, floating in a sea of plain chicken broth or "soup" that is just a sad piece of chicken and a lone carrot. Gondi is most often served that way too--just broth. If I am going to put all that work into a dumpling, this soup is going to be a meal, not some appetizer! So I made a really tasty vegetable-packed soup to float the gondi with tons of rainbow chard and root vegetables. It was so so good! Very satisfying and full of flavor! The gondi were surprisingly light and I loved the spices. 

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December 04, 2019

Beef and Potato Stew with Olives and Stewed Tomatoes


2 lbs russet potatoes, cut into bite-sized pieces
1 1/2 lb cubed sirloin or stew beef  (can brown if desired, I didn't bother)
1 stalk celery, sliced
1 onion, cut into quarter moon slices
1/3 cup chopped green olives with pimentos
15 oz canned stewed tomatoes (with juice!)
3 sprigs’ worth of thyme leaves
1 1/2 cup beef stock
1 bay leaf
1 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
3 cloves garlic, sliced
freshly ground black pepper

to serve:

2 cups cooked white rice


Place all ingredients (except the rice!) in a 4-quart slow cooker. Stir. Cook on low for 8 hours. Stir.

Serve with rice.

Yield: 4-6 servings

My thoughts:
I bought my first digital slow cooker ta month or so ago. I have a ton of slow cookers thanks to creating 300 recipes for my healthy slow cooker cookbook but all of them are the traditional, manual kind.  When I was writing the book, I didn't want to assume that people had what was then, the newest in slow cooker technology. The manual ones work fine, but I have to admit I was curious about the programable kind. I couldn't bring myself to buy one when I already had so many.

Then my trusty 4-quart oval died a year or so ago so when I saw one on sale for only $25 at Target that was programable, I ran right to the store. Four-quart slow cookers, especially oval-shaped,  are surprisingly difficult to find (the 6-7-quart models are more popular) but they are perfect for making food for smaller families. You don't always want chili for 10! I can't find it online for purchase but it's this (Rival) Crock-Pot brand and has a digital display to choose any cooking time (in 30-minute increments) you want then it automatically changes over to warm when the time's up. Oval pots are great because you can stick a whole roast in there horizontally but you can also make soups or stews in them.

I've been trying to avoid grocery shopping--last week to avoid Thanksgiving crowds and this week to try to use up some ingredients I already have--and had a package of stew meat and a ton of potatoes (it was cheaper at Aldi to buy 10 lbs of potatoes than 5 when I last shopped on 11/22) on hand. I seem to be coming down with a cold so what better way to make dinner than in the slow cooker? I could manage cutting up some potatoes and onions and then relied on other simple ingredients I had for flavor. I had a jar of "salad olives", a can of stewed tomatoes I impulsed bought for 47¢ and of course a big jar of smoked paprika. In to the slow cooker it went!

While it was cooking I was looking up stew recipes (because why do that before you make dinner??) I came across a recipe for the Cuban dish Carne con Papas (literally just meat and potatoes) that has beef and potatoes along with a few other ingredients that seems to vary from raisins to wine but also frequently includes olives and/or tomatoes. It's commonly served with rice, something I never would think to do with stew, but it sounded like a good way to stretch the stew out into a couple extra meals. So we fired up the rice cooker and served some rice along with the stew. It was really good! The stew was richly flavored but not very heavy and the rice made it a filling meal. Sick day food does not have to be sad food!

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December 02, 2019

Spaghetti with Walnuts, Anchovy and Parsley


3/4-1 cup coarsely chopped walnuts
1/4 cup bread crumbs
2 oz anchovies in olive oil
5 cloves garlic
1 1/2 tablespoon crushed red pepper flakes
bunch Italian parsley, chopped
3/4 lb spaghetti
Parmesan for sprinkling


Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the spaghetti and cook to al dente.

Meanwhile, heat a large, dry skillet. Add the bread crumbs, red pepper flakes, and walnuts and toast, stirring occasionally, until the bread crumbs and walnuts are golden. Remove to a heat-safe bowl and set aside.

Heat about 2 tablespoons olive oil in the same pan. Add the anchovies (with their oil) and garlic and saute until the anchovies have dissolved and the garlic is lightly browned. Add drained spaghetti and 1/4 cup of the pasta water. Stir in the parsley until it wilts a bit. Stir in the walnuts and bread crumbs.

Divide among 4 plates sprinkle with parm.

My thoughts:
I love recipes that can be made with simple ingredients but which yield great results. I was reading a book recently and one of the characters comes home and makes something similar to this from ingredients they had on hand. It sounded so good that I made a mental note to try it soon.

When I googled the combination, I came across some references for this (or a similar dish) being made during the holiday season in Italy as one of the seafood dishes traditional to a Neapolitan Christmas Eve. I can see why. It is so quick and easy to make a requires virtually zero prep and few ingredients. You might even have all of the ingredients on hand right now! It's really satisfying as a main dish (serve with a salad and/or garlic bread) or as a starter to a huge feast.

I always have anchovies on hand because they add so much depth to sauces and salad dressings so it was fun to let it be the focus of a dish. I think some areas of Italy must favor walnuts over pinenuts and I can see why-- they had a great flavor in this dish and are a fraction of the price. I bought a huge bag of walnuts at Aldi for under $3 and have a ton leftover.

I can't wait to make this cozy dish again, it's the perfect dinner for busy nights.

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